Looking for an unforgettable vacation that won’t break the bank? Adventure to Wilmington for a variety of free and affordable things to see and do, from historic tours to nature hikes, summer concerts and Hollywood filming sites.

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Check out these ideas that will make this vacation itinerary a bang for your buck:

For the Nature Explorer 

Bring your bike along for the journey (or rent one when you get to town) and ride the River to Sea Bikeway that goes from Wilmington’s Riverwalk to Wrightsville Beach. This 11-mile on- and off-road trail follows the Historic Beach Car Line for visitors wanting to travel between Wilmington and nearby Wrightsville Beach. Alternatively, the 15-mile Gary Shell Cross-City Trail in Wilmington runs through numerous parks, cultural sites and beside the Intracoastal Waterway. Visitors can also venture through the beautiful Greenfield Lake Park & Gardens and explore the park’s rich greenery and a pleasant view of Greenfield Lake.


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For the Hollywood Fanatic

Did you know some of your favorite television series were filmed right here in Wilmington? Jump back in time to nights spent watching “One Tree Hill” and discover the show’s many Wilmington filming locations. Follow the self-guided walking tour to attractions such as “Tree Hill High School” and “Karen’s Café.” Don’t forget to capture some reenactments for your next Instagram post.

If “One Tree Hill” wasn’t your thing, explore the self-guided tour of “Dawson’s Creek,” another hit television series filmed right here on our coast. Experience “Capeside, Massachusetts,” and stop by famous locations such as “Joey’s Wall” at Reel Café and of course, “The Creek” found at Bradley Creek.

For the Art Connoisseur

Spend the day perusing the exhibits at Cameron Art Museum. With an admission of $10 or less, visitors can take in historical and modern pieces.


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Admire the works of nearby artists and groups at the Fourth Friday Gallery Walk, coordinated by the Arts Council of Wilmington. This is a must-do activity for art lovers and connoisseurs, so plan to take an evening stroll downtown and explore as many of the 22 locations and galleries that partake in this monthly event as you’d like. 

Dance the night away with family and friends at the Downtown Sundown Concert Series, a free event that runs every Friday throughout the summer. Most performances feature tribute bands such as the Rolling Stones or Beatles, so you can sing along to old-time favorites and familiar tunes!

For the History Buff

Walk along the new SECU Memorial Walkway, a half-mile boardwalk honoring WWII veterans from all branches of the military located near the Battleship NORTH CAROLINA. The walkway will give you a front-seat view of the historical ship from the 1930s, minus the cost of admission.

To discover Wilmington’s history on your own, download Wilmington’s eTours application and try out the free self-guided mini-tour. Wander through downtown Wilmington and stop by the city’s top historical attractions. The app will share stories and background information about each of the historical sites you come across on your adventure.

Visit North Carolina’s first history museum, the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science. From educational programs for children and families to a 20-foot-tall giant ground sloth exhibit, there is something for everyone to explore and learn at this museum, which has an affordable admission fee of under $10 for each visitor.

For the Window Shopper

Explore the two-mile Wilmington Riverwalk and take in scenic views of the Cape Fear River. Hop in and out of markets, boutiques and local art galleries that line the walkway. For more unique boutiques and window shopping adventures, head to the Cotton Exchange or Chandler’s Wharf in downtown Wilmington.

Spend Saturday afternoon at the Riverfront Farmers’ Market, a weekly market that features the goods of local farmers, artists and crafters. Admire the colors of fresh fruit, the smells of baked goods and the intricate craftsmanship of local artists.

For more ideas, check out more free activities at each of Wilmington’s island beaches: