The port city of Wilmington in North Carolina may not be as well known to tourists as its southern sister cities of Charleston and Savannah, but it still has much to offer in the way of things to see and do. Set along the Cape Fear River, the city is the gateway to beaches like Carolina and Wrightsville and has a charming downtown Historic District featuring beautiful antebellum homes and mercantile blocks.
The city’s main attraction is the immense WWII-era Battleship North Carolina that is docked in the harbor and open for exploring. The nearby Riverwalk is lined with restaurants, bars, art galleries, and shops and is a popular place for both locals and tourists to hang out.
Vast historic plantations and homes like the Poplar Grove Plantation, Bellamy House, and the Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens are wonderful places to spend the day with a picnic if you are not sightseeing or on the beach.
Here are some of the best things to do in the city of Wilmington in North Carolina on your next visit.
1. Explore the Battleship North Carolina
The Battleship North Carolina is a magnificent World War II-era vessel that is docked in the Wilmington harbor and is open for the public to explore and enjoy. The battleship was the first of 10 battleships to join the American fleet in World War II and the stories of the men that went into battles are the focus of the exhibits and displays on the ship.
Visitors can explore the nine levels of the ship, see the massive engine room, climb into the sailors’ bunks, and take aim from behind one of the nine 16-inch, 45-caliber guns on deck. Head to the battleship on the weekend to enjoy re-enactments with living history interpreters and special behind-the-scenes tours.
Address: 1 Battleship Rd NE, Wilmington, North Carolina
Opening Hours: 8 am – 5 pm, daily
Suggested Tours: Battleship Tours
2. Wander Around the Airlie Gardens
The Airlie Gardens have been amazing visitors for the past 100 years. Established in 1901 for the Pembroke Jones family, the 67-acre public garden features spectacular combinations of formal and informal gardens with more than 10 acres of freshwater lakes.
Named after an ancient Airlie Oak in the garden, which is surrounded by continuous year-round blooms, the gardens are home to over 100,000 azaleas and camellias, a tranquil Pergola Garden, and a network of walking trails with beautiful views of Bradley Creek.
Address: 300 Airlie Road, Wilmington, NC 28403
Opening Hours: Tuesday – Sunday: 9 am – 5 pm
3. Stroll Along the Wilmington Riverwalk and Take in the Views
The Wilmington Riverwalk is a scenic mile-long riverfront boardwalk along the waterfront area of Wilmington’s historic Downtown district that has a variety of attractions and panoramic views of the Cape Fear River. The promenade passes some of the city’s top tourist attractions such as the USS North Carolina battleship, the 1914 Murchison Building, and the Cotton Exchange.
You’ll also wander past beautifully preserved historic structures and pastel-colored shops and the bustling Wilmington Farmers Market, where vendors sell their wares from fresh fruit and veggies to homemade goodies every week. Sit on one of the benches and enjoy performances by local musicians and entertainers.
4. Take in the Historic District in Downtown Wilmington
The Historic District in Downtown Wilmington is home to the state’s largest National Register Historic District and is lined with hundreds of beautifully preserved 19th- and early 20th-century buildings.
Spanning from Isabell Holmes Bridge in the north to Memorial Bridge in the south, the district is also home to vintage mercantile blocks, which house quaint shops and antique stores, sidewalk cafés, and bustling restaurants.
During the summer, the downtown area is full of life with frequent outdoor events like walking tours, live music, gallery shows, and festivals. You can explore this charming area on walking tours, on traditional trolley tours, or riding in a horse-drawn carriage.
Address: 221 N Front St, Wilmington, NC 28401
Suggested Tour: Historic District in Downtown Wilmington Walking Tour
5. Smell the Roses at the New Hanover County Arboretum
The New Hanover County Arboretum is a seven-acre botanical garden that is home to one of the largest water gardens in North Carolina. Established in 1989, the arboretum is located on the grounds of the New Hanover County Cooperative Extension Service and features a spectacular array of different gardens from a herb, rose and bog garden to a landscaped Japanese garden.
An aquatic garden features hundreds of multi-colored koi and catfish in large ponds and a children’s garden will keep the little ones occupied for hours. The New Hanover County Arboretum is open daily and admission is free of charge.
Address: 6206 Oleander Dr, Wilmington, NC 28403
Opening Hours: 8 am – 5 pm, daily
6. Visit the Bellamy Mansion Museum
The Bellamy Mansion Museum is a magnificent 10,000square-foot mansion and extraordinary example of exquisitely preserved antebellum architecture. Located in downtown Wilmington, the mansion was built for Dr. John Dillard Bellamy and features soaring columns and handcrafted intricate details throughout the house.
Surrounded by beautifully manicured Victorian gardens with winding oyster-shell paths and 150-year-old magnolia trees, the mansion now serves as a museum of history and the design arts. You can explore the house and gardens on daily guided tours and see the last remaining preserved urban slave quarters in the country.
, which also visit one of the country’s last remaining and perfectly preserved urban slave quarters.
Address: 503 Market Street, Wilmington, NC 28401
Opening Hours: Monday – Saturday: 10 am – 5 pm / Sunday: 1 – 5 pm
7. Discover the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science
Founded in 1898, the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science is the oldest history museum in the state and the best place to visit to learn about the history, science, and cultures of the Lower Cape Fear River.
The Museum boasts a collection of more than 52,000 artifacts from regions around Wilmington that are displayed in a variety of exhibitions and displays. The first floor of the museum is home to the Michael Jordan Discovery Gallery which explores the region’s ecosystems and the lobby features the bones of a giant ground sloth.
Address: 814 Market St, Wilmington, NC 28401
Opening Hours: Monday – Saturday: 9 am – 5 pm / Sunday: 1 – 5 pm
8. Wander Around the Poplar Grove Plantation
Encompassing more than 15 acres and dating back to 1850, the Poplar Grove Plantation is one of the oldest peanut plantations in North Carolina. Built by Joseph Mumford Foy, the Plantation is now a museum with exhibits that explore the skilled construction of the three-story house by slaves, and the workings of a typical 19th century working community.
The Poplar Grove Plantation is surrounded by 835 acres of landscaped gardens, as well as several other buildings that were part of the plantation, including the original smokehouse and a blacksmith shop. Today, the property plays host to several community events throughout the year, such as a farmer’s market and various festivals.
Address: 10200 US-17, Wilmington, NC 28411
Opening Hours: Wednesday – Saturday / Monday: 9:30 am – 1 pm
9. Get Up Close to Snakes and Spiders at the Cape Fear Serpentarium
This is not a place for the faint-hearted! The Cape Fear Serpentarium is a sanctuary for reptiles and houses 150 different animals housed within 54 different displays, ranging from exotic lizards and dragons, giant crocodiles, and spiders to one of the largest collections of live exotic venomous snakes in the country.
Visitors have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come face to face with some of the rarest and most dangerous reptiles in the world such as the King Cobra, the Taipan, and the Spitting Cobra. You can also see a collection of constrictors such as anacondas, pythons, and boas, and all sorts of spiders and other creepy crawlies. Fascinating, but frightening!
Address: 20 Orange Street, Wilmington, NC, 28401
Opening Hours: Wednesday – Sunday: 11 am – 5 pm
10. Spend the Day Exploring the Masonboro Island Reserve
The Masonboro Island Reserve is an 8.4-mile-long barrier island with a rich estuarine system and a diverse range of natural habitats, including spectacular white sandy beaches. Situated five miles southeast of Wilmington, the island is the largest undisturbed barrier island along the southern part of the North Carolina coast and has an array of different ecosystems from rolling grasslands and sandy beaches to maritime forests, tidal flats, and salt marshes.
The island is also home to a plethora of birds and wildlife and the beaches are nesting sites for loggerhead and green sea turtles. You can only reach the island by boat and can walk around using a network of walking trails. Primitive camping is also allowed on the island for up to two days.
Address: 5600 Marvin K Moss Ln, Wilmington, NC 28409
Suggested Boat Trip: Island Shuttle – Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours
11. Go Train Crazy at the Wilmington Railroad Museum
The Wilmington Railroad Museum is a train lover’s haven with a variety of informative and interactive exhibits, including a life-size caboose, boxcar, and a century-old steam locomotive. Established to preserve the history of railroading in the south-eastern United States, the museum focuses on the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad.
You’ll see operating scale model trains and kids will love the Thomas the Tank Train play area. The Museum hosts several fun events throughout the year, including the arrival of the Polar Express, and offers guided group tours of the facility.
Address: 505 Nutt Street, Wilmington, North Carolina, 28401
Opening Hours: Monday – Saturday: 10 am – 4 pm
12. Check Some Local Art at the Cameron Art Museum
The Cameron Art Museum houses a collection of work by international and local artists and has a non-circulating art library that houses over 2000 monographs and publications. Formerly known as St. John’s Museum of Art, the Museum is based on the historic site of the pivotal Civil War Battle of Forks Road in historic downtown Wilmington.
The building is surrounded by Confederate revetments that harken back to the days of the fall of the Fort Fisher and the Confederacy. Visitors can enjoy rotating exhibitions of historical and contemporary significance and across a variety of disciplines.
Address: 3201 South 17th Street, Wilmington, NC 28412
Opening Hours: Tuesday – Sunday: 10 am – 5 pm (Thursday: 10 am – 9 pm)
13. Relax at the Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens
The Burgwin-Wright House dates back to the 1770s and is one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the city. Now open to the public as a museum house, the mansion has several distinct features, including interiors filled with antiques from the 18th and 19th centuries.
The gardens surrounding the house are just as spectacular and offer guests a peaceful place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. You can stroll through a fragrant kitchen garden full of herbs or orchards of figs and pomegranates. The Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens can be explored on self-guided or docent-led tours.
Address: 224 Market Street, Wilmington NC
Opening Hours: Monday – Saturday: 10 am – 4 pm
14. Take a Riverboat Cruise on the Cape Fear River
There is no better and cooler way to see the city than on a riverboat cruise. The Henrietta III is a beautiful old sternwheel riverboat that cruises from Downtown Wilmington towards the open water of the Cape Fear River.
Inspired by the first “Henrietta,” one of the early steamboats on the Cape Fear River, the Henrietta III is steeped in historic charm and Southern flair. The traditional riverboat features three levels of decks that house a restaurant, a casino, an enclosed atrium, a dancefloor, and an upper sun deck to soak up the spectacular views.
You can enjoy a variety of tours from standard sightseeing trips to specialized dinner cruises like the fun-filled “Murder Mystery Dinner Cruise” and a 4th of July Cruise with fabulous fireworks views.
Address: 101 S Water St #1, Wilmington NC 28401
Opening Hours: Monday & Tuesday: 10 am – 5 pm / Wednesday – Sunday: 10 am – 7: 30 pm
15. Take the Kids to the Children’s Museum of Wilmington
If you are traveling with children, the Children’s Museum of Wilmington is a great place to spend a few hours. Located on Orange Street in historic downtown Wilmington, the museum celebrates the joys of childhood through magical and playful experiences that stimulate the imagination, curiosity, and love of learning.
There are plenty of hands-on exhibits and child-directed displays that encourage children to explore and learn more about science, art, and culture such as ‘Magnetic Minds Science Research Center’, the ‘Toothasaurus Dental Exhibit’ and ‘Ports of Call.’
Address: 16 Orange Street, Wilmington, NC 28401
Opening Hours: Tuesday – Saturday: 9:30am–12:30pm and 1:30–4:30pm / Sunday: 1 – 5 pm
16. Soak up Some Sun at Cape Fear and Brunswick Islands Beaches
The coast and islands at the mouth of the Cape Fear River are bordered by no less than 10 beaches, all of which are only a few miles from Wilmington. The closest beach to the city of Carolina Beach, which is a lovely family-friendly beach town with a boardwalk and home to Kure Beach where you can swim, canoe, kayak, and fish from the 700-foot-long fishing pier.
The Fort Fisher State Recreation Area and Historic Site is south of the city and boasts miles of undeveloped shoreline and wild beaches. Here you’ll find an interpretive walking trail where you can walk the remaining earthworks of Fort Fisher, one of the most important Confederate strongholds in the Civil War.
17. Surf at Wrightsville Beach
Just east of Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach has been dubbed “one of the top surfing towns in the world” by National Geographic so grab your board and have a surf! Known for its crystal blue waters, pristine beach, and great waves, this vibrant beach is the perfect spot for enjoying a wide range of watersports from surfing and stand up paddle-boarding (SUP) to paragliding, kitesurfing, and sailing on the Intracoastal Waterway.
Landlubbers can enjoy fitness trails around the area, fish off Johnnie Mercer’s Pier, or shop at beach boutiques, surf shops, and nearby open-air villages in the beach town of the same name.
18. Make a Splash at Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park
Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park is a huge entertainment center with a water park that promises hours of fun for the whole family. The water park features a million-gallon Wave Pool, a lazy river, double water slides, and sidewinders, among other exhilarating rides. The center is also home to a bowling alley, mini-golf, go-karts, laser tag, bumper cars, a rock-climbing wall, and an indoor playground.
Address: 5320 Oleander Dr, Wilmington, NC 28403
Opening Hours: Monday – Saturday: 10 am – 10 pm / Sunday: 12 – 10 pm
19. Watch a Game at the Legion Stadium
Legion Stadium is home to the Wilmington Hammerheads, a local United Soccer League team that plays games at the 6,000-seat venue. The main field is covered in artificial turf, and there are four acres of paved parking for visitors, as well as facilities such as a beer garden, concessions in the grandstand, a merchandise booth, a VIP Tent, and a press box with a public address system. If you love soccer, it’s well worth catching a game here.
Address: 2149 Carolina Beach Rd, Wilmington, NC 28412
20. Visit the Latimer House
The Latimer House is a historic house museum on South Third Street and the home of the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society. Built in 1852 by local merchant Zebulon Latimer, the four-story house is a beautiful example of the Italianate style of architecture.
The perfectly symmetrical house has 14 rooms filled with more than 600 historic items such as marble fireplaces, crystal chandeliers, antique furniture, and jewelry. Visitors can explore the house and the beautifully maintained gardens on docent-led tours around the property.
Address: 126 South Third Street, Wilmington, NC
Opening Hours: Monday – Saturday: 10 am – 3 pm
21. Go Bike Riding in Halyburton Park
Grab a bike and head to Halyburton Park where you can enjoy the great outdoors and ride a 1.3-mile trail through the trees. The nature reserve has beautifully kept landscapes with plenty of picnic shelters for relaxing with the family, several playground areas for kids of all ages, and a community building where yoga and Pilates classes are held. There are also several areas of wetlands that attract a myriad of bird species for nature-lovers.
Address: 4099 South 17th Street, Wilmington, NC
Opening Hours: Monday – Saturday: 9 am – 5 pm
22. Watch a Performance at the Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts
The Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts is one of the oldest theaters in the United States. Opened in 1858, the old-world arts venue features two stages for dance and music performance, films, and theater productions. The center is home to many performing companies such as Opera House Theatre, Cape Fear Theatre Arts, the Thalian Association, and Willis Richardson Players.
Address: 310 Chestnut Street, Wilmington, NC
23. See Flesh-Eating Plants at the Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden
Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden is a unique garden dedicated to native carnivorous plants. Located in the Piney Ridge Nature Preserve, behind Alderman Elementary School, the garden is the work of horticulturalist Stanley Rehder who dedicated his life to the cultivation of flesh-eating plants.
The garden is home to pitcher plants, sundews, Venus flytraps, and other insectivorous species, who can grow year-round here in one of the world’s few microclimates that allow for it. Visitors can enjoy free plant hikes every Saturday morning.
Address: 3800 Canterbury Rd, Wilmington, NC 28403
Opening Hours: 5 am – 7:30 pm
24. Marvel at the Oddities in the Museum of the Bizarre
The Museum of the Bizarre houses a curious collection of oddities and a medley of the macabre. Based in an unassuming old building next to the Cape Fear Serpentarium, the museum showcases the private collection of a local tattoo artist, Justin LaNasa, and includes Harry Houdini’s ouija board and a lock of Alexander Hamilton’s hair.
Other weird and wonderful items range from a crystal skull and letters from serial killers to vintage medical equipment and a two-headed calf. Slightly less credible objects exhibited include a unicorn horn and the remains of a mermaid.
Address: 201 S Water St, Wilmington, NC 28401
Opening Hours: 11 am – 6 pm
25. Play Pinball at Pachinko World
In an ode to the Japanese gaming staple, Pachinko World is the only pachinko parlor in the United States. Similar to an upright pinball game, Pachinko is a hugely popular pastime in Japan, which grew in leaps and bounds after the Second World War. Patchinko World also has retro pinball games and classic games from the 1980s. It’s well worth a visit just to see this one-of-a-kind museum.
Address: 2591 S 17th St, Wilmington, NC 28401
Opening Hours: 10 am – 9 pm
Best Neighborhoods to Stay in Wilmington NC
- Wrightsville Beach
- Carolina Beach
- Kure Beach
- Oak Island
Best Hotels in Wilmington NC
Luxury: Hotel Ballast Wilmington, Tapestry Collection by Hilton
Located on the Wilmington Boardwalk, this is a luxurious hotel with panoramic views of the Cape Fear Riverfront. Guest rooms have designer décor, modern amenities, and views of the river or historic Wilmington, while high-end facilities include a swimming pool, a fitness center, and three highly acclaimed restaurants.
Address: 301 N Water St, Wilmington, NC 28401, Phone: +1 910-763-5900
Mid-Range: Best Western Plus Coastline Inn
Situated next to the Wilmington Convention Center, the Best Western Plus Coastline Inn is a comfortable mid-range hotel with standard guest rooms, modern amenities, and a fitness center. A hot continental breakfast is served every morning, and guests have access to a pier over the river.
Address: 503 Nutt St, Wilmington, NC 28401, Phone: +1 910-763-2800
Budget: Sleep Inn
Located five miles from the Wilmington International Airport, the Sleep Inn hotel is ideal for budget travelers with standard guest rooms, a complimentary deluxe continental breakfast and 24-hour coffee in the lobby, and free high-speed Internet access available in all rooms. There are several restaurants, cocktail lounges, and specialty shops located within walking distance of the hotel.
Address: 5225 Market St, Wilmington, NC 28405, Phone: +1 910-444-2393
Best Beaches in Wilmington NC
- Carolina Beach
- Kure Beach
Best Restaurants in Wilmington NC
PinPoint Restaurant is one of Wilmington’s top restaurants that serves reinvented Southern classics with fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Address: 114 Market St, Wilmington, NC 28401, Phone: +1 910-769-2972
This award-winning downtown restaurant is renowned for both its delectable cuisine and handcrafted cocktails. Seasonal American fare and fine wines are served in a posh, elegant environment – perfect for a date night.
Address: 123 Princess St, Wilmington, NC 28401, Phone: +1 910-763-5252
Catch is the go-to place for the best seafood in town. Helmed by Top Chef contestant and James Beard Award semi-finalist Chef Keith Rhodes, the restaurant serves the highest-quality North Carolina seafood that exudes seasonal flavors. Great wine list, too!
Address: 6623 Market St, Wilmington, NC 28405, Phone: +1 910-799-3847
Best Bars in Wilmington NC
Tails Piano Bar
Tails Piano Bar takes patrons back to a bygone era of grace and glamor with posh décor, elegant gowns, and classic cocktails.
Address: 115 S Front St, Wilmington, NC 28401, Phone: +1 910-399-6428
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a casual, double-story bar that serves whiskey-centric cocktails, along with craft beers, wines, and other libations in a laid-back atmosphere.
Address: 111 Grace St, Wilmington, NC 28401, Phone: +1 910-769-2021
The Blind Elephant is a 1920s-style cocktail bar with an exposed-brick interior strung with lights and a classic speakeasy vibe.
Address: 21 N Front St, Wilmington, NC 28401, Phone: +1 910-833-7175
Best Coffee in Wilmington NC
Set on Wrightsville Avenue, Grinders Caffé is a great spot for kicking back and relaxing over a great cup of coffee, espresso, or iced coffee.
Address: 5032 Wrightsville Avenue, Wilmington, NC 28403
Luna Caffé on Castle Street serves great espresso drinks, coffee, and a few bottled drinks and snacks. Large windows are perfect for people-watching, and the tables also have games to enjoy with friends.
Address: 604 Castle Street Wilmington, NC 28401
Boasting two locations in the city – on Princess Street and N 4th Street, Folks Café offers organic and fair-trade coffee made with in-house roasted beans.
Address: 1201 Princess Street Wilmington, NC 28401 and 706 N 4th Street Wilmington, NC 28401
Best Breweries in Wilmington NC
Broomtail Craft Brewery
Broomtail Craft Brewery is a warm and welcoming brewery with a tiny taproom and some outdoor space, which makes for a cozy spot in which to taste some of the excellent brews.
6404 Amsterdam Way, Wilmington, NC 28405
Flytrap Brewing is a dog-friendly brewery and gathering spot that pays homage to the Venus Flytrap, whose only native habitat in the world is around Wilmington. The brewery produces American and Belgian-style ales, as well as lagers and pilsners.
319 Walnut St, Wilmington, NC 28401
Wilmington Brewing Company
Located in the heart of Wilmington, the Wilmington Brewing Company produces a line of taps that include an extra pale ale, an India pale ale, a porter, and seasonal Saison brews. The brewery also has a tasting room, and a homebrew supply store.
824 S Kerr Ave, Wilmington, NC 28403