The first permanent English settlement in North America after the early demise of the Roanoke Island colony, Jamestown nonetheless had a troubled existence. In the first few years, the colony was nearly wiped out by starvation and disease. Even after it became more established, it never enjoyed the prosperity of other settlements in Virginia, though it did serve as the colonial capital for a time. In 1699, the capital and most of Jamestown's residents moved to a more favorable site known as Williamsburg, and Jamestown became a quiet little village that was eventually abandoned.
However, its historic significance is preserved and celebrated. Visitors can see Jamestown, the original site, where the Old Church Tower still stands, and Jamestown Settlement, a replica that was built next to the original site in 1957. Ongoing archaeological excavations at the original site yield fascinating finds about the original 1607 fort. Many artifacts are on display at the Archaearium, which overlooks the original site. Visitors can use virtual viewers to look at areas of the site and see what it looked like 400 years ago (http://www.historicjamestowne.org). At the visitors center, there are interpretive displays and a short film to help orient you. Near the entrance of the park, glass-blowing demonstrations are held in a reconstructed glasshouse: If you've never seen this craft before, stop a moment—it's mesmerizing.
The Jamestown Settlement, though a replica, has an excellent museum of the early colony that presents a well-made film on its beginnings. Fort James is a re-creation of the original triangular fort and has costumed interpreters demonstrating various activities. Other attractions include a Native American village and replicas of the three ships that brought the first colonists from England—the Susan Constant, the Discovery and the Godspeed.
Jamestown is one part of the Colonial National Historic Park that also includes the nearby site of Yorktown. Along with Colonial Williamsburg, all three are linked by the Colonial Parkway, a 23-mi/37-km stretch of scenic highway maintained by the National Park Service.
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