Let’s take a seven day road trip to Virginia! With all the historic sites in this area of the United states, it’s hard to figure out the best road trip route and what you can actually visit. There are so many amazing museums and historic places, you need a travel itinerary that tells you how to organize your time, minimize your stress, and what to expect during your family vacation to the historic triangle and Virginia. Here it is!
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The Seven Day Road Trip Overview
Depending on your starting location, this road trip itinerary could be done either direction.Most of this Virginia road trip sights are located in the Historic Triangle in Virginia. Look at a map for this term to make the most sense. Jamestown, Williamsburg, and York town are all very close together. You do not need to move hotels to do this. The only historic Virginia site on this destination list that is separate is Appomattox, so you will probably want to stay closer than the Historic Triangle as it is a two-and-a-half hour drive from Williamsburg to Appomattox.
If you are driving south out of the area to go back home, consider moving the Norfolk adventure day to the last day for a quick wiggle stop. These days are not in a particular order other than my effort to mix it up a little bit for kid attention spans, topic of interest, and time needed.
If you have another week in your family road trip, head north just a short distance to add Washington DC and Mount Vernon to your history lesson.
Day 1 – Appomattox Battlefield and Museum
Night 1 – Charlottesville, Virginia
Day 2 – Visiting Jefferson’s UVA and Monticello
Night 2-6 – Historic Triangle / Williamsburg, Virginia area
Day 3 – Historic Jamestowne and Williamsburg
Day 4 – Jamestown, Donuts, and Play Time
Day 5 – A Rest from the Historic Triangle in Norfolk
Day 6 – Colonial Williamsburg
Day 7 – Yorktown Museum and Battlefield
Appomattox is a great day trip if you’re driving in from several hours or spent all day yesterday driving. It’s only about an hour from our first overnight stop in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Appomattox Court House National Historical Park
With the pivotal final battle and signing of the surrender document between Generals Grant and Lee, the small town of Appomattox, Virginia played an important role in the Civil War. Unlike other battlefield visits, Appomattox Court House has a small town to wander including the home where the surrender was signed, the jail, a store, and several buildings including a small museum.
Plan to spend a couple of hours here at least. Wander around by foot. Take a driving tour. Join a guided tour. Complete the Junior Ranger book. And if you’re a homeschooling Classical Conversations family, definitely take time to sing your history song… “Surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia.”
Help your kids get even more interested in visiting this site, with an excellent kid’s picture book The Silent Witness about a doll that watched the surrender happen. When you’re in the house, you will see the room mentioned and the couch where the doll would have sat. History come to live!
American Civil War Museum at Appomattox
The American Civil War Museum at Appomattox is a five minute ride from the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park. Do the free national park, and follow it up with the high-quality paid museum to complete the rest of the story. Here you will see more than 400 artifacts from the battle including Robert E. Lee’s uniform and sword.
If you plan to visit here, consider purchasing the combo ticket which also gets you into the White House of the Confederacy in Richmond.
Quick Trip to Richmond, Virginia
As it’s only a two hour drive to the Historic Triangle, you may have time for an extra stop while driving right through Richmond, the capital of Virginia. Plan to start your Thomas Jefferson learning by driving past the Virginia Capitol in Richmond and learn its importance as the start of the neo-classical design in the United States. Jefferson designed it based on a Roman temple, and you can visit it.
Breakfast at Bodo’s Bagels
For a true university experience, you need to eat like a college kid at Bodo’s Bagels, a Charlottesville speciality. Before heading to the University of Virginia, head right across the street from the main entrance to have a delicious bagel breakfast sandwich from Bodo’s. It’s worth waiting in line. Once you have your food, head across to the university for a breakfast picnic.
Visit the University of Virginia
If you’re learning about Thomas Jefferson, you need to learn about one of his biggest accomplishments. Did you know that, when composing the words for his future tombstone, he including helping found this university and didn’t even include his presidency? He loved it and so should you. Not to mention, it’s a beautiful campus. Check out this self-guided walking tour to bring to life the campus of the University of Virginia. Make sure you learn about where Edgar Allen Poe stayed while he was a student there.
Day one was only a short drive of less than an hour and a half from Appomattox to Charlottesville. This would be a great time to wander around the campus of the University of Virginia if you get there earlier in the evening, or you can just take in the town of Charlottesville.
A day at Monticello is the highlight of your visit to Thomas Jefferson’s hometown of Charlottesville. I can honestly say it’s my favorite historic house that we have visited; read “The Ultimate Guide to Monticello” here.
- Watch a video about his life
- Explore the vegetable garden.
- Visit Jefferson’s beloved home and grave
- Learn about the construction of the house
- See Lewis and Clark artifacts inside the home
- Explore the gardens and lawn that he designed
- Read about his life and accomplishments at the museum
- Take a tour of the slave quarters and learn about the life
Historic Jamestowne vs Jamestown Settlement
These are two different places. It is my suggestion that you visit them on two different days because it’s just a lot. Although you can visit them in either order, I think if you visit the original site first, the kids (and parents) would have more interest in all the reading at the museum.
Jamestown Settlement is a reconstruction of the fort. The outdoor living museum has colonial interpreters who talk to you about their settlement and demonstrate for you their trades while the Powhatan characters show you their village, canoes, and lifestyle. Also outside are the three rebuilt ships from the original landing, and you are able to climb aboard the Susan Constant. Not to be overlooked is the state of the art Jamestown museum inside which also has two movies to view.
In contrast, Historic Jamestowne is a national park site on the ruins of the original landing site where you can see current day archeology digs, see the original layout of the wall, experience the proximity to the water, and see original artifacts in the museum. Very different experience. Both great.
Visiting Historic Jamestowne
Historic Jamestown is a National Park site and includes the current and past archeological digs at the site. Started in 1994, archeological digs have been undertaken to discover the original site of the fort along the James River. This is such a different experience from the reconstructed fort. We loved it – especially my history-loving, archeology-loving kid. Check out my post “Historic Jamestowne: How to Plan Your Day.”
- Drive the around the island, get out and explore, and see the land of the settlers
- Join a tour with a guide or archeologist and visit the current dig
- Walk along the water and take a nature walk
- See the infamous basement and church
- See artifacts at the Archearium
- Visit the glass blowing house and learn why Jamestown was a perfect location for glass production
Wander William and Mary
Let’s head to the College of William and Mary to visit the second oldest higher-learning institute. It was here that many founding fathers were educated including Thomas Jefferson. Let the kids wander and consider taking the self-guided tour around William and Mary. It’s a beautiful area.
It is on the opposite side of Williamsburg from the Visitor Center, so find a paid parking spot. You are going to stay in this spot for the rest of the night, so make sure it allows several hours.
Wander Colonial Williamsburg for Free
Here’s the thing about Williamsburg, it is huge and more than you can do in a day. Wander the streets, get a feel for the layout of the town, admire the houses from the outside. You could even hire a buggy to take you around. There are places you can only get in with a ticket – we will do that another day – so prepare the kids that they won’t be able to perhaps do what other people are doing.
The modern-day town of Williamsburg is right there at the Colonial Williamsburg. You will see the houses, restaurants, and shops for “regular people” only blocks from the historic portion. Without rushing around to get the most from your one-day ticket to Williamsburg, you now have time to do some of this. For fun! You will have time to experience Williamsburg with kids on another day.
Visiting the Jamestown Settlement
Take a day for a family visit to the Jamestown Settlement (my post with tips!) for a top-notch museum with some great outdoor exhibits. This is a great way to bring to life the Jamestown that you saw in ruins two days ago. Although you could spend all day here, I would plan to focus on the video inside and the outdoor exhibits. It completely depends on your kids interest and patience levels. Entrance here will be with your combined Jamestown-Yorktown ticket you purchased online.
- Wander the reconstructed settlement.
- See the reconstructed Powhatan village.
- Explore the replicas of the three original ships.
- Talk with the townspeople to see how they lived.
- Watch them cook, blacksmith, carve a canoe, build shelters, etc.
Take a Break with Duck Donuts
Although this is a national donut chain, it was our first experience, and it may be your first time at Duck Donuts too. It won’t be your last. Prepare to watch them fry your donuts as your pick your glaze and toppings for your specialized treat. The Duck Donuts in Williamsburg was way too close to my family’s condo during vacation to just go one time.
Visit Freedom Park and Botanical Gardens
Remember to take some time and let the kids be kids. Freedom Park in Williamsburg, Virginia has playgrounds and two miles of trails, but it has lots more to offer including history and a sense of adventure. This park is also the site of an 18th century cemetery, a Revolutionary War Battle, and one of the US’ earliest Free Black Settlements. Take a break from playing on the playground to walk over and check out the three historically recreated cabins.
The Williamsburg Botanical Garden in Freedom Park is member-maintained and a lovely little stroll. With more than 800 species of plants and trees, there’s shade here for a hot afternoon and little garden treasures for the kids to discover.
If you’re really pushing for a fun time, check out the GoApe Treetop Adventure Course. I wasn’t fun enough to splurge for this treetop ropes course, and if you aren’t either, make sure you let the kids know that it will not be part of their free playground fun.
Let’s have a day of learning that doesn’t involve even more American history. The kids’ brains can only take in so much, and as my own kids like to remind me, all these places start to blend together after a while. And we will drive across Chesapeake Bay – it’s a good idea to let the kids see how big this thing is! Look at it on the map and see how it leads to Jamestown.
Chrysler Museum of Art
Plan to spend a couple of hours wandering the Chrysler Museum of Art – free art museum! Let your kids meet Pollock, Lichtenstein, and Warhol in person. This is a beautiful museum inside and out.
Wander Along the Water
Plan to park and stay for several hours. There are even several nice restaurants along the water if you want to stay for a nice supper. How much time and money you want to spend can be variable. The garden is free, and you can see the battleship without difficulty without paying for the entrance. If you have more time, pay to go inside the amazing ship or the museum.
- Battleship Wisconsin and the Hampton Roads Naval Museum
- Pagoda and Oriental Garden – Free for a quick wander through a beautiful garden setting
- Armed Forces Memorial and Lone Sailor Statue
- Naval Station Norfolk – See the giant battleships and carriers that are being repaired at the Naval Station right across the water.
- Admire all the yachts and big boats parking here!
Take the time to do some other US history learning at the MacArthur Memorial. Free admission to explore the life of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur and those who served with him during World War 1, World War 2, and the Korean War. We didn’t have time to do this!
Since visiting Colonial Williamsburg is at the top of your must-see list, you may not want to save it until the end of your trip just in case you have to cut your trip short. However, I also think it gives everyone something to look forward to after exploring it for free on other days.
Visiting Colonial Williamsburg felt (to me) a bit like Disney World. You have an app that tells you what time and where the special programs are happening. You have to coordinate all that with the map to see where you can actually reasonably get. And you know that you will never be able to see it all at once. That’s why I suggest saving free places for wandering at other times.
Although you can get the three day ticket, there won’t be time during your one week vacation to return multiple times most likely. However, if you want to see every bit of it, there’s plenty to see.
Put on good shoes. Plan to eat lunch at a historic tavern. Bring some water and snacks. And prepare to be immersed in history.
Don’t forget to check out my guide “Experience Williamsburg with Kids: The Basics”.
Visiting the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown
The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown is the other part of the combination ticket you already bought for Jamestown. As they are made by the same people, they are very similar and equally amazing, state-of-the-art history museums. Williamsburg and Monticello were about Jefferson; this is about Washington and Hamilton.
- Watch some videos
- Explore exhibits in the museum.
- Head outside for a possible artillery demonstration.
- Explore the tent camp as would have been used by Washington.
- See the farm, house, and tobacco shed.
Visiting Yorktown Battlefield
Yorktown Battlefield is an important part of history, but I will add, it’s not the most exciting place for the kids to visit. Yes, General Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington ending the Revolutionary War. However, we’ve visited several battlefields and most look like fields with lots of driving. With that in mind, we didn’t spend a lot of time here.
If your history buffs are up for it, download the app, read everything at the Visitor Center, complete the Junior Ranger badge, and soak it all up. If you just want to make the kids remember something, sing the Hamilton song about “Battle of Yorktown” and rap. Then drive over to see the still-in-place redoubts built by Alexander Hamilton and Lafayette. It’s so cool to make history come alive. You can still see the wood spikes sticking out of the mounds. They’ll remember this for sure.
Wander Around Yorktown
Save this for after the museum and car ride around the battlefield, so the kids can walk around town and get off museum energy. Park at the portion of the battlefield close to the historic town, get out, and prepare to wander. Pull up the walkable Yorktown tour and wander around looking at the historic houses and streets. Prize to the first of you to find the cannonball stuck in the side of the house! Talk about bringing history to life.
The modern portion of Yorktown in a tiny town right on the water. There’s a small beach which is great for letting the kids splash in the water and play in the sand. Additionally, it is right on the river, so you will see some historic ships sailing by on cruises. Eat a meal, visit a few small shops, and have an ice cream.
Whew! That was quite the seven days you spend exploring Jamestown, Jamestowne, Williamsburg, Monticello, and so much more. If you are still not done exploring Virginia and are headed over to Washington DC, make sure you check out my post “6 Practical Tips to Make Your D.C. Trip Easier.”
Reclaiming Wonders // Bobbie
With years of planning family road trips, Bobbie is an expert at incorporating amazing activities into her family travel plan which she shares on the blog, on Instagram, and through content creation for destinations and products. As a homeschool mom of four kids in Georgia, she strives to create a learning life full of adventures around the dinner table or throughout the United States. Learn Bobbie’s story to be encouraged to leave the busy life and reclaim the wonders of life.