St. Anthony of Padua Church is a beautiful and historic Roman Catholic Church in the Little Italy neighborhood of Wilmington, Delaware. Though the church was actually built in the 1920's, its Romanesque style of architecture and evocative bell-tower make it so it wouldn't seem out of place in some village in Tuscany or Liguria in Italy.
The church itself is pleasant and pretty church both inside and out, but it's perhaps most famous throughout the city for the jovial Italian Festival it holds every June during the festivities of St. Anthony. The little plaza around the church fills up with vendors selling authentic Italian and Italian-American cuisine and plenty of cold drinks and Italian wines. You can't visit without trying the mouth-watering sausage and peppers or some Italian olives. Recently, the festival has grown in popularity and they've added a carnival rides section and, unfortunately, added an entrance fee. It makes for a lovely day with the family, though, and it the perfect excuse to gorge yourself on some delicious Italian food during a warm summer evening.
The Winterthur Museum in Wilmington, Delaware is one of the most unique museums in the northeast. The museum was once home to Henry DuPont and important collector and man of means and today the museum houses his amazing collection of everything from glassware to antique furniture to early American paintings and artworks.
The museum's collection has a whopping 90,000 objects (yes, 90,000) dating from the 1600's to the 1800's and is one of the best places around to discover traditional American art and craftsmanship. One of the most interesting areas is the library. Henry DuPont was obviously a veeeery well-read man! The sheer number of books and hefty tomes as well as the artistic prints and manuscripts is really an impressive sight to see.
Admission to the museum costs $20 (a bit expensive, I know), but in the end it's totally worth it. The tickets are valid for 2 days so you can visit twice and include a short guided tour to give you an overview of the facilities and access to the gorgeous 60-acre gardens that surround the museum. Don't forget to have a peek at the website to see if there are any traveling or temporary exhibits going on as well.
The Delaware Art Museum is by far the best museum in Delaware. The collection, while not huge, is interesting and specialized. In fact, the Delaware Art Museum has one of the best collection of English Pre-Raphaelite painters in the world. That might not mean much if you're not an Art History fan, but trust me...the paintings are spectacular! The other main point of focus int he Delaware Art Museum's collection is American Illustration and the museum knocks it out of the park again! They give special attention to Howard Pyle, a Wilmington native whose paintings have an emotional and aesthetic touch that's hard to describe. They're just beautiful!
Make sure to have a look at the museum's website ahead of your visit to see if there are any temporary exhibits going on. Oh, and if you're in Wilmington on a Friday (again, call ahead to make sure), plan on heading to the museum in the evening to catch the "Art is After Dark" series, where the beautiful Copeland Sculpture Garden opens up for concerts, performances, or film screenings.
The Hagleuy Museum in Wilmington, Delaware is located on a gorgeous 200-acre estate on the banks of Brandywine Creek and gives an interesting overview of the DuPont family, it's importance in the region, and American industrial and technological advancement in general. The entire museum estate and lots of little interesting corners to discover: 19th-century machine shops, gunpowder mills, a massive library full of photos, books, and manuscripts, and plenty of scenic gardens along Brandywine Creek.
One of the neatest parts of the museum is Eleutherian Mills, the original family home of the DuPonts. There's a bus which leaves from the museum and an hour-long tour of the home. Don't forget to hang around the Machine Shop area as they give demonstrations every half hour. I have to admit that seeing the old steam engines and 19th-century tools work is actually pretty cool. Finally, have a peek at the museum's website to see what's going on during your time in Wilmington. The museum organizes talks, tours, and even get-togethers in the evening on the museum grounds. How does sampling local craft beer in a 19th-century gunpowder mill sound? Don't miss it if you're in Wilmington!
The Delaware Museum of Natural History was founded in the 1950's by the famous DuPont family of Delaware and focuses on sea life and sea bird, a natural choice considering you're in Delaware, one of the most scenic coastal states on the Atlantic seaboard. The museum is perhaps most famous for its collection of birds...over 100,000 of them! In fact, DuPont, the founder of the museum, was an avid naturist and explorer and discovered over a dozen species of birds around the world.
But let's be real...the museum is not just about birds and seashells. They also have exhibits on dinosaurs, mammals, and a really impressive giant squid hanging from the ceiling! The museum also has the usual educational displays which give the kids (and adults!) a bit more info about biology, evolution, and history's great naturalists like Charles Darwin. There are also two nature trails that circle the woodlands and wetlands behind the museum. I'd recommend taking the red trail which takes you on a walkway over the wetlands.
Admission to the museum is $9 for adults and only $7 for children. Don't miss it...it's actually one of the most interesting museums in the area.
Bellevue State Park is a historic natural park just outside of Wilmington, Delaware. The park is built on grounds once owned by Delaware's famous DuPont family and makes for a perfect mixture of nature and culture. Sure, you can come and take a walk, have a picnic, play tennis, or ride horses in the Wellspring Stables, but you can also tour the historic estate of William DuPont: Bellevue Hall.
Bellevue Hall is an impression mansion and the personal pet project of William DuPont. They hold regular tours of the mansions and, honestly, it's a worthwhile thing to consider given DuPont's importance in the state. As far as trails go, there are two main ones you should keep an eye out for: The Brandywine River Trail and the Nature Preserve Trail. The former is the easiest trail and takes you along the banks of the scenic Brandywine River while the latter takes you through the Bellevue Woods Nature Preserve. Both begin near the entrance to the park.
With all this talk of history, trails, and mansion, it seems I've forgotten the best part of the park: picnics! Yup, the meadows at Bellevue State Park and green and gorgeous in summertime and settling down on a shady picnic table with a hearty lunch and friends is one of the best ways to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.
The Nemours Mansion and Gardens are simply sublime. It looks like something you'd see in the imperial areas of France or Austria: formal gardens full of hedges and sculptures, delicately arranged flowers, a massive mansion full of hand-made 18th-century European furniture, and even a maze of bushes and shrubs! It's one of the most unique places in the United States and something you can't miss if you're in the Wilmington, Delaware area.
To visit the mansion, you should reserve a spot on one of the tours at 9:30am, 12:00pm, or 3:00pm. Unfortunately, you can't just go and visit the grounds on your own. The tours are pleasant and give you a lot of extra insight into its previous owner, Alfred DuPont, and the decorations. Speaking of which, the decor is jaw-dropping: dozens of crystal chandeliers, massive libraries, delicate drawing rooms, rugs from around the world...it's really cool.
The mansion is lovely, but the best part (in my humble opinion) is the gardens surrounding the estate. There are long fields lined with huge stone pots and blossoming trees, Greek-style gateways, huge fountains, and reflecting pools, all decorated with sculptures of figures from classical mythology. The closest thing I could compare the gardens to are the Royal Palace gardens I saw in Europe. They're incredible. Nemours Mansion should be at the top of your to-do-in-Wilmington list!
The Grand Opera House is a historic and beautiful opera house in the city of Wilmington, Delaware. The Grand Opera House was first built in the late 1800's and was originally designed to be a Masonic lodge. In fact, if you look at the distinctive cast-iron facade you can see symbols and motifs from 18th century Masonry. Kind of spooky and cool!
The Grand Opera House has hosted all kinds of legendary acts from the days of vaudeville but these days it hosts a bit of everything: classical music, rock, comedy, and gospel. Just check the website to see what's playing while you're in Wilmington. Of course, if there's nothing on (or at least nothing you want to see), you can call the front desk and arrange a tour of the Grand Opera House during the day. The real way to experience it, though, is seeing a live show. With the red velvet curtains and chairs, chandeliers, and pretty ceiling frescoes, it actually makes a good place for a romantic evening out on the town. Make sure to check it out and, hey, enjoy the show!!!
The Kalmar Nyckel is a faithful recreation of a famous 17th-century Dutch ship that brought over colonists from Sweden who settled in the Delaware area. The historic ship is currently docked at at Wilimington's famous 7th Street Peninsula and open for visits, tours, and day-cruises in the Atlantic. One of the nice things about the Kalmar Nyckel is that it's a true, authentic re-creation: there are massive, billowing sails, thick ropes, wooden decks...basically, everything you'd expect from a great Colonial-era cruiser.
From April through November, you can book rides on the Kalmar Nyckel at a number of ports of call along the northeast Atlantic seaboard. Check the website for the exact dates and locations. Generally, it leaves from Wilmington, Delaware, Provincetown, Massachusetts, and Lewes, Delaware as well as a few ports in Virginia and Maryland. The sails are relatively cheap and last for a couple of hours. One of the nice things is that they let you bring your own refreshments so you can cruise the open seas while enjoying a nice bottle of wine.
If you're travelling with kids, don't miss one of the pirate cruises on the Kalmar Nyckel. The crew (and many of the guests) dress up in period pirate costumes and you can hoist the Jolly Roger and look for buried treasure. Kids are sure to love it and it's a wonderful way to spend a day out on the water.
The Wilmington Riverfront is a one-stop-shop of restaurants, attractions, shops, and historical monuments and is probably the best place to start discovering the soul of Wilmington, Delaware. It's an especially great place to try if you're feeling hungry: you'll find fresh New England seafood, bakeries, sushi, Thai food, steaks...literally everything tasty treat you can imagine is at the Wilmington Riverfront.
Also, a lot of Wilmington's best cultural attractions like the Wilmington Theatre Company and the Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts are located at the Riverfront so you can spend the whole day enjoying the fresh sea air, exploring the museums, dining to your hearts' content, and hey, why not, maybe even seeing a show.
Also, don't miss the chance to take a stroll through the Russell W. Peterson Wildlife Refuge, a protected natural area that makes for a lovely place to disconnect from the daily grind. Anyways, if you're headed to Wilmington, make sure to put the Riverfront at the top of your list!
The Wilmington and Western Railroad is a "heritage railroad" that travels a 10-mile stretch of historic rail between Greenbank and Hockessin, Delaware. The railroad dates back to the 1860's and travels along a really beautiful little creek and wooded area. The trip takes you through historic and charming little rail depots, over bucolic ponds, and through the gorgeous green Delaware woods.
One of the best ways to experience the Wilmington and Western Railroad is to pack a picnic and enjoy an al-fresco lunch at stopover in Mt. Cuba Meteor, a peaceful meadow where you can lay out the picnic blanket of take and explore the local woods. You can also book special dinner trips where you have a romantic meal in an old-fashioned dining car while enjoying the scenery. My favorite plan, though, is taking one of the autumn rides to see the changing colors of the leaves. It's simple breathtaking. Th Delaware woods are famous for their gorgeous colors in fall and seeing them in a historic train only makes the experience that much more enchanting.
The Brandywine Zoo is a small yet cute zoo in Wilmington, Delaware. One of the best parts about the Brandwine Zoo is that, while small, the collection of animals is stunning. They have creatures from all around the world, and not just the typical ones we're all used to seeing at every zoo. There are tigers, sloths, chinchillas, toucans, bobcats, and even these bizarre hissing cockroaches from Madagascar! The do, though, put a special emphasis on small animals from the region and the Americas in general.
The zoo is relatively inexpensive (only $7 or so for adults and a bit less for children) so it makes for a fun and affordable way to spend a morning during your trip to Wilmington. If you're travelling to Wilmington with kids, you might consider checking out the program of events as they have full-day education programs for school-age kids where they teach them about the environment and nature but all under the guise of good fun and behind-the-scenes action at the zoo.
The Delaware Theatre Company is, in my opinion, the best theater in all of Delaware. The theater is located right on the Wilmington riverfront and is small enough that the shows are intimate and you feel like you have the best seat in the house from anywhere! The Delaware Theatre Company has been growing more and more famous in recent years, no doubt to the sheer quality of its performers, and is now actually attracting talent and works from the world-famous (and insanely expensive) stages of New York.
Just have a look to see what's playing while you're in Wilmington and I'm sure that'll be an experience to remember. You see, the stage is just big enough to allow large-scale productions but the theater itself is small enough that you definitely won't need a pair of opera binoculars to see the stage! All and all, I couldn't recommend a better place to see a play or concert in Wilmington!