Don’t you just love discovering hidden gems when you travel? I had no idea there were so many things to do in Wilmington Delaware and the Brandywine Valley. What was even more impressive was the range of Wilmington things do!
Whether you’re a history-lover or someone who swoons over gorgeous mansions, you want to visit Wilmington, Delaware. Do you get giddy over endless displays of gardenias and gladiolus? Or are you looking for a scenic pocket of the U.S. that’s part natural beauty, part Americana?
Look no further than Wilmington, Delaware and the surrounding Brandywine Valley.
10 Surprising Things to Do in Wilmington Delaware
1. Discover Old New Castle
Old New Castle Delaware is one of the best preserved colonial towns in the United States and one of the best-kept secrets, too! With historic homes and buildings dating back to 1700 and the related colonial and revolutionary history to go along with it, it’s easy to see why New Castle is a National Historic Landmark.
The Old Court House, dating back to 1730, sits along the town green which was planned by the first Dutch settlers. It was here where the colony’s assembly members met in June of 1776 and decided to break away from England (and Pennsylvania).
The Old “Dutch” House, Amstel House, the Arsenal, and the Episcopal Church on the Green are great places to start exploring historic New Castle. Then, wander the cobblestone streets to see the historic houses and discover alleyways where countless important people have walked.
Have lunch at Jessop’s Tavern where the vibe is colonial and the building is the former home and workshop of a cooper from 1724. Afterward, stroll down to the Battery where you’ll see the Delaware River and what made New Castle a perfect spot for a fledgling colony.
Begin your New Castle visit at the Arsenal, just behind the Old Court House, for information on guided tours and the town’s history. You can even download a New Castle map and audio tour to guide you through town.
2. Tour the Read House and Gardens.
Also, located in historic New Castle, Delaware, the Read House was built along The Strand between 1801-1803. The house was built for George Read II who was a successful lawyer and businessman and whose father was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
This Federalist-style house has more than 20 rooms covering 14,000 square feet and has been named a National Historic Landmark. The house has been restored and preserved to show what life was like for the Reads, as well as what daily life was like for the staff and indentured servants who kept the house running.
Read House history tours are available April-December, Wednesday-Sunday. If you’re visiting Read House and many of the other Wilmington Delaware attractions in this guide before September 3, 2018, save money with the Brandywine Treasure Trail Passport. The passport includes 12 attractions at a bundled cost. It works out to be cheaper than buying tickets individually.
Have more time or want to discover more of the area’s history?
Check out these Wilmington Delaware points of interest.
- Get aboard the Kalmar Nyckel, a full-scale replica of the 1638 ship that brought Swedish settlers to Delaware.
- Or jump time periods to visit Fort Delaware, used by the Union Army during the Civil War to protect the ports of Wilmington and Philadelphia, as well as house Confederate POWs.
Experience American Aristocracy at the du Pont Mansions.
The du Pont family settled in Wilmington, Delaware just after the American Revolution. This is also where they built their fortune and their gorgeous homes.
3. Visit Nemours Mansion.
Alfred du Pont built Nemours Mansion for his second wife, Alicia, in a late 18th-century French-style. A shuttle from the Visitor’s Center takes you to the gates just outside Nemours. And, at first glance, you may think you’re in French château country but you’re actually still in Wilmington, Delaware!
You can tour Nemours at your own pace without a guide and stroll the Versailles-inspired gardens surrounding the mansion. It’s every bit as extravagant and formal as you can imagine but Nemours still feels like a home.
The bedrooms have personal touches and the rooms on the ground floor and lower level show the du Pont’s hobbies. Alfred du Pont was a true Renaissance man who was not only a banker, manufacturer, and businessman, but also a photographer, violinist, and dog-lover to name a few of his other interests.
My absolute favorite room was the Conservatory! I could just imagine using this room to read the day away while overlooking the gardens and sipping something refreshing.
Aside from the house itself, there is a classic car garage just a short walk from the mansion itself. The Visitor’s Center also shows a brief movie about Alfred du Pont and has a detailed timeline of his life. I was really impressed to learn about his philanthropic work which even today still involves helping children get needed medical care.
Even if you have just a day in Wilmington, make sure Nemours Mansion is on your list of things to do in Delaware!
4. Tour Winterthur Museum and explore the Estate Gardens.
Winterthur is the former home of Henry Francis du Pont. It’s now a museum and library with vast historical collections. In its prime, Winterthur was an American version of Downton Abbey, complete with farmers who tended cattle herds on the estate.
An estate in every sense of the word, too, with nearly 1k acres of naturalistic gardens and a house with 175 rooms decorated with the finest American antiques (dating back to 1640!) you’re likely to find anywhere.
Walking through the dining room, our guide pointed out several notable features and items in each room. She finished by pointing out silver tankards made by Paul Revere. Yes, that Paul Revere. The one on his horse doing the midnight ride to warn of redcoats!
Winterthur is huge and deciding where to start might seem confusing. So, I recommend taking the garden tram ride first. You’ll get a good overview of the gardens and some history of the estate before it drops you at Winterthur’s entrance. From there, you can join small group guided tours to see specific rooms and learn about the family. Afterward, stroll through the areas of the garden most of interest to you.
For a more in-depth look at specific aspects of Winterthur, its design, the collections, and the du Pont family, you can also reserve a themed tour.
Interested in learning more about the du Pont family and how they made their fortune?
- Visit Hagley Museum and Library. This 235-acre property includes the du Pont’s first home in America, the first du Pont gunpowder mills, and exhibitions about the many other du Pont materials and products.
5. Stroll through spectacular Longwood Gardens.
Whether you love to garden or not, you’ll marvel at the 1000+ acres of beautiful flowers, plants, trees, and shrubs at Longwood Gardens. In colonial times, a lot of the land was the farm of George Pierce. But, his heirs planted trees which spread out across 15 acres. Years later, when the land was about to be bought and sold for timber, Pierre du Pont purchased the land to save the trees.
What resulted is arguably the most beautiful botanical garden in the country. Admire the formal, elegant flower and green arrangements. Lose track of time in the spectacular conservatory which is draped in floor to ceiling flower displays and overlooking a garden of fountains. Or just wander through the original Peirce’s Woods for some forest bathing as a way to de-stress and clear your mind.
Is your green thumb begging to visit more gardens in the area?
Aside from the gardens at Nemours and Winterthur, take a look at these places to see in Wilmington, Delaware. Both are among the 12 attractions included with the Brandywine Treasure Trail Passport.
- The Rockwood Museum and Garden was built by a Quaker and is reminiscent of an English Country Estate. You can tour the mansion but also enjoy the 72 acres of parkland.
- Plan a visit to the Mt. Cuba Center. It’s a botanical garden with 500 acres of native plant gardens and a mission to support Delaware’s natural plant species.
6. Explore Downtown Wilmington, Delaware.
Downtown Wilmington continues to grow and develop. For visitor’s, Wilmington’s historic Market Street and the recently developed Riverfront walk are the main attractions. The tourism board has a great Market Street walking itinerary to draw your attention to the history along Market Street and the Art Deco architecture.
7. Learn more about our first state, Delaware.
Along Market Street, the Delaware History Museum tells the story of Delaware, from its pre-colonial days when the Lenape lived, hunted, and fished in the area and through the decades as Delaware experienced the Civil War, both World Wars, the industrial period, Civil Rights, and more.
If you grew up and went to school in the U.S, you likely learned about your own state’s history. So, it was nice to connect what I know about New York and Connecticut state history and put it in context with what I learned about Delaware.
8. Walk the Riverfront in downtown Wilmington.
The Riverfront pathway follows the Christina River for just over a mile, with activities, food, and drinks to make everyone happy. I enjoyed a fantastic lunch on the terrace at Bank’s Seafood Kitchen before strolling along the waterfront path.
There was the really fun looking Constitution Yards Beer Garden made from old shipping containers, mini golf, places to buy ice cream cones, and even a AAA minor league baseball stadium. After spending time at some of Wilmington’s cultural attractions like Nemours Mansion, the Wilmington Riverfront is a great place to stretch your legs, grab a bite, and have some fun!
9. Drive the Brandywine Scenic Byway.
Driving along the Brandywine Scenic Byway, it’s easy to see how the area could and did inspire artists. The winding road allows just enough for cars to pass on either side before giving way to towering trees, green as far as the eye can see, and rural landscapes.
To see an even more dramatic landscape change, start from Rodney Square in downtown Wilmington and follow routes 52 and 100 for a 12-mile scenic drive just along (and across) the Pennsylvania border.
Along the way, plan a stop along the Brandywine Wine Trail for a tasting or enjoy a delicious meal on the rooftop deck at Buckley’s Tavern.
10. Spend time at the Brandywine River Museum of Art.
The Wyeth family were just such artists who found peace and inspiration from the natural landscapes of the Brandywine Valley. The Brandywine River Museum of Art has galleries specifically featuring the works of these American artists, Andrew Wyeth and N.C. Wyeth. Along the way, you’ll also discover art by other Wyeth family members and special exhibitions by artists with a connection to the Wyeth’s.
The museum is small and intimate, not at all overwhelming, and set in the very area these artists lived and worked. If you’re someone who appreciates museums with a focus on a particular artist or period and/or loves American art, you’ll not want to miss the Brandywine River Museum of Art. If time allows, the museum also offers tours of N.C. Wyeth’s House and Studio, as well as Andrew Wyeth’s Studio.
Where is Wilmington, Delaware?
Wilmington, Delaware is in a geographic sweet spot, making it easy to reach and include in your travel itinerary. By car, it’s just under 2 1/2 hours to Wilmington from either New York City or Washington, D.C. From Baltimore or Philadephia, it’s just 1 hour 15 minutes and 45 minutes, respectively.
Whether you’re located along the east coast and looking for a getaway or want to plan a longer east coast road trip or travel itinerary, Wilmington, Delaware makes sense logistically, not to mention all the amazing places to visit!
Where to Stay in Wilmington Delaware
I had a great stay at the Sheraton Wilmington South in New Castle. The rooms were spacious and clean. The hotel had a restaurant, an SPG Club lounge, a gym, and an outdoor pool open during the warmer months. It was also so convenient. Whether I wanted to go to downtown Wilmington, the Brandywine Valley or Old New Castle, I was there in minutes.
Remember, Marriott and SPG are now essentially 1 loyalty program. Sheraton hotels are part of this. Members can earn or redeem points for Sheraton stays.
You can also stay in downtown Wilmington, Delaware. Check current prices here.
So, what would you like to see and do in Wilmington, Delaware?
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