The beautiful coastal city of Wilmington, North Carolina is a charming town and popular tourist destination, thanks to its variety of things to do and its breathtaking sunsets over the Cape Fear River. Whether you’re looking for outdoor recreation, shopping, dining, history or all of the above, this laid-back Carolina gem has got it all. And don’t worry, even if you’re only stopping in for a short visit, it’s still easy to get a little taste of it all.
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Stroll Through Downtown (Nearby Hotels)
Start out your first day in Wilmington by going straight downtown to the city’s quaint historic district. Just park your car at one of the convenient lots scattered around town and get ready for a full day of exploring. First, you’ll notice all of the original architecture and historic buildings everywhere you look, as the city made a conscious effort to preserve and rehabilitate its original buildings. Inside their walls, you’ll find a variety of unique shops, restaurants and bars. While you’re strolling around, make sure to stop in for a coffee at Port City Java on North Front Street and then pick up a little sweet treat at Pink Baking Co.
Do some shopping at The Cotton Exchange (Nearby Hotels)
After you’ve explored all the treasures of downtown, head over to The Cotton Exchange, also located on North Front Street, toward the edge of town. In this unique shopping “mall,” you’ll find all kinds of cute souvenir shops, boutiques and restaurants, housed inside of several historic buildings. All of the shops are connected by a network of walkways and staircases, giving it a quaint and cozy feel, as well as plenty of beautiful outdoor spaces with shade trees and benches for relaxing. While you’re there, stop in to Paddy’s Hollow for some authentic Irish fare for lunch.
Walk the Riverwalk (Nearby Hotels)
After lunch, head back toward town and pick up the city’s famous Riverwalk that winds along the edges of the Cape Fear River for even more shops, as well as beautiful views of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge and the U.S.S. North Carolina Battleship. Along the way, you’ll find several built-in stools and benches for relaxing and several places to grab a glass of wine or a cold beer.
Take a river cruise (Nearby Hotels)
For a perfect end to the day, hop on board one of the sunset cruises offered by Wilmington Water Tours. You can board right off of the Riverwalk and settle in for relaxing ride up the Cape Fear River, while you enjoy live music onboard from local musicians and a cocktail from their full bar. Make sure to bring your camera or phone with you because you’ll definitely want to snap a picture of the beautiful river sunset.
Visit the Battleship North Carolina (Nearby Hotels)
After a good night’s sleep at the hotel, head back toward downtown so you can check out the U.S.S. North Carolina, a battleship that is permanently docked on the Cape Fear River, just across from the downtown waterfront. This massive ship is amazing to see in person, plus you’ll learn all about the men who lived and worked onboard during World War II, through a series of exhibits featuring photographs, audio/visuals and other mementos. You can even put yourself in their place and imagine firing the guns or steering the massive vessel.
Wander through Airlie Gardens (Nearby Hotels)
After you’ve spent the morning exploring the battleship and learning about history, take a short drive over to the other side of town where you can visit Airlie Gardens – a beautiful botanical garden. This 67-acre property features a gorgeous array of seasonal flowers, towering oak trees, historic structures and contemporary sculptures that can all be enjoyed from a collection of winding paths. There’s also a butterfly house and a gift shop to explore. Plus, if you pack a lunch ahead of time to bring with you, you can enjoy a picnic at one of the many picnic tables or just on a blanket at your favorite spot.
Explore Mayfaire (Nearby Hotels)
By the time you finish visiting Airlie Gardens, you’ll probably be ready to grab some dinner before its time to hit the road. So, head just down the road to the expansive Mayfaire Shopping Center, where you’ll find over 20 different restaurants to choose from including The Melting Pot, Tokyo 101 and Symposium, which serves Greek-inspired European cuisine. If you have time while you’re there, you can also check out over 80 different stores or take in a movie at their 16-screen stadium theater.