Plan a weekend trip to Wilmington, a beautiful coastal destination in North Carolina where you can stroll along the Riverwalk, visit great museums, restaurants, hotels, gardens, breakfast spots, wedding venues and historic attractions like the USS North Carolina.
Best things to do in Wilmington, NC with kids include the Wilmington Railroad Museum, the Cape Fear Serpentarium and the Children's Museum of Wilmington. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.
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The Riverwalk is a popular boardwalk in downtown Wilmington that runs along the Cape Fear River waterfront. Originally designed in the 1980s with the purpose of drawing more people to the historic area, the pedestrian pathway will eventually connect the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge to the Isabel Holmes Bridge. The Riverwalk is one of the top Wilmington attractions.
Along the way, visitors are treated to beautiful views and many attractions. Some of the attractions located along Riverwalk include the USS North Carolina, the Cotton Exchange, and the historic 1914 Murchison Building.
In addition to the historic buildings, there are many restaurants and shops including boutique shops and souvenir shops. The Riverwalk is also well known for its weekly Wilmington’s Farmer’s Market.
2.Wilmington’s Historic District
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Wilmington’s Historic District begins at Water and Market Streets and continues for 230 blocks, making it one of the largest historic districts in the United States and one of the best things to do in Wilmington, North Carolina.
It features churches, gardens, homes, museums, shops, restaurants, and much more. Popular transportation methods for touring the moss-draped historic area include horse drawn carriages, riverboats, and trolley cars. There are guided tours as well as self-guided tours of the district that lies along Cape Fear River.
The historic district is home to more than 40 locally owned restaurants; some of these sit at the water’s edge and offer fresh local seafood. There are many music performances in the district, especially in the evening. The Riverwalk winds through the heart of downtown and affords beautiful views of the river.
Water and Market Streets, Wilmington, North Carolina, Phone: 901-341-4030
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3. Bellamy Mansion Museum
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Located in downtown Wilmington, the Bellamy Mansion Museum is one of North Carolina's most extraordinary examples of antebellum architecture and one of the best things to do in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Built for Dr. John Dillard Bellamy and his family, the magnificent 10,000-square-foot mansion features fine examples of Victorian architecture in the elegant main entrance framed by soaring columns and the handcrafted intricate details throughout the house.
The abode is surrounded by a beautifully manicured Victorian garden with winding oyster-shell paths and 150-year-old magnolia trees. Now serving as a museum of history and the design arts, the mansion provides visitors with an opportunity to take a stroll through history on daily guided tours and visit one of the country’s last remaining and perfectly preserved urban slave quarters.
The Museum also offers dynamic educational and cultural programs throughout the year and is open Tuesday through Sunday.
503 Market Street, Wilmington, North Carolina, Phone: 910-251-3700
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4. Airlie Gardens, Wilmington, North Carolina
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Airlie Gardens, a 67-acre public garden, was established in 1901 for the Pembroke Jones family and has been enchanting visitors for the past 100 years.
Originally created as a private and authentic Southern garden that was named after an ancient Airlie Oak, Airlie Gardens represent the vision of landscape architect Rudolf Topel who remodeled the landscape into a spectacular public garden in 1999. If you are wondering what to do in Wilmington NC with kids, this is a great place to visit.
Airlie Gardens feature striking combinations of formal and informal gardens, a world-renowned collection of over 100,000 azaleas and camellias, walking trails with beautiful views of Bradley Creek, historic structures and sculptures, and more than 10 acres of freshwater lakes.
Relax in the Pergola Garden and enjoy continuous year-round blooms in displays around the 468-year-old Airlie Oak. More North Carolina destinations, beaches and lighthouses
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5.New Hanover County Arboretum
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The New Hanover County Arboretum is a seven-acre arboretum located on the grounds of the New Hanover County Cooperative Extension Service.
Established in 1989, the arboretum currently features over 30 gardens consisting of verdant lawns, flowering plants and bushes, and one of the largest water gardens in North Carolina, which is home to hundreds of multi-colored koi and catfish. Among the gardens, visitors will find a herb garden, a rose garden, a bog garden, a children’s garden, an aquatic garden, and a landscaped Japanese garden.
The gardens have more than 4,000 varieties of native and naturalized plants. The arboretum also serves as a horticultural laboratory and education center and provides opportunities for all levels of ability to enjoy gardening. The New Hanover County Arboretum is free of charge.
6206 Oleander Dr, Wilmington, North Carolina, Phone: 910-798-7660
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6.USS North Carolina Battleship
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Work began on the USS North Carolina in 1937. Launched in 1940, the ship was so fast and carried so many powerful guns that the North Carolina was given the nickname of “Showboat.”
The USS North Carolina took part in nearly every major battle in the Pacific Ocean during World War II and won more battle stars than any other battleship in that same time period. The ship was decommissioned in 1947 and arrived in Wilmington in 1961.
It became a National Historic Landmark in 1986. The battleship hosts many programs and events.
One Battleship Road NE, Wilmington, North Carolina, Phone: 910-251-5797
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7. Cape Fear Museum, Wilmington, North Carolina
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Founded in 1898, the Cape Fear Museum is the oldest history museum in the state and is dedicated to collecting, preserving, and interpreting the history, science, and cultures of the Lower Cape Fear.
The museum has a collection of more than fifty-two thousand artifacts collected from regions around the city of Wilmington and displayed in a variety of educational exhibitions and programs.
The Michael Jordan Discovery Gallery on the first floor of the Museum explores the region's ecosystems while the bones of a Giant Ground Sloth and a locally built Simmons Sea-skiff boat are on display in the lobby.
The museum also hosts temporary and traveling exhibits including Make it Work, a presentation of simple machines and maritime work. The Cape Fear Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday.
814 Market St, Wilmington, North Carolina, Phone: 910-798-4370
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8. Things to Do in Wilmington: Cameron Art Museum
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Established in 1964, the Cameron Art Museum is located in historic downtown Wilmington and presents a permanent collection of works by international and local artists across a range of disciplines. It also features several rotating exhibitions of contemporary historical significance on an annual basis.
The museum is set on the historic site of the pivotal Civil War Battle of Forks Road and is surrounded by Confederate revetments built during the battle that saw the fall of Fort Fisher and marked the beginning of the end for the Confederacy.
Every year the museum commemorates the lives lost during this fight with a re-enactment of the battle, artillery demonstrations, workshops, and lectures.
The museum also offers a range of educational art programs and classes for adults and youth, including educator-guided access to the museum’s exhibitions and non-circulating art library that houses over 2000 monographs and publications.
3201 South 17th Street, Wilmington, North Carolina, Phone: 910-395-5999
9. Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens
© Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens
The Burgwin-Wright House is a spectacular example of Georgian architecture, and it open to the public as a museum house. Built circa 1770, the house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has several distinct features, including rooms furnished with antiques from the 18th and 19th century and an array of rare objects that enhance the unique experience for visitors.
The house is surrounded by magnificent gardens that offer visitors a tranquil oasis in the heart of the city, complete with orchards of figs and pomegranates, a manicured rose garden, and a fragrant kitchen garden full of herbs. The property also boasts a stand-alone kitchen house with an immense hearth and period cooking utensils, which can be explored on self-guided or docent-led tours. The Burgwin-Wright House is also available for private events and portrait photography.
224 Market Street, Wilmington, North Carolina, Phone: 910-762-0570
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10.Masonboro Island Reserve
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Masonboro Island is an 8.4-mile long barrier island situated five miles southeast of Wilmington with a rich estuarine system and diverse range of natural habitats.
The island is the largest undisturbed barrier island along the southern part of the North Carolina coast and is home to an array of different ecosystems, from salt marshes and maritime forests to tidal flats, ocean beaches, and rolling grasslands, which in turn attract a plethora of birds and wildlife.
The pristine beaches serve as nesting sites for loggerhead and green sea turtles, while the nutrient-rich waters of Masonboro Sound are a vital marine nursery area for a variety of fish, including mullet, pompano, summer flounder, and bluefish. Masonboro Island can only be reached by boat, and it has a network of walking trails that allow visitors to explore the island. Primitive camping is also allowed on the island for a maximum of two days.
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11. Wilmington Railroad Museum, Wilmington, North Carolina
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The Wilmington Railroad Museum is dedicated to presenting and preserving the history of railroading in the Southeastern United States with a particular focus on the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, and it provides an educational and enjoyable experience for everyone.
Established in 1979, the museum features a variety of informative and interactive exhibits for all ages, from a life-size caboose, boxcar, and a century-old steam locomotive to operating scale model trains and a Thomas the Tank Train play area for children.
The museum hosts several family-friendly events throughout the year, including Red Caboose parties and the arrival of the Polar Express, and offers guided group tours of up to 10 people.
505 Nutt Street, Wilmington, NC, Phone: 910-763-2634
12. Things to Do in Wilmington, NC: Poplar Grove Plantation
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Poplar Grove Plantation is one of the oldest peanut plantations in the state of North Carolina and has been open to the public as a museum since 1980.
Built by Joseph Mumford Foy in the 1850s, the plantation is located on Topsail Sound Plank Road in Scotts Hill and is dedicated to preserving and conserving the homestead of a successful farming family and showcasing the workings of a typical 19th century working community.
The current Manor House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is surrounded by 835 acres of landscaped gardens, both of which can be explored on guided tours through the property.
Poplar Grove Plantation is also home to a farmers market and an animal sanctuary, and it plays host to several festivals throughout the year.
10200 US-17, Wilmington, NC, Phone: 910-686-9518
13.Children's Museum of Wilmington
© Children's Museum of Wilmington
The Children's Museum of Wilmington celebrates the joys of childhood by creating magical and playful experiences that stimulate the imagination, curiosity, and a love of learning. Located on Orange Street in historic downtown Wilmington, the museum features playful, hands-on exhibits and child-directed displays that encourage children to explore and learn more about science, art, and culture. If you are looking for fun things to do in Wilmington, North Carolina with kids, this is a great place to visit.
Interactive exhibits include the Toothasaurus Dental Exhibit where children can familiarize themselves with a dental environment; Magnetic Minds Science Research Center, which allows children to take part in facilitated science projects; and Ports of Call, which introduces and explains the ports of North Carolina to children.
16 Orange Street, Wilmington, NC, Phone: 910-254-3534
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14.Latimer House, Wilmington, NC
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Located on South Third Street, the Latimer House is a historic house museum and home of the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society. Built in 1852 in the Italianate style by local merchant Zebulon Latimer, the four-story house contains 14 rooms and is perfectly symmetrical.
In 1963, the Historical Society acquired the house, which then began operating as a museum. Inside the house there are more than 600 historic items such as jewelry, pieces of furniture, and much more. Some of the rooms even feature original marble fireplaces and stunning chandeliers.
Outside, visitors can admire the beautiful formal gardens. Trained docents lead guided tours throughout the establishment, and the house hosts many events.
126 South Third Street, Wilmington, NC, Phone: 910-762-0492
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Halyburton Park is a nature reserve that features a community building, playground areas, picnic shelters, and a 1.3-mile trail used by bicyclists and walkers.
The park offers a wide variety of nature programs for all age groups: Little Explorers is for children aged two to five; Eco Explorers is for two age groups, five to seven and eight to ten; and a number of family programs.
The park also offers group programs like school field trips. The Halyburton Events Center is a community events building where yoga and Pilates classes are held; the building can accommodate groups for birthday parties, business meetings, and weddings.
4099 South 17th Street, Wilmington, NC, Phone: 910-341-0075
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Legion Stadium is a 6,000-seat stadium with 3,500 seats in the grandstand and 2,500 visitor seats. Built in 1930, it underwent several renovations, the most recent refurbishing taking place in 2011. It is the home of the Wilmington Hammerheads, who belong to the United Soccer League.
Other facilities of the stadium include concessions in the grandstand, a beer garden, a merchandise booth, a press box with public address, a VIP Tent, and home and visitor field houses. The main field is covered in Vamont Bermuda, a type of artificial turf, and there are four acres of paved parking for visitors.
102 North Third Street, Wilmington, NC, Phone: 910-341-4604
17.Tregembo Animal Park, Wilmington, North Carolina
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Closed for the season, this attraction will reopen in 2016.
Tregembo Animal Park is a family-run zoo located on Carolina Beach Road in Wilmington. Opened in 1952 by George and June Tregembo, the zoo began with just a few species but grew tremendously over the years. Today it is home to more than 100 species of animals from all over the world.
In business for more than 60 years, Tregembo Animal Park is the oldest zoo in South Eastern North Carolina, and animals that live there include amphibians, birds, insects, mammals, and reptiles.
Some of the popular mammals are bears, giraffes, lions, monkeys, sloths, tigers, and zebras. The zoo’s mini museum displays ancient artifacts, dinosaur bones, fossils, and other compelling items.
5811 Carolina Beach Road, Wilmington, NC, Phone: 910-392-3604
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18.River to Sea Gallery
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Located on South Water Street in historic downtown Wilmington, River to Sea Gallery is an art gallery that features works of art by local artists. Originally established in 2009 at Chandler’s Wharf, the art gallery moved to its current location on Cape Fear Riverwalk in 2015.
The gallery contains hand made pieces of art made by more than 50 local and regional artists. The owners offer custom framing in addition to the impressive gallery of artwork.
Some of the items in the extensive collection include candles, glass, greeting cards, jewelry, mixed media, paintings, photographic works, pottery, soaps, and much more, all hand made.
224 South Water Street, Wilmington, NC, Phone: 910-763-3380
19.Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts, Wilmington, North Carolina
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The Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts is one of the most important and oldest theaters in the United States. Opened in 1858, it is an old-world arts venue that features two stages for dance and music performance, films, and theater productions. If you are looking for date ideas in Wilmington, watch a performance at at this unique venue.
The center is operated by the Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts, which maintains the interior of the building and supervises its use. The center produces hundreds of events every year including ballet performances, concerts, film festivals, lectures, recitals, and more.
It is home to many performing companies such as Cape Fear Theatre Arts, Opera House Theatre, Thalian Association, and Willis Richardson Players.
310 Chestnut Street, Wilmington, NC, Phone: 910-632-2285
20. Sea Turtle Camp
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Sea Turtle Camp is a marine biology summer camp for all ages that allows visitors to enter the world of the sea turtle and help make a difference in the environment.
This life-enriching program offers a variety of exciting hands-on, get-your-feet-wet educational experiences from teen summer camps to adult retreats in beautiful places like southeastern North Carolina, tropical Costa Rica, and picturesque Hawaii.
Programs include patrolling Caribbean beaches for nesting leatherback and green sea turtles, volunteering at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, scuba diving North Carolina’s shipwrecks, and helping with ongoing Hawaiian sea turtle research.
This multi-dimensional marine biology program aims to give every participant a life-changing experience.
7213 Ogden Business Lane, Suite 214, Wilmington, NC, Phone: 910-686-4611
More weekend and day trips: Best Family Vacation Ideas in North Carolina and Romantic Weekend Getaways in North Carolina.
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22 Best Things to Do in Wilmington, North Carolina
- Riverwalk, Photo: Courtesy of spiritofamerica - Fotolia.com
- Wilmington’s Historic District , Photo: Courtesy of Zack Frank - Fotolia.com
- Bellamy Mansion Museum, Photo: Bellamy Mansion Museum
- Airlie Gardens, Wilmington, North Carolina, Photo: Courtesy of Mr Twister - Fotolia.com
- New Hanover County Arboretum, Photo: Courtesy of Steven - Fotolia.com
- USS North Carolina Battleship, Photo: Courtesy of ncdiver68 - Fotolia.com
- Cape Fear Museum, Wilmington, North Carolina, Photo: Cape Fear Museum
- Things to Do in Wilmington: Cameron Art Museum, Photo: Cameron Art Museum
- Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens, Photo: Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens
- Masonboro Island Reserve, Photo: Courtesy of mangpor2004 - Fotolia.com
- Wilmington Railroad Museum, Wilmington, North Carolina, Photo: Courtesy of Dezay - Fotolia.com
- Things to Do in Wilmington, NC: Poplar Grove Plantation, Photo: Courtesy of russieseo - Fotolia.com
- Children's Museum of Wilmington, Photo: Children's Museum of Wilmington
- Latimer House, Wilmington, NC, Photo: Latimer House
- Halyburton Park, Photo: Courtesy of doris oberfrank-list- Fotolia.com
- Legion Stadium, Photo: Courtesy of BillionPhotos.com - Fotolia.com
- Tregembo Animal Park, Wilmington, North Carolina, Photo: Courtesy of freistilchaot- Fotolia.com
- River to Sea Gallery, Photo: River to Sea Gallery
- Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts, Wilmington, North Carolina, Photo: Courtesy of matteozin - Fotolia.com
- Sea Turtle Camp, Photo: Courtesy of BlueOrange Studio - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of tony740607 - Fotolia.com
Attraction Spotlight: Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens in Wilmington
The Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens in Wilmington, North Carolina, is part of the National Historic District and one of three homes that has survived the colonial era. Operated as a museum house, The Burgwin-Wright home is the only one of these three residences that is open to the public. The Burgwin-Wright home was built in 1770 and is one of the oldest homes in North Carolina. The original owner was John Burgwin, a wealthy plantation owner and merchant from England.
The architecture is Georgian and features three stories with multiple shaded porches, pillar columns, and immaculate gardens at the back of the property surrounded by a wrought iron fence.
Shortly after construction was completed, the revolutionary War lead to the home being occupied by Lord Cornwallis in 1781. Over the next two hundred years, the home would change hands several times and be purchased by many several wealthy and notable Wilmington families including Burgwin’s business partner Charles Jewke, and Charles’ wife Anne Grainger Wright.
In the 1930’s The National Society of Colonial Dames of North Carolina purchased the home and used it as their headquarters. The society had a mission of preserving the historic homes and landmarks in North Carolina and the Burgwin-Wright Home was the prime location, on Market Street in Downtown Wilmington.
The NSCDA-NC opened the home to the public as a museum in 1951 and have completed numerous renovations to keep the property preserved and also landscaped the gardens that border Market Street behind and surrounding the property.
The attraction at the Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens is the Property itself. Visitors are transported back to colonial times when touring the home. Bedrooms are still adorned with ornate fireplaces for heating, every room is furnished with antiques from the 18th and early 19th century that came from North Carolina. The site was also once the home of the town’s city jail and many supernatural enthusiasts have deemed the property as being haunted!
Outside of the home, visitors will find a cookhouse that was used for preparing meals. Traditionally, all meals were cooked by slaves outside of the home so that the heat and smells would not permeate through the house. Residents of the home and guests would then be served in the formal dining room which visitors can see set up as though dinner were about to be had.
The gardens are divided into both useful and ornate styles with a herb and vegetable garden being near the cookhouse. Visitors can also take a leisurely self-guided stroll through the orchards where a variety of fruit trees including fig and pomegranates grow as well as a two-terraced garden featuring Italian Cypress, Ferns, and hyacinths. There is also an aromatic rose garden with dozens of rare heirloom roses, live oaks, Spanish moss, and many other plants native to the area and abundant during Colonia and pre-industrialized times. Another unique garden is the Physic garden where medicinal herbs are grown that were used in holistic remedies during the 18th and 19th centuries. The gardens are open to the public and free of charge.
The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, February through December (last updated March 2017) and guided tours are available hourly. There is an admission charge for tours of the home. Docents of the museum will provide historical information while dressed in period costumes and educate visitors on the history of the home, the NSCDA-NC and the lore surrounding the home.
There are many special events that are held at the Burgwin-Wright home and Gardens that are open to the community and public throughout the year. More information about these events can be accessed through the events calendar. Past events have included local author book signing and presentations, history lectures and presentations, Founder’s Days Celebrations, open hearth cooking demonstrations and many other educational panels and symposiums.
Private events can also be held on the property in the gardens and courtyards. Weddings and portrait photography sessions are very popular and there are 7 different areas on 4 levels to ensure privacy and intimacy for your special events. Outdoor lighting can be arranged as well as use of the catering kitchen and restrooms however the interior of the home and museum will not be accessible.
There is also a special room available for meeting and small parties. The Florence Kidder Room is equipped with a projector and screen and is where many of the special events and educational seminars at the museum take place.
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224 Market Street, Wilmington, North Carolina, 28401, Phone: 910-762-4523
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