Quick question: how many of y’all have spent a weekend in Wilmington, DE? Now, how many of you have driven through on your way from DC to NYC? Prior to last month, I was solidly in the latter category. I’d pass by Wilmington by car or train, and continue on my way to New York.
Then, last month, I had the opportunity to visit Wilmington for a weekend and I left raving about this so-close-to-DC destination that’s perfect for 36 to 48 hours of good food, garden tours, and history.
Travel Guide: Weekend in Wilmington, DE
We visited Wilmington at the beginning of May and got one of those, “will it rain? maybe? maybe not?” weekends where the temperature stays pleasantly cool and you squeeze out just enough hours of sun to fit in a few outdoor activities. And, we had an itinerary packed with historic homes and award-winning meals — two of my favorite things.
Note: I’m going to try my new format again with this guide! I’ll walk you through the basics, then go stop-by-stop through the itinerary, then round it up with category recommendations at the end.
How to Get to Wilmington and Get Around
I’ll use the DC area as the baseline here. If you drive from DC, it’s just under two hours. The Northeast Regional Amtrak will get you there faster — in just an hour and a half. However, I would recommend having a car since much of what you’ll do during this itinerary is outside the downtown area.
Where to Stay in Wilmington
We stayed at the historic Hotel Du Pont in downtown Wilmington. It’s an Italian Renaissance building that was finished in 1913 and has served as a hotel since the day it first opened. We stayed in a suite that had plenty of room for lounging between day and dinner.
An added bonus: while we were there, there were at least two weddings, and, as you may know, there’s nothing I love more than catching a peek at someone else’s wedding — particularly if it’s in a stunning gilded ballroom.
When to Go for a Spring Weekend in Wilmington, DE
Like I mentioned, we went in May and had classic spring weather, alternating sun and rain. It’s the mid-Atlantic, you never know what you’re going to get! But, if you’re a gardening fan, I’d plan around the blooms the gardens will be and what specifically you want to see (more on that in a few).
Stop One: Cocktails at Merchant Bar
After checking into our hotel, we turned around quickly and headed out for drinks and a snack before dinner. On a cool, drizzly Friday evening, downtown Wilmington was quiet, but Merchant Bar was already bustling with a post-work Friday crowd. We snagged two high-top seats looking out the window, ordered the thin cut fries with a trio of sauces (I was sold when I saw both za’atar and saffron aioli mentioned), and sipped on the Mamacita, a jalapeño-tequila-mezcal concoction, and the Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a refreshing gin, lemon, and cucumber drink.
Had we not been bumping up against our dinner reservation, Merchant Bar has the kind of vibe for an evening where happy hour bleeds into evening and cocktails lead to entrees.
Stop Two: Dinner at Bardea
We scooted right down the street after Merchant Bar drinks to our reservation at Bardea Food & Drink, a James Beard nominated restaurant that sources ingredients from local farmers to create innovative dishes.
A few of our favorite dishes included the swordfish, which had a rich chipotle taste, delicate mango on top, and an english pea sorbet (yes, pea sorbet — it was the perfect smooth accompaniment to the smoky swordfish); the ricotta pop tart with a savory onion jam; gyoza with a surprising beet teriyaki sauce; and the decadent girasole, which tastes like a non-peanut butter take on a peanut cup, served with sweet calamnsi milk.
The vibe at Bardea was trendy and buzzing, with one incredible dish coming out after after another. We spent a few hours ordering small plates, tasting inventive dishes utilizing flavors I’d never thinking to put together, and indulging in a meal I’m still thinking about a month and a half later.
Bottom line: if there’s one restaurant you go to in Wilmington, this should be it.
Stop One: Breakfast at Ciro Forty Acres
We started our day at a Ciro Forty Acres, a cozy cafe with a few tables indoors and then several lining the sidewalk outside. As we walked up, we saw loaded fries on the menu and, despite it being 9 a.m., had to splurge, along with the smoked salmon sandwich and the Big Amadu — a gigantic breakfast sandwich with scrapple, bacon, Canadian bacon, bacon aioli, and cheddar eggs (come hungry if you decide to order that). Sitting on a quiet neighborhood street with a coffee and breakfast food (and fries) in hand, I could have sat here all morning, but, alas, we had places to be and see, so we attempted to make a dent in our food and got on our way.
Note: I knew we had a busy eating day ahead, but if we hadn’t I probably would have picked up one of the tasty looking pastries at the grab and go counter inside.
Stop Two: Winterthur Museum and Gardens
From breakfast, we went to Winterthur Museum and Gardens, the third-largest home in the United States, founded by H. F. du Pont and continued into grandeur through his son Henry Francis du Pont. The sprawling estate covers 1,000 acres and has gardens, designed to look as they’ve sprung up naturally, dotting the landscape. Similarly, the mansion itself is built to look organic amidst the flower-covered hills — yet it quietly reaches ten stories into sky.
Tip: make reservations well ahead of time for a house tour! We tried to a couple of days ahead and they were already completely booked during our entire weekend in Wilmington, DE.
While we didn’t have a chance to tour the interior of the home, the museum was open and, for someone who loves both interior design and history, this is a must-see. The museum is one of the largest collections of decorative arts and covers antiques from early American through the early 20th century. I particularly loved the exhibit that explored the Lady of the House, Ruth Wales du Pont, and her life, her struggles, and her big personality.
The gardens span much of the property, but the highlights are all walkable. First, I’d recommend hopping on the tram t0ur, however, to get your bearings. We thought about bypassing it, but it was super helpful in seeing how each garden flowed to the next. The gardens themselves are planted to look as if they’ve just happened to bloom as seeds have fallen in random spots, yet they’re actually a carefully strung together orchestra of color that blooms in succession — always providing beauty to behold. When we visited, the azalea woods were at their peak, but anytime you choose to visit will bring flora and fauna worth exploring.
Stop Three: Lunch at Historic Buckley’s Tavern
After several hours spent wandering through Winterthur, we drove less than five minutes down the road to bustling Buckley’s Tavern. This Wilmington-area classic resides in a building dating back to 1817 and, since the 1930s, it’s served as a meeting place and tavern.
Not surprisingly, Buckley’s Tavern as an old school tavern feel and the clientele was filled with both young and old, and more than a few regulars who’ve probably been coming to the restaurant for decades. We could resist an order of the tobacco onions — a thin fried potato dish that my crispy fry loving heart was all about — and, because we’re in the mid-Atlantic, an open faced crab and cheese gratin.
Stop Four: A Bit of Browsing and Buying
After lunch, it was unclear whether we’d be facing the rain or not, so we decided to wait out the dark clouds by popping in a few stores just a quick walk from Buckley’s Tavern. Here’s where we stopped.
- Adorn Goods: This charming home goods store has everything you need for entertaining, cocktail mixing, and setting a casual or formal table. They happen to carry Dinosaur Designs, a tableware line Adam and I are obsessed with, but haven’t yet been able to justify the investment (someday…).
- Found: This beautifully curated shop has all of the traditional, timeless antiques of my dream home. You’ll find delicate dishware, gorgeous oil paintings (more than a few dog paintings, which are my favorite), and well crafted wood furnishings.
- Shish Interiors: If you love neutral, pretty interiors, this shop is for you. The space is filled with calming whites accented with wood tones, and the shop carries furniture, home goods, and kitchenware.
Stop Five: Mt. Cuba Center
I promised you an itinerary steeped in history and gardens, and here’s our second stop. Mt. Cuba Center was a bit of a drive out of town, but this wooded garden walk is well worth your time. This botanical garden focuses on native plants and spans the two styles I absolutely love: an impeccably maintained formal garden alongside a wandering path through the woods that feels like a forest fairyland.
Mt. Cuba Center has regular native plant sales, which we were tempted by, and which stayed busy the entire time we were there. They also offer garden tours and classes, including art classes, which seem so lovely.
Our afternoon at Mt. Cuba Center included a lightning warning, which meant everyone had to leave the gardens for 20 minutes. We look that opportunity to make a pitstop at Woodside Farm Creamery, which I don’t have a single photo because the sky opened up as soon as we grabbed out scoops.
Stop Six: Grab a Pre-Dinner Beer at Constitution Yards
Before dinner, we had a bit of extra time on our hands, so we decided to grab a beer at Constitution Yards while it was still light out. This seasonal beer garden with a live band and twenty and thirtysomethings gathering for a weekend night out was perhaps the closest we’d felt to normal since restaurants began opening up this spring. There were fire pits and picnic tables in this huge open space alongside the water and, with a slight chill in the air, it was exactly where I wanted to be on a spring evening.
Of course, as has been the theme of our weekend, the rain rolled in, and, within a few minutes, we had taken cover and called an uber (we’d initially planned to walk along the Riverwalk to get to dinner), but that took us to our final stop of the night…
Stop Seven: Dinner at La Fia
Okay, if you made me decide which dinner in Wilmington was better, I’m not sure I could. Both nights were outstanding. It seems there aren’t a ton of “foodie” restaurants in the area (yet), but the ones that are there do it so, so well. And, La Fia Bistro claims another James Beard nominated chef so you know it’s going to be good.
We had outdoor reservations hoping for a lovely spring evening, but we got rain and 50-degree temperatures. Hungry and ready for dinner, however, we decided to brave the outside armed with a tent and stiff cocktails, rather than wait for a table inside. Our server was a trooper in the chilly air and kept us in good spirits while we feasted on crispy duck leg confit, tuna tartare, lamb ribs, and squid ink spaghetti. There truly wasn’t a weak link on the menu.
Plus, I can really prove it was a great dinner since I neglected to take a photo of my last two dishes before they were gone…
Stop One: Brunch at Le Cavalier
We ended our weekend in Wilmington, DE with brunch at the fabulous Le Cavalier, the restaurant within Hotel Du Pont, where we stayed. The restaurant is everything old school glamour should be. It’s over the top and perfectly appointed, with high ceilings, sumptuous fabrics, rich wood, and gilded accents. Just look at that orange velvet. Isn’t it fabulous!?
Since it happened to be Mother’s Day weekend when we visited, they were offering a fixed price brunch, which we took advantage of. We started off with french onion soup for me and monkey bread for Adam. Then, he had the cheeseburger, while I opted for the steak and eggs. I would 100% recommend everything though I would be lying if I didn’t say I’d wished the burger was on my plate, not his. I mean, you can’t go wrong with raclette and pickled green tomato. And, full, happy, and surrounded by the most stunning restaurant is always a great way to end a weekend away.
Note: We actually tried to go the night before to grab a nightcap at their bar but, thanks to those weddings I was so curious about, the bar was entirely full. I can only imagine the vibe in here at night is just as good.
Now, our weekend in Delaware didn’t end here. We actually drove on to New Castle, which, initially, we had planned to bike to. But, the weather had other plans and, instead, we hopped in the car. When we got to New Castle, I had a field day taking photos of historic homes, so we’re going to leave that for another post, which I plan to get live next week. And, for the time being, I’ll leave you with a wrap up of everything we did on our weekend in Wilmington, DE.
Recommendations by Category | Weekend in Wilmington, DE
Where to Stay in Wilmington, DE
Where to Eat and Drink in Wilmington, DE
Where to Visit in Wilmington, DE
Where to Shop in Wilmington, DE
Thank you to Visit Wilmington, DE for partnering with me on this weekend in Wilmington! As always, all opinions are my own and I’m so thankful to the brands and organizations that make this blog possible.