Now part of the Colonial National Historical Park and jointly administered by the National Park Service and the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA; www.apva.org), this is the site of the actual colony. It was an island then; now an isthmus separates it from the mainland. After entering the park, stop first at the reconstructed Glasshouse, where costumed interpreters make glass in the ancient way used by the colonists in 1608 during their first attempt to create an industry (it failed). Remains of the original glass furnaces are nearby. Then proceed to the visitor center, where a museum and a 15-minute film telling the story of Jamestown from its earliest days to 1699, when the capital of Virginia moved to Williamsburg, will get you oriented. Inquire at the reception desk about audiotape tours and ranger-led walking tours, costumed interpretive programs, and other programs offered during your visit.
Spend at least 30 minutes in the visitor center, which stands near the actual site of "James Cittie," as the colonists called their new village. The center's exhibits and 18-minute film put Jamestown in perspective with the rest of the world in 1607 and explain how the colonist lived. A pathway leads from the center over a marsh to the actual settlement. The brick foundations outside aren't original, but they do stand on the actual locations of the 17th-century homes as determined by extensive and very much ongoing archaeological work. You're welcome to view the digging, and APVA archaeologists and volunteers will answer your questions. Most of what's left of James Cittie is now about 18 inches below ground, but the tower of one of the first brick churches in Virginia (1639) still stands. Behind the tower, Memorial Church is a 1907 re-creation built by the Colonial Dames of America on the site of the structure (note the glass panels along the sides of the floor, which show some of the original foundation). In 1619, the church housed the first legislative assembly in English-speaking North America. A wooden stockade fence stands above the triangular borders of the 1607 James Fort, part of which has eroded into the James River.
A short walk along the seawall past Confederate breastworks—built during the Civil War to protect this narrow part of the river—will take you to the fascinating Archaearium, which artfully displays the results of the archaeological digs, including arms and armor, tools, coins, personal items, religious objects, and food remains. Some of the highlights include a writing slate covered with words and pictures from 400 years ago, tobacco pipes impressed with names of the some of the most influential men in England in the early 17th century, and the largest collection of Colonial-period American Indian artifacts in Virginia.
A fascinating 5-mile loop drive begins at the visitor center parking lot and winds through 1,500 wilderness acres of woodland and marsh that have been allowed to return to their natural state in order to approximate the landscape as 17th-century settlers found it. Illustrative markers interpret aspects of daily activities and industries of the colonists -- tobacco growing, lumbering, silk and wine production, pottery making, farming, and so on.
Allow at least 2 hours for this special attraction.