Saturday, January 14, 2017

How to Spend Two Days in Colonial Williamsburg

...And Have to Go Back.

Every January we talk about our plans for the year. At a recent meal, we asked the children what they would like to learn, or do, or visit this year. I was surprised at some of their answers. But they gave some great suggestions and we'll probably be making some plans this year that reflect their ideas.

Last fall I briefly mentioned our trip to Colonial Williamsburg and promised to give a full report. So in case you are planning your family trip this year, here is more than you ever wanted to know about our visit.

Every time we travel through Virginia to see Ed's sister Jean in North Carolina, we see the signs to Williamsburg. "Some day," we would say. "Someday, when the children are a little older, we are coming to Colonial Williamsburg."

This year we are studying early American history and decided it was the perfect time. We made plans to visit during one of Williamsburg's homeschool weeks in September. (Tickets to Colonial Williamsburg is not cheap, but they give great homeschool discounts all year long. In the spring and fall they hold special weeks for homeschoolers. We were able to get two-day tickets for our family for less than $100.00)

But how long should we stay? We talked to friends that had visited Williamsburg recently. Some friends told us one day would be plenty of time, other stated that we needed two days. With young children, we knew we would move slowly so planned two days, but hoped we wouldn't get bored.

Soon after arriving we ran into some homeschool acquaintances. “We came last year for two days," they said, "and enjoyed it so much we are back for two more days.”

So how do you spend two days in Colonial Williamsburg and need to come back?

Well, being a history fanatic helps. I loved seeing the places that we read about in our history books - the streets that Thomas Jefferson traveled to the House of Burgesses, the tavern where Patrick Henry may have shared heated discussions, and the town where George Washington met his wife Martha.

We began our visit with a tour of the Governor's Palace. Our boys' eyes popped at the display of guns and swords in the front hall. 

 We were taught how to make a proper curtsy or bow in the ballroom, ran through the maze in the palace garden, and enjoyed the fragrance of food cooking in the hearth in the kitchen.  

We emerged from the palace in time to watch a demonstration of the storming of the palace by the Virginia militia and a speech by Governor Dunmore. Being in a crowd of irate townspeople help bring to life the frustrations of that time period. Throughout our visit we would watch for the costumed reenactors who depict life in Williamsburg. Whether it was an auction on a house steps, a harpist playing in the market square, or an officer's passionate call for men to join the militia to help defend Virginia, we never knew what we would see next.  

We did not plan well that first day and found ourselves criss-crossing Williamsburg. 

We'd be chatting in the apothecary or watching the blacksmith when we'd look at the schedule and realize that in five minutes we wanted to see the firing of the noon guns and off we'd rush. 

We listened to the cannons (very loud), a Punch-and-Judy puppet show (very silly), and joined a bucket brigade (very wet) to fill an ancient fire engine with water.

If we would have just looked at our schedule at the beginning of the day, maybe we could put fewer steps on our sneakers, but then, action is good when you have young-uns.  

Thankfully both little girls fell asleep so the rest of us could enjoy the courthouse tour where the audience volunteered to take part in several court cases. Our daughter was drafted to play the part of a 12-year-old young lady who was signing her apprenticeship papers to the town seamstress. History becomes more real when the judge gave her just one more night with her family before starting a seven year indentionship.

Late Thursday afternoon we followed the shrill sound of the fife-and-drum to watch the local militia drill. I missed watching the cannons since I was huddled behind the courthouse with the little girls who were NOT impressed by the noise, but it was a highlight for the older children.

The free shuttle from the visitor's center to Colonial Williamsburg runs all evening so after a break for supper, we headed back to Williamsburg, this time to visit the Bruton Parish church. We listened to a beautiful concert from the old pipe organ, but escaped during the intermission because we feared that our children's good behavior might end. The evening was so lovely, that we walked the quiet streets of Williamsburg, lit only with dim lights from the windows and a full moon before finally catching the shuttle to get our weary children to their beds. Ed's phone said that we walked over six miles on Thursday.

We began Friday morning at the Great Hopes plantation beside the visitor's center and right outside Colonial Williamburg. This small farm depicts rural Virginia life and we enjoyed this view of the life of the common people.

The children dipped water from the well in wooden buckets to fill a trough.

We chatted with the carpenters at work on a post-and-beam building and hand making cedar shingles.

After leaving the farm and returning to Williamsburg, we listened to Lafeyette share his story of the American revolution. Throughout our stay we could have met Martha Washington, Patrick Henry, James Madison, and more, but we just didn't have time.

Then we visited the coffeeshop where the children were delighted to be offered chocolate instead of coffee and Ed chatted with an Native American who was in town to trade his furs.  

Silversmith, milliner, cobbler, cooper, tinsmith – each tradesman (or woman) patiently showed us their craft. My favorite? The wig-maker with her slow southern drawl combined with witty remarks. I wanted to sit in the corner of her shop, hold my sides, and roar. We didn't discover until Friday that not all the shops are open every day. I suppose even basketmakers need a day off. We'll have to see the printer, tailor, and joiner on our next visit.

At the Randolph house the tutor taught our children how to write on a slate while Ed and Paige watched the milking of the Dexter cow. We enjoyed the house tours, but it seemed that halfway through, a little person would need a potty break so we skipped most of the house tours. Next time.

I loved the little gardens behind the houses. When Haven needed fed, I'd stroll through a gate and find a quiet garden bench. Williamsburg was suffering a drought and the gardens were showing the stress. I'd like to come back in the spring since I've heard the tulips are lovely.

The secret to cheerful children during long days and many miles are frequent stops. Our stroller was well-stocked with water bottles, lunch, and snacks, but by Friday afternoon the even frequent snacks were not keeping our children energized so we took a break at the Geddy house where a staff member taught the children a colonial game. 

We would have enjoyed watching the fife-and-drums again, but we decided to head back for a siesta and supper. But we couldn't resist. Back we returned for another moonlit walk around town - giving us close to six miles on our second day as well.

Colonial Williamsburg: one of our best family vacations . . . and we want to go back.


  1. What fun so interesting thanks for sharing the pictures I love history

  2. We would love to go. Its on our list. Thank you for the wonderful review.

  3. That would be a dream vacation for me. I love that era!
    Thanks so much for sharing with us.

  4. Thanks for sharing-it brought back good memories! We visited Colonial Williamsburg about 12 years ago and I would love to go back!

  5. Thank you for sharing about your vacation!I think we might have to plan a trip. My children love history, especially colonial history so I think they would love it. It looks so fun!

  6. I love seeing all the fun adventures your family have. You are an inspiration to parents every where. Love your blog!

  7. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on how to spend two days in Colonial Williamsburg. Interesting post, I love reading it.

    - Gustavo Woltmann

  8. What a wonderful tour!! Thank you for sharing! Leaves me smiling!

  9. We honeymooned in Williamsburg 12 years ago then went back for our 10th anniversary. We love it there and hope it's not 10 years before we go again. There's so much to see and do! For our 10th anniversary, we got passes for the Historic Triangle (Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown)--not cheap but worth it! The shuttle service is great.

  10. Williamsburg is a wonderful place to visit!

  11. We've talked of doing this for awhile now! Our children would love it!!

  12. We have never been there! Thanks for sharing. I think this is something we need to do!

  13. Somewhere we would love to go sometime... and thank you for the hints!

  14. Please share where you stayed....I too have 6 kids and finding lodging is quite a challenge.

    I have found condos that accommodate a larger family, just not sure how far away they are. Can you lodge somewhere and then just walk to Williamsburg?

    1. There is some lodging options that are run by Colonial Williamsburg which are right by the Visitor's Center but we thought they were expensive. A friend got us a great deal on a condo just a few miles away which was the perfect option for our family. If you found a condo that works for your family, ask how far they are from Colonial Williamsburg.

  15. We loved our visit to Williamsburg when the 5 children were school age (the youngest was 5) and did spend the 2 full days.

  16. This sounds so fun! Thank you for sharing. I love history and reenacted history is even more fun. I know our kids will love this. If you enjoyed Williamsburg you need to visit Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts. I've not been there personally yet, but a number of my immediate family has. They reported a worthwhile experience. Again, they have time period actors that make it come alive. I read in a magazine review that you can even arrange to stay overnight in one of the homes. You would eat, live, and do what a typical family of that period did. Pricey I'm sure, but it sounded like a fun experience.

  17. My husband & I just celebrated our tenth anniversary with a trip to Williamsburg in December, so this post was very interesting...and the pictures quite familiar, even if we were wearing coats and enjoying holiday decor during our time there! We spent two days in the Williamsburg as well and didn't get nearly everything covered, so we are also anxious to go back, and are looking forward to taking the children next time! I have been interested in their homeschooling days, and am curious if you would recommend going over that time or just picking an "ordinary" time to go? Was it extra busy, and if so, did the extra activities geared towards the children make up for that? Thanks for this great review! :)

    1. We hate huge crowds so I was a little worried about going on their homeschool weeks, but it was not crowded. We didn't do many of the extra activities - just not enough time to do everything. I thought it was fun to chat with homeschool families if we were waiting for something to start. It is always fun to connect with other homeschool moms so that was a special encouragement to me and an extra benefit of going over those weeks. I think we would choose to go over the homeschool weeks again, unless we wanted a different time of year. I'd really like to be there for the spring tulips sometime.

  18. We went in fall of 2015 and enjoyed it sooooooooooo much, but it was still quite hot. I would like to return at a time when it is cooler. We also saw Thomas Jefferson's house on that trip. His garden was lovely!
    I do remember that like to have never found the entry of Williamsburg. We went in circles for a while.
    Great place to visit!


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