Review: Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, USA inner banner

Review: Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, USA

Colonial Williamsburg in the US state of Virginia is about the closest any of us is likely to get to time travel! This extraordinary historical attraction has a huge amount to offer visitors, including a lively taste of 18th century politics.
Colonial Williamsburg
Colonial Williamsburg

Americans are a patriotic bunch.

Everywhere you travel, there’s a palpable sense of nationalistic enthusiasm in the air. From the red, white and blue banners hanging on shop fronts, to the Stars and Stripes in front yards and on bumper stickers on shiny pick-ups, Americans are celebrating their Americaness with gusto — and there seems to be nothing they like better than getting back to their historic roots.

As a kid, I remember with great fondness visiting Old Sydney Town north of Sydney. It was a recreation of Australia’s first colony, complete with a muddy dam that served as Botany Bay and a replica vessel from the First Fleet you could go on board to see where the convicts slept.

Watch our video of ten top things to do on a USA East Coast road trip:

10 Amazing Things to Do on a USA East Coast Road Trip | New York City to Williamsburg (VA)

★ Did you enjoy this video? Help us make more by hitting the subscribe button! It will help us get more destinations on board. Thank you! ★Top Oz Tours takes…

There were colonial buildings to explore, townsfolk in period costume wandering about, and the odd shoot-out with some feisty bushrangers. I don’t recall there being any Indigenous characters in the narrative, but this was the 1970s. Indigenous Australians were still very firmly outside anyone’s narrative.

Today I had to Google to see whether Old Sydney Town still exists. It doesn’t. It closed in 2003.

A search for similar attractions across the country didn’t yield much result either. There’s stalwart Sovereign Hill in Ballarat, a mini Gold Rush town at Dreamworld on the Gold Coast, and a few smaller outfits here and there. That’s about it. What happened? How did the historical recreation fall out of favour in Australia so spectacularly? It certainly didn’t in the USA, which brings me to Colonial Williamsburg — a 70-hectare living museum in the heart of Williamsburg, Virginia.

Colonial Williamsburg
Colonial Williamsburg: Watch fascinating re-enactments.

Williamsburg was established in 1632 and became the state capital in 1699. Virginia originally covered an area the size of eight US states today, so the capital would have had quite a sphere of influence. An array of impressive buildings were constructed, including the Governor’s palace and Congress building.

In 1780 the then-Governor Thomas Jefferson made the decision to move the capital to Richmond for defensive reasons and Williamsburg fell into a deep sleep. Literally. Like Rip Van Winkle or Snow White, the historic township lay in state for a century and a half, waiting for someone with the right touch to awaken it. Enter Rev William Goodwin, who, in 1920, recognised its potential as a heritage attraction. With the assistance of philanthropist John D Rockefeller Jr, one by one the town’s decrepit colonial properties were acquired, restored, and gradually Colonial Williamsburg was born. Today a staggering four million people visit it annually — 95% of them domestic tourists.

As you enter greater Williamsburg, it’s hard to know where the actual town ends and the recreation begins. But that’s part of the magic. Gradually modern apartment blocks and Subway restaurants become colonial homes and taverns. Cars give way to horse and carts; modern dress blends with period accoutrements; and before you know it you’ve travelled back to the late 1700s. There’s no gate or ticket booth to designate the boundary. It just happens.

Colonial Williamsburg
Colonial Williamsburg

Approximately 88 of the buildings are original, and the town adheres strictly to the original layout of the capital pre-Revolutionary War. The houses are all occupied. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation rents them out at market rates (those working at the attraction are given priority for a tenancy). So in effect this is a living, breathing, working colonial town. There are restrictions on tenants — no washing hanging out in public, no kid’s toys lying around the yard etc. The homes and gardens are beautifully maintained by the foundation. It’s quite something.

Colonial Williamsburg
Colonial Williamsburg

As we wander along the grassy domain in front of the British governor’s home (this is still an English colony at the time, remember), a commotion appears to be brewing. The townsfolk are unhappy with the governor, who appears to have purloined the colony’s supply of gun power. A large mob gathers (consisting of actors and us tourists), spurred on by headstrong young bucks hungry for revolution. Before long we’re all itching for a fight with our masters from Blighty, but wise words from an elder statesman quell the uprising. For now.

Over at the Capitol Building, another tourist throng assembles for a Q&A with George Washington. These presentations by historical figures are definitely one of the top things to do at Colonial Williamsburg. George has attracted a full house. Now this is no bunch of 5th graders asking a jaded convict what he ate on the voyage over from England on the Sirius. These are hard hitting questions from passionate adults (and kids) about rights, tariffs, taxes, and the legislative obligations of the British Empire to her colonies. Mr Washington is not one to shy away from an argument when a question raises his ire.

Colonial Williamsburg
Colonial Williamsburg: Capitol Building

I gather up the courage to ask whether he has heard of the imminent establishment of a penal settlement in New Holland (later to become Australia) and if the American colonies currently take Britain’s excess convicts. ‘Most certainly’ he replies, ‘the British delight in exporting their rattle snakes to us’.

I learn that the actor playing George Washington is renowned for his work and in constant demand in this role. He’s built a career on it. I briefly wonder whether you could do something similar back home with Captain Arthur Phillip, but the reality is you’d probably end up doing children’s parties or starve through lack of interest (the latter might be preferable).

We tour the Congress building, visit the fully functioning smithy, and wander the streets engaging with the townsfolk, until gradually the 18th century world blurs and fades away and the transition back to the present is complete.

Colonial Williamsburg
Colonial Williamsburg

Our wonderful day at Colonial Williamsburg leaves me wondering if perhaps the historic recreation back home is just sleeping — waiting for someone with the right touch to come along.

For more information, visit

USA tours

USA Tours, Activities & Attractions

Additional images: Bigstock

Adam Ford

About the writer

Adam Ford is editor of Top Oz Tours and Travel Ideas, and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger, and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa, and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.



Travel essentials

You can book many aspects of your holiday on the Top Oz Tours & Travel Ideas website, including flights, hotels, car hire, travel insurance, and more. When you purchase a product or service using the following links from our partners, we receive a small commission. It does not affect the price you pay, and it enables us to continue to provide readers with amazing travel inspiration.


Compare airlines, flights, and fares in one place with They don't charge any credit card fees and you can always see exactly what you’re paying for in the price breakdown. You can book one-way, round-trip, and multi-city flights, and change your travel dates with ease when you opt for a flexible ticket option (an additional cost applies). It all adds up to a great flight! Search for flights with


If you're looking for a great deal on your next hotel or homestay, look no further than Their mission is to make travel affordable and accessible to more people, and to deliver seamless accommodation experiences that complement your holiday. Search for hotels and homestays with

Car hire

Discover Cars is an award-winning (World Travel Awards) car rental comparison website, which helps customers find, compare, and hire cars at the most competitive prices globally. You’ll get access to meticulously maintained cars, 4WDs, and minibuses from the world’s leading brands, and at the best possible price. Search for car hire with Discover Cars

Campervans & motorhomes

Make Jucy your first choice for campervan and motorhome hire. Since 2001, this progressive company has had a vision to be world-famous for enabling experience seekers to discover happiness on the road. The Jucy crew live and breathe their core values of passion, pride, family, and fun, and these values influence every one of their interactions with customers. They’re ready to help you find 'your happy'. Search for campervans and motorhomes with Jucy

Day tours & experiences worldwide

Search and book day tours, guided experiences, and attraction tickets and passes worldwide with Top Oz Tours and Viator. There are no booking or credit card fees when you book through us, and you’ll have access to the widest choice of activities and most competitive prices. Search for tours and experiences

Multi-day tours & trips worldwide

Travelling on an extended tour with a local guide is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the destination of your choice. Top Oz Tours has joined forced with Tour Radar to bring you a fabulous range of multi-day tours and trips from the world's leading operators. Travel with like minded people and get the best possible price on the holiday of your dreams. Search for multi-day tours and trips

Travel insurance

World Nomads aims to be a part of every traveller’s journey by providing a reassuring range of travel insurance services. Travellers can buy insurance, extend their policy, and claim online, 24/7, on the road or from home. Travel insurance benefits include coverage for emergency medical and evacuation or repatriation, lost baggage, trip cancellation, and more than 150 adventure activities. Get an insurance costing from World Nomads

Subscribe to our newsletter for the chance to win a $100 voucher




Please leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.

Your Cart
Your Cart Is Empty
error: This content is protected.