Driving down to Williamsburg, VA you can’t help but get excited about the history surrounding the area. As the first permanent English settlement in the United States, Historic Jamestowne and the Jamestown Settlement need to be on your list of things to do when you head to the this triangle of historic preservation in Virginia, education and living history.
Quick History of Jamestown, VA
As almost any school child in America can tell you, Jamestown, Virginia was the first permanent English colony in North America established in 1607.
While the Colony of Roanoke, which was meant to be the first English colony in 1587, disappeared, Jamestown thrived after it got started by Captain John Smith and Pocahontas. It served as the capitol of the Virginia Colony until it was moved further inland to Williamsburg in 1699.
What to do in Jamestown, Virginia
There are seven main sites to see when you visit Jamestown, VA:
- Historic Jamestowne
- Jamestown Rediscovery
- Jamestown Island
- Jamestown Glasshouse
- Jamestown Church
- Jamestown Settlement
- Jamestown-Scotland Ferry
The most popular, must-see attractions are Historic Jamestowne and the Jamestown Settlement, both of which could occupy a day trip with kids or even a weekend’s worth of exploration if you add in Williamsburg, VA and the other attractions close by.
Day trip to Jamestown
As you start planning your trip to Jamestown, Yorktown and Williamsburg, you need to know all there is to do, how to do it and why you want to visit each site.
I’d recommend at least a full day to explore the Jamestown area. There is a lot of history here that goes beyond the English colonists, into the first Black slaves brought to English colonies by the Portuguese, and the settlers interactions and relationship with the local Native Americans– the Powhatan tribe.
The main mission of Historic Jamestowne is supporting the preservation of early English life in North America, as well as educating the public on the importance of this first settlement in establishing the United States as an independent nation.
To that end, there are several programs during the week and on weekends that you won’t want to miss. Each gives you a deeper look into the history of the site, people who lived in the colony and the surrounding area.
Things to do in Jamestowne
The Jamestown Rediscovery team offers outdoor guided tours of Historic Jamestowne to give you a deeper understanding of what happened in the colony. You can explore on your own, but a tour is always a great idea, especially if you have young archeologists in tow.
Speaking of archeology, if you are visiting on a weekday, make sure you stop by the latest excavation site to observe the work still being done to learn more about the people who called Jamestowne home. You are welcome to ask the scientists questions from the safety of the viewing areas around the site marked off by ropes.
Tours and Programs available throughout the week
- Archaeology in Action
- Archaeology of James Fort Tour
- Jamestowne History tours:
- The Powhatan and the English
- Anas Todkill’s Jamestown
- First Africans
- Historic Trades
- Introduction to James Fort
How to get tickets?
Historic Jamestowne is a ticketed preservation site, which is part of the Colonial National Historical Park administered by the National Park Service and Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation (on behalf of Preservation Virginia).
You can order tickets online or get tickets in person after you arrive. If you are traveling during school holidays or summer, it is best to grab your tickets in advance, as they can sell out.
Discounted tickets to Jamestowne
If you have a National Park Annual Pass, you are eligible for a discounted ticket. Those who have an Access Pass, Active Duty Military Pass and Gold Star Family Voucher are eligible for up to free four tickets.
What’s included in your Historic Jamestowne ticket?
You will get access to James Fort Site, New Towne, the Archaearium Museum, the Glasshouse, the Island Loop Drive and Yorktown Battlefield.
Activities for Kids
Family programming is available year round, along with activities to start at home to prepare for your visit.
The Ed Shed brings hands on learning to families visiting Jamestowne. Touch some of the archeological finds, talk to scientists and help to piece back together the remnants of the past.
Junior Ranger Badge
Parents can request a Junior Ranger booklet via email. Junior Kids activities are also available via the website, with downloadable coloring pages, artifact images and descriptions.
For families who really want to get hands-on with learning, the Jamestown Settlement is a must. Spend the afternoon here after you explore Historic Jamestowne, to step back in time in this living history museum.
How to get tickets to the Jamestown Settlement
Tickets can be purchased in person or online. Like all family-oriented attractions, booking in advance is advised during school holidays and summer vacation.
You can buy a single ticket to the settlement, or a combo ticket that includes entry into the Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown.
I’d highly recommend you do both, as each is an important part of the United States narrative. And if your kids are anything like mine and still obsessed with Hamilton, the battle of Yorktown is a must.
Things to do in the Jamestown Settlement
The first time I went to Jamestown, my kids weren’t even with me. I was in the area for work and popped in to see what they had to offer and why my kids might want to visit.
I was blown away by the living history elements, the recreated English ships, the fort and walking through the Native American village they had reconstructed.
Start in the Visitor’s Center to get your bearings. Watch a video and wander the gallery exhibits before you step outside to immerse yourself in colonial life.
Step into the 1610-14 fort filled with thatch-roofed structures that colonists called home, used for worship, a court of guard, the governor’s house and a storehouse. Kids will love the blacksmith’s forge, where they can see old tools being repaired and see how matchlock muskets are loaded and fired.
You will oftentimes find costumed interpreters using 17th-century-style tools, cooking, sewing and tending to their crops. Feel free to stop to ask questions and have a conversation with these history lovers who don’t mind answering the constant “who, what, when, where, how,” and of course, “why.”
Every day you can wander into the Powhatan tribe’s village, Paspahegh Town, to learn how they made clothing and tools, grew and harvested food, and wove natural fibers.
Costumed historical interpreters are available to answer questions about Pocahontas’ people, as they demonstrate the crafts and daily life that many experiences hundreds of years ago.
Take a stroll down to Ships’ Pier along the James River, to visit the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery. You can climb aboard the Susan Constant, the largest ship on the pier, to experience what life was life for the first colonists (104 men and boys) who arrived in Virginia in 1607.
Historical guides will walk you through life onboard, demonstrate knot-tying, sail-raising, and 17th-century piloting and navigation, along with the tales of life at sea for more than four months as the English crossed the Atlantic Ocean to start a new life.