Why You Should Buy a Ticket for Colonial Williamsburg
Colonial Williamsburg is like Walt Disney World for history nerds. Actually, it’s like Disney World for any kind of nerd, as I’d like to think that most nerds enjoy all things educational. And Colonial Williamsburg is nothing if not educational. Though this doesn’t mean that it is boring–no, quite the contrary. Even things that I didn’t think I’d find interesting–like the evolution of colonial weaponry–became grippingly so when learned on the grounds of this world-class living history museum.
For some reason, the number one question people ask when they start planning a trip to Colonial Williamsburg is ‘do I need an admission ticket?’ I know this because I had this question, too. I found many different bits of advice online offered to others that had asked the exact same question. After visiting, I can confidently say that the answer is yes, you need a ticket.
Of course, you technically can visit Colonial Williamsburg without a ticket–so when I say you ‘need’ a ticket, I don’t mean ‘they won’t let you get near the grounds without an admission’ or ‘there are Disney-like turnstiles keeping the non-ticketed out.’ Without a ticket, you can do a few things. You can walk around on the streets and look at the buildings. You can go into (some) of the gift shops. You can take pictures. You can join a tour (for a fee) that will show you the outsides of the buildings and teach you a good deal about various aspects of the grounds. But you will miss out on all of the awesomeness that goes on inside the tour-able structures. And that, dear reader, would be a crime worthy of some time in the stocks.
You see, a Colonial Williamsburg admission ticket gives you admission to all of the structures that make up the historic district. When you enter each major building, you will first be given an introductory talk and then a guided tour. In some of the buildings–like the smaller shops–you will not be given a formal tour, but instead you will have the opportunity to speak one-on-one with the very knowledgeable people that work there. Try to become comfortable doing this early on. It took us a good day to get to the point where we’d openly ask questions, but once we did, we wished we’d been doing it all along. If you have children, encourage them to ask their own questions. It will greatly enhance their enjoyment of their visit.
During our two days in Williamsburg, we toured the Governor’s Palace and grounds, the Capitol building, the silversmith’s shop, the blacksmith’s shop, the jail, and the weapons magazine. Each of these stops was a highlight of the trip–and each of these stops required an admission ticket. Ticketed guests have a completely different Colonial Williamsburg experience than non-ticketed guests. Honestly, I’d find the whole thing rather dull if not for the ability to partake in all of the activities that a ticket provides.
To continue my Disney metaphor a bit further, yes, you can have fun in Colonial Williamsburg without purchasing a ticket. But it would be the equivalent of going to Disney World without being able to go on any of the rides or see any of the shows. Sure, walking around the park would still be a pleasant way to spend the day–but why would you go all the way there and not ride Space Mountain?
Some further tips: If you’re planning on visiting Colonial Williamsburg–and you’re anything like me–plan to spend at least two days in the historic district. Even with all that we did, we still only explored maybe 20% of the explore-able areas. Sadly, we only had two days. I’d have been happy with three–and then another two full days to split between Jamestown and Yorktown. Additionally, purchase your tickets online before you leave–it will save you both time and money. Then, when arriving at the visitor’s center to trade in your voucher for your tickets, get in the line on the left–not the line on the right. It is a shorter line reserved for those who have purchased tickets online–but sadly, the sign indicating this time-saving bit of advice is rather small. Guess who didn’t see it? This girl!