This Virginia City Is One of T+L Readers' Favorites in the U.S. — How to Visit

Williamsburg, Virginia, has charming inns, world-class museums, and one of T+L readers' favorite resorts in the South.

<p>BDphoto/Getty Images</p>

BDphoto/Getty Images

Depending on past experience, travelers may associate Williamsburg, Virginia, with a few different things. For many, school trips and family vacations brought them to the Historic Triangle: Jamestown, Yorktown, and Colonial Williamsburg, the 18th-century living history museum with sites, tours, and exhibitions up and down Duke of Gloucester Street (more affectionately known as DoG Street). Some know Williamsburg for its adventure parks, Busch Gardens and Great Wolf Lodge water park. Others recognize it as the home of William & Mary, the second-oldest college in the United States.

No matter your familiarity, or lack thereof, with Williamsburg, one thing's for sure: There’s something for everyone. Leslie Shotwell, the guest loyalty and experience manager at Williamsburg Inn, Griffin Hotel, and Colonial Houses-Historic Lodging, notes that Williamsburg "provides experiences and fun for all ages," whether you’re interested in "leisure and relaxation" or the area’s "historical sites, world-class art museums, a variety of accommodation options … [or] beautiful arboretum gardens." It’s these factors — as well as the various culinary offerings and outdoor activities — that put Williamsburg on the list of Travel + Leisure readers’ favorite cities in the U.S. in the 2023 World’s Best Awards.

While history is central to Williamsburg’s narrative and culture, the nearly 16,000-person city continues to grow and evolve. "I graduated from William & Mary in 2005 and returned full-time starting in 2014. During that time, and since then, there has been an absolute explosion in things to do, places to dine, and experiences to enjoy," says Robby Willey, co-founder of The Virginia Beer Co. "This is not just the Williamsburg you visited in elementary school."

Read on to discover where to stay and what to do in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Williamsburg, Virginia

  • Stay in the heart of Colonial Williamsburg at the luxurious, award-winning Williamsburg Inn.

  • Take the scenic route along the Colonial Parkway, a 23-mile drive connecting Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown.

  • Meander down the brick walkways and into the shops in Merchants Square.

  • Enjoy a sandwich from The Cheese Shop — and don't forget to ask for extra House Dressing.

  • Explore the neighborhoods outside of Colonial Williamsburg via the Williamsburg Tasting Trail.

<p>Courtesy of The Williamsburg Inn</p>

Courtesy of The Williamsburg Inn

Best Hotels and Resorts

Williamsburg Inn

Voted by T+L readers as one of their favorite resorts in the South, the Williamsburg Inn is a stalwart character in the area. Its old-school elegance and history are complemented by its various amenities and activities — among them, a top-notch spa, a golf course, and several on-site restaurants.

Williamsburg Manor Bed & Breakfast

"There are a number of amazing bed-and-breakfasts around Greater Williamsburg (don't sleep on The Inn at Eagles' Watch), but the brewery has a long history with the Williamsburg Manor. We used to pour at charity tailgates there, hosted by the innkeepers, ahead of William & Mary football games (with Zable Stadium a mere block away)," says Willey. The six-room B&B conveniently sits right on Richmond Road, which takes you into Colonial Williamsburg. "When my wife and I were married in 2020, my entire family stayed here … The owners are generous, the trappings are wonderful, and that food in the morning! My father-in-law still talks about the shrimp and grits he enjoyed there at our post-wedding brunch the next day. And, as we know, to get a recurring compliment from any father-in-law is no easy feat," says Willey.

Williamsburg Lodge, Autograph Collection

The decor of its rooms may be inspired by Colonial Williamsburg, but Williamsburg Lodge, Autograph Collection has all of the modern touches you’d want in a hotel. Plus, it’s located around the corner from its sibling property, the Williamsburg Inn, so guests also have access to the spa, golf courses, and fitness center.

Kingsmill Resort

Travelers who want to experience downtown Williamsburg, but prefer something more remote and closer to the water, should consider the various accommodation options at Kingsmill Resort. Whether you’re booking a standard guest room as a solo traveler or couple, a multiroom condo as a family, or the 7,000-square-foot Estate at Kingsmill as a larger group, you’ll be able to enjoy the resort’s range of recreational activities along the James River.

<p>WendyOlsenPhotography/Getty Images</p>

WendyOlsenPhotography/Getty Images

Best Things to Do

Discover the Black history of Colonial Williamsburg.

It would be a mistake to visit Colonial Williamsburg and not make an effort to understand the role of Black and enslaved individuals in the area during the 18th century. Colonial Williamsburg provides a self-guided itinerary, titled The African American Experience, but visitors can also take the African American History in Williamsburg tour with Williamsburg Walking Tours

Drive along Colonial Parkway.

"There's some real natural beauty in this area, and the Colonial Parkway — a 23-mile historic roadway stretching from the York River at Yorktown to the James River at Jamestown — is a great showcase of much of it. It connects you to the historic areas, but also lets you experience a wide expanse of Williamsburg — and if you end up in Yorktown, a pint of Free Verse at the Yorktown Pub is the perfect end to a long journey," says Willey. Just be sure to check for any closures on the National Park Service website before embarking on your drive.

Get a dose of collegiate nostalgia on William & Mary’s campus.

A crisp fall day is best spent wandering the grounds of William & Mary. The Old Campus, which neighbors Colonial Williamsburg, is especially beautiful. The brick paths connect the famed Wren Building, the President’s House, and several other impressive structures. If the weather permits, take a seat by one of the school’s most distinguishing features, the Sunken Garden.

Spend a day exploring the Williamsburg Tasting Trail.

There are 12 total stops on the Williamsburg Tasting Trail, a 21-and-over experience highlighting the different breweries, wineries, distilleries, and meaderies in the area. Start with a game plan, assign your designated driver, and then begin your day at Alewerks Brewing Company, Silver Hand Meadery, The Virginia Beer Co., Williamsburg Winery Tasting Room and Wine Bar, or any other spots you want to try.

Enjoy some family fun at Busch Gardens or the Great Wolf Lodge water park.

Roller coasters and waterslides can entertain everyone for an entire weekend. Grab tickets for Busch Gardens or its water park, Water Country USA. Great Wolf Lodge water park also offers day passes for its collection of wave pools, lazy rivers, waterslides, and interactive water play areas.

<p>BackyardProduction/Getty Images</p>

BackyardProduction/Getty Images

Best Shopping

"Located adjacent to Colonial Williamsburg's historic area is Merchants Square," says Shotwell. "The storefronts are diverse, as some doors take shoppers through an 18th-century experience with handmade gifts and local goods, while others are modern brands we all know and love."

The Peanut Shop of Williamsburg

Perusing The Peanut Shop of Williamsburg and sampling its complimentary confections is par for the course when shopping in Merchants Square. Start with the salted peanuts, move on to the chocolate-covered variety, and round out your visit with the nut brittle.

Campus Shop

For all things William & Mary, including sweatshirts, T-shirts, and hats, pop into Campus Shop, a quaint storefront on Prince George Street. Even if you didn’t attend the College, you can still rep the green and gold with pride.

The Shoe Attic

If you want to add to your wardrobe while in Williamsburg, drop by The Shoe Attic for fashionable footwear from brands like Jeffrey Campbell and Dolce Vita, and try on some new pieces from Crosby by Mollie Burch or Minkpink.

Wythe Candy & Gourmet Shop

A trip to Wythe Candy & Gourmet Shop has no age limit; the nostalgic sweet treat experience involves peering at the candied apples, picking out some homemade fudge, and taking home a few bags of gummies and chocolates.

Best Restaurants

Paul’s Deli, College Delly, and Green Leafe Cafe

"To experience real Williamsburg, as a student or a local does, you have to grab a beer and bite at one of the downtown delis," says Willey. "Paul's Deli, the College Delly, and the Green Leafe — just across from the historic William & Mary campus — are three community staples featuring comfort food, Greek and Italian specialties, and some solid local brews." And yes, the cheese fries at Paul’s are legendary.

Blackbird Bakery

Chef David Everett has put his stamp on Williamsburg in many areas; Blue Talon Bistro, DoG Street Pub, La Piazza (housed in what was formerly The Trellis), and Blackbird Bakery all fall under his ownership. The latter is the perfect stop for a pick-me-up cup of Illy coffee, a loaf of freshly baked bread, a croissant, or a chocolate chip cookie.

The Cheese Shop, Fat Canary, and Downstairs at Fat Canary

"Everyone in Williamsburg knows The Cheese Shop and their world-famous sandwiches with House Dressing," says Willey. "[But] not everyone knows that the family who runs The Cheese Shop also runs a fine-dining experience just next door, called the Fat Canary.” Fat Canary's seasonal menu changes on a regular basis, but expect crispy oysters, pan-seared sea scallops, braised beef short ribs, and the like. Willey also shares how, "almost every night," the wine cellar beneath The Cheese Shop transforms into Downstairs at Fat Canary, what he calls a "speakeasy-style find right in the midst of Colonial Williamsburg." No need to make a reservation — "you have to catch them when they're open."

Christiana Campbell’s Tavern, King’s Arms Tavern, or Shields Tavern

Cozying up at one of Colonial Williamsburg’s 18th-century taverns — Christiana Campbell’s Tavern, King’s Arms Tavern, or Shields Tavern — is an appropriate way to spend a few hours, particularly in the late fall or winter. Christiana Campbell’s Tavern, "known as one of George Washington’s favorite places to dine," according to Shotwell, serves up a historically inspired menu that includes hoe cakes, chowder, and fried chicken. She adds, "Candlelit rooms with the soft sounds of tavern music complete the dining experience."

<p>BDphoto/Getty Images</p>

BDphoto/Getty Images

Best Time To Visit

"Each season brings exciting new programs and experiences for both guests and locals to enjoy," says Shotwell. But she and Willey agree that fall is decidedly the best time to visit Williamsburg. "The eastern Virginia heat is just beginning to taper off, the leaves are turning, the Festbier is fresh, and football is back," explains Willey. "The William & Mary community is a proud one, and enjoying a day of tailgating ahead of Tribe football is a memory maker. Don some green and gold gear, grab a pregame bite at one of the delis, raise a round at a local tailgate, then join us inside Zable Stadium to root on the student athletes," he adds.

When planning a fall trip, though, travelers should make a note of William & Mary’s annual Homecoming Weekend in October. The school spirit Willey mentioned brings in alumni from across the world, and it can be harder to find accommodations or tables at the more popular restaurants.

How to Get There

American Airlines operates daily flights between Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport (PHF), the closest airport to downtown Williamsburg, and Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT). Travelers can also fly into Norfolk International Airport (ORF) or Richmond International Airport (RIC); both are about 45 minutes to an hour away. Amtrak also serves Williamsburg, with the Northeast Regional route stopping at the city’s brick depot station, a five-minute ride from Colonial Williamsburg.

Neighborhoods to Visit

The Edge District

"There are some amazing communities with some amazing shopping and dining experiences that are not located in the traditional tourist areas," says Willey. The Edge District, home to The Virginia Beer Co., can be found between Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens. While there, take a distillery tour of Copper Fox or shop for antiques at The Velvet Shoestring.

New Town

Billed as a "mixed-use 'New Urbanism' community," New Town is a quick, 10-minute drive from Colonial Williamsburg and caters to visitors looking for traditional retail stores, restaurants, and a good place to stretch their legs. Barnes and Noble Booksellers, Bonefish Grill, and Regal New Town Cinemas 12 are just a few of the businesses featured on the neighborhood’s extensive roster.

Midtown Row and High Street

Richmond Road, the main thoroughfare in Williamsburg, can be broken down into a few areas. It ends or begins — depending on your point of view — at the edge of Colonial Williamsburg and continues northwest, navigating through High Street and Midtown Row, two neighborhoods made up of residences, retailers, and entertainment options. The former has a movie theater, Movie Tavern, as well as a coffee shop, Tipsy Beans Cafe, and several grab-and-go restaurants. Midtown Row is a bit closer to Colonial Williamsburg and William & Mary, and has a grocery store and several dining options, including Sal’s by Victor, Amiraj, and Super Chix.

<p>RYAN M. KELLY/AFP via Getty Images</p>

RYAN M. KELLY/AFP via Getty Images

How to Get Around

Colonial Williamsburg itself is highly walkable, but a car is helpful if you plan to drive the Colonial Parkway or explore the Greater Williamsburg area. Local transportation is also provided by the iconic Williamsburg Trolleys. There are three red and green replica trolleys that make their way from Merchants Square to High Street and New Town every day. Round-trip tickets are just 50 cents.

Travelers can also rent e-bikes through Williamsburg on Wheels, a local company that offers e-bike and Segway tours of Williamsburg, Jamestown, and the surrounding area. 

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