If you live on the East Coast of the United States and are preferably within some comfortable distance of Virginia, you have probably heard of Colonial Williamsburg. I can assure you that every middle school kid has heard of it, since it’s one of the staples of annual field trips enjoyed by many.
So, I decided to suggest this little gem to my mom and grandma who were looking for a quick weekend getaway. I’m 28, and this was my field trip. And it was awesome…!
Colonial Williamsburg was about a four-hour drive for us, coming from the little state of Delaware. No one in their right mind can refuse a road trip, so this was all just icing on the cake. Most of the drive is actually away from main highways and through quaint back roads through the countryside, which always gives you a nice disconnect from the usual, mindless driving as you pass horse and buggies, people walking, and fields upon fields of corn or some other harvest in full bloom.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by the pure adorable-ness of the town. It was truly designed around the colonial hub that now attracts tourists far and wide. The town is small and cozy, even on a blisteringly hot summer day. I would soon learn that summer months are ideal for walking the colonial streets, so the tourists really piled into town and it got quite busy in the afternoon. Regardless, Williamsburg offered its simplicity and people took it by the hand like it was free.
Colonial Williamsburg is a living-history museum, right in the historic district of Williamsburg, Virginia. Its many, well-preserved houses and grounds pull the tourist back into America’s 18th century, telling the story of colonial America’s daily life, still under the British rule. Most of the homes found as one walks the cobblestone streets have been reconstructed, and are now used as historical museums: family homes, inns, pubs, and shops. Interpreters, as they are called, dress up in 18th-century attire and assume the role of barkeep, shop owner, lieutenant, or lady to further guide the tourist back into the past. Their portrayal is nothing short of astonishing.
As you walk the streets, you’ll be pulled by your curiosity to different shops, all selling or making something reminiscent of 18th century America: leather shoes, hats, toy guns for boys, soap, candles, and the like. Here, shopping is simple, yet oddly exciting and luxurious, in that old-time feel. Who needs to buy basic soap on a rope…? But you want to, for some reason.
And if that isn’t enough to make you giggle, you’ll often hear music coming from some side street or another, or perhaps a play acted out right in the middle of the street. There are no cars on the cobblestone streets during the day, which give the tourists greater freedom to roam the past like it once was.
Where to start…! Not only can you walk through Colonial Williamsburg to take it all in, but you can also do it from the carriage of a traditional, 18th-century carriage ride, equipped with your own personal tour guide and carriage “driver,” who will take you down the many smaller alleys of the historic town. The drivers are all dressed up, as well, and the horses are pretty adorable, too. This isn’t like a New York City carriage ride, where the horses look beat up and malnourished (sorry, NYC!); this is a leisurely stroll through time on a beautiful sunny day, and if you ask, you can pet the horses and take pictures afterwards.
If American history is your thing, you’ve definitely hit the motherload. Apart from the many smaller museums in Colonial Williamsburg, the town does have a larger Art Museum where you can view colonial artifacts and photographs, and even get your picture taken next to a few statues throughout town, honoring the Founding Fathers. All of the interpreters have a solid knowledge of the town and its development, from the 18th century to the present, and they are more than happy to share if you’re curious.
One of the best activities, however, is Colonial Williamsburg’s popular ghost tour (if that’s your thing..!). Over the years, the town has created a reputation for itself for being one of the most haunted places on the American East Coast, and having walked through its streets at night, I don’t doubt that reputation one bit. Ghost tours can be found pretty much anywhere within the colonial district of the town, and the prices are extremely reasonable. A tour guide meets you in town with an old lantern, which makes the whole thing that much more authentic.
Our tour guide led us through the streets that I walked freely and easily a few hours before, during the day. However, with her stories, the streets quickly became a little heavier and dare I say, scarier. I was surprised to learn the many stories that some of the houses and museums nurtured, and the guide’s ability to bring these stories to life was an exceptional benefit. Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, just hearing the stories that the guides share is entertainment enough.
I do want to share one story with you about a man named Payton Randolph, who was one of the more wealthy inhabitants of old Williamsburg in the 18th century. His house is the last house we visited on our ghostly night tour, and for good reason. It is believed to be one of the most haunted houses on the East Coast. Story has it that Payton’s wife got a hankering one day for some new wall decor, and after some bitter back and forth, she hired men to go out into the town cemetery and pull the coffin lids off and bring them back to hang on her walls. Creepy, I know. And probably not the best decor tip in the world…
But, apart from other “accidents” and deaths in the Payton household, this house looks just as creepy during the day as it does at night. The locals believe that Payton and his wife are not the only spirits that haunt the Randolph residence; with them, a host of disturbed spirits roam the house who were probably fairly pissed that lady Randolph took their coffin lids. True story.
The Local Charm
All in all, this town is truly a place where you can relax, learn something great, and maybe scream a couple of times as you learn about the local ghosts. Its history is rich, its people are pleasant and hospitable, and Williamsburg in general is just what you need when you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of city living.
When you visit, keep your camera handy. There are many beautiful photo ops, whether around town or in beautiful nature that surrounds it, and you’ll want to capture each and every moment. The general prices are affordable and reasonable, and if you are a museum enthusiast, there are bundle packages where you can explore all of the museums in any given day or weekend. It’s definitely a money saver!
And….if you are a student shopping around for a college, check out the College of Mary and William, situated right in the heart of Colonial Williamsburg!