Things to Do in Colonial Williamsburg Without Buying a Ticket
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.
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.
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.
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.