Colonial Williamsburg: World’s Largest Living History Museum

Colonial Williamsburg is the world’s largest living history museum with 301 acres featuring iconic sites, working trades people, historic taverns, and two world-class art museums

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation operates the world’s largest living history museum in Williamsburg, Virginia—the restored 18th-century capital of Britain’s largest, wealthiest, and most populous settlement in the New World.

Meet a Nation Builder like George Washington or Edith Cumbo and admire the craftsmanship of some of the best artisans in the world. Connect with your family over a horse-drawn carriage ride, world-class dining, and a Haunted Williamsburg ghost tour.

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History of Williamsburg

The city was founded as the capital of the Virginia Colony in 1699 and it was here that the basic concepts of the United States of America were formed under the leadership of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, and many others.

Named Williamsburg in honor of England’s reigning monarch at the time, King William III, the colonial mecca also became a center of learning. The College of William and Mary founded in 1693 counts political leaders such as Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Tyler as graduates.

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During its time as the capital of Virginia, Williamsburg flourished as the hub of religious, economic, and social life in the state. A palatial Governor’s Palace was built as were markets, taverns, a theatre, a church (those living in the New World were required by law to worship in the Church of England), and countless homes. Market Square was the site of celebrations, festivals, fairs, contests, and even puppet shows; tradesmen, such as wig makers, tailors, blacksmiths, and cabinetmakers, practiced their craft along Duke of Gloucester Street. Restaurants and taverns offered onion soup, ham, carrot and chicken dishes, pudding, and pie.

Related article: Historic Triangle: 400 Years & Counting

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What to see and do in Colonial Williamsburg

Here is an overview of the essentials for a visit to Williamsburg.

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Governor’s Palace: Experience the grandeur of royal authority in Virginia just before its collapse in the Revolution. The Governor’s Palace, home to seven royal governors and the first two elected governors in Virginia was built to impress visitors with a display of authority and wealth. Tours every 7-15 minutes

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Raleigh Tavern: The Raleigh Tavern served as a critical stage for Virginia’s political ambitions amid intensifying debate about liberty, ultimately leading to our nation’s independence. Learn about different perspectives on the extraordinary events that took place here on tours offered every 20 minutes.

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Wetherburn’s Tavern: Merriment and conviviality were specialties of the house at Wetherburn’s Tavern. Get a glimpse into the private lives of Henry Wetherburn, his family, and his slaves who made the tavern one of the most successful of the 1750s. The tavern and the dairy out back are both original buildings.

Related article: 8 U.S. Towns Stuck in Time

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Everard House: Visit the home of Thomas Everard, a wealthy planter and civic leader. One of the oldest houses in Williamsburg, the Everard House is furnished with 18th-century antiques and was meticulously restored to its early appearance.

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R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse: Step back into the time of the Stamp Act and learn about the fashionable world of the coffeehouse where Williamsburg’s citizens and visitors met to share news, transact business, and debate politics. Meet people of the past and converse over coffee, tea, or velvety chocolate prepared in the 18th-century style. Tours offered every 15-20 minutes.

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Anderson Blacksmith Shop: The Revolutionary War wasn’t won through battles alone. Virginia desperately needed a new armory to keep pace with the might of British industry. Watch blacksmiths take red-hot iron from the fires of their forges and hammer it into a variety of tools, hardware, and weapons.

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Brickyard: Discover the process of making bricks that will be used in building projects around town. During the summer, brickmakers mold and dry thousands of bricks. In the autumn, the bricks are baked in a giant wood-fired oven. Keep an eye out, too, for masons using these bricks in all sorts of projects around town.

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Foundry: The Geddy family included gunsmiths, cutlers, founders, and silversmiths. On the site of their home and shop, watch founders cast and finish buckles, knobs, bells, spoons, and other objects in bronze, brass, pewter, and silver.

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Guardhouse: The Magazine stands as a symbol of the Crown’s commitment to the common defense and the expansion of its empire. Visit the Guardhouse and discover how this military storehouse and Virginia’s diverse peoples shaped an empire and defined a new nation.

Related article: 10 Towns Older Than America

Gunsmith Shop: See how gunsmiths made rifles, pistols, and fowling pieces using the tools and techniques of their 18th-century predecessors and uniting many skills from forging iron to working wood.

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Presbyterian Meetinghouse: In a time when only the Anglican Church was Virginia’s official religion, what did everyone else do on Sunday? Although Catholics and other non-Protestants were denied religious freedom, the government allowed many dissenting Protestants to worship in meetinghouses like this one.

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Public Gaol: Thieves, runaway slaves, debtors, and political prisoners once paced the cells of the Public Gaol as they waited to be tried—or hanged. Perhaps its most notorious inmates were several pirates who had served under Blackbeard and were captured with him in 1718. Self-guided exploration of the cells where prisoners were held as they awaited trial and punishment.

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Arboretum & Gardens: More than 30 maintained gardens dot the 301-acre living history museum. The collection features 25-period species of oak trees. The Arboretum is home to 20 Virginia state champion trees and two national champion trees—the jujube and the Paper Mulberry.

America’s Historic Triangle

A visit to Colonial Williamsburg isn’t complete without visiting all the historic sites the area is known for. Must-sees include the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown and Yorktown Battlefield (where the American Revolution was won), and Jamestown Settlement (where America’s first permanent English colony came to life).

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Colonial Williamsburg is open 365 days a year. Most Historic Trades and Sites are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. After hours, check out Evening Programs which run well into the evening. The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg are open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Restaurant and store hours vary.

Admission tickets are required to enter buildings and experience programming in the Historic Area. With your ticket, enjoy interpreter-guided tours of the most iconic sites including the Capitol, Governor’s Palace, and Courthouse. Tradespeople work and share their craft in workspaces, gardens, yards, and at the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg.

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Your admission ticket also grants you access to multiple programs throughout the day on the Charlton and Play House stages as well as the newly expanded and updated Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg including stage programs and performances twice a day in the Hennage Auditorium. You’ll also be able to take advantage of a complimentary shuttle service and get seasonal discounts on carriage rides. Check the events calendar and seasonal activities pages to see what’s open and happening during your visit.

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Colonial Williamsburg offers several admission options and special offers to customize your visit. Tickets and passes currently available include:

  • Single-day ticket ($46.99)
  • Multiday ticket ($56.99)
  • Annual pass ($74.99)
  • Art museums single-day ticket ($14.99)
  • America’s Historic Triangle ticket ($109.90)

Worth Pondering…

The truth is, I love history and studied it in college with a particular focus on early American history. My love is so deep, in fact, I went to school at The College of William & Mary in Colonial Williamsburg.

—Alexandra Bracken

11 National Park Service Sites I Love

National parks get a lot of attention but there’s so much more to the National Park Service

On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the “Organic Act” creating the National Park Service (NPS), a federal bureau in the Department of the Interior responsible for maintaining national parks and monuments that were then managed by the department. The National Park System has since expanded to 423 units (often referred to as parks) including 63 national parks, more than 150 related areas, and numerous programs that assist in conserving the nation’s natural and cultural heritage for the benefit of current and future generations.

There’s never a bad time to visit America’s amazing national parks, but the decision of which ones to visit can feel overwhelming. To make it easier, I’ve handpicked 11 of my favorite parks that are must-visits. Start planning your next outdoor adventure today!

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Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota

I wonder if Mount Rushmore was the inspiration for the movie Field of Dreams. I’m sure it’s not, but follow along with me. If building a baseball field in the middle of an Iowa cornfield seemed crazy, sculpting a mountain into a national treasure in the middle of the Black Hills of South Dakota must have seemed off-the-charts insane.

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But both the baseball field of the movie and the patriotic landmark were works of those people following their passions. And both were great successes. Two million people a year visit Mount Rushmore. Although they come to see patriotism-inspiring 60-foot-tall busts of four presidents carved into granite, they’re also inspired by the natural treasures of the Black Hills.

Was that the plan of the creators of the memorial—“if we build it, they’ll come” to South Dakota and see the Black Hills?

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That was one of their good calls. However, not all of their visions came to fruition. For example, behind Lincoln’s head is the Hall of Records. It was originally envisioned as a massive chamber hundreds of feet into the mountain to hold the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and other important documents. They got 70 feet in when cooler heads prevailed, so to speak.

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Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia

Unlike many national parks, Blue Ridge Parkway is a designer park. I mean that the park wasn’t developed based on a specific landmark or feature (e.g. the Grand Canyon or Badlands). The plan was to build a parkway—but the route wasn’t pre-determined. Instead, landscape architects and engineers were given creative freedom and chose and designed a route that plays out like a symphony. Or a musical, or a story! Pick your metaphor of something that’s crafted to change pace, change feeling, and change perspective.

Related Article: From Arches to Zion: The Essential Guide to America’s National Parks

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The parkway is 469 miles of views, history, nature, Appalachia, and America. It’s not a highway, designed for speed. It’s a parkway, designed for savoring the journey.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyon De Chelly National Monument, Arizona

If you’ve been to a national park site, you may have heard one of the rangers say something like “this is your park, it’s owned by all Americans.” This one is not. This park is owned by the Navajo Nation and is managed cooperatively. A few Navajo families still live, raise livestock, and farm in the park. Travel in many areas is restricted so read the signs and follow the rules.

Yes, you can go on a hike with a ranger, but here, for the most memorable experience, take a canyon tour with a Navajo guide. It’s a truly authentic, welcoming experience you’ll remember forever.

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Arches National Park, Utah

Perched high above the Colorado River, Arches National Park is carved and shaped by weathering and erosion. The park has over 2,000 natural stone arches in addition to hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins, and giant balanced rocks. It contains the highest density of natural arches in the world.

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About 300 million years ago an inland sea covered what is now Arches National Park. The sea evaporated and re-formed 29 times in all leaving behind salt beds thousands of feet thick. Later, sand and boulders carried down by streams from the uplands eventually buried the salt beds beneath thick layers of stone. Because the salt layer is less dense than the overlying blanket of rock, it rises through it, forming it into domes and ridges with valleys in between.

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Colonial National Historical Park, Virginia

Want to go way back in American history? Then you’ll head to some of the first colonies in the New World. The Colonial National Historical Park in Virginia covers Historic Jamestowne (the first permanent English settlement in North America) and Yorktown Battlefield (site of the last major battle of the Revolutionary War).

Related Article: America the Beautiful: The National Parks

Fan of battlefields or not, Jamestowne is pretty cool. And, while you’re in the area, you can hit up the rest of the Historic Triangle and visit Colonial Williamsburg, too.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona

Right along the U.S.-Mexico border, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument has the kind of scenery you’d expect when you picture the desert. The monument’s tall, skinny namesake cacti abound in every direction. Take a ride down Ajo Mountain Drive for great views of the “forests” of Saguaro (another species of cactus native to the area).

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Make sure you pack plenty of water and layers. Though temps can get dangerously hot in the daytime, desert temps drop dramatically when the sun goes down, even in the summer. And you’ll definitely want to stick around for the night sky here—the desert climate lends itself to clear evenings. In the winter months, rangers offer stargazing activities with telescopes.

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Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Within striking distance of the famous Bears Ears Buttes, Natural Bridges National Monument is home to stunning, gravity-defying rock formations including Sipapu Bridge, a 31-foot-wide bridge spanning 268 feet. The park was the first-ever Dark Sky Park to be certified by the International Dark-Sky Association.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to the famed stargazing, the area is rich in opportunities to learn more about ancient and modern-day Native American culture. Make sure to take time to hike to the park’s well-preserved petroglyphs. Always be respectful by sticking to the trails and leaving any artifacts you may stumble upon exactly where you found them.

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Joshua Tree National Park, California

Everyone needs to add Joshua Tree National Park to their travel list. Located in Southern California, this national park has unique landscapes—large boulders, Mojave and Colorado deserts, and Joshua trees and yucca trees. The desert is beautiful with the various cacti and wildflowers scattered through the park.

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There are plenty of activities to keep you occupied for several days. Stop by one of the park’s Visitor Centers to hear recommendations on things to do. Some of the popular activities include camping, rock climbing, mountain biking, and stargazing. The pitch-black skies are beautiful in the evenings. Visit the Sky’s The Limit Observatory which is next to the park and observe the stars.

Related Article: What to Expect at the National Parks this Summer 2022

Hiking is the major highlight as there are over two dozen trails from easy to challenging routes. It’s best to hike early in the morning and avoid the summer’s brutal heat. Favorite hiking trails include 49 Palms Oasis (3 miles) and the Lost Palms Oasis (7.5 miles). Both of these trails lead to an oasis of palm trees in the desert. You’ll have an awesome time visiting Joshua Tree National Park.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah and Arizona

Hidden among the curves and canyons of the southwest is an artificial oasis. The man-made Lake Powell offers opportunities to swim, fish, kayak, and boat straight through the desert. Glen Canyon is known for Horseshoe Bend, that perfect blue curve of the Colorado River through Navajo Sandstone canyon walls. The canyon rim is usually crowded with tourists aiming for the perfect Instagram shot but it is indeed worth seeing in person, especially at sunset.

For a road less traveled, drive the Burr Trail from Bullfrog to Boulder, which will take you through unspoiled vistas of Capitol Reef National Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Check the weather before you hit the trail—flash floods can make the roads impassable and dangerous.

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Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia

Although Georgia’s Atlantic coastline is only about 100 miles long, the Peach State is home to 30 percent of the barrier islands along the Atlantic Seaboard. And Cumberland is the largest and fairest of them all with the longest expanse of the pristine seashore—18 glorious miles of deserted sand. Truly, this is a bucket-list destination.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The adventure starts on the ferry from St. Mary’s, the only way to get to the island which offers a wonderful view of the diverse habitats. Rent a bike, book a tour with park rangers, or bring a pair of good hiking shoes as the island is a wonderful place to explore. You can spot wild horses roaming freely, raccoons, wild boars, alligators, white-tailed deer, and many birds. Stop by the ruins of Carnegie Dungeness mansion which was built in 1884 by Thomas Carnegie and burned in the 1950s.

Related Article: Get Off the Beaten Path with These Lesser-Known National Parks

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White Sands National Park, New Mexico

The American Southwest is full of otherworldly places but White Sands National Park, a massive field of pale dunes in southern New Mexico is about as good as it gets for austere, alien majesty. Wander long enough through the endless hillocks of gypsum crystals and you will start to feel like you’re in an altered state (though hopefully not because you’re dehydrated; be sure to bring lots of water). It’s easy to imagine one of the sandworms from Dune bursting up from below or a UFO from nearby Roswell drifting across the shimmering sky.

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome