One thing that comes to mind when you think of our great state is the du Pont family – and for good reason. Their estates and mansions are scattered throughout the northern part of the state in the Brandywine Valley, and some of them have been repurposed into incredible gardens and museums. These, along with several other parks, gardens and museums, have made the cut as our top 13 stunning places in Delaware that you need to visit at least once.
13. Bellevue State Park
Luckily for Delaware’s residents, the du Ponts loved their large estates, and kept them so well maintained that many of them have been repurposed for public use. Bellevue State Park is no different - the 300+ acre park was once owned by William du Pont, Jr. Now, the park is a great place for hiking, biking and picnicking among beautiful scenery.
12. Nemours Mansion and Gardens
The duPont Mansions are scattered throughout Delaware, but the one really worth checking out is the Nemours Estate - formerly known as the Nemours Mansion and Gardens. It’s right on the edge of Wilmington, just north of Alapocas, in New Castle County. Surrounded by over 300 acres of sprawling French formal gardens, the 105 room, 47,000 square foot mansion is sure to take your breath away. Set aside a full day to explore the grounds, which is the most developed and largest “jardin a la Francais” in North America.
11. Lewes Canalfront
Along the Lewes Harbor, you’ll find parks and landmarks hidden amongst colonial shops and restaurants. Walking around, you’ll think you’ve stepped back in time. Be sure to find the Lightship Overfalls, which is one of the only remaining lightships in the United States, and settle down in one of the many public gardens to watch a sunset over the bay.
10. Zwaanendael Museum
When you’re in Lewes, set aside time to explore the often overlooked Zwaanendael Museum. It’s a large stone building built in the early 1900s to commemorate Delaware’s first settlement, Swanendael. It’s a Dutch-inspired building, with unique architecture that really makes it stand out amongst the other buildings in Lewes. There are exhibits showcasing the evolution of the first settlements, up through the bombardment of Lewes in the War of 1812, and the current development of the Delaware coastline.
9. Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge
The Bombay Hook Refuge protects one of the largest remaining expanses of total salt marsh in the mid-Atlantic region. It’s mostly marsh, but also contains freshwater impoundments and upland habitats that host various wildlife. It’s a significant spot for migratory birds, who’ve had to cope with more and more of their habitats along the Atlantic Flyway disappearing due to development and construction. Bombay Hook is one of the best areas for birdwatching in the entire country - so grab your binoculars and be prepared to see birds that you won’t find anywhere else.
Winterthur is another sprawling estate located in the Brandywine Valley. With over 1,000 acres of rolling hills, streams, meadows and gardens, Winterthur amazes visitors in a way that only a former duPont estate can. Founder H. F. duPont wanted the gardens at Winterthur to represent his life’s work as a master gardener, and the careful planning is obvious. Explore the Enchanted Woods, where notes from the Enchanted Woods Faeries are scattered about the three-acre section, making it a magical place for children of all ages.
7. Killens Pond
Don’t let the fact that Killen’s Pond is fed by the Murderkill River scare you away from a trip here. There are beautiful bridges along the trails that surround the pond, and there are a ton of ways to explore the water. You can rent a canoe, kayak, paddle board, rowboat, or even a surf bike. The views from the water here are stunning.
6. The Hagely Museum
The Hagely Museum - another du Pont mansion. This one has the honor of being the first du Pont family home and garden in the United States. The museum itself features history about the development of the Brandywine Valley. An enormous library is also on the grounds, featuring historic collections of manuscripts, photographs, pamphlets and books documenting American business and technology. Spend a day wandering the gardens, exploring the museum, and getting lost in the archives.
5. University of Delaware Botanic Garden
The UD College of Agriculture and Natural Resources has put a lot of work into creating and maintaining the UD Botanic Gardens, and it’s certainly paid off. The 15-acre grounds include a dozen specific featured garden areas, each focusing on a certain type of plan or naturalistic design.
4. Trap Pond State Park
Trap Pond in Laurel, DE is home to the northernmost natural stand of bald cypress stress in the United States. This was one of Delaware’s first state parks, and it’s still one of the best to visit. It offers well maintained trails for hiking along the pond, and you can kayak or boat around the beautiful trees.
Delaware’s Gibraltar sits just outside of Wilmington and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s owned by a preservation trust which saved it from demolition in the 1990s. Now, the gardens and grounds have been restored and are open to the public. The gardens were originally designed by Marian Cruger Coffin, one of the first female landscape architects in the United States, and she designed over 100 gardens for the duPont family.
2. Fort Delaware
Located on Pea Patch Island, Fort Delaware was used as a prison during the American Civil War. Now, you can explore the entire island once you arrive there via ferry. The fort itself is eerie, and it’s hard not to feel like you’re surrounded by history and ghosts. Even if you visited Fort Delaware on a grade school field trip, make sure you plan to come back and explore it again now. There’s a lot to take in, and it makes for a great full day trip.
1. Mt. Cuba Center
The 7.4 acre Mt. Cuba Center is located in Hockessin, just north of Wilmington. While it’s tiny compared to the enormous duPont estates, don’t overlook it! Mt. Cuba is run by a non-profit botanical society, and it boasts the most incredible display of wildflowers in the Mid-Atlantic region. Every Spring, the Mt. Cuba Center hosts a wildflower festival, which is fun for the whole family. Unlike the duPont estate gardens, Mt. Cuba Center is proud to be filled with only native plants and works to protect the habitats that sustain them.
Some of these stunning places in Delaware are probably familiar to you from your school field trips, but we hope we’ve introduced you to new places worth seeking out. Are they any places that we’ve overlooked? Share with us in the comments below!