April 5 - 9, 2017 No matter the weather, spring doesn't begin in Wilmington until the North Carolina Azalea Festival. The annual Wednesday to Sunday celebration, one of the region's largest, attracts visitors from all over the United States and Canada. Entertainment includes a grand downtown parade, a lively street fair...more about North Carolina Azalea Festival
Visiting or relocating to Wilmington, NC? Prepare to fall in love with this charming coastal city. Horse-drawn carriages still click along the downtown riverwalk and riverboats cruise its 300-year-old harbor, but the past is only part of the coastal city's story. What was once a busy port teeming with markets, warehouses and the world's largest cotton exchange has become a lively spot for arts, shopping, family activities, fine dining and nightlife. University life continues to grow and a new convention center has helped spawn a revitalization of the Cape Fear River business district. The Port City has its fair share of annual festivals to draw visitors from across the globe — from the North Carolina Azalea Festival, to River Fest, to the Cucalorus Film Festival.
The largest city on NC's coast, there is something for everyone in Wilmington, and there's no better place to start than downtown. Take a drive down Market Street into historic downtown Wilmington, park your car on a canopied sidestreet, breathe in the smell of jasmine, and let your adventure begin. Wilmington has a storied past, whose recorded history began with the explorations of Giovanni da Verrazano in 1524. The city itself was founded in 1739. You'll find evidence of the city's history everywhere you walk — from the beautiful Bellamy Mansion Museum of History and Design Arts on Market Street to the Latimer House in South Third Street. Explore brick sidestreets, antebellum architecture, and lush gardens and imagine life in a bygone era. Stop in the Cape Fear Museum to learn about the history of the region and explore the lives of those living in the Cape Fear Region from Native American times through the end of the 20th Century.
Take a walk down the Riverwalk, the scenic boardwalk which runs along the riverbank. You'll see locals and tourists running, walking their dogs, or simply enjoying the scenery and the breeze at the river's edge. You'll have your pick of fine dining along the way too — from La Catalan for a glass of French wine and a spectacular cheese plate to the Pilot House for some of the best seafood around. The Wilmington Tea Room is a real treat for superb tea and delicious scones. Or maybe you're in the mood for a boat ride? The Henrietta III takes guests on tours of the river daily — from sightseeing cruises to narrarated dinner cruises. Other boats dock on the river and offer tours as well. Be sure to look across the river at the magnificent USS North Carolina, which is moored in the Cape Fear River. Or better yet, take a water taxi. If you're downtown on a Saturday morning in warm months, browse the riverfront farmer's market and bring home delicious fruits, vegetables, cheese, flowers, and baked goods.
Visiting with the kids? Stop in at the Children's Museum of Wilmington where your little ones can paint a masterpiece, fire a cannon, give a weather report, and play for hours. Afterwards, get a cone of ice cream downtown. Everyone will be happy.
You'll find excellent cafes, bakeries, restaurants, and bars throughout downtown Wilmington for any price range and palate. From pub fare to fine fining, to some of the best pizza in town, you'll find what you're hungry for. Searching for a spot for a romantic cocktail? You'll find rooftop bars and sofa bars where you can relax and unwind. Got a sweet tooth? Never fear, there's plenty to satisfy your cravings for cupcakes, ice cream, and more.
Downtown Wilmington is a hub for the arts. Take a walk down Front Street and you'll find a number of art galleries. If you're lucky enough to be in town on a Fourth Friday Gallery Night, you can enjoy a special after-hours look into galleries and studio spaces throughout downtown. If music is your thing, come downtown on a Friday in the summer for the Downtown Sundown Concert Series, a free live music series, featuring local and regional acts in the Riverfront Park on North Water Street between Princess and Market Street. Looking for some good theater? You won't want to miss the many productions at the historic Thalian Hall Center for Performing Arts. Thalian is also home to Cinematique, an art house film series that is a favorite with locals. Into film? It goes without saying that you're in the right place — from tours of famous movie hotspots to the Cucalorus Film Festival, there's something for all the film buffs in area.
But, Wilmington is so much more than downtown. You'll find plenty of shopping and fine dining wherever you go. Airlie Gardens offers glorious gardens all year long and the Cameron Art Museum (off 17th Street Extension) hosts world class art exhibitions, performances, lectures, and classes in all artistic genres. UNCW hosts a spectacular performing arts series that shouldn't be missed, drawing top-named performers from across the world to the Port City. Take a trip to Screen Gems and tour the movie studios or maybe run into one of your favorite starts.
Throughout Wilmington you'll find opportunities to explore and so much to see and do. Dust off your walking shoes, take a deep breath, and get ready to be charmed by the coastal flaire of this Southern city.