For many visitors, the waterfront downtown region is where the action is in Wilmington, and an extended visit to this area is the highlight, if not the majority, of a great Wilmington vacation. Downtown Wilmington is steeped in history, filled with attractions, and offers all the enticing restaurants and shops of a major city, while retaining its small-town coastal charm.
Spanning 300 city blocks, and recognized as one of the largest downtown communities of its kind, visitors will find plenty of ways to hit the cobblestone streets and enjoy the distinctive culture, history and entertainment that Wilmington is known for. Be sure and take advantage of these activities, all available along Wilmington's riverfront and downtown.
A Day of Touring: There are endless tours available in Downtown Wilmington, both self-guided and conducted by a number of distinctive tour companies. Visitors will find they have the option to explore the streets via a horse drawn carriage, a local trolley, or even cruise along the bordering Cape Fear River waters via a tour boat. Specialty tours are also available, including moonlit ghost tours, historical walking tours, and even "pub crawls" or dining tours which escort visitors to the best local brews and restaurants in town. For a self-guided exploration, head to the Riverwalk, a one mile boardwalk that runs parallel to both Downtown Wilmington and the Cape Fear River, and which provides a safe and scenic route to catch some fantastic views of Wilmington's best attractions, including the Battleship USS North Carolina docked along the harbor.
A Day of Shopping: Shopping in the downtown region is sure to produce some distinctive finds, as the shops here specialize in one-of-a-kind merchandise that can't be found anywhere else. Elite boutiques mix with funky little college-centric vintage shops, and galleries can be found around virtually every corner, showcasing the famous local and regional artists that have put the local art scene on the map. Foodies will find ample bakeries, wine and cheese shops, and other fun little shops to explore, (including a locally acclaimed store that specializes solely in Italian Olive Oils), and souvenir seekers will find plenty of treasures to take back home. Bring your wallet and your walking shoes, because Wilmington is truly a treasure trove of fantastic shopping.
A Day of Sightseeing: Many of Wilmington's most distinguished and well-known sites are located within the downtown, making a day of exploring the highlights an easy, on-foot adventure. Sightseers will want to stop by the USS Battleship North Carolina anchored along the riverfront, theBurgwin Wright House, Bellamy Mansion and Latimer House, three historic pre-Civil War estates, or visit the local museums. The Cape Fear Museum, Childrens Museum of Wilmington, and Cape Fear Serpentarium can all be found here, making a day within the confines of Wilmington's downtown a full, educational, and gratifying experience.
A Night at the Theater: Wilmington's theater scene is nothing short of outstanding, thanks in no small part to its connection to major Hollywood studios which film in the area on a regular basis. The heart of the theater scene is in the downtown region, where visitors will find nearly a dozen community theaters that host exceptional productions. Head over to Thalian Hall, which has been the home to thousands of productions without pause since it was first opened in 1858, or buy a couple tickets for the latest show at City Stage at Level 5 in the heart of the downtown area. This historic building features a rooftop bar with incredible views of the city during intermission, as well as a small but refined 220 seat century-old theater without a bad seat in the house. From Shakespeare to musicals, every genre is well-represented, making it easy for theater lovers everywhere to enjoy multiple nights exploring the arts scene.
A Night of Dining: The dining scene in Downtown Wilmington is incredible, with cafes, coffee houses, diners, and fine dining establishments scattered throughout the streets. Take an afternoon lunch break with a couple of cheap homemade tacos and some North Carolina brews, or enjoy a romantic night out with critically acclaimed French cuisine or impeccably crafted seafood dishes by some of the region's greatest chefs. Changing menus and specials ensure that every dining experience will be unique, and with so many dining options to choose from, Wilmington visitors never go hungry.
A Night on the Town: Considering that Wilmington is a college town, and home to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, one might assume that the night scene is geared to the 25 and under set. But the after-hours scene in Wilmington is as diverse as the community itself, and virtually every style of bar, club, and music venue can be found here.Spend a night shagging with Beach Music in the background, enjoy a little live jazz, rock out to a local punk band, or dance the night away at one of the many night clubs. From piano and cigar bars to rooftop night clubs, all tastes are represented, and with easy walking distance from one hotspot to another, visitors can simply peruse the safe streets until they find that perfect late night venue with everything they're looking for.
Other Events:Wilmington is known for its festivals, and visitors will find a new and exciting event virtually every weekend. Early Saturday risers in the spring, summer and fall seasons will definitely want to check out the local Farmer's Market, held in a riverfront pedestrians-only section of Downtown Wilmington, while visitors in need of a big thrill will want to book a trip during Wilmington's Azalea Festival, easily the largest festival along the southern Carolina coastline. Clearly, no matter how a visitor decides to spend their Wilmington stay, the deceivingly small downtown offers more than enough entertainment and activities to fill a vacation and then some. Keep an eye on the local events calendar, and make sure you join in the fun in this distinctive, and altogether welcoming, waterfront community.