A former capital of the Virginia Colony, Williamsburg has always had its roots in visionary aspirations and resourceful bravery.
It's no coincidence that the town is often called the Revolutionary City, thanks to its key position in the American fight for independence. Today, the city maintains a mood of quiet gentility as a part of Virginia's Historic Triangle, nestled between Jamestown, the first colonial settlement, and Yorktown, where the colonists defeated the British in 1781. These days, Colonial Williamsburg, the city's historic district, is truly a living museum, complete with hundreds of restored 18th-century buildings (from taverns, shops, and homes to the grand Governor's Palace) and a cast of dedicated reenactors, embodying every shopkeeper, blacksmith, servant, and soldier. But rest assured, this place is a lot more fun than simply reading a history textbook: You'll be joining in colonial dances, debating at mock court trials, spinning wool with weavers, sampling period delicacies, and even practicing a militia drill.
History touches every facet of life in these parts, even extending to the area's other top attraction: Busch Gardens Williamsburg, the European-themed amusement park. In addition to six thrilling coasters, you'll find 10 Old World villages based on different European countries, such as France, Germany, Italy, and Ireland. Grab a beer at the Oktoberfest tent, ride a Loch Ness monster coaster, watch a show at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, or simply take in the impeccably landscaped grounds. After all, the 100-plus acres of fountains, rivers, gardens, and flower beds have earned Busch Gardens the title of most beautiful amusement park in the world for the past 23 years!
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If you need a break from the laid-back pace of Colonial Williamsburg, you won't have to look far to find high-speed thrills: At the 100-plus-acre Busch Gardens Williamsburg, daredevils will encounter six exhilarating coasters, which reach heights of 195 feet and speeds of up to 75 mph. But the thrill rides are just part of the fun. Visitors are often surprised to discover that the coasters are set in an utterly pastoral landscape, complete with fountains, rivers, and more than 1,000 flower beds, baskets, and gardens. The Old World-themed park is divided into 10 villages, each based on a different country, such as France, Germany, Ireland, and Italy. And everything from rides to shops to restaurants perfectly fit the theme: Celtic dancers, a replica of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, an Oktoberfest beer garden, and even a Loch Ness monster coaster. Locals aren't the only ones to catch on to the park's unique appeal. In fact, it has been ranked the most beautiful park in the world by the National Amusement Park Historical Association a whopping 23 years running! Beat the crowds by visiting in late March, when Busch Gardens reopens for the season.
Life in 17th-century Williamsburg may have been rough, but that didn't stop the colonists from having a good time — and saving room for dessert. As early as the 18th century, there were records of Virginians spinning custard into ice cream. In those pre-electricity days, they used insulated icehouses to store massive chunks of ice during the warmer months, and Williamsburg's Governor's Palace boasted one of only five in the entire colony. Nowadays, the old school diner Retro's Good Eats makes its frozen treats the modern way, but the creamy results are no less delicious. Handmade on-site, the chocolate, vanilla, and swirl frozen custards are richer, fresher, and tastier than other ice cream, especially in classic creations like milkshakes, floats, and sundaes.
Forget endless miles of aimless driving through the countryside. The most relaxing way to enjoy Virginia's blazing foliage is with a glass (or two) of wine in hand at The Williamsburg Winery, built on the site of the historic Wessex Hundred farm, where the first grape vines were planted as early as 1619. Now, nearly four centuries later, the winery produces the state's best-selling bottle, Governor's White. Stroll the vineyard, tour the barrel cellar, and clink glasses at a lunch pairing at the on-site Gabriel Archer Tavern. After a seasonal meal, the two-mile Nature Trail lining Pate's Creek inspires further forays into the forest, where you might encounter deer, foxes, hawks, and bald eagles.
Escape the winter cold with a visit to The Spa of Colonial Williamsburg, a tranquil sanctuary of natural light and pastel tones. This being one of the country's most historic towns, it's no wonder their treatments borrow heavily from centuries of folk wisdom and wellness practices. As part of their "century-inspired" signature series, the Spa has put together a lineup of treatments, each based on a different century: a Native-American-inspired detoxifying herbal wrap and hot stone massage for the 17th century, a colonial-inspired orange and ginger scrub for the 18th century, a traditional African herbal bath for the 19th century, a water therapy experience based on the 20th-century custom of "taking in the waters" at natural springs, and a modern-day, age-defense facial. Now, if only you could linger among the whirlpools and steam rooms until the spring rolls around.
The best properties Williamsburg has to offer.