When you visit the historic district of Colonial Williamsburg, you might find yourself a little overwhelmed with where to start. After all, there are 88 original structures within the historic district, many of which are open to the public to see. Nowhere else in America will you get to relive what life was like in 18th century America so if you only have a day, perhaps two to do it, where do you begin? Whatever season it is when you decide to visit Williamsburg in Virginia, don’t miss these top Colonial Williamsburg attractions.
Top Colonial Williamsburg Attractions
The Governor’s Palace
It’s not surprising to anyone that the Governor’s Palace is the grandest of all the colonial buildings in the historic district. Since this was the residence of the governor, appointed by King George III himself, it was meant to impress. The elegant foyer welcomes visitors with walls decorated with stunning guns and swords, ensuring anyone who enters the palace to know the power and wealth that Great Britain possessed at the time. In addition to the beautiful rooms and suites within, the palace also offers several lovely gardens that provide shelter and privacy from the bustles of the town and a kitchen where you can learn about the gourmet 18th century cooking styles.
No structure was deemed more important than the Capitol. This was where the Burgesses met and where the ideas of independence were born. Within its walls, the Declaration of Rights was created and endorsed. Many of those same ideas embedded then became the basis for Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. Visit the room where our Founding Fathers protested against English legislation and debated over ideas that led to the fight for independence.
The Public Gaol
Built appropriately just several meters away from the Capitol where the General Court resided, the Public Gaol served as the keeper of rule breakers whose severe crimes often led to death by hanging. Infamous henchmen of the pirate Blackbeard were some the gaol’s most notable prisoners. Several of its original cells remain and you can visit them to see the thick cement walls that made escape virtually impossible.
R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse
Location, location, location! It was important back then as it is now and R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse was a prime example of that. Located within steps of the colonial Capitol building, it became a preferred spot to discuss the issues surrounding the town. Day in and day out politicians and visiting dignitaries stopped by the coffeehouse to drink coffee or hot chocolate and exchange ideas, construct deals, and network to build stronger relations. The place also served as a gathering place for social events among the Williamsburg elite.
One of the most striking properties that sit on Duke of Gloucester street is Wetherburn’s Tavern. Its crimson red paint, a very expensive feature at the time, signaled that this was once a very elegant location, and some would say the place to see and be seen. This claim was supported by the archeological findings within and surrounding the property as well as archived literature that confirmed the tavern was a favorite among the high society.
The Courthouse was perhaps the liveliest and most interesting of locations within the historic district, which makes it one of the must-see Colonial Williamsburg sights. When you visit the Courthouse, you’ll get the chance to participate in mock trials where you’ll be privy to stories of intrigue and at the same time learn what happens to someone convicted of crimes like larceny of absence from church. The 18th century building that stands in the middle of the town is a popular venue for nighttime and holiday events as well.
Bruton Parish Church
The largest of the remaining parish churches lands a well-deserved spot in this list of must-see Colonial Williamsburg sights. The Bruton Parish Church is a 300-year old Episcopal church and active parish where many future revolutionaries and patriots once attended regular service. Sit on the same seats that the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, George Washington, and Benjamin Harrison once sat or better yet, attend a Sunday service. The church also has an adjacent graveyard where many famous Virginians are interred.
Unmistakably grand, the Peyton Randolph House is one of the most beautiful houses in Colonial Williamsburg. It once belonged to Peyton Randolph, a prominent Virginian who served as Speaker of the House of Burgesses and president of the first Continental Congress in Philadelphia. The house was where General George Washington prepared prior to the battle at Yorktown. Other notable guests included General Rochambeau and the Marquis de Lafayette who both stayed when the house served as the French headquarters during the American Revolutionary War.