This blog post was updated on April 14, 2022.
For most across the U.S., Thanksgiving is a day to watch far too much football, eat more calories than you want to know, and tune into a parade or two. Thanksgiving ushers in the holiday season and for travelers that can mean one giant headache. By now, you have probably secured your plane ticket to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving dinner but you can still celebrate the holiday, as it was intended. A few special spots in the U.S. showcase the historical side of Thanksgiving throughout the month of November. So if you’re looking to learn more about the roots of one of your favorite holidays, check out these historical places to visit around Thanksgiving.
The Plimoth Patuxet Museums (Plymouth, MA)
You can step back into 1621 at the Plimoth Plantation just three miles south of downtown Plymouth. The Pilgrim village has been carefully recreated to show visitors what life was like around the time of the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth. And if you have cheap Thanksgiving flights come November, you can partake in cooking demonstrations of that period or listen to storytellers speak about life during colonial times. On Thanksgiving, visitors can also participate in workshops to learn skills like blacksmithing, basket making, candle dipping, printmaking, and how to spin wool. The site hosts a Thanksgiving Dining event, a classic Thanksgiving feast filled surrounded by a historic, festive atmosphere. The dinners occur throughout the day on Thanksgiving Day and on the day after Thanksgiving.
Old Sturbridge Village (Massachusetts)
For history buffs looking for historical places to visit around Thanksgiving, a visit to Old Sturbridge Village is essential to see how an early 19th-century rural village celebrated the holiday. Old Sturbridge Village is an 1830s New England living history museum. The site shows off life during this time with the help of costumed historians and antique buildings. You can visit the Glasshouse Gallery, which demonstrates how glass was made in the 19th century, or you can tour the historical beekeeping exhibit. As you walk the grounds, don’t be surprised if you run into costumed farmers and historians who will be glad to answer all of your questions. If you’re bringing the kids with you, take them to see the sheep, cattle, chickens, and pigs. You’ll also see the historical printing house, the cabinet-making shop, the cider mill, and much more. Whatever you decide to do, you’re sure to get into the Thanksgiving spirit at Sturbridge.
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Berkeley Plantation (Charles City, VA)
Williamsburg and Richmond, Virginia, locals contend the first Thanksgiving wasn’t held in Plymouth, but rather on the site of the Berkeley Plantation. In 1619, a boat of Englishmen led by Captain Woodlief landed on these grounds and officially gave thanks. The Captain is believed to have declared the landing a holy day of Thanksgiving. The event occurred one year before the Pilgrims even made it to Plymouth and two years before the official Pilgrim Harvest Feast.
Whether or not you believe this event to be the first Thanksgiving in the U.S., Virginia celebrates accordingly with its Virginia Thanksgiving Festival at the Berkeley Plantation. The 1726 Georgian mansion was the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence signers Benjamin Harrison V and William Henry Harrison, the ninth president of the United States. The celebration honors the historic 1619 landing with musical performances, a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, and reenactments of the landing of Captain Woolief’s landing.
Billings Farm and Museum (Woodstock, VT)
The history of Billings Farm and Museum is quite interesting. Although the farm was not originally open to the public, it has become a tourist attraction with extensive tour programs, special events, festivals, educational programs, and recreational activities. Visitors of Billings Farm and Museum during Thanksgiving can tour an original cow barn from the 1775-1825 period and see how cows were housed back then. Those interested in history can learn a lot from a site that used to be home to two Native American tribes: the Iroquois Nation (Mohawk & Oneida Indians) and the Algonquin Tribe (Delaware). During Thanksgiving, visitors are allowed to participate in most crafts and hands-on activities at the farm.
Colonial Williamsburg (Virginia)
If you’re lucky enough to visit Colonial Williamsburg during Thanksgiving, it will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s one of America’s oldest cities, with many notable landmarks and rich historical past, including colonial times. There are hidden messages in the architecture of Colonial Williamsburg that visitors may not notice unless someone pointed them out. For example, you’ll see bricks that were laid upside down or windows placed at different heights on buildings!
Throughout November, visitors can learn about the culture and customs of Native Americans that contributed to life in 18th-century Virginia. You’ll also learn a lot from the numerous discussions about unique definitions of citizenship and how they stood apart from European colonial society.
Do you know of any other historical places to visit around Thanksgiving? Tell us in the comments below!