24 Hours in Wilmington

By Nicki Medford, Publisher at Macaroni Kid Raleigh April 9, 2021

It doesn’t get more picture-perfect than Wilmington, North Carolina. Drenched in history, this adorable town off the Cape Fear River is one of my favorite places to visit. I’ve been to Wilmington several times during my 6 years in North Carolina, but always without my kids. I’m not sure why exactly, it’s just always worked out that way.  My kids love exploring new places as much as I do, so with a sunny weekend in the forecast,  I knew an overnight family trip would be the perfect way to cap off our Spring Break. 

Wilmington is approximately 2-hours from Raleigh, which makes it a great destination for either a quick weekend away or longer family vacation. We spent exactly 24 hours in Wilmington and made the most of every moment.  Check out our itinerary below to plan your own family adventure! 

Where to stay: Embassy Suites Wilmington Riverfront | 9 Estell Lee Pl, Wilmington, NC 28401

The Embassy Suites is conveniently located just north of Historic Downtown Wilmington and the River Walk. The hotel features free guest parking, sweeping marina views, an indoor pool and a rooftop bar.  The family suite is huge, with a mini-living room and pull-out couch separate from the bedroom. My 8 year old daughter and 10 year old son have reached the point where sharing a queen bed is no longer ideal, so the family suite option really helped keep things peaceful. 

4PM Henrietta River Cruise | 101 S Water St #1, Wilmington, NC 28401

We started our Wilmington adventure with an evening river cruise aboard the Henrietta.  This 60 minute river cruise weaves scenic views with an in-depth (but far from boring) narrative about the history of the Cape Fear River and Wilmington. It was a truly memorable and relaxing experience that our whole family enjoyed.

5:30 PM Flytrap Brewing | 319 Walnut St, Wilmington, NC 28401

After the river cruise, we stretched our sea legs with a 20 minute walk to Flytrap Brewing, one of many family-friendly breweries that call Wilmington home.  My kids thought the terrarium of Venus Fly Trap plants in the taproom were especially cool and the adults were fans of the opportunity to sip on some brews while listening to live, local music in the courtyard.   

We had a 20 minute walk back to the river before checking in for our reservations at The Pilot House. Although walking from the Henrietta to Flytrap and back down to The Pilot House was a little back-and-forth, we enjoyed the leisure stroll and the chance to see historic homes and the downtown area. 

7:00 PM Dinner on the water at The Pilot House |  2 Ann St, Wilmington, NC 28401

The Pilot House is a quaint restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, located right on the Cape Fear River. The sunset views were simply breathtaking!  The service at The Pilot House was top-notch and our food came out in record time.  My kids are pretty basic, never straying far from hamburgers or chicken fingers, but they really enjoyed their meals. The pecan-crusted chicken was oh-my-goodness-delicious and my bite of the Carolina Burger was perfect.  We ended our meal with a delicious slice of key-lime pie before heading back to the Embassy Suites for a solid night’s sleep.   

10:00 AM Railroad Museum | 505 Nutt St, Wilmington, NC 28401

The Wilmington Railroad Museum is right next door to the Embassy Suites.  After checking out of the hotel, we walked across the road to this historic site. The museum is filled with pieces of Wilmington’s railroad history. I think my kids enjoy smaller, more intimate museums like this because they can really immerse themselves in the exhibits. We could have spent hours watching the model trains chugging along the miniature railroads. This place was really, really neat! I was very happy we had a chance to check it out and highly recommend this museum for all ages.  

11:00 AM Caffeine Fix Port City Java | Various Locations in Wilmington

If you’ve followed any of our past travel guides or social media, you probably know that coffee is my love language. I make it a point to visit local coffee shops wherever I go.  So naturally we had to take a quick coffee break.  

11:30 AM Battleship North Carolina | 1 Battleship Rd NE, Wilmington, NC 28401

Located across the Cape Fear River from downtown Wilmington sits the U.S.S. North Carolina Battleship, which now operates as a memorial and museum.  I knew my kids would love wandering the deck and touring the inside of the ship.  The sheer magnitude of the ship is incredible.  I loved getting an inside look at the way of life sailors endured during that time. I can't fully describe the experience, but I can tell you it's a must-see on any trip to Wilmington! 

1:30 Lunch break at Anne Bonny’s Bar & Grill | 106 S Water St, Wilmington, NC 28401 

For lunch we stopped at Annie Bonny’s, a floating restaurant back on the River Walk side of Wilmington.  Anne Bonny’s is a casual spot literally on the river.  Serving up a variety of sandwiches, wraps, and grill food, it was a great spot to recharge!   

2:30 Caffeine Fix #2 at Bespoke Coffee | 202 Princess St, Wilmington, NC 28401

I didn’t get a chance to stop at nearly as many coffee shops as I would have liked, but I’m glad we got another coffee break in at Bespoke Coffee.  There is no shortage of local coffee downtown, and next time I plan to make it to a few more places. 

2:45 Dessert Break at Gelarto | 18 S Water St Suite 5, Wilmington, NC 28401

Of course, if the grown-ups were stopping for iced coffee, the kids needed something refreshing too.  GelaRto is an adorable gelato shop, with brick walls and Italian vehicle-themed seating.  Their authentic gelato is refreshing and delicious, and helped us keep these kids happy while we waited in line for our last excursion of the day. 

3:30 Horse-Drawn Carriage Ride | 16 Market St, Wilmington, NC 28401

Springbrook Farms horse rescue provides historic horse-drawn carriage rides through the downtown streets of Wilmington. The route goes through some of the oldest and most beautiful neighborhoods in North Carolina, and the guide provides a rich history on some of the homes. During our visit, spring was in full bloom which presented a gorgeous backdrop for our carriage ride. Rides are approximately every hour, and are filled on a first-come, first-served basis.  I would recommend getting there early, even if another tour has just left, and waiting around for the next one so you don't miss out on getting a seat. There isn't a ticketing system, so staking out your spot on the next ride is highly recommended.  

Our 24 hours in Wilmington could not have been more wonderful. Our itinerary kept us on the go, yet everything we did had an air of leisure and relaxation. My kids were engaged and interested throughout our whole trip. To my surprise they rarely bickered, which tells me they were too distracted and happy to fight with each other.  I’ve always loved my visits to Wilmington, and now it holds even more special memories! 

A special thank you to the Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitor Bureau for hosting our visit to Wilmington for the purpose of this review. All opinions stated here are my own.