As Delaware’s largest city, Wilmington has no shortage of things to do. Visitors can entertain themselves in the sprawling gardens of the Nemours Estate or immerse themselves in the fascinating stories of Hagley Museum. For our list of the best things to do in Wilmington itself, click here.
However, one of the perks of staying in Wilmington is its proximity to some of the most incredible parks, towns, and estates of the Eastern seaboard. It is a two hour drive to New York City and a thirty-minute drive to Philadelphia, making it extremely centrally placed. Within driving distance from Wilmington are everything from Winterthur, the impressive Du Pont home, to Fort Miles, a World War II-era military installation.
The following 15 locations, arranged by driving distance, are all within a few hours’ drive from Wilmington, Delaware, making them the perfect destinations for day trips, or even a weekend excursion.
Known as the Tall Ship of Delaware, Kalmar Nyckel was a Swedish ship launched in 1625. Unfortunately, the original no longer exists, but Wilmington’s replica Kalmar Nyckel was launched in 1997. The ship sailed from Gothenburg to North America from 1637-1638; the sailors later built a fort at the site that would become Wilmington. Nowadays, the ship serves as a symbol of Delaware’s identity as the First State. Visitors can sail on the replica ship or learn from the maritime exhibits at the nearby Copeland Maritime Center.
The Kalmar Nyckel barely qualifies as a day trip, being about five minutes from downtown Wilmington, but the day cruises will take you down the Christina River or to various East Coast ports.
An enchanting fairytale village, Arden is an art colony and small town in Delaware. It was founded in 1900 as a single-tax community, meaning its entire revenue came from the land. Arden was home to Upton Sinclair, the novelist, as well as President Joe Biden for part of his childhood. It is one of the most unique destinations on this list.
Arden is definitely worth a visit for its unique governance and creative vibe. Another super quick day trip, it is only about 10 minutes from Wilmington.
A museum, garden, and library, Winterthur has one of the country’s most wide-ranging collections of Americana. The estate once belonged to Henry Francis du Pont, a member of the prominent Delaware family. Du Pont established the museum at Winterthur in 1951, and collected up to 70,000 decorative objects, furniture pieces, artwork, and more. The library is home to over 87,000 rare books, and over 800,000 books and images total.
Winterthur is an incredible collection of American history and culture, and will definitely make for a fascinating day. Luckily, the estate is less than a 15 minute drive from Wilmington.
Mount Cuba Center
With its spectacular collection of wildflowers, Mount Cuba Center is one of the best botanical gardens in the mid-Atlantic region. Located in Hockessin, its floral collection focuses mainly on the plants of eastern North America, arranged in areas from planned terraces and allées to meadows and pond gardens. The Center used to be the family home of Lammot du Pont Copeland, a member of one of Delaware’s most prominent families.
Since its opening in 2013, Mount Cuba Center’s gardens have delighted locals and tourists alike. Only a 20 minute drive from Wilmington, it is definitely worth a visit.
This charming town is located in Chester County. Interestingly, it is known as the mushroom capital of the world – it alone produces half of the American mushroom crop each year. Like much of the county, it played a role in American history, as an encampment during the War of 1812 and a stop on the Underground Railroad. During a visit to Kennett Square, you can explore nearby mushroom farms, learn about the town’s rich heritage, or visit its lush parks.
Kennett Square is only a 22 minute drive from Wilmington, so be sure to stop by, especially if you are a lover of mushrooms.
White Clay Creek State Park
With 37 miles of trails and over 3,600 acres of land, White Clay Creek State Park is a natural treasure; it is also home to quite a few historic structures. Additionally, the park’s waterways are the most heavily stocked in Delaware, so catch-and-release fishing opportunities abound. Open 365 days a year, the park is a trove of exploration.
Whether you are hiking, biking, camping, or fishing, White Clay Creek State Park is the perfect outdoor excursion. It is only 25 minutes from Wilmington, and entry is $8 per vehicle or less, depending on the season.
Lovingly known as Chesco, Chester County is a southeastern district of Pennsylvania. The Brandywine Creek, beloved in Wilmington, also flows through Chester County, making the Pennsylvanian district part of Brandywine Valley. Chester County is known for its extravagant gardens, vineyards, and natural beauty; it also shares its deeply-rooted American history with Wilmington. Popular attractions in the county include the breathtaking Longwood Gardens, the lively, quirky Phoenixville, and Brandywine Battlefield Park.
The county is similar to Wilmington, yet different enough to provide visitors with a fresh experience. Though parts of Chester County are very close to Wilmington, its central attractions are a 30 to 45 minute drive away.
Wilmington is extremely conveniently located for a visit to Philadelphia, the historic onetime capital of the United States. Philadelphia is the second-largest city in the Northeast, and it was founded in 1682 by the Quaker William Penn. The Constitution was ratified in Philadelphia; it was the home of the country’s first library, first hospital, first stock exchange, and more. This historic city’s attractions include the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the LOVE Park (home of the iconic sculpture), and the Philadelphia Zoo.
Philly is less than 40 minutes from Wilmington, so it is definitely worth a day trip.
3 Palms Zoo
3 Palms Zoo is unique in that it is both a rescue zoo and Delaware’s largest zoo. It is the perfect destination for families with kids, given that many of the animals can be pet. All the animals at 3 Palms arrived for sanctuary, and many of them have a history of being abandoned or illegally obtained. The petting zoo section is home to llamas, alpaca, sheep, ducks, cows, and more.
A 40 minute drive from Wilmington, 3 Palms Zoo is an ideal day trip for families.
The Lavender Fields at Warrington Manor is the foremost lavender farm in Delaware. Its five acres of lush, fragrant lavender are turned into food, bath and body products, and other handcrafted gifts. In addition to its fields of lavender, the Manor is also home to wildflower gardens, bee and butterfly gardens, and a farmer’s market.
Located a little more than an hour from Wilmington, this is one of the further day trip locations on this list. However, the beauty of its purple fields more than makes up for it.
Lewes’ Fisherman's Wharf
Lewes’ Fisherman’s Wharf is the starting point for countless cruises and fishing expeditions. The wharf offers dolphin watch cruises and whale watch cruises off the coast of Delaware, as well as full- and half-day fishing trips or private charters. The city of Lewes, where Fisherman’s Wharf is located, was founded in 1631 and known as the First Town in the state; it was a whaling port for a long time.
With fantastic seafood restaurants and exciting ocean adventures, Fisherman’s Wharf is a great coastal expedition. It is about an hour and a half from Wilmington proper.
Looking out onto the Atlantic Ocean and tucked into sandy dunes is the imposing Fort Miles. Built in the 1940s, it was meant to protect the Delaware Bay from the Germans during World War II. Though it never saw combat, it was used on-and-off by the military up until the 1990s; now, it houses the Biden Environmental Conference Center and a museum. The museum, housed in a 15,000 square-foot underground bunker, exhibits artifacts and stories from Delaware’s war history and war heroes.
For history or military buffs, Fort Miles is sure to be a fascinating excursion. The fort, and its surrounding state park, are about an hour and a half drive from downtown Wilmington.
Bushkill Falls, also known as the Niagara of Pennsylvania, is a series of eight impressive waterfalls. Located in the Pocono mountains, it is an extremely popular destination for hiking and birdwatching. The eight waterfalls can be accessed through a series of bridges and trails that wind through the woods.
Admission to Bushkill Falls for a day is $17.50 for adults and $8.50 for children; the falls are about a two hour drive from Wilmington. Bushkill is the perfect excursion for adventurous people who love the outdoors.
Loudoun County Wineries
With more than 50 wineries, Loudoun County is prime East Coast Wine Country. Its mild climate and fertile soil produce Cab Franc, Viognier, Petit Verdot, and Norton grapes, among others, as well as hearty farm-to-table fare and cheeses. The views rival those of California’s famed Napa Valley; it almost seems as if you have been transported straight into the Italian countryside.
Loudoun County is quite far from Wilmington – at about a two and a half hour drive, it is the furthest destination on this list. However, its warm, countryside feel and abundant vineyards make the trip absolutely worth it if you are a wine aficionado.