Ok. So you are visiting Colonial Williamsburg, or maybe you live here and you have never visited the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg, and you want to know what to expect and what you will find? Well then, this is the perfect quick guide for you and your family.
First of all the museums were just renovated and they look amazing. The above picture is not of the beautiful entrance but an absolutely comfortable spot to sit down after roaming for hours! It is on the bottom floor by the rest rooms and the Hennage Auditorium. You’re welcome.
The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg are open daily from 9 am to 6 pm and during this time of COVID-19 they ask that you wear your mask upon entering the building.
There is a free parking lot across the street from the museums entrance and I would recommend parking there. Here are other options for parking in the City of Williamsburg, just make sure you’re in one of the designated areas. Street parking is often only for an hour and it is patrolled by the City of Williamsburg and they will ticket. If you start your visit at the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor’s Center then definitely hop on the free Colonial Williamsburg bus that will drop you off right at the museum.
Get ready to see beauty and whimsy! Once inside you will find docents waiting to ask you if you have been there before and they will direct you to the different sections of the museum. The museum is not overwhelming in size, but it does have many thousands of items in displays with lots of information. Which is actually wonderful.
For smaller children we played I-spy when looking through glass cases of treasures. Colonial Williamsburg also has a scavenger hunt that you can download or print out before you go or do it virtually before you arrive, then you can point out the objects of art that you are already familiar with.
For older kids and adults you can really learn about a specific topic at this museum. For instance, To Arm Against An Enemy: Weapons of the Revolutionary War is a whole wall of display cases dedicated to firearms that were given to the Colonists before the Revolutionary War. It describes how they had a hodgepodge of arms that then the Colonists had to use to fight those very same people who had sent them. Basically the Colonists were at a disadvantage…at first…but keep reading the display at the museum and learn how it changed. It is fascinating and that is only one wall display. There are many more.
Your teens (and adults) may also like this new fresh take on the art. The museum has a Fresh Take audio tour narrated by local teens. Just look for the outline of a cell phone throughout the museum – hold your phone to the outline for a few seconds and there you have it! Very cool.
There is a very interesting section of the museum called Sidewalks to Rooftops: Outdoor Folk Art – here you can imagine what late 19th century streets might look like decorated with whimsical folk art. Our favorite was the animal carousel.
What are some great things to stop and watch with kids? Make sure to watch this wonderful video (above) where the museum’s painting morph into one another. Then make sure to find all the paintings.
There is a whimsical section just for kids and kids at heart in the museum that includes animals in a pond! In this part of the museum kids can follow a wooden dog named Prince on his adventure to find his cousin.
This clip above is worth the stop. It is from a longer video that plays in the museum filmed in 1930 by Harvard University showing Williamsburg before the restoration of the Historic Area. The video on the right was shot by Colonial Williamsburg in 2017 and reflects the differences and similarities between Williamsburg before the historic area was restored. It is fascinating.
The most interactive part of the Museums are the Trades. The Museum is hosting different Trades daily that rotate in the museum. The day we were there we were able to speak with the wig maker and the carpenter. The wig maker gave us a lot of information about how wigs were made including what type of hair was used. And offered a little fashion tidbit; wigs were for men’s fashion.
We also spoke with a wood worker who talked to us about a beautiful cabinet that was on display and showed us the brick molds he was making for the bricklayers to use in Colonial Williamsburg. These trades people are artisans and experts, and at the same time wonderful interpreters of what they do and the importance of their work. Definitely, stop and ask them questions.
Then we headed to the Hennage Auditorium on the first floor of the museum, it is beautiful and comfortable. Once seated, we listened to a 30 minute presentation on chocolate in the 18th century. It was really interesting and had a lively question and answer period afterward. The upcoming schedule for the Hennage Auditorium is worth looking at before you go. These presentations are good for older elementary and up. But if your kids are younger, they should be fine as the programs are only about 30 minutes and you can leave if you need during the program.
On the way out we stopped in the Museum Store where your Good Neighbors Pass will get you a discount and picked up a few goodies. The store has some incredibly beautiful things and would be a great stop to check back in when you need a unique gift or Holiday present.
They also have a nice cafe in the museum with outdoor patio seating available. You can sit down and enjoy sandwiches, chili, salads, and soups (vegetarian options too). For drinks you can order teas, coffee, tavern beers, and wine. If you just need a quick pick me up before heading to another exhibit, you can grab a quick cookie, muffin, or croissant there as well.
To wrap up, this museum is definitely worth visiting, it can take an hour or 2 days (if you read every plaque). There were sections of the museum we walked through that I want to go back through because I missed so many things. It is one of those museums that we all left and said we wanted to go back to, and our group included an age range from 10 to 75 years old. Now that is a pretty good museum.
The favorite things the kids saw, you ask? The commode chair…of course. Somethings never change.
To learn more about the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg, the different exhibits, collections and even a virtual tour visit the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg’s website. Enjoy! This one is a treat.
Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg
301 S Nassau St,
Williamsburg, VA 23185