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Things to Do in Colonial Williamsburg Without Buying a Ticket

A trip to Colonial Williamsburg can be affordable

A trip to Colonial Williamsburg can be affordable

Do I have to Buy a Ticket at Colonial Williamsburg?

In an ideal world, every visitor to Colonial Williamsburg could afford the price of a multi-day ticket and the time needed to explore every trade shop and historic site on the property. For many people, particularly families traveling with kids, this is not a realistic option. For some, the price of buying a ticket, currently over $20 even for a single day youth admission, for every member of the family is prohibitive. For families with young kids, touring every historic site is not a realistic option because most children can only tolerate a few guided tours before becoming disruptive. Even for singles or couples, tickets can add to the expense of a vacation.

Luckily, there are many things to do in Williamsburg without a ticket. I visited Colonial Williamsburg (frequently abbreviated CW) as a child without a ticket, and I saw many individuals and families do the same while I worked at CW. You simply need to plan ahead and find out what options are available to make the most of your stay and experience the historic city without breaking the bank or making your children hate you for subjecting them to days of house tours.

This Week - your Guide to Colonial Williamsburg

The first thing you should do after arriving in Williamsburg is pick up a copy of This Week. This weekly publication has a map on one side and a complete listing of programs on the other. You do not need to purchase a ticket to get a copy of the map. You can find it at Colonial Williamsburg ticketing locations and hotels, as well as many CW stores. If you have kids, letting them participate in the sights and activities is key to have an enjoyable trip without a ticket. This Week can help you find ticket-free locations and activities. The schedule lets you know of any outdoor activities, like seasonal games on Palace Green, that may be available without a ticket, and it also lists program times. As discussed below, some of these programs can temporarily shut down non-ticketed access to portions of the city.

Revolutionary City interpreters at Colonial Williamsburg

Revolutionary City interpreters at Colonial Williamsburg

The stocks at Colonial Williamsburg

The stocks at Colonial Williamsburg

Walk the Streets of Colonial WIlliamsburg

With the exception of certain hours and locations, you can always walk the streets and sidewalks of Colonial Williamsburg without a ticket. These streets are legally public city streets and you cannot be denied access, except during the Revolutionary City program. This is a theatrical program that teaches history through a series of vignettes that take place on the Duke of Gloucestershire street during the afternoon. This street is the main street of the city and is frequently called "DoG Street" by the locals. Colonial Williamsburg has a reoccurring parade permit for every Revolutionary City afternoon in order to legally block access to the streets during this program. Typically, Revolutionary City takes place in the afternoon at the Capitol end of the city. Other parts of the city, including other parts of DoG Street, remain open during this time.

While walking the area, don't forget to stop by the stocks and pillory. They are located near the Courthouse across the street from the magazine. This colonial punishment spot is a favorite photo-op today!

You can also interact with any costumed interpreters on the street without a ticket. Each building has a ticket checker called an "orientation interpreter." Some of them are chatty and others aren't, but there are also frequently members of the Revolutionary City cast wandering the streets "in-character" during non-Rev City hours.

Candlelit dinner at The King's Arms

Candlelit dinner at The King's Arms

Shops and Taverns

For many, especially guests with kids, the shops and taverns are the best part about Colonial Williamsburg. These locations are always open to the public, ticketed or not. Children love exploring the stores for Colonial accessories, games, and toys. The John Greenhow store is the Historic Area's largest shop and has colonial-style merchandise for children and adults. You can even pick up extra batteries - you just need to ask the sales clerk because the batteries are hidden behind the counter. The Mary Dickinson is a favorite for girls who want a dress, cap, or fan. The outdoor market at Market Square near the Magazine is a fantastic place for straw and tricorner hats for boys and girls. For a unique experience, visit the operational Post Office and have a letter sent with a Colonial Williamsburg cancellation stamp! Many other historic, and non-historic, shops exist in the modern area known as Merchant's Square.

The taverns are a fantastic way to get a feel for 18th century life without a ticket. Kids always love Chowning's and the Chowning's Cider Stand, and no visit to Colonial Williamsburg is complete without a delicious gingercake from the Raleigh Tavern Bakery! Chowing's is kid-friendly and, in the evenings, has live music, costumed interpreters, and even a magician. Kid's are sure to love eating peanuts and throwing the shells on the floor while adults can indulge in a colonial-style local draft beer served in a ceramic mug. Cambpell's and Shields taverns are a bit more formal, but still slightly casual. For an all-out, fine-dining experience, make reservations at The King's Arms.

Horse and carriage at Colonial Williamsburg

Horse and carriage at Colonial Williamsburg

How to Plan a Weekend Trip to Colonial Williamsburg

  • How to Spend a Weekend in Colonial Williamsburg
    Spending a weekend in Colonial Williamsburg is easy - the challenge is making sure you do not miss anything you want to see! Follow these tips to successfully plan a weekend in Colonial Williamsburg.

Tickets to Colonial Williamsburg

While there are many things to do at Colonial Williamsburg without a ticket, the site is run by a private foundation and ticket sales help pay for the buildings, grounds, and employees you want to see. Without folks who actually bought tickets, I wouldn't have been employed. I have friends who still work at Colonial Williamsburg and I care about their jobs, too. The upkeep on historic buildings is very expensive, so the price of tickets is justified. If at all possible, I urge you to buy a ticket for at least the most interested member of your family. If you purchase a ticket ahead of time online, you can receive several dollars off the in-person admission price.

Ticket options include single day passes. multi-day passes, as well as season passes. Individual tickets for evening programs are also available. Evening programs are a great way to see the inside of up to three buildings, if you take a ghost walk, without the time and expense of a full day ticket.

I know that, for many, purchasing tickets is unrealistically expensive, or just not interesting, and you really can have an enjoyable visit to Colonial Williamsburg without purchasing a ticket. However, Colonial Williamsburg relies on its visitors to keep its proverbial doors open. If you can find it in your budget to even purchase a snack or a souvenir after enjoying the town, you can help ensure the site will be there for future generations.


Laura on August 09, 2019:

I understand why you're doing this and glad you at least bothered to encourage ppl to buy tix or a drink at the end of the article. As an alumni of W&M and CW enthusiast, it's disappointing to see ppl trying to game it out. CW is very expensive to maintain, improve, & continue to do research. The Foundation is hemorrhaging money. Thank goodness for private & corporate donors. Hopefully ppl will get a taste walking the streets or enjoying the taverns/stores and want to buy a pass. Or a carriage ride. Or to see Trial of a Patriot or The Witch Trial or Jefferson's Garden Party or a Ghost Tour or ice skating at Christmas or one of the other great activities. Or stay on property. The Woodlands is a great family/budget friendly hotel with a free splash park, free mini golf, and other activities as well as free shuttle bus to BG/WCUSA/CW. The Woodlands does a free Easter Egg Hunt & Easter Bunny viait for the kids on Easter Sunday. Bruton Parish offers an Easter Egg Hunt, as well as free services and aome recitals. The Lodge & Inn are great for couples looking for a more upscale experience. I take my family to Woodlands at Christmas and/or Easter and do girls' trips at The Lodge/Inn.

Rosemary on December 01, 2018:

Extraordinarily helpful as I plan how to schedule time for selves & grandchildren at Williamsburg, Jamestown & Yorktown, and to buy the passes that will allow us the most flexability. Thanks so much.

Alexis on April 01, 2018:

This is a timely one for me as I'm taking a trip there this week! I was surprised to see how high the tickets were and all the separate tickets you needed to buy to go to different events after paying to get in. That said, I understand why that's in place, even if its not friendly to those hoping to stay on a budget while visiting.

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on May 22, 2013:

I love both Jamestown sites! They are so cool. I agree that history sites can be really difficult for kids to take in. I went to all sorts of historic sites as a kid and I spent a lot of time really bored.

talfonso from Tampa Bay, FL on May 21, 2013:

I did what you mentioned in the Hub on my second time at Colonial Williamsburg - roam the streets! The first time I went there, I was pretty much bored. I was 9 at that time, but felt that I was too young to appreciate its beauty. My second time around did it justice, and it was free compared to the first! I only visited there for about two hours because I just went back from a tour of Jamestown and I had to check in to a hotel in the mountains (Massanutten, to be exact) that day.

VVladimir from Novi Sad, Serbia on May 16, 2013:

What a nice reminder this article is, I hardly could explain that in short. Six years ago, as a student coming from Serbia, through university's "Work & Travel US" summer program, I got a job in one hotel in Williamsburg. Although I speak english language pretty well, employing agency found a job for me (only) as a dishwasher in one hotel :(. At the time, I was pretty disappointed, but when I came there and started to work I was also doing room service, serving tables and everything else that was needed. That was fine with me, because I could make some extra working hours and increase my earnings. Anyway, later in the summer, especially in September when school starts, there were much fewer tourists in Williamsburg, and that affected my working hours pretty much. I had plenty of time, so decided to look for a second job. Went from one restaurant to another looking if there is some opened position, and finally found a job, serving tables, in restaurant "Seasons Cafe" in Colonial Williamsburg (St. Henry Street). It was a nice place, and even I've worked there only for six weeks, stuff and managers were really fair and correct. Living in "Parkway apartment complex" in Williamsburg, on my way to(and from) Seasons Cafe I had to ride my bicycle through Colonial Williamsburg. It was 400 years of America's independence (anniversary )then, and there were often theatrical manifestations, performances of historical speeches and fights organized on the CW streets. I remember places like are "Tha Capitol" building, Duke of Gloucester Street, Fife and Drums Corps, Governor's palace, Courthouse, red bricks buildings, Post-office (that because of its Georgian style I couldn't believe is functioning ), taverns, carriages and beautiful gardens. I can't recall if I bought a single ticket while in CW, and I saw many of the historical performances on CW streets. For visiting Jamestown settlement and Yorktown (where you have to buy ticket :), there are (or at least were) mini buses ( shuttles ) that go from Williamsburg to J-town and Y-town and back. Anyway, BushGardens is nice to visit for those who like amusement parks, but Colonial Williamsburg is something you can't experience anywhere else. (ps. What a small world really is.)

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on May 06, 2013:

I agree, but lots of folks don't like buying a ticket. It's kind of funny, when you think about it - the same folks pay way more for Busch Gardens! I always had a difficult time biting my tongue instead if pointing that out back when I worked at CW.

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 06, 2013:

It's definitely worth the price of admission to go in the buildings, especially the night events (colonial dancing, ghost stories). Also, the free reenactments on the street are pretty entertaining.

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on May 02, 2013:

It is interesting, though a bit far away from you!

Sorry, DIYmommy - I forgot to respond to your comment so long ago! It's been a busy semester. Thanks for stoping by and hope you make it some day!

thedigger from New Delhi on May 02, 2013:

I didn't know about the place but this article makes the place more interesting to visit.

Julie on March 03, 2013:

lol I can't help but feel like I had a bit of a deprived childhood. All in due time...I know I'll get down to both...eventually. :)

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on March 02, 2013:

Oh, goodness? Neither? Well, I guess I'm lucky, since I grew up in the Southeast. It makes a lot of things within easy striking distance! That and my family that lives in Orlando =)

Julie on March 02, 2013:

My husband visited CW quite a few times while he was younger. Unfortunately, while he tells me all about it, I have yet to actually visit it myself. That, as well as Disney World. He tells me that we definitely HAVE to schedule a family trip to both eventually.

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on September 03, 2012:

Thank you for voting and sharing!

Yep, even the sidewalks are technically 'city streets' in WIlliamsburg. It's an interesting arrangement! I hope you enjoy your next trip and thanks for stopping by my hub.

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on September 03, 2012:

I've been to Colonial Williamsburg several times and had no idea you could walk the streets without a ticket (though I'm glad I did purchase tickets during my visits as I enjoyed all the different exhibits inside the buildings.)

You've provided many useful tips and I am going to bookmark this hub to reference for my next trip to Colonial Williamsburg.

Voted up across the board except for funny and shared.

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on July 02, 2012:

Yes, I've lead a rather eclectic life so far! And it shows no signs of slowing down.

It's cool how HubPages allows people from everywhere to share information, pictures, etc. I love reading about Washington because I've never been (I spent a week in Oregon once and that's the extent of my West Coast experience!).

Thanks for stopping by!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 02, 2012:

My son and I spent two days there back in 1997 and we loved it very much. I would love to take Bev back there and show her the sights. Great hub Natasha; I envy you the things you have done at a young age. So many adventures!

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on July 02, 2012:

The taverns are definitely one of the coolest things in Colonial Williamsburg!

There was a place near the Connecticut/Rhode Island border that cooked over a fire and was amazing, but it closed recently. I was very upset when I found that out. At least the CW taverns are still there!

Dianna Mendez on July 01, 2012:

We used Virginia and visited this place a few times with our son when he was young. It was a very interesting visit and a history lesson not easily forgotten. The restaurants serve excellent home-style foods. Thanks for the memory and the reminder of what a great place it is to tour.

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on July 01, 2012:

Thanks for stopping by! Maybe some day I'll have the chance to visit your part of the world and you'll be able to visit the US.

Vinaya Ghimire from Nepal on July 01, 2012:

I enjoyed this virtual tour. Williamsburg certainly seems a great place to visit.

If I ever travel to the US, I will not miss this place.

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on June 30, 2012:

I agree - costumed interpreters add a lot to a site! But, then, I may be a little bit biased...just a tiny bit.

Thanks for stopping by and thank you for the share!

Micheal is from United Kingdom on June 30, 2012:

I think these period dressed actors, play such a great role in bringing history to life, in these fabulous locations like Colonial Williamsburg.

There is nothing like seeing a place as it would have been inhabited with real people.

Voted up interesting and useful. Sharing this one.

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on June 30, 2012:

Awesome, thank you! I've been all over the Easr, but never out West. We will have to swap places sometime!

jellygator from USA on June 30, 2012:

I love reading your articles on Colonial Williamsburg. I have no idea if my travels will ever take me to that part of the country again, but if I am ever within a few hundred miles, you've convinced me to set aside at least a couple days to visit. It sounds lovely and vibrant.

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on June 30, 2012:

Thank you! I am glad you found it useful and thank you for sharing.

Donna Hilbrandt from Upstate New York on June 30, 2012:

Interesting and informative hub. I have never been to Colonial Williamsburg, but it is on my list of places to go someday. This info will come in handy when I finally make it there. Thanks! Voted up and interesting. Sharing.