Deer sightings, green byways, and sunset cruises aren’t typically associated with Williamsburg, Virginia, but outdoor adventures are as much a part of the fabric of this town as its history is. We partnered with Greater Williamsburg to highlight the most beautiful and unexpected aspects of the area—Williamsburg is an unrivaled destination for American history buffs, but if that’s all you think this place is about, you’re missing out.
The Virginia Capital Trail
Popular among cyclists and runners, the Virginia Capital Trail extends for 50 paved miles along the historic State 5 corridor. This trail runs all the way from the state capital of Richmond down to the historic cities of Jamestown and Williamsburg, where beautiful vistas are on full display as it weaves its way along the contours of the James River.
Greensprings Interpretive Trail
At the very end of the Virginia Capital Trail, you’ll find a 3.5-mile nature trail that loops through wetlands, forests, and wildlife-rich areas that offer ample opportunities to glimpse more than 150 species of birds. The wooded, dog-friendly path is lined with informative signs about the environment, early colonists, and American Indians who once lived in the area.
With plenty of picnic tables and built-in grills, Jamestown Beach has everything you need to enjoy an afternoon by the water and watch the sunset. Just 12 minutes away from downtown Williamsburg, the beach is delightfully uncrowded and parking is easy. The nearby restroom and concession stand make it ideal for families who plan to spend the day here.
Governor’s Palace & Gardens
Although it’s located far from the main drag of Duke of Gloucester, the Governor’s Palace nevertheless has an impressive presence in the town of Williamsburg, with its lush fairway, hedgerow maze, gardens, intricate architectural details, and European influences. If you plan to visit, remember that access to the palace and gardens does require a ticket to Colonial Williamsburg.
James River Sunset Cruise
Starting in the shallow Powhatan Creek, an hour-long tour of the James River on the Jamestown Discovery ($24/person) features intimate views of blue herons, bald eagles, and nesting osprey. As the pontoon boat enters the James River, it heads south along the coastline of Jamestown Island, giving both a unique perspective on the original Jamestowne historical site and a beautiful view over the water at sunset. Before heading back, the cruise also takes you up close to the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery—re-creations of the three ships that brought America’s first permanent English colonists to Virginia. Be sure to grab a beer at Billsburg Brewery in the marina afterward.
After a long day of enjoying the outdoors in Williamsburg, treat yourself to a seat under the pergola at the Gabriel Archer Tavern for a food and wine tasting. Once you have enjoyed the refreshments, you can take a short tour of the winery, followed by a visit to the tasting room to try more. The 2017 Virginia Stainless Steel Chardonnay is a standout.
American Revolution Museum at Yorktown
The new museum for the American Revolution is just three years old, but the main attraction is outside, where you’ll find the living-history Continental Army encampment and Revolution-era farm that highlight the importance of agriculture in colonial America. Complete with a farmhouse, kitchen, and tobacco barn, as well as a working field of crops representative of the work done by both colonists and slaves at the time, the American Revolution Museum is an excellent starting point to touring Yorktown.
Williamsburg Botanical Gardens
Free and open daily from 7 a.m. to sunset, the Williamsburg Botanical Gardens provide a quiet space to see Virginia’s native wildflowers, butterflies, and bees busily pollinating. The gardens are located within Freedom Park, a popular destination for mountain bikers and walkers alike because of its excellent trails.
Thomas Nelson Jr. signed the Declaration of Independence, served as Virginia’s wartime governor, and commanded the Virginia militia during the 1781 siege of Yorktown. His home, built in 1730, still stands, retaining the scars of the siege in the form of cannonballs embedded in its brickwork. In the spring, search for Yorktown onions in the quiet backyard garden, which you can roam for free. When you’re done, take a break at Mobjack Bay Coffee Roasters across the street.
There may be slightly faster ways to travel between Williamsburg and Jamestown, but none are as beautiful as driving along the Colonial Parkway. This 23-mile stretch from the James River right to the Yorktown Victory Monument is lined with scenic turnouts, as well as spots to stop and fish.
To start planning your own trip to Greater Williamsburg, visit here.