Rediscover history in Williamsburg

The Capital building in Colonial Williamsburg is shown.
The Capital building in Colonial Williamsburg is shown. (Patrick Brannan/Staff Photo, Carroll County Times)

When I was growing up, my parents would often take me to Williamsburg, Va. We'd visit the Colonial Williamsburg historical area as well as a few other attractions in the area.

Until last fall, I hadn't been to the historic area in about 20 years. But since October, I've made three trips, now taking my own children.

The historic area which features the town as it was around the American Revolution has undergone a lot of changes. They've restored several new buildings and changed the entire way the historical interpretations are presented.

Part of the story of Williamsburg is told in a dramatic production titled "Revolutionary City." It highlights the build up to the revolution in the mid 1770s and the time around the battle of Yorktown in 1781. It's a little odd to see speakers mounted in trees and people in Colonial dress with microphones around their heads, but it's part of the interactive approach the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is taking in the historic area. It's an interesting portrayal of the issues and time around the American Revolution.

If you really want to immerse yourself in history, Jamestown, Va., the first permanent English settlement established in 1607 and Yorktown, Va., the site of the final battle in the American Revolution, aren't far. The three sites are connected by the Colonial Parkway, a 23-mile road that is part of the National Park Service.

Once you've soaked up the history, you can come back to modern day with the family attractions of Busch Gardens and Water Country, USA. There's also plenty of shopping, including an outlet mall.

Three things you'll need

A visit to the Colonial Williamsburg Visitors Center: This is the starting place for a visit to the historical area. But you can also purchase tickets and catch a shuttle to Jamestown, Yorktown, Busch Gardens and Water Country, USA. It also has information on the region from lodging to dining so it's a good place to start. You don't need a ticket to visit the historical area, but you can't get into any of the restored buildings and programs without one.

Good walking shoes: Motor vehicles aren't allowed in the historic area, which is great for running, walking dogs and families with children. But you will do a decent amount of walking. The area isn't that large, maybe a mile or so, but you will get a workout walking around.

A sense of history: When you are visiting the historic area, you are stepping back in time to when Williamsburg was the capital of Virginia around the time of the American Revolution. You may run into a costumed interpreter or even attend a speech by a founding father who will talk about "current" events. There are plenty of opportunities to get involved in activities and interact with people.


Three travel tips

Get a free-refills mug: At the Colonial Williamsburg Visitors Center, and several sites in the historic area, they offer a mug that once purchased allows you to get free refills at various locations. It costs $11 and is a great way to stay hydrated during the summer, or warm during the colder months with a variety of beverages available. You'll likely cover the cost if you have three or more drinks during your visit.

Check out the hotels connected with Colonial Williamsburg: On our most recent trip we stayed at the Williamsburg Woodlands located next to the visitor's center. We didn't have to move our car once as the shuttle buses take you into the historic area. There are also free shuttles to Jamestown, Yorktown, Busch Gardens and Water Country, USA. And often the rates are comparable to other hotels in the area.

Walk to the historic area, at least once: While the shuttle buses that circle the historic area are a great way to get to the various points, you can also do a half-mile walk. The walking path takes you past the Great Hopes Plantation site which is a representation of working farmers and slaves which you miss if you take the bus.

Three things to do or see

Colonial Williamsburg historic area: The restoration of the old town started in 1926 under the leadership of John D. Rockefeller Jr. About 85 percent of the original town has been preserved and various buildings restored. It's a great way to experience history in a unique and fun way.

Busch Gardens: It's been a few years since I've visited this amusement park, but it's the closest I've been to Europe. It features several roller coasters and is large and clean. It's a fun way to spend a day with the family.

The College of William and Mary: Established in 1693 it is the second oldest college in the United States, behind Harvard. Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and John Tyler are graduates who went on to become president. It's a short walk from the historic area and it's worth a visit.

One thing to skip

Nothing: I haven't found anything yet.