First Stop: The Visitor Center

Begin your visit at the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center, on Va. 132 south of U.S. 60 Bypass (tel. 800/447-8679 or 757/220-7645; www.history.org). Watch for the signs pointing the way from all access roads to Williamsburg. The center and Historic Area attractions are open daily 9am to 5pm (to 9pm in summer). Some attractions are closed on specific days, and hours can vary, so check the This Week brochure (available at the visitor center) for current information.

The visitor center has a bookstore, a coffee shop, a regional information desk, and two reservations services: one for Colonial Williamsburg Foundation hotels (tel. 800/447-8679 or 757/220-7645; www.history.org), the other for two of its four Colonial taverns (tel. 800/828-3767 or 757/229-2141). It's advisable to make tavern reservations well in advance anytime, and it's essential every day during the summer and on weekends during spring and fall.

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The center continuously shows a free 8-minute video about Williamsburg, and once you've bought your ticket, you can watch the 35-minute orientation film, Williamsburg -- The Story of a Patriot, which also runs throughout the day.

Parking at the visitor center is free. You can park for an hour for free, and then pay, in the public lots and garages near Merchants Square at the western end of Duke of Gloucester Street. But be careful: Spaces labeled "P2" are restricted to 2 hours; those marked "P1" and "P6" are long-term.

Planning Your Time in Williamsburg -- There is so much to see and do in the Historic Triangle that you can easily spend a week in this area and still not see everything. Colonial Williamsburg itself requires a minimum of 2 days to explore, preferably 3. It will take at least another day to see Jamestown and Yorktown. If you have kids in tow, they'll want to spend a day at Busch Gardens Williamsburg or Water Country USA, although you can satisfy them by visiting the parks after dark during the summer months.

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Spend ample time planning your visit at the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center. Historic Area programs change frequently, so it's imperative to pick up a copy of This Week, the single most valuable tool in planning the best use of your time. It gives the hours the attractions are open and the times and places of the week's presentations, exhibits, plays, and events. It also has a detailed map.

Tickets

It costs nothing to stroll the streets of the Historic Area and perhaps debate revolutionary politics with the interpreters pretending to be Thomas Jefferson or Patrick Henry, but you will need a ticket to enter the key buildings and the museums, see the 35-minute orientation film at the visitor center, use the Historic Area shuttle buses, and take a 30-minute Orientation Walk through the restored village.

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The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation changes its system of tickets and passes so frequently that I'm almost wasting ink telling you what they were at press time. You should definitely call the visitor center or check the Colonial Williamsburg website (www.history.org) for the latest information. With that caveat, this was the pass structure as it existed when we went to press.

A 1-day Capital City Pass ticket allowed access to most Historic Area attractions, but not the Governor's Palace or the walking tours. It cost $36 for adults, $18 for children 6 to 14, free for children 5 and younger. You could add the Governor's Palace for $10 adults, $5 children. It is good for the day you buy it, regardless of the time you purchased it.

Much more useful is the Governor's Key-to-the-City Pass, which includes everything you're likely to see and is good for 2 days. At press time it was going for $46 adults, $23 children 6 to 17.

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For longer stays, it's worth paying $55 per adult, $28 for children 6 to 17 for a Liberty Pass, which is good for 1 year and includes a 25% discount on the nighttime performances.

Tickets are available at the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center, a ticket booth at the Merchants Square shops on Henry Street at Duke of Gloucester Street, and Lumber House on Duke of Gloucester Street opposite the Palace Green.

American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard, and Visa credit cards are accepted at Colonial Williamsburg ticket outlets, attractions, hotels, and taverns.

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Saving Money on Tickets & Hotel Rooms

You can buy tickets to Colonial Williamsburg, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Water Country USA, Colonial Historical National Park, and other Historic Triangle attractions separately and pay full price, or you can do some shopping and come up with money-saving combination deals. Some hotels and motels offer discounted ticket prices to local attractions if you stay with them; it's worth asking when you call to make your reservation. Colonial Williamsburg (tel. 800/447-8679 or 757/220-7645; www.history.org) almost always offers packages including tickets and discounted rates at its hotels. The Williamsburg Hotel & Motel Association (tel. 800/211-7164; www.gowilliamsburg.com) also has hotel-ticket deals.

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.