What to Know Before You Visit Jamestown Settlement

Updated July 21, 2020.

It’s a little shameful. I’ve lived in Virginia for over 11 years, I love history, I was a Colonial-clad tour guide for five years, and I’ve been to Williamsburg multiple times, but this week marked my first ever trip to Jamestown Settlement!

What’s the Difference Between Jamestown Settlement and Historic Jamestown?

Historic Jamestown is the actual site where the Jamestown settlers set themselves up in 1607. It is an active archaelogical site! It is part National Park site and part Preservation Virginia site, and admission is separate from Jamestown Settlement.

The reconstructed fort at Jamestown Settlement.

Jamestown Settlement is the re-creation of Jamestown as the settlers knew it in the 17th century. Because the original location is an active archaeological site, this nearby location became the site for the re-constructed buildings, fort, and Indian Village. There is also a fantastic museum with both permanent and changing exhibits!

Reconstructed church at Jamestown Settlement; only the foundation remains at Historic Jamestown.

There are Combination Tickets Available for the Historic Triangle.

This was just a day trip, so I spent the whole day with my friend Amanda at Jamestown Settlement ($17.50 per adult at the time I visited), but if you’re staying in the area longer and plan to visit Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown, Historic Jamestown, and Jamestown Settlement, you should get the 7-day pass for America’s Historic Triangle! It’s $100 per adult for all sites over a week’s time.

Want to include Williamsburg in your trip? Get the combo ticket!

Parking is FREE!

Coming from the D.C. area, I never expect parking to be free, so when I find it, I get really excited! You can look forward to FREE parking at Jamestown Settlement!

You Should Definitely Ask the Interpreters Questions.

The costumed interpreters are very knowledgeable, and they’re personable, too! We had so much fun talking to them. I’ll be honest with you, sometimes historical interpreters can be kind of condescending, and that just spoils the whole experience. But all the interpreters we talked to were kind, helpful, and really seemed to enjoy their jobs.

There are so many things to learn about the indigenous people, the settlers, their lifestyles, their food choices, everything. Feel free to ask anyone there!

You Will See Wildlife.

Chickens, snakes (non-poisonous!), fish, woodland creatures—you’ll see them all here!

Also be on the lookout for free-range eggs!

The Food They’re Cooking is Real!

A huge part of everyday life in an early American settlement is hunting, gathering, preparing, and cooking food, so its stands to reason that you’d see people doing just that at Jamestown Settlement. Pasties, stews, catfish, and even tea are some of the things you’ll see cooking throughout the day around the settlement.

Catfish caught in the river just that morning, squash and pecan stew, and tea steeping in the background!

There is Food Available for You, Too.

Speaking of food, the food in the cafeteria at Jamestown Settlement is surprisingly delightful! There are plenty of options ranging from peanut soup (get it in a bread bowl) to salads, from quesedillas to hot dogs and more! Amanda and I were very pleasantly surprised at the quality and variety.

Cheese quesadilla with salsa, sour cream, and potato salad!

You Will Learn Something New!

Amanda and I are not newbies when it comes to historical interpretation and early American history. In fact, it’s how we met eight years ago! But even the two of us learned a lot of new and interesting things! Did you know the ship’s wheel for steering was not even invented yet in 1607? Did you know there are first-hand accounts of Powhatan Indians who were light-skinned and fair-haired? And did you know that you can shoot more than just canon balls out of a canon? I didn’t know either!

This elongated canon “ball” was used at shorter range than a canon ball and really did a number ripping through sails, ship sides, and people!

Top Things to See and Do

I recommend spending a whole day here. But if you just have a few hours to spend and want to maximize your time, here’s a quick list of the things you can’t miss!

The Ships

Definitely start at the ships! You’ll learn all about the conditions people endured for three months or more on their way to this “New World” for new opportunities. You’ll see how they and their animals lived and how they defended themselves against pirates, enemy ships, and storms!

Peeking through the trees at one of three ships!

The Fun and Games

Whether you have kids or you just feel like one, you will want to at least take a look at how people passed the time! Without smartphones, computers, or any other modern conveniences, they had to pass the time inside the fort somehow.

Playing nine-pins or playing chicken? Or is the chicken playing nine-pins?

The Craftspeople

As mentioned before, the costumed interpreters are great! Not only are they able to talk knowledgeably about anything they’re doing, they’re also actually doing those jobs! The people cooking are actually making that food the old fashioned way. The leather workers are actually making things out of that leather. The blacksmith is actually working with that metal to make things people working at Jamestown Settlement will use! The Indian weaver is actually weaving those baskets! Watch them work, ask them questions, and be thankful you don’t have to make all the things you use yourself!

Hand-woven baskets of every size, in many patterns!

The Weaponry

Those are some mighty big guns! Coming to the New World was a dangerous thing to do, and self-defense was high on the priority list. Another thing on that list was hunting for food! But the Indians didn’t have guns. They had arrows for the same purposes. You can learn all about the primitive weapons both the colonists and the Indians used, and you might even get to participate. I saw some kids learning how to make a cartridge!

Armor and an armory!

The Tenacity Exhibit

The museum here was partially undergoing renovation, but their current exhibit all about tenacious women was excellent! The exhibit told the stories of the women who lived in and around Jamestown: Indian, enslaved, free, and European women. Their struggles were unique and are generally lesser known, but they are certainly worth knowing. Don’t miss this exhibit between now and January 5, 2020!


Have you been to Jamestown Settlement? Tell me below!

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