Visiting Colonial Williamsburg’s Revolutionary City: 4 Days of Living History
As soon as I opened my eyes I looked out the window and noticed the wet stuff: rain and puddles. Of course this could only mean one thing: off with the tennis shoes and on with the snow boots. Tennis shoes get wet, regular boots can get cold, but snow boots mean walking through puddles with no worries.
I’ve heard people say that Colonial Williamsburg’s Revolutionary City is big. I was prepared for tired feet and long walks but, it turns out, it wasn’t bad at all. The walking did not feel like much and with continuous stops at various places of interest we never noticed the day fly by.
The handy must have map (readily available at the visitor center) was the perfect way to orient ourselves throughout the day. On one side you have all the special events for the day and, on the other, you have a map of the city and the time frame that you have to visit any particular location. You can also download the free and useful Colonial Williamsburg App (which we did), but I much prefer the paper version.
I can’t speak for peak spring and summer season but, during the winter, not every store/house/place of interest is open (some not at all, some not every day). I, of course, did not look at that part of the map until day 3. My mistake meant that I missed out on seeing three different places (a trade, a house, and a tavern). Of course, the upside was that we were able to see everything else and never stressed about times or plans.
The Revolutionary City is the area of Colonial Williamsburg where you find the trade shops, homes, businesses, and life simulations of the time period. It is a car free zone and, therefore, easy to walk and enjoy with kids. History really does come alive here and it’s great to see the caretakers of this city greet each other as they would have in the 1770’s, wearing their period clothing, and working away on their trade or craft.
We spent a total of four whole days in the Revolutionary City. For us, it was the perfect time frame. We never felt rushed, we asked as many questions as we wanted, we lingered and made observations, and we enjoyed our visit. We also did not use an alarm clock in the morning, we ate our breakfast while Mackenzie caught up on the weather channel news (my kid loves to watch the weather channel), and we had enough energy at the end of the day to still be happy and excited to go back to the hotel to swim and play. It was the perfect combination of learning and play vacation. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Could it be done in three days? Easily. Could it be done in two? If you rush, maybe. Could it be done in less than four days in the busy summer season? I doubt it (if you want to see and experience everything that this place has to offer). We never had a line or wait time and it still took us four days. Two of the days we were there from the moment they opened until they closed. Of course not everyone wants to go into every trade and experience every talk or presentation, but I highly recommend that you do.
What about the kids? Will the kids like it as much as the adults? My short answer is YES! Of course every child is different and I know that my 10 year old uses a different lens than a five year old or a fifteen year old. But the material is presented in such an entertaining way that I doubt my kid realized how much she was learning throughout the day.
How much does it cost anyway?
I share our itinerary just as an example of how our family toured the Revolutionary City and loved every minute of it, weather and all.
Day 1 in the Revolutionary City:
We took the bus from the visitor center to stop #1: The Governor’s Palace (you can also walk, it’s a short 15 minute walk with lots to see). It is here that you first learn just how different our expectations are from those of the people that lived in this time period. Most visitors are amazed at the weapons proudly displayed in the foyer. But, our guide quickly pointed out that, in a community with mandatory militia membership and training, the guns would not have been a surprise. The floors however, would have. Most people in this region were farmers and lived with dirt floors. The beautiful floors in the Governor’s Palace would have had them in awe. Everyone in our tour group immediately lowered their gaze from the gun filled walls to the floors. It’s amazing what you do and don’t notice sometimes.
After walking through the Palace we went to see the kitchen. Proudly the “biggest and best kitchen in Colonial Virginia” the cook was also the highest paid palace employee. Nothing but the best for the Governor and his guests. The big “stove”, the ample working space, the above ground location, the window and natural light, all these details once made this THE kitchen of the 1700’s.
A stop at the Courthouse and the empty chamber became our private classroom. The wonderful thing about travel in the off-season is the amount of personal time and interaction that you are able to receive. Mackenzie was able to play juror, judge, criminal, and officer of the court all in one visit.
We continued to walk and visit the shoemaker, the magazine and guardhouse- where Mackenzie was able to handle a musket and cannon and learn about the various ways that you can make the components for gunpowder (hint: it involves two types of bodily waste and a taste test!), and the post office.
At the opposite extreme of the city we toured the Capitol building and the Public Gaol (jail). At both, the fun facts about life in colonial Virginia made the tours meaningful and memorable.
Back at the hotel there was swim time and play time and even some reading time before lights out.
Day 2 in the Revolutionary City:
The sun is shinning, the clouds are not grey or pouring, and the temperature might even beckon taking off one’s coat. After a slow morning and a weather channel-question filled breakfast, we are off to see more of the Revolutionary City.
Today we experienced the whole gamut of colonial life: Mackenzie donned a colonial period dress, we saw a militia regiment around town, we witnessed a parade, ate lunch in a tavern, and learned more than I could share.
Once we felt hungry we knew there was only one thing to do: try a local tavern! In this case: Shield’s Tavern. For the record: yes, it is more expensive than simply driving ten minutes and eating at another location. Yes, it is yummy food and we enjoyed it enough to return. And yes, it is much more than just an eating experience- it is a full blown educational opportunity! I was pleasantly surprised when we didn’t just receive great service and delicious food but also a lesson on courting rituals of the time period, proper dress suggestions, a talk on children’s games and daily life, and musical entertainment that included an explanation of how the music fit in with the ritual of eating. It turns out that eating at the taverns within the Revolutionary City is as much about the learning and fun as it is about the food.
Today we went to the Public Armoury (blacksmith, tin shop, and military kitchen tours), asked a million questions at the milliner and tailor shop, learned all about money and the importance/ meaning of silver at the silversmith’s, went for a visit at the apothecary, and tried some delicious and thick hot chocolate at Charlton’s Coffeehouse. All are a must when visiting the Revolutionary City.
After all the learning we did it was off to visit the Prentis store, the market house, stroll through the Colonial garden and be awed by the Bruton Parish Church.
We were at the Revolutionary City from 10am to 4:30pm and still managed to take a swim and play with daddy at the end of the day.
Day 3 in the Revolutionary City:
By day 3 it’s fair to say that we all needed a bit of a break. There was a lot more running around, doing gymnastics on the grassy field, and goofing off today. It’s exactly how we live our lives: play and learn hard until we need a break. Then, break. It took us a bit longer to get out of bed today, we lingered around breakfast, and Mackenzie even finished reading her book on the American Revolution this morning.
We even walked into the Revolutionary City, enjoying the view and the fresh air in no rush.
When we finally made it into the Revolutionary City we enjoyed the Wheelwright, the play booth and Wythe House. The Wythe House was particularly interesting as we got to stand on the same floors as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington! It’s fun facts like that which makes history come alive all over Colonial Williamsburg and the Revolutionary City.
After the house tour we walked to Raleigh’s Tavern and joined the “Pleasures of the Dance” program. With a group of about 14 people we learned two dance ‘routines’ of the time period and laughed and danced with each other. I love the dances and Mackenzie enjoyed the fact that they were choreographed- everyone knew what they were supposed to be doing.
A quick trip to the William Pitt Store for another book for the kiddo to read and then a late lunch at Chowning’s Tavern rounded up our day. After lunch at Shield’s Tavern the previous day, we had high expectations for this place. They delivered. Impeccable service, tasty food, musical entertainment, and “locals” who were happy to teach us a game of dice, a magic card trick, and talk to us about the customs of the day.
Day 4 in the Revolutionary City:
Today we all woke up ready to conquer the world and learn anything and everything there is to know about Colonial America and Williamsburg. We got an early start to breakfast, had only a few questions about the weather in far flung places, and were off to catch the bus at the visitors center.
On our last day we had a plan and stuck to it. I present it as a list because that’s exactly what I did: I labeled each place we wanted to visit with a number. Timing was important today because several of the trades and special programs offered had a specific time frame and if we missed them we would not be able to enjoy them.
- Geddy Foundry (one of our favorites)
- Orientation Walk (you would think we would do this on day 1, but I like taking the orientations at the end)
- Military encampment
- Public Gaol simulation: “God Save the King” program (a must see)
- Printing Office and bindery
7. Post office
8. Geddy House
9. Courthouse simulation: “The Examination of Joe & Dick, Black Loyalists” program
10. Wigmaker (highly recommend)
11. Gunsmith shop
It was our favorite day and before we realized it was 4:30pm and the gunsmith helper started to turn off the lights! It was ok because we had been there for a while and he had more than answered all of our questions. We were just not ready to leave this amazing place. So we bought a piece of the magic to take home.
We decided to heed the advise of one of the tavern entertainers and head to Sal’s by Victor, a local Italian restaurant (not to be confused with Sal’s), for dinner. You know you’ve made a great choice when you are seated and you can hear an elderly couple, speaking in Italian, and talking with the staff like they are family.
And so it is that after four full days experiencing the Revolutionary City in Colonial Williamsburg we prepare to head home: smarter, relaxed, and incredibly happy to have come in the winter.
As you can see, snow, rain, mud, puddles, wind and even just plain cold are no match for the amazing opportunities that Colonial Williamsburg has to offer. And I say that knowing that we have barely scratched the surface of everything there is to do in the area. We already know we will be back!
Note: This post is the third of five that I am writing about our trip to Colonial Williamsburg. If you would like to follow along the whole adventure please follow the links below to the other entries and enjoy.
III. Visiting Colonial Williamsburg’s Revolutionary City: 4 Days of Living History