First-Timer’s Guide to Greater Williamsburg

These must-see places will delight you — and dispel all your preconceptions.

Paddling on the James River
Ride Alpengeist at Busch Gardens
Engage in a conversation in Colonial Williamsburg
Enjoy an outdoor meal at Blue Talon
Ride one of three family raft rides at Water Country USA, Big Daddy Falls
Enjoy fresh oysters at Waypoint Seafood & Grill

Never visited Greater Williamsburg? We’ll help guide you to all that you've been missing.

Trust, us, you're going to be surprised at the range of unforgettable experiences, whether it's sitting down to culinary delights, paddling placid waters, soaring on a roller coaster, or engaging in a conversation 400+ years in the making.

Here's what you need to know for your first visit — or your 50th.

It's All Close Together

What other destination has so much — outdoor recreation, amusement parks, history, and dining — within such a compact area? Greater Williamsburg is unique. Its heritage stretches back four centuries, but the area hasn't stopped growing and adapting.

Here, the Past is Present

History is rich throughout the area. But it's not encased in amber. This is not your parents' Greater Williamsburg.

Take Colonial Williamsburg. It's transformed in recent years from a place to gaze at history to a destination to immerse yourself in history. Stop by the Peyton Randolph House and meet Aggy, the enslaved woman who had two children with her master and later successfully sued for their freedom. Duck into the blacksmith shop and watch red-hot iron forged into tools or one of the other 20 tradespeople practicing the original DIY.

At the $50 million new American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, you'll hear, see and even feel the stories of ordinary people in an extraordinary time, a time when subjects of a king become citizens of a nation. A mobile app, for instance, guides you into the galleries through the eyes of the character of your choice including regular women and children as well as principals like the Marquis de Lafayette and Alexander Hamilton. Head outside and experience a Continental Army encampment or explore a Revolution-era farm. 

Did you know there's a national park in Greater Williamsburg and that it features three distinctive sites? The Colonial National Historical Park features Yorktown Battlefield, the Colonial Parkway (a great place to bike and bird-watch), and Historic Jamestowne. There you can talk with archaeologists about their excavations on the exact site of the first permanent colony in America and visit the Archaearium, a museum that houses some of the two million artifacts uncovered since the Jamestown Rediscovery Project began in 1994.

By the way, Historic Jamestowne is not the same as the Jamestown Settlement. One is an archaeological site and the other is a living history museum. At Jamestown Settlement, you can climb aboard replicas of the three ships that made the historic voyage from England in 1607, visit the re-creation of a Powhatan village, and walk through a re-creation of the original fort, interacting with interpreters.

Water, Water Everywhere for Those with Time to Spare

Don't think of the area as a recreational sports mecca? Think again. 

The York, Jamestown, and Chickahominy Rivers course through the area providing the backdrop for reflective hikes and waters to paddle, whether you're looking for some leisurely wildlife watching or a sweaty workout. Canoe or kayak at York River State Park or Powhatan Creek Park. Take a pedal boat or canoe out on the water at Waller Mill Park.   

Bike, Hike and Zip Line, Too

There's more than water, too. Ride mountain biking trails or paved trails such as the 52-mile Virginia Capital Trail connecting Richmond and Williamsburg, or the Freedom Park Trail winding through historical sites. Indulge in a Tarzan or Jane yell at the Go Ape Treetop Adventure by racing down zip lines.

Thrills and Chills

You need to allow time for a trip to Busch Gardens, Water Country USA or Great Wolf Lodge. At Busch Gardens, the roster of roller coasters includes The InvadR, the park's first wooden roller coaster that features a 74-foot plunge and speeds up to 50 mph. At Water Country USA, rides with names like Jet Scream and Big Daddy Falls will send you and your children screaming over the edge. Great Wolf Lodge, meanwhile, offers guests slideboarding and the rocket-fast raft ride, Howlin' Tornado, a six-story tunnel of fun. 

Food and Drink to Rival that Other Williamsburg (We Mean You, Brooklyn)

We're not going to claim Greater Williamsburg is a hipster haven, but whether this is your first trip or a return, we can guarantee you'll find a trail of taste outsized for the towns of Williamsburg and Yorktown.  

Does that other Williamsburg in Brooklyn have something to compare to the Williamsburg Tasting Trail? Uh, no. On this trail, you'll explore the boundless creativity of local distillers and brewers for everything from award-winning wines to small-batch beers to whiskeys flavored with fruitwood instead of peat (forget drinks with the fragrance of smelly socks). There’s even a meadery, for heaven’s sake.

When you decide to sit down for a respite and a repast, check out longtime favorites like Pierce's Pitt Bar-B-Que, named by Garden and Gun magazine as one of two barbecue places you must visit in Virginia, or locals' favorites like Culture Cafe and The Yorktown Pub, where big portions are the norm.

For creative cuisine, slip into Fat Canary for delights like free-range guinea fowl, Le Yaca for the famous onion soup or Waypoint Seafood and Grill for oysters fresh from local waters. And those are just the beginning of a long list of worthy choices.

If that's not enough, explore the outdoor activities and family fun things to do.  Then plan your visit today and face the fact that your first trip won't be your last.