Hot Spots

Tourist Traps That Are Worth It

by Staff

COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG, VIRGINIA

Tourist trap cred: At its very core, Colonial Williamsburg is a bizarre gimmick: a perfectly nice Virginia town transformed into a theme park of American history with Renaissance Faire–style role-playing and Disney-caliber price gouging. Scores of costumed townsfolk roam the streets, many industriously engaged in their crafts (merchants, milliners, blacksmiths, innkeepers, printers, bakers), always staying strictly in character, and all wanting to engage you in conversation. Visitors are expected to play along—ordering victuals such as "game pye" and barnyard chicken from mobcapped serving wenches in the taverns, and paying 21st-century prices for reproduction 18th-century jewelry, housewares, and toys.

Why it's worth it: If you haven't been and you're tempted to dismiss Colonial Williamsburg as hokey and inauthentic, think again. Extraordinary execution makes it one of the most entertaining and effective museums in America—and kids dig it, too. The town's 88 original 18th-century buildings are augmented by hundreds more reproduced so faithfully it's hard to tell which are which. Depending on which of the site's four years (1773–76) is being reenacted that day, there may be battles, witch trials, or fife and drum parades. Leave your cynicism in the parking lot, and you'll enjoy every minute of it.

Insider tip: While a full day of time travel will reinvigorate your patriotic spirit, it'll also exhaust your body. The best remedy? A Colonial Herbal Experience at the Spa of Colonial Williamsburg—a two-hour, 18th century–inspired treatment that includes an aromatic footbath, a ginger-and-orange body scrub, an herbal wrap, and a massage.

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Information may have changed since date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.

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