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Williamsburg is one of those destinations where people often come for a long weekend and then wish they’d given themselves more time. Each one of its three historic sites could warrant a day on its own, plus there are all sorts of opportunities to get outdoors for biking, hiking, swimming, and boating. There’s also no shortage of modern amusements, like a giant theme park. Five days will allow you to see most of what you want to at a leisurely pace, but you could easily fill a week here. Here are 10 of the best kid-friendly things to do in and around Williamsburg to help you start planning your next great family vacation.
1. Colonial Williamsburg
Obviously, Colonial Williamsburg is the main draw for people visiting the area. It’s a classic American family-vacation destination, and the living museum offers plenty to see and do. Even getting an early start, you probably won’t explore all of it in one day. If you visited the historic site as a kid, you might notice that these days, the attraction is making an effort to tell a more inclusive history of the town. For example, be sure to visit the Native American Encampment and to keep your eye out for characters who can talk about the experiences of free and enslaved Black citizens around town. The town is completely open and you can walk the streets, eat at the restaurants and go into the shops for free. It’s a good option with small kids who might get bored sooner than you would hope. An admission ticket buys you entry to the private homes and workshops, and allows you to participate in the long roster of daily activities. The personal stories you get to hear in the houses and workshops add quite a bit to your visit. Once kids start learning American history in school, it’s worth paying admission to have access to them.
2. Ghost tours
Williamsburg is a natural place for ghost tours and it’s no surprise that you can find several. Most focus on the ghosts of Colonial Williamsburg but there are also tours that explore the haunted side of Yorktown and Jamestown. Some emphasize ghost-hunting while others just recount spooky tales. In general, anything that starts by 8:30pm will be suitable for kids older than 7 or 8. After that, the later it starts, the scarier it’s likely to be. You can see what’s available and get your tickets in advance here.
3. Historic Jamestown/Jamestown Settlement
Jamestown has two distinct places to visit. Historic Jamestown is a National Park and is the site of the original settlement. It’s also an active archeological site. Park rangers, Preservation Virginia volunteers (often archeologists), and costumed interpreters all provide tours of the site at different times of the day. Choose whichever is most convenient or interesting for you, but definitely take a tour. They’re under an hour and help you appreciate both the dig and what they’ve learned from it.
Jamestown Settlement’s indoor museum has also undergone major refurbishments. Its highly interactive galleries allow you to follow the stories of the white settlers, Powhatan Indians and African slaves who converged in Jamestown in the 1600s. It’s surprising how much you’ll learn about this bit of history that you think is already familiar to you. Its living history component includes a re-creation of Jamestown, a Powhatan Village, and the ships that brought the colonists. The interpreters here stay in character and talk about themselves in the first person, making it a very immersive experience. Lock in your 7-day Jamestown Settlement tickets here.
4. American Revolution Museum at Yorktown
This American Revolution Museum finished a major renovation a few years ago and it’s now a really impressive, modern history museum. Interactive elements let you choose your own strategy for the Battle of Yorktown, and learn about real people and the side they chose and follow their stories to see what happened to them. There’s also a living history component outside. It’s smaller than Williamsburg and it explores what rural people thought and did during the revolution. It’s a nice counterpoint to what you learn about the “city folk” in Williamsburg.
5. Busch Gardens
If you are a rollercoaster-loving family, Busch Gardens is the theme park for you. It will have 8 coasters by the summer of 2021, each one bigger and faster than the next. There are also two flumes and a flurry of rides for little kids. The theming at Busch Gardens is Europe-inspired. The rides and restaurants conjure up images of Germany, Italy, France, and England. Ride on DaVinci’s Cradle or the Roman Rapids before sitting down for lunch at the Brauhaus, Les Frites or Grogan’s Irish Pub. Finish your day with a sweet treat from London Dairy or Gelato di San Marco. Get your advance tickets for Busch Gardens here.
6. Water Country USA
If you plan a summer vacation here, a day at Water Country USA will be a welcome break from the hot weather. There are separate water-play areas for toddlers and for school-age kids who might not yet be ready for the big slides, which range from a head-first racing course to a high-thrill water coaster. The park fills up fast. Getting here early will improve your chances of getting a good locker and lounge chairs overlooking the wave pool. They’re a handy base for eating lunch, warming up, and meeting up if your family heads off in different directions.
7. Freedom Park
There are a lot of places to get outside to hike and bike in the Williamsburg area. Freedom Park is easily one of the most interesting. Its 600 acres include two miles of walking trails, 20 miles of mountain biking trails and the Williamsburg Botanical Garden. You’ll find a re-creation of one of the earliest free-black settlements in the US nestled here. And best of all, as far as your teens are concerned, it’s where you’ll find GoApe, an adventure park with ziplines, a tree-top rope course, axe-throwing, and more. It’s a park that really has something for everyone.
8. Go-Karts Plus
If you need a break from living history and aren’t quite up for the big thrills at Busch Gardens, Go-Karts Plus is a good alternative. It has three go-kart tracks and a track for little kids. The “plus” in its name refers to bumper cars and bumper boats with built-in water guns, an Old-West theme mini-golf course, gem-stone panning, a collection of rides for little kids, and quite a bit more for kids of every age. It’s a good destination in the afternoon or after dinner if you’re looking for evening fun.
9. River fun
The York and James are large rivers that flank Williamsburg and are important to its history. They’re also very scenic. It would be a shame not to spend time taking advantage of them during your visit. If you want to swim, Yorktown Beach is a good size with a fishing pier and facilities. College Creek Beach and Jamestown Beach are smaller, but sometimes less busy. Outfitters offer kayaking, canoeing, and some SUPing in the state and local parks along the rivers and their tributaries. In York River State Park you can rent a SUP to explore the marshes where the salt water from the ocean and freshwater meet up to create a lot of biodiversity. If you set off from James City County Marina to do some paddling, you can take in views of Jamestown Settlement from the water.
Take a few minutes to drive through old Yorktown, with its 18th-century walls, houses, and other buildings that are still in use. Some from the final scenes in the series “Turn: Washington’s Spies” were filmed on location here. Below the original town, The Yorktown Waterfront has outdoor dining, at least one seafood shack and some cute boutiques. The beach is in the center of town. You can rent kayaks from an outfitter here or hop on a schooner—maybe even a pirate ship—for a scenic tour of the river.
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