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Williamsburg, Virginia is one of the most fascinating places in the United States for history lovers. The town, which is home to the prestigious William and Mary University, is best known as the first permanent English settlement in what is now the United States. And there is no better place to learn about the founding of the United States and life in the colony than Colonial Williamsburg, the largest open-air museum in the United States. While it is enjoyable and educational for adults and children alike, Colonial Williamsburg is just one of the fun things to do in Williamsburg VA with kids.
This guide to the best things to do in Williamsburg VA with kids includes a look at the top attractions in Williamsburg for families and the can’t miss activities in Colonial Williamsburg and the Historic Triangle.
Is Williamsburg VA good for families?
Williamsburg, Virginia is an ideal destination for a family vacation on the east coast of the United States. Not too far from Washington DC or North Carolina cities like Wilmington or Raleigh, the town and the surrounding county offers both educational experiences and entertaining family fun. Kids of all ages will enjoy Williamsburg, but to get most out of the educational elements, many of the things to do in Williamsburg VA with kids are best suited for grade school and above.
Things to do in Williamsburg, VA with kids
Williamsburg, Virginia is a small town with a population around 15,000, but upwards of 1.5 million people visit each year due to its historical significance and all the fun things to do in Williamsburg for families. Here are some of the best activities and attractions in and around Williamsburg VA for kids.
Explore Colonial Williamsburg
You cannot compile a list of the best things to do in Williamsburg Virginia without starting with the town’s main claim to fame. Colonial Williamsburg is a massive open-air museum. In fact, it is the world’s largest! Unlike some museums that are met with groans and grumbles from children, your kids won’t even realize they are in a museum when visiting Colonial Williamsburg. Basically an entire area of the city is a living history museum – spanning 301 acres and featuring dozens of preserved, historic buildings you can enter, tour, and explore.
You can walk through Colonial Williamsburg any time of day or night for free, but an admission ticket is required to enter the preserved homes and businesses. Admission is well worth it! You’ll feel like you have stepped back in time to the 1700s when Williamsburg was an English colony rather than a town in the United States. The employees, or historic interpreters, are all dressed in period costumes and do live reenactments in the historic buildings and in the streets.
Best buildings to visit in Colonial Williamsburg
You could easily spend days exploring Colonial Williamsburg if you wanted to visit all the buildings and go on all the tours. However, if visiting Williamsburg with kids, younger ones will likely lose interest after one day. So, it’s a good idea to know which buildings are best to visit in Colonial Williamsburg. Some of the buildings require a guided tour which is included with your admission. Others you can enter and engage with the historical interpreters working inside.
The Governor’s Palace is perhaps the number one building to tour in Colonial Williamsburg. To go inside the palace a guided tour is required. But tours take place about every 15 minutes, so the wait time isn’t long. The 20-minute tour takes you through the palace which was home to seven British governors and the first two elected governors of Virginia, as Williamsburg served as the capital of the state until it was moved to Richmond in 1779.
Another great guided tour that might interest kids in Williamsburg, VA, the Randolph house was the home of one of the wealthiest and most influential families in colonial times. You have the opportunity to see how the rich lived back in the late 1700s. And in stark contrast, you’ll also get a glimpse at how the enslaved lived.
Kids will find the Randolph House of interest, particularly because it is believed to be one of the most haunted houses in the United States and is a primary stop on Williamsburg ghost tours – which we highly recommend for families with kids over the age of 7! Our daughter loved it!
On the other side of the historic area of Colonial Williamsburg, the Capitol Building is also a great guided tour. As with the Governor’s Palace, tours start about every 15 minutes. Go inside the house and council chambers and walk the same halls as the governing officials of colonial times, all while learning about the events that took place from your knowledgeable guides.
Other places to visit in Colonial Williamsburg VA with kids
Aside from the guided tours, there are a few other key points of interest in Colonial Williamsburg for kids. In Market Square, you’ll often find fife and drum performances put on by historical interpreters dressed in the signature redcoats that British soldiers were known for.
Other unique things to do in Colonial Williamsburg with kids include a stop into the silversmith to watch a live demonstration of how rings, bracelets and other silver pieces were created in the colonial times.
At the James Geddy house, kids can learn to play old children’s games and even learn how to stitch. You can also step inside the courthouse, the church, and watch demonstrations on shoemaking, wig making, and learn about how families farmed in colonial times. All buildings which are open to enter are marked with a colonial flag outside, so you can enter and exit most of them at your leisure.
Finally, kids will be begging to take a carriage ride through the streets the moment they see the old-fashioned horse-drawn carriages.
Visit Jamestown’s historic sites
Along with Williamsburg, the communities of Jamestown and Yorktown make up Virginia’s “Historic Triangle”. The three colonial towns are often visited together on one trip due to their proximity and similar historic significance. And touring the entire Historic Triangle is one of the best things to do with kids in the Williamsburg area and James City County.
Your first stop in Jamestown should be Historic Jamestowne. This was the first English settlement in the Americas and is often referred to as the birthplace of the United States. Located along the James River, this area is an ongoing archeological dig site where researchers are continuously uncovering remnants of our nation’s early history. It was here that English settlers violently clashed with the Powhatan Indians, who were the original and first inhabitants of the area.
If your children love the movie Pocahontas, a visit to Jamestown is a must. This is the factual setting for the Disney movie. You’ll find a statue of Pocahontas, the now famous daughter of the Powhatan chief who married an English settler.
Managed by the National Park Service, Historic Jamestowne, along with the Yorktown Battlefield are included on the America the Beautiful National Park Pass. Admission to Historic Jamestowne includes admission to the Yorktown Battlefield.
Jamestown Settlement and Museum
Jamestown is broken up into the original Historic Jamestowne area which is managed by NPS, and the Jamestown Settlement, which is a living history museum, similar to Colonial Williamsburg. The two are roughly 5 minutes away from each other by car and require a separate admission. Both are worth visiting though when in Williamsburg VA with kids.
At the Jamestown Settlement, you can tour the Jamestown Museum, see a recreation of a Powhatan Indian Village with historic interpreters dressed in tribal clothing, and visit three ships that are replicas of the ones that first crossed the ocean from England carrying the first European settlers to Jamestown.
Learn about the American Revolution at Yorktown
Yorktown is where the American Revolution started to come to an end and where the British ultimately negotiated the terms of surrender, although it would be many more months before the fighting ceased. There are two main points of interest in Yorktown, one being the American Revolution Museum and the other the actual historic battlefield.
American Revolution Museum at Yorktown
Like Jamestown, Yorktown has both a historic site managed by the National Park Service and a living history museum. The American Revolution Museum features a re-created continental army encampment which gives visitors a glimpse of what life was like for soldiers on the battlefield.
Like in Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown Settlement, you’ll find historical interpreters dressed in costume and doing live demonstrations for visitors.
Admittedly, Yorktown Battlefield will likely be the least interesting place on this list for kids, but it doesn’t mean you should skip it! After all, your admission to the battlefield is included with your admission to Historic Jamestowne.
You can follow one of two driving routes through the battlefield, see where continental army clashed with British troops and the house where John Laurens negotiated the terms of British surrender. Each stop has an information board describing what happened in that historic location. To keep kids entertained along the way, sign them up for the junior ranger program and they’ll be given a kid-friendly information sheet with questions and activities to do in the car while you drive the route.
Have a blast at Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Busch Gardens is one of the most beautiful theme parks in the world and is one of the most exhilarating things to do in Williamsburg VA with kids. With thrilling roller coasters, water rides, entertaining shows, animal experiences, and live performances, Busch Gardens is a must-visit for families.The park has a European theme and different areas of the park are divided up and designed to look like different countries in Europe, like France, Germany, and Italy.
There are a few Busch Gardens tips that you’ll want to read before your visit to maximize your time at the European-themed amusement park.
Make a splash at Water Country USA
Water Country USA is the sister park to Busch Gardens. The largest water park in the mid-Atlantic, there are more than a dozen different water slides, as well as a wave pool, lazy river, and splash pads for toddlers and for older kids. If visiting during the summer months when the seasonal park is open, your kids will love spending a day at Water Country USA. And you can easily spend a full day at the park. With extreme slides for dare-devil teens and adults to calmer, gentler slides for younger children, the water park has something for all ages.
It is the perfect place to cool off during a muggy summer day.
Zip through the trees at Go Ape Treetop Adventures
Adventurous kids will love the interactive treetop adventure at Go Ape, located minutes from downtown Williamsburg. The treetop course features ziplines, rope ladders, net crossings, and even a Tarzan swing that takes you from one tree to another.
The larger course is geared for kids 10 and older as well as adults, while the smaller course, TreeTop Journey, is good for anyone over 3 feet 3 inches. It is the perfect 1-hour introduction to treetop adventures.
This is a fun and unique way to spend an afternoon in Williamsburg VA with kids.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not
While all the living history museums along the Historic Triangle are fun and fascinating things to do in Williamsburg VA with kids, Ripley’s Believe It or Not is a break from all the history lessons. Instead, at this museum, found in tourist destinations around the world, you’ll find all kinds of things that are quirky, bizarre, and almost too weird to be real. Need examples? How about a real shrunken head or a two-headed cow?
The museum also has an awesome 4-D museum that blasts wind at you and even sprinkles you with water as you watch the screen.
Walk along the shore at Yorktown Beach or Jamestown Beach
Although not an ocean beach, both Yorktown and Jamestown have fun beach areas along their respective rivers. These small beach areas along the York River and James River have sandy areas where you can relax and swim areas if you would like to get in the water. For even more fun, you can rent paddle boards or kayaks or book a Pirate adventure or sunset sail on the river.
Take water fun indoors at Great Wolf Lodge
Great Wolf Lodge is an indoor water park and resort found in various cities across the United States, including Williamsburg.
A popular Williamsburg kids activity, Great Wolf Lodge is great year round. So while Water Country USA is only open during summer months, Great Wolf Lodge is a fun thing to do in Williamsburg VA with kids even in the snowy winter months.
Race around a track at Go-Karts Plus
Go-Karts Plus is a fun entertainment center that you can visit in a matter of hours. There are several types of Go Karts from Indy Style cars that require an experienced adult or teen driver to smaller cars for younger kids to test out their driving abilities. In the larger cars, kids can ride with a parent in a double-seater go kart.
Aside from their go kart tracks, this family entertainment center features miniature golf, an arcade, blaster boats and more.
Where to Stay in Williamsburg VA with kids
There are several great places to stay in Williamsburg. If you plan to visit Great Wolf Lodge, that naturally makes for a great place to stay. Additionally, there are several properties around Colonial Williamsburg that offer discounted admission to the living history museum for their guests. We stayed at Williamsburg Lodge, which had a wonderful restaurant on the property and is only a block from Colonial Williamsburg Market Square.
Frequently asked questions about visiting Williamsburg VA with kids
While this list of the best things to do in Williamsburg VA with kids covers the top ten family activities in the Williamsburg area for families, there are a few frequently asked questions that often come up when planning family travel.
How many days do you need in Williamsburg VA with kids?
How many days you need to allot for your trip depends on how many of these things to do in Williamsburg VA with kids you plan to do. Ideally, you need a full day in Colonial Williamsburg, a full day at Busch Gardens and a full day at Water Country USA. So, that is 3 days at a minimum. To do all of these 10 activities, you’ll need at least 5 days in Williamsburg.
Is Williamsburg worth visiting?
Yes! Whether you are a history buff or a family visiting Williamsburg with kids, this area of Virginia is one of the best places on the East Coast for a vacation. Not only are there a lot of things to do in Williamsburg VA with kids, but its fascinating history makes it well worth a visit.
Is Colonial Williamsburg free to visit?
You can walk around Colonial Williamsburg free of charge, day or night, however, to go inside any of the buildings you will need to purchase an admission pass, which gives you access to all open buildings. Trust us, you will want to buy the admission pass! A visit to Colonial Williamsburg is not complete without actually going into the historic buildings.
Final thoughts on visiting Williamsburg VA with kids
Williamsburg, Virginia is a wonderful and memorable experience for families. While kids will certainly love all the exciting things to do in Williamsburg VA for kids – like the theme parks and treetop courses, they will leave knowing more about our nation’s early years thanks to the world-class living history museums that present factual information in a fun and engaging way. It is sure to be one of those places your children will want to return someday as adults and bring their own kids. How do we know that for certain? Because that is exactly what we did!
Have a question or comment about any of these things to do in Williamsburg VA with kids? We’d love to hear from you! Leave your thoughts in the comments below.