Christmastime in Colonial Williamsburg

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Advisor - Joslyn Weaver
Curated By

Joslyn Weaver

  • Williamsburg

  • Arts & Culture

  • Boutique Travel

  • Food & Wine

  • Sightseeing

  • Entertainment

  • Local culture

christmas lights on a historic house
Curator’s statement

Colonial Williamsburg is the perfect Christmastime destination, offering a festive atmosphere that transports visitors back in time. The historic streets are adorned with traditional decorations and cressets which lead up to the location of the Grand Illumination ceremony which is a nighttime fireworks display. From interactive workshops and carolers in period attire to unique shopping and historical reenactments, there's something for all ages to enjoy on this multi-generational trip. The warm and welcoming community ensures a memorable and holiday experience that blends history, merriment and cherished traditions.

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Day 1: Arrive in Williamsburg on Thursday

street with twinkle lights

You will likely be tired from traveling, so I recommend checking in to your hotel and having dinner at an on-site restaurant. The shops, buildings and tours in town will likely be closed, but you can still walk down the Duke of Gloucester Street (the historical main street) and Colonial Williamsburg's Merchants Square (connected to the western end). The main street is about a mile long and most of what you will want to see and do will be on this street or just a few blocks to the north or south. An evening walk will be a good chance to get a lay of the land without a bunch of tourists to navigate around.

Day 2: Keepsake photos and begin exploring on Friday

Meet the apothecaries and learn how medicine, wellness, and surgical practices of the 18th century compare to today.

Start your morning with breakfast at the hotel. Then take a little drive over to Sweethaven Lavender Farm to take some Country Christmas keepsake photos. Reservations are required via their website. On the way back, stop at Pierce's Pitt Bar-B-Que and order the JC Special for lunch.

After lunch, head to Duke of Gloucester Street to continue experiencing the history of Colonial Williamsburg. Open days and times for each shop and tour varies, so use the Colonial Williamsburg app and online planner for the latest information. If available, this would be a good time to visit the Joiner, Historical Gardener, Weavers and the Apothecary.

Grab a ginger cake snack at the Raleigh Tavern Bakery. Throughout your time in town, be sure to catch the historical theatrical performances on a number of stages throughout town such as A Christmas Remembered Show - Rochambeau, Same Song Different Day, Freedom's Paradox or Midwinter Stories. Visit The Cheese Shop for snacks and quick bites to have on-hand during your trip or for gifts to bring back home with you.

Grab dinner in Colonial Williamsburg's Merchants Square at Fat Canary. If you're feeling adventurous, try their Fricassée of Rabbit. After dinner, wander back down to experience the Celebration of the Yule Log. End your evening by grabbing a sprig of greenery to cast into the fire as a ritual symbolization of letting go of the burdens and challenges from the previous year.

Day 3: History and the grand illumination on Saturday

silvermsith reenactment

Head out to the Farmer's Markets in Merchant's Square at Colonial Williamsburg for an artisan baked good for breakfast. Wander over to The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg for some crafts and ornament-making. While you are there, explore the art museum. The area showing colonial toys might be of interest to all ages. Afterward, the little ones with you will want to visit Santa at the Colonial Williamsburg Christmas Market just outside the museum.

Grab lunch in Colonial Williamsburg's Merchants Square at Blue Talon Bistro or Mellow Mushroom Williamsburg. Between lunch and dinner would be a good time to visit the Tailor, Wythe Property and Cooper, Engraving Shop, Foundry, Bindery and Printing Office, Prentis Store, Shoemaker and Public Leather Works, Cabinetmaker, Harpsichord Maker, Carpenter’s Yard, Historic Farmer, Silversmith, Anderson Blacksmith Shop and the Tinsmith if available on this day.

Head over to Chownings Cider Stand for a hot cider to sip as you explore. As you wander throughout the town, you will see various farm animals such as oxen, chickens, and sheep. Don't miss the Raleigh Tavern Tour during your trip as it is worth the wait in line if there is one.

Enjoy dinner at Berret's Seafood Restaurant and Taphouse Grill. Be sure to try the she-crab soup and a beer from their tap selection.

Saturday evening is the Williamsburg Grand Illumination. A large chunk of time is reserved for this event, but the fireworks do not start until about 7:00 pm. You will want to verify this with your concierge. Fireworks are displayed over the Governor's Palace as well as the Capitol Building. The fireworks displays are almost exactly the same in both locations. You will see many people setting up lawn chairs on the Palace Green in front of the Governor's Palace, but it is a long time to camp out in the cold if you go that route. I recommend either coming prepared with chairs and plenty of warm blankets or planning to stroll along Duke of Gloucester Street while enjoying fireworks from all angles as well as caroling and other various performances along the way.

Keep in mind that if you are not staying within walking distance in the town, you will need to park at the Colonial Williamsburg Regional Visitor Center and walk back there after the fireworks display (along with many other people). The shuttle stops running for a period of time, and you will want to walk back unless you have somewhere warm to wait until the shuttle begins to run again.

Day 4: Final sightseeing and authentic colonial dining on Sunday

garden farm in the back of a white building

Start your day with breakfast at Culture Cafe for a unique and quirky dining experience. Alternatively, you can drive over to the Colonial Pancake House.

You will want to visit any remaining historical sites you can today. I recommend visiting the Guardhouse as well as the Milliner and Mantua-Maker on your way to the R. Charlton Coffeehouse for a tour and cup of Hot Chocolate. They do not sell hot chocolate there, but they give out samples at the end of your tour. Afterward, visit the Gunsmith Shop and the Capitol (which also has a tour). Catch the shuttle for a quick trip back to the other end of town, and have lunch at Amber Ox Public House with a southern-inspired menu.

Afterward, you will want to visit the Wheelwright, tour the Governor's Palace as well as the Governor’s Palace Kitchen. Be sure to check out the gardens and maze in the back. Next, see the American Indian Encampment Site as well as the Brickhouse. If you have time, go on a tour of the Courthouse and get your picture taken in the stocks! Head over to the Public Gaol, or jail, and also check out the Wigmaker.

End your evening at King's Arm Tavern for an authentic colonial dining experience. Everything including the food, dishes, singing, and costumes are all reminiscent of colonial times. Don't miss ordering the Peanut Soupe and the Hunter's Game Pye. Another great tavern option is Christiana Campbell's Tavern. These taverns book up well in advance, so reserve your spot as soon as you can.

Day 5: Jamestown Ferry and departure on Monday

A convenient and scenic ferry service connecting historic Jamestown, Virginia, with Scotland Wharf.

If it's on your way out of town, I recommend taking the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry. Check their website for departure times. It is a free automobile ferry where you can drive right onboard. Once parked, you can get out and explore the upper deck. It is a short trip across the James River before you can drive off and head home.

Need to Know

Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out my guide, Retreat to the Quaint Little Mountain Town of Highlands, NC.

Advisor - Joslyn Weaver

Travel Advisor

Joslyn Weaver

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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Virginia.