Longwood Gardens is located about fifty miles from Philadelphia. This is a huge park, designed by Pierre S Bridge at the beginning of the twentieth century, that today contains more than 9,000 different species of plants. Everything is arranged to make your visit as pleasant as possible, with trees providing shade over the paths, playgrounds for children, a restaurants and the inevitable souvenir shop, as well as huts for bird watching. You could easily spend a whole day here.
This museum is located about thirty miles from Philadelphia in the heart of the beautiful Brandywine Valley. It stands on the site of the home and studio of the artist Andrew Wyeth. The Wyeth family has produced three generations of artists, the best-known perhaps NC Wyeth. The museum shows the family's paintings, as well as temporary exhibitions. There's a parking lot, a restaurant and a well-stocked shop offering books about art.
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.
Pea Patch Island is a small island on the Delaware river in between Delaware City, Delaware and Finns Point, New Jersey. Given it's position at the entrance of Delaware Bay, the island was once a strategic military stronghold and famously served as a prison for Confederate soldiers captures after the Battle of Gettysburg in nearby Pennsylvania.
Today, it's home to the Fort Delaware State Park and a major stopping point for migratory birds. To get there, you need to catch a ferry at Delaware City. The ferry trip doesn't take all that long (the whole trajectory is less than a mile long) and costs $11 for adults and $6 for children. Many people head to Pea Patch island to check out the 19th-century Fort Delaware complex, but the island itself also makes for a nice visit. You can see large flocks of heron (the largest in the US outside of Florida), egrets, and ibis and there are facilities set up for picnics and barbecues. I'd suggest bringing a cooler of food and drinks to have a nice early lunch in the fresh air before heading out to explore the fort and its cannons, do one of the nature trails on the island (there are signs indicating where they begin and end) and checking out the large colonies of birds.
Cape Henlopen State Park is a beautiful stretch of coastline in southeast Delaware and also one of the oldest public parks in the United States, having been set aside for public use by statesman William Penn in 1682. That's right, the park has been a popular place for nature lovers even since before the founding of the United States! These days, nothing has changed: the park is still a popular area for fishing, camping, surfing, biking, and bird watching.
If you're headed to Cape Henlopen State Park to do some fishing, there's a 24-hour fishing pier open in the park throughout the year and a small shop where you can stock up on bait and snacks. If you'd rather fish directly from the beach, you should get in touch with the park as a special permit if needed (though the process is simple). Cape Henlopen State Park is also one of the most popular surf spots in Delaware, especially the Herring Point area.
Since we're talking about Delaware, there's also a historic fort on the island: Fort Miles. Rather than being from the days of the Revolutionary or Civil wars like so many other forts in Delaware, Fort Miles was one of the major defense centers on the East Coast during WWII. Today, you can visit the fort and learn a little bit about its history. Not a bad way to cap off a day of swimming, fishing, and picnicking!
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 Seashore State Park is by far the BEST state park in Delaware. If you're looking to hit the beach and cool off in summertime, it's the best possible choice you could make. Here's the plan: head out early as there is limited parking (and thus limited visitors) with a car full of family and friends and, of course, a well-stocked cooler. Yes, there are some snack bars in the park if you're looking for a cold drink or some chips, but your best bet is to bring the beach umbrella, blanket, and food yourself and have a lovely picnic in the sun by the coast.
If you want to make a weekend out of it, there are also plenty of cabins for rent in the park and RV hookups. If you want to rent a cabin, just stop by Indian River Marina and inquire or, better yet, call ahead to make sure there is room available. I'd suggest the cabins: they're fully-furnished with TV and AC and you can get a real Atlantic seaboard experience. If all the relaxing in the sun and eating has you a bit restless, there's a nature trail that loops around the wetlands at Burton Island Nature Reserve that leaves from the marina. It's a good place to clear your head, take in the fresh air, and see the birds. Another trail to consider is the Thompson's Island trail. Thompson's Island is full of massive oak trees that look like something out of a movie and was actually a sacred place for some of Delaware's Native American tribes. It probably offers the best bird-watching in all of Delaware Seashore State Park.
So, whether you're looking to kick back on the beach with a beer and a picnic, kayak the Atlantic ocean, or just enjoy the great outdoors, Delaware Seashore State Park is your go-to place in Delaware.
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.
Fenwick Island State Park is a gorgeous state park on southern border between Delaware and Maryland. A lot of the beach side areas in Delaware and Maryland are, for better or worse, highly developed with lots of homes, cars, shops, and restaurants. That's not to say that they aren't pleasant, but sometimes you just want a nice natural beach...no crowds, no noise. Well, luckily we still have Fenwick Island State Park.
If you want to relax on the beach, head to the ocean side of Fenwick Island. There are snack bars, a changing room, and lifeguard on duty all summer long. The water is a bit chilly, but the sand is soft and the view is beautiful. The beach, by the way, is huge. Don't worry about getting there at 8 in the morning to reserve your spot. There is more than enough room for everyone and the beach never gets all that crowded anyways unless you're talking about holiday weekend.
If you're not the beach-bum type, then consider heading to the side of the park that faces Little Assawoman Bay. You can go clamming or crabbing in the shallows of the bay and, who knows, maybe even get enough to have your very own clam-bake in the evening! If you're going to boat out in the bay, make sure to put your boat in at the Assawoman Wildlife Area and when paddle (or motor) your way across the bay.
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!
Lums Pond State Park is one of the most popular state parks in Delaware and a popular place for fishing, kayaking, or just having a picnic in the fresh air. Fishing is probably the most popular activity at Lums Pond; the lake is quite large (200-acres) and while there are plenty of wild fish like pike and crappie, the park service makes sure to keep the lake stocked with freshwater bass.
The park is also large enough to offer some good trails and even cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in winter. The best trail is the Swamp Forest Trail which surrounds the entire pond and takes you by all the major places in the park (boat launch, Frisbee golf course, etc.) so it's not a bad way to discover what the park is all about.
Finally, I'd like to mention the recently-inaugurated Go Ape Treetop Adventure Course. It's a ropes and adventure course up in the trees and open to the public (this is, if you're not afraid of heights!). Don't forget that there are nearly 70 campsites at Lums Pond State Park, most of which are set up for tent camping, and even a couple of yurts if you're looking for something different.
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!!!
Dogfish Head Brewery is an east coast Mecca for craft beer fans and tour of the facilities and a sample of their seasonal brews is a must if you're in the Milton, Delaware area. The brewery tours are first come first serve and the crowds of interested beer-fans are growing by the day so make sure to get there early if you want to catch one of the tours. The tours take place hourly during the week from 11AM to 4PM and they extend into the evenings on Thursdays. It's a good way to get a behind-the-scenes look at the brewery and see a bit of its inner-workings.
Another plus is that all guests 21+ get to sample some of the craft brews whether they take a tour or not (that doesn't mean that you shouldn't take the tour, of course!). Also don't miss the chance to visit the Bunyan's Lunchbox to try some tasty grilled sausages and beer-matched grub. Now, the important part: what beers to try. I'd recommend the IPA and the stout, but I like beers with a bit more personality. If you have any doubts, just ask one of the workers and they'll be able to guide you far better than I!
Fort Delaware is a Civil War-era fort and one of the main attractions of Fort Delaware State Park on Pea Patch Island. To get to the park, you need to take a ferry from Delaware City of Fort Mott State Park (also a must-see if you're in the area) on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River.
The fort itself is in surprisingly good shape and is located actually out in the water a few feet off the island. They've resorted some of more interesting areas of the fort like the barracks and the mess hall and now offer guided tours to visitors. One of the coolest parts is seeing the massive cannons on the second floor and see a live demonstration of a Columbia black powder gun from the era. One of the nice detail is that many of the park employees dress, speak, and act as the soldiers did in the 19th century so it really helps bring the place to life. You can see an old-fashioned blacksmith's shop, for example, or help the costumed wash-woman work a washboard and ringer.
Aside from visiting the fort itself, a day at Fort Delaware is also a great excuse to enjoy the salt air and wildlife on Pea Patch Island. There are picnic areas, hiking trails, and bird-watching areas around so you can spend the entire day.
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.