Historic Downtown Wilmington and the River District combine authentic heritage with modern-day city allure. Discover the area’s historic architecture complemented by a vibrant riverfront area with new hotels, al fresco dining, a waterfront park and amphitheater and more.
Explore Wilmington’s iconic Riverwalk, recognized as one of America's Best Riverfronts in USA TODAY’s 10Best Reader’s Choice travel awards. Stretching nearly two miles, this picturesque pathway features the breathtaking backdrop of the Cape Fear River.
Experience the Riverwalk from a unique vantage point on a narrated sightseeing cruise with Cape Fear River Boats or Wilmington Water Tours. Or, hop on the Bizzy Bee Water Taxi to travel from the foot of Market Street to the stately Battleship NORTH CAROLINA, where you can step aboard for a self-led or guided tour showcasing WWII history. For a swashbuckling adventure on dry land, join the Wilmington Pirate Walk. Led by a costumed guide, this walking tour departs from the Riverwalk area and highlights local pirate legends.
Further north along the Riverwalk, you’ll find Live Oak Bank Pavilion at Riverfront Park. This concert venue and urban green space features spectacular river views and offers a respite among the active downtown landscape. In addition to its seasonal water feature and large green space, the park features an open-air music venue managed by Live Nation – providing an unforgettable waterfront setting for taking in performances by national acts.
The Riverwalk also serves as a gateway to an assortment of markets, boutiques, restaurants and more. For a distinctive shopping experience in a historic setting, head to The Cotton Exchange. This beautifully restored complex of 19th century brick buildings contains galleries, specialty stores and restaurants connected by open-air courtyards. Or, right off the Riverwalk, check out the eclectic mix of galleries, shops and restaurants in Chandler’s Wharf.
Stroll down Market and Front Streets to explore a variety of locally owned shops. Discover unique fashion finds at Edge of Urge, a creative boutique specializing in handmade and independently designed apparel. Nearby, Swahili Coast offers accessories and homewares that are ethically made in partnership with East African artisans. Visit The Black Cat Shoppe, a locally owned store filled with nostalgic toys and pop culture novelties.
Anne Bonny’s Bar and Grill has earned its status as a downtown staple thanks to outdoor seating that floats on the Cape Fear River, perfect for enjoying sunset views and its delicious Carolina-casual basket dinner selections, appetizers and frozen drinks. Dine al fresco on a private balcony overlooking the river at Floriana, an Italian bistro. Savor delicious Southern coastal cuisine from The George or down-home classics from Pilot House – just to name few of the many dining options located along the Riverwalk.
Take a short walk from the waterfront to Front Street’s Seabird, an award-winning seafood and oyster bar captained by Chef Dean Neff, a James Beard Semifinalist for Best Chef Southeast. Just down the street, order a drink at The Blind Elephant, a 1920s inspired speakeasy cocktail and bourbon bar. Nearby, The Underfront crafts cocktails that pair perfectly with a selection of charcuterie and cheeseboards.
Prost Biergarten, a welcoming German beer garden, serves fusion dishes, from schnitzel and pretzels to sandwiches and salads.
Stay right along the Riverwalk at a waterfront hotel like Hotel Ballast, Embassy Suites Wilmington Riverfront or Aloft Wilmington at Coastline Center, which boasts spacious rooms and sweeping views from its aView Rooftop Bistro. Boutique hotel ARRIVE Wilmington welcomes guest to stay just two blocks from the Riverwalk excitement in a low-key luxury environment with its own restaurant, Dram Yard. To stay even closer to the water, consider booking one of The Cove Riverwalk Villas’ luxury houseboats moored right by the Riverwalk.
National Register Historic District
Downtown’s 230-plus-block National Register Historic District is one of the largest and most picturesque in the South. Along the oak tree-lined streets, see stunning Victorian and Colonial architecture on a narrated Springbrook Farms carriage ride. Join Wilmington True History Tours, led by local historians, for a narrated walking tour that includes several of the National Register Historic District’s most storied places. You can also embark on Wilmington History Tours’ self-guided African American History Tour to discover 32 nearby sites significant to Wilmington’s African American History.
Get a glimpse into Colonial-era domestic life during a guided tour of The Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens. Learn about Victorian-era Wilmington at the Latimer House Museum, where more than 600 historic objects help tell the stories of its three generations of inhabitants. Step back in time at the Bellamy Mansion Museum of History & Design, one of North Carolina’s most spectacular examples of early 19th century architecture.
Several historic homes in Wilmington’s Historic District open their doors to guests. Stay in charming B&Bs like The Verandas and C.W. Worth House, which was voted as 10Best Readers’ Choice travel award Best Bed and Breakfast winner in 2023. Enjoy the features of a boutique hotel and the freedom of a rental home with DREAMERS by DW, a renovated Victorian home nestled on a quiet tree-lined street.
From exploring downtown’s historic architecture to unwinding with riverfront dining and entertainment, there is always something new and captivating to discover on your Wilmington vacation. One-of-a-kind experiences also await in several distinctive, growing neighborhoods beyond the riverfront — check out this blog to venture further into our must-visit Southern city.