Revolutionary Fun: Family Time in Virginia

Tell your kids you’re visiting where the real Pocahontas was married, and motor through ten miles of woodlands along Colonial Parkway from Williamsburg to Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the Colonies, dating to 1607.

After the buzz of Colonial Williamsburg, this quietly purposeful archaeological site on the James River seems Zen-like. Take a walking tour through active excavations, and peek in the bags used to keep track of findings like coins, beans, and pottery shards.

Try on armor, play ring toss, and observe a matchlock musket being fired at Jamestown Fort. Or sort through the Dig Box, a simulated archaeology dig with bones, seeds, and fish scales.

Wrap up your visit with a stroll through the Archaearium, where a recent find, the cannibalized skull of a 14-year-old colonial girl, is on display along with other artifacts including a 17th-century slate tablet with doodles and a 17th-century lead luggage tag emblazoned with the words “Yames Towne.”

Other must-visit experiences in America’s Historic Triangle:

Colonial Houses: Sure, there are dozens of 18th-century buildings in Colonial Williamsburg, but it is in the homes of the early colonists that this prerevolutionary settlement comes alive. Stay overnight in one of 26 historic homes. Sink into a canopy bed in the Orlando Jones House, on Duke of Gloucester Street, where Martha Washington’s grandfather lived.

Governor’s Palace: Upper-class colonials liked to party. The King’s birthday and Christmas holidays were excuses for the royal governor to throw a “rout” in the palace’s Grand Ballroom. Fine linens and silver were used for guests. Explore the dingy cellars with their original walls and 11 wine bins–the rest of the Governor’s Palace was rebuilt in 1934. Outdoors, play hide-and-seek in the boxwood maze in the tired formal gardens.

Great Hopes Plantation: Smaller than the grand plantations of Gone With the Wind fame, Great Hopes Plantation is a reproduction of the sort of farm most of the rural middle class of colonial Williamsburg lived on. Hoe a tobacco field, pick cotton, or trundle a loaded wheelbarrow to get a taste of 18th-century farming. Talk to African-America interpreters about what farm life was like for slaves.

> Travel Trivia: Captain John Smith, an early leader of the Virginia Colony at Jamestown, produced a dictionary of more than 500 Powhatan words that included opossum, raccoon, persimmon, and Chesapeake.

This piece, written by Cynthia Hacinli, originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine. 


  1. Jose
    August 6, 2014, 10:27 am

    As automobile tursiom became increasingly popular, Gettysburg found itself needing to appease the short attention span of motorists, mass consumer culture, and families with children. Monuments and a grave-yard appearance were no longer interesting to tourists who typically made a stop at Gettysburg on their way elsewhere and wanted entertainment. It was also not interesting to the children who accompanied their parents on family vacations, a type of togetherness that grew in popularity during the Cold War era. The National Park combined technology, interesting attractions, and a look of authenticity to cater to battleground’s new visitors. These strategies included bringing back the Cyclorama, creating a flash map, a diorama and the wax museum, and creating the look of authenticity by restoring the battleground to how it would have looked minutes before the battle and buying more land around it to eliminate the encroachment of unregulated features on the battleground’s landscape. Tours also became standardized, both live and electronic ones. For the families who didn’t want to leave their cars, push button or taped explanations of battle landmarks were available. Gettysburg and its new features began to be advertised by highways on billboards, on television, and in travel pamphlets, and actors promoted the battleground in movies. Another strategy to draw in tourists while also keeping them at the site longer was to offer camping grounds and cabins, then later motels, restaurants, and separate museums with gift shops.