November 1, 2012
By Hanna Mangold
News Writer/News Assistant
Photos Courtesy of the Greater Wilmington Convention & Visitors Bureau
If you find yourself with a fall weekend to spare and a desire to try something different, Wilmington, Delaware, could be your answer. Just up I-95, this destination is fun, seasonal, and requires no lengthy or expensive travel.
When most Washingtonians think of Delaware, they think of its southern beaches and boardwalks. But now that summer has passed and travel itineraries are transitioning from ocean vistas to fall foliage, consider voyaging upstate to a city that has been much overlooked. Just over 100 miles from the District, the trip takes about two hours driving time. Wilmington is also easily accessible by Amtrak; Vice President Joe Biden notably commuted via train every day while serving as senator in Delaware. However, traveling by car will make it much easier to explore the surrounding regions, including the beautiful Brandywine Valley.
Just ten minutes from the industrial urban center of Wilmington — itself part of the greater Philadelphia metropolitan area — majestic tree-lined hills slope upwards from the Brandywine and Christiana rivers, towards the rural Amish country of central Pennsylvania. Here, in the Brandywine Valley, visitors will find a delightful fall experience without traveling all the way up to New England. Longwood Gardens, just over the Pennsylvania border, is an expansive botanical garden located on the historic DuPont estate. The gardens are open to the public year-round, and feature one of the largest collections of trees in the country, in addition to ornate European-style fountains, indoor floral exhibits, a massive pipe-organ, and much more. Some activities require tickets, so plan ahead by checking out seasonal events on their website (the Autumn Colors exhibit is open through November 18th). The Garden Railway will excite children as it tours the scenic landscape, and the one-of-a-kind Chrysanthemum Festival will wow the entire family with horticultural feats and amazing flower displays. Unlike New York and Vermont, where the leaves change color earlier in the fall, November is the perfect time to view vibrant reds, yellows, oranges, and purples in Delaware. Beginning at Thanksgiving, Longwood Gardens hosts a magical display of Christmas lights that the family will love, and which is also perfect for romantic holiday date nights.
Back across the border to Delaware, the Brandywine Valley plays host to numerous historical museums like the Hagley Museum and Library, which showcases early American business, and the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, which displays American decorative art inside and out. Both locations reflect the importance that the DuPont family saw in preserving the country’s historic traditions and landscapes. These museums take visitors on a journey back to the turn of the century, when the enormous wealth of a few titans of industry produced elaborate mansions, expansive art collections, and opulent decoration.
Many museums in and around the city invite an exciting cultural scene. Every Sunday, the Delaware Art Museum offers free admission, and every first Friday of the month visitors can participate in Wilmington’s Art Loop, a walking tour of local arts establishments that is always varied and enjoyable. Galleries will often have light refreshments available.
Wilmington is also a great destination for food and drink enthusiasts. The Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant is located right downtown and offers seasonal brew specialties, happy hour, and tasting events. The menu is large, with vegetarian and gluten-free selections, as well as yummy appetizers, tasty entrees, and even a kid’s menu. Ask the servers about food and beer pairings, or just dive in—you will not be disappointed. For a good time off the beaten path, go to Rockabilly Thursdays at the New Orleans-themed blues bar, venue, and restaurant, The Blue Parrot Grille. Thursday nights are usually busy, so enjoy the bar atmosphere with drink specials and an excellent Cajun-style meal. Wilmington is also home to many of Italian, Polish, and Greek heritage, so keep your eyes out for world-class subs and pizza, Polish bakeries, and gyros.
Wilmington tourists should take advantage of one of Delaware’s claims to fame: tax-free shopping. Its lack of sales tax and proximity to major East Coast metropolises make Delaware a shopping hub. The Apple store in the Christiana Mall is consistently ranked as high in traffic as the flagship stores in New York City and Tokyo. The mall has a nice selection of mid- to high-end retailers and can be a good choice for a rainy afternoon.
Staying the night in Wilmington is easy. There are numerous hotels in the city, including some luxury options, such as The Hotel du Pont, which boasts elegant services and prestigious past guests. If you are looking for a more economical choice of lodging, check travel sites for deals on rooms in and around the city. There are many hotels located just outside of Wilmington that are much more affordable and no less convenient if you have a car.
For a culturally rich vacation without hours in the car or expensive plane tickets, Wilmington, Delaware, is an oft-overlooked destination for tourists from the Washington, D.C., area. November is a great time to explore scenic fall vistas by day and enjoy fine dining and local brews by night. Family vacations, weekends with friends, or romantic getaways are all easily accommodated, so enjoy your trip.