Located on the Cape Fear River, one of the best free things to do in Wilmington, NC is to go for a stroll along the scenic Riverwalk. Visiting the Riverwalk is also one of the top things to do in Wilmington, NC at night, as it’s home to popular dining establishments like The George. For the best shopping in Wilmington, NC, look no further than Mayfaire Town Center.
As for things to do in Wilmington, NC with kids, check out attractions like DEFY Wilmington Trampoline Park and Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park. On the other hand, things to do in Wilmington, NC for college students include spending the day at Wrightsville Beach or seeing a show at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater. Finally, visit Airlie Garden if you’re looking for things to do in Wilmington, NC in December. Keep reading for more fun and unique things to do in Wilmington, NC.
1. North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher
The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is where families can get up close to both marine life and wildlife through an outdoor garden with aviaries; daily dive shows and animal encounters including with a rare albino alligator; tidal pools where you can feel the skin of a gliding stingray; and a two-story ocean exhibit home to sharks and more. It also has a gift shop stocked with everything from puzzles to souvenirs to clothing.
2. Battleship North Carolina
The USS North Carolina was a former World War II battleship and the lead ship of the North Carolina class of fast battleships. Decommissioned following the war, the restored vessel is now a memorial honoring the 11,000 North Carolina residents killed during World War II, and one of the state’s top tourist attractions. Open daily, on a free self-guided Battleship North Carolina tour, visitors can explore the nine levels and view the museum exhibits.
3. Bellamy Mansion Museum
Built between 1859 and 1861, the Bellamy Mansion is one of North Carolina’s finest examples of historic antebellum architecture – a neoclassical architectural style prominent in the Deep South in the 19th century. Today, the property – which includes the mansion, carriage house, and original slave quarters – is a museum of history and design arts, where visitors can take either self-guided or guided tours to learn more about the Bellamy family and their enslaved workers.
4. Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park
For family-friendly things to do in Wilmington, NC, visit Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park. The fun park features both wet and dry attractions. The water park has a lazy river, multiple slides, a children’s splash pool, and a wave pool. Meanwhile, on dry land, there’s an 18-hole mini-golf course, bumper cars, a large arcade with a unique mini-bowling game, a go-kart track, and laser tag. Jungle Rapids certainly puts the fun in Family Fun Park.
5. Airlie Gardens
With a seaside backdrop, Airlie Gardens is a public garden with something for everyone. Its walking paths will take you past multiple lakes, formal gardens, seasonal blooms – like 75,000 azaleas in springtime, magnificent oak trees that date back to the 16th century, and a seasonal butterfly house. Airlie Gardens is also known for its annual events, including monthly bird hikes, the Summer Concert Series, the Oyster Roast and Enchanted Airlie over the holidays.
6. Carolina Beach State Park
Located on Pleasure Island, the 761-acre Carolina Beach State Park is the perfect place to visit this summer. Firstly, its marina and fuel dock give visitors direct access to some of the state’s best fishing spots. Next, pick up a trail map at the onsite visitor center and choose from nine miles of hiking trails through diverse habitats. Carolina Beach State Park also has secluded campsites and cabins available if a day trip isn’t enough.
The 1.75-mile-long Riverwalk is a scenic wooden boardwalk hugging the Cape Fear River downtown. It provides visitors not only with panoramic river views but with easy access to the city’s top attractions, bars, and restaurants, like the aforementioned Battleship North Carolina. Other places not to be missed include Riverfront Park, The George on the Riverwalk for seafood and American fare, and Wilmington Water Tours, which does daily Eagle’s Island Cruises and romantic sunset cruises.
8. Historic District in Downtown Wilmington
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the city’s historic district also happens to be one of the largest in the United States. Encompassing over 230 city blocks, it features fine examples of historic antebellum architecture and includes sights like the aforementioned Bellamy Mansion, the Victorian-era Latimer House, and Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens, which is the city’s only colonial-era building open to the public. Experience the historic district with Horsedrawn Tours by Springbrook Farms.
9. NC Azalea Festival
The North Carolina Azalea Festival is an annual community celebration that has taken place every April since 1948. Over five days, the festival includes colorful parades, street fairs, home and garden tours, art and craft shows, fireworks, and concerts by internationally-renowned musicians. However, the most important event is the annual crowning of the Festival Queen and Princess. When looking for springtime things to do in Wilmington, NC, plan your trip to coincide with the festival.
10. Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts
The Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts has been almost in continuous operation since it first opened in 1858. The historic city hall and theater features a combination of classical revival and late-Victorian architectural elements. It has three venues: the Main Stage (complete with a striking chandelier and red velvet seats), the Ballroom, and the Ruth and Bucky Stein Theatre. Events at Thalian Hall include film screenings, music concerts, dance performances, and theatre productions.
11. Poplar Grove Plantation
Poplar Grove Plantation was a sweet potato and peanut plantation managed by the Foy family for six generations – from 1795 to 1971. The plantation complex includes the 1850 manor house, which now operates as a museum, as well as the stables with farm animals you can visit, the tenant house, the Basket Gallery and the Blacksmith Shop. Poplar Grove Plantation also hosts a farmers market every Wednesday from the beginning of May to late-September.
12. Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens
Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens is located within the city’s historic district. Built in 1770, the Georgian-style property was constructed from the stone walls of the former city jail. It now operates as a museum; giving visitors an insight into what life was like in pre-revolutionary Wilmington. There are guided tours available to see rooms furnished with 18th and 19th-century antiques. Otherwise, it’s free to visit the colonial-style gardens and see the onsite visitor center’s exhibits.
13. New Hanover County Arboretum
The New Hanover County Extension Service Arboretum features seven acres of seasonal and themed gardens. This includes the Japanese Garden with its authentic teahouse and Japanese maples; the Children’s Garden and its miniature cottage; and the Water Garden – one of the largest of its kind in the state. It’s free to visit the arboretum, which is open year-round. There’s also an onsite gift shop and horticultural experts available to answer any burning gardening questions.
14. Masonboro Island Reserve
At 8.4 miles long, the Masonboro Island Reserve is a barrier island that protects the region’s diverse coastal habitats. In fact, 87 percent of the island is either salt marshland or tidal flats. Animals that call the reserve home include birds, different fish, and sea turtles. The only way to reach Masonboro Island Reserve is by boat or kayak. Local company, Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours operates a daily ferry service in the summer months.
15. Latimer House
Another historic house museum to visit is Latimer House, which was built in 1852 during the city’s antebellum housing boom. The Italianate revival-style mansion was home to three generations of the Latimer family and has been the local Historical Society’s headquarters since 1963. Today, its 14 rooms contain over 600 historic artifacts, including neoclassical statues from Paris, stoic portraits, and 19th-century antique furnishings. Open Monday to Saturday, only guided tours are available at Latimer House.
16. Tregembo Animal Park
Another one of the most family-friendly things to do in Wilmington, NC is to visit Tregembo Animal Park. Family-owned and operated since 1952, it’s home to over 100 animal species, including a selection of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Some of the animals you and your family can see at Tregembo Animal Park include the dromedary camel, Grant’s zebra, Bengal tiger, African lion, and American alligator. The park also has a 4000 square-foot gift shop.
17. Sea Turtle Camp
Sea Turtle Camp is a hands-on and marine biology-focused summer camp experience for kids aged 10 to 17, which operates out of Wilmington, Hawaii, and Costa Rica. Summer camp attendees will learn all about North Carolina’s diverse coastal environment through ocean activities and interactive lessons alongside expert instructors. There are three Sea Turtle Camp experiences available: the Carolina Ocean Odyssey, the Marine Biology Adventure, and Marine Biology Immersion, which sees attendees caring for sea turtles.
18. Greenfield Lake Amphitheatre
As the name suggests, Greenfield Lake Amphitheater is an open-air amphitheater that overlooks Greenfield Lake. With capacity for 1200 people, the large facility hosts a plethora of music concerts, local theater performances, and community festivals year-round. Upcoming artists include Scotty McCreery and The Head and the Heart. Seeing a show at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater is a magical and intimate experience, as you’re surrounded by water and a forest filled with cypress and longleaf pine trees.
19. Wrightsville Beach
Next door to Wilmington is Wrightsville Beach, which is the name given to both the township and its spectacularly-long beach. Characterized by a wide white-sand shore and turquoise water with gentle waves, Wrightsville Beach is naturally a popular summertime destination. It’s also home to two historic wooden jetties: Crystal Pier and Johnnie Mercers Fishing Pier – a great fishing spot. Close by, families will find Wrightsville Beach Park, which has a playground with multiple slides.
20. Mayfaire Town Center
Mayfaire Town Center is the city’s premier shopping, dining, and entertainment destination, with over 80 stores and 20 food options. Firstly, it’s home to the Regal Mayfaire Stadium 16 and IMAX theater complex. As for shops, expect to find many beloved brands, like Pottery Barn, H&M, Barnes & Noble, and Ann Taylor. Finally, let’s talk about the fact that there are both casual and sit-down restaurants, including Roko Italian Cuisine, Longhorn Steakhouse, and Playa Bowls.
21. DEFY Wilmington Trampoline Park
Previously known as the Defy Gravity Trampoline Park, DEFY Wilmington still offers the same fun and family-friendly experience. Firstly, you should know that DEFY Wilmington is more than just a Trampoline Park. Its other thrilling activities include soaring through the air using aerial silks dangling above a foam pit; wall trampolines to help you become a parkour master; battle beams for a bit of friendly competition; and even an extreme dodgeball court with wall-to-wall trampolines.