Roughly 150 miles south of Washington, Virginia’s Colonial Williamsburg is one of the true national jewels in America’s travel crown. Authentically preserved buildings, support staff in period costumes and historic demonstrations such as military munition drills and drum marches happening daily all add up to a magical experience many might assume is more suited to family travel.
However, with a variety of period-inspired programming geared specifically for grownups, adult beverage selections with ties to yesteryear and romantic relaxation options built into the vacation equation, it turns out Colonial Williamsburg is also a spectacular getaway for couples. From a carriage ride followed by a candlelight dinner at a favored establishment of George Washington, to in-character interactions with interpreters, free outdoor concerts and a pub crawl to the various taverns of the day, here are my top tips for making the most of a visit.
Access: With an international airport 30 minutes south of town, a direct exit from Interstate 64, and an Amtrak station just one mile from the historical area, Williamsburg is not only accessible for overseas travelers, but reachable from a number of regional locations as well. When it comes to accessing the actual colonial district itself along with the activities and amenities it offers, the best way to do that is by making the savviest spending decision possible for your accommodations. While specific room and package rates vary, summer visitors looking to stay where the action is can generally expect to spend anywhere from a hundred bucks a night out toward the conference facility to a full $400 at the posh inn and spa near the center of things. A high-value option many people are unaware of, however, is the ability to book one of the restored colonial houses for an overnight stay.
Ranging from tavern rooms to private cottage-size homes with summer rates as low as $159, this choice puts an affordable roof over your head that not only provides plenty of period charm to spare, but also places you right in the heart of all the action for a truly immersive living history experience. Having your room so close to all of the events makes it easy to pace yourself and take breaks without wasting valuable vacation time walking or riding to and from your hotel. Another perk is stepping outside your door in the morning to stroll the streets just prior to the start of the business day. Other tourists won’t be crowding the streets yet, and staff will be arriving and setting up shop dressed in full colonial garb.
This not only sets you up for some amazing photo opportunities, but much like being able to stroll the same streets in the evening after the day trippers head home, also lets you experience what the town might have been like as America was beginning to form as a nation. Having two time slots per day where all that’s necessary is for someone to cue the mist in order to feel like you are living out the ultimate time travel fantasy? Priceless.
Staying at one of the colonial homes also grants you access to many of the amenities of the pricier inn on the edge of the historic area, including free exercise classes, use of the fitness center and entry to the indoor and outdoor swimming pools. Colonialwilliamsburghotels.com offers additional savings for those who book directly online, such as complimentary parking, no-charge shuttle services and a free two-hour bike rental. It’s a rare travel find when the place you rest your head each night is such an integral part of your overall trip. When that find also saves you enough vacation dough in a single night’s stay to fund a decadent day at the spa? I say go for it.
Activities: Speaking of spas, The Spa of Colonial Williamsburg is definitely worth a visit. With a complimentary wet lounge in each locker room featuring a steam room and heated jet tub the size of a small pool, any treatment you book lets you enjoy these amenities as long as you like on the day of service. While a wide range of services are available, their 17th century treatment is two hours of pure bliss. With a wrap, scalp pampering and full body massage all rolled into one treatment, this is a great way to relax after a long day of exploring on foot.
When it comes to general exploration of the district, the multi-day core experience ticket is tough to beat. Only $10 more than its one-day counterpart, it includes a full three days of access to all of the historical facilities, on-site museums and the rotating live demonstration schedule that helps bring history alive for visitors. Touring the Wythe House and climbing the interior stairs with your hand on the same banister used by George Washington while this building served as his headquarters will leave you feeling as though you are indeed walking on hallowed ground.
Exploring the courthouse where so much American history unfolded, including an interesting connection with the pirate crew of Blackbeard himself, is another nifty stop. Be sure to make time as well to thoroughly explore the museums, which feature a number of fascinating items. One of note is an amazing example of David Drake pottery. There are also several ticketed add-on activities to suit a wide array of interests and budgets. Walking through history with an in-character actor or taking a romantic carriage ride are popular choices for a midrange splurge. Looking for an inside savings tip? Group ox wagon rides are just $5 per person!
While all of this certainly adds up to an exceptional itinerary, it’s Williamsburg’s evening interactive programs for adults that really put it over the top as a couple’s destination. For instance, Escape the King is a participation experience where ticket holders are placed in the role of suspected patriots and must use clues in an attempt to avoid interrogation. There’s also a pirate-themed event as well as one called Nimble Toes and Dancing Woes, where audience members help a colonial groom learn to dance before his wedding. Actors remain completely in character as you get whirled around for an evening of raucous fun. If you’re feeling thirsty, there’s a colonial pub crawl featuring stops at three taverns that played a role in the town’s history. The crawl includes beverage samples, as well as educational tidbits about the drink recipes and traditions of the day. Individual ticket prices for these add-ons ring in at $30 or less. Prefer things on the spooky side? Schedule one of the $12 ghost walk tours.
With a little careful planning, visitors can even make their dining choices part of the actual activity itinerary. Dinner at Christiana Campbell’s Tavern for example, is as much an experience as it is a meal option. Candlelight atmosphere, live period music and tableside conversation with a staff member playing the original owner’s daughter, all contribute to a memory-making evening in a painstakingly restored establishment that was a regular eating and drinking stop for George Washington himself. Highlights include the fried oysters, sweet potato muffins and a variety of seafood items. Totally worth the splurge.
Hoping to enhance an afternoon snack session? Head to Chowning’s Tavern near the courthouse to enjoy one of their $10 beer flights while you soak up the ambiance. Three flavors from their selection are brewed locally with recipes that harken back to Williamsburg’s origins. Coincidentally, three is the number of choices they allow you to pick for your flight, making a beer break between tour stops practically a patriotic duty. Just saying.
Extras: Before departing, a quick bit of retail therapy in the colonial shops will help you score any number of fun souvenirs, including clothing items, cookbooks and more. As someone who prefers to purchase usable products rather than trinkets when I travel, my money’s on the homemade soap balls. Available in fun scents such as bayberry and priced at only $3, they are the perfect affordable indulgence for a post-vacation bath with your boo. On your way out of town, schedule a stop at Silver Hand Meadery. As an ancient beverage, mead more than fits the theme of the getaway. Pair that with the free tastings offered at the facility, and this is a bargain activity you can leverage into the informed selection of a consumable, take-home souvenir. Since the tastings include four samples per person, couples get an added value by having shared access to eight flavors from Silver Hand’s selection before making a purchasing decision.
Romantic architecture, period costumes and knowledgeable staff are only part of what this destination has to offer. With a multitude of authentic interpretive experiences, luxurious spa options, easy transportation access and plug-and-play activities to suit any size of budget, Colonial Williamsburg might be just what the vacation doctor ordered for your next couple’s getaway.