Discover Virginia: Colonial Williamsburg and More
Williamsburg, perhaps the most well-known and popular historical site in Virginia, is definitely a must-see destination. However, there are many more places to visit, as well, beginning with the first permanent English colony of the then “New World,” Jamestown, which would later become Williamsburg. From Jamestown, you can visit Yorktown – the battleground of our fight for independence from the British.
Several of our country’s founding fathers came from Virginia, including Thomas Jefferson, our third president, who has two homes there (in Charlottesville and Forest), both of which have been restored and are open to the public for tours.
Many battles were waged in Virginia during the Civil War, but it is here that the war between the states ended. Lee surrendered to Grant in the town of Appomattox, VA.
Another site in Virginia you don’t want to miss is the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, VA. This tribute to the WWII soldiers who died fighting for our freedoms is truly inspirational.
During your trek across Virginia, you’ll learn a lot about how our country was founded, and what events were foremost in the development of our country. There’s a lot to see and do. However, not all sightseeing is historical in nature. If you just enjoy the great outdoors and beautiful surroundings, Virginia definitely won’t disappoint. Here’s a guide to help you get the most out of your Virginia adventure.
Exploring Virginia’s East Coast HistoryReserving a hotel in modern-day Williamsburg is a convenient way to explore the Virginia Peninsula region which contains not only Colonial Williamsburg but also Jamestown and Yorktown. The Colonial Parkway, which connects all three sites, provides a picturesque drive that passes by Colonial Williamsburg and extends ~10 miles in each direction to connect Jamestown and Yorktown.
Historic Jamestown (1607)
Original Colony Location (Managed by National Parks Service)
Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in America. Located on the northern bank of the James River, it is 40 miles west of present-day Newport News. Interestingly, there are two Jamestown sites in close proximity to each other. The first is the actual location of Jamestown, managed by the National Parks Service. An active archaeological excavation is in progress to discover more about the people and fort built by the first colonists. Stop by the Visitor Center for admission tickets, which include entrance to the park, a guided tour, and an onsite museum that displays artifacts found in the excavation.
Recreation of Jamestown Colony buildings and Fort (Managed by the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation)
A second park, Jamestown Settlement, approximately 1 mile away, is a recreation of the Jamestown fort and a harbor with three ships that carried the first English colonists to the New World. It is a short walk from the Visitor Center to the fort, where people in period dress are working in shops typical of the day. There is also a harbor area next to the fort with three ships that are replicas of the vessels that carried the first colonies to the settlement. Seamen are onboard the ships to provide historical information about the vessels. Plan on taking at least ½ day to visit each site and their respective museums.
Ninety-two years after the start of the Jamestown settlement, the capital of the English colony was moved ten miles inland to Williamsburg, which provided a healthier environment to grow. Williamsburg remained the capital of Virginia until 1780 when it was relocated to Richmond. Today, the town of Colonial Williamsburg is a multi-block venue that has been carefully preserved to retain the look and feel of life in the early 1700s. Several workshops of the day line the streets, with people dressed in period attire explaining their trades. Also, several times a day, actors portraying historical figures, such as George Washington and James Madison, perform on stage.
Tickets to Colonial Williamsburg are obtained at the Visitors Center. Entry includes access to the stage performances and workshop displays, as well as transportation around the town and to and from the Visitor Center. If you decide to walk the distance between the Visitor Center and Colonial Williamsburg, be prepared for a one-mile trek.
Completing the “Historical Triangle” in the Virginia Peninsula region is the revolutionary war battle site at Yorktown. It was here that the Continental Army, under the command of George Washington (with critical help from the French), scored a decisive victory against British forces. Two years later in 1783, a peace treaty was signed with Britain, giving the 13 colonies independence. To tour the Yorktown battlefield, first stop at the Visitor Center for a short film on the history of the battle. Also at the center, you can pick up a map of the park, which can be toured by driving to designated areas containing historical markers and plaques. This is a ½ day adventure.
Exploring Central Virginia’s Historical Sites
Lynchburg, VA (called the City of Seven Hills) is 165 miles west of Williamsburg, and it is a good central location for day trips to other historical sites in the Commonwealth. Located at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, it has a connection to the Williamsburg area since the James River flows past Lynchburg on its way to the Virginia Peninsula and the coast.
Monticello Charlotteville, VA. (1770)
Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s, “Little Mountain,” is an hour’s drive north of Lynchburg. From his hilltop home, Jefferson could also watch the building of the University of Virginia, which he founded and believed to be his greatest achievement. Guided walking tours of the grounds are provided to visitors.
Popular Forest, VA (1806)
Thomas Jefferson’s second home, Poplar Forest, is located just outside the city of Lynchburg. He used this house in later years as his summer home, to escape the demanding activities of Monticello. Guided walking tours of the grounds are provided to visitors.
Appomattox, VA (1886)
Appomattox (the site of Lee’s surrender to Grant) is a 40-minute drive east of Lynchburg. The house where the surrender took place and many buildings in the original town center are open to visitors for self-guided tours. Several times during the day a soldier, dressed as a Union private, shares with visitors the events leading up to the final days of the war. Civil war battlefields adjacent to the surrender site are also open to the public as part of the area maintained by the National Parks Service.
National D-Day Memorial, Bedford, VA (1944)
Bedford, VA is a short 20-minute drive west of Lynchburg. Starting in the late 1990s a National D-Day Memorial was built on a 50-acre hilltop, outside the city of Bedford. The memorial was created to honor the sacrifices of all allied soldiers on D-Day (WWII – June 6, 1944). It also has a particular significance to the local region since the “Bedford Boys,” as they came to be known, sustained the highest casualty rate per capita of any place in the country. Stop by the Visitor Center outside the entrance to the Memorial to view an introductory film and purchase tickets. Guided tours are provided throughout the day.
Side Trip to Peaks of Otter
A short drive to the Peaks of Otter Lodge is a perfect side trip after your visit to the National D-Day Memorial. A picnic, with Abbott lake in the background, is always a treat. And, for a grand view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, take a bus ride up Sharp Top Mountain (or hike if you feel inspired). It is only a 15-minute hike from the end of the bus road to the very top of the mountain, with a 360 view in all directions.
If you have any comments or questions, please share them below. We’d like to hear if you have any special places you like to visit in Virginia. Visit us at eClassicAutos.com where we talk about classic car events we visit around the country.