The 2019 Ultimate Guide to Things You Must Do in Delaware
Whether you’re a native or simply a Delawarean at heart, here’s your bucket list of First State experiences.
St. Hedwig's Polish Fesitval.
1. Go Multicultural.
Soak up the food and traditions of various nationalities at myriad heritage festivals. Can’t-miss events include St. Anthony’s Italian Festival, the Holy Trinity Greek Festival, the St. Hedwig’s Polish Festival and the Hispanic Festival, all in Wilmington; the Chinese Festival in Hockessin, IndiaFest in Newark and the Positively Dover African-American Festival. The Nanticoke Powwow in Millsboro happens in September.
2. Hear—and see—contemporary music at classic venues like The Grand Opera House in Wilmington.
Enjoy the well-known performers that play the iconic 1871 theater, such as Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt. Other historic venues include The Queen, also in Wilmington, The Everett in Middletown, the art deco Milton Theatre and the Smyrna Opera House, also opened in the 1870s.
2019 is the Monster Mile NASCAR track's 50th anniversary season.//photo courtesy of Dover International Speedway
3. Find out why the track at Dover International Speedway is called the Monster Mile.
Visit in May or October each year, when the big-name NASCAR drivers and teams tackle the Monster during the track’s 50th anniversary season.
4. Glimpse the Industrial Revolution.
Visit Hagley Museum, where, beginning in the early 19th century, the DuPont powder mills on the Brandywine made explosives that cleared the paths for canals, roads and railroads. Some observers compare its technological leaps to today’s Silicon Valley. Learn why DuPont employees could be fired for bringing a single match to work (kaboom!) and why the company became fanatical about on-the-job safety. Or just stroll the grounds, which are a heavenly slice of the Brandywine Valley.
5.Tailgate like royalty.
Celebrate Winterthur’s Point-to-Point races in May. Top steeplechase riders and horses from across the country compete in a series of races around the beautiful estate while you tailgate, enjoy the parade of antique carriages and play Brandywine Valley royalty for the day. Ladies, don’t forget to wear your very best hats.
6. Strut to a different tune.
Philadelphia has its Mummers Parade every New Year’s Day.Middletown has its homegrown Hummers. From locals banging pots and pans in the street, the Hummers Parade has evolved into a hilarious parody of the year’s most outrageous headlines via homemade floats or marches by anyone and everyone who wants in on the fun. Prime viewing: the corner of Broad and Main. Grab a hot chocolate at the Volunteer Hose Company firehouse.
Trap Pond State Park.//PHOTO BY KIT ABELDT
7. Get trapped.
Explore the northernmost stand of bald cypress trees in the unique primeval Trap Pond State Park near the Great Cypress Swamp in Laurel. Access to most of the swamp is restricted, but Trap Pond is a favorite destination for birders, hikers and those who like to paddle or pedal their rental boats.
8. Sail on the good ship Kalmar Nyckel.
This replica of Peter Minuit’s flagship, launched in 1997, sails out of the Christina Riverfront in Wilmington and at times out of Lewes. In season, it provides 90-minute sailing trips on the Christina River or Delaware Bay. Tours of the tall ship are available when it’s docked. Visit the Tatiana & Gerret Copeland Maritime Center to learn more about Wilmington’s historic role as a center of shipbuilding and rail cars.
9. Get back to nature.
Several conservation and environmental groups not only preserve important natural areas, but also work hard to build awareness of their importance. Delaware Nature Society provides education programs and outdoor activities at sites such as Abbott’s Mill, DuPont Environmental Education Center and Ashland Nature Center. Delaware Wild Lands opens some of its properties for special events. The Nature Conservancy organizes stream cleanups and other activities at First State National Historical Park. And the native gardens at Mt. Cuba Center are a beautiful place to enjoy local flora.
10. Have fun at Funland.
The SuperFlip 360 may spin the wheels of adrenaline junkies, but it’s the vintage kiddie rides that slay us at this tiny amusement park on the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk. Riding the little red fire trucks was a real thrill when you were 4. Now that you’re 60, watching the grandies ride them is an even bigger thrill.
11. Visit Historic New Castle.
Wandering the Colonial town is like tripping through a novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Its registry of famous structures includes the Court House—center of the 12-mile arc of northern Delaware—which was the state’s first capital building; the Old Town Hall; the Immanuel on the Green Episcopal and New Castle Presbyterian churches; the riverfront street of old homes known as The Strand; an octagonal library by famed architect Frank Furness and much more. Visit during a big celebration such as Separation Day or A Day in Old New Castle, the oldest home and garden tour in the country, or take in the town all to yourself some other time.
Photo by Paolo Tiamson, university of delaware Athletics
12. Pick a side.
Our local football rivalries are legendary. Enjoy the Friday night lights with such high school classics as Sallies-St. Mark’s or Dover-Caesar Rodney. Biggest of all: When the University of Delaware Blue Hens battle the Villanova Wildcats.
13. Tour Nemours Estate.
Alfred I. du Pont’s former home is 300 acres of classical French extravagance. Built as a gift to his second wife, Alicia, the 70-room mansion is guarded by gold-leaf gates and surrounded by lush landscaping, a pond and even a maze. The sunken gardens, with their massive and elaborate fountains, are the hidden treasure. Plan a visit in late December for a self-guided tour of the mansion, then head back in the spring for a leisurely stroll through the gardens.
14. See a film.
Take in those great but often obscure movies that most other people haven’t heard about at Theatre N in Wilmington or the Cinema Art Theater of the Rehoboth Beach Film Society. Most art film houses in the state have long since closed, but Theatre N has become an institution. The Cinema Art Theater shows important and intriguing films from around the world, as well as live broadcasts of plays from the National Theatre in London. And don’t forget the annual Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival.
15. Celebrate our farming heritage.
At the Delaware State Fair in Harrington each July—this year the fair is celebrating its 100th anniversary—see livestock shows, take in a tractor parade, catch the demolition derby, shop midway vendors or enjoy a concert by headline entertainers. Did we mention fried chicken? It tastes best when eaten in the Grange Hall. To learn more about our agrarian history, visit the Delaware Agricultural Museum in Dover anytime.
16. Go birding.
Delaware is world famous for the diversity of its habitat and its location on major migration routes. Fall is one of the best times of year to see waterfowl such as mergansers and grebes. Look for them in the big national wildlife refuges at Bombay Hook and Prime Hook. In spring, you’ll find the endangered red knot, which fuels its 10,000-mile journey with horseshoe crab eggs laid on the shores of Delaware Bay. Beginning in April, many neotropical species pass through areas such as McCabe Preserve in Milton.
17. Collect art.
You can buy an original Klabe, Sculthorpe, Harvey, Schroeder, Evans—even a Wyeth—at excellent art galleries that feature a wide range of local and regional painters, photographers, mixed-media artists and sculptors. You can meet many of them at art fairs such as the Rehoboth Art League’s annual summer show every August, the Brandywine Festival of the Arts in Wilmington the weekend after Labor Day or Art on The Green in New Castle every September. Check out the Mispillion Art League and Newark Arts Alliance to identify artists on the rise.
18. Eat like a local, Part I.
Scrapple—a delicacy made of assorted pig parts and cornmeal or other grains mushed together—is what’s for breakfast at the Hotel du Pont’s tony Green Room, Helen’s Sausage House in Smyrna and any other breakfast place worth visiting. Celebrate this unique foodstuff at the Apple Scrapple Festival in Bridgeville every October.
Politicians at Return Day.
19. Shake hands with the pols.
We take pride in easy access to our elected officials. Delaware senators and representatives regularly ride Amtrak from Wilmington to Washington, just like former Vice President Joe Biden. And they regularly show up at local meetings without a lot of fanfare. Go back in history by watching winners and losers bury the hatchet after each election on Return Day in Georgetown, the Thursday after the election. Arrive early for a sandwich of roasted ox before it’s all gone.
20. Get dramatic.
Not only does the state boast the iconic Playhouse on Rodney Square and the Delaware Theatre Company, it is loaded with local theaters and community theater groups: the Wilmington Drama League, the Chapel Street Players at the Chapel Street Playhouse in Newark, Kent County Theatre Guild in Dover, the Second Street Players at Riverfront Theater in Milford and the Possum Point Players at Possum Hall in Georgetown. That’s not to mention the venerable Delaware Children’s Theatre, UD’s outstanding Resident Ensemble Players, and professional productions at Clear Space Theatre in Rehoboth Beach or The Candlelight Theatre in Ardentown. And don’t forget our little version of Shakespeare in the Park, the annual Delaware Shakespeare Festival at Rockwood Park each July.
21. Brush up on history.
At the First State Heritage Park in Dover, you can visit the John Bell House, the oldest wooden structure on The Green; stop by the Old State House, completed in 1791; and learn about recording history at the Johnson Victrola Museum, which is named after the Dover native who was a pioneer in sound recording technology. The Delaware History Museum in Wilmington is full of enlightening—sometimes amusing—artifacts, and it is home to the Jane and Littleton Mitchell Center for African American Heritage, which tells the special history of black Delawareans.
Fort Delaware.// PHOTO BY RACHAEL PHILLOS.
22. Learn a bit of Civil War history.
Ride the ferry from Delaware City a half mile to Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island. Begun in 1848 as an installation to protect Wilmington and Philadelphia from enemy vessels on the Delaware River, it for a time served as a prison for Confederate soldiers, including most of those captured at Gettysburg. Now it is a state park and living history museum where guides in period dress can tell you more about the fort than you ever imagined.
23. Explore the canal.
The 14-mile-long Chesapeake & Delaware Canal, opened in 1829 to link ports from Philadelphia to Baltimore, is a major shipping lane where you’ll see huge cargo ships and tankers. Watch them glide by from restaurants in Chesapeake City, Maryland, and Delaware City, but we recommend hiking or biking along the Michael N. Castle Trail on the northern bank.
24. See Winterthur.
Among the grandest of grand estates, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library is a world-renowned showplace and center for the study of decorative and fine arts from America. A full schedule of special exhibitions and related events such as films and lectures makes it a destination that never gets old. Its gardens are interesting all year-round.
25. Catch your own.
Take your crab trap and bait, a chicken wire net and a peach basket for your catch, then spend a day gathering a feast. The crabs follow the salt line up the bay and its tributaries, but don’t ask us to give up any secret spots. Mind the size limits, please.
Lewes Polar Bear Plunge for Special Olympics Delaware.
26. Cool your jets.
Each February, more than 3,000 brave souls take the Lewes Polar Bear Plunge in the 40-degree ocean off Rehoboth Beach to raise money for the Delaware Special Olympics. It’s a breathtaking experience.
27. Eat like a local, Part II.
Enjoy fried chicken, steamed blue crabs, Deerhead hot dogs and, when you can find it, special wild game dinners at places like Milford Moose Family Center.
28. Drink local.
It’s always happy hour on the Delaware Beer, Wine & Spirits Trail, which links breweries, wineries, distilleries and meaderies from Wilmington to Delmar. With so many places opening, we’re happier than ever.
29. Hear some of the best jazz in the country.
Hit the annual Clifford Brown Jazz Festival on Rodney Square in Wilmington each June. It’s the largest free jazz fest on the East Coast. It is named in honor of the brilliant Wilmington trumpeter and recording artist who died in an auto accident at age 25.
30. See the fat lady sing.
OperaDelaware, founded in 1945, is one of the oldest opera companies in the country. Its spring festival has become a regional must-hear and -see event. Its cabaret-style performances at its riverfront studio is a great way to see rising stars.
Cape May-Lewes Ferry.
31. Take the ferry.
Travel from the beach in Delaware to the shore in Jersey on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, a 17-mile crossing of the Delaware Bay that takes almost 90 minutes. Look around the town of Cape May, then sail back to Lewes the same day. For something shorter, drive through the countryside southeast of Seaford to make a short hop on the tiny Woodland Ferry—one of the oldest in the country—across the Nanticoke River.
32. Go to the beach.
Spotless shores and clear water consistently earn Delaware a place among the top beaches in the country. Add to them a town for every taste—historic Lewes, bustling Rehoboth and Dewey, laidback Bethany, South Bethany and Fenwick—full of great places to eat, drink and shop.
33. Go to the symphony.
Attracting guest artists from around the world and performing two robust concert series a year, Delaware Symphony Orchestra is one of the best in the region. But smaller community groups such as the Newark and Dover symphony orchestras contribute to a lively scene. If chamber music is more your style, groups like Mélomanie, Brandywine Baroque and Serafin String Quartet will please.
34. Discover our shipbuilding past.
Looking at the farming plains of southern Delaware today, it’s difficult to imagine the large forests that supplied wood to build ships. Milton, on the Broadkill River to the Delaware Bay, and Bethel, on Broad Creek to the Chesapeake Bay, were both active shipbuilding towns in the 1800s. Though there is little to mark the historic industry except captains’ and ship carpenters’ homes, both towns are great for un-crowded strolls into historical small-town America.
35. Learn your black history.
Drive the Delaware portion of the self-guided Harriet Tubman Underground Railway Byway from central Delaware to the Pennsylvania line. Key stops are several Friends meeting houses that served as temporary sanctuaries, the Dover Green and Star Hill AME Church, where a free black community was established in the mid-1800s. A driving tour guide is available at deldot.gov.
The Wilmington Riverfront.//Photo by Jim Coarse
36. Visit the Wilmington Riverfront.
At 20-plus years old, it’s still growing, still changing and always exciting. The Riverwalk stretches from the unique Russell W. Peterson Wildlife Refuge, the Jack A. Markell Trail and the DuPont Environmental Education Center to Banks Seafood Kitchen, passing plenty of other great places to eat and drink along the way. Attractions such as the Altitude trampoline park and Delaware Children’s Museum keep the kids happy. Cultural attractions include The Delaware Contemporary art center, Delaware Theatre Company and the OperaDelaware studios. Winter means skating at the ice rink and trips to Constitution Yards beer garden and mini golf when the weather is fair. Frawley Stadium hosts Blue Rocks minor league baseball.
37. Learn about our natural history.
At the Iron Hill Museum in Newark, you’ll find old iron ore mining pits from before the Revolutionary War, artifacts from the native Lenni-Lenape and exhibits about how Delaware rose out of the seabed. For a broader worldview, visit the Delaware Museum of Natural History in Wilmington.
Delaware Art Museum.//Photo by Alessandra Nicole Photography
38. Visit the art museums.
The Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington exhibits familiar works by our famous illustrator, Howard Pyle (his studios on North Franklin Street open occasionally for tours), and some of his famous students. The museum remains home to the largest collection of pre-Raphaelite artists outside Great Britain. Other can’t-miss museums include the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover, with its collection of Hudson River School landscapes, and the Brandywine River Museum of Art, with its collection of Brandywine School paintings and work by members of the Wyeth family.
39. Get your Irish up.
The best place to spend the night before the morning after is Kelly’s Logan House in Wilmington. It has celebrated everyone’s favorite saint for more than 150 years, making it the oldest continuously operating Irish pub in the country. (Of course, you could claim to be celebrating the history at this National Historic Site. We won’t tell.) For a truly authentic slice of the Emerald Isle, visit Sheridan’s in Smyrna before and after the town’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade.
40. Eat like a local, Part III.
Grotto Pizza or Nicola? Capriotti’s subs or Casapulla’s? If you haven’t decided, you may be asked to give up your state citizenship.