One of the Williamsburg area’s greatest strengths will always be its history. Not many U.S. destinations can lay claim to being North America’s first British settlement, after all. But today’s Williamsburg isn’t just for the colonial buffs: foodies, nature lovers, and thrill seekers can all find their niche here, and this goes for upscale travelers as well.
If you’re looking to explore the more luxurious side of Williamsburg, read on for my tried-and-true recommendations for a high-end Virginia getaway.
Where to Stay
The Williamsburg Inn is the region’s bonafide grande dame: a Forbes five-star property that has hosted Presidents, royalty, and countless icons since the 1930s. Once through its dramatic white-columned portico, guests at the traditional 62-room hotel enjoy endearing service, stately lounge spaces, restaurants, and access to a sprawled golf course based in the Inn’s “backyard.” Rooms are Regency-style and boast marble bathrooms, custom silk curtains, and a special turndown service laced with sweets and libations. Be sure to walk in the footsteps of England’s Queen Elizabeth II, whose portrait sits next to the very staircase she once climbed for Jamestown’s 350th Anniversary in 1947.
Where to Eat
Eating in Williamsburg is a delight, as its diverse inventory of restaurants means there are perfect finds for all visitors according to one’s taste and budget. For the fine dining lovers, the New American fare at Cochon on 2nd should be at the top of one’s list. Executive Chef Neil Griggs stresses locally sourced ingredients, and one can taste the quality in dishes such as fried oyster salad and herb-crusted ribeye cuts, all served in an elegant, high-ceilinged venue.
Le Yaca is Williamsburg's banner French bistro, a beloved local haunt since the 1960s and a magnet for special occasions. Generous portions line the extensive menu of favorites such as French onion soup, escargot, and their “Canard:” seared duck breast topped with foie gras, caramelized white peach, and port wine jus.
Located in the celebrated Williamsburg Winery, Gabriel Archer Tavern is a farm-to-fork restaurant with a casual, yet upscale atmosphere. Wine flights supplied by the winery make for excellent pairings with the food on offer, from apple compote-topped pork chops to luscious pairs of lump crab cake laced with tzatziki and farro pilaf.
The Williamsburg Inn’s Terrace Room is the most refined breakfast spot in town, serving classic morning bites and hot beverages in a mural-lined room with views of a verdant golf course.
Transport yourself to Madrid or Seville with a jaunt to La Tienda, which doubles as a tapas bar and Spanish grocery & homewares shop. Ingredients used for the tapas are all imported from Spain, so the likes of jamón serrano & manchego croquetas and txangurro (Basque-style crab dip) are as authentic as one can get on this side of the Atlantic.
Where to Sip
You might have had a taste of fermented grapes (wine), but what about fermented honey? Discover one of the world’s most ancient adult beverages—mead—at the family-owned, award-winning Silver Hand Meadery. The meadery offers a wide array of honey and mead varieties to enjoy and take home, from the sweet (Appalachian wildflower honey with passion fruit and raspberries) to dry ones fused with green tea, rosemary, and thyme.
A tour and tasting at the Copper Fox Distillery, which transformed a former motel complex to a flourishing whiskey-making HQ, is a must for libation lovers. You’ll get an in-depth look at their malt-making operations led by easy-going and knowledgeable staff. For the best-of-the-best tastings, spring for the Premium Flight to sample Copper Fox’s Chestnut American Whiskey (my personal favorite) and Port Style Barrel Finish Rye.
Where to Rejuvenate
Schedule some unwinding time after exploring Williamsburg’s extensive pedestrian-friendly sites and shops at The Spa of Colonial Williamsburg. The multi-story venue offers a bevy of massage treatments (some even inspired by 17th and 18th Century practices), and the separate men’s and women’s areas each come with lounges, a steam room, hot tub, and sauna. My favorite amenities were the enormous pools—one outdoor and one indoor with a whirlpool tub—allowing me plenty of space to swim and reset in relaxed, elegant surroundings.
Places to See
Though the site of an infamous, bloody battle, today’s Yorktown is a lot more peaceful and appealing. Visit Yorktown’s Riverwalk Landing and explore the shops and bars-lined promenade along the York River. Catch a trolley and explore more of the preserved residential architecture in the area, and be sure to get off the nearest stop for local-roasted coffee and pastries in the family-owned Mobjack Bay Coffee Roasters, housed in a former 1700s residence. On Saturdays in the spring, summer, and fall months, the popular Yorktown Market Days fills the waterfront area with artisans, food purveyors, and more, selling quality local goods.
For world-class curations of decorative and folk art, The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg is a must-see. The recently renovated and expanded space is a two-for-one attraction, housing both the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum. One can get lost for hours in the impressive range of periods, themes, and objects on display here, from luxurious 17th-century British antiques to a bizarre full-scale carousel in the folk art wing. It’s a site that is both educational and fun for all ages.
Unique Tours & Experiences
Not easily spooked? Try out Colonial Williamsburg’s seasonal Haunted Williamsburg Tour for an eerie look into the lives of the area’s former inhabitants. Led by compelling, costumed storytellers via candlelight, it’s the only tour where guests can enter these historic buildings. Shivering accounts of past soldiers, enslaved Africans, scorned wives, and others whose souls still “dwell” in residences might yield some serious goosebumps.
Take your regional tour up a notch—several thousand feet up—with the Williamsburg Flight Center’s scenic air tour offerings. Flight experiences run from 30 minutes to an hour, but I found the 45-minute Historic Triangle Air Tour to be the perfect sweet spot. It was a thrill to glide above well-preserved Jamestown, the mighty York River and experience Colonial Williamsburg from above.
For another unique tour option, book a Sunset Cruise with Jamestown Discovery Boat Tours. Keep your eyes peeled for eagles while gliding through Powhatan Creek, and hear about the history and precious ecology of the area as the sun descends. I hope you’ll be as lucky as I was with the sunset experience, as traversing the James River underneath a fiery-pink sky was one of the most soul-stirring scenes I’ve experienced in recent memory.