If you’re planning a holiday getaway to spend time with your loved ones during the most wonderful time of the year, a trip to Wilmington and Island Beaches is in order to experience beautifully decorated historic homes and gardens, lighted boat parades, classic holiday entertainment and more.

Bellamy Mansion decorated garlands and wreaths at Christmas

With over 50 seasonal events and festivities, here are the top reasons a visit to Wilmington and its island beaches should be on your holiday travel list this year.

Sleigh the Seas

What would the holidays at the coast be without experiences on the water? Swap out traditional parades with the NC Holiday Flotilla at Wrightsville Beach or Island of Lights Christmas Flotilla at nearby Carolina Beach for boat parades that light up the night sky with festive holiday lights and décor, plus fireworks and a festival in the park at Wrightsville Beach. For a scenic cruise along the Cape Fear River with a holiday twist, hop on a Spirit of the Holidays Cruise where you’ll enjoy the views while listening to carols and sampling festive cocktails and snacks.


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Enchanted Evenings

Explore parks and gardens outfitted in their holiday best. Airlie Gardens, home to 67 acres of formal gardens, wildlife, lakes, the Airlie Oak and Minnie Evans Bottle Chapel, is transformed into Enchanted Airlie during the holidays. Elaborate displays made up of more than a million lights enchant visitors year after year in this iconic garden setting. In Kure Beach, the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher turns into a winter wonderland during the Cape Fear Festival of Trees (Open during Aquarium hours: 9am-5pm).


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Holidays with History

Wilmington and its island beaches are known for their rich history dating back to the 1500s. Homes from the Revolutionary War and Civil War eras can still be explored today, bringing the holiday seasons of days gone by back to life. Take in the home’s antebellum architecture during Jingle Belles Holiday Tea at the Bellamy Mansion or the colonial-era Burgwin-Wright House during a Christmas Stroll Through the Past. Visitors can tour old Wilmington by candlelight with an inside look at private homes, churches and historic sites decorated in their holiday best. Enjoy the decorated grounds at the Poplar Grove Plantation’s A Merry Little Christmas Festival. For a glimpse of beachside homes all dressed up for the holidays, mark your calendar for Island of Lights: Holiday Tour of Homes at Carolina and Kure Beaches.


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Shopping with a View

No mall madness here as the area offers a variety of holiday markets and events. Peruse locally crafted gift items set against the backdrop of a historic church that has been restored and transformed into an event venue during the Holiday Flea at the BAC, or step back in time at the Holiday Market at the Burgwin-Wright House. Nearby, the outdoor Kure Beach Holiday Market invites visitors to find that special something for their loved ones with a side of ocean views. Plus, the area offers numerous other unique shopping villages like the Cotton Exchange – an entire block of shopping made up of more than 30 local shops and restaurants – to ensure you find the unique something for everyone on your list.

Seasonal Shows

Spend the evening soaking up your favorite ballet, concert or film in a historic theater or state-of-the-art performing arts center. Experience The Nutcracker or Elf! The Musical in historic Thalian Hall, a theater that has been in continuous use since it opened in 1858. For a night of showstopping entertainment, venture to The Wilson Center to see A Carolina Nutcracker, a unique take on the holiday classic that makes Wilmington’s own history part of the story.

Holiday Ales and Cocktails

Toast the holidays with food and beverages that bring out the flavors of the most wonderful time of the year. Along the Wilmington Ale Trail, you’ll find Thanksgiving and winter ales that will warm your spirits. For an ale that will keep you warm and malty, venture to Broomtail Craft Brewery in December for the Jolly Elf Winter Warmer. Nearby Wrightsville Beach Brewery turns apple pie into liquid form while Waterline Brewing spices up the season with its Holiday Spiced Gruit.


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Ring in the New Year

Holiday events in Wilmington and its island beaches run through the New Year! Ring in 2019 coastal-style at the family-friendly Island of Lights: New Year’s Eve Celebration at Carolina Beach. Families can dance the night away as they wait for the giant beach ball to drop when the clock strikes midnight. For the younger kiddos, celebrate the start of a new year at noon with the Children’s Museum of Wilmington. If you’re celebrating with a night out, enjoy dinner, drinks and entertainment at the Blockade Runner Beach Resort’s New Year’s Eve Celebration in nearby Wrightsville Beach, the Embassy Suites New Year’s Eve Roaring 20's on the River or Thalian Hall’s New Year’s Eve Gala in Wilmington.

Find more ways to make the most of the season on your getaway to Wilmington and beaches with our holiday brochure.