Discover Wilmington’s storied past and present with a wide variety of notable historical and cultural attractions to explore from colonial-era residences to what was once considered the world’s greatest sea weapon. Take a tour of the city’s historic sites to be transported back in time or wander through one of the many museums to get a look inside the area’s history, science, art and more, making for perfect indoor and outdoor activities to enjoy.
Read on for our guide to the area’s museums and attractions, which recently reopened as part of North Carolina’s move to Phase 3 with easing of restrictions and permitting of 50% capacity admissions:
Wilmington’s Maritime Past
Moored across the Cape Fear River from Wilmington’s famous Riverwalk, the Battleship NORTH CAROLINA is a must-see site when visiting the area. During WWII, the ship served in every major naval offensive in the Pacific, earning 15 battle stars. Today, the ship serves as a memorial for the 11,000 North Carolinians who died in the war. Set out on a self-guided tour of the refurbished battleship to explore nine levels of living spaces, mess decks, gun turrets, powder storage, sickbay and more, or take a stroll along the SECU Memorial Walkway around the Battleship, including areas honoring each of the five branches of the military.
Did you know Wilmington was recently dedicated as the nation’s first World War II Heritage City? Learn more about the city’s contributions to the war effort with a self-guided tour of other WWII sites using the WWII Heritage Guide Map. Along the way, you’ll visit the many other attractions and activities harkening back to this important time in Wilmington’s history. You can also download the Wilmington History eTours app to explore at your own pace along various walking paths with exclusive historical photos and resources.
Wilmington is home to one of the largest National Register Historic Districts in the country, spanning 230-plus blocks. Explore the district during a walking tour with Tour Old Wilmington where you can learn about the customs and traditions of the day, or with a horse-drawn carriage ride. Discover what life was like during the colonial and Victorian eras as you wander through one of the city’s historic house museums. Originally built in 1861 as a prominent family’s residence, the Bellamy Mansion Museum of History & Design is one of North Carolina’s most spectacular examples of Victorian architecture, boasting a restored 10,000 square-foot mansion and recreated grounds. Guests are encouraged to pre-purchase tickets directly through the museum’s website for a more contactless experience.
Take a trip through local history by visiting the Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens, the only structure in Wilmington from the colonial era open to the public. The circa 1770 residence includes an exhibit hall featuring the property’s previous incarnation as the first city jail, the history of the property’s owners and more. Or, head to the Latimer House Museum for a glimpse into upper-class life in Victorian Wilmington. Book a guided tour of the house to see more than 600 historic objects including furniture, jewelry and tools.
Adventure On Display for All Ages
With a rich history dating back to the 18th century, Wilmington is the perfect place for an educational getaway visitors of all ages will enjoy. Experience the area’s history and culture at North Carolina’s first history museum, the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science, where you’ll find artifacts and remnants to help understand the history, science and cultures of the region. Kids will love the Michael Jordan Discovery Gallery, where they can experience science firsthand by discovering hidden fossils and skeletons, investigating how local ecosystems have evolved over time and even feeding a Venus flytrap. Examine the area’s rich and complex history with the Cape Fear Stories exhibit, or experience space exploration and the life of an astronaut at the interactive Space Place. Visitors can also meet the area’s oldest resident, a replica of a 20-foot-tall giant ground sloth dating back to up to 1.5 million years ago. Book your tickets in advance directly on the museum's website or purchase them in person at the front desk.
Children and their parents will enjoy lively learning experiences at the Children’s Museum of Wilmington. Explore three historic buildings across 17,000 square feet that will stimulate children’s imagination and curiosity through interactive activities. The museum is still offering daily educational programs, limited to five children or less and requiring pre-registration online or at the front desk when they arrive - space permitted. Participate in engaging exhibits and programs such as the Art Room, Toddler Treehouse, Animal Alley and Ahoy Wilmington!, a pirate ship where kids can pretend to steer the ship and swab the deck. Members and the general public are required to reserve tickets online in advance through the museum’s website.
Find educational fun for all ages at the Wilmington Railroad Museum, dedicated to preserving the history of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and recognizing the history of railroading in the southeastern United States. You’ll find plenty of eclectic exhibits to explore, including a life-size caboose, retired boxcar, a century-old steam locomotive and a model train display currently holding the Guinness World Record for Longest Model Train. Kids will also love the Thomas the Tank Train play area. Come see what you can discover about the railroad history of Wilmington.
Art for All
Discover more than 50 years of arts education at Cameron Art Museum, offering exhibits and community programs of both historical and modern significance. Spend time wandering through exhibits such as She Persists, honoring the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, or The Face of Lincoln, a meticulous casting formed in bronze from the original terra cotta sculpture based on the 1860 life mask made of the former president. Take a break from a busy day of exploring to savor an art-inspired lunch at the museum’s CAM Café.
A Day at the Beach
Explore Wilmington’s nearby island beaches – Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Wrightsville Beach – for more recently reopened historical and cultural attractions. Housed in the turn of the century Myers Cottage, the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History preserves and shares the area’s history, featuring a scale model of Wrightsville Beach circa 1910. In Carolina Beach, visit the Federal Point History Center to find exhibits and audio-visual presentations about the prehistoric, colonial, Civil War and WWII eras of Carolina and Kure Beaches. Or, read our guide on must-see attractions at Fort Fisher in Kure Beach for even more island history and discovery.
Visit Wilmington and Island Beaches to explore the area’s rich, vibrant historic and cultural attractions. With so much to discover, you’ll be sure to find plenty of things to do!