There’s nothing better than a spur-of-the-moment trip. With so many things to do in Wilmington that don’t require advance tickets or reservations, this coastal paradise is the perfect destination for a no-planning-required getaway.So, throw a bag together and hit the road for a relaxing trip without all the stress of planning months in advance.
Discover Local Culture
Lace up your walking shoes to tour “Hollywood East.” The area has served as the backdrop for some of your favorite movies and TV shows since the 1980s, and Wilmington is home to Screen Gem Studios, earning the city the affectionate nickname of “Hollywood East” and “Wilmywood.” Print this guide and go on a self-guided tour of filming locations of “Dawson’s Creek,” “One Tree Hill,” “Safe Haven,” “The Choice” and more.
Wilmington is made up of many unique neighborhoods that put their own twist on Southern culture and historic charm, each offering a variety of attractions and activities to explore. Hop on the container craze and explore the Cargo District’s boutique stores, coffee shops and new foodie spots. Or, head over to the South Front District for restaurants, funky breweries and wine bars housed in transformed buildings and warehouses. Spend time downtown, where the town’s historic roots blend seamlessly with modern attractions and vibrant activity, or nearby in the National Register Historic District to explore more than 230 blocks of rich Victorian- and Colonial-era history.
Soak up culture at the Cameron Art Museum. Explore several annual rotating indoor exhibits as well as the outdoor art park with a range of pieces, including Boundless, a life-size bronze sculpture of the United States Colored Troops (USCT). Opening in November, the USCT Sculpture Park will showcase Boundless as its focal point while serving as a space for learning and reflecting. While you’re at the museum, grab a coffee or snack from CAM Café. For more art, visit local art galleries and see work from Wilmington artists. Art in Bloom Gallery, Acme Art Studios and New Elements Gallery are all open to the public, so you can drop in and appreciate the artwork as you please.
Travel Back in Time
Wilmington is well known for its rich history, with vestiges of the past begging to be explored. The Battleship NORTH CAROLINA, a refurbished WWII battleship quietly moored on the river across from downtown Wilmington, serves as a memorial for the 11,000 North Carolinians who died during the war. Explore the nine levels of living spaces, mess decks, gun turrets, powder storage, sick bay and more with a self-guided tour. Take in the Battleship from a different vantage point with a stroll along the half-mile SECU Memorial Walkway. Designated areas along the walkway honor each of the five branches of the military.
Made up of eight graciously restored buildings connected by brick walkways, open-air courtyards and gigantic heart pine beams, The Cotton Exchange houses more than 20 unique specialty shops and restaurants, each a charming reflection of the style and feel of Wilmington’s 19th century working port days.
Several magnificent 18th and 19th century homes have been preserved and converted into museums that offer a glimpse into Wilmington’s past. The Bellamy Mansion Museum of History & Design, constructed between 1859 and 1861, boasts 22 rooms and a unique architectural style, sharing elements from the Greek Revival, Neoclassical and Italianate styles. Visitors can tour the mansion, the grounds and gardens with a self-guided audio tour.
Built in 1852 for the Latimer family, the Latimer House Museum hearkens back to upper-class life in Victorian Wilmington. Today, you can stroll through its 14 rooms filled with over 600 objects, from neoclassical statues imported from Paris to dozens of 19th century furnishings that were found in the original home.
Step into pre-Revolutionary Wilmington at the Burgwin-Wright House & Gardens. Originally constructed in 1770, this Colonial-era structure serves as an example of Georgian architecture, is furnished with 18th and 19th century antiques and boasts an acre of Colonial-style gardens, including an orchard with pomegranate and fig trees, a kitchen garden and a rose garden. The self-guided tour tells the stories of the people who lived and worked there all those years ago, as well as the story of how the house was saved from being destroyed.
Download the Wilmington History eTours App and let it use your device’s GPS to guide you through a walking tour of Wilmington. Explore the beautiful tree-lined streets at your own pace with six available tours, including African American history and a pub crawl for those of age. Visit rich historic sites and listen to brief bits of history between 3- and 5-minutes long and scroll through fascinating historical pictures.
Inhale Wellness, Exhale Stress
Soothe your mind with a peaceful stroll through a colorful garden or a hike along a lakeside trail. At New Hanover County Arboretum, you can wander along paved pathways that wind through a gazebo, countless sculptures, a water garden containing hundreds of colorful Koi, a Japanese garden with an authentic tea house and plenty of Japanese maples in this 7-acre arboretum.
Clear your mind with a hike or bike ride through Greenfield Park. Take to the 5-mile trail through the 250 acres of park grounds that feature lush gardens and the scenic Greenfield Lake. Or, take a stroll along the multi-purpose Gary Shell Cross City Trail. The 15-miles of primarily off-road trail is perfect for walking, jogging or biking. Along the way, the trail provides access to a number of recreational and cultural destinations, and a lookout point offers a picturesque view of the Intracoastal Waterway.
Spanning nearly two miles, the Wilmington Riverwalk is lined with boutique shops, riverview dining, relaxing green spaces and pedestrian art. Take in the views from the scenic walkway that hugs the Cape Fear River and stop into a restaurant for a delicious bite to eat or a boutique shop for unique finds. At the northern end of the Riverwalk, you’ll find Riverfront Park, where you can enjoy stunning river views from the green space, gardens and trails.
Craft Brews and Drinks with a View
Spend an evening with a cold brew in your hand and a gorgeous view from on high. Cloud 9’s rooftop seating, located on the ninth floor of the Embassy Suites, is the ideal spot to enjoy incredible sunset and river views while you imbibe. Choose from more than a dozen local beers on tap and a selection of robust wines, paired with locally inspired small plates that can be shared. On the seventh floor rooftop of the Aloft, sip on craft cocktails, craft beer or delicious wines as you take in scenic river views from aView Rooftop Bistro. Drinks are perfectly complemented by an ever-changing menu of savory starters, charcuterie plates, salads and elevated sharable small plates.
Board & Barrel Coastal Kitchen offers fantastic views of the Cape Fear River from either indoor seating or the outdoor patio. Sip barrel-aged cocktails from the bourbon bar’s very own private label “Edgar’s Truth” bourbon and snack on imaginative small plates with a Southern twist.
Whether your interests lie in history, the arts or something else entirely, Wilmington has plenty of activities to fill your trip, without requiring extensive advance planning. Wilmington is ready and waiting for you, so what are you waiting for?