Weekend Getaway: Wilmington, Delaware

My in-laws used to live in Philadelphia, so I’ve driven by Wilmington, Delaware on I-95 more than a few times. Never stopped once. That’s kind of sad you know because – as I recently learned – Wilmington is quite a nice place to visit.

I spent a long weekend in Wilmington in March. I was in town to run a half marathon but wanted to get more of a flavor for this town. Here’s how to spend a weekend in Wilmington.

Day One

Start at Brandywine Creek State Park, one of 17 state parks in Delaware. It’s just three miles north of Wilmington and it’s a delightful way to begin your stay. At one time, this 933-acre park was a dairy farm owned by the du Pont family. Hike the 3.2-mile Rocky Run Loop, which features rock outcrops, lush green moss and a waterfall.

Next, head to Riverfront Wilmington for lunch. Here you’ll find a variety of delicious options, like Iron Hill Brewery and Big Fish Grill. After you eat, stroll the riverwalk. Get in a round of mini golf or see the area from the 29-passenger River Taxi. Kids will love the Delaware Children’s Museum.

Plan to spend the rest of the day at Longwood Gardens. Here you’ll find more than 1,000 acres of manicured gardens, meadows and woodlands, as well as dancing fountains. In spring, the outdoor gardens are especially beautiful. The Main Conservatory wows year-round with colorful flowers and verdant greenery, even a hallway of living walls.

From here, steer your way back onto the Brandywine Valley National Scenic Byway (Route 52 / Kennett Pike) for scenic views as well as a bite to eat along the way. Two popular stops include Pizza by Elizabeths and BBC Tavern and Grill (formerly Brandywine Brewing Company).

Take the scenic byway all the way back into downtown Wilmington for a stay at the historic HOTEL DU PONT. This elegant landmark has been a fixture on 11th Street for more than 100 years. It was one of the most lavish hotels of American’s Gilded Age and today is a popular venue for wedding receptions. A peek in the ornate ballroom is an absolute must.

Day Two

Start your day back on the Brandywine Valley National Scenic Byway with a drive to Buckley’s Tavern, which has a family-style pajama brunch on Sundays. As a bonus, all those in PJs get brunch at half-price. I’m dreaming of the Pecan Sticky Bun French Toast now. Yumm-o.

Burn off brunch with a bike ride along the new 7.9-mile Jack A. Markell Trail to historic New Castle. You can rent bikes (which come with a helmet, lock and basket) at the Du Pont Environmental Education Center across from Riverfront Wilmington. Another idea is a short hike at Alapocas Woods Park for more waterfall views.

Make Winterthur your next stop. Take a narrated garden tram ride around the former property of Henry Francis du Pont, a well-known horticulturist and antiques collector, to take in the colors as well as learn the history of the estate. The tram will drop you in front of the house for a one-hour introductory house tour. Get tickets for both when you arrive at the visitor center at Winterthur.

Kids will especially love wandering about the Enchanted Woods, a whimsical children’s garden you can access from the tram tour. Inside the museum, hands-on activities entertain littles.

Fans of The Crown on Netflix will love the latest exhibition at Winterthur that runs through Jan. 5, 2020 called “Costuming the Crown.” More than 40 costumes from the series are on display, offering a behind the scenes look at how costume design can re-create history.

At the end of the day, settle in for a bite and a pint at Stitch House Brewery, just a short walk from the HOTEL DU PONT. Try the skillet nachos or a bowl of white chicken chili. For children, look for kid-sized skillets of chicken parm, pierogies or chicken fingers.

If You Have More Time

 Got more than two days? There is so much to do in Wilmington. Here are a few more ideas:

* Explore Nemours Estate. Be awed by a formal mansion, gilded sculptures and the largest formal French garden in North America. The estate is only open from May to December.

* Take the kids to the Delaware Museum of Natural History. Kids will love exploring exhibits that take them into jungles and seas, as well as back in time to prehistoric days.

* At Longwood Gardens, sign up for the new one-hour behind-the-scenes tour on the mechanics of the dancing fountains.

* In nearby Nottingham, get a first-hand learning experience at the Herr’s Snack Factory. Learn what makes a great potato chip and how tortilla chips get seasoned up and ready to bag.

* Board Wilmington’s Riverboat Queen for a scenic two-hour cruise on a restored paddlewheel boat. Look for brunch cruises on Sundays and dinner cruises on Thursdays.

Have you been to Wilmington, Delaware? I’d love to know about some of your favorite things to do in the area. Let me know in the comments section below.