12 Attractions in Dover, Delaware

Last Updated on March 2, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Dover is the capital and second most populous city of the U.S. state of Delaware, located in central Kent County on the St. Jones River. It has an extensive range of historical, cultural, and natural attractions that make it a fascinating place to visit.

This article aims to provide an overview of 12 of the top sights not to be missed when touring Dover. From historic buildings to scenic trails to bountiful wildlife, Dover offers a remarkable array of attractions that should appeal to visitors of all ages and interests.

So check out these must-see Dover sights and start planning your trip today!

1. Old State House

The Old State House, built in 1791, is one of Dover’s most iconic landmarks. This impressive federal-style building was Delaware’s state capitol until 1933 and hosted important government meetings for over a century. Today, this National Historic Landmark building serves as a museum and is filled with exhibits detailing Delaware’s history and culture.

Some of the highlights include displays on early European settlement, Native American artifacts, and galleries showcasing historic Delaware furniture, paintings, textiles and more. Visitors can also take a self-guided tour of the legislative chambers, governor’s office and Supreme Court. With its immense historical significance and wealth of artifacts, the Old State House is undoubtedly one of Dover’s foremost attractions.

2. Dover International Speedway

Dover International Speedway is known as the “Monster Mile” due to its high-banked one-mile concrete oval track. Since opening in 1969, it has hosted two NASCAR race weekends annually, usually in late spring and early fall. A tour of this immense facility allows you to experience the 36-degree banking of the track and view the garage bays, media center and luxury suites.

For an extra thrill, ride shotgun alongside a professional driver in a stock car that goes up to 165 miles per hour! The adjoining Dover International Speedway Museum also contains dozens of historic cars, trophies and interactive exhibits tracing NASCAR’s roots and Dover’s rise to prominence on the circuit.

3. Delaware State Museum

As the flagship museum of Delaware’s state museum system, the Delaware State Museum offers an in-depth look at the First State’s extensive history and diverse culture. The museum’s permanent galleries include displays chronicling Delaware’s Native American tribes, European settlement beginning with the Dutch and Swedes, the colonial and plantation era, and Delaware’s Industrial Age innovations.

You can also view special exhibits showcasing Delaware’s maritime heritage, natural history displays with nearly 500 mounted animals, a recreated southern Delaware bayshore home, and Delaware artworks dating from pre-colonial times until today. With engaging exhibits for all ages, the educational and entertaining Delaware State Museum should not be missed.

4. Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge

For nature lovers, the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge is one of Dover’s top attractions. Encompassing over 16,000 acres of marsh, meadows and woodlands along the Delaware Bay, the refuge provides vital habitats for migratory birds and other wildlife. More than 400 bird species have been identified here, with seasonal migrations bringing impressive numbers of snow geese, bald eagles, herons, ducks and wading birds.

The 12-mile wildlife driving loop offers excellent wildlife viewing, especially during early morning and dusk, with key sights including the Bear Swamp and Shearness Pool. Five walking trails ranging from .5 miles to 5 miles also access scenic overlooks, bird blinds and the visitor center. For an optimal birdwatching experience, be sure to add Bombay Hook to your Dover itinerary.

5. Biggs Museum of American Art

As Delaware’s leading museum of fine and decorative American arts, Biggs Museum houses an acclaimed collection of over 2,000 relics spanning the 17th to 21st century. The chronological permanent exhibit walks you through major eras and artistic movements, with standouts including Colonial-era antiques, 19th century landscape paintings from the Hudson River School, Victorian-era decorative objects, and Andrew Wyeth tempera paintings depicting rural life.

The museums regularly hosts special exhibitions showcasing prominent American artists along with an annual wildlife art show. Other museum highlights are its interactive children’s gallery, lectures/classes for adults, a scenic riverside sculpture garden, and an impressive gift shop full of American crafts and reproductions.

6. Dover Air Force Base

Dover Air Force Base makes for a must-see attraction, especially for military and aviation buffs. As the largest air base on the U.S. East Coast, it serves as the entry and exit point for overseas deployments and hosts the 436th Airlift Wing of the Air Mobility Command.

It is also home to the Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs, the first and largest military mortuary in the U.S., along with the Air Mobility Command Museum. Free tours of the base include the AMC Museum with its impressive collection of military aircraft and vehicles. Be sure to also catch the flightline with its C-5 Galaxies and C-17 Globemaster IIIs, as well as a view of the air traffic control tower, one of the world’s busiest.

7. John Dickinson Plantation

For an authentic glimpse into 18th century life, pay a visit to the John Dickinson Plantation, an exceptionally well-preserved plantation occupied by the prominent Dickinson family until 1815. Guided tours allow you to explore the stately brick mansion furnished with period antiques and outbuildings like the kitchen, smokehouse, carriage house and slave quarters.

Costumed interpreters add color while demonstrating activities like open hearth cooking, gardening, blacksmithing and carpentry. The lush grounds are also filled with heritage gardens and plants typical of an early American plantation. With its unparalleled ability to transport you back in time, the John Dickinson Plantation ranks among Dover’s historical crown jewels.

8. Legislative Hall

Dover’s Legislative Hall is the state capitol building housing Delaware’s Senate and House of Representatives within its Neoclassical halls. One-hour guided tours take you through the historic Georgian-style building, revealing the rich history of Delaware’s legislature with details on the architecture, artworks, furnishings and storied traditions.

Highlights include the Senate Chamber noted for its surround of portraits depicting historically significant Delawareans, the Supreme Court Room accentuated by Gilbert Stuart’s painting of George Washington, and the Governor’s Suite of ceremonial offices. You’ll also view legislative galleries filled with historic photos, chandeliers from the famous Baccarat company, and displays about governance in the First State from colonial days onward.

9. Dover Mall and Dover Downs

The Dover Mall and Dover Downs complex offers big entertainment and shopping opportunities in one convenient location. The 1.3 million square foot Dover Mall packs over 120 stores ranging from Apple to Zara along with dining and entertainment chains. Meanwhile, Dover Downs is best known for being home to Dover International Speedway along with being central Delaware’s premier harness racing track and video lottery facility.

Visitors can try their luck at more than 2,500 slot machines while also betting on live harness racing. Popular touring acts and comedians also frequently perform at Dover Down’s Rollins Center. With this unbeatable combination under one roof, the Dover Mall and Dover Downs is great for bargain hunters, entertainment seekers and anyone loving convenience.

10. Dover Festival of Speed

Dover’s vibrant NASCAR culture is highlighted annually through the Dover Festival of Speed which coincides with the fall Monster Mile race weekend. Main Street becomes a high-octane block party as race fans, drivers and crews converge to celebrate racing and motorsports.

Family-friendly attractions include AARP’s Life@ 50+ Experience interactive exhibits, the Monster Mural walking art tour, a kids’ zone with the Aflac Crew, driver appearances, live music performances, vendor merchandise and a classic car cruise-in. Culinary delights also abound with food trucks, adult beverages at the SportsPlex and the beloved 40-foot-long Phillips‘ Giant Sub sandwich. Free to attend, the high-energy Dover Festival of Speed promises loads of racing flavor and excitement.

11. Woodburn

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Woodburn is a rare surviving example of 18th century domestic architecture and landscape gardening. As Delaware’s oldest house open the public, it provides an invaluable look at how wealthy Delawareans lived during the 1700s. Guided tours of the Georgian brick mansion reveal original paneled rooms decorated with period furniture and furnishings belonging the home’s former owners, the Hall family.

Interpreters also discuss Woodburn’s architecturally notable features like the Chinese Chippendale staircase and elaborate cornices while demonstrating cooking and crafts in the colonial kitchen building. The stunning formal gardens further transport you to days past with geometric planting beds, brick walls, and heritage roses surrounding an octagonal summerhouse.

12. Alapocas Run and Brandywine River State Parks

Outdoor enthusiasts visiting Dover have an abundance of hiking and biking trails just minutes from town within Alapocas Run State Park and Brandywine River State Park. Alapocas Run encompasses over 550 acres straddling the Blue Ball Barn area north of Dover, laced with 6 miles of trails following the scenic Alapocas Run.

Trail highlights include the remains of old mill races, blue stone bridges, forest and meadow scenery. Brandywine Creek State Park lies west of Dover spanning over 900 acres centered along a 12-mile stretch of Brandywine Creek dotted with picturesque Brandywine Falls. An extensive multi-use trail system traverses forests and meadows with access to fishing, boating and picnic facilities along the creek, presenting a delightful natural escape near Dover.

Conclusion

From the heritage-steeped halls of the Old State House to the high banks of Dover International Speedway to the rich beauty of Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Dover offers remarkable diversity when it comes to sightseeing.

This roundup of 12 top attractions provides a cross-section of historical sites, cultural institutions, shopping and entertainment destinations, natural vistas and annual events that should captivate any visitor.

Beyond just being Delaware’s capital city, Dover emerges as a destination unto itself, able to fulfill any travel interest whether it’s families seeking interactive learning, racing fans longing for speed, art aficionados pursuing masterpieces, wildlife watchers scanning for birds or hikers refreshed by river valleys.

So be sure to carve out ample time to take in Dover’s premier attractions on your next First State getaway!

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