8 Reasons to Drive to Wilmington, Delaware

With excellent restaurants and top-notch museums, Wilmington is a must-visit road trip destination.

Delaware—our tax-free neighbor to the south, the first state to ratify the Constitution, and the home of our current president—is an oft-overlooked road trip destination. No shade, but with tons of worthy spots to explore to the west and north (see: Lancaster, the Poconos, the Jersey Shore, and New York), sometimes Philadelphians forget about the tiny state that borders Pennsylvania.

But Wilmington, the state’s largest city, is a rapidly growing hotbed for food, entertainment, and al fresco enjoyment any time of year. And even better, it’s less than an hour away from Philly by car (and even closer to 30 minutes if you avoid traffic). So if you’re itching to get out of town, make this super easy trip and try the following restaurants, hotels, theaters, and other Joe Biden-approved spots in Wilmington, Delaware.

Bardea Food & Drink
Bardea Food & Drink

Eat your way through the city

With a restaurant scene that rivals our own, Wilmington has no shortage of killer restaurants and bars from all-star chefs. Bryan Sikora is perhaps the city’s most lauded chef and restaurateur, so his restaurants are all worthy of a visit. Check out the Market Street mainstay, La Fia, for bistro fare or craft cocktail bars Crow Bar and Merchant Bar for on-point drinks, charcuterie boards, and elevated bar fare.

Longtime Philadelphia restaurateur Scott Stein and chef Antimo DiMeo are behind Bardea Food & Drink, a top-notch restaurant serving up inventive Italian fare. For a stylish environment and modern French fare, head to Hotel Du Pont’s Le Cavalier, headed up by another Philly transplant, Tyler Akin, of Stock and Res Ipsa fame. Plus, a newer addition to the city’s restaurant scene, Snuff Mill Butcher, is a lovely spot to sample meat, cheese, and other ingredients all sourced locally.

If you’re in search of a more casual spot to grab lunch, Wilmington has you covered there, too. Give DE.CO, a food hall with eight stalls that cover pizza, sushi, chicken and waffles, and more, and Riverfront Market, with Thai, sushi, and taco options, a try.

When it comes time for a drink, Torbert Street Social’s space in a stable from 1887 is a historic spot to unwind with cocktails or a drink from the extensive whiskey, beer, and wine lists.

Nemours Estate
Nemours Estate

Get your museum fix

Wilmington and the surrounding area is home to a whole host of museums. There’s the Delaware Art Museum, which has a permanent collection that includes American art from pre-Revolution through the 1960s, British pre-Raphaelites, contemporary art, sculpture, and more. For more modern works, check out Delaware Contemporary, where local artists are often on display. The Delaware Museum of Nature and Science (formerly known as the Delaware Museum of Natural History) is reopening in May, and the space’s collections have a large focus on birds and mollusks.

If you wanted to see how the 19th and 20th century’s other half lived, check out a trio of estates once occupied by members of the uber-wealthy du Pont family. Tour the Nemours Estate, a grand mansion and formal French gardens, when it reopens on April 1; the Hagley Museum and Library, the ancestral home and gardens of the du Pont family and gunpowder yards; and Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, the 175-room owned by Henry Francis du Pont that houses nearly 90,000 artifacts from as far back as 1640.

beer
Stitch House Brewery

Bring your beer game

What would an out-of-town visit be without brewery hopping? Sample your way through brews with fun names like Drunkel Dunkel, Seek & Destroy, and Children of the Grave at Stitch House Brewery. The first craft brewery in a Delaware casino, 1937 Brewing owes its name to the year the state’s horse racetrack opened and its unpretentious drink and food menu will have you feeling at home. With two locations in Wilmington, Bellefonte Brewing Company offers an orange cream ale, a Kolsch, and IPAs on draft year-round. The city’s only production brewery, Wilmington Brew Works, is housed in a 100-year-old former factory. In their taproom, you can order IPAs, Irish oatmeal stouts, dunkels, and more.

If someone in your crew likes to stray from beer, Liquid Alchemy Beverages has a huge selection of mead and cider. Their award-winning meads are bourbon, brandy, and gin-barrel aged and their also award-winning ciders are made with local apples.

The Queen
The Queen

See a show

From theaters to music venues, Wilmington’s performing arts spaces provide showgoers an alternative to Philly’s offerings. At Wilmington Theatre Company, you can see professional theater along the riverfront with plays like “Brighton Beach Memoirs” on deck for the coming months. Under The Grand arts organization, professional Broadway shows, ballets, comedians, and bands come to venues Copeland Hall, The Baby Grand, and The Playhouse. Enjoy dinner and a show at The Candlelight Theater, where all tickets include a table service meal. Touring bands, dance parties, and drag brunches populate the show calendar at The Queen, a former hotel turned movie theater.

Brandywine Creek State Park
Brandywine Creek State Park

Hit the great outdoors

With nearly a dozen parks and recreation areas, Wilmington’s green spaces are perfect for tossing a frisbee or picnicking. Go rope climbing and rappelling at Alapocas Run State Park, stroll along the Brandywine River at Brandywine Park, wander through marshland at the Russell W. Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge, or marvel at horses prancing through the meadow at Carousel Park & Equestrian Center. The Christiana Riverfront is easily walkable thanks to the 1.3-mile Riverwalk, taking visitors by foot from Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park to the Shipyard Shops, and extends to the du Pont Environmental Education Center and Markell Trail. In warmer months, get very intimate with the river on a public cruise tour.

University of Delaware
University of Delaware

Get the Joe Biden experience

Though he was born in Pennsylvania, Delaware is the state Biden made his career, graduating from the University of Delaware, representing the state in the Senate, and still owning property there today. Take a DIY Biden tour, making stops at the University of Delaware; the Delaware Technical & Community College, where Jill Biden was a professor; the Amtrak station named after him; and some of the restaurants he frequents: Bardea Food & Drink, Cafe Verdi, Walt’s Flavor Crisp Chicken Express, and more.

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway
Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway

Learn a thing or two about Delaware’s history

Aside from the whole “first state to ratify the US Constitution” thing, Delaware has a rich and varied history, with many sites in Wilmington. One of the most popular activities is taking a ride on the Wilmington & Western Railroad, first chartered in 1867, for a 10-mile trip through Delaware’s countryside.

You can trace Harriet Tubman’s journey north to freedom through Delaware on the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway. The 125-mile driving tour begins in Maryland, where she was born, but includes the New Castle Courthouse Museum and the Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park, honoring Tubman and fellow Underground Railroad agent Thomas Garrett.

Or climb aboard the Kalmar Nyckel, a replica of the colonial ship which brought over European settlers who founded New Sweden in the 1600s. Among those settler’s first order of business was to build a church, a fort, and the like. The church and its burial grounds still stand today and are open for tours. A few centuries later, Fort Delaware was built as a Civil War prison in 1859. Visit the fort when it reopens in the spring to learn about what life was like on base during the Civil War and for tours of the barracks, officers’ quarters, and more.

HOTEL DU PONT
HOTEL DU PONT

Stay over in style

Make a weekend of your trip to Wilmington and book chic lodging. Hotel du Pont (there’s those du Ponts again) was once the headquarters of the du Pont Company when it opened in 1913. These days, the Gilded Age glamour persists with European chandeliers, hand-carved wood, and terrazzo floors. With riverfront views and complimentary shuttling, the Westin Wilmington is an excellent bet for solid hospitality. A stone’s throw away is the Hyatt Place Wilmington Riverfront also provides easy access to riverfront attractions and sleek, minimalist rooms.

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Allie Volpe is a writer based in Philadelphia. She hasn't slept in days. Follow her on Twitter: @allieevolpe.