Traveling back in time is easy to do when you head down to Jamestown, Virginia, along the James River. Here you will find a living history museus, stories of heroism and cannibalism, beautiful scenic drives, river beaches and a brewery making a name for itself in this little corner of the world.
When looking for things to do in Jamestown, you really don’t have to look too hard. The major sites are Historic Jamestowne and Jamestown Settlement.
The problem is, most people stop there, when they should be digging in a bit deeper to get the real story of this first permanent English settlement.
Where is Jamestown, VA?
Jamestown, VA, which is part of the Historic Triangle of Virginia, is located on the James River. It is almost directly west of Yorktown and southwest of Williamsburg. You can access Jamestown via Route 31 or the Colonial Parkway.
History of Jamestown
The founding of Jamestown, Virginia began with 104 English boys and men coming to North America to start a permanent settlement funded by the Virginia Company.
They picked Jamestown Island (although at the time it was more of a peninsula), because it was easy to defend against the Spanish, and no Native Americans lived on that particular piece of land, although the Powhatans did hunt there.
Just as important, the James River was deep enough to bring their ships close to shore.
Disease and food shortages almost took down the settlement, but Chief Powhatan sent food to help these first settlers get through some of the rough bits. Despite the help, by 1610 only about 10 percent of the settlers were left. Some had even resorted to cannibalism to hold off starvation.
John Rolfe Arrives in Jamestown VA
By 1612, John Rolfe arrived with a strain of tobacco that would be a cash crop for the Virginia Company, and turned the settlement around. The settlement continued to grow, bringing women over to establish families, and later, enslaved Africans to help with the crops.
A long history of colonization, infighting, raging war against the Native American tribes, and fire would eventually see Jamestown being abandoned as a town, and moving to what is now Williamsburg, VA.
National Park Service
Today, the National Park Service and Preservation Virginia maintain the island. They work on preservation and restoration of the site. They also develop programming to teach people about this first permanent English colony that would later launch colonists into a revolution against their king, becoming an independent nation.
Things to do in Jamestown, VA
While history is the main backdrop of things to do in Jamestown, you will find a lot of bike trails, nature, food and even a brewery to explore when in the area.
Colonial National Historical Park
Located in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia, the Colonial National Historical Park is operated by the National Park Service and encompasses many of the historical sites and markers in America’s Historic Triangle of Virginia, connecting Historic Jamestowne and the Yorktown Battlefield along the scenic Colonial Parkway.
If you are in Jamestown to learn about history, Historic Jamestowne is the first place to start.
Jointly administered by Jamestown Rediscovery and the National Park Service, this was where the actual settlement was built when the English established Jamestown colony on Jamestown Island in what is now the Commonwealth of Virginia.
One of the settlement’s first forays into industrialization was through glassblowing. Since the Virginia Company sponsored the settlement, they wanted to make sure they got a return on their investment and the people they sent over were making them money.
Despite Virginia being rich in materials needed for glassblowing, like wood and sand, the attempts to become rich glass producers didn’t see much success.
Today, near the excavated foundation of the colonial glass furnaces, you can find a recreation of what the glasshouse might have looked like. Demonstrations are regularly held throughout the day by glassblowers. There is a gift shop in front of the Glasshouse where you can pick up some of the wares made right on site.
Step into Jamestown Settlement, a living history museum filled with gallery exhibits, historical documents, interactive media and outdoor re-creations of what life was like at the time of the first permanent English settlment.
Learn about the importance of blacksmiths and carpenters in the re-created Jamestown Fort, and how crops were grown to supply food for the colony as the population grew. In the Paspahegh Town, you can peek inside of the houses, learn how animal pelts were turned into clothing and what types of foods sustained the tribe through the centuries.
Down by ships’ pier, kids will love climbing aboard re-creations of the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery. These are full-size replicas of the ships that brought those first men and boys to Jamestown, and the events that took place led to the formation of what is now the United States.
Read more about a day trip to Historic Jamestowne and Jamestown Settlement
Drive along the Colonial Parkway for excellent hiking trails, fishing opportunities and beachcombing spots. Many of the turn offs and pull outs have historical signs explaining the significance of the area you are in.
The Colonial Parkway connects Jamestown with Yorktown and Williamsburg. Making it easy to stay off the highways and enjoy a leisurely wander through history.
There is a lot of greenspace in Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown. Take advantage of these spots to see wildlife, go hiking and paddle in a kayak to explore more of the shores surrounding the James River and numerous creeks in the area.
- College Creek Beach
- Kingsmill Audubon Sanctuary
- Jamestown Beach Event Park
- Eco Discovery Park (part of the James City County Marina)
- Powhatan Creek Park and Blueway
James City County Marina
Outside of docking your boat and renting a kayak, you can also do a tasting at one of the local breweries– Billsburg Brewery– right at the marina. There is usually a food truck parked next door, so you can enjoy a beer and food at one of the many picnic tables on the Marina grounds after your boat ride.
Explore the James River
Getting out on the water is one of our favorite ways to explore a new place. Or you can rent You get a very different perspective than you can from land, and you get a bit of exercise while you do it.
There are a few places to rent kayaks and canoes in Jamestown and across the river in Surry. Or you can bring your own kayak or canoe and put in at one of the Jamestown parks or marinas with waterway access.
Where to rent kayaks and canoes on the James River
- Chippokes Plantation State Park
- James City County Marina
Take a Kayak Tour
Bay Country Kayaking offers a tour of the Powhatan Creek. The tour is perfect for newbies who aren’t quite ready for the open water of the James River. Most tours go either upstream into the tidal creek or downstream towards the James River, depending on the tides
Specialty tours make stops at the Jamestown Marina and Billsburg Brewery.
Check their website for tour dates and times that fit your schedule. Tours last about two and a half hours, with child tickets generally being about half the price of an adult ticket.
James River Historical Plaque
Driving along the Colonial Parkway, you will see the James River Historical Plaque almost halfway between Jamestown and Williamsburg on the right hand side of the road. It is part of the Jamestown Discovery Trail, a series of historic markers from Interstate 295 in Henrico County to Jamestown, VA.
If you are eager to get on the water, but don’t want to paddle, take the free Jamestown-Scotland Ferry to Surry, VA. Get off the ferry and drive to Chippoke Plantation State Park and Hog Island Wildlife Management Area for a beautiful day away from the crowds, surrounded by history and nature.
Chippokes Plantation State Park
Take the ferry across the James River to Surry, where you will find cute towns, and a state park boasting the oldest continuously running plantation in the United States.
Explore the farm equipment and animals, along with the old plantation manor, cabins you can rent to stay the night, visitor’s center and beach trails that lead down to sandy beaches filled with shells and other natural wonders to explore.
Discover more Virginia State Parks
Hog Island Wildlife Management Area
If you love birds, like bald eagles, hawks and osprey, then you will definitely want to head over to Hog Island Wildlife Management Area just past the Dominion Energy entrance.
Find more things to do in Surry, VA
Right in the Jamestown Marina (AKA James City County Marina) you will find the Billsburg Brewery, one of a number of breweries in Hampton Roads. Pop in for a tasting of one of their small batch lagers, pilsners and ales, or grab a few to go.
If wine is more your thing, you can pop over to the historic 300-acre farm where Williamsburg Winery is located, along with restaurants and Wedmore Place where you can book rooms for the night.
The first wine was released in 1988, and two generations of the Duffeler family continue to make red, white, sparkling and dessert wines. Grab a spot in the tasting room to find your favorite, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. The family and staff are more than happy to talk you through the wines they have and the grapes they grow.
Cape Henry Memorial
Cape Henry commemorates where the first English settlers stepped foot in the New World in 1607. They named the area, set up a cross to mark the spot and then moved up the James River to where they established the first permanent English settlement in Jamestown.
One thing to note is that Cape Henry Memorial is not actually in Jamestown. You will need to make the short drive down to Virginia Beach, VA. It does tell part of the Jamestown, Virginia story though, so it’s important to see if you have the time.
Things to do near Jamestown
The Battle of Yorktown is what this little historic part of the country is best known for, but Historic Yorktown and Yorktown Battlefield (administered by the Colonial National Historical Park) also has Civil War roots and a more complicated story to tell than you may think.
Walk along Main Street to learn about the houses lining the lane and the people who lived and worked in them. Head down to Riverwalk Landing for views of the York River and to spend a little time on the beach.
Yorktown is probably the most relaxing of the three historic sites in Virginia that make up America’s Historic Triangle, but it is by no means boring.
The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown is just up the road, giving you at least half a day of extensive gallery exhibits, films, interactive displays and living history to explore. Grab a bike and ride the path along the river to see even more of the town.
Colonial Williamsburg is usually why people head down to the Hampton Roads region. If you have the time, make sure you visit this historic site where the settlers of Jamestown eventually moved after fire struck their town and the capital of Virginia moved inland to Williamsburg.
You are free to wander the streets and check out the exteriors of buildings without a ticket. Those who have a ticket can venture into the capitol building, Governor’s Palace (don’t miss the hedge maze in the garden!), and numerous other buildings.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Who doesn’t love a theme park? Busch Gardens Williamsburg, just down from the Kingsmill Resort and minutes from Jamestown, is filled with roller coasters, games, food and more than a day’s worth of fun.
Grab your tickets ahead of time (some include parking), sunscreen, bug spray and good walking shoes as you try to ride every coaster in one day. For those who don’t like roller coasters, there are tamer rides, like the flume, carousel and tea cups, plus entertaining shows and turkey legs for you to enjoy.
Learn more about Busch Gardens Williamsburg Christmas
Plan a trip to Jamestown, VA
How to Get Tickets to Jamestown VA Attractions
You have a lot of options when it comes to Jamestown attraction tickets. If you are exploring the Historic Triangle, pick up an America’s Historic Triangle combination ticket that includes Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown Battlefield, American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, Jamestown Settlement and Historic Jamestowne.
If you are only taking a day trip, look into a Four-Site Ticket that combines Historic Jamestowne and the Jamestown Settlement, as well as Yorktown Battlefield or American Revolution Museum at Yorktown.
You can easily buy individual tickets to the Jamestown and Yorktown sites, but you will save more money with one of the combo tickets offered at the museums or through the Colonial Williamsburg website.
Most combo tickets last up to seven days, so you can take several day trips over the course of a week, or book a hotel in Williamsburg to see everything in the region in one week.
Where to stay in Jamestown
There actually aren’t any hotels in Jamestown, but there are several near Williamsburg, VA. You will still be minutes away from the historic sites of Jamestown, but have all the amenities you are looking for in a hotel.
Jamestown Hotels (or at least nearby)
- Williamsburg Lodge, Autograph Collection:
- Williamsburg Inn:
- A Williamsburg White House:
- DoubleTree by Hilton Williamsburg:
- Kingsmill Resort:
- In the Heart of Colonial Williamsburg!: (Sleeps 6)
- Historic Williamsburg’s only downtown lodging: (Sleeps 6)
- A Heart Beat from Colonial Williamsburg & William & Mary: (Sleeps 12)
- Quaint Historic Home walking distance to Historic Williamsburg: (Sleeps 12)
- 4 BR House, Close to William & Mary, Williamsburg, Busch Gardens, Bike Trails: (Sleeps 8)
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- Billsburg Brewery
- Dale House Cafe at Historic Jamestowne
- Jamestown Settlement Cafe
- Jamestown Pie Company
- Old Chickahominy House
- La Tienda Tapas Bar
- Five Forks Cafe
Read our Williamsburg Restaurant guide
This post is part of a paid partnership with Travel Mindset and the Founder’s District. As always, my opinions are my own. When they aren’t you will be the first to know.