Wilmington, Delaware, may be most famous as the longtime home of President Joe Biden, but the city (population 70,000) is also full of hidden gems. The prominent du Pont family, which made its fortune in the gunpowder business, played a significant role in the growth of Wilmington, and is behind many of the beautiful mansions, gardens, and artifacts that dot the second-smallest state.
From dining and lodging to activities and entertainment, here are nine things you won’t want to miss in Wilmington.
1. Hotel du Pont
Begin your Wilmington trip by checking into Hotel du Pont. Look up and prepare to be amazed at the beautiful details of the ceiling. Notice the rich, hand-carved woodwork, terrazzo floors, and handcrafted, European chandeliers that date back to the Gilded Age—and don’t miss the Gold Ballroom’s walnut doors with peacock engravings. The 12-story Italian Renaissance building opened in 1913 and was once a prime gathering spot for the Wilmington elite.
This hidden gem is part fashionable restaurant, part bowling alley. But at Wilma’s, duckpin bowling is the main attraction. Duckpin bowling features smaller and lighter balls and pins, making it a fun game for all skill levels. Have a meal from the New Orleans-inspired menu (don’t forget to order a beignet), and then grab a drink at the lush, verdant bar, followed by a few rounds of duckpin bowling—or try your luck at the small retro arcade.
3. Nemours Estate
The 77-room Nemours Estate is a true masterpiece of the Gilded Age, with a chauffeur’s garage that houses several vintage Rolls Royces and Cadillacs. Named after a French town, Nemours was built in 1907 by Alfred du Pont as a gift for his second wife, Alicia. After a tour, enjoy a relaxing stroll through the French gardens dotted with sculptures to the 800,000-gallon reflecting pool, which takes 3 days to fill.
4. La Fia
Wilmington has some incredibly delicious restaurants that you won’t want to miss, including La Fia. The husband-and-wife-owned bistro offers diverse seasonal fare in an intimate and cozy setting. The focus is on local and sustainable ingredients, and everything is made in-house. Start with the warm bread, followed by one to two small plates, a pasta dish, and an entrée—and don’t forget dessert.
5. Hagley Museum and Library
Explore history indoors and out at the Hagley Museum and Library. Founded in 1802 by E. I. du Pont as the site of his gunpowder business, today, visitors can see restored mills as well as the home and gardens of the du Pont family. Watch demonstrations of gunpowder machines and see a replica Conestoga wagon like the one used by the family to haul black powder to port. The home features antique family pieces alongside American folk art; a new permanent exhibition, Nation of Inventors, features more than 120 patent models from various inventors.
6. Brandywine Park
The 178-acre scenic Brandywine Park runs alongside the Brandywine River in the heart of Wilmington. The park is home to the Brandywine Zoo, the Sugar Bowl (a concert and event venue), a sports stadium, and a rose garden. Book a picnic in the park with First State Picnics; the company will provide and set up everything, including seating, a table, centerpieces, tableware, a charcuterie board, drinks, games, speakers, and even a mini hanging chair for dogs—and will clean it all up when you’re finished.
7. The Nomad Bar
The Nomad Bar is a great place for a nightcap. This no-cover jazz club also features live R&B, soul, rock, ska, and blues performers. The small and narrow family-owned bar is so welcoming that you may leave having made a few friends—or at least get a good view of the band.
8. Bardea Food & Drink
If you can only go to one restaurant in Wilmington, make it Bardea Food & Drink. The dimly-lit restaurant features a wonderful open kitchen that incorporates ingredients from farms around the state; 29-year-old chef Antimo DiMeo’s creations feature modern takes on traditional Italian and Mediterranean dishes.
9. Paradise Tiki Tours
A tropical cruise in a custom-built tiki boat might not sound like something you’d find in Delaware, but Paradise Tiki Tours has boats that hold up to 40 passengers—in addition to offering full bar service with island-inspired cocktails and tropical tunes (and yes, a restroom). This 90-minute excursion down the Christina River is great for groups, families, or even solo travelers looking to meet new people.
Longwood Gardens, located less than 15 miles northwest of the Pennsylvania-Delaware border, is one of the best botanical gardens in the U.S. The historic indoor conservatory is a must-see year round, with hanging flower baskets, an orchid house filled with hundreds of colorful, delicate plants, spiky cacti, and waterfalls.