As much as I enjoy going to Williamsburg, and checking out the colonial folks in period costumes– I love LOVE love Historic Jamestowne. It’s the perfect bite of history combined with the beautiful James River, and Jamestown is almost always sunny.
I’m always looking for an excuse to head south, if even for the day in some of these winter months. Jamestown is usually one of my top picks for the day. Colonial National Historic Park (including both Historic Jamestowne and the Yorktown Battlefield) is about 2.5 hours southeast of DC.
Jamestown is the first permanent English settlement in North America. Settled by the Virginia company in 1607 on the banks of the James River, the settlement would be plagued by famine and disease. Just as the settlers were about to pack up and head home, a new governor arrived, bringing new life to the settlement. They would later move inland to Williamsburg.
General consensus was that the site of Jamestown had disappeared due to erosion, until in 1994, Dr. Bill Kelso began directing excavations of the site. Turns out it was only mostly covered by a Civil War earthwork; nearly all of the James Fort is still above water today.
You seriously can’t beat walking around the pathways along the river, and seeing the second oldest known surviving building foundations built by the English settlers in the colonies (the first being in Smithfield, VA). And if you time it right (or get lucky), they have living history interpreter tours.
The tour guides are each extremely knowledgeable about everything from the James River, the Powhatan Indian tribes, Pocahontas and John Smith (the true story), to tobacco. It’s always interesting and I’ve always learn something new.
When we visited at the end of last year, it left me wanting to go back. I’m already planning a day trip in late March or early April. The guide mentioned that’s when the excavations will start again, so mark your calendar, and call ahead to find out if they’ll be digging on the day you visit.
They are still uncovering artifacts year after year. Between our last two visits alone, they’d uncovered the original church foundations, a couple bodies near the existing church and one other building. Pretty incredible. It’s hard to believe that someplace so old is still being unearthed.
Nearby Jamestown Settlement isn’t owned by the National Park Service, but is perfect for those who have a hard time driving to see something that isn’t tangible. The site has life size replicas of the fort, a Powhatan village and of the three ships that originally landed at Jamestown. We’ve been once, and it was a great way to help put the fort into perspective, and is designed for the younger crowd.
As a personal side note, if you plan to go, stop at Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Que. Their pork was literally the icing on the cake for our trip. Although, thinking about it, the icing on our trips is usually the food. We’d heard that their side dishes weren’t anything to write home about, so we only picked up the pork and buns. Then we stopped around the corner at Sonic for happy hour drinks, fries and onion rings.
Also, if you have some extra time before heading home, a few of my favorite picks of things to do nearby are the Yorktown Battlefield (my favorite battlefield OF ALL TIME… but that’s a story for another day.) and the Williamsburg Premium Outlets (it’s got a Hanna Andersson, Hartstrings, and Kate Spade in the store lineup).
Historic Jamestowne Information
- Historic Jamestowne is open year round, except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Years Day. The entrance gate hours are 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., but the visitor center is open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. The glasshouse is open from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
- Fee: $10 for a seven day pass to both Historic Jamestowne and Yorktown Battlefield (aka Colonial National Historic Park). Children 15 and younger are free. There are also passes available that include Virginia’s living history museums (Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center) for $25-$35 per adult. A pass including those museums, Colonial National Historic Park, and Colonial Williamsburg is $75-$85 per adult. Information on purchasing those passes are available here.
- 2013 Fee Free Days: April 22-26 (National Park Week); August 25 (National Park Service Birthday); September 28 (National Public Lands Day); November 9-11 (Veterans Day Weekend)
More Educational Fun
- Visit one of five Virginia Presidents’ homes and towns
- Head to a Smithsonian Exhibit and learn something new
- Catch the Space Shuttle Discovery at the Air & Space Museum