The James River Plantations
, located in Virginia between Williamsburg
, date back to 1613 and have witnessed much of America’s history, from the early settlements at nearby Jamestown
to key events of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Be prepared to hear intriguing stories, fascinating historical tales, and to be dazzled by the homes’ stunning architectural features and breathtaking natural settings.
Tip: Before you take this memorable journey back in time, pack a few things that will make your day even more enjoyable: a picnic lunch, a blanket, cushions, binoculars, camera, book, and drinking water.
9:00 am — Stop at Sherwood Forest, home of the 10th U.S. President John Tyler (president from 1841-1845). The plantation dates from 1616 and has been in use for almost 400 years. The house is America’s longest frame-house at 300 ft in length. If you have time, take the grounds tour ($10). There’s a little box for you to slip in your money and grab a brochure. The house is open by appointment only and tours cost $35 per person. Grounds are open from 9 am to 5 pm daily.
9:30 am — As you head to the next stop, Berkeley Plantation, take time to read the numerous historical markers lining both sides of Route 5. You can also stop at Evelynton, Westover, and other plantations along the way, though most are open for grounds tours only.
10:00 am — Stop at Berkeley Plantation, site of the first Thanksgiving and the place where “Taps” was composed. Berkeley Plantation is one of two plantations that cannot be missed (the other is Shirley Plantation). Allow 1- 1 1/2 hour to view the documentary film and to visit the house on a guided tour. Berkeley is open daily Jan to mid-March 10:30 am – 3:30 pm, mid-March to December 9:30 am – 4:30 pm. Admission: $11 adults, $6 children 6-12, $7.50 students 13-16. AAA, Military and Senior discounts available (10%).
12:00 pm — Berkeley is the perfect spot for a picnic lunch. You can either tailgate in the parking lot, take advantage of the picnic tables near the house, or lay a blanket under the willows on the vast lawn and lunch in full view of the majestic James River.
12:30 pm — Walk the grounds and make your way down to the river, pausing at one of the many benches until fancy moves you on. Sit on a log with your back to the house and your feet in the James River. There is lots to see, including the “Taps” memorial, the formal gardens, and the air-conditioned gazebo.
2:00 pm — Leave for Shirley Plantation. Note historical markers along the way.
— Arrive at Shirley Plantation
and purchase tickets for the next available tour. Walk around the gardens while you wait for the bell to ring, announcing your tour. There’s a lovely covered area to wait outside of the gift shop, or you can sit under the pergola in the flower garden. Allow 45 minutes for the house tour and additional time for visiting the grounds and out buildings. Shirley is open daily from 9:30 am – 4:30 pm. Admission: $11 adults, $10 seniors, $7.50 Youth (6-18), free under 6, AAA and Military discounts available.
— Visit grounds of other plantations in the area, like Piney Grove
. Head back towards Williamsburg on Route 5 at a leisurely pace.
5:30 pm — Eat at Charles City Tavern (reservations recommended, especially on weekends). For a review of Charles City Tavern and hours of operation, click here. If you are looking for seafood on the water, consider the Blue Heron; if looking for sandwich-type fare, check out Cul’s Courthouse Grille. None of these options suit your fancy? Keep driving to Williamsburg where there’s plenty of variety.
Ferry View of the James River
7:00 pm — After dinner, head out again on Route 5 in the direction of Williamsburg. Follow signs for the ferry. Take the ferry over to Scotland (it’s free) and back again. You can see the replicas of the 3 ships at Jamestown and other beautiful views. There’s not much to see in Scotland except countryside, but it makes for a nice and peaceful drive.
Those who live in amazing historical places often think to themselves, “Someday I’ll explore this area, but not now: I’m too busy.” And the days turn into years. To anyone contemplating a visit to the James River Plantations, I say go and go now: clear your calendar, get a road map, and make your way down scenic Route 5 and its beautiful plantation homes. You’ll be glad you did.