From meeting new people to experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells – is there anything more exciting or rejuvenating than a break from the day-to-day mundanity? Traveling is an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture, setting, or way-of-life, but the best part is this: you don’t have to venture far from home to enjoy what this world has to offer.
Whether your journey takes you across your own city, to an unexplored part of your state, or even to the other side of the world, there’s no doubt you will still learn a lot about your surroundings – and yourself – along the way.
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being closeby definitely has its benefits.
Founded all the way back in 1632, Williamsburg, VA is one of the nation’s most historically significant cities — and that’s just the very beginning of what this town has to offer. Here are all the top things to do, see, and explore in Williamsburg!
*Note: Some of the suggestions may not be doable due to coronavirus closures, but keep this list handy for when things start opening back up more! Be sure to check individual pages for specific operation details.
This part of Virginia is rich with history — but also surrounded by incredible natural beauty unlike what you can find anywhere else in the country. Here are some of the best state and national parks and historic preserves in the Williamsburg, VA area.
One of the oldest continually farmed sites in the entire United States, Chippokes Plantation State Park is visible from across the James River from none other than Jamestown itself, and today gives visitors the opportunity to step back in time and experience this part of our nation’s history in person. Still a working farm, and originally planted all the way back in 1619, the park makes for lovely garden strolls — though it’s also worth venturing indoors to see the Chippokes Farm and Forestry Museum, where you’ll encounter real antique equipment that was once used to bring this land to fruit.
An NPS-managed site (so bring your National Parks passport!), Colonial Historic Park is a must-visit for anyone in the Williamsburg area. Explore the remains of historic colonial Jamestown, where the United States as we know it today was born. Historical reenactors and craftspeople bring the past to life with demonstrations and educational events, and there’s also a lovely scenic roadway for those who’d rather take it all in from the comfort of their cars.
Although still under construction at the time of this writing, Machicomoco State Park — which will be one of the newest state parks in any of the United States, let alone Virginia — is slated to be open by the end of 2020 and will provide area visitors with outdoor recreational opportunities including waterfront access and hiking trails. This area was once the home of none other than Pocahontas herself, and interpretive signage will also engaged guests with the historical significance of this landscape.
Hiking trails, canoe rentals, boat ramps, playgrounds and more make York River State Park a popular destination for outdoor adventurers of all sorts; along with its teeming estuary, characterized by the blending of salt and freshwater environments, the park also offers more than 30 miles of trail that are perfect for hiking as well as mountain biking, horseback riding, and trail running. The park is open from 8 a.m. to dusk and does not offer on-site camping options.
First Landing State Park is the place to go to when you want a bit of everything coupled with beautiful cypress trees and history. It has forests and a beach (located on the Chesapeake Bay), lagoons, and hiking trails. Camp sites, picnic areas, and boat ramps are also available. It’s named for the first English colonists who landed there in 1607 and is Virginia’s oldest and most popular state park.
The Pocahontas State Park is great for a day trip or a weekend getaway, with its beautiful views and busy wildlife. Don’t be surprised to spot cranes, deer, and other forest creatures while you explore the park. There are also plenty of activities to try at Pocahontas, such as hiking, biking, and horseback riding. If you are looking for a great place to swim laps and get some exercise, they also have an Olympic size swimming pool.
You don’t have to venture far at all from Williamsburg to enjoy some beautiful natural spaces on foot. Here are some of the best hiking trails in and around Williamsburg, Virginia.
Tucked into Waller Mill Park and running just under three miles in its entirety, Waller Mill Reservoir & Tower Trail offers hikers the opportunity to get a general overview of this beautiful area — and although there are a couple of steep sections (which is how you get that beautiful view!), the trail is firmly in the easy-to-moderate category. Enjoy waterside views and the ability to bring along Fido, but keep in mind that your pup needs to be kept on a leash at all times.
One of the many hikes on offer inside York River State Park, the Woodstock Path Trail runs just under two feet all told and sees about 100 feet in elevation gain, making it another easy-to-moderate trail that’s a great option for beginners in fairly decent shape as well as more advanced hikers who just want a quick way to get outside (or maybe even go for a run). With beautiful views of the grassy estuary and surrounding woods, this trail is a great place to spot wildlife and birds, as well.
Another option inside York River State Park, the York River Backbone Trail runs just under four miles and sees less than 100 feet in elevation gain, making it longer, but less steep, than the Woodstock Path Trail described above. Combining dirt paths with raised boardwalks above the swampy surroundings, this is another trail that’s also frequented by runners and dog walkers, though horses aren’t allowed on the bridges.
Meander along the York River Bluffs and stand in awe of the felled wood and, yes, fossils that characterize this unique landscape. Be sure to check with local park rangers before you decide to pick anything up and take it home for keeps, however! The Mattaponi Trail to Fossil Beach runs just over two miles and sees a little more than 100 feet in elevation gain, and also treks through sand, making it a moderately challenging (but short) adventure. Give yourself plenty of extra time to look closely at your surroundings.
At about three-and-a-half miles in length and seeing over 250 feet in elevation gain, the Bassett Trace Nature Trail is another moderately challenging hike that starts from the parking lot at Colonial Williamsburg’s Griffin Hotel. Considered a birding hot spot — thanks in part to the multiplicity of native trees and plants you can find lining the path — this is a great spot for getting in a leisurely walk, engaging run, or simply going to enjoy the wildlife.
The Greensprings Interpretive Trail is another easy walk or hike that we would recommend for beginners or families with kids. This trail is about 3.5 miles long and it loops around wetlands and forests. You’ll find a lot of educational plaques along the way to tell you a little bit about the history of the place. Over 200 bird species have been spotted in and around the area, so be sure to bring your binoculars.
Williamsburg is full of adventures to dive into… which means you’re also going to have to dive into some great dining to keep yourself fueled and ready! Fortunately, eating becomes an adventure in itself in Williamsburg, which is home to a wide variety of fine restaurants. Here are some of the best.
Williamsburg may be the birthplace of America, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some exotic eats while you’re in town. (After all, the whole point is to be a “melting pot,” right?) Nawab Indian Cuisine is considered one of the best restaurants in Williamsburg by any metric, but particularly for those looking to try something adventurous and delicious. Whether you hit the buffet or order a la carte, there’s truly something available for everyone.
Whether it’s date night or just a night to treat yourself to some hearty and comforting fare, sometimes, nothing will do but Italian — and if you’re looking for the best Italian restaurant in Williamsburg, you’re likely looking for Sal’s by Victor. Famous among locals for good reason, this place is renowned as much for its cozy, inviting atmosphere as its authentic and generously portioned dishes. Be sure to save room for a cannoli at the end!
Described by some reviewers as the best Mexican food they’ve ever tasted, Plaza Azteca Mexican Restaurant proves you don’t have to be south of the border — or even anywhere near the border — to enjoy fresh, delicious favorites. From ceviche to enchiladas to tacos and fajitas and the delicious, salt-rimmed margs you’ll wash it all down with, this place is sure not to disappoint.
Part coffee lounge where you can sit and get some work done and part plantivore’s delight, Lokal is Williamsburg’s, well, local vegetarian/vegan haunt — and its offers are so delicious that even carnivores will be happy to lighten it up for a day. From avocado toast to acai bowls to heartier fare like veggie burgers, every menu item is a hit, and it’s all served in a relaxing and lovely atmosphere.
Those looking for an authentic Asian experience in the heart of the Virginia countryside need look no further than Oishii Japanese Ramen & Hibachi Grill, which offers everyone’s favorite comforting soup in a variety of styles as well as other hot Hibachi favorites and a wide range of sushi. Whether you’re craving katsu, tempura, yakisoba or simply some good, old-fashioned ramen, you’re sure to leave this joint warm, full, and smiling.
Amber Ox is all about family-style comfort food. While their dinner menu is superb – we’ve heard good things about the biscuit board and the spatchcock chicken - their brunch could very well be the highlight of your trip. Aside from the food, Amber Ox is also very popular for having a wide selection of beers and cocktails, as well as their specialty non-virgin slushies that are perfect for warm evenings.
Food For Thought can be summed-up as “excellent food with matching ambience”, but it’s best to reserve your table or call ahead as it can get very crowded - especially on weekend nights. Some of the local favorites on the menu include the Shrimp Boat and the What Big Mussels You Have because you can’t go wrong with mussels. Their classic Cobb Salad is also a treat.
Berret’s Seafood Restaurant & Taphouse Grill is a great go-to place for those looking for a fun night out that’s also not way out of the comfort zone. They have great food, a great atmosphere, and also have family meal options if you’re going as a big group. This is the place to dine if you want to indulge in some truly great seafood dishes; the crab cakes and shrimp two-ways are divine! It’s also the perfect spot if you want to order oysters by origin.
Rick’s Cheese Steak Shop is a well-known local spot and the place to go if you’re looking for a casual setting with All-American comfort food. Their burgers, hoagies, and hot dogs are mouth-watering and the cheesy jalapeno fries is a fan favorite, but perhaps the most popular menu item of all time is the cheesesteak. Keep in mind that the large cheesesteak is huge and it’s best shared between two people (or three if you’re getting appetizers too).
Sal’s By Victor is the best choice for Italian dining in Williamsburg. Sal’s makes their own fresh pasta, so be sure to try their pasta special of the day. We also recommend trying the seafood risotto, the chicken fiorentina (chicken with cheesy spinach), and the baked ziti but whatever you do, don’t miss out on their manicotti. Sal’s manicotti is the best in the state!
Fine dining and fun outdoor adventures aside, there are so many incredible things to do and places to explore in Williamsburg. Here are our top suggestions, depending on what, exactly, you’re looking for.
Exploring with the kiddos at your side? Good call; Williamsburg offers an incredible opportunity to introduce your family to history… and also just to have a heck of a good time. Here are some of our favorite kid-friendly options in Williamsburg.
When it comes to keeping a family entertained, it’s hard to do better than a theme park — and Williamsburg is lucky to have an adventure zone as famous as Busch Gardens in its backyard. From high-flying thrill rides to more relaxed experiences (including, of course, a wide variety of on-site dining and shopping as well as a host of animals just waiting to make friends with visitors), everyone will be happy with the decision to spend and afternoon or two here!
While the entirety of Williamsburg is hallowed ground, historically speaking, Colonial Williamsburg offers visitors a one-stop shop for educational and enjoyable experiences of the significance of this part of the country. Offering more than 300 acres of preserved and reconstructed colonial-era buildings, museum exhibits, interpretive events, reenactments, and more, Colonial Williamsburg is the kind of family fun nobody in your party will soon forget — and way better than sitting through a classroom history lecture.
The best way to cool off on a hot summer’s day is to visit theWater Country, a water park that features a lot of family-friendly rides and swimming pools, including the famous giant water coaster! Be warned, it can get a little crowded, so it’s best to get their early. Who doesn’t love a day of fun in the sun?!
Finding things to do in Williamsburg during the daytime? No big deal. But what about after night falls? Fortunately, there’s plenty to pick from then, too! Here are our top tips for nighttime antis in Williamsburg.
They say laughter is the best medicine, and if you find yourself in need of a dose during your time in Williamsburg, The Comedy Club is your best bet. Offering live comedy performers from both near and far every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, as well as delicious bar eats and cocktails, this place is sure to give you a belly laugh and a belly full. Also high on our list of things for couples to do in Williamsburg!
A variety of local companies offer the opportunity to see Williamsburg from either the James or the York rivers, perhaps the best known of which is Yorktown Cruises, which offer romantic sunset rides aboard the Schooner Serenity. Daytime tours and pirate cruises are also available, as are private charters and cruises for special events, like weddings.
If you want a quiet couple’s night that’s not your usual date, visit the Kimball Theater and catch an art house film. The theater itself is already worth a visit. It’s small and rather intimate with big, comfortable chairs. You see, it’s a historic movie theater that’s been very well preserved and will have you feeling all nostalgic.
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not is always a fun trip for the family, especially for the kids. If you want to take a break from nature and hiking and indulge in the weird and the wonderful, this is the place to go. With its rare combination of education, fun, and intrigue, Ripley’s is a must-see for both the young and young at heart!
If your wallet-wielding muscles are getting tired, good news: you can take on some fun activities in Williamsburg that cost next to nothing. Here are our favorite suggestions.
As if Williamsburg weren’t rich enough with history, it’s also next-door neighbors with none other than Jamestown — and Historic Jamestowne, which is both a fun family historical exhibit and active archeological site. Learn even more about the area’s history and see real archeological artifacts at all stages of restoration, including simply being found for the first time. You can also take advantage of tours and programs to help give you an insider’s view and even more context!
Offering a wide range of showcases, such a Virginians and their music, a gallery of antique and modern pianos, organs, phonographs, and more, the Virginia Musical Museum is a one-of-a-kind exhibit not only in the city, but in the entire state — and it’s open every day except Sunday and major holidays and costs just $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and military members, and $5 for children and students to visit. Children under four years of age get in for free — and what a great opportunity to get the family excited about music right from the start!
Really sick of spending cash? Here are some Williamsburg to-dos that don’t require you to touch a cent of it!
It’s fun and it’s free! Cross the James River in the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry. Your kids will love it and you can also take a breather by getting out of the car and exploring the boat. After all, who doesn’t love a boat ride?
The 23-mileColonial Parkway links Jamestown with Williamsburg and Yorktown, so a lot of visitors take a relaxing drive between the three original settlements to learn of their historical value. If you’re planning on biking the Colonial Parkway, make sure to bring lots of water and stay hydrated, as even a smaller portion of this lengthy parkway could take hours on end to cross!
Along with the state parks and historic preserves outlined above, Williamsburg is also home to some local and regional green spaces which cost nothing to take advantage of. Redoubt Park, Bicentennial Park, College Landing Park, and Ironbound Park are just a few options — Waller MIll Park, mentioned in the hiking trails above, also has a dog park for your furry friend’s enjoyment.
In need of some “me time” or simply to slow down? Here are some of the best day spas and salons in Williamsburg to help you feel relaxed and rejuvenated.
Along with traditional spa offerings such as massage and skin care, Illusions Salon & Day Spa offers a full range of salon services such as haircuts, hair styling, coloring, chemical treatments and more. Manicures, pedicures, and waxing are also available, and massages are offered at a variety of time lengths and modalities.
Along with its massage room, staffed by empathetic and professional therapists who work in both lighter Swedish and deep tissue touch, the Williamsburg Salt Spa offers unique and healing opportunities such as a salt cave lounge, float tanks, and an infrared sauna. With such a wide array of ways to relax the body and recharge the mind, you’re sure to leave feeling better than you did when you walked in.
TheSpa of Colonial Williamsburg is a great all-around wellness center that includes massages, skin treatments, and aesthetic therapies, as well as the use of a pool, jacuzzi and a steam room. It’s connected to the Colonial Williamsburg Lodge and Inn, so is easy to find too!
Staying in shape is important for both physical and mental health. Here are the best gyms and yoga studios for those looking to get sweaty in Williamsburg.
An all-inclusive gym that offers everything you need to achieve your goals, American Family Fitness includes traditional cardio and strength equipment and training as well as programs specifically designed for every member of the family, such as youth-oriented fitness games, camps, and events, and on-site childcare for the littlest family members.
Offering a range of both yoga and pilates classes, Full Circle is a fitness studio that will help you find your flow and get centered — as well as strengthening both your body and your mind. Both heated and non-heated yoga classes are on offer, and members can choose from challenging practices to restorative and yin versions.
Iron-Bound Gym has friendly and informative staff and a ton of equipment! It’s highly recommended, even if you’re just passing through town. They also open early and stay open late, so it’s easy to fit a trip to IBG into your schedule – no matter how busy you are. Enjoy classes such as yoga, cycling, bootcamp, barre, Zumba, body pump, Tai Chi, and so much more.
Body Balance Studio is a great place for experiencing yoga for any skill level. The space is also very clean and has a nice ambience, making it the perfect place to recharge and rejuvenate after a long day of walking. Drop by BBS and find a class that suits you, whether it’s slow flow, yin yoga, Vinyasa, meditation, and more.
While there’s clearly no need to go far from Williamsburg to find fun things to do, it’s also true that some incredible day trips are within easy reach! Here are some spots to add to your itinerary for a long weekend from Williamsburg.
There’s never a bad time to explore our nation’s capital, and doing so creates a great accompaniment to the historical explorations of Williamsburg itself. Complete your picture of our nation’s legacy at its current headquarters — not to mention the beautiful scenery and variety of free museum exhibits Washington, D.C. boasts!
Along with its history, Virginia is also home to some of the most incredible and diverse natural landscapes in the country — from its stunning, sandy beaches to the mountains that characterize the west of the state. Get an up-close-and-personal view of these by visiting Shenandoah National Park, which is only a little more than two hours from downtown Williamsburg. There are also plenty of camping opportunities!
Virginia Beach is only about an hour’s drive from Williamsburg and it’s great for a day trip. While there you can enjoy sunning at the beach or taking a dip, or you can also visit the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center nearby. Other highly recommended attractions include Norfolk Botanical Garden, Cape Henry Lighthouse, Ocean Breeze Waterpark, and more.
As a final reminder, some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in Williamsburg that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in Williamsburg? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.