Jamestown: The First Colony

9 miles SW of Williamsburg

The story of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the New World, is documented here in a national park on the Jamestown Island site where they landed. Here you'll learn the exploits of Capt. John Smith, the colony's leader, rescued from execution by the American Indian princess Pocahontas; the arrival of the first African-American slaves; and how life was lived in 17th-century Virginia. Archaeologists have excavated more than 100 building frames, evidence of manufacturing ventures (pottery, winemaking, brick making, and glass blowing), wells, and roads. Opened prior to Jamestown's big 400th-anniversary bash in 2007, the fascinating Archaearium museum displays hundreds of thousands of artifacts of everyday life -- tools, utensils, ceramic dishes, armor, keys, and the like -- uncovered during the digs.

Next door at Jamestown Settlement, a state-run living-history museum complex, you can see re-creations of the three ships in which the settlers arrived in 1607, the colony they built, and a typical American Indian village of the time.

Allow at least half a day for your visit and consider packing a lunch. There is a cafe at Jamestown Settlement, but you may want to take advantage of the picnic areas at the National Park Service site.

Getting There & Getting Around -- The scenic way here from Williamsburg is via the picturesque Colonial Parkway, or you can take Jamestown Road (Va. 31).

An alternative to driving from Williamsburg from March through October is the Historic Triangle Shuttle. Once you're here, the free Jamestown Area Shuttle (tel. 757/898-2410) runs continuously between Historic Jamestowne and Jamestown Settlement.

James River Plantations

While Williamsburg was the political capital of Virginia during the 18th century, its economic livelihood depended on the great tobacco plantations beside the James River. Several of the mansions built during that period of wealthy landowners still stand today between Williamsburg and Richmond, some occupied to this day by the same families that have produced generals, governors, and two presidents. Two of them are open to the public, providing an authentic feel for 18th-century plantation life.

Seeing the Plantations -- Plantations are on both sides of the James River, but the easiest to visit are on John Tyler Highway (Va. 5) between Williamsburg and Richmond. From Williamsburg, take Jamestown Road and bear right on Va. 5. From Richmond, take Main Street east, which becomes Va. 5. This so-called Plantation Route covers a distance of 55 miles between Williamsburg and Richmond and makes an excellent scenic driving tour between the two cities. You can easily see them in half a day.

See www.charlescity.org for information about accommodations and dining in this area.

Virginia Is for Gardens -- Garden Week in Virginia, during the last week in April, is the ideal time to visit the plantations. All the grounds are at their magnificent, full-bloom best then. It's also the only time that the manor house at Westover, which shares Berkeley's lane off Va. 5 (tel. 804/829-2882), is open to the public. Richmond's founder, William Byrd II, built this beautiful Georgian manor house in the 1730s directly on the banks of the James. You can walk around the grounds and gardens year-round, daily 9am to 6pm. Admission is an honorary $2 for adults, 50ยข for children 15 and under. The grounds at Sherwood Forrest Plantation, 14501 John Tyler Hwy./Va. 5 (tel. 804/282-1441; www.sherwoodforest.org), also are open to the public daily 9am to 5pm. Admission is $5 adults, free for children under 16. Sherwood Forrest, the longest wood frame house in the U.S., was home of U.S. President John Tyler, whose descendants still live here.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.