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Wilmington and suburbs

In cooperation with: Delaware Tourism Office
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Wilmington and suburbs

We're thinking of taking a trip to Wilmington and suburbs for a few nights in mid December. We are interested in hiking, museums, gardens, fine dining, and entertainment. We will have access to a car so we are willing to drive to various attractions.

There are so many options and it seems overwhelming. Can you suggest a few possible itineraries and must see attractions with some indoor activities in case the weather gets to cold.

Thanks in advance.

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1. Re: Wilmington and suburbs

One day for Longwood Gardens - dine at the nearby Mendenhall Inn or Chadds Ford's Brandywine Prime. (Chadds Ford also houses the Brandywine River Museum if you can fit in a few hours - a wonderful conversion of an old mill on the waterfront) Lunch at the more casual local "institutions" Buckleys Tavern or Hank's in Chadds Ford.

Second day for Winterthur Estate - dine at the nearby Krazy Kats. Both Longwood and Winterthur offer extensive hiking through the gardens and/or amazing indoor opportunities. Great gift shops too !

Third day (or best weather day) for Old New Castle - quaint old town on the waterfront that is great for walking around - also offers some shops and restaurants.

The Queen theater and the Grand Opera House on Market Street in Wilmington offer the best live entertainment - check their calendars for the nights you are visiting.

The Hotel DuPont (which houses the Playhouse theater) offers the finest dining experience in town.

Some ideas for you ---there are many choices in this area....


Brandywine Valley...
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2. Re: Wilmington and suburbs

TG knows this area well! Can't fault anything about her recommendations for The Brandywine Valley.

Well, maybe this: Mendenhall Inn is my mom's idea of fine dining -- she's 90 and loves it. Not so much for foodies.

A couple other more current popular dining choices near Longwood Gardens: The Gables at Chadds Ford and Sovana Bistro at Willowdale in Kennett Square.

You need to know that you MUST buy timed tickets ahead of time for the Longwood Christmas display. You can do it online. It's the third year for this policy, but the first year they are adamantly enforcing it. If you'll be there at a mealtime, there is a cafeteria which is OK, and a "nice" restaurant, the 1906 Room. Reservations a must.

Krazy Kat's is a treat, both menu- and ambience-wise; if you're looking for luxe accommodations, do consider the Inn at Montchanin on the same premises. (If not, there are nice mid-range possibilities in the area, including chains, country inns, and B&Bs.)

If you like wine, there are several area wineries with tours & tastings.

For more art, Delaware Art Museum on Kentmere Parkway has an excellent Howard Pyle exhibit right now and a permanent display of Chihuly glass, among other attractions.

Winterthur has wonderful gardens but not at this time of year. The museum is devoted to early American fine furnishings. They do seem to focus more on Christmas exhibits rather than antiques this season. There is a wonderful small wing devoted to soup tureens, of all things, from the Campbell family's collection.

But if you'd like an alternative to Winterthur, I'd suggest Hagley Museum, the birthplace of the DuPont Company. There's industrial history, plus a taste of a family Christmas in centuries past in the former residence which is part of the complex.

If you're here Fri-Sun., you could check out Booth's Corner Farmer's Market. There are also other smaller attractions like the Barns-Brinton House, open only on weekends. The best website for the area, which straddles the PA/DE state line, is http://thebrandywine.com/ .

Hope you enjoy your visit!

Wilmington, DE
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3. Re: Wilmington and suburbs

Concur with Wythany's characterization of The Mendenhall Inn's suitability for the 90+ set. The giveaway is that they offer valet parking in an isolated rural location with oodles of space all around: When you get caught in a wheelchair/walker traffic jam, the necessity for this service becomes evident.

Regret cannot agree with Wythany's appraisal of Krazy Kat's. When this place opened twenty years ago, it had a certain elan. These days are over. The interior is stuffy, the service good-natured but amateur, and the menu Mendenhallesque. The "casual local institutions" mentioned by TrippyGirl are just that; eateries where locals go out of habit. Hank's is a diner. Good for breakfast; maybe. Buckley's is a noisy liquor store/bar/preppy hangout with mediocre cuisine. Also frequented by leathery female equestrians of a certain age.

I'm guessing that you are New Yorkers. If so, you may find the collections at local art museums provincial and childish. The Brandywine River Museum is, as TrippyGirl notes, a sensitive restoration of an old mill. Walk through the grounds and admire the exterior. Inside you'll find just what you might expect when a family of painters builds a museum to showcase their own stuff. You'll also encounter rooms full of nineteenth magazine illustrations by NC Wyeth, Howard Pyle, Stanley Arthurs, and the other usual suspects, sometimes called "The Brandywine School". These Local Boys Made Good have a cult following among the elderly in this neighborhood. The museum also boasts a Christmastime toy train display.

Skip the pictures and have a meal at Bistro on the Brandywine; not five minutes away on US Route 1. Superior menu, excellent wines, professional service. Understated tasteful decor

Sadly, must report that the fine art pickings in town are likewise slim. Wilmington's Delaware Art Museum underwent a massive and costly rebuild about ten years back. The results are cavernous. Lots of poorly-lit space for an indifferent collection. Catch the Pre-Raphaelite pictures if you like, but avoid those condescending, downright goofy guided tours. If you've worked up an appetite by this time, avoid the meagre cafe and enjoy a leafy stroll down Lovering Avenue to Fresh Thymes for a(very) healthy lunch. Check out their webpage for business hours.

As for Longwood Gardens, it's Louis XIV revisited. Pierre DuPont's personal monument to Franco-American horticultural megalomania. That's not to say it's not worth a try. Just brace yourself. Especially this month because, as Wythany warns us, everything's tricked out for Christmas. The Yuletide extravaganza is best viewed at night. When it gets cold. Real cold. I'd save this attraction for warm weather. If you are determined to visit now, you can always warm up in the (massive) greenhouse or have a bad meal in the restaurant.

At Winterthur you may experience a little reverse-age-discrimination. I'm 65+, and the last time I was there (to show visiting friends around), I might just have been the youngest guy in the place. This is yet another "Chateau Country" DuPont estate. The collection is limited to dreary housewares and furnishings from colonial days and the early republic. Plus someone's idea of a joke: Leftover soup bowls from the Campbell's factory over in Camden (NJ). You'll get an obligatory tour from a docent, and as is often the case with most volunteer labor, you get what you pay for. At length, you'll emerge from endless stuffy rooms cluttered with stuffier-yet artifacts. So now to the gardens. But, wait. Like Wythany reminds us, it's December. Come back in six months.

Second Wythany's recommendation of Hagely. No crowds here. And worthwhile, even if it does kind of sanitize history a little. One can only imagine what is was like to work in a gunpowder factory in those pre-OSHA days of a hundred and fifty years ago. You'll also tolerate sappy lectures from more docents who whitewash, or just deny, the DuPont Merchants of Death legacy: Their busy seasons were the Civil War, WWI, etc. A walk through the grounds, even in Winter, well worth your time.

TrippyGirl describes Old New Castle as Quaint. And it is. Terminally so. Kind of a miniature Colonial Williamsburg without the costumed guides. Difference is, people actually live here, and the residents take their Mission to Preserve most seriously. When they talk Authenticity here, they mean business; someone's incorrect screen door provoked a lawsuit that made it to the State Supreme Court. Town sits on the Delaware, and those winds make a leisurely stroll in December challenging. Insider Tip: Warm up in Jack's Bistro just opposite the Green.

Agree with TrippyGirl's Wilmington entertainment choices. The Queen Theatre presents some class acts. The Grand Opera House is a nineteenth-century jewel box with extraordinary acoustics. The local symphony and opera company perform here, and aren't even that bad. There's also Christina Cultural Arts, where local talent, mostly Black, does its number. All recommended, and all within walking distance of each other on Market Street.

Meals at the Chelsea, opposite the Opera House, are very good. At the foot of Market Street, across and under the Amtrak viaduct, is The Savoy. Pricey seafood and too many TV sets.

TrippyGirl suggested the Green Room at the Hotel DuPont. This is at 11th and Market. It has a well-deserved national reputation; it's gourmet and priced accordingly. Sunday brunch features a string quartet and ice sculptures. Highly recommended. Why not stay in the hotel while you're at it? It's a belle epoque tour-de-force, and can't be any more expensive than the Montchanin Inn, which is out in the sticks, and suffers from being next door to Krazy Kat's.

Nervous suburbanites may warn you that Wilmington is dangerous. Compared to what? Poor, dilapidated, grimy, yes. Dangerous, no. Just normal precautions. Drive down through a desolate neighborhood of abandoned dry docks and ruined shipyards to view the Tall Ship Kalmar Nyckel, a massive replica of the boat that brought the first colonists from Sweden 350 years ago. And if you're ready for a breather, drive down past the ball park to the Russell Petersen Nature Preserve: A mercifully unmanicured wetland viewed either up close along the trails or from a brand-new welcome center and overlook. Admission: Free.

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4. Re: Wilmington and suburbs

Well La Ti Da Exspecto - - - after coming up for air at the end of your ...post, I regret that you chose to send someone unfamiliar with this area to the 7th street peninsula - I don't care how wonderful the Kalmar Nyckle is - and the nearby nature reserve, still in a developing area. "Mercifully unmanicured" can be better observed to an outsider at the Brandywine Creek State Park, also free at this wonderful time of year - will it be spring or winter in another day ?


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5. Re: Wilmington and suburbs

Lots of opinions here. We are pleased to have Wilmington and the Brandywine Valley just down the road. While Philly offers its share of sophistication, I harbor no condesension to the attractions there. Highly recommend Longwood Gardens, although you'll need to purchase advance tickets in December as crowds are immense. Depending on your interests, Winterthur and Nemours are beautiful mansions decked out for the holidays on nicely arranged grounds, and visiting the museums which feature the Brandywine School are always a treat. I enjoy Hagley very much, but I don't think winter is the best time to visit as the best part in my view is the stroll along Brandywine - better enjoyed in spring or fall. Most of us who visit from Philly don't have a problem with the quaintness of New Castle. The fact that local residents take enough care to preserve the historic nature and ambience of the town is greatly appreciated by those of us who visit. I prefer it to Williamsburg as it's not filled with paid staff parading around in costume, but remains a real working and residential town to his day. I can highly recommend the Inn at Montchanin. To at least one person posting here, it is "in the sticks" at 10 minutes outside the city. To me, it is in a lovely countryside setting minutes from Brandywine Creek State Park. Finally, you can get a serviceable meal at the already mentioned Buckley's Tavern, complete with a seat by a cozy fireplace. You might check out some place in Little Italy for another option, or as mentioned, the Green Room at the Hotel DuPont if you want truly fine dining and a price tag to match.

Enjoy your visit.

Edited: 5:11 pm, December 10, 2011
6. Re: Wilmington and suburbs

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