My in-laws love Williamsburg, Virginia and often stay at their timeshare there during the week between Christmas and New Years. I was fortunate to join them there on a few trips and we really had a wonderfully festive time. Often when the clock strikes midnight on Christmas night, the season is considered over. But the truth is, the 12 days of Christmas you hear so much about are actually the 12 days after Christmas, between December 25 and January 6. So we have always spent this time in Williamsburg still in the holiday mode, doing some holly jolly things in addition to historical touristy activities, interspersed of course with food and shopping. Here are my personal top 12 Williamsburg area activities, in honor of the 12 days of Christmas I have spent there.
Side note: I understand that many people believe we shouldn’t be talking about Christmas this early in November, but with my honeymoon taking me away from November 22 to December 23 I will miss out on most of the season at home and as such I am finding myself craving the Christmas warm and fuzzies a little early!
1 Colonial Williamsburg
Contrary to what some people think, Colonial Williamsburg is not a ticketed, gated park. It is completely free to wander the cobblestone streets, soak up the atmosphere, and browse the shops, which is a perfect activity for a day when you don’t want to purchase the admission ticket. The main drag is called Duke of Gloucester Street, which basically leads from the beautiful campus of the College of William and Mary down through the whole colonial area, ending at the historic Capitol building. The only thing you may have to shell out money for is parking (and of course any souvenirs you want to buy). It is a pretty area any time of year, but I just love the yuletide spirit that is present around Christmas!
2 Colonial Williamsburg with Admission
If you want to truly experience all of the historic character that Colonial Williamsburg has to offer, then you do need to buy a ticket. With just a one day pass, you can get a lot done! This ticket allows access to dozens of different experiences. At trade shops, like the blacksmith and shoemaker, experts in period costumes are eager to show off their wares. The magazine, courthouse, and church offer fascinating peeks into the revolutionary times. You can even tour homes once occupied by everyday colonial families. But perhaps grandest off all, included in this ticket are tours of the Governor’s Palace and Capitol building. We have been lucky to have a few fantastic tour guides that really heightened these experiences.
3 Carriage Ride
Unfortunately these rides cannot be reserved in advance. They are booked on the day of on a first come, first served basis, so be sure to get to the ticket office early to ensure you are able to secure the specific carriage you want and a time slot that works for you. We only did this once but very much enjoyed it. The sound of the horses’ hooves clop-clop-clopping on the cobblestone is a nice soundtrack to the ride. The actors wandering the streets will often wave to the folks on carriages, calling out proper colonial greetings. They will even curtsy and bow if you happen to be riding in the royal carriage!
4 Crystal Christmas Concert
Dean Shostak is one of very few people in the world who knows how to play the glass armonica, and he definitely plays it well. I’m not sure if this Christmas concert at the Kimball Theater was a special event or if it is something that is offered every year, but if I see it offered again I would jump at the chance to attend. The glass armonica is a strange instrument, one I had never seen before. It had a very unique sound, and hearing beloved Christmas carols played on it was a really neat experience. We liked it so much, in fact, that we purchase two CDs after the show.
5 Shopping for revolutionary toys
There are a lot of interesting souvenirs to be found in the Williamsburg area, but my favorites are truly the colonial toys! Slate boards for drawing, wooden hoops for spinning, rag dolls for cuddling… the toys bring back a sense of nostalgia, especially around the holidays. Kids today have all sorts of fancy gadgets on their Christmas lists, and I love seeing them play with the simple treasures of days gone by.
6 Jamestown Settlement
Jamestown Settlement is a replica city, complete with tall masted ships and a recreation of what is believed to be the first church in the country. The blacksmith here gave a very detailed and interesting presentation. Perhaps the best part of doing this when we did was the cold temperatures- they kept the crowds away and we had practically private tours of everything. The wind was especially difficult down by the boats, but overall we enjoyed our time there.
7 Historic Jamestowne
Historic Jamestowne feels somewhat more authentic than its reproduction. Skeletons of buildings dot the vast field, and we explored like archaeologists looking for clues about how this colonial society lived. The coolest part was seeing the ruins of the Jamestown Memorial Church, which is thought to be the oldest church in the country. The area is so pretty too, right next to the water, making the walk even more atmospheric. We also enjoyed the indoor visitor center which was full of interesting displays.
8 Yorktown Victory Center
Yorktown is a lot like Colonial Williamsburg. Costumed actors are stationed at different areas, ready to give a spiel about whatever their specialty is. We very much enjoyed the medicine tent chat and exploring the women’s camp. Lots of turkeys were lurking around as well, eager to greet us. A fife and drum trio did a great performance during our visit, pausing in between songs to give some very interesting historical facts. They went through the whole song of “Yankee Doodle”, explained the various idioms and phrases of the times and what they actually mean. Visiting here helped us complete the historic trifecta that is Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown.
An entertaining and delicious dinner, what’s not to like? This somewhat expensive hibachi restaurant is one of our family’s favorites and we are always sure to visit whenever we are in town. When we stay over the new year, it is usually our big NYE night out, complete with fancy cocktails and delectable desserts. The chefs always pay special attention to my young niece and she just eats up the attention… along with all the shrimp!
10 Yankee Candle Village Flagship Store
The Christmas spirit abounds at this huge Yankee Candle shop. Not only are there countless holiday scents for sale, you can also buy all sorts of holiday décor, including Christmas village sets, traditional nutcrackers, stockings, and tree ornaments. The big clock in the center atrium puts on a little show every hour with truly adorable animatronic mice, and we were always amused by the Christmas countdown during the days after Christmas. If you aren’t interested in the holiday season, don’t worry- there are more than enough non-seasonal scents around to fill your nostrils. You can even visit Wax Works, a fun area for families where you can partake in all sorts of waxy crafts from dipping your own novelty candles to creating a wax cast of your hand.
11 Colonial Parkway
Just a pretty, pretty road that connects the Historic Triangle of the area. We drive on this quite often during our visits to Williamsburg, as it is simply the most picturesque way to get around. On our first trip to the area together, we purchased a CD of fife and drum music in one of the Colonial Williamsburg shops. Now we listen to it every time we drive on this road.
12 Christmas Town at Busch Gardens
I have never visited Busch Gardens outside of Christmas Town, but I’m sure I would like it. It has a somewhat international theme with lots of rides and rollercoasters. For Christmas, nearly every inch of the park is covered in beautiful lights that are simply breathtaking when the sun goes down. We don’t usually do many rides because the lines tend to be long, instead we just wander around and soak in the atmosphere. My favorite display is the flume ride, dry for the wintertime, that they cover with a stunning display of blue and white lights. The peace on earth sign is very moving, mostly thanks to the more reflective, softer music they play in that area. We managed to get on the sky ride one year just as darkness was falling, and I could easily see why the ride is so popular- the view of the lights from above is lovely!