People don’t immediately think of the ocean or other water wonders when they think of North Carolina. In fact, people tend to forget the fact that the state is a coastal state in the first place. If you want to experience North Carolina’s coastal beauty, one of the places you should head to immediately is the beautiful port city of Wilmington in New Hanover County. Though small and a bit unknown by tourists in the U.S., there’s a lot of places to visit and things to experience in Wilmington. While you are in North Carolina, we heavily suggest that you make a stopover in this gorgeous city and that’s what this guide will be about.
- 1 How to Get to Wilmington, North Carolina
- 2 Getting Around Wilmington, North Carolina
- 3 Best Time to Visit Wilmington, North Carolina
- 4 Best Things to Do in Wilmington NC
- 4.1 Get a glimpse of history
- 4.2 Marvel at North Carolina’s architecture
- 4.3 Admire the flowers and plants at Airlie Gardens
- 4.4 Relax at the New Hanover County Arboretum
- 4.5 See the USS North Carolina Battleship
- 4.6 Visit the oldest museum in the state
- 4.7 Enjoy the waters
- 4.8 Get closer to nature
- 4.9 Watch amazing performances at the Thalian Hall Center
- 4.10 Enter the world of sea turtles at the Sea Turtle Camp
- 4.11 Stroll The Riverwalk
- 4.12 Conquer your fear of snakes
How to Get to Wilmington, North Carolina
The Wilmington International Airport at 1740 Airport Blvd. will the most convenient traveling option if you are coming from other states or other parts of the world. The airport is just a few minutes away from the center of town. Outside the airport are countless taxis and concierge services that will get you to the city easily.
Delta Airlines and U.S. Airways fly into the Wilmington International Airport. There are direct flights between Wilmington and 5 major US cities such as New York, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington DC and Charlotte. You’ll need to make connecting flights if you are going to come from international cities.
If you are already nearby and are hoping to drive to Wilmington, you don’t have to worry too much as driving there is pretty direct. Coming from the west, you’ll need to take US Highway 74 or 76 to get to Wilmington. From the northwest, you can use Interstate Highway 40, US 117 and 421. From the northeast and south, you should take US 17.
There are also direct service trips from Amtrak’s Thruway service to get to Wilmington. Just visit any Amtrak station nearby and you’ll get to the city eventually. While long, this Amtrak trip will be your cheapest option if you are going to commute.
Lastly, since Wilmington is a port city, you can take advantage of its ports and head to the city via a boat. If you have your own boat there are many places to dock your ship. The beach nearest to Wilmington is Wrightsville. You can also take Yacht or concierge services to get to the city if your budget allows for it.
Getting Around Wilmington, North Carolina
When you are going to Wilmington, your main goal is to get around the city and the beach towns so your best bet at doing this is by renting a car. Luckily, there are many rental companies in Wilmington and most of them are readily available at the airport. Book your car ahead of the trip at companies like Avis, Enterprise, Hertz Rent-A-Car, National, and Thrifty.
You can also take a taxis which are available all around. Aside from hailing one, you can dial and call these taxi companies below:
- A Taxi (910-208-9075)
- Angel’s Taxi (910-796-8956)
- Goins Taxi (910-409-0727)
- Home James Taxi (910-200-1654)
- Letts Yellow Taxi-Limo (910-343-3335)
- RSVP Black Car Service (910-279-7799)
- Taxi Taxi of Wilmington (910-833-3333)
- Transporter (910-632-7401)
- Wilmington NC Taxi (910-377-7327)
Other forms of public transportation are buses and a trolley system that will get you around the key spots in the downtown area. These are cheaper than the ones stated above especially if you are traveling alone in Wilmington. Just be sure to consult with Wilmington’s friendly locals if you are having issues getting around.
Best Time to Visit Wilmington, North Carolina
There are two perfect times to visit Wilmington. The first is from March to May when the average temperature highs are from the mid-60s. This is the perfect time to get around the huge and intensive Historic District of Wilmington. It’s also a great time to walk around the Airlie Gardens. Another thing to keep in mind that this is the sweet spot for hotel prices as the winter prices are gone but the summertime peak is yet to arrive.
Another great time to visit Wilmington is from September to November. During this season, the average temperatures will descend from the 80s to the upper 60s. This signals another great time to visit the Historic District. Moreover, while the winter season is arriving, the city and its beaches are just warm enough to keep you comfortable while swimming.
The peak season for tourism in Wilmington are spring and summer. This is because Wilmington’s beaches are great places to be at during these times. Expect high hotel prices if you are visiting during the peak seasons but on the bright side, you’ll be able to partake in lively events at spring and summer.
Best Things to Do in Wilmington NC
You’ve probably known Wilmington because it was chosen as filming locations of a number of movies and series like One Tree Hill, Iron Man 3, and A Walk to Remember, to name a few. But this port city shouldn’t just be known for those as it also has good attractions and activities to offer that will surely make any traveler’s experience more fun and memorable. In case you’re wondering what those are, here’s a rundown of some of the best attractions and things to do in Wilmington NC that you shouldn’t pass on if ever you’re traveling to this city.
1Get a glimpse of history
There’s nothing more enjoyable than learning about the city or country that you are visiting. You’ll not just gain more knowledge and understanding of their culture and history but you can also get to see a glimpse of what it’s like in the old days. Luckily, Wilmington offers activities and attractions that allow you to do that. If you’ll head to Wilmington’s historic district, you’ll see that it is lined with museums, as well as historic churches and houses, which will welcome you with open arms and give you a glimpse of the city’s rich history. It also has several shops and restaurants. In fact, this area is home to more than 40 locally-owned restaurants that will give you a taste of the city’s culture. The best part of this place that makes visiting it one of the best things to do in Wilmington NC is that you can do all of the activities that it has to offer while experiencing a unique mode of transportations such as trolley cars, riverboats, and even horse-drawn carriages.
2Marvel at North Carolina’s architecture
North Carolina’s architecture is also a must-see. One of the places in the city where you can catch a glimpse of its architecture is downtown Wilmington. Here, you’ll see a number of historic houses. But among all of those, the Bellamy Mansion Museum stands out the most. This is because of how well-preserved it is. In fact, it is one of the state’s most extraordinary examples of antebellum architecture.
Built for Dr. John Dillard Bellamy and his family, the Bellamy Mansion Museum features fine examples of Victorian architecture made even more elegant with soaring columns framing the main entrance. What you’ll love about it even more are the handcrafted intricate details that it has throughout the house. The Bellamy Mansion Museum also has a beautifully manicured Victorian garden that’s dotted with 150-year-old magnolia trees and has a winding oyster shell paths. Whether you just want to take a stroll and be amazed by the mansion’s architecture or want to walk through the history on guided tours, visiting this place, as well as other historic houses in the city is one of the best things to do in Wilmington NC.
3Admire the flowers and plants at Airlie Gardens
Whether you love flowers or you just want to relax after a long day of exploring the city, visiting the Airlie Gardens is one of the best things to do in Wilmington NC. Here, you can enjoy the views of a striking combination of formal and informal gardens. A world-famous collection of more than 100,000 azaleas and camellias, over 10 acres of freshwater lakes, plus a number of historic structures and sculptures. It is one of the top attractions in the city that people of all ages will surely enjoy. Its Pergola Garden alone will make you fall in love with nature all the more, especially with the continuous year-round blooms that it has on display. Its 468-year-old Airlie Oak is worth seeing too. Needless to say, it is also one of the most Instagram worthy places in the city. Take photos of the beautiful landscape and flowers that it has or use them as a nice backdrop for your photos. This place is worth seeing.
4Relax at the New Hanover County Arboretum
Another place where you can relax while taking in the best views of nature is New Hanover County Arboretum. Here, you have a seven-acre space with more than 30 gardens filled with flowering plants and bushes (in fact, the gardens have over 4,000 varieties of native and naturalized plants), verdant lawns, and water gardens (which is by the way one of the largest in North Carolina) with multicolored koi and catfish. Some of the notable gardens that the New Hanover County Arboretum has are the rose garden, herb garden, bog garden, aquatic garden, and a landscaped Japanese garden. It even has a children’s garden. That said, people of all ages will surely enjoy this place. And the best part of it is that visiting the Hanover County Arboretum is free of charge which makes visiting it really one of the best things to do in Wilmington NC.
5See the USS North Carolina Battleship
North Carolina also has a lot of stories to tell about its past, especially during World War II. And you can get to see a piece of it in Wilmington as well. This is because the USS North Carolina Battleship, which launched in 1940 and is one of the fastest and carrier of powerful guns during World War II and took part in almost every major battle in the Pacific Ocean, now sits at Wilmington and has become a National Historic Landmark since 1986. See this majestic battleship and even get to see what’s inside it and hear stories of its glorious days, it’s definitely one of the best things to do in Wilmington NC that you shouldn’t miss. What’s even better is that the USS North Carolina Battleship hosts plenty of events and programs that are surely entertaining and educational at the same time. It’s not just a nice moment to marvel at its beauty but it is also an educational one so if you’re traveling with kids, don’t miss a chance to see this too.
6Visit the oldest museum in the state
Speaking of educational trips, visiting the Cape Fear Museum is also one of the things to do in Wilmington NC that we highly recommend. This is because it is apparently, the Cape Fear Museum is the oldest history museum throughout North Carolina. In addition to that, it has dedicated itself in preserving, interpreting, and collecting artifacts about the history, science, and cultures of the Lower Cape Fear. Here, you’ll see a collection of over 52,000 artifacts collected from all over the city of Wilmington displayed in different educational programs and exhibitions. One of the notable exhibits that it has is the Michael Jordan Discovery Gallery that explores the region’s ecosystems. There is also bones of a giant ground sloth and a locally built Simmons Sea-skiff boat on display. What makes the Cape Fear Museum all the more interesting is that it also hosts temporary and traveling exhibits. Hence, you’ll surely be surprised at what’s on in every visit.
7Enjoy the waters
You might wonder how you will enjoy the beach when you’re in Wilmington when it is land-locked. Apparently, the city is the economic and cultural center of the Cape Fear Coast, a string of pristine barrier beaches. Hence, you can still enjoy the waters of North Carolina. One of the most-recommended beaches is Masonboro Island Reserve. This is because this 8.4-mile long barrier island has a diverse range of natural habitats and a rich estuarine system. In addition to that, it is the largest undisturbed barrier island along the southern part of North Carolina. It is so big that it has an array of different ecosystems – from maritime forests and salt marshes to ocean beaches, tidal flats, and even rolling grasslands. That said, it is the perfect place to enjoy the waters of North Carolina and at the same time relax more, especially that it is not that easy to reach as it is only reachable by boat. On top of that, it has a network of walking trails in case you want to explore the island. Also, you can camp here for a maximum of two days.
8Get closer to nature
If you want to get even closer to nature, Wilmington has a nice spot for you too and that is the Halyburton Park and visiting it is one of the best things to do in Wilmington NC. Here in this nature park, you can get to enjoy a community building, picnic shelters, playground areas, and a biking and walking trail that stretches more than a mile. Halyburton Park also has a number of nature programs that are perfect for all age groups. Little Explorers is for children aged two to five; Eco Explorers, which is divided into two age groups, is for ages five to seven and eight to ten; and several family programs too as you enjoy the views of various trees dotting the area. If you want to get fit, they have a place where you can do yoga and Pilates classes. It is also a place where you can celebrate special occasions like birthday parties, weddings, and even business meetings.
9Watch amazing performances at the Thalian Hall Center
Known as one of the most important and the oldest theaters across the United States, the Thalian Hall Center is one of the best places where you can watch outstanding theater performances. Here, you can enjoy ballet performances, concerts, lectures, recitals, film festivals, and more. The best part of it is that it is home to plenty performing companies like Cape Fear Theatre Arts, Thalian Association, Willis Richardson Players, and Opera House Theatre, to name a few. Visiting this place is one of the best things to do in Wilmington NC as you will not just get to enjoy amazing performances but you can also get to marvel at its elegant interiors. It’s a perfect activity for the whole family and even one of the nicest date ideas available in the city. Who knows, you might even get to see your favorite artists perform. It’s definitely not to be missed when traveling to Wilmington.
10Enter the world of sea turtles at the Sea Turtle Camp
Whether you love animals or if you are traveling with kids, this place should be one of your top priorities too when visiting Wilmington. This is because this place serves as a biology summer camp where you will not just get to see sea turtles up close and personal and gain more knowledge and understanding about them as well as their habitat but it is also a place where you will be able to help make a difference in the environment. This is because the Sea Turtle Camp apparently has life-enriching programs where you can enjoy hands-on, get-your-feet-wet educational activities that are perfect for kids, to even adults. You can even get to experience patrolling Caribbean beaches for nesting leatherback and green sea turtles if you join its programs. Also, you can even scuba dive North Carolina’s shipwrecks. Their programs are multi-dimensional that really gives a life-changing experience to everyone. It’s definitely one of the must-try things to do in Wilmington NC too.
11Stroll The Riverwalk
If you want a more relaxing activity, you can stroll the Riverwalk. It’s one of the best things to do in Wilmington NC that many locals and tourists alike highly recommend too. This is because, here, you have a mile-long boardwalk to enjoy that gives the best river views and access to plenty of the city’s historic buildings, dining, shopping, and art venues. It is also a place where you can enjoy the city’s special events like the annual Riverfest, Farmers Market, and even get to see performances from various local musicians and entertainers. And the best part of it is that this activity will not cost you even a penny.
12Conquer your fear of snakes
Whether you are fascinated with snakes or the opposite but want to overcome your fears, this place is one of the interesting attractions that the city has that we’re sure you’ll like, if not love. As its name, Cape Fear Serpentarium, suggests, this place houses a number of exhibits of venomous snakes and constrictors. This place also has great lizards and crocodiles too that will impress you with the diversity of its scaly residents. You can even get to see king cobras, mambas, vipers, diamondback rattlesnakes, Burmese pythons, and giant anacondas, to name a few. It’s interesting as it’s not just for entertainment but you can also get to learn.
Aside from you get to re-enact your favorite scenes from A Walk to Remember, Iron Man 3, and other movies that were filmed in Wilmington, it is also a must-visit because of the attractions and activities that it can offer to people of all age groups. You will never run out of things to do when you visit this place. That said, it is definitely worthy of that spot in your list of travel destinations. We guarantee that you will love this place as much as we do. So why not plan your travel itinerary today?