Are you looking for a family trip filled with fun kids activities, a charming historic downtown and beautiful beaches? Our family recently took a wonderful trip to historic Wilmington North Carolina. The cute city located on Cape Fear River not far from the coast was a perfect place for a family vacation. We were amazed at all the fun things to do in Wilmington NC.
Families can explore the Battleship North Carolina, stroll the Riverwalk & downtown Wilmington, visit the Cape Fear Museums, Children’s Museum of Wilmington, the North Carolina Aquarium, nearby beaches and so much more. Everything you would want to do on family vacation can be found in Wilmington, North Carolina. Follow along with me to find out why Wilmington might be your next family vacation.
For this trip we were hosted at many locations by the Wilmington & Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau and The Children’s Museum of Wilmington. Although we are so appreciative of these hosted visits all of my comments and tips are my own opinion.
10 Amazing Things to Do in Wilmington NC
Battleship North Carolina
Your visit to the Battleship North Carolina will immerse you into the life of a Sailor during WWII. When commissioned in 1941 she was considered the world’s greatest sea weapon and participated in every major naval offensive in the pacific during WWII. The ship was decommissioned in 1947 and in 1958 North Carolina citizens started a Save The Ship campaign to bring the ship to Wilmington. The ship was dedicated in 1962 as a State Memorial to WWII.
What we loved about this Battleship is you could explore just about the whole ship. Start out at the top of the Battleship and explore the guns & weapons built into the ship. Take a look at the airplanes that accompanied the battleships to search for the enemy. Then head down below deck to see where the sailors worked and how the 2,339 sailors lived aboard the ship. Don’t forget to stop in the Bridegroom at the top and let the kids pretend to steer the ship. You will find tons of hands-on gears, gadgets, wheels and more for the kids to try throughout the boat. Get my full Guide to Battleship North Carolina and be ready for a wonderful visit.
Tips for Your visit
- Get there earlier in the day in the summer as it gets pretty hot both in the ship and on the decks. On hot days explore the ships decks first then get out of the sun & head down below.
- Give yourself at least 2 hours to explore the ship. We spent even longer as our kids loved seeing everything on the boat.
- There are a lot of narrow passages and staircases. You will not be able to use a stroller on the ship.
- Make sure to wear sneakers for the long walk and managing the stairways.
- Bathrooms are located in the main building before you get on the ship. There is only one small bathroom on the ship.
- Bring water for your visit.
- There are arrows all over to show you where to go next. Once you are down below you will need to follow these arrows to find your way back out.
Address: 1 Battleship Rd NE, Wilmington, NC 28401
The Children’s Museum of Wilmington
Step inside this oasis for children right in the heart of downtown Wilmington. The Children’s Museum of Wilmington is filled with 4 levels of awesome kids exhibits and activities. The whole family will love exploring all 12 of their fun hands-on areas.
Kids can use their imagination and be a pirate on a huge ship, become a doctor or dentist and take care of the animals as a Vet. Head downstairs to learn about the science of you & check out all your bones. Visit the art room to share your child’s artistic side. Then go upstairs where the kids can learn about food in the brand new grocery store and build a fort with huge blocks. Get all their energy out with exercise doing a long jump, vertical jump, a stationary bike and more. After that head outdoors and climb a huge spider web.
If you have smaller children they have a cool play space called Toddler Tree House for kids 4 and under. Here the little ones can climb, slide, and crawl around in a safe space.
When the kids need a break from the historical tour and just want to play this is the place to go in Wilmington! Your kids are gonna love it.
Tips for Your Visit
- Wear gym shoes
- Plan to spend at least 2 hours visiting
- Recommend for kids age 0-10. However, my 11-year-old found tons of fun things to do on our visit. So if you have a mix of kids ages I think the older ones can find things to do too.
- There is a vending machine with small snacks & drinks
- The location is great for visiting Wilmington. You can just walk over after strolling the historic downtown or Riverwalk. There are a ton of restaurants nearby too for lunch or dinner.
Address – 116 Orange Street, Wilmington NC
Cape Fear Museum
The Cape Fear Museum is a captivating stop for all ages. At this local history and science museum, you’ll find interesting things for both parents, grandparents, and kids to see. We were really impressed by how many entertaining exhibits there are and how many different areas the museum covers.
Start out learning about the history of Wilmington from the Native Americans to present day Wilmington. This exhibit is so big it spans two floors! Once you get to the second floor your kids are gonna love the dinosaur displays. Kids can even pretend to be an archaeologist and find the dinosaur bones in the sand.
Next check out the history of toys where visitors are encouraged to play games, create works of art, build with blocks and more. Once you head downstairs you’ll see a cool display about Michael Jordan. Then walk through an exhibit about the environment & animals living in North Carolina. Finish up learning about living in space and pretend to be an astronaut. If you have enough time at the end stop by the kid’s activity area for some games. You’ll find all the exhibits have hands-on activities for both kids and adults.
Outside check out the beautiful garden area where you can learn about native plants. The Cape Fear Museum is a great place to visit when you need a break from the beach or on a rainy day. We are really glad we stopped here.
Tips for Your Visit
- The museum has free parking.
- It is not in the historic downtown but only a few minutes drive away.
- The museum is a very nice modern building
Address – 814 Market Street, Wilmington NC
Riverwalk in Wilmington NC
The bustling Riverwalk is located on the Cape Fear River in Wilmington’s historic district. This wooden boardwalk stretches 1.75 miles along the beautiful river. It encompasses many historic buildings, restaurants, bars, and shops. You will also get a great view of the Battleship North Carolina located across the river and the Cape Fear Memorial bridge.
This is a great place to head for lunch or dinner while visiting the area. There are tons of restaurants with both inside and outside seating along the boardwalk. It’s also the perfect spot for a nice stroll to check out the pastel shops, historic buildings, and boats sailing by. Find a nice bench and enjoy the view.
Restaurant – While we were there we had a delicious lunch at The Pilot House located on the Riverwalk. You can find seating both inside and outside with a great view of the river. Our kids loved eating lunch and watching the boats go by. They also had a nice kids menu and amazing homemade chips. Address – 2 Ann Street, Wilmington NC
Tips for Your Visit
- Wear comfortable shoes for your walk
- There is a visitor information booth with someone to answer all your questions at Market Street and Water Street.
- Public Bathrooms are located by the visitor information booth
- Take your time and enjoy your stroll
Historic Downtown Wilmington
Walk these cobblestone streets filled with old historic building and you will feel like your back in another time. In the easy to navigate downtown visit boutiques, souvenir shops, home stores and more. Stop at a local restaurant for a bite to eat or grab some ice cream to eat as you stroll.
Horse Drawn Tours
Want a fun way to learn about the history of Wilmington? Hop on one of the horse drawn carriage rides in downtown Wilmington. We rode on Horse Drawn Tours and really liked it. You’ll get a knowledgeable guide to take you through the streets of the town and tell you all about the history of the people and buildings in the area. The half-hour tour is a great way to see the city when your kids are too tired to walk. Bonus the horses are rescues so you can feel good about helping out the horses too.
There are 8 different tours you can go on to learn about different parts of the city. Find the stand on Market Street between Water St. and Front St. No reservations are needed just head over to the stand and you will see a sign for when then next carriage will arrive. (stand is pictured above)
Ice Cream Shops
We found a delicious candy and ice cream shop in downtown called Kilwin’s Ice Cream. If you’re going on the Horse & Carriage Ride this is a perfect stop right before or after you get off. It’s right across the street from the pickup location and you can eat your ice cream on the bench while waiting for your ride. Address – 16 Market Street, Wilmington, NC
A local recommended we try Boombalatti’s Ice Cream Shop where they make homemade ice cream from grass-fed North Carolina cows. You can get 4 samples and test out your favorite. We didn’t make it here but everyone told us it was the best. Address – 1005 N. 4th St. Wilmington, NC 28401
Parking for Downtown Attractions
We found an easy parking garage in downtown that is walkable to the Riverwalk, Historic Downtown, Horse & Carriage Ride and Wilmington Children’s Museum. Location – Market Street, In between 2nd St. & Front St.
Wilmington Railroad Museum
Do you have a train lover in the family? The Wilmington Railroad Museum is a great visit for both young and old. For over 125 years the railroad was the main industry in Wilmington and it is commemorated in this cool museum.
When visiting you will learn about the history of the railroad and prominent figures such as Edison & Pullman. Learn local history too and see how the railroad affected Wilmington. Keep the kids interested in the play area where they can build their own train tracks and look at more than 20 operating scale model trains. Outside explore the life-size caboose, box-car and 100-year-old Steam locomotive.
Address – 505 Nutt St. Wilmington, NC
North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher
There are four North Carolina Aquariums and one is located near Wilmington in Fort Fisher. If your family loves learning about fish and sea life this is a wonderful place to visit. Here you’ll learn about the unique habitats in North Carolina and around the world. Meet an albino alligator, touch a starfish & horseshoe crabs, see sharks, turtles, stingrays and more cool sea life.
Would your kids love to have a bird land on them? Visit the aquarium’s newest exhibit Lorikeet Landing. Where Lorikeets fly free and may land on your arms or head. Kids will sequel with excitement. Sadly there is an extra fee for this section of $3
Want to keep your kids really involved in your visit. Try a scavenger hunt. Download the Goosechase app on your smartphone and find a mission in the aquarium your kids will like. Get more info here.
Address – 900 Loggerhead Road Kure Beach, NC
Jungle Rapid Family Fun Park
When you need a change of pace on your visit to Wilmington go to Jungle Rapid Family Fun Park. The park is divided into Wet Play and Dry Play. For wet play head to the waterpark for slides, lazy river, and a wave pool. Perfect for staying cool in the summer months.
At the Dry Play section families can play laser tag, mini bowling, go-karts, kid climbing wall, arcade, kids jungle and more. It’s a really fun way to spend the afternoon with the kids.
Tip – Before you go make sure to check their site for deals. They have several bundle packages to pick from depending on which activities your kids want to do.
Address – 5320 Oleander Drive Wilmington, NC
A visit to the Wilmington area would not be complete without a visit to the beaches. The three main beaches close to Wilmington are Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Wrightsville Beach. Each has its own unique attributes about them. Make sure to grab a boogie board to ride the waves and tons of sand toys for a fun day out at the beach.
Make it a fantastic day out at the beach with my 20 Beach Hacks to Survive a Family Beach Day. All the tips & tricks you need to have a memorable day with no whining!
Carolina Beach has a vintage boardwalk where you’ll find local shops, restaurants, amusement rides in the summer and weekly fireworks. Visitors can also hike in Carolina Beach State Park, go four-wheeling on the beach or take lessons to learn to surf in the sea.
Kure Beach has probably the largest amount of activities. Here you can go fishing on the Kure Beach Fishing Pier, or play in the Ocean Front Park Playground. The two biggest attractions other than the beach are Fort Fisher State Historic Site and the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. Make sure to stop by their Boogie in the Park concerts too!
Wrightsville Beach was named one of the South’s Best Beaches by Southern Living Magazine. Here you’ll find every water activity you could imagine from paddleboarding to kayaking to kiteboarding, fishing and more. You’ll also find a village feel to the island with small boutiques and restaurants.
Learn more about these Beaches at Wilmington NC River District and Island Beach.
Topsail Island NC
Topsail Island is located about an hour away from Wilmington. This is where we stayed while visiting the Wilmington Area. The island boasts beautiful wide sandy beaches to swim and stroll. It’s a quieter island with only rental homes so you feel more secluded at the beach. Kids will love the turtle sanctuary, mini-golf, roller skating, and boobie boarding. History buffs will love to learn this was a secret Naval base in WWII for Operation Bumblebee and has remnants all over the island. Learn more in my Family Guide to Topsail Island.
Are you ready now to embark on your own awesome family vacation to Wilmington? Can you believe all the fun things to do in Wilmington NC. The wonderful thing about this area is you could make this into a great weekend getaway or easily stay for a full week like we did. Do you have any questions or your own tips? I love to hear from my readers so just leave it in the comments.
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