City Review: Williamsburg

City: Williamsburg, VA
Geographical Location: Mid-Atlantic, East Coast, USA
Population: 14,068
Size: 8.7 square miles
Climate: temperate, seasonal

My Time There: I went to college at William and Mary so I lived there for 3 and a half years, minus one semester abroad and one summer when I lived at home (that was August 2006 to December 2009). In addition, my grandmother lives there so I visited countless times throughout my childhood.

Weather: 3 out of 10. One summer I looked online and the two hottest places in the country at the time were Death Valley, CA and Williamsburg. No joke. Summers are muggy and miserable – it was built on a swamp, after all. There is a lot of rain. It can be nice in Williamsburg (winters are nice and mild), don’t get me wrong, but because of summer it gets a low rating.

Food: 7 out of 10. Williamsburg is chock full of chain restaurants, being a huge tourist destination and all. It has a few unique options, and definitely lots of stuff is good. Plenty of non-American cuisine options, too.

Walkability: Campus and the historical part: 10 out of 10. The rest of the city: 6 out of 10. The William and Mary campus and Colonial Williamsburg are fantastic places to walk around. If it’s within those boundaries it’s easy to walk to, and a very pretty place to walk, besides. Both have few places where cars can get in your way. If you go outside of those areas, there are usually sidewalks but everything is really spread out so walking is not very practical.

Bikeability: 8 out of 10. Overall it is very bike-friendly, especially on/near campus and the colonial part. There are some bike lanes on the roads outside of campus, too.

Public Transportation: 2 out of 10. So there’s a bus system, but it leaves a lot to be desired. There are only a few routes and they only go one way around a loop, so you might get stuck going through most of the whole loop to get to where you’re going (and if you have to wait at the bus depot you should probably find another way to get where you’re going).

Vegetarian-friendly: 4 out of 10. There are vegetarian options at many of the restaurants but no all-veg restaurants that I’m aware of. Food for Thought is one of the best choices to take someone vegetarian.

Beauty: 7 out of 10. Except for the swampy parts, Williamsburg is pretty gorgeous. Very green.

Museums, Etc.: 5 out of 10. There are a few museums around, but the rating is mostly for the ‘etc.’ Obviously with Colonial Williamsburg you have a wealth of historical information and locations to visit. That stuff is free for students but will cost you otherwise.

Cool Shops: 5 out of 10. There are definitely some neat places, like a totally sweet used bookstore and a shop that has tons of free samples of peanuts.

Free Stuff to Do: 8 out of 10. It’s partially a college town, so of course there are plenty of things to do that are free and cheap.

Great Outdoors: 7 out of 10. The university has a boathouse which is free for students so you can kayak and canoe to your heart’s content. The WM Rec Center has some great outdoor student trips, and there’s a great outdoors club. If you’re not a student, there are still some things for you – short drives to Jamestown and some James River beaches, and not very far from York River State Park.

Cleanliness: 9 out of 10. It’s a clean place, probably because they want to make sure it looks nice for tourists. Though you should watch out for horse manure if you’re in Colonial Williamsburg.

People: 8 out of 10. On campus there are lots of great people and I knew just about everybody. I have also met lots of non-WM Williamsburg residents through my grandmother and can say they are often friendly. One downside is that some residents resent the college students and tried to make our lives a bit more difficult.

Cost of Living: $$ out of $$$$. Rent is not terribly bad – on Craigslist there are plenty of apartments for $700-$800 a month. Food is also not extremely expensive (though can be a bit overpriced if it’s a place that tourists flock to), and there are some pretty cheap places (I’m looking at you, Retro’s).

Tourist Congestion: Non-Summer: 3 out of 5. Summer: 5 out of 5. People flock to Colonial Williamsburg when it is nice out. Also, there’s Busch Gardens which is a big draw as well. If you’re around on campus in the summer the tourists will even filter over and ask things like, “is this a real college?”

Safety: 4 out of 5. You would occasionally hear reports of crimes around campus, and there were a couple bad parts of town, but mostly it seemed quite safe.

Overall Thoughts: Williamsburg was a lovely place to go to college, although staying over the summer as I did, the heat sometimes got unbearable. There is stuff to do for students but in general this is a sleepy town that goes to bed around 8 pm. There are no establishments called ‘bars’ due to a town law – though of course there are bars, they are just called ‘cafes’ or ‘delis’. So if you like to go out drinking, it’s not the town for you. At least there is a 24-hour Wawa next to campus, for your late night macaroni and cheese needs. I liked it, but wouldn’t really want to move back there unless I was doing grad school or something.

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