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Virginias Historic Triangle, VA

One Day in Williamsburg, Jamestown & YorktownAAA editors suggest these activities for a great short vacation experience. Those staying in the area for a longer visit can access a 3-day itinerary at AAA.com/TravelGuides.

Morning To start your visit to Colonial America off right, stop for breakfast at Old Chickahominy House (1211 Jamestown Rd.), on the road between Williamsburg and Jamestown. The restaurant, in a restored 18th-century cottage with an inviting front porch, has been around since 1955. If you have to wait for a table (and that's a distinct possibility), spend time browsing through the antiques and knickknacks in the gift shop.

At Historic Jamestowne (1368 Colonial Pkwy.) you can observe ongoing archeological digs at the site of the settlement's original fort and see the only remaining 17th-century structure—the brick tower from the colony's church—and the ruins of the glass furnace that the colonists hoped would be a prosperous endeavor. Artifacts unearthed can be viewed at the Historic Jamestowne Visitor Center and Archaearium . Constructed over the remains of Jamestown's last statehouse (1660-98), the archaearium includes items such as armor, musical instruments, tools and games—many 400 years old—that shed light on the settlers' lives. Virtual viewers let visitors see the site as it looked 4 centuries ago. The admission fee for these two attractions also admits you to Yorktown Battlefield and Yorktown Visitor Center, which are on this afternoon's itinerary.

Adjacent to Historic Jamestowne is Jamestown Settlement (2110 Jamestown Rd.). This self-described “living-history museum” has three outdoor areas where you can meet costumed historical interpreters actively engaged in early 17th-century life. Learn how to grind corn at a re-created Powhatan Indian village, try on armor at a fort representative of the 1610-14 period and climb aboard replicas of the Discovery, Godspeed and Susan Constant, the three ships the English colonists sailed on for almost 5 months to reach the New World. An introductory film and exhibits at the indoor museum look at the European, Native American and African cultures that shaped the colony.

Afternoon An 18-mile drive takes you from the 17th to the 18th century. Head northeast on Jamestown Road, then take SR 199E to the Colonial Parkway scenic highway.

Start your Revolutionary War expedition at the Yorktown Battlefield Visitor Center , just south of town at 1000 Colonial Pkwy.; the visitor center also is the headquarters of Colonial National Historical Park . Here you can watch a film about the engagement that ended the war and see a display that includes portions of Gen. George Washington's campaign tents.

Yorktown Battlefield , where the last major battle of the Revolutionary War was fought in 1781, can be explored on two self-guiding driving tours, both of which begin at the visitor center—the 7-mile Battlefield Tour (for which an audio tour is available) and the 9-mile Encampment Tour. When Cornwallis surrendered to Washington's combined Continental and French army, ending the 3-week siege and, essentially, the 6-year war, the United States was on its way to independence.

flickr/Ken Lund
Another option is to spend the afternoon exploring part of the Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area (off I-64 exit 238, following signs). A visit here is like being deposited by a time machine into the pre-Revolutionary capital of Virginia. The restoration is so complete and realistic, thanks to the generosity of philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr., that walking along Williamsburg's streets among the costumed interpreters—soldiers, shopkeepers, tradesmen, housewives, slaves, government officials, the women in long skirts and cloaks and men in knee breeches and tri-cornered hats—seems perfectly natural. Stop and chat with any of them; they will respond in character and you'll hear some interesting perspectives on Colonial life and history.

Eveningflickr/Tony Alter
After a day full of history, a little relaxation is in order. Head to downtown Yorktown and Riverwalk Landing where you'll find the Schooners Alliance and Serenity . The 105-foot tall ship Alliance sets sail into the York River for a sunset cruise, while pirate cruises are offered aboard the Serenity. Passengers can pitch in and learn how the craft operates, chat with the friendly and knowledgeable crew or just relax and enjoy the scenery. Afterward, take advantage of the specialty shops and places to eat at the Colonial-inspired Riverwalk Landing or enjoy a stroll along the water's edge.

Alternatively, end your evening with a nightcap at the elegant Williamsburg Inn (136 E. Francis St.). Set back from the hustle and bustle of Colonial Williamsburg, the inn is a quiet, dignified, gracious lodging suitable for royalty (in fact, Queen Elizabeth II has stayed here). Pretend you're a head of state and drop by the inn's Restoration Bar for a cocktail and conversation.

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Virginias Historic Triangle, VA

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