12 Things To Do in Wilmington, Delaware (Updated July 2024)

Wilmington is the largest city in Delaware and offers visitors plenty of interesting attractions and things to do. From historic mansions and gardens to museums and performing arts centers, Wilmington has something for everyone. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy the city’s many parks and gardens or try paddling on the Christina River, while history buffs will appreciate the well-preserved architecture and historic sites.

Families traveling with kids will find plenty of kid-friendly activities like mini golf, interactive museums, and a zoo. And foodies won’t want to miss sampling cuisine in the city’s diverse dining scene. Whether you’re planning a quick weekend getaway or looking for activities to fill an entire vacation itinerary, here are the 12 best things to do in Wilmington, Delaware.

Visit the Brandywine Zoo

The Brandywine Zoo makes for a fun family outing with over 100 animals representing species from North and South America. Home to otters, bald eagles, lemurs, foxes, bobcats and more, the zoo offers a close-up look at wildlife in naturalistic habitats.

Walk along shaded pathways to see the zoo residents like the playful river otters splashing about. Special events are also held throughout the year like “Boo at the Zoo” in the fall. For a small city zoo, Brandywine offers an impressive selection of critters in a compact, walkable setting.

Tour the Delaware Art Museum

Regarded as a standout cultural institution in the Mid-Atlantic, the Delaware Art Museum displays pre-Raphaelite artworks, illustration art, and American art from the 19th to the 21st century. Here you can peruse one of the best Pre-Raphaelite collections outside of the UK, featuring artworks by the movement’s leading artists.

Other galleries hold American landscape paintings from the Brandywine River School as well as illustration art by Howard Pyle and his school of students. Culture lovers will also appreciate the museum’s collection of English Pre-Raphaelite furnishings and decorative arts. Don’t miss touring the Copeland Sculpture Garden with works by contemporary sculptors set amidst flowers and woodlands.

Walk through Winterthur Gardens

Esteemed as some of the most magnificent historic gardens in the United States, Winterthur Gardens expand across nearly 1,000 acres. The former country estate of Henry Francis du Pont, the Winterthur property includes 60 acres of breathtaking formal gardens, rolling meadows, and naturalistic woodlands.

Visitors can take a narrated tram tour or wander along the lush azalea garden and reflect on the Chinese-inspired Clenny Run. Towering trees and colorful flowers bloom from spring through fall while indoors; the mansion holds one of America’s premier collections of decorative arts and antiques spanning 1640 to 1860. The onsite museum also hosts exhibitions focused on American art and history.

Learn History at Hagley Museum

Discover the roots of one of America’s most iconic companies at Hagley Museum spanning 235 acres along the Brandywine River. This is the original site of the gunpowder works founded by E.I. du Pont in 1802, which grew to become one of the largest gunpowder manufacturing facilities in the world.

Today the restored mills showcase exhibits about the du Pont company’s history and early industrial innovations in America. Visitors can witness live powder yard demonstrations, watch machinery operate inside the restored mills, and walk along the riverside trails. Keep an eye out for resident bald eagles along the river that flows through the property.

Tour Nemours Mansion & Gardens

Soak in the splendor of a French-style country estate at Nemours Mansion and Gardens, which was designed for Alfred I. duPont. Modeled after 18th-century French chateaux, the Louis XVI-style mansion has 103 rooms decorated with antique furnishings and artwork.

The mansion’s interior is especially noteworthy for the rare French and English 18th-century antiques in superb condition sourced from noble families and French châteaux. Outside, explore the meticulously designed French formal gardens spread across nearly 300 acres. From reflective pools to an old-growth forest and tree-lined allees leading to fountains, the grounds are just as impressive as the mansion itself.

Paddle at Wilmington Riverfront

For outdoor recreation right in the city, head to the Wilmington Riverfront. Explore the Christina River Waterfront by stand up paddleboard, kayak or join a boat tour along the river. Rent gear and boats from Wilmington Stand Up Paddle who will launch you from the Docklands residential community’s pier in the Central Riverfront.

Paddling here lets you enjoy skyline views while floating past attractions like the Kalmar Nyckel Shipyard and Chase Field baseball stadium. Many kayak tours also operate on this section of river, allowing you to sit back and relax while a guide navigates and shares commentary about the city and river ecosystem.

Shop on Market Street

Lined with shops and restaurants between the Christina River and Cool Spring Historic District, Market Street serves as a central pedestrian-friendly artery in Downtown Wilmington perfect for strolling and shopping. Boutiques like Alpha & Bay offer urban streetwear and global brands while Nine Mile sells an eclectic mix of gifts, home goods, accessories and Wilmington-themed souvenirs.

Stop for a scoop of artisanal ice cream at The Ice Cream Shops of Delaware or grab an imported beer at Brew Ha Ha! Market Street dining options range from pizza slices at Piccolina Toscana to upscale twists on comfort food at Merchant Bar. It’s also worth timing a visit around one of the many cultural festivals held on Market Street throughout the year.

See the Grand Opera House

Delaware’s oldest theater still in use today, the Grand Opera House is a premier performing arts venue and Wilmington institution. The Victorian-era opera house dazzles audiences with its lavish Grand Hall boasting gold-encrusted columns, a proscenium arch decorated with female figures, and a domed ceiling installation some 50 feet overhead.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the venue wows on aesthetic appeal alone. Today’s Playhouse on Rodney Square mainly hosts touring Broadway productions while the Grand presents performances by the First State Ballet along with children’s theater, stand-up comedy, musical acts and other shows.

Play Mini Golf at Wilmington State Parks

When you’re traveling with kids in tow or just want to enjoy some casual recreation, head to one of Wilmington’s mini golf courses inside local state parks. Both Rockford Park and Wilmington State Parks have 18-hole miniature golf courses that welcome families and groups.

Rockford Park surrounds its mini golf holes with flower gardens along a wooded hillside, almost making you feel transported into a fantastical fairy forest. Meanwhile Wilmington State Park’s course features waterfalls and fountains with the option to play rounds after dark under the evening lights. Easy walking distance from downtown, these mini golf courses offer outdoor entertainment for budget travelers and families.

Tour the Delaware Contemporary Art Museum

Although Wilmington may be better known for its historic mansions and gardens, the Delaware Contemporary museum offers an artistic escape focused on innovative contemporary works. The museum spotlights regional Mid-Atlantic artists through rotating exhibits in media spanning painting and sculpture to video installations.

Past exhibitions have highlighted provocative themes like exploring obsession in contemporary portraiture or offering interpretations of Lolita fashion as conceptual art. Every January, the museum hosts an exhibition centered around one clear plastic button measuring 2 5/8 inches wide—a unique and intriguing annual tradition not to miss.

Visit Fort Christina National Park

As the first permanent European settlement in the Delaware Valley, Fort Christina State Park occupies an important role in early colonial history. Swedish settlers established the fort here by the Christina River in 1638, which served as the starting point for Swedish settlement in the valley.

Today the small 34-acre park stands on the former fort grounds with reconstructions of the bastion and blockhouse helping visitors imagine the earliest colonial-era buildings. Easily walkable from downtown, the park now acts as a peaceful spot along the Christina Riverfront with plenty of picnic tables and pretty vantage points to admire views across the water.

Visit Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island

One of the most intriguing historic sites near Wilmington sits on an island in the middle of the Delaware River. Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island once protected the water passage to Philadelphia and served as a prisoner-of-war camp during the Civil War. To reach the former fortress requires a short 10-minute ferry ride to the island, adding to the sense of adventure.

Kids will love exploring the sprawling fort grounds with magical views across the river. From the ramparts to the dungeon-like casements, the stone fort reveals secrets about its past through exhibits and guided tours. Ferry service to the island runs daily between March and November with tickets included for entrance to Fort Delaware. It makes for a perfect warm weather activity for families and history buffs alike seeking a scenic river escape.

Conclusion


From world-class museums and historic estates to outdoor recreation and performing arts, Wilmington serves up culture, nature and family fun through its many attractions. Foodies will find dynamic dining and craft beer while outdoor enthusiasts have opportunities to paddle the riverfront or play mini golf inside Wilmington’s parks.

Iconic locations like Winterthur Gardens and the Hagley Museum explore some of Delaware’s most prominent industrial legacies including the du Pont family and gunpowder works. Kids and parents alike will stay entertained at interactive museums and the zoo, while theater and music performances grace historic stages around town.

With this mix of historic landmarks, cultural institutions, and recreational sites, Wilmington offers something for every interest and taste.

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