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With grand mansions, meandering gardens, historical sites, and more, there are lots of fun things to do in Wilmington, Delaware. Just 45 minutes from Philadelphia, this gem offers lots of chances to get outside and explore nature, history, and stories going back to the founding of the US and beyond. The largest city in Delaware, Wilmington is packed with fun attractions, interesting museums, and a beautiful riverfront. Here’s a look at some of our favorites.
Visit the Delaware Art Museum
For over a century, the Delaware Art Museum has been one of the foremost art collections in the state with over 12,000 pieces in its archives. The museum is best known for several things, including its large collection of British Pre-Raphaelite art, its works by illustrator and Wilmington native Howard Pyle, and its over 2000 paintings and etchings by John Sloan that depict urban life in the early 1900s.
A highlight of a visit to the museum is its Copeland Sculpture Garden. With 20 works of steel, bronze, and slate, there is lots to see–from the iconic Crying Giant by Tom Otterness to more abstract works that are moved by the wind. It’s a fun place to explore and is free to visit.
Tour Old Swedes Historic Site
One of the oldest churches in the country and a top historical attraction in Wilmington, Old Swedes (Holy Trinity Church) was consecrated in 1699 by a congregation formerly of the colony of New Sweden. The site is a popular place to learn about the earliest settlers of Delaware and is now part of First State National Historical Park, one of the state’s national park sites.
Wandering the church’s burial ground, it’s fascinating to see the graves of local and national politicians as well as Revolutionary War and Civil War veterans.
Tours of Old Swedes include the historic church building, the Hendrickson House (a Colonial Swedish farmhouse from c. 1722), and the burial ground and are available Thursday through Saturday.
See a show at Grand Opera House
The Grand Opera House is one of the best places in Wilmington to see a show. And, despite what the name may seem to indicate, there’s way more to see in this magnificent building than just opera.
Built in 1871, the Grand Opera House (or, simply, The Grand), hosts about 100 performances a year, ranging from symphonies and (yes) opera to contemporary music and comedians. If you have the chance to see a show here, take the opportunity to admire its cast iron architecture and the painting on the theater ceiling.
Explore Winterthur Museum and Garden
The former home of Henry Francis du Pont, the Winterthur estate offers gorgeous gardens and an historic mansion that’s now a museum and library. With 60 acres of gardens to explore and a house with 175 artifact-packed rooms, a visit to Winterthur is one of the most fun things to do in Wilmington.
When the gardens are in bloom (and something is blooming in every season), Winterthur is a plant lover’s wonderland. The azalea garden, the peony garden, and the unique quarry garden are all awash in color if you visit in the late springtime. The Enchanted Woods with its Faerie Cottage and troll bridge is also a fun area to visit, especially for Winterthur’s smaller guests.
In the house/museum is the largest collection of decorative arts in America. There are nearly 90,000 objects, including furniture, ceramics, textiles, and paintings to peruse and learn about. Visitors will find hand-painted Chinese wallpaper, important paintings of the Founding Fathers, and interesting objects such as a set of metal tankards made by Paul Revere. Objects in the collection go back as far as the 1640s.
Ride the Wilmington and Western Railroad
The Wilmington and Western Railroad is a joy to experience in the spring, summer, and fall months. Nearly every weekend, the trains take passengers on trips across the greater Wilmington area, whether it’s a journey to the Mt. Cuba picnic grove or a trip to see the fall leaves along the route to Hockessin. Along the way, visitors can travel on the heritage tracks and learn about the railroad’s history and contributions to the economy as they pass through the scenic Red Clay Creek Valley.
Visit Historic New Castle
Just six miles south of Wilmington, New Castle is a historic town filled with colonial buildings from the 1700s. Many of its sites are designated as National Historic Landmarks, including the Amstel House and the Old Court House where assembly members voted to break away from England in June 1776.
Visitors can see the Federalist-style Read House & Gardens, which has been restored to its early 1800s appearance, and have lunch at Jessop’s Tavern, which features Colonial-style food and Belgian specialties set in a building from 1724. There’s lots to see in this unique Delaware town.
Explore Nemours Estate
Constructed in 1909, Nemours Estate is a grand 77-room mansion that Alfred I. duPont had built for his second wife Alicia. The home is lavishly furnished, and exploring its dining room, library, and kitchens feels a lot like walking through a European palace. In fact, visitors will see portraits of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI as well as a chandelier believed to be from Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna.
As magnificent as the mansion is, the 200 acres of formal French gardens are my favorite part of visiting Nemours. Manicured gardens and more rustic trails spread out in all directions from the mansion. The most amazing view is just below the house at the end of the “Long Walk,” a large grassy path lined with trees and sculptures. There, the incredible Reflecting Pool, which is so large that it was once used for boating, is capped off by a fountain that sends water 12 feet into the air.
See the Hagley Museum and Library
The du Pont name is everywhere in Delaware, but the Hagley Museum and Library is where this illustrious family’s story began. In 1802,E. I. du Pont founded the gunpowder works here that began his family’s legacy.
Today, the 235-acre site alongside the Brandywine Creek includes the powder yards, workers’ community, a machine shop, and the du Pont family mansion and Renaissance-revival gardens. The museum and library focus on the Industrial Revolution in Delaware and the du Pont’s role in the changes that shaped the economy.
Experience the Delaware Children’s Museum
From managing money to space and how the heart works, the Delaware Children’s Museum offers hands-on exhibits to engage kids and adults. Exhibits and activity centers focus on subject matter like history, technology, engineering, and animals, which guests can interact with the in 37000-square-foot space. There are often traveling exhibits and seasonal activities, so there’s always something new to experience at the museum.
Walk among native plants at Mt. Cuba Center
Mt. Cuba Center is one of our favorite places near Wilmington. Filled with thousands of species of native plants, the preserve includes landscaped gardens, a trial garden, and lots of nature trails that showcase the best of the plants of the Mid-Atlantic.
This is the perfect place to come if you love wildflowers. A visit in late spring and summer is filled with the colors and scents of lilacs, rhododendrons, and myriad other blooming plants. You can take a walk by the pond, wander the dogwood path, or see what’s blooming near the fountains. Take advantage of the special events like yoga in the gardens, watercolor painting, and Picnic Nights. The gardens are open April through November, and there’s something beautiful to see in every season.
Visit the Wilmington Riverfront
Stretching for a mile along the Christina River, the Wilmington Riverfront pathway connects restaurants, shops, museums, and other attractions. Stroll the walkway to visit Constitution Yards beer garden, the Tubman Garrett Riverfront Park that honors Harriet Tubman and Underground Railroad stationmaster Thomas Garrett, or just to take in views of the peaceful river.
Get outside at Brandywine Creek State Park
At 1000 acres, Brandywine Creek State Park provides endless opportunities for recreation. There are four nature preserves, 14 miles of trails, and meadowlands that provide habitats for pollinators and nesting birds. It’s a favorite of runners, fishermen, and kayakers and is a great place for bird watching.
Wander through Longwood Gardens
Longwood Gardens is one of the stars of the Brandywine Valley. Even if you think you’re not into gardens, Longwood is likely to win you over.
Set on the former estate of Pierre S. du Pont, the 1000+ acres are planted in manicured gardens, woodland settings, and creations in the Conservatory that will leave you wondering how the horticulturists can sculpt plants into works of art. Each season brings new colors, scents, and celebrations in the gardens. Whether you love the spring cherry blossoms, summer wildflowers, or the brilliant lights and decorations that adorn Longwood at Christmas, there’s always something beautiful to see.
During most of the year, two fountain areas complement the beauty of the plants around Longwood. The Open Air Theatre Fountains have entertained visitors for over a century with 750 jets that move in time to musical accompaniment. Nearby, shows in the Main Fountain Garden will stop you in your tracks as over 1700 jets move and dance in at least four performances a day.