A mere 30 minutes from Philadelphia and less than two hours from New York City and Washington, D.C., lies Wilmington and the Brandywine Valley of Delaware. Home to the famous du Pont estates and gardens, this region’s culture, history, and beauty draw millions of travelers from across the globe each year.
With roots dating back to the 1600s, you might think this destination is only for history buffs or blue hairs interested in a bygone era. Not true. Delaware has done a phenomenal job preserving their landscape and the epic stories of this state’s historical significance to our country but also delivers the entertainment and outdoor adventure modern travelers seek. Here’s why it’s worth the detour.
Explore the du Pont legacy
Flashback to 1800, when Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours journeyed to the area from Paris with his two sons. In 1802, one of his sons opened a gunpowder mill near Wilmington along Brandywine Creek, beginning the DuPont company legacy that continues today. You can actually still visit that mill, as it has been transformed to the Hagley Museum and Library, telling the family’s story with exhibits, demonstrations, and historical documents.
The du Pont legacy must-sees include the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library. With 175 rooms, it’s one of the most grandiose historical American mansions. There’s also Nemours Estate, a stunning French-inspired formal garden, and the exquisite Longwood Gardens, just across the state line. And when you dig deeper, you’ll see Wilmington and the Brandywine Valley has even more to offer.
Discover Delaware’s natural beauty
Connect with nature at Delaware Nature Society’s 2,000 acres of land and education sites, open for you to explore and learn about the natural history of the state. Three of their sites are near Wilmington: Coverdale Farm Preserve, Ashland Nature Center, and DuPont Environmental Education Center. Throughout the year, the society hosts fun events for all ages, such as culinary classes, foraging crafts, and birding hikes.
Plan to visit Wilmington and the Brandywine Valley from May through October to attend Farm Market Days on Wednesdays and Saturdays at Cloverdale Farm Preserve. Hike the green hills, help feed the animals, and pick fresh flowers, herbs, and tomatoes. Food trucks will be there for lunch on Wednesdays, and other local farmers will be selling goods such as bread, cheeses, and pickles.
Explore the marshes, meadows, and woodlands at Ashland Nature Center, designed to give you the opportunity to spot hawks and butterflies and watch bird bandings up close. This area is a birder’s paradise, and the list of species seen here include Eastern bluebirds, white-throated sparrows, and Mourning Warblers.
The DuPont Environmental Education Center gives you access to the seven-mile hike/bike Markell Trail that connects Wilmington to New Castle. Delaware was named a top bicycle-friendly state by The League of American Bicyclists, so you’re likely to see fellow bikers. Canoe the Christina River and keep your eyes peeled for beavers, otters, and bald eagles while on the marsh boardwalk.
Celebrate art in Wilmington
The Brandywine Valley has spawned several renowned artists, so you’ll want to include the arts on your trip to Delaware. Spend an afternoon at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington for the chance to see original artwork and illustrations by local American Master Howard Pyle alongside an extensive collection of British Pre-Raphaelite art. Sit in on an art talk, book club, musical concert, or workshop while you’re in town. Further evidence that Delaware is a place where the very old meets the very new, The Delaware Contemporary is just a 10-minute drive away and serves up a large dose of modern art that’s always changing and often for sale.
Renowned American painter Andrew Wyeth was a native to the area, and the Brandywine River Museum of Art, just across the Delaware-Pennsylvania border, displays an acclaimed collection of his artwork alongside works by his father, N. C. Wyeth, and son, Jamie Wyeth. The museum also offers tours of N.C.’s and Andrew’s art studios, a true glimpse into genius.
Dive into Wilmington’s culture and art scene at the Art Loop Wilmington on the first Friday of each month. Trolleys take you to the many local art galleries, studios, and museums that stay open late and have refreshments and live entertainment.
Speaking of live entertainment, you’ll find an abundance of options throughout the area. The Playhouse on Rodney Square has been bringing Broadway to Delaware since 1913. Check their schedule when planning your trip for the possibility to catch productions such as Finding Neverland, Legally Blonde, and The Sound of Music. Enjoy concerts, comedy, and performances of the likes of The Beach Boys, Lyle Lovett, and the local symphony at the majestic Copeland Hall. The Baby Grand offers more intimate shows that range from ballets to stand-up comedy. The Queen Wilmington dates back to the early 1800s and has a calendar packed with a large range from Ja Rule to Johnny Cash tribute bands.
Plan a trip to The First State for a memorable trip that combines important American history with the modern luxury and adventure we’re all looking for.