Making the Most of Your Colonial Williamsburg Itinerary

If you have even the tiniest bit of interest in early American history, I highly recommend a trip to Colonial Williamsburg and the Historic Triangle. Here are my top tips for making the most of your Colonial Williamsburg itinerary.

Key takeaways

  • Consider purchasing multi-day tickets for the best value.
  • My Colonial Williamsburg “must-dos”: Governor’s Palace, the Capitol, at least one special program, and dine in at least one historical tavern.
  • Explore the trade shops and historical houses to learn more about 18th-century living in Williamsburg.
  • Don’t miss the other Historical Triangle sites and follow my recommended visit order: Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg, and Yorktown.
Women standing in front of the governor's palace in Colonial Williamsburg and taking a photo with her phone.
Make room for the Governor’s Palace in your Colonial Williamsburg itinerary. Photo: Plan, Ready, Go.

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Virginia’s Historic Triangle is made up of Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown—three cities each with special significance in early American history and all within about 23 miles of each other.

You will have your eyes opened and your horizons broadened in unexpected ways. The top visitor draw in the Historic Triangle is Colonial Williamsburg, the world’s largest living history museum and the capital of the Virginia Colony from 1699 to 1780 (when the capitol was moved to Richmond).

In the early 20th Century, W.A.R. Goodwin, rector of Bruton Parish Church, pitched to John D. Rockefeller Jr. the idea of restoring and preserving (and even reconstructing) the historic center of Williamsburg, Virginia.

Today, Colonial Williamsburg includes 85% of the area of the capital as it was in the 18th Century, including Bruton Parish Church.  

I have to admit that I wasn’t sure what to expect from a visit to Colonial Williamsburg. Would it be cheesy? Would it just be a giant tourist trap? I was so happy to find that Williamsburg was beyond what I had even hoped. It’s a wonderful combination of fun and eye-opening education that is immersive and engaging.

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Colonial Williamsburg ticket options 

Colonial Williamsburg offers several ticketing options, which you can review on their website. If you only want to see Colonial Williamsburg, I’d suggest going for the multi-day ticket since it’s only a little more than the 1-day ticket and includes admission for three consecutive days.

Follow this itinerary if you have only one day at Colonial Williamsburg.

But if you’re in the area anyway, I highly recommend visiting Jamestown and Yorktown as well as Colonial Williamsburg. Seeing all of the Historic Triangle sites together helps to paint a more complete picture of early American history in this area. 

All of the typical Williamsburg sites and shops as well as some events and programs are included in your ticket. Some programs and events require the purchase of a separate ticket, but those are clearly indicated on schedules. 

Rear view of the Royal Governor's Palace in Colonial Williamsburg

Make sure you visit the official Colonial Williamsburg website to check out the schedule of open sites, trade shops, programs, and activities. If you do purchase the Historic Triangle tickets (covering Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown), consider visiting the sites in this order: 

  1. Jamestown Settlement 
  2. Historic Jamestowne
  3. Colonial Williamsburg
  4. American Revolution Museum
  5. Yorktown Battlefield 

I found that by visiting the sites in this order, the information presented at each one built upon the other. You can do both Jamestown sites in one full day, but I would recommend at least two days in Colonial Williamsburg. Both Yorktown sites can be done in one day, but we could have easily spent more time at both the museum and the battlefield. 

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Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area 

Your first stop at Colonial Williamsburg will be at the large Visitor’s Center. This is where you will park (for free), buy your tickets (if you haven’t bought online already), and catch the shuttle to the Historic Area. You can also walk to the Historic Area. It’s a pleasant walk of about a third of a mile.

The Visitor’s Center includes two gift shops (yay!) and restrooms. 

Unless you are staying at one of the official Colonial Williamsburg accommodations, plan to allow 30 minutes to get from your hotel to the Visitor’s Center parking and then on to the Historic area on foot or by shuttle. 

The Historic Area of Colonial Williamsburg is approximately one mile long and about half to three-quarters of a mile wide. Make sure you pick up a map from the Visitor’s Center; it will help you tremendously in planning out your visit and it also shows all of the shuttle stops. 

Must-see/must-do sites in the Historic Area 

There are literally dozens of sites and trade shops in the Historic Area and we were able to experience the bulk of them during our time at Colonial Williamsburg. Here are what we consider to be the “must-see” sites. 

Governor’s Palace 

The Governor’s Palace is the first major building you’ll encounter once you hit the Historic Area if you walk from the Visitor’s Center. We encountered the palace while it was open for self-guided visits.

It’s a beautiful building with lovely gardens and was home to several of the colony’s royal governors as well as a couple of elected Virginia governors. 

Tree casting shadows on the brick Colonial Williamsburg capitol building.
Visit Colonial Williamsburg’s Capitol to learn about the early days of representative government in Virginia Colony.
Photo: Plan, Ready, Go!


Colonial Williamsburg’s impressive capitol is a replica building. All of the previous capitols burned down for one reason or another, but they were able to save some of the furnishings and artwork.

Entry to the Capitol was by guided tour only on our trip. We actually did the tour twice. The first time we ended up on the last tour of the day, which meant the light in the building was quite limited since the sun was going down.

When we returned on Christmas Eve morning, we were the only ones there and ended up with a nice private tour. Both tour guides were excellent. 

Peyton Randolph House 

Entry to this house very near the palace is also by a short, guided tour. Our guide did an excellent job of outlining how the lovely Randolph house was different from the average Virginian’s home and what life there may have been like for an enslaved person.   

Charlton’s Coffeehouse 

Our guided experience at Charlton’s coffeehouse included a chat with Colonel George Washington in the main room. While it was interesting, I do have to admit that since hubby and I were the only ones there it was a little awkward.

We weren’t sure if we were supposed to engage in conversation with him or just let him talk. And what do you say to George Washington anyway?? We had a lovely, quick tour of the coffeehouse followed by a sample of drinking chocolate.

Three replica 18th Century documents on display.
Learn about 18th-century bookbinding, printing, wig making, and more when you visit the trade shops in Colonial Williamsburg. Photo: Plan, Ready, Go!

Trade Shops 

Stop in as many of these shops as you can fit into your day. Not all of them are open daily, but shops that are open will have a flag out front and often a staff member to point you in the right direction.

You don’t need to take long at each one, but you can learn a lot about 18th-century American life (colonial life?) just by asking a few questions.

We highly recommend the armory, the blacksmith, the wig maker, the silversmith, the cabinet shop, the cobbler, the printing press, the bindery, and the apothecary. Also, keep in mind that not all of the sites and shops are right on Duke of Gloucester Street which runs through the heart of the Historic Area.

Refer to your map to make sure you don’t miss anything that’s a little off the main path. 

Fifes and Drums 

Make sure you don’t miss your chance to see the Williamsburg Fifes and Drums on your visit. We were fortunate enough to be there for the “Firing of the Christmas Guns” program just as the sun was going down on Christmas Eve.

I don’t think you can experience anything more “colonial” in Williamsburg than those Fifes and Drums. 


Colonial Williamsburg offers a variety of programs in the Courthouse that are definitely worth adding to your itinerary. At least some of the evening programs require the purchase of a separate ticket, but those are clearly marked on posted and printed schedules.

If any of these had been on the schedule during the week we were there, I would have definitely wanted to do this. 

Other things to do in Williamsburg

There are other tours you can do in Colonial Williamsburg.

  • If you’re looking for a ghost tour, you might enjoy this highly rated one.
  • If you’re interested in hearing stories about pirates as well as ghosts, you might like this guided tour.
  • Interested in doing a day trip to Washington DC? Try this full-day tour of the United States capital including bus transportation from Williamsburg. It comes with free cancellation up to 24 hours before tour departure.

Historic tavern dining 

There are four “historic taverns” in the heart of Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area: Chowning’s Tavern, King’s Arms Tavern, Christiana Campbell’s Tavern, and Shields Tavern.

We did one lunch at Chowning’s Tavern and enjoyed a dinner at Christiana Campbell’s during our trip. Both had good vegetarian options and gladly helped hubby with gluten-free options. If you can, make a point to do at least one meal at one of these taverns. 

Read More → Great Places to Eat in Colonial Williamsburg

Chowning’s Tavern does not take reservations and is a little less expensive than the others, so it’s a good lunch option. Plan to arrive as soon as it opens to be seated quickly. Otherwise, you can do what we did and put your names in for a table and take a nice break from all the walking on a nearby bench while you wait for your table.

Christiana Campbell’s, which apparently was once a favorite spot of George Washington, is only open for dinner, and reservations may be required, so make sure to check ahead.

We enjoyed our meals at both taverns.

People walking through an 18th century style shopping area.
Enjoy shopping and great dining options at Merchants Square in Colonial Williamsburg. Photo: Plan, Ready, Go!

Shopping and Dining at Merchants Square 

Just beyond the Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area, the shopping and dining area called Merchants Square features more than 40 restaurants and retail shops.

During our trip, we enjoyed a lovely dinner at Blue Talon Bistro.

There is A LOT to see and do at Colonial Williamsburg. We spent two and a half days in the historic area and still didn’t see everything. I would have gladly spent a third day there poking around into all of the corners we missed, not to mention to their two art museums.

Where to stay in Colonial Williamsburg 

There are many accommodation options all within easy distance of the Visitor’s Center or historic area.

Options range from the official Colonial Williamsburg hotels and resorts (Williamsburg Inn, Williamsburg Lodge, Griffin Hotel, Woodlands) to colonial houses and budget motel chains. 

We enjoy Marriott hotels and got a great rate at the Residence Inn Williamsburg for our trip. It’s just a short drive from the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor’s Center.

The rate comes with free breakfast and rooms have kitchens in case you want to eat in your room and save some money on your trip.

Other popular and highly rated hotels include:

Williamsburg Inn: This is the premier hotel for stays in Colonial Williamsburg, just steps away from the historic center. It’s the only Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star and AAA Five Diamond-rated resort in the Historic Triangle. Book your room today. 

Williamsburg Lodge: This is a beautiful hotel in a great location in the historic center of Williamsburg. And they offer select dog-friendly rooms. Reserve your room today. 

Williamsburg Woodlands Hotel: Comfortable rooms and conveniently located next to the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor’s Center. Book today.

Colonial Williamsburg tips 

  • Wear comfortable shoes. Even though there is a shuttle service that operates between the Visitor’s Center and several stops around the perimeter of the historic area, you will still do a lot of walking and standing. 
  • Do at least one special event or program. 
  • Enjoy at least one meal at a Colonial Williamsburg historic tavern. 
  • The Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area is open to the public for free, but you do need a ticket to get into any of the historical sites or trade shops. Open sites have a flag posted out in front.  
  • Make sure to refer to your map and schedule to help you plan your day.

Final thoughts on your trip to Colonial Williamsburg

There are so many great things to do in Colonial Williamsburg and the Historic Triangle. After you explore the world’s largest living history museum you can end your day with some great food at one of the amazing restaurants.

More articles about the Historic Triangle

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  1. Lou Rosinski says:

    We have gone to CW every year (and sometimes twice a year) since we discovered it in 2012. Probably not going this year because I do not want to see Lafayette in a mask.

  2. Debby McGehee says:

    We have our 50th wedding anniversary in Oct. and will be going to Williamburg. We love history and looking forward to our trip.

    1. Darcy Vierow says:

      That’s great! I hope you have a wonderful time. My husband and I love Williamsburg, and I think it’s a great idea for an anniversary trip.

  3. Great itinerary! I grew up going to Williamsburg for Busch Gardens and school field trips 😀

  4. Stephanie says:

    I LOVE U.S. history. My sister was a US history major in college and we’ve always enjoyed visiting historical sites- but we’ve never been here! This will have to be next. Not too far from her home in Pittsburgh.

    1. Darcy Vierow says:

      I love history, you will LOVE Colonial Williamsburg! Thanks for reading!

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