Wilmington is Delaware’s largest city, and is located along the Delaware River at the upper end of Delaware Bay. Wilmington is halfway between New York City to the northeast, and Washington, DC to the southwest and is less than 50 kilometres southwest of Philadelphia.
The area was first settled in 1638 by Swedish immigrants who arrived on the ship Kalmar Nyckel and established a fort on the Christina River, which flows through present-day Wilmington. The community received its current name in 1739, supposedly in honour of the Earl of Wilmington, Spencer Compton.
During America’s Revolutionary War, the British held Wilmington following the 1777 Battle of Brandywine, the only significant battle of that war to be fought in Delaware. The state had divided loyalties during the American Civil War, and Wilmington profited and grew from trade in war-related supplies such as gunpowder, ships, and railroad cars.
The city continued to grow throughout the two World Wars of the 20th century as it had many industries that supported the war effort. In the last two decades of the 1900s, Delaware became the headquarters for many banks, financial institutions and insurance companies, due in great part to state government legislation aimed at attracting that market sector.
More recently, Wilmington has reclaimed its river front, changing underutilized land such as an abandoned shipyard into a popular shopping and entertainment district. Developments along the Delaware River such as the Wilmington Riverfront and 1.9 kilometre River walk have revitalized the downtown waterfront area.
Riverfront Wilmington is a good place to start your exploration. The Riverfront Market, housed in a restored two-story brick warehouse, is a European-style public market with vendors selling fresh produce, flowers, seafood, locally-raised meats, baked goods, ready-to-eat treats and more. A number of restaurants are located nearby. Take a stroll along the River walk path beside the Christina River; and when you tire of walking, catch the River Taxi which stops at six docks along the Riverfront.
Riverfront Wilmington is also a centre for entertainment. The Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park and Chase Centre offer event spaces for the many festivals held there throughout the year. Visitors will also find Frawley Stadium, The Delaware Theatre Company, Delaware Centre for the Contemporary Arts, Delaware Children’s Museum, Opera Delaware Studios and City Theatre Company and much more.
Wilmington has a number of world-class art museums. The Delaware Art Museum has an extensive collection of British Pre-Raphaelite works and an outdoor sculpture garden. The Biggs Museum of American Art offers 16 galleries of fine and decorative art created by American artists from the Mid-Atlantic region. People of all ages will enjoy the interactive exhibits at the Delaware History Museum. Learn about Wilmington’s Swedish heritage at the New Sweden Centre and tour the Kalmar Nyckel ship replica.
During summer months, the Brandywine Treasure Trail Passport offers discounts on a package of popular attractions priced for individuals or families. The package includes admission to eleven museums, historic homes and gardens, including the renowned Longwood Gardens.
- Getting around
The nearest major airport is Philadelphia International (PHL), approximately 40 kilometres northeast of Wilmington. There are many options for ground transportation to Wilmington, including taxi, limousine, shuttle van, and rental car. Delaware Express Shuttle & Tours offers convenient shuttle service from Philadelphia International Airport to Wilmington and reservations can be made online.
The South-eastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) operates a commuter train line between Philadelphia, PA and Newark, DE, which stops in Wilmington. Most of Amtrak’s north-eastern U.S. routes also stop in Wilmington, with about 80 trains per day from places like Washington, New York, and Boston.
The Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) is another option, located about 130 kilometres to the southwest. Visitors renting a car or utilizing regional rail service could take advantage of the increased availability of non-stop flights to and from this airport. DART First State – Delaware Transit Corporation offers pubic bus service on over 60 routes state-wide, with many in the Wilmington area. The addition of old-time trolley buses in the summer make using public transit feel more like taking a tour. Wilmington is easily accessible from Interstate Highways I-95, I-495, I-295 via the Delaware Memorial Bridge and from the New Jersey turnpike. There are plenty of parking lots and garages located in downtown Wilmington. Street parking is free after 5 p.m.
- Beyond Wilmington
Take a guided tour or drive yourself along the 20-kilometre Brandywine Scenic Byway, which extends from Wilmington north into lower Pennsylvania. Enjoy the bucolic scenery, which is especially stunning in the autumn. Stop at the Wilmington and Western Railroad museum and take a 90-minute train ride. Along the route you will also discover family-run wineries, historic sites, grand country estates, museums and the crown jewel—Longwood Gardens.
Longwood Gardens is perhaps the region’s most famous attraction. The land was purchased in 1906 by Pierre du Pont, who developed the estate into the horticultural showcase that it is today. In 1946, du Pont established a foundation to operate and maintain the garden.
Longwood encompasses over 400 hectares and features 20 themed outdoor gardens plus 20 indoor gardens. The enormous Conservatory greenhouse and spectacular fountains are just two of the many attractions, where every season provides new delights.
Also along this scenic route is the Brandywine River Museum; worth a visit for its collection of works by renowned American painters Andrew Wyeth, Jamie Wyeth and N.C. Wyeth. Housed in a 19th-century grist mill, the museum also features landscape and still life paintings and illustrations by other American artists including Maxfield Parrish.
- Local activities
Visit Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library
Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library are another great legacy left by the philanthropic du Pont family. The Winterthur estate, once the home of Henry Francis du Pont, includes the 175-room mansion and 24-hectare garden surrounded by a nature preserve of forest and meadows covering over 400 hectares. The historic home holds almost 90,000 examples of American decorative arts dating from the mid-1600s to mid-1800s. Winterthur is eight kilometres northeast of Wilmington on State Route 52.
Tour Nemours for a touch of France
In the early 1900s, Alfred I. du Pont built Nemours, a spectacular mansion on a pastoral 1,200-hectare property. The home was designed to resemble a late-18th-century French chateau. Surrounding the mansion are elaborate formal gardens with fountains, pools, statuary and sculpted shrubbery. The estate is reminiscent of Le Petit Trianon at Versailles in France. Tours of the property are available daily, except Mondays and holidays, from May 1 through December 30.
Visit Mt. Cuba Centre
See yet another du Pont family estate which is now open to the public. The Mt. Cuba Centre was once the home of Mr. and Mrs. Lammot du Pont Copeland. The couple shared an enthusiasm for gardens, and over several decades hired top landscape architects to design a series of garden spaces for the estate. The gardens are now maintained by a non-profit horticultural organization with a focus on research and education.
- Local cuisine and drinks
Wilmington offers great variety for dining; from elegant waterfront restaurants to casual neighbourhood cafes, taverns serving locally-brewed beer and restaurants offering ethnic fare. Seafood is a popular menu item, but you will also find American, Asian, Italian, Mediterranean, Mexican and even Cajun cuisine. Enjoy craft beer brewed on-premises or wines from the nearby Brandywine region. At Celebrity Kitchens, enjoy a fun and interactive dining experience as guest chefs prepare your meal tableside.
- Where you are docked
The Port of Wilmington is located on the Delaware River, at the mouth of its tributary, the Christina River. This is a shipping port facility, handling containerized and bulk cargo. It is one of the top U.S. ports for the import of fresh fruit such as bananas and has extensive cold storage facilities. Few cruise ships call at Wilmington, therefore the city does not have a dedicated cruise ship terminal.
- Regional weather
Wilmington experiences a subtropical climate, typical of many Southern Eastern cities in the US. Winters are very mild, yet some snowfall can happen. The summer months can get very humid and with Wilmington’s location so close to the Atlantic – there is danger of tropical storms moving into the area during the summer months.