You need a place that's close enough to get to easily, but far enough to feel like you're really away. Someplace affordable but packed with options for everyone in the group. Great food? Of course. Beautiful scenery? A given. Maybe an early happy hour? Sold.
Here are 20 experiences you can find in Wilmington & the Brandywine Valley.
Located in the heart of the Mid-Atlantic region, this is an area that celebrates its rich history, bursts with cultural attractions and features several of the most magnificent gardens on the East Coast. The city's first-class dining and craft brewery scene is ever evolving, there's always something surprising on the region's historic stages, and Delaware continues to expand trails for walkers, hikers and bicyclists alike.
It's everything you need to plan the perfect getaway. Hide out for the weekend here, and the outside worlds may never find you again.
Taste Wilmington’s Ever-Growing Food Scene
There’s no denying it – Greater Wilmington’s restaurant scene is getting hotter by the minute. A slew of James Beard nominated chefs have brought their menus to the area, including 2019 “James Beard Best New Restaurant” semi-finalist Bardea Food + Drink. Add in, DE.CO, the Wilmington area’s first food hall, featuring seven ethnically diverse kitchens, a rotating pop-up kitchen and full-service bar, and we’d say the flame just got a little hotter.
Relive a Historical Vote
2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which granted women the right to vote—although many voting struggles persisted for minority groups. The Brandywine River Museum of Art, located just a short drive from Wilmington, Delaware in nearby Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, is celebrating this momentous anniversary with two exciting exhibitions focusing on voting rights in the twentieth century. Although the Nineteenth Amendment granted women the right to vote, it wasn't until decades later that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 finally enabled all citizens to vote regardless of race. See Votes for Women: A Visual History, February 1 – June 7, 2020 and Witness to History: Selma Photography of Stephen Somerstein, February 1 – June 14, 2020.
See a Water and Fire Extravaganza
“Move over, Bellagio!” That’s what the Washington Post said about the Main Fountain Garden at Kennett Square’s Longwood Gardens. You have to see these fountains perform from the Conservatory to fully appreciate the dance of music, water and the occasional fire fountain, but it’s a must to go back for a second show and watch from the fountain terrace to feel the rush as 1,719 jets beneath the ground rocket streams of water 175 feet into the sky. To make your visit truly spectacular, catch one of the many special Fireworks and Fountains shows offered throughout the spring and summer months.
Experience Delaware’s Derby
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library’s Point-to-Point Steeplechase races play many of the same notes as Kentucky’s Derby – the fashions, the traditions, the almost incidental horse racing. But here, your juleps and brunch can be BYO when you purchase a tailgating spot. Enjoy your nosh as you watch the days pageantry, including a historic carriage parade, and the magnificent horses leap toward the finish line.
Visit Six Gardens within 12 Miles
Greater Wilmington & the Brandywine Valley are conveniently located within a region considered to be America’s Garden Capital. A region where you find over 30 public gardens, arboreta, and historic landscape within 30 miles – including six gardens in the Brandywine Valley that are within 12 miles of each other. See what’s in bloom and make plans to visit Brandywine River Museum of Art, Hagley Museum, Longwood Gardens, Mt. Cuba Center, Nemours Estate, and Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library.
Attend a Free Music Festival
Downtown Wilmington’s main street shuts down when music comes to town in the summer. In June, the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival fills Rodney Square with the East Coast’s largest free jazz festival. In July, the Ladybug Music Festival is the nation’s “largest celebration of women in music,” according to Billboard magazine – and also free.
Watch for Birds
When the American Birding Association relocated their national headquarters to Delaware City, Delaware in 2014, they made it clear that they were moving to be in one of American’s richest birding areas. Every year, thousands of rare songbirds, shorebirds and raptors migrate along the eastern seashore of Delaware, stopping along the way at one of the state’s many natural habitats and wildlife areas. From the DuPont Environmental Education Center’s city refuge to Ashland Nature Center’s suburban hideaway, and the coastal waterways and shores of Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island or Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Greater Wilmington offers a birding friendly environment that welcomes all to come watch.
Go with the Flow
Whether you call it a river or a creek, nothing cools down a warm summer day like a trip down the historic Brandywine. Bring your own or rent a canoe, kayak or tube and make your way downstream on this natural lazy river. Local rental companies can drop you off for six- or 12-mile journeys. The quiet Brandywine is only about 3 feet deep most of the year, and trips are friendly for both pets and children as young as 5 years old. Along the way you’ll pass covered bridges, historic mills, and parts of the new First State National Historical Park.
Get a National Park Stamp
Park enthusiast and Junior Rangers can check another state off their lists with a visit to the First State National Historical Park in Delaware, part of the National Park Service. The park encompasses historical sites like the New Castle Court House Museum where the Delaware Assembly first voted for independence), Old Swedes Church (built by Swedish and Finish settlers in 1699, and the oldest church in America still used for worship), and the grounds along Beaver Valley Road (1,100 acres of rolling hills and wooded areas located along the Brandywine River). Three NPS stamps can be collected in all – First State Cancellation Stamp, National Underground Railroad: Network to Freedom Stamp, and First State NHP Centennial Cancellation Stamp.
Take a Historical Hike
Delaware is the only state that lies east of the Mason-Dixon Line. Discover the exact place where that historical line begins on the Tri-State Marker Trail. Take this 3.5-mile loop from the White Clay Creek State Park Nature Center to the Tri-State Marker – the point where Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland connect. About half of the trail is in Delaware. Continue another quarter mile, and you’ll find the Arc Corner Monument marking the place where the Arc of Delaware meets the Mason-Dixon Line – Delaware is the only state to have an arced or curved border.
Explore Greater Wilmington by Bike
Did you know Delaware is ranked the 6th most bicycle friendly state in the Nation, and 2nd on the East Coast? In the Greater Wilmington area alone, you’ll find over 120 miles of paved walking and biking trails – including three major interconnected trails that are part of the East Coast Greenway connecting 15 states, and 450 cities and towns for 3,000 miles from Maine to Florida. For cyclist looking for a serious challenge, register for the annual Delaware Gran Fondo, a scenic multilevel ride that takes riders through the amazing Brandywine Valley countryside with special rider access to the grounds and private roads of 13 world-class cultural attractions.
Delawarean for a Day: Celebrate Separation Day
The past is alive in Historic New Castle, Delaware 365 days a year, but it gets downright boisterous (and maybe a little immodest) on Separation Day held every year in mid-June. Delawareans take to the streets to celebrate 230+ years of “not being Pennsylvania” with a parade, music, fireworks and a BBQ competition.
Drive Four Scenic Byways
Drive along the coast. Drive through the hills. Drive through history. On the scenic byways of Delaware and the Brandywine Valley, a drive can take as little as 15 minutes or as long as a lazy Sunday afternoon. Brandywine Valley National Scenic Byway runs along Route 52 and Route 100 from the urban streets of downtown Wilmington to Delaware’s pastoral northern border. Red Clay Scenic Byway is made up of 28 secondary roads within the Red Clay watershed. Delaware’s Bayshore Byway is two-lane Route 9 that winds its way through the largest coastal preserved marshland in the United States. The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway traverses the State of Delaware and six landmarks that demonstrate the path Harriet and fellow escaping slaves took on their way to freedom in the north.
Press Your Luck at Slots, Table Games
and Thoroughbred Racing
In season, the thoroughbreds race at Delaware Park four days a week. Afleet Alex and Kentucky Derby Winner Barbaro both won their debut races at this storied park. Before every race, you can visit the tree-lined horse paddock and watch from just a few feet away as jockeys mount potential Triple Crown contenders on their way to the track. Inside, the excitement heats up with over 2,300 slot machines, popular table games, year-round simulcast wagering, a 25-table Poker room, and Keno. Plus, Casino at Delaware Park offers full sports betting on all professional and college sports as well as an 18-hole championship public golf course.
See the Minor Side of Major League Sports
Taking the family to a major league sporting event can require a bank loan. So, why not catch some minor league action that’s packed with family fun and won’t hurt your plans for retirement? Greater Wilmington is home to two such teams… located on the Wilmington Riverfront are the Wilmington Blue Rocks, a perennial contender for best Single-A baseball “good time” and farm team of the Kansas City Royals. We highly recommend Cowboy Monkey Rodeo night! Just across the river in the brand new, 2,500 square foot 76ers Fieldhouse you’ll find the Delaware Blue Coats, the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers G-League affiliate. Both venues will get you up close and personal with the action as well as the players.
Sail the Kalmar Nyckel
The original Kalmar Nyckel carried Peter Minuit and 24 other settlers to settle New Sweden (now Wilmington) in 1638. Today, adventurers can still sail the Christina River as those original settlers once did on this faithful re-creation of the original ship when she’s in her home port of Wilmington. Take the kids for a pirate sail or bring a bottle of wine for a peaceful day sail.
See the World’s Second Largest Collection
of Pre- Raphaelite Art
The roots of the Delaware Art Museum trace all the way back to the founding of the Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts in 1912. Its mission, to preserve and exhibit the works of Howard Pyle, the Wilmington, Delaware native, illustrator and teacher. Pyle, who was often referred to as the father of modern illustration, may be best known for his illustrative works such as The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood and King Author as well as his may illustrations and depictions of pirates. But what may be less known about the museum is its collection of Pre-Raphaelites – the largest such collection outside of the United Kingdom. The Pre-Raphaelites rejected the conventions of their time and focused on the past, particularly the Middle Ages. The collection is comprised of paintings, drawings, photographs, decorative arts, and illustrated books.
Blow Off Some Steam
Wilmington & Western Railroad, one of the East Coast’s premier scenic railroads, has taken hundreds of thousands of visitors on steam train trips that travel over tracks dating back to the 1870’s. Take a ride that explores the beauty of the Red Clay Creek Watershed, or hop aboard one of the many themed rides such as the Princess Express, the Great Train Robbery or the Santa Express.
Quench Your Thirst for Craft
Delaware has long been known as a hotbed for craft beer innovation thanks to Dogfish Head Brewing, but the local beer scene goes far beyond that. With. At last count, there were 15 breweries, distilleries and meaderies in northern Delaware an afternoon spent exploring them can start … anywhere you want. Several are within just a few miles of each other. So, wherever you are in your travels, you’re near the start of an afternoon tasting tour of Wilmington and the Brandywine Valley.
Shop till You Drop… Tax-Free
Only five states in the country have no sales tax, and only one of those is in the Mid-Atlantic region. No sales tax means just that – no tax on clothes, no tax on computers and no tax on the dinner and drinks at the end of a long day of shopping. But no tax is just the first reason to spend some time shopping in Delaware. From recently renovated shopping centers to never-renovated antique shops, from mega malls to Main Street boutiques to museum shops, you’ll find just what you’re looking for … and things you never knew you needed.