At the end of my visit to Colonial Williamsburg we were waiting approx. 20 min. at Merchants Square shuttle bus stop. There is a pedastrian crossing (xing) there and some folks crossed a street outside the crossing. Slow-moving cars always stopped to give the way to them even when they have to wait a few minutes. It's nothing unique in the Southern USA but I wish to see that more frequently in my country, Poland.
Colonial Williamsburg is a pedestrian paradise where most streets are closed for motor traffic. The shuttle bus goes around the restricted area with 7 bus stops on the loop way.
You don’t have to have a car to get here, though it helps. We drove of course as we were on a driving tour of Virginia at the time, and if you do the same you need to exit I-64 midway between Richmond and Norfolk(exit 238) and look for signs to the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center. Once you’ve parked and purchased your entry ticket (see below) you can either walk or get a shuttle to the historic area. If visiting one of the taverns in the evening we found you could drive and park within an easy walk.
You can also get here by public transport however. Amtrak serves the Williamsburg Transportation Center with a connecting train from Washington, D.C. The center is a few blocks from the Historic Area and has car rentals, and a cab stand. There’s also a Shuttle which runs between Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center, Jamestown and Yorktown., which is free if you have an entry ticket for one of these attractions.
Shuttle buses to the Historic Area leave from the loading platform on the lower level of the Visitor Center. Shuttle buses run around the perimeter of the Historic Area, and offer return transportation to the Visitor Center. All you need to do is show your ticket to the driver on boarding.
Admit it. At some point or another, you've dreamed of riding one of these. They're a common sight around Williamsburg, though you will have to pay a moderate-sized fee to ride one. We opted out, though I think it probably would have been an enjoyalbe experience.
While the best way to explore colonial Williamsburg in my opinion is walking, you can also take buses that run regular routes throughout the museum complex. There are two bus routes: Red and Blue. Red line was a short run between the Visitor Center and the stop at the Governor's palace. Blue Line encircles the entire colonial village, running through the Market Area, the Governor's Palace, and a dozen other places. The Red Line stops operating at 5 PM; the Blue Line stops at 9 PM.
Another fun way to experience the Historic Area and its surroundings is by bicycle. Stop by the Recreation Center at the Williamsburg Inn and rent a bicycle (tandem bikes are also available). The Historic Area and the surroundings are filled with biking and hiking trails.
Once you get inside Colonial Willaimsburg, no car is needed. If you have purchased a pass to enjoy all of the building tour inside Colonial Williamsburg, the shuttle is also included. The shuttle has roughly 10 stops located close to all of the major locations.
Inside your welcome brochure, you will find a map with all the needed information.
If you don't have your own car and want to visit area around Williamsburg (Hampton Roads; Historic Triangle of Jamestown, Kingstown and Williamsburg, James River Plantations in Charles City) the best option is to rent a car. The most comfartable is surely to rent a car at the airport of your arrival. Always look for and ask about various discounts (incl. fly + drive option).
I did it two days before at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) in Arlington, Virginia (close to Washington DC). Why just there? Because they offered discount prices at Budget car rental that time which was very important for me, as it was main expense during my trip. Surely you can rent a car in any other airport including Richmond International Airport (RIC: details here), Norfolk International Airport (ORF; details here) and Newport-News Williamsburg International Airport (PHF; details here).
Keep in mind that the total price you pay for the car rental consists of numerous taxes, insurance fees, additional surcharges and is far higher than the price you find at first on advertisements. I recommend to buy full insurance coverage although it's very expensive, especially for non US-residents. It added additional almost 60% to my basic rental price. It hurts...
I had to show valid driving licence and a credit/debit card (to be identified) and I had to be 25 years of age or older to rent any car in the USA and surely I was.
We had to wait approx. 20 min. to take on the blue line shuttle bus at Marchants Square which was not that bad although unexpected. I do believe that they are well prepared for thousands of visitors but in more crowded days do expect longer time of waiting (esp. after 5.00 pm and around dusk). Think about coming back on foot. The Visitor's Center is only about 10 min. by a footbridge from the Governor's Palace.
Don't miss the last bus. The blue line shuttle circles historic area daily from 9.00 am to 10.00 pm including Visitor Center only 5.00 - 10.00 pm. The red line shuttle bus (Visitor's Center - Governor's House and back) goes from 8.50 am to 5.00 pm.
If you don't have a car you have at least two options.
There is Williamsburg-Jamestown Airport (JGG) 5 miles south of the Colonial Williamsburg but it can help you if you... have your own plane or hire one.
Check airfares to the following airports:
1. Newport-News Williamsburg International Airport (PHF), 22 mi and approx. 35 min. east of Colonial Williamsburg.
2. Norfolk International Airport (ORF), 46 mi and approx. 1 hour southeast of Williamsburg.
3. Richmond International Airport (RIC) - 45 mi and approx. 1 hour west of Williamsburg.
Airport # 1 offers limited number of flights from/to some US cities (and Canada, Puerto Rico), 2 and 3 are served by all major airlines (daily flights to cities throughout the U.S. and the world).
From airport to Williamsburg:
- you can always get a taxi (expensive) or rent a car (details in the next tip),
- from 2 take an airport shuttle (details here),
- from 3 take a public bus to Amtrak (train) station and go by Amtrak.
BY AMTRAK (TRAIN)
Williamsburg Amtrak (train) station is located on walking distance, just northwest of Colonial Williamsburg, 0.4 mi north of the Wren Building of William and Mary College. From/to Richmond it takes ca 50 min. Details in my Richmond tip "If you don't have a car" here.
Amtrak goes from Newport News, via Williamsburg, Richmond to Wahington DC and futher up to Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston. Map here.
We arrived to Williamsburg by car from Richmond and on the way we visited the Berkeley Plantation and ate early lunch at Indian Fields Tavern in Charles City.
Williamsburg is located in southeastern Virginia halfway between Virginia's capitol Richmond and Norfolk (and Virginia Beach at the Atlantic Coast). It's 150 miles south of US capital, Washington, DC.
From Washington DC (150 miles, approx. 2.5 - 3 hours):
Take I-395 South (US-1 South), cross the Potomac River (you are entering Virginia) and continue 84.7 mi South on I-95 and merge onto I-295 East. Continue 12.4 mi and merge onto I-64 East. Continue 36.8 mi and take exit 238 to SR-143 South. Continue 0.4 mi and turn right onto SR-132, continue 1.4 mi and turn left onto SR-132Y. Follow the direction signs to parking lots (on the left).
The fastest way (50 mi, approx. 1 hour):
Take I-64 East, continue 47.4 mi and take exit 238 to SR-143 South. Continue 0.4 mi and turn right onto SR-132, continue 1.4 mi and turn left onto SR-132Y. Follow the direction signs to parking lots (on the left).
My recommendation is to drive Scenic Route 5 and to visit at least one of 9 James River Plantations on the way, in Charles City (60 mi, approx. 1 hour to Charles City and 50 min. from Charles City to Colonial Williamsburg:
From downtown Richmond drive East Main Street eastward, you are on the Route 5, it's 30 mi = 48 km way to Charles City which takes ca 1 hour depends on traffic in Richmond.
From Charles City drive SR-5 eastward 22 mi and turn left onto SR-31, continue 0.4 mi north (SR-31 turns right) on SR-132, turn right into SR-132Y. Follow the direction signs to parking lots (on the left).
When I parked my car at the parking lot, we first went to the Visitors Center to buy tickets and get some info and the map.
Then we took the shuttle which went from the southeastern part of the building every 5 - 15 minutes. The blue line bus, on my picture, took us close to the Governor's Palace which took a few minutes. Alternatively, we could walk through the footbridge and marked path which would take us the same time.
There are two lines of the shuttle:
- Blue Line is the loop line which goes around the Colonial Willimasburg with 7 stops daily 9.00 am - 10.00 pm and it starts/ends by the Visitors Center from 5.00 pm to 10.00 pm only with the first stop close to the Governor's Palace,
- Red Line goes from the Visitors Center to the Governor's Palace and back daily 8.50 am - 5.00 pm only.
Each line is free for holders of any valid ticket to the Colonial Williamsburg.
The historic area of colonial Williamsburg include over 500 historic houses but it is only about 1 mile (1.6 km) long and half a mile (0.8 km) wide. It's mostly closed for motor traffic but open for bicycles and resgistered carriages drawn by horses.
AXIS OF COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG
We were walking along the main avenue and east-west axis of the colonial Williamsburg, the Duke of Gloucester Street, on my picture. Most of tourist attractions are located along, only the Governor's Palace is placed a little bit north. There is the Capitol at the eastern and Wren Building at the western end of the streeet. There is a shuttle bus stop and Merchants Square full of colonial stores before the westernmost Wren Building.
Follow the link below and tour the town with flash player.
The compact area of colonial Williamsburg (approx. 1.0 - 1.5 mile) is mostly closed for motor traffic and small enough to walk around. Anyway, I found a few visitors riding a bycicle there.
Personally I think that riding a bicycle around Williamsburg is not the best option but not because of possible bike thefts - the area is upclass and very safe - but because of probably high price for renting a bicycle, short enough distances to walk and free for ticket holders shuttle buses which drive around the historic colonial town. Bicycle is good option for visitors who want to visit neighborhoods and surroundings of Williamsburg like for example James River Plantations in Charles City.
You may hire a two-horse deawn carriage (for up to 6 persons) with a costumed coachman for a tour around Colonial Williamsburg. We arrived at the early afternoon and they were all sold out. Sometimes they are available just after opening. Anyway, my recommendation is to book a carriage a day before the visit. Call (free from the USA): 1-800-history. Ask them about the price and a type of carriage available (covered in rainy weather).
We didn't think seriously about a carriage tour because it's expensive (we already spent $45.00 per person) and not worth the price especially that we were a gropu of 3 (not 6). We preferred to walk around to get closer to small and large miracles of the colonial city. Besides, despite the jetlag, we were able to walk it and keep up with Nat. The historic area is only about 1 mile (1.6 km) long and half a mile (0.8 km) wide. When you do walk, the horses leave little fragrant patties in the roadway to remember them by, so mind the step!