WHY VISIT DELAWARE
Tiny Delaware is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it state for drivers heading down the East Coast, but turn off the highway and this pocket-sized region packs in glorious beaches, rambling historic estates and enticing tax-free shopping.
Fronting a broad sweep of sand peppered with parasols, Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk is a classic Atlantic seaside spot, humming with whirring arcades, pizzerias chock-full of chattering families, and confectioners spooning out caramel popcorn and a rainbow assortment of salt water taffy.
A little to the south, Bethany Beach welcomes more than 100 artisans to its boardwalk each September for an arts festival showcasing everything from jewellery to watercolours. And right by the Maryland border, Fenwick Island’s waves lure windsurfers, while kayakers paddle the still waters of Little Assawoman Bay before filling up on all-you-can-eat steamed crabs.
Delaware was the first state to ratify the United States Constitution, back in 1787, and Lewes became the first town in the first state. You can cruise along the canal front by bike or explore Cape Henlopen State Park’s swimming beaches, nature trails and WWII observation tower.
Away from the coast, the sprawling homes and elaborate gardens of the du Pont family have more than a whiff of French châteaux about them. The family originally emigrated from France in 1800, establishing gunpowder works along the Brandywine Creek in Wilmington and thus making their fortune.
You can save a fortune too in Delaware: tax-free shopping is as big a draw as the beach, and outlet malls and upmarket shopping centres tempt you to spend big on clothes, computers and, well, anything that’s going to persuade you to part with your cash.
WHAT TO SEE IN DELAWARE
- Rehoboth Beach: the most popular of Delaware’s five beach towns is Rehoboth. It’s got that perfect blend of small-town friendliness and resort amenities that seem to suit just about anyone. Accommodation ranges from classic cottages to boardwalk hotels. There are water sports, fantastic restaurants, bars, and shops in its historic town center. If you need more activity after dark, take the summer trolley to nearby Dewey Beach, which is known for its lively nightlife.
- Winterthur Museum and Country Estate: tucked into Brandywine Valley is a magnificent eight-story mansion that is famous for its premier collection of American antiques and decorative artwork. There are 175 rooms decked out in the period style that feature fascinating relics of early Americana. One-hour Discovery Tours showcase the main highlights, but it really takes two days to fully explore Winterthur. Between the 1,000-acre garden and the three-acre Enchanted Woods for kids, you can easily spend a day just wandering around the grounds and getting lost in your own thoughts.
- New Castle: Delaware’s original capital was New Castle, a thriving colonial-era seaport that has been wonderfully restored to its original 17th-century ambiance. Sitting along the banks of the Delaware River, nearly all of the original houses, shops, and cobblestone streets have been preserved as something of an open-air museum. Just park your car anywhere in town and start walking. It’s one of Delaware’s most enchanting towns and well worth a day when visiting the Brandywine Valley.
- Longwood Gardens: Delaware’s Brandywine Valley is home to one of the finest gardens on the planet. Longwood’s 1,050 acres of woods and gardens are a world-class attraction, featuring more than 11,000 different kinds of flowers, plants, and trees, all laid out in beautiful but natural form. You can easily spend a day tracing its paths from section to section. From the tropical Conservatory to the 380 fountains in the Main Fountain Garden, there is a lot of scope to the land and always a special seasonal display to add to the magic.
- Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge: Delaware’s Delmarva Peninsula is one of North America’s main stopovers for migrating birds. This renowned wildlife refuge is the best spot in the state to witness rare species in action. Even when migrating ducks and geese aren’t here in October or November, there are lots of full-time residents of the park. There is a 12-mile auto route, three observation towers, and several hiking trails that get you right into the heart of the refuge. May and June are the peak months for bird watching, but Bombay Hook is a lovely spot at any time of year for some peace and quiet.
- Lewes: Lewes is both the oldest town and the oldest beach resort in Delaware, but it hasn’t lost an ounce of luster since it was founded in 1681. In fact, Dutch-flavored Lewes has all the right elements for a classic East Coast getaway. Its historic core is well preserved and filled with just enough quality inns, shops, and restaurants to cater to travelers in the know. There is also a lovely little beach on-site and a great marina which is the ideal spot to charter a cruise or fishing excursion. If Rehoboth and Dewey are too touristy, Lewes may be just the ticket.
- Brandywine Battlefield Historic Site: one of the pivotal battles of the American Revolutionary War, it was here in 1777 that George Washington impressed the Marquis de Lafayette so much with the courage of the American troops that he convinced the French to back the colonists instead of the British. Three driving tours help give a perspective of the battlefield, and the visitor center does a good job of laying out the story and offering useful guidance.
WHEN TO GO TO DELAWARE
The best period to visit Delaware is from September to November.
Delaware has a classic, four-season continental climate, with each quarter having its own virtues and hazards. Summers tend to be hot and humid especially inland along the Brandywine Valley and in other rural regions. The coast is always about 10°F cooler than inland in the summertime due to the breezes off the Atlantic and 10°F warmer in winter. Although average summer temperatures are a pleasant 80°F, expect weather around 90°F from June through August even along the beaches, due to the pervasive humidity. There is also a strong chance of rain in the summer months, usually in the form of afternoon thunderstorms.
Winters in Delaware are cold, but reasonably mild due to the entire state’s proximity to the sea. Although the beaches are ideal for sunbathing, the Brandywine Valley is a year-round travel destination. Snow is uncommon in Delaware, as the temperatures are usually too warm, averaging in the upper 40s°F to low 50s °F from December through February. Spring tends to be rather rainy though the daytime highs start to become mild by mid-March. Fall is arguably the nicest time of year in every category.
WHAT TO DO IN DELAWARE
Stroll the boardwalk
Ironically, the First State is often the most forgotten. That is until summer rolls around. That’s when Delaware truly shines, and spots like Rehoboth and Bethany Beach become weekend destinations for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Strolling the boardwalks in either beach town is the essence of American summer, where the cool ocean breezes blow over the boardwalk, and kids scamper down the path with custard cones in hand. No matter how old you are, tasting the sweet saltwater taffy from Dolle’s officially signals that the best part of the year has begun.
Following is a list of typical festivals and celebrations of Delaware.
- Old Dover Days: for several days in early May, the historic town of Dover, Delaware celebrates its heritage with a series of events and exhibits. Parades, walking tours, tasty food, and live concerts are just some of the things that fill the days and nights of the capital’s Green and Legislative Mall downtown during this event.
- DuPont Clifford Brown Jazz Festival: for a week in the middle of June, downtown Wilmington’s Rodney Square transforms into a haven of outdoor jazz concerts. Big names and unknowns share the stage each evening, come rain or shine, and all the concerts are free.
- Firefly Music Festival: the Dover Downs International Speedway shifts gears every July for three days of top-flight bands from around the US and world. This music festival is one of the best on the East Coast, regularly attracting the hottest names in rock, folk, and indie like the Black Keys and John Legend.
- Delaware State Fair: in mid-July, each summer, the town of Harrington hosts the week-long Delaware State Fair. This classic American fair features all the great components like carnival rides, live concerts, fair food, and loads of family fun.
- Delaware Wine and Beer Festival: join Delaware’s leading craft brewers like Dogfish Head and the Pizzadilli Vineyard Winery in the small town of Felton every October 21. Beer breweries and wineries from across the state converge to offer tastings and food accompanied by live music and other festivities.
- Rehoboth Beach Jazz Festival: the last hurrah of Delaware’s summer beach season arrives every October in the form of jazz music. Three days of great live jazz fills the outdoor venues of Rehoboth Beach, and local restaurants and bars create special deals and fall menus to wrap up another busy summer season in style.
- Sea Witch Halloween & Fiddler’s Festival: one of the highlights of the fall calendar is this cool parade and competition each October in Rehoboth Beach. It’s quite a spectacle, with highlights like the dog costume parade along the beach boardwalk and the official Delaware State Fiddler’s Festival providing the soundtrack. This warm-up event for Halloween is a perennial favorite with Delaware residents.
- World Championship Punkin Chunkin: this bizarre Delaware ritual―part competition, part spectacle―involves two components: pumpkins and catapults. Watch as people create ingenious ways to hurl pumpkins as far as possible across a huge field. The rural setting of Bridgeville on the first weekend of November is simply beautiful. Live music, great food, and loads of fun have made this unique festival a global phenomenon.
HOW TO REACH AND TRAVEL THROUGH DELAWARE
The Cape May-Lewes Ferry offers a unique way to travel between the southern part of New Jersey and the lower portion of the Delaware coast. The ferry is popular with day-trippers from Jersey, taking only about an hour and 10 minutes to complete the journey. The ferry is mainly designed for car traffic, so it’s a drive-on, drive-off type of boat and it can hold 100 cars and 800 passengers.
Delaware’s Wilmington is well-connected to the Eastern Seaboard via train. The Amtrak Northeast Corridor Line is the main long-distance route that stops at Wilmington, but there are also several stops at Wilmington every day on the regional Metroliner and Acela trains that run to nearby cities like Philadelphia and Baltimore. The train fares are reasonable and the trains are much more comfortable than buses, offering a scenic way to reach Wilmington if you’re already in a major city in the region. Wilmington’s train station is located on the waterfront, at 100 South French Street, with a taxi rank on site.
Greyhound buses are a cheaper and more versatile transportation option for travelers who don’t plan to rent a car in Delaware. The Wilmington Transportation Center, just next to the Amtrak train station, is the main bus terminal in the state. Greyhound also stops at several other popular Delaware towns and has an extensive national network. Regional bus travel can also be made using the Peter Pan bus company as an alternative to Greyhound.
Public bus transportation in Delaware is limited to Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach. In Wilmington, the DART network runs throughout the city and as far as the historic town of New Castle and the two shopping malls. Wilmington’s trolley is another option to travel between the Riverfront district and Rodney Square, passing by the Amtrak station. Fares are cheap and the entire route takes only 15 minutes to complete. There is also a useful summer DART shuttle line that runs between Georgetown and Lewes along the coast from mid-May to mid-September. The Jolly Trolley runs just between Rehoboth and Dewey Beach during the summer every 30 minutes from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.. Both the shuttle and trolley offer cheap fares.
Main airports are:
GENERAL INFORMATION ON DELAWARE
health tips & vaccination: none
local currency: US Dollar
local time zone: GMT-5 (-4)
electricity: type A and type B (120V – 60 Hz)
WHAT TO DO IN DELAWARE
Typical food in Delaware
- Crab cakes
- Broiled chicken
- Fish stews
Souvenirs from Delaware