48 Hours in Wilmington
Spend a weekend on America’s best riverfront and North Carolina’s most accessible coastal city.
“A place where Spanish moss drips from knurly twisted live oak trees, azaleas grow as high as houses, streets are paved with brick and ballast stone, and colonial homes have secrets to tell.” That’s the way Wilmington and Beaches CVB describes the city. Recently voted America’s Best Riverfront by USA Today‘s 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards, Wilmington is also North Carolina’s most accessible coastal city. Wilmington International Airport currently offers nonstop flights from major hubs like New York City, Atlanta and Charlotte. If you prefer a nice drive with the convertible top down and the breeze in your hair, I-40 also leads directly to Wilmington.
Only have two days to spare? No problem. Get the scoop on where to stay, visit, shop at and eat in Wilmington for a 48-hour getaway that combines tours by horse-drawn carriage and riverboat, international cuisine, local brews and even a few ghosts.
Check in. Get pampered in a luxurious boutique hotel that was an antebellum home in a past life. Be romanced by a charming Victorian inn. Maybe you’d like an up close view of the river at a full-service waterfront hotel? Many of the area’s lodging options are conveniently located within an easy walk of some of Wilmington’s most popular attractions.
Explore the historic streets. Sightsee in Wilmington’s National Register Historic District via a horse-drawn carriage, Segue, trolley or walking tour. Spanning more than 230 blocks, the district features churches, classic architecture, moss-draped live oaks, brick-lined streets and Antebellum homes. Be sure to visit one of Wilmington’s historic houses, such as the Burgwin-Wright House of the colonial era, the Latimer House of the Victorian era or the Bellamy Mansion (pictured) of the Antebellum period.
Waterside lunch. After working up an appetite, grab a bite to eat and enjoy some shopping along the water at Wilmington’s Riverwalk. This nearly 2-mile boardwalk runs along the scenic Cape Fear River and is lined with independently owned shops and waterfront restaurants.
Tour Hollywood East. North Carolina ranks among the top states for U.S. film production, and one of the largest production facilities east of L.A. is located right in Wilmington. See the real locations of some of Wilmington’s biggest movies and TV shows during a Hollywood Location Walk. You can also take a tour of EUE/Screen Gems Studios (in the spring or summer) to get a behind-the-scenes look at well-known productions like the CBS series Under the Dome. And coming soon is an online film itinerary that takes fans on a self-guided tour of the area’s most popular filming locations.
Walk the decks of history. Tread along the decks of the Battleship North Carolina, one of the state’s most visited attractions, and imagine being at sea in 1942. Discover how this heroic ship and brave crew fought in every major naval offensive in the Pacific during World War II, earning 15 battle stars for their valiant efforts.
Indulge your taste buds. From traditional Southern fare to fresh seafood creations, there are plenty of options for even the most discerning palates, including international cuisines ranging from French and Irish to Greek and Thai. Options include new American at Manna, seafood at Catch, French-inspired Caprice Bistro and Southern comfort food at The Basics. Taste Carolina even offers walking culinary tours of downtown restaurants and markets.
Take a ghost tour. Wilmington is considered to be among the most haunted cities in the world. The Ghost Walk of Old Wilmington tours traverse 275-year-old alleyways, while guides spin stories of the lost souls that still linger in Port City each night. If you’re looking for an extra dose of paranormal activity, try a haunted pub crawl.
Discover natural beauty. Start the day outdoors. Walkers, joggers and off-road cyclists will want to spend some time on Wilmington’s Gary Shell Cross-City Trail. Yogis and Pilates enthusiasts will want to check out classes at Halyburton Memorial Park, a 58-acre nature preserve. Golfers will want to tee off at the newly renovated, Donald Ross-designed Wilmington Municipal Golf Course.
Cruise along the river. Board the Henrietta III Riverboat for a narrated luncheon cruise along the scenic Cape Fear River.
Celebrate a Century of Gardens. The historic Airlie Gardens stretch across 67 acres of formal gardens, wildlife, historic structures, walking trails, sculptures and A legendary landscape of azaleas and the 467-year-old Airlie Oak.
Tour a brewery. Located in Historic downtown, Front Street Brewery celebrates 20 years in 2015 as Wilmington’s only restaurant with a brewery. Learn how beers like Corncob Cream Ale and Swamp Lager are brewed and share in a few samples during daily tours. You can also visit several of Wilmington’s recently opened craft breweries aboard the new Port City Brew Bus.
Get cultured. From theater productions to museum exhibitions to live music, Wilmington has a vibrant arts and culture scene. Catch a performance at the Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts, one of the oldest theaters in America. Visit Cameron Art Museum, a 42,000-square-foot museum filled with two centuries of art from not only North Carolina, but the rest of the country. If you’re getting hungry, catch dinner and a show at TheatreNOW, a performing arts venue specializing in weekend dinner theater. Plus, two new theater companies are coming to the area in 2015 are Dram Tree Shakespeare and Opera Wilmington.
Take home a souvenir. Wrap up your trip with some unique shopping at Old City Market, a historic building housing an eclectic collection of shops. Also check out The Cotton Exchange, eight restored buildings connected by open-air courtyards and home to 30 specialty shops and restaurants, Blue Moon Gift Shops, voted “Best Gift Shop in Wilmington” several times over, or The Ivy Cottage, the largest furniture consignment store in the southeast.
Have a little extra time to spare in Wilmington? Stay another day or two to explore the nearby beach communities of Carolina, Kure and Wrightsville Beach. Wilmington is located within a 30-minute drive of the three island beaches, each with their own distinct personalities. If Antebellum architecture is more your glass of sweet tea, consider a visit to Poplar Grove Plantation. Located just a few miles from Wilmington, it was named one of 10 Best Historic Southern Plantations.
All photos courtesy of Wilmington and Beaches CVB. Many thanks to them for submitting this suggested itinerary for a weekend getaway.