The trees are trimmed, the lights are up, the mantels are dusted and corsets are being tightened. Cinnamon sticks are swirling around the cider while marshmallows take a float in a bath of hot cocoa. It’s time to get ready for another Wilmington, Delaware Christmas!
Whether you are into historic du Pont family homes, Dicken’s inspired celebrations (hence, the corsets), Santa Claus or simply eating your body weight in frosting, Wilmington and New Castle, Delaware can handle all of your needs this holiday season. Let’s dive right into what the Brandywine Valley is best known for during Christmas. We may even surprise you with a few things you didn’t know were here.
Tour the Historic DuPont Estates
You can’t go to Wilmington, Delaware without touring at least one DuPont estate. And Christmas is the most beautiful time to see these mansions and gardens. They are all decked out to celebrate the holidays, both inside and out.
While Longwood Gardens is known for their outdoor light displays, Winterthur is all about the guided house tour. Nemours is perfect for families who want a self-guided experience, and the Hagley Museum and Library is best when kids just don’t have a lot of patience for old homes.
When you enter the Nemours Visitor Center, make sure you see what special events are happening that day. Several occur on the weekends, and some are for families. Watch the short video which explains who Alfred I. du Pont was and why Nemours is still important today.
Once you are finished touring the little museum in the Visitor Center, hop on the tram to go up to the Estate. While the grounds and gardens have gone dormant for the winter, and the fountains are turned off, you are still welcome to wander the paths and let the kids run. Better to get that excess energy out before you head into the house.
A.I. du Pont built the Nemours Estate out of love for a woman who just wanted to be friends (it’s true), but would become the family home with his third (and final) wife Jessie. They would spend the holidays here surrounded by nieces and nephews, friends and loved ones. Now that the estate is open to the public, you can get a glimpse into their lavish lifestyle in the early 1900s and how they spent Christmas at Nemours.
During the holidays, Jessie and her sisters would shop until they dropped, filling an entire bedroom with goodies. Christmas trees and décor litter the halls, fireplace mantles and formal dining room. Best of all, there is a gingerbread recreation of the Nemours Estate in the kitchen. Don’t miss it while you go on a self-guided tour of the home.
Docents are available throughout the property to answer any questions and help wayward children wander back to their parents.
Winterthur museum, garden and library
Yuletide at Winterhur is even more impressive than a visit to the property during the rest of the year. The trees decorated by the staff are my favorite part of this Henry Francis du Pont house tour. While you won’t be seeing all 175 rooms, you do get to see quite a bit of the mansion. A magical dollhouse, collection of antique Santas, stunning formal dining room display, and informal family living rooms give you a peek into holiday life at Winterthur.
Keep in mind that you will need timed tickets to enter the mansion, and the tour will be at least an hour long, which can be hard for small children. You do get some very fun insider stories about the family as well as the origins of the decorations (particularly one room of wallpaper—I won’t spoil the surprise), and access to the decorative and fine arts collection (one of the most exquisite in North America).
After the tour, you can check out the special exhibition. Past exhibits include the costumes of Downton Abbey and Costuming THE CROWN, featuring attire from the Netflix series. You can also walk the grounds to take in the naturalist landscape that Henry DuPont loved. While his family over at Longwood and Nemours preferred more manicured gardens, Henry savored the natural beauty of a meadow or canyon of ferns.
Other experiences not to miss include a live performance of A Christmas Carol performed by Gerald Charles Dickens, the great-great-grandson of Charles Dickens. The visitor center also offers Yuletide Jazz & Wine on select Wednesdays in December, where you can enjoy a nice glass of wine to go with live jazz music.
The Pavilion Restaurant is open if you would like to have dinner while you listen. You can also welcome the New Year at Winterthur with free hot cocoa, cookies, and crafts during the New Year’s Calling as part of the Yuletide tour.
Explore more things to do in Wilmington, DE throughout the year
Hagley Museum and Library
The best way to get kids through the door of the Hagley is to tell them that something will get blown up while they are there. It’s true. My boys were tired of looking at old houses. I told them we were going to an old gunpowder mill and that we were going to watch them blow something up. Magically, my boys were all in.
During the holidays, the Hagley has a gingerbread competition above the visitor center stairs. There is also cookie and ornament decorating. Santa makes an appearance on select dates.
Longwood Gardens has always been my favorite Christmas tradition in the Brandywine Valley. The gardens are covered in lights and the Conservatory bursts with flowers of every color. Christmas trees take over the greenhouses and the grounds.
My boys used to complain about going, but now they know there is endless hot cocoa, mini donuts and holidays trains for them to check out—and of course, the holiday show at the Open Air Theatre fountain.
Read our complete guide to a Longwood Gardens Christmas here.
THe Spirit of Christmas in New Castle, DE
Just south of Wilmington, DE, you will find the Dickens-esque town of New Castle, DE. A cuter town you will never see. One weekend every December, this town goes all out, embracing their Christmas Carol side, opening historic homes and dressing up to welcome visitors.
Arrive by 10am so you have time to tour as many homes as possible before 4pm. There are about eight houses open for the holidays, most of which aren’t accessible any other time of year. Many are guided home tours and some take longer than others.
Stop by the New Castle Visitor Center at The Arsenal if you have children with you and aren’t sure where to start. We opted for the Read House and Garden, which was self-guided, and the Dutch House, since it is a small home and a shorter tour.
Aside from home tours, which can be tough for little ones, there are several family-friendly performances throughout the day. The New Castle Court House Museum offers crafts and a chance to meet Tompte the Swedish Elf (he has presents!), a Christmas concert and carol singing at the New Castle United Methodist Church, and Hand Bell Concerts at the 1707 Meeting House.
Weather permitting, you can also catch performances of A Christmas Carol out on the Market Square. Don’t worry, if it rains, like the day we visited, there is a backup plan. The performance will be moved indoors to the Court House or other community building.
Check in at the Visitor Center for more information. This community bands together to make sure the Spirit of Christmas in New Castle is magical for everyone each year.
When you need a little sustenance, grab lunch at Jessop’s Tavern. This historic eatery is in high demand during the holidays, and not just because it has the largest Belgium beer list in Delaware. Warm up with their homemade pot roast, but save room for the dessert crumble or cob. It pairs perfectly with a local cider or Belgium brew.
Santa in Wilmington, Delaware
Breakfast at the Delaware Museum of Natural History
Dinosaurs and Santa might not seem like they go together, but when you step into the Delaware Museum of Natural History, you will find out that Santa has a few best friends with big bones.
This Santa breakfast is perfect for little ones and parents short on time. Expect to spend about 45 minutes to an hour enjoying pancakes and sausage, exploring the exhibits, and of course, saying hello to Santa. Everyone gets a chance to take photos with the Big Man himself. Several craft stations are set up to bring home a little souvenir from your time at the museum.
Sunday Brunch with Santa at Deerfield
If you are looking for a more filling and fancy brunch with Santa, go to the Deerfield Golf Club. Santa makes a special appearance the three weekends leading up to Christmas at one of Wilmington’s top brunch spots. Kids 12 and under will get a little present, and everyone can get their photo taken with Santa.
Naturally, this brunch is all about the food, so bring your appetite. Enjoy a donut wall, bacon, scrambled eggs, omelets, a soup and salad station, made-to-order eggs Benedict, loads of breads, Danishes and croissants, a BBQ station, carving station, breakfast burritos, individual pizzas and a massive seafood station.
Just save room for dessert! You don’t want to miss out on the local Woodside Farm Creamery ice cream station, waffles, cake, pies and mini desserts.
Parents: there are $5 Bloody Mary’s and Mimosas for you too. Oh, and coffee of course. What is brunch without coffee?
Wilmington Christmas Nights
Nighttime is when a Wilmington Delaware Christmas really comes to life. The lights pop on and everyone comes out to play. After all, you can’t see Christmas lights when they are on during the day, right? It’s time to go on a little hunt for some light displays, great food and ice skating in the Brandywine Valley.
The Wilmington & Western Railroad
What’s Christmas in Wilmington without holiday lights? The Wilmington & Western Railroad runs multiple train departures throughout the seasons, and trains go through neighborhoods and houses that are all decked out for the holidays. Some departures will even have Santa onboard. Buy a few snacks before you board at the train station concession stand to stay warm.
Neighbors know when the train is coming. We had a whole house filled with people for a pajama party run out to wave. There must have been 25 people on the deck saying hello to our train.
The ride lasts about 45 minutes and is just enough time for little ones to capture the magic of the season. Seats are assigned, so no one is jostled as you climb aboard. Do be on time though. The train waits for no one!
Dinner on north market street
Downtown Wilmington’s food scene has really grown in recent years, making North Market Street the place to be at night if you want great food and inventive cocktails. Book at table at Bardea, La Fia or The Merchant Bar. Even our boys loved Bardea, which had the perfect balance between kid-pleasing entrees (there is pizza on the menu for picky eaters) and parent-pleasing cocktails and inventive cuisine.
Downtown is all dressed up with lights and décor, ready to welcome you for the holidays. If you want something quick, you can pop into DE.CO, a food hall concept that gives multiple chefs a spot to shine.
Connie’s Chicken and Waffles is always my favorite, but The Pop-Up: Federale Tacos wowed my carnitas-loving kids. Don’t forget to grab a melting snowman cookie from Spark’d. They have awesome hot cocoa too if you need to stay warm.
Grab more of our favorite restaurants in Wilmington, Delaware
Ice Skating at Riverfront Rink
We love ice skating during the day, but there is something about skating at night when those lights are on that brings a bit of magic to the Delaware Christmas season. But the Riverfront Rink isn’t just for the holidays—you can skate from just after Thanksgiving through the end of February at this rink that takes over Constitution Yards right along the Christiana River.
Snacks are available onsite. There is also a Starbucks across the street and several dining options in the area if you are looking for a spot to sit down and warm up after your hour-and-a-half skating session.
While my husband and I thought that was more than enough time for our old legs to skate, our boys could have gone another session or two.
Thankfully, the prices are reasonable (under $10 per adult, kids are even less). Skates are available to rent or you can bring your own. And yes, there are lockers to use for a nominal fee.
Holiday Theater Productions
Nothing screams the holidays like an amazing theater performance. At least that’s what we think. Bring together amazing actors, lights and props, and perhaps a few songs, and we get into the spirit of the season pretty darn fast. Wilmington, DE has an incredible arts and theater scene.
A Christmas Carol at the Delaware THeatre company
Every year the Delaware Theatre Company brings together seven actors, a few props, and puppets to tell the classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge. Much like the Grinch, his heart grows three times by the end of this tale, but there are a few ghosts that have to get him there first.
Shows run throughout the month of December up until December 30th, making this the perfect Christmas gift or pre-holiday performance. Check tickets dates and prices here.
Delaware Children’s Theater
If you missed the 2019 production of Disney’s Frozen Jr., you aren’t alone. This show sold out its month-long run.
While every holiday brings fantastic performances, there is just something about Anna, Elsa and Olaf that adds magic to the season. Keep an eye on the Delaware Children’s Theater’s website for next year’s performace schedule. This isn’t your average community theater, that’s for sure!
LOOKING FOR A WILMINGTON DE HOTEL? CHECK OUT THE FOLLOWING!
- Hotel Du Pont– Luxe hotel in downtown Wilmington
- The Westin Wilmington– right near Wilmington RiverWalk + pool
- Homewood Suites by Hilton Wilmington – Our favorite with the kids!
- DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Wilmington– Easy distance to most attractions
- Courtyard by Marriott Wilmington Brandywine– it has a pool!
This post is part of a paid partnership with Visit Wilmington, DE. As always, my opinions are my own. When they aren’t, you will be the first to know. This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking one of those links I may receive a small commission.