The Jamestown, Yorktown and Colonial Williamsburg area have been around since our country’s beginning – Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in the America.
For a travel destination so rich in history, you might think you’ve heard it all already. Well, you’d be wrong! Here are 10 Surprising Tips for Visiting Jamestown, Yorktown and Colonial Williamsburg.
If you are wondering how far apart these destinations are, they are very close to each other. You can easily do one or more destinations in a day. Here are the drive times between Jamestown, Yorktown and Colonial Williamsburg:
- Jamestown Settlement to Yorktown Museum: 26 minute drive (18.3 miles)
- Jamestown Settlement to Colonial Williamsburg: 14 minute drive (7 miles)
- Colonial Williamsburg to Yorktown Museum: 17 minutes to drive (11.6 miles)
1. There are two destinations to learn about Jamestown.
This was really surprising to us when we visited the Williamsburg area. There are TWO destinations to learn about the Jamestown settlement.
Actual Jamestowne Settlement
The first is the actual Jamestowne site, now a part of the National Park System (NPS). This is where English colonization (the first successful attempt) began in 1607. Captain John Smith and Pocahontas once roamed these same lands.
The historic Jamestowne site has a museum and gift shop at the Visitors Center.
On a visit in 2017, we wished we had skipped watching the film because it was really dated. It just wasted our time.
After watching the film (or skipping it), go outside to explore the original settlements on the waterfront.
There are entrance fees for this historical site (check the National Park Service site for the most up-to-date information). However, if you have an Annual or Interagency National Park Service pass, you can get in free, along with 3 guests.
Otherwise, adults age 16 and older have a $15 admission fee.
Fees (or free entry with a pass) include 7 days of admission to locations managed by the Colonial National Historical Park, including:
- Yorktown Battlefield Visitor Center Museum
- Yorktown Battlefield Tour Roads
- Jamestown Visitor Center
- Island Drive Tour Road
Jamestown Settlement relives the experience of the original Jamestowne. It is located nearby the original site, but is more interactive.
The film at this location is spectacular and not to be missed! The multiple gallery exhibits are also amazing and it can take you quite a lot of time to see them all.
You could spend an entire day in the galleries alone, but there’s plenty more to see. Head outside with reenactments of daily life in a Powhatan Indian Village and a fort from the 1610-1614 colonial era.
Then make your way towards the pier to see the stunning re-creations of the three ships that brought the original settlers in 1607.
It is a thrill to be able to climb onboard the ships, peeking into living quarters and talking with re-enactors dressed in period costumes.
Jamestown Settlement also has a wonderful restaurant and gift shop. You can spend a lot of time at the destination, so be sure to leave enough room in your itinerary.
Get a 7-Day combo ticket for Jamestown Settlement and American Revolution Museum
(with free parking).
2. Stay in a Yurt
There are plenty of hotels to choose from in the Williamsburg area, but a fun and unique place to stay is in a yurt at the Williamsburg KOA. The air-conditioned yurts have beds and sleep up to six people.
Not ready to rough it? Check out the amazing cabins for rent at the KOA, too.
As you can see in our video tour above, you’ll also have access to all of the fun amenities, such as a pool, bounce station, campfires, ice cream shop, gem mining and more.
3. Learn About the Past with State-of-the-Art Technology
The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown was one of our favorite destinations in the entire area. We had not heard anything about this museum before our visit, but found ourselves not wanting to leave once we saw how interactive it was. Be sure to save enough time to explore this one!
Part of what makes the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown a joy to explore is their state-of-the-art technology. It might seem ironic to use technology to explain history, but it really works!
Swipe through touch screens to read the stories of real people from the era, try your hand at historic quizzes or even leave a message electronically on a tree. You really do have to see it to believe it!
Among all of the high-tech storytelling, though, is the ancient artifacts that were a part of the drama centuries ago, including a 1776 broadside (which is a sizable piece of paper) of the Declaration of Independence.
Do NOT miss the film, “The Siege of Yorktown.” This movie is so well done, and combines an 180 degree of immersion into the Yorktown story along with special effects that bring the movie to life.
Outdoors, walk through a Continental Army encampment and duck into a tent, be disgusted with the barbaric nature of ancient medical tools, and see how food was cooked daily.
In the Revolution-era farm, you’ll walk among chickens and discover how ancient herbal remedies were used.
Get a 7-day combo ticket for Jamestown Settlement and American Revolution Museum (with free parking).
4. See Wine Bottles Being Made
Part of the National Park System Historic Jamestown Site is The Glasshouse and Glasshouse Gift Shop. Here, you can see another part of Colonial life being recreated – making glass.
Wine bottles crafted from distinctive green glass, similar to glass found in Jamestowne, are made in demonstrations every day. Watch the artisans, then purchase glass gifts if you’d like. Part of the proceeds go back to support the National Park Service.
5. Explore Colonial Williamsburg for Free
Colonial Williamsburg is one of the biggest draws to the area. It is the largest living history museum in the United States and can be an all day activity. Yet it can cost a pretty penny, starting at $46.99 for an adult.
Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need a ticket to see what Colonial Williamsburg is like. You can walk around the blocks of the recreated city for no cost, getting a taste of what the attraction is like.
You can dine in the restaurants and shop in the gift shops, too, without an admission ticket.
You will need to pay when you enter a business or building where there are re-enactors, however you might not want to do those things if you are not staying for the entire day.
If you decide you want to have the full experience, then go back to the Visitor Center to buy a ticket.
Even if you don’t want to pay the higher ticket prices for admission, you can still get an interesting tour in Colonial Williamsburg for less.
The Williamsburg Ghosts, Witches and Pirates tour costs less than half of the price of day admission. You will have a guided, immersive tour of just under 2 hours in the historic district.
Or download a Colonial Williamsburg Self-Guided Audio Tour for $8 so that everyone you are traveling with can learn more about the sites you are seeing.
6. Ham and Biscuits is a Destination
The ham biscuits here were awesome! As was all the food!
If you don’t come as soon as the place opens in the morning, chances are you will need to wait in line for a table to open in the small eatery. It is well worth the wait, though, and you can shop in the gift shop while you’re working up an appetite.
7. Go More Places to Save Money
Combo tickets are the name of the game in Williamsburg. If you want to save money and save time, buy a combo ticket for all of the major attractions.
The JYF 7-Day Combo Ticket allows you to see the Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown with unlimited admissions.
The America’s Historic Triangle Ticket gives you the same admission as the combo ticket above, along with Historic Jamestowne, Colonial Williamsburg and Yorktown Battlefield.
Both combo tickets can be purchased online before you arrive.
However, we suggest saving a few dollars and getting the Jamestown Settlement and American Revolution Museum at Yorktown pass through this travel experience website with the lowest price guarantee.
8. The Best Waterfront Town You’ve Never Heard Of – with Pirates!
York County in Virginia is absolutely charming, and so close to all of the action of Jamestown and Williamsburg.
Be sure that you find time to visit the waterfront town, with shops, dining, lodging and promises of lazy afternoons spent gazing at York River.
There’s even a public beach and pirate cruises!
At night, do the Candlelight Walking Ghost Tour to learn about the city’s past.
9. Sign Your Name with a Quill Pen
Yep, it is a fun activity to enjoy at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, along with many other interactive experiences.
10. Take a Trolley Between Historic Sites
In Yorktown, you can take a free, air-conditioned trolley between the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown and the Yorktown Battlefield Visitor Center, as well as all of the shopping and sites in-between.
This lets you forget about worrying about finding parking spaces. You can sit back and enjoy a trolley ride as you relax before getting to your next destination.
The Yorktown Trolley runs from April to December. It has an infotainment system on board and you can even track it’s location via an app, so that you know when it is coming.
Jamestown vs. Yorktown
Both Jamestown and Yorktown offer important learning lessons in American history. However, they are quite different in how the history is portrayed. Here are the major differences between Jamestown and Yorktown:
- The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown uses a lot of modern-day technology to share the nation’s story. Expect movies, touch screen exhibits and special effects in the museum.
- Yorktown is a small, waterfront community that offers a lot to do outside of the museum. There is plenty of dining and shopping available, along with a hotel downtown.
- Outdoor activities are big at Yorktown, which can be great for kids and active adults. Rent a bike, take a Segway tour, enjoy the Yorktown Beach, kayak or go fishing on the Yorktown pier.
- There are historical recreations at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, but they are different than the types you’d find at Jamestown Settlement.
- The Jamestown Settlement operated by the National Parks Service doesn’t have as many technology-based exhibits. If you just like reading exhibits, without fancy pictures or videos, this might be the best for you.
- Jamestown Settlement allows you to see historical reenactments of daily life in a setting that is created to be very entertaining. While the reenactments are interesting at Yorktown, they seemed to just be people in a field with a tent showcasing some ancient skills, such as gardening. We weren’t as captivated by these reenactments as we were at Jamestown Settlement.
Jamestown vs. Colonial Williamsburg
If you are trying to decide between Jamestown vs. Colonial Williamsburg, here are some helpful tips:
- Jamestowne Settlement, operated by the NPS, is a lot of walking around fields to explore the history. It can be somewhat boring to younger children.
- Jamestown Settlement is a lot of fun for kids and adults. The interactive experiences are definitely fun to watch and participate in. You will need to pay an admission fee to see any of the sites.
- Exploring the ships is a unique activity at Jamestown Settlement that you won’t find anywhere else.
- Colonial Williamsburg is better if you want to enjoy a day of shopping, dining and leisurely strolling.
- You can enjoy the atmosphere of Colonial Williamsburg without having to pay an admission fee.
- Historical recreations of daily life at Colonial Williamsburg focus on the trades, such as hat making. At Jamestown Settlement, the historical recreations focus on more outdoor activities, such as blacksmithing or forging.
If you enjoyed these helpful tips about visiting Jamestown, Yorktown and Colonial Williamsburg, you might also like our other Virginia travel guides of best things to do, including: