Last Updated on February 17, 2022 by Maggie McKneely
Headed to North Carolina’s charming southern city? Be sure to check out these fun things to do in Wilmington NC!
Fun Things to do in Wilmington, NC
When my family decided we wanted to take a mini-trip over the MLK Jr. long weekend, our destination had to meet a few criteria. First, it had to be south. If we were going away from home in January, it had better be to somewhere warmer than Virginia. Second, it couldn’t be far – we were only going for a couple of days, after all, and didn’t want to hassle with flying. And third, it had to be a place that we’d never taken the time to explore before. The city that fit the bill was Wilmington, North Carolina.
Wilmington is the charming southern city that most people forget about. It lives in the shadow of its neighbors Charleston and Savannah, cities famous for being the essence of southern hospitality and elegance. Which is unfortunate, in my opinion. Wilmington may not have the name recognition, but it does have the Spanish moss, beautiful Victorian mansions, charming locals, and all of the taste-bud satisfying fare to make it a worthy member of the “quintessential southern cities” club. It’s one of North Carolina’s most romantic destinations.
We loved our holiday weekend spent exploring this lesser-known town and I highly recommend it! It happens to be a great day trip not only from Fredericksburg, VA, but from several other cities like Raleigh and Chapel Hill as well. Should you find yourself in the area, here’s a shortlist of fun things to do in Wilmington NC.
Battleship North Carolina
Moored across the river from downtown Wilmington is the imposing and impressive Battleship North Carolina. The ship was commissioned in 1941 and participated in every major naval offensive in the Pacific during World War II. Once upon a time, 2300 sailors called the ship home during their wartime service. But today, the only footsteps echoing through the ship’s labyrinth of passages are those belonging to tourists.
When we arrived at the battleship, we were greeted by an extremely friendly volunteer who offered to take us on a guided tour. Since none of us knew anything about battleships we thought that sounded like a good idea. So we bought our tickets and met our guide at the meeting place – which is when he told us that this tour could take four hours. Four hours??! It’s a ship, not a castle! How could it take four hours?!
Turns out, those were the four most fascinating hours of our weekend. Our own personal tour guide (named John, by the way) started us out on the deck, telling us about the various guns and how they were operated. Then we went below deck – and covered all 6 stories that lie underneath the ship’s surface.
He made the tour very interactive – he’d have us try to figure out how to operate the WWII era machinery, or see if we could answer trivia questions. He was able to explain the intricacies and otherwise boring details about the Battleship and the way of life for its crew in an engaging and easy-to-understand manner. I won’t bother sharing too many facts about the battleship here, but if you have time when you’re in Wilmington, it’s well worth it!
*Tip: you don’t HAVE to take a 3 or 4-hour tour. Guided tours cost extra. If you want, you can take a self-guided tour. There are informational signs located all over the ship. But as someone who is not particularly interested in WWII machinery, I found the guided tour to be very helpful.
Hours: Winter: 8AM-4PM; Summer: 8AM-7PM
Ticket Prices: Adults: $14, kids 6-11: $6. Kids 5 and under: Free
More info: http://www.battleshipnc.com/
Related: More into the mountains than the beach? Check out nearby Boone, NC!
The Bellamy Mansion is a grand example of an urban antebellum home. John Bellamy was a successful doctor in his own right, but combined with the inheritance of his father’s plantation outside of town, he was a very wealthy and well-connected man in the South. Just before the outbreak of the Civil War, he and his wife Eliza built the Bellamy mansion for themselves and their 10 children as their townhome.
But what makes the Bellamy different from other antebellum mansions is that it almost entirely burned down in the 1970s, and what exists today is a testament to what historical preservations and restorers can do.
The house and grounds are small and don’t take much time to tour, but it’s well worth doing. As a southern city, Wilmington’s Civil War connection is a crucial piece to understanding the city’s history. A tour of the Bellamy gives a glimpse into the life of a wealthy family in the 1860s, as well as into those of the slaves and servants who made that life possible.
Hours: Monday-Saturday: 10 AM-5 PM; Sunday: 1 PM-5 PM
Tickets: Adults: $12; Students: $6; Kids 5 and under: free
More info: https://www.bellamymansion.org/
Want to tour another historic mansion? Check our nearby Tryon Palace!
Did you know that Willmington is known as the Hollywood of the East? I sure didn’t. But since over 500 movies have been filmed in this unassuming city, it’s easy to see how it got that nickname. This tour is definitely one of the best fun things to do in Wilmington NC, for casual movie viewers and film critics alike.
Of the 500 movies, I honestly had only heard of a handful and actually seen even less (but one of those was blockbuster Iron Man 3). But that didn’t matter – the tour guide “Director” is a passionate movie aficionado who has spent most of his career immersed in the theater and film industry. He tailors each tour to the guests – so if there’s a particular film or TV show that you love that was filmed in Wilmington, he’ll make sure to take you around to the spots used for that set (for a full list of shows filmed here, go here).
Since no one on our tour had any special requests, he showed us the highlights – picnic areas that were featured in One Tree Hill, a bridge where Iron Man dueled a bad guy. Practically every A-list Hollywood star has, at some point, made a film in Wilmington. There’s an alley wall that’s been signed graffiti-style by a number of them, from James Earl Jones to Henry “The Fonz” Winkler. Michelle Dockery (of Downton Abbey fame) even lived downtown while working on the TV show “Good Behavior.”
Tickets: $13, but kids 6 and under are free
More info: https://www.hauntedwilmington.com/hollywood-location-walk.html
For all the other things Wilmington is, it is also a Carolina beach town. And can you say you went to a beach town without actually going to the beach?
Ok, so it’s not right on the beach. But Wrightsville Beach is a short 15-minute drive from downtown, and if you need an ocean fix, a stroll along the sandy coastline should definitely be on your itinerary. It’s a wide and well-maintained stretch of East Coast bliss. As you’d expect, it was virtually empty when we there in January, but I’m sure it’s much busier in the summer. Regardless, it’s a lovely beach and will satisfy your need for sand and salt air.
This short list is just a sampling of all the fun things to do in Wilmington NC. I encourage you to go and explore this underrated city for yourself!
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I can’t believe it took me this long to explore Wilmington, NC. What a wonderful, quaint southern beach town! Thank you, Maggie for figuring out which AirBNB we should stay in and the activities we had to do! Just a grand mini vacation!
Loved reading your blog. Especially how you have spread all the details regarding entry fee and what to expect. Sending it to my sister who is planning a trip to NC.
I was a One Tree Hill fan back in high school so I’ve always wanted to visit haha! I hope to one day and this will be such a great resource.
I have not been to Wilmington but it looks like a great place for a weekend getaway. I didn’t know about the Hollywood connection. The mansion looks beautiful.
I would probably spend most of my time at the beach, but also at the Bellamy Mansion pretending it was my home and welcoming people in 😉
I am planning to go to Wilmington this year and very glad I came across your post. The era of battleship warfare is fascinating. I can hardly imagine a time when your armour could get you close enough to engage an enemy ship with guns. I had the opportunity to visit the most modern ship ever built in the San Diego Harbor – the Zumwalt Destroyer. Their guns can fire guided rounds that are accurate far over the horizon. Of course, when we go to Wilmington it’s going to be a beach vacation for sure but their river activities look like fun too.
Sounds like a lot of fun! I certainly had no idea so many movies and shows were filmed there. The battleship looks super interesting!
Never heard of Wilmington but looks like a fun place to check out. Didnt know about the movies filmed here either. I think for me being a coastal town, I would love to check out the sunrise here in the summer months.
You have such awesome photos. And I would definitely go on the Hollywood Tour. 500+ movies? Unbelievable!
The Hollywood tour sounds like so much fun. It is always interesting to draw parallels between screen memories and place that one visits. i love the barber shop on that ship!
Wow!! so many Hollywood movies are shot and still not as popular as it should be. I loved your pictures of battleship North Carolina, battleship looks very gorgeous. No, wonder you had a wonderful time there
Wilmington is nothing less than a revelation. So much to see and experience here. I find the Battleship North Carolina really interesting and would love to go on a guided tour there. Never knew that Wilmington was a major centre for films and was known as Hollywood of the East. Really interesting place to visit.
I lived in SC for a year and unfortunately never made it up to Wilmington! I did make it to the OBX though and really loved that trip. If I ever am back in this part of the country, I’ll be sure to try and visit Wilmington. It looks so nice, especially Bellamy Mansion!
Your cover photo is so beautiful. I have not been to this part of the US, but no that many comment on the wonderful beaches. Thank you for sharing the ideas of possible tours. Interesting fact that you shared about it being the Hollywood of the East! That would draw a lot of movie buffs I would image.
Great port! I had no clue how many shows they filmed in Wilmington! I think I’d like to visit for the historical places in the city too!
As a child of the 00’s, I really appreciate those TV posters! I had no idea so many films were shot in Wilmington. I’d love to visit some of the locations!
I have always wanted to visit Wilmington because it is in so many Nicholas Sparks novels! It truly looks amazing!
I have very limited knowledge about “minor” US cities and reading about Wilmington was a pleasant discovery. Every tour you went on seems so fascinating, from the battleship to the Hollywood one (I had no idea!) to the mansion. Super interesting, thank you for making me learn something new today!
Wow, I’ve never been in a battleship before and it looks like such a cool experience. I would have never thought it was so big to require two hours to visit. What a fun activity for a lesser-known city.
I’m from Asheville, so I love going to the coast of NC and Wilmington is such a fun, beachy city! I didn’t know about Bellamy mansion though, I’ll have to check it out. I LOVE your logo by the way, its so adorable and so pink!!
Wow! Wilmington seems to be a great place for a long weekend getaway. My 10-year-old son would surely love to be here.
I love that you were able to take such a nice weekend trip to Wilmington, North Carolina so close to your home in Virginia. I had no idea this area was the Hollywood of the east, what a fun discovery. Touring the battleships looks like an educational experience as well! It’s great to explore more of your home country!
This is such a great post! I never knew they had filmed movies here either! So cool!
This post couldn’t have come in the most perfect timing. We are going next month and this will super helpful. So happy to see there’s so much to do.
I’ve always wanted to go to NC! The beaches look so beautiful <3 Pinning for later.
Amazing post keep very much all the most conventional. Wilmington is the home of EUE Screen Gems Studios, the largest domestic television and movie production facility outside California. The Wilmington International Airport (ILM) serves the area with commercial air service provided by American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines.
Wow I did not know so many films were filmed in NC! Very cool!
I actually haven’t been to Wilmington (all around it including Jacksonville though) and I was even in the Film/TV industry. Wilmington is a bit far for me to get to last minute so I pretty much do Atlanta. SO many good films were done there-Nicholas Sparks books-turned-movies too! If I remember correctly, the tax incentives were taken away so they don’t film there much anymore. It’s mostly Atlanta, Alabama, and New Orleans for the South (with most in Atlanta). The signature wall is really cool!
I really need to explore more of North Carolina and check out Wilmington! I’m a huge history nerd, so I’d totally want to check out the mansion and battleship. Wow! They’ve made over 500 movies there! That’s something!
This is amazing that this posting should come up just now, I’m getting ready to head back down to Wilmington this month (March), as soon as I finish clearing out the place I’ve been living in the past 8 years, it’s sold and I can’t wait to hit the road in my Jeep.
Wilmington is the place I left in 2009 after living there for 6 months, I had two jobs and had planned on only staying for a couple of weeks, but I got to love it so much that i couldn’t tear myself away. Wrightsville beach was an everyday visit do to my love of the ocean, being on a ship in the Navy and all. I spent more time at Elijah’s restaurant on the boardwalk drinking YungLing beer and smoking cigars. You could smoke in the restaurant in those days, and met some of the coolest people..I was in heaven. I took the tour of the Battleship, North Carolina, of course, along with photos on the deck that I still have. But above all, after I finished my shift at the Oceanic Pier and restaurant, my favorite thing was to walk the beach at sunset and watch the pelicans fly low over the ocean. I get chills and goosebumps just imagining that scene. After living in Wisconsin for 8 years, the winter months I never liked, all I could think of was how to get back to Wilmington, North Carolina, and if I’m really lucky, I will make it my permanent home this time..maybe we’ll meet there, who knows. Until then, wishing all of you warm ocean breezes and swaying palm trees in the sunsets, and bare feet on the beach. It doesn’t get any better than that. Cheers!