Whether you like nature, history, or art, Delaware is a great place to visit if you're on a budget. The state is criss crossed with scenic byways that pass by historic sites and picturesque lookouts, and most of them also provide access to some excellent hiking trails for when you need to get out of the car and stretch your legs. Seven more historic sites can be found in the First State National Historical Park, but if you're more interested in modern times, you can admire the artwork at the Delaware Contemporary art museum or take a complimentary tour of the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery.
1.Air Mobility Command Museum
© Air Mobility Command Museum
Housed inside a restored airplane hangar from World War II, the Air Mobility Command Museum is dedicated to preserving and sharing the history of airlift and air refueling. The collection boasts more than 30 different aircraft, including a presidential plane, fighter jets, and helicopters, and there's also a flight simulator where visitors can experience what it's like to pilot a plane. Guided tours take visitors through some of the aircraft and provide plenty of information about the history, and during the summer, the museum hosts Open Cockpit days where even more of the planes are open to the public.
1301 Heritage Rd, Dover AFB, DE 19902, Phone: 302-677-5938
2.Ashland Nature Center
© Delaware Nature Society
Located right off the Red Clay Valley Scenic Byway, the Ashland Nature Center is a beautiful 130-acre property that serves as the headquarters for the Delaware Nature Society. The landscape is made up of meadows, forests, and marshland, and visitors are welcome to explore the pet-friendly interpretive trails year-round. The land is also home to a diverse variety of plants and animals, making it particularly popular with people who want to birdwatch and nature watch, and there's a seasonal butterfly house and hummingbird garden. Visitors are also welcome to participate in the guided hawk watching events that take place in September and October.
3511 Barley Mill Rd, Hockessin, DE 19707-9393, Phone: 302-239-2334
3.Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge
Established in 1937 to serve as a safe nesting place for migrating waterfowl, the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge is a wonderful place to birdwatch. More than 300 different species of birds have been spotted here, and if you're lucky, you might also see deer, red foxes, and other animals. Most visitors choose to drive along the 12-mile gravel road that winds through the refuge, but there are also five walking trails you can explore, two of which are handicap accessible. If you want to get a view from above, there are also three observations towers that offer wonderful views of the landscape and wildlife.
2591 Whitehall Neck Rd, Smyrna, DE 19977, Phone: 302-653-9345
4.Brandywine Valley National Scenic Byway
Stretching from Wilmington's Rodney Square to the Delaware-Pennsylvania State Line, the Brandywine Valley National Scenic Byway is an excellent way to explore the beautiful Delaware countryside while learning about the area's history. There are several historic buildings to be seen in Rodney Square itself, and once you leave Wilmington, you can stop at a number of different museums, landscaped gardens, and well-preserved country estates filled with antique furnishings and beautiful artwork. The road is just over 12 miles in length, but if you plan to make any stops, the trip typically takes around one hour.
5.Delaware State House Museum
Constructed in 1791, the Delaware State House Museum served as the state capitol until 1933, and it's now an educational museum that offers an interesting look at life during colonial times. The building was originally constructed in a Middle Georgian style, and although it was remodeled in 1873 to have a Victorian style, it was restored to its original appearance in the 1970s. Guided tours are offered seven days a week, but larger groups are asked to call in advance to make sure they can be accommodated. Admission is free of charge, although donations are always appreciated.
25 The Green, Dover, DE 19901, Phone: 302-744-5054
6.Delaware State Police Museum
© Delaware State Police Museum
The Delaware State Police Force has been protecting the citizens of Delaware since 1923, and at the Delaware State Police Museum, visitors can learn all about the history and heritage of the police force as well as about the role of law enforcement in society. The exhibits cover topics like law enforcement methods and road safety efforts, and some feature interactive elements like a 911 command console and a police car with sirens and lights you can activate. The museum is open Monday through Friday and on the third Saturday of every month, and admission is free.
1425 N Dupont Hwy, Dover, DE 19901, Phone: 302-739-7700
7.Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
© Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Based out of Milton, the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery has been producing high-quality craft beer since 1995, and in addition to its brewery, it operates two other Delaware locations where visitors can enjoy delicious beverages and some food. Both locations have an excellent selection of beers on tap, and they often host live music, community dinners, and other special events. If you're interested in learning about how the beers are made, you can stop by the brewery itself for a short complimentary tour. All three locations can also be booked for private events with catering and bar services provided.
6 Cannery Village Center, Milton, DE 19968, Phone: 302-684-1000
8.DuPont Environmental Education Center
Set on the banks of the Christina River, the DuPont Environmental Education Center is part of the Russell W. Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge, and it's the perfect place to enjoy nature without having to leave the city. The 212-acre property is home to a wide variety of animals, including otters, beavers, and turtles, and it's also a great place to spot migrating birds. The Visitor's Center offers informative exhibits and panoramic views of the river and the surrounding marshland, and there's a good selection of walking trails to choose from, ranging from a quarter-mile boardwalk to a 7-mile trail to New Castle.
1400 Delmarva Ln, Wilmington, DE 19801, Phone: 302-656-1490
9.First State National Historical Park
Encompassing seven different sites across Delaware, the First State National Historical Park tells the story of the significant role Delaware played in the founding of the United States. Anyone interested in history should take a tour of Fort Christina, the Old Swedes Church, or the New Castle Court House, while nature lovers can go for a walk or a canoe ride in the beautiful Beaver Valley. Other highlights include historic houses and plantations. The sites can be visited in any order, and although there's no central Visitor's Center, each site has its own welcome center.
211 Delaware St, New Castle, DE 19720, Phone: 302-544-6363
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10.Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway
© Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway
The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway starts in Maryland and ends in Pennsylvania, passing through Delaware on the way, where it provides access to 13 significant Underground Railroad sites. All of the stops along the route are signposted, but you can also download a driving tour guide online if you want more information about how to find the stops and what they are. It takes approximately three hours to drive the 95-mile portion of the route that's in Delaware, but if you want to see all the sights along the way, you'll need at least two days.
11.Johnson Victrola Museum
© Johnson Victrola Museum
Named in honor of the businessman and inventor Eldridge Reeves Johnson, the Johnson Victrola Museum provides a comprehensive introduction to the history of the sound recording industry. The exhibits are full of photos and objects detailing the life of Johnson, the history of the Victor Talking Machine Company, and the evolution of recorded sound, and there's even a Grammy award that Johnson received in 1985. There's also a collection of old record players on display, and the staff are happy to play a song or two upon request. The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday, and tours are available by donation.
375 S New St, Dover, DE 19901, Phone: 302-739-3262
12.Nanticoke Heritage Byway
© Nanticoke Heritage Byway
Formerly known as the Western Sussex Byway, the Nanticoke Heritage Byway is a 40-mile driving route that winds through the rural landscape of Delaware's Sussex County. The stops along the way include small towns, old churches, and historic houses, and there are plenty of beautiful hiking trails as well. Another highlight of the drive is the picturesque Nanticoke River, which can only be crossed by taking the historic Woodland Ferry. The drive itself takes less than an hour, but you can easily make it last a day or two if you stop to enjoy the many sights along the way.
13.New Castle Courthouse Museum
© New Castle Courthouse Museum
One of the most popular sites in the First State National Historical Park, the New Castle Courthouse Museum was where Delaware State declared its independence in 1776. It was built in 1732, making it one of the oldest courthouses in the country, and it also happens to be the first courthouse and state capitol in Delaware. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1972, and tours are available Tuesday through Saturday and on Sunday afternoons. Admission is free of charge, and visitors are also welcome to enjoy a leisurely picnic on The Green outside the museum.
211 Delaware St, New Castle, DE 19720, Phone: 302-323-4453
14.Red Clay Scenic Byway
Consisting of 28 beautiful backroads in New Castle County, the Red Clay Scenic Byway is a unique driving route that boasts gorgeous scenery and two of the only remaining 19th-century covered bridges in the state. There are plenty of fascinating places to stop as well, including the Garrett Snuff Mill, the Auburn Heights Preserve, and the botanical gardens at the Mt. Cuba Center. The Wilmington and Western Railroad offers exciting train tours along a 10-mile heritage track, and if you get hungry or want to do some shopping, you can also stop in the historic town of Hockessin.
1003 Old Wilmington Rd, Hockessin, DE 19707, Phone: 302-234-0727
15.The Delaware Contemporary
© The Delaware Contemporary
Founded by a group of artists and art lovers, the Delaware Contemporary is the only contemporary art museum in the state, and it proudly displays works by local, national, and international artists. The pieces are spread out over 7 galleries and 24 exhibitions, and most of the pieces on display are available for purchase. On the first Friday of every month, the museum hosts an Art Loop event with exhibition openings, food trucks, and a cash bar. Admission to the museum is free as well, and for an additional fee, you can take a guided tour or participate in an interactive art workshop.
200 S Madison St, Wilmington, DE 19801, Phone: 302-656-6466
16.The Wilmington Public Library
© The Wilmington Public Library
Located in the beautiful Rodney Square, the Wilmington Public Library is a great place to relax with a good book or get some work done. All visitors are welcome to read the books and magazines while in the library, and if you have a Delaware library card, you can also check out books to take home or log on to the complimentary Wi-Fi. Adult workshops and classes are held almost every day of the week, and if you have kids, you can also register for the free story time sessions that are held once or twice a week.
10 E 10th St, Wilmington, DE 19801, Phone: 302-571-7400
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16 Best Free Things to Do in Delaware
- Air Mobility Command Museum, Photo: Air Mobility Command Museum
- Ashland Nature Center, Photo: Delaware Nature Society
- Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Photo: Vadim/stock.adobe.com
- Brandywine Valley National Scenic Byway, Photo: photopixel/stock.adobe.com
- Delaware State House Museum, Photo: pabrady63/stock.adobe.com
- Delaware State Police Museum, Photo: Delaware State Police Museum
- Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Photo: Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
- DuPont Environmental Education Center, Photo: smhutchins/stock.adobe.com
- First State National Historical Park, Photo: Rosemarie/stock.adobe.com
- Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, Photo: Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway
- Johnson Victrola Museum, Photo: Johnson Victrola Museum
- Nanticoke Heritage Byway, Photo: Nanticoke Heritage Byway
- New Castle Courthouse Museum, Photo: New Castle Courthouse Museum
- Red Clay Scenic Byway, Photo: robertuzhbt89/stock.adobe.com
- The Delaware Contemporary, Photo: The Delaware Contemporary
- The Wilmington Public Library, Photo: The Wilmington Public Library
- Cover Photo: jonbilous/stock.adobe.com