There are plenty of twists on holiday traditions befitting a charming coastal destination like Wilmington and our island beaches. Get in the spirit this season with a magical getaway filled with holiday cruises and flotillas, bright lights, unique shops and a variety of ways to celebrate. 

Festive Lights & Sights

See the season in a new light with Cameron Art Museum's “Art of Illumination." The popular annual exhibition returns Dec. 3 through Jan. 15 and delves into the metaphorical concept of light from the perspectives of a variety of artists from across the country. Drawing inspiration from traditional lantern festivals which mark the transition of seasons and the end of the year, the show features lanterns illuminated in unusual ways.

Stroll around Historic Downtown Wilmington to view decorated homes lining some of the area’s most picturesque streets. Stop into beautiful homes from days past, like the Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens, Bellamy Mansion Museum of History & Design or the Latimer House Museum, each decked in historically accurate holiday decorations. Reserve your tickets for the Old Wilmington by Candlelight Tour Dec. 10 or 11. This self-guided tour, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, takes guests through more than a dozen beautifully decorated historic homes, churches and more in historic downtown.


Take a ride through the historic district to see charming neighborhoods all lit up for the holidays while you stay warm beneath blankets. Sing carols with Santa as your guide on these “Reindeer” Drawn Carriages or Trolleys. Tickets are available for the evenings of Dec. 16-17 and 23-24.


Take in holiday classics like “The Nutcracker” Dec. 2-3, “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” Dec. 8-18 or a screening of “It’s a Wonderful Life” Dec. 22 at historic Thalian Hall. Head to The Wilson Center to celebrate the season with Mannheim Steamroller Nov. 28 or experience the enchantment of Christmas during A Magical Cirque Christmas Dec. 15.

Magical Cruises & Flotillas  

Experience the sights, sounds and tastes of the holidays as you cruise down the Cape Fear River with Wilmington Water Tours on a Spirit of the Holidays Cruise. Take in scenic views of the Riverwalk’s shops and cafes decorated with lights aboard the catamaran while you listen to holiday tunes from local musicians and sample yuletide cocktails and appetizers. Tickets are available select weekends starting Nov. 25 through Dec. 30.

Experience the magic of the season with the North Carolina Holiday Flotilla Nov. 26 in Wrightsville Beach. From a festival in the park complete with food trucks and activities for kids to a lighted boat parade and dazzling fireworks display over the water, the flotilla is an event the entire family will remember.


Or, head to nearby Carolina Beach Dec. 3 to watch as fishing boats and pleasure crafts decked out in their holiday finest light up the Intracoastal Waterway during the annual Island of Lights Christmas Flotilla.

Unique Holiday Shopping

Wilmington and its beaches are full of prime shopping spots to snag unique gifts for loved ones.

Check some names off your holiday shopping list and discover unique gifts curated by local artisans at the Kure Beach Holiday Market Nov. 19-26.  For a variety of vintage, upcycled and antique treasures, check out The Holiday Flea at the BAC at the Brooklyn Arts Center. Featuring more than 50 vintage vendors, the festival takes place Dec. 2-4. Or, step back time when you visit the Colonial Christmas Open House & Craft Market at the Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens. Enjoy a festive day of shopping in the outdoor garden market featuring over 20 local vendors Dec. 10.


Find everything you need to deck the halls at A Christmas Shoppe, Wilmington’s only year-round Christmas store. From Olde World Christmas Ornaments, a variety of Santas, ornaments from local artists, decorative pillows and more, plus a large selection of nautical and coastal décor, A Christmas Shoppe has everything you need to bring your holiday vision to life.

Find locally owned boutiques, restaurants and one-of-a-kind cafes at pedestrian-friendly Lumina Station. This delightful shopping village by the sea offers a storybook setting filled with award-winning contextual design, fairytale bridges and whimsical sculptures perfect for an enchanting holiday shopping experience.

Consistently voted ‘Best Gift Shop in Wilmington,’ Blue Moon Gift Shops offers more than 100 local artists, craftsmen and retailers under one roof, each bringing their own personalities to their shops. Make the most of your holiday with a trip to this beloved spot, from browsing memorable home décor and art to jewelry and so much more.


Shop your favorite brands in an outdoor setting at Mayfaire Town Center, where you’ll hear holiday carols performed by The Cape Fear Chordsmen as you shop various days in November and December.

A holiday getaway to Wilmington promises all the magic of the season with twists on classic traditions.

Check out even more holiday fun in our nearby island beaches – CarolinaKure and Wrightsville