Virginia is, quite literally, at the forefront of American history. The Commonwealth is the birthplace of our nation’s most significant settlements and most influential leaders. For centuries, our local soil produced bountiful harvests and bore the brunt of shipwrecks and heavy artillery during merciless battles by land and sea. Despite the cyclical construction and destruction of Virginia sites, many of its historical places have been as well preserved as the Commonwealth’s history. The Historic Triangle on the Peninsula is one such site that draws visitors from across the globe.
Nestled between the James and York rivers are three profoundly important colonial grounds—Jamestown Settlement, Yorktown Battlefield and Colonial Williamsburg—each of which marks a pivotal turn in the development of modern-day America. At Jamestown Settlement, visitors can relive 17th century life by touring recreations of colonial forts and a Powhatan Indian village once inhabited by the famous Pocahontas. Also docked at Jamestown Settlement, a replica of the three-ship fleet responsible for carrying the first English colonists to the New World in 1607. Living history at America’s first permanent settlement is interactive, informative and a must-visit spot for outdoorsman and history enthusiasts alike.
Much like Jamestown, the Yorktown site is rich in outdoor history and experience. Yorktown Battlefield and adjacent American Revolution Museum expose the advancement of inquisitive colonists to daring soldiers. Explore an 18th-century Continental Army encampment and witness demonstrations of military drills and medical practices. A nearby farm explores domestic life at Yorktown, as well as an in-depth look into the experience of enslaved African Americans.
Central to the western settlement and eastern encampment is Colonial Williamsburg, the sprawling, former capital of the Virginia Colony. Its brick-paved walkaways and grand edifices were constructed at the turn of the 18th century, asserting Williamsburg as the epicenter for political, social, economic and religious advancement. On the outskirts of the capitol buildings, taverns and gardens is the historic College of William & Mary, established in 1693. In this colonial district, you can walk through history—as you traverse Duke of Gloucester Street, arguably the most historic avenue in the country, your tour begins in 300-year-old gardens and concludes in a modern square outfitted with restaurants, shops and more.
Roughly 30 miles south of the Historic Triangle sits Fort Monroe, an exposed peninsula discovered by Captain John Smith in 1607. Smith and his men surveyed the land, dubbed it Point Comfort and two years later, colonists erected wooden structures for the creation of Fort Algernourne. Since then, Fort Monroe has served as a moat-encircled safeguard from British attacks during the War of 1812, a former U.S. Army installation and today, a beach getaway for tourists. Fort Monroe is the nation’s largest stone fort and pairs centuries of unique waterfront history with family-fun recreation.
Offering a similar blend of history and outdoor exploration is The Mariners’ Museum and Park, one of the world’s largest maritime museums. The hundreds of artifacts, exhibits and galleries housed in the Newport News museum are globally renowned and are coupled by a beautiful 550-acre park boasting trails, picnic areas and stunning water views. The Lion’s Bridge, the park’s main attraction, overlooks the historic Lake Maury whose namesake is derived from 19th-century Virginia oceanographer, Matthew Fontaine Maury. Also on the park grounds is the heavily traveled, five-mile Noland Trail outfitted with 14 additional bridges.
Delve deeper into history at other preserved sites like the Cape Henry Lighthouse, Nauticus and Hampton’s Air Power Park.