Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Wilmington, NC

  • Published 2022/12/06

Wilmington is a port city in New Hanover County, North Carolina.

Something about the water here transforms and enthralls its visitors.

From Wilmington’s busy riverfront to the picturesque Riverwalk that runs around the illustrious Cape Fear River, the city has four different settings that result in an abundance of exciting vacation opportunities.

Wilmington has a lot of attractions, but if you think creatively, you may enjoy these attractions without breaking the bank.

Here are the free things to do in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Enjoy a Peaceful Retreat at New Hanover County Arboretum

A pond at New Hanover County Arboretum

PatGallery /

Taking a walk in nature will help you get back on track.

As a tranquil haven for all nature enthusiasts, the New Hanover County Arboretum is on Oleander Drive, just outside Downtown Wilmington.

With seven acres of lush vegetation and stunning greenery that transforms with the seasons, the area shows you Wilmington’s natural and treasured plant life in a serene environment.

A bridge over New Hanover County Arboretum

Coastal Girl /

The Arboretum presently boasts 33 distinctively beautiful gardens, each including a variety of flora native to the Cape Fear region, thriving in North Carolina’s coastal climate.

Visit New Hanover County Arboretum and immerse yourself in its natural tranquility.

Pretty flowers at New Hanover County Arboretum

PatGallery /

Take a Walking Tour with the Historic Wilmington Association

If you don’t know where to start your vacation in Wilmington, why not join the free walking tour from the Historic Wilmington Association?

The Historic Wilmington Foundation guides small groups on specialist tours of its historic downtown district once a month every Sunday afternoon.

This tour of Wilmington will take you through the area’s varied history, exploring tales from its past that have been carefully preserved.

You must register on their website to join the tour, and they will send you more information by email.

Don’t forget to register for the walking tour when planning your visit to Wilmington!

Remember History at the 1898 Memorial Park

The 1898 Memorial Park commemorates the uprising by prominent Wilmington residents who deposed the city’s duly elected biracial government.

It’s made up of an arc of six lengthy, free-standing bronze paddles that are 16 feet tall each, flanked by a two-section, low, curved wall made of bronze.

The memorial is accessible from the car park by the main brick walkway surrounding the big concrete circle on which this array is built.

To the right of the memorial are a brick and concrete circle bordered by a brick wall and three short columns.

The paddles refer to the function of water in “the spiritual belief system of people from the African continent.”

Two columns, known as the “Peace Circle,” are covered with bronze plaques that list the project’s donors.

Remember the fraught history of race relations in the United States at the 1898 Memorial Park.

Wander the Historic District in Wilmington

at the Historic Downtown

JSvideos /

A visit to Wilmington is incomplete if you don’t take a walk in its Historic Downtown.

It’s one of the most significant historic districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Here, you will be amazed at how the 230 block of Wilmington Historic Downtown has preserved most of the medieval structures of the buildings.

The Bellamy Mansion and the Burgwin-Wright Museum and Gardens, both from the 1770s, are two famed 18th- and 19th-century structures in the Historic District.

at the Historic Downtown

Burgwinwrighthouse, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It is also a thriving downtown business district.

The Spanish medieval Basilica Shrine of Saint Mary features dazzling colored glass.

The Riverwalk follows the bank of the Cape Fear River nearby, and the areas nearby are busy with hip brewpubs and international eateries.

Get yourself on the move and have a pleasant experience with the sights of this Historic District in Wilmington.

at the Historic Downtown

Farragutful, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Enjoy the View of Cape Fear River at S. Thomas Rhodes Bridge

Free your mind from stress by looking at the waters beneath the S. Thomas Rhodes Bridge, showing a fantastic view of the Cape Fear River.

The bridge will also give you a great view of the massive Battleship North Carolina, which is only a few kilometers away.

You can see the city lights from here at night.

It’s a memorable experience.

You can also go fishing below the bridge to try something different.

Or, you can have a quiet time, listening to the flowing Cape Fear River and feeling the soft winds caressing you.

Whether you’re looking for a peaceful spot to relax or somewhere to try your hand at fishing, the S. Thomas Rhodes Bridge offers a unique view of Wilmington that you won’t find anywhere else.

Bring Your Family to Ogden Park

Ogden Park is the perfect place to take the family for a fun and relaxing day outdoors.

This park has something for everyone, with a wide range of activities.

They have a playground and splash pad for kids, while adults can play tennis or basketball.

The park also has a picnic area to relax and bask in the sunshine.

You can stroll or jog along the scenic walking trails if you feel energetic.

Moreover, you can find the world-renowned Tony Hawk Skate Park at Ogden Park.

This skate park is a 10,000-square-foot concrete skatepark with a skate bowl, rails, and steps.

Ogden Park is the perfect place to spend quality time with friends or family.

If you want to do something else, head to this park for a fun afternoon!

Take a Photo of the Battleship North Carolina

Exterior of the Battleship North Carolina

Jason Schronce /

If you vacation in Wilmington, snap a picture with the giant Battleship, North Carolina.

The Battleship Carolina, docked beside the Cape Fear River, serves a majestic view to the locals and tourists in the area.

It has had a long history since World War II and has become an attraction in Wilmington.

Who says you have to pay to see the ship?

Main gun of Battleship North Carolina

Chansak Joe /

You can take photos with the ship in the background.

Likewise, you can freely walk around the Battleship in the SECU Memorial Walkway.

What are you waiting for?

Grab the free opportunity to see the massive Battleship North Carolina.

Interior of Battleship North Carolina

Andrii Vodolazhskyi /

Join a Free Tour of the Banning Museum

The Banning Museum is a little-known gem located in the center of Wilmington.

The 23-room house was constructed in 1864 by businessman Phineas Banning, who was also “the Father of the Port of Los Angeles” and the creator of Wilmington.

The City of Los Angeles purchased the mansion, stagecoach barn, and 20 acres of adjacent parkland in 1927 after being occupied by subsequent generations up until 1925.

The Victorian elegance of the interiors of the home has been meticulously preserved, and 18 rooms are accessible to the public.

Visitors to the Banning Museum participate in a living history demonstration of the family’s daily activities.

It provides visitors a chance to experience living in the nineteenth century.

Admission to the Banning Museum is free, but donations from its visitors are highly encouraged.

Visit the museum whenever you have time!

Spend a Quiet Afternoon at New Hanover County Public Library – Main Branch

If you’re looking for a place to read in Wilmington, then the New Hanover County Public Library -Main Branch is the perfect spot!

Find inspiring gathering places, thriving ideas, and open access to the knowledge and technological resources required for a community in this library.

They have a variety of books here, including history, science, math, children’s books, novels, and many more.

The library has a relaxing vibe that will encourage you to read books inside and spend a quiet day getting lost inside the pages of a book.

Visit the New Hanover County Public Library – Main Campus for its books and accommodating atmosphere for bookworms!

Relax at Riverfront Park

People at Riverfront Park

Roberto Galan /

Riverfront Park in downtown Wilmington is a visitors’ favorite for its beautiful views of the Cape Fear River.

The park includes benches, restrooms, a fountain, and well-manicured lawns with pedestal plants and bushes.

There are picnic tables on the property for an easy meal and parking spaces close to the waterfront for quick exploration.

Small grassy spots that are artfully positioned along the brick pathways and wooden Riverwalk are undoubtedly the park’s most distinguishing feature.

Seasonal blossoms and small evergreen trees are also in a little sunken garden in the middle of Riverfront Park.

There are also benches around the garden’s perimeter and a focal point artwork display that changes every two years.

Enjoy the Picturesque Views at Trails End Park

Situated on the Cape Fear River banks, Trails End Park offers stunning views of the waterway and the surrounding marshlands.

The park is a popular spot for birdwatching.

It’s not unusual to see ospreys, herons, and egrets while taking a stroll along the boat ramp.

In addition to its natural beauty, you can also do fishing activities with your family in the waters of this park.

Picnic tables are also available where you can lay your food and enjoy waiting for the sun to set.

If you’re looking for a destination that radiates peace and natural beauty, look no further than Trails End Park.

Play Sports at Empie Park

Playing sports is a terrific way to stay in shape, relieve stress, and make new friends.

What could be better than enjoying all those benefits outdoors, amid the fresh air?

Empie Park is a great place to play sports with old friends or make new ones.

You can play tennis, basketball, or pickleball at the park.

If you want to relax, you can stroll on the park’s scenic walking trails.

Have a picnic with your friends and family at this park!

Empie Park is the perfect place to exercise outdoors.

Don’t miss this attraction in Wilmington!

Take a Nice Stroll at Wilmington Riverwalk

Daytime view of the Wilmington Riverwalk

Chansak Joe /

The Wilmington Riverwalk stands out as a unique attraction in and of itself.

The riverwalk was created to increase local tourism.

You can find it by the picturesque boardwalk that runs parallel to the Cape Fear River for one mile.

It hugs the riverfront and offers visitors unending views and convenient access to some of downtown Wilmington’s most popular attractions.

Whenever you visit, the Wilmington Riverwalk will give you a fantastic experience!

Have a Great Time at Long Leaf Park

This park in Wilmington has a variety of attractions to offer that you can enjoy.

Long Leaf Park features six picnic shelters and a lovely garden area with a pond, bridge, and gazebo.

You can also lease them for wedding ceremonies or portraits.

These amenities are perfect for hosting events like family gatherings or birthday parties.

There’s also an off-leash dog park, a 1.55-mile walking track, an exercise station, four tennis courts, soccer fields, lit ball fields, and a full-length basketball court for playing with family or friends.

The attractions at Long Leaf Park even include an inclusive playground and splash pad with amenities accessible to kids aged two to 12 of all abilities.

Wander the New Hanover County Courthouse

View of the New Hanover County Courthouse from across the street

Roberto Galan /

A stroll through the streets of Wilmington will grant you views of fantastic architecture.

One of these fantastic structures is the New Hanover County Courthouse.

The structure has two stories and is made of stone and brick in red color.

The structure in the heart of Wilmington includes a tall brick tower in the middle, a stone arch entry, and a recessed doorway.

A clock and a high, green-colored roof are located above an open area with balconies at the top of the tower.

Exterior of the New Hanover County Courthouse

Paul Brady Photography /

You can see square towers in the southwestern and northwestern corners, which balance the red color of the building.

The building’s horizontal granite trim is white, using plaster for the walls.

There’s also a cross-hall layout on the first floor, and wooden stairs lead up to the main courtroom on the third floor.

The intricate details on this courthouse make it look like something out of a history book and are truly breathtaking.

You will not be disappointed if you take the time to visit the New Hanover County Courthouse.

Final Thoughts

You don’t have to spend money to have fun on vacation.

Wilmington is home to many free attractions, perfect for a budget-friendly adventure.

On your next visit, try the free things to do in Wilmington, North Carolina!

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