Delaware may be one of the smallest states in the US in terms of square miles, but it’s full of points of interest. If anything, Delaware’s diminutive size allows you to travel from place to place with ease. There is no shortage of things to see in Delaware for history buffs, who undoubtedly are aware that it was the first of the 13 original states to ratify the Constitution. But there’s more to the First State than Colonial architecture and artifacts. Delaware’s Atlantic coastline is dotted with beaches that are perfect for family summer vacations. The state is also brimming with charming communities that make ideal weekend getaway spots. So whether you’re after a history lesson, a seaside escape, or a quaint, small-town sojourn, read on to discover some of Delaware’s top destinations.
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If you’re wondering what to do in Delaware during your valuable vacation time, put Wilmington at the top of your list. Wilmington is Delaware’s largest and most populous city, so it has attractions enough to suit any interest. Located on the west bank of the Delaware River, not far from the state border with Pennsylvania, Wilmington is the state’s urban hub where beautiful historic architecture meets the bustle of modern life.
One of the most visited sites in Wilmington is the 300-acre Nemours Estate, comprising an early 20th-century mansion and gardens commissioned by Alfred I. Du Pont of the influential Du Pont family. This estate was built in the style of a French chateau and is a must-see for architecture buffs. Want to learn more about the Du Pont family? Head just north of town to the Hagley Museum and Library, the family’s first US estate and the site of restored gunpowder mills.
Entertainment options are endless in Wilmington. The 1.3-mile Wilmington Riverfront takes you on a scenic promenade along the Christina River, allowing you to absorb the sights and sounds of the city. Find educational fun for the whole family at popular spots like the Delaware Children’s Museum and the Delaware Art Museum. Be sure to check the city’s schedule to catch a baseball game at Frawley Stadium or a concert or comedy performance at the Grand, a breathtaking theater built in 1871.
2. Brandywine Creek State Park
Many of the best vacation spots in Delaware boast abundant outdoor recreation opportunities, and Brandywine Creek State Park is no exception. The park is located along Brandywine Creek in northern Delaware, just south of the Pennsylvania border. Brandywine Creek State Park is known for its distinctive stone walls built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the area was farmland part of the Du Pont estate.
The 933-acre park is home to four separate nature preserves including Tulip Tree Woods, which contains old-growth tulip poplar trees. This preserve is best observed in the spring, when wildflowers like bloodroot and nodding trillium carpet the forest floor. Brandywine Creek State Park’s pollinator garden and rolling meadows feature ground nesting birds and rare native flora. Bird-watchers can spy bluebirds, American kestrels, and eastern meadowlarks as well as several species of migratory hawks.
The park’s diverse terrains allow for a wide variety of activities. The vast meadows are open for disc golf, picnics, kite-flying, and even cross-country skiing and sledding in the winter. Hikers can enjoy 14 miles of trails, including a path that follows the park’s namesake creek. The creek itself can be enjoyed via canoe or kayak, and anglers can find crappie, bluegill, and smallmouth bass. Wilson’s Run is stocked annually with trout.
3. New Castle
Located on the Delaware River’s west bank about six miles south of downtown Wilmington, New Castle is one of the coolest places in Delaware for fans of history. Dutch settlers arrived in the area in the 1650s, and the town has retained a great deal of impeccably preserved Colonial architecture. If a leisurely day spent strolling down cobblestone streets, taking in charming shops, green spaces, and historic sites sounds good to you, New Castle is the place to do it.
Travel back in time by visiting sites like the Dutch House. Now operating as a museum, this house was built in the mid- to late 1600s and is one of the oldest buildings in the entire state. Another must-see spot of historical significance is the Amstel House Museum. This Georgian mansion was constructed in the 1730s and features stunning details like original woodwork.
One of the most popular and beautiful spots in New Castle is Battery Park. This site is where William Penn landed when he first arrived in America in 1682. The park faces the Delaware River and includes a walking and biking trail with scenic views of the river. Various events are held in the park throughout the year, including Separation Day celebrations, which commemorate the day when Delaware declared itself independent from British and Pennsylvanian authority.
4. Cape Henlopen State Park
Cape Henlopen State Park is one of the best places to go in Delaware if you’re traveling in a group with varied interests. Located on Cape Henlopen where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Henlopen State Park is a place of both natural and historic significance in addition to being a waterfront recreation area.
Learn about Cape Henlopen’s time as a World War II defense site by taking a tour of the Fort Miles Museum and Historical Area. Visitors can climb an observation tower, watch an artillery demonstration, take a ride in a troop transport truck, and experience a guided tour of Battery 519, a gun bunker from 1941. If your interests align more with nature and wildlife, check out the park’s Seaside and Nature Center. Among the center’s attractions are educational programs for all ages, a live osprey cam, and a 495-gallon two-level touch tank.
When it comes to recreation, Cape Henlopen has everything you’d expect of a coastal park, including ocean swimming, windsurfing, kayaking, paddleboarding, boating, fishing, and clamming. The park also offers popular hiking and biking trails, as well as picnic areas, a playground, cabins, campgrounds, pet areas, and a disc golf course.
5. Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge
Situated on the shores of Delaware Bay, Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge is one of the best places in Delaware for bird-watchers. The refuge’s recorded history dates back to 1679, when the Chief of the Kahansink sold the marshland to a man from New York. Dutch settlers called it Bompies Hoeck, which translates to “little-tree point,” and the name eventually evolved to become Bombay Hook.
The refuge was officially established in 1937 as part of a chain of refuges stretching from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The majority of Bombay Hook’s 16,251 acres consist of tidal salt marsh with mudflats, cordgrass meadows, and various waterways. The refuge also has forests, timbered swamps, and freshwater impoundments. Bombay Hook is a significant migration stop and breeding ground for shorebirds and waterfowl, including Canada geese, American black ducks, semipalmated sandpipers, herons, egrets, and many more.
The refuge offers numerous ways for visitors to scope out some wildlife. The 12-mile wildlife drive is popular, and five short walking trails along the way provide an up-close look at the habitats. For those who want a bird’s-eye view, three of the walking trails have 30-foot observation towers. Other activities include hunting and staff-guided interpretive programs.
As the state capital and one of the largest cities in Delaware, Dover is an easy choice for a vacation destination. Located on the St. Jones River in the Delaware River coastal plain, Dover and the surrounding Kent County were named after their eponymous counterparts in England. An abundance of Colonial architecture makes Dover a haven for history buffs, and its status as the second most populous city in the state encourages a plethora of entertainment and cultural activities.
Dover’s history dates back more than 300 years, so you won’t have to look far to find historically significant architecture. The John Dickinson Plantation is a popular tourist attraction and one of the six sites that make up the First State National Historical Park. The plantation was the early childhood home of John Dickinson, known as the Penman of the Revolution. The Green, the site where Delaware voted to ratify the US Constitution, is also part of the national historical park.
No matter your interests, there’s an activity in Dover for you. Fans of NASCAR flock to races at the Dover International Speedway. More thrills can be found at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino, where guests can watch harness racing or try their luck at slot machines and table games. Among the city’s diverse museums are the Air Mobility Command Museum, the Biggs Museum of American Art, and the Johnson Victrola Museum.
7. White Clay Creek State Park
A vacation in Delaware wouldn’t be complete without a chance to enjoy the outdoors, and White Clay Creek State Park is a great place to do so. Located directly east of Pennsylvania’s southeast border, the park gets its name from the white clay that used to be mined in the area. At more than 3,600 acres, White Clay Creek is one of Delaware’s largest state parks. Its variety of year-round activities also makes it one of the most beloved.
Many of the park’s attractions revolve around water. The namesake White Clay Creek is a designated National Wild and Scenic River and the most heavily stocked body of water in the state. Anglers can fish for rainbow and brown trout from the creek’s edge, or they can try their hand at fly-fishing. Bluegill and crappie can be found year-round in Millstone and Cattail ponds, which also offer a largemouth bass catch-and-release program.
The park has more than 37 miles of hiking and biking trails that range from easy to moderately challenging. A leisurely pace rewards hikers with potential views of wildlife, wildflowers, and various historical monuments. Other activities include disc golf, picnicking, a summer concert series, geocaching, and programs at the Chambers House Nature Center.
Roughly 20 miles south of the dynamic state capital is Milford, one of the best towns in Delaware for travelers seeking a charming, quaint atmosphere with an emphasis on community beautification and the local art scene. Milford was officially incorporated as a city in 1807, but its roots stretch back more than 100 years earlier. Like many Delaware locales, Milford has many well-preserved buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.
Milford’s downtown is bisected by the Mispillion River, a body of water which has shaped the town in the past and continues to do so today. The river was home to a thriving shipbuilding industry for around 150 years, but these days the Mispillion is a venue for recreation. The Mispillion Riverwalk takes pedestrians past numerous eateries, shops, and historic sites. The riverwalk’s greenway also hosts the town’s farmers market and various events. Kayaking and canoeing is permitted on the river, which also lends its name to Milford’s popular brewing company, Mispillion River Brewing.
Art lovers will feel at home in Milford. The historic downtown features galleries that exhibit handmade jewelry, crafts, and artwork by local artists. A stroll around town reveals more art in the form of murals, mosaics, and even painted miniature boats along the Riverwalk.
9. Delaware Seashore State Park
Delaware Seashore State Park is a must-see in Delaware if you like being on the water. Not only does the park have six miles of shoreline along the Atlantic Ocean, it also boasts 20 miles of bay shoreline courtesy of Rehoboth Bay to the north and Indian River Bay to the south. Travel on this barrier island was historically tricky due to the volatility of the Indian River Inlet, but two steel and stone jetties built by the federal government in 1939 stabilized the inlet.
The park’s ocean shoreline includes two swimming areas complete with lifeguard patrol during the summer. Surfing is also permitted in a designated area north of the inlet. Anglers are spoiled for choice when it comes to fishing locations: They can fish from the beach, the inlet’s stone jetties, or charter boats from the Indian River Marina. Clamming and crabbing are allowed in certain sections of the beaches. Other activities on the bays include windsurfing, sailing, and kayaking.
Back on land, the park has six trails suitable for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. For a dose of history, stop by the Indian River Life-Saving Station Museum. Originally built for the United States Life-Saving Service in 1876, the restored station displays exhibits about maritime history and features reenactments of historic ship rescue techniques.
10. Rehoboth Beach
Historically, Rehoboth Beach has long been one of the most popular weekend getaways in Delaware for Washington, D.C., dwellers, earning it the moniker of the Nation’s Summer Capital. Rehoboth Beach’s origins as a resort town date back to the 1870s, when it was intended to be a Christian summer resort locale. Today, the town draws vacationing visitors from all over thanks to its public beach, dynamic boardwalk, and focus on family-friendly leisure activities, making it one of the top attractions in Delaware.
Unsurprisingly, Rehoboth Beach’s public beach is one of the town’s most popular spots. This free Atlantic beach is the perfect place for ocean swimming and sunbathing along the sandy shore. Running parallel to the beach is the town’s renowned mile-long boardwalk. The boardwalk harkens back to days gone by with its traditional wooden surface and retailers specializing in products like saltwater taffy. The boardwalk’s charming assortment of restaurants and shops has something for everyone.
Family-run since 1962, Funland just may be the most famous attraction on the boardwalk. This small amusement park features an arcade area, 11 midway games, and 17 rides that are sure to amuse guests of all ages. For even more fun, head a couple miles west to Jungle Jim’s, a water park with multiple pools, slides, and a lazy river.
11. Fort Delaware State Park
If you’re searching for Delaware attractions for history buffs, make sure to add Fort Delaware State Park to your list. Located on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River, this state park is accessible only by ferry. Initial efforts to protect the island date back to the War of 1812, after which the land was bought by the federal government and Fort Delaware was built in the 1850s. The fort served as a Union prison camp during the Civil War and was briefly garrisoned during World War I and II before being designated surplus property in 1944.
Visiting Fort Delaware State Park is an immersive experience thanks to costumed interpreters who help guests travel back to the summer of 1864. Stops on the guided tour include barracks, the kitchen, officers’ quarters, the blacksmith shop, and the parade ground. For a spookier experience, visit Fort Delaware in the fall when ghost tours are offered.
An unexpected attraction at Fort Delaware State Park is its bird population. Pea Patch Island is home to nine species of ibis, egrets, and herons during the summer. A hiking trail and observation platform offer bird-watchers plenty of opportunities to glimpse these majestic wading birds.
Just northwest of Rehoboth Beach on Delaware Bay is Lewes, a small town with a big dose of charm. Lewes is a convenient jumping-off point for several major tourist attractions in Delaware, including Cape Henlopen State Park, Rehoboth Bay, a string of barrier island beaches, and multiple refuges and preserves. However, Lewes is a destination in its own right, especially for a peaceful, low-key getaway.
Since Lewes is situated on the bay, it’s only to be expected that its most popular attraction is the beach. Lewes Beach presents a quiet, clean alternative to nearby crowded shores. The sandy beach is suitable for swimming, fishing, and water sports. Bonfires and certain events are allowed when accompanied by the proper permits. For a relaxing outing away from the water, consider stopping by the Historic Lewes Farmers Market or the Nassau Valley Vineyards.
Lewes’ Colonial period began in 1631 with the arrival of the Dutch, and residents take great pride in preserving the history of The First Town in the First State. The Zwaanendael Museum was built to commemorate the Dutch settlement’s tricentennial and contains exhibits detailing the area’s military, maritime, and social history. History buffs may also want to check out the Lightship Overfalls, built in 1938 and the last lightship commissioned by the US Lighthouse Service.
13. Fenwick Island State Park
If you’re looking for fun things to do in Delaware without the hassle of crowds, consider a visit to Fenwick Island State Park. Situated near Delaware’s southern border on the barrier isle of Fenwick Island, Fenwick Island State Park represents a peaceful seaside respite between the popular resort towns of South Bethany Beach and Ocean City, MD. Fenwick Island State Park is Delaware’s southernmost beach and offers access to both the Atlantic Ocean and Little Assawoman Bay.
With three miles of ocean shoreline, it’s no wonder that the most popular activities at Fenwick Island State Park are beach-related. The white sand beaches are ideal for sunbathing and beachcombing, and the coast’s gradual slope into the ocean creates an extensive swimming area that especially appeals to families since lifeguards are on duty during the summer. Other popular activities include surf fishing and programs like Wild Crab Chase, where a naturalist takes visitors on a nighttime adventure to search for nocturnal ghost crabs.
There’s still plenty of fun to be had if you prefer Little Assawoman Bay to the ocean. Kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are available for rent, and the bay is known for its spectacular sunsets.
14. Bethany Beach
Situated just north of Fenwick Isle, Bethany Beach is a peaceful coastal town and one of the best places to visit in Delaware if you don’t want to share your time at the beach with countless other travelers. Bethany Beach’s year-round population hovers under 1,000, but the presence of vacation homes, the boardwalk, and various shops and eateries has turned the relatively quiet town into an enticing summer escape.
The star of Bethany Beach is right in the town’s name. The sandy beach measures about a mile long and is suitable for sunbathing, swimming, sailing, scuba diving, surfing, and more. The town schedules family-friendly movies on the beach on a weekly basis during the summer, and bonfires are organized in the fall. The Bethany Beach Boardwalk stretches almost half a mile along the beach and has typical seaside shops and restaurants as well as a bandstand that hosts a summer concert series.
If you can bear to tear yourself from the beach, consider stopping by the Bethany Beach Nature Center. This acclaimed center features interactive exhibits that teach visitors about the ecosystems of the inland bays. The outdoor portion of the center includes a 26-acre conservation area with forested uplands in addition to freshwater and tidal wetlands.
15. Trap Pond State Park
Trap Pond State Park’s recreational amenities make it a popular vacation spot for families, and its sparkling waters and diversity of plant life have led many to consider it one of the most beautiful places in Delaware. Located roughly five miles north of the state’s southern border with Maryland, Trap Pond State Park was an industrial logging site in the late 1700s. The Civilian Conservation Corps began developing the pond as a recreation area in the 1930s before its official park designation in 1951.
The park is especially notable for its stand of bald cypress trees. Bald cypress trees are rot-resistant, so they were particularly valuable during the area’s sawmill days. Trap Pond State Park boasts the northernmost naturally occurring bald cypress forest in North America. Guided tours of the cypress swamp are available, and the nature center offers interpretive programs and informative exhibits about the significance of the park’s ecosystems.
Visitors can choose from several ways to explore the park. Kayaks, canoes, rowboats, and pedal boats are available for rent, and narrated pontoon boat tours are scheduled throughout the summer. Anglers can fish the pond for largemouth bass, crappie, pickerel, catfish, and bluegill. The park’s hiking trails are prime bird-watching spots, and children can let off steam playing disc golf, volleyball, horseshoes, cornhole, and more.
Delaware may not be the first state you think of when vacation comes to mind, but its wealth of history, unique attractions, and lack of sales tax definitely earn it a spot on your travel bucket list. After all, there aren’t many places in the US where you can follow a day at the beach with an evening in a 300-year-old pub. Visiting Delaware can be as relaxing or educational as you want it to be.