The Top Attractions in New Hanover County for Locals or Tourists

Nestled on the southeastern coast of North Carolina, New Hanover County offers a vibrant blend of natural beauty, historical richness, and cultural diversity. Whether you're a local resident or a tourist visiting for the first time, this charming county has something for everyone. From stunning beaches and scenic parks to fascinating museums and lively festivals, here are the top attractions in New Hanover County that you won't want to miss.

1. Wrightsville Beach

Wrightsville Beach is a premier destination for beach lovers and water sports enthusiasts. Known for its crystal-clear waters, soft sandy shores, and vibrant surf culture, Wrightsville Beach is perfect for swimming, sunbathing, surfing, paddleboarding, and fishing. The Johnnie Mercers Fishing Pier is a local landmark where visitors can enjoy fishing or simply take in the breathtaking ocean views. With its numerous restaurants, shops, and waterfront accommodations, Wrightsville Beach is a must-visit for anyone looking to experience coastal North Carolina at its finest.

2. Airlie Gardens

For those who appreciate the beauty of nature, Airlie Gardens is a true gem. Spanning 67 acres, this historic garden features a stunning array of azaleas, camellias, magnolias, and other native plants. The gardens also include picturesque lakes, walking trails, and the iconic Airlie Oak, which is over 400 years old. Airlie Gardens hosts various events throughout the year, including concerts, art exhibits, and the enchanting Enchanted Airlie holiday light display. It's a serene escape where visitors can immerse themselves in the natural splendor and tranquility.

3. Historic Downtown Wilmington

Downtown Wilmington offers a charming blend of history, culture, and modern amenities. Stroll along the scenic Riverwalk, which runs parallel to the Cape Fear River and is lined with shops, restaurants, and historic sites. The USS North Carolina Battleship, a World War II-era vessel, is moored nearby and offers guided tours that delve into its storied past. Don't miss the historic Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts, one of the oldest theaters in the United States, where you can catch a live performance or take a guided tour of the beautifully restored building.

4. Fort Fisher State Historic Site and Recreation Area

Fort Fisher is a must-visit for history buffs and outdoor enthusiasts alike. This historic site played a crucial role during the Civil War and is now preserved as a state historic site. Visitors can explore the remains of the fort, visit the museum, and learn about its history through interactive exhibits and educational programs. The adjacent Fort Fisher State Recreation Area offers pristine beaches, nature trails, and opportunities for birdwatching, fishing, and picnicking. It's a perfect destination for a day trip filled with history and outdoor adventure.

5. Carolina Beach

Carolina Beach is a lively coastal town known for its boardwalk, amusement rides, and vibrant nightlife. The Carolina Beach Boardwalk is a popular attraction, featuring classic seaside amusement rides, arcades, shops, and restaurants. During the summer, the boardwalk hosts weekly fireworks displays and live music concerts, creating a festive atmosphere for visitors of all ages. The nearby Carolina Beach State Park offers miles of hiking trails, scenic picnic areas, and the opportunity to see the rare Venus flytrap in its natural habitat.

6. Cameron Art Museum

Art enthusiasts will appreciate a visit to the Cameron Art Museum, which features a diverse collection of contemporary and historical art. The museum hosts rotating exhibitions, educational programs, and workshops that cater to all ages. The museum grounds' outdoor sculpture garden and the historic Civil War site add to the unique experience. The Cameron Art Museum is a cultural hub in New Hanover County with its engaging exhibits and cultural events.

7. New Hanover County Arboretum

The New Hanover County Arboretum is a seven-acre oasis that showcases a variety of gardens and horticultural displays. Visitors can explore themed gardens, including a Japanese garden, rose garden, herb garden, koi pond, and children's garden. The arboretum also offers educational programs, workshops, and plant sales throughout the year. It's a peaceful retreat where visitors can learn about local flora and enjoy the beauty of meticulously maintained gardens.

8. Wilmington Railroad Museum

Train enthusiasts and history buffs alike will enjoy the Wilmington Railroad Museum, which is dedicated to preserving the rich railroad history of the region. The museum features an extensive collection of railroad artifacts, model trains, and interactive exhibits that highlight the importance of the railroad industry to Wilmington's development. A highlight for many visitors is the large-scale model railroad display, which depicts historical scenes and showcases the craftsmanship of model train enthusiasts.

9. Greenfield Lake Park and Gardens

Greenfield Lake Park and Gardens is a scenic urban park that offers a variety of recreational activities and natural beauty. The park features a 5-mile biking and walking trail that loops around the lake, providing stunning views and opportunities for wildlife observation. Visitors can rent paddleboats or kayaks to explore the lake, enjoy a picnic in the shaded picnic areas, or attend one of the many events hosted at the park's amphitheater. It's a great spot for outdoor activities and relaxation.

10. Masonboro Island Reserve

For a more adventurous outing, consider a trip to Masonboro Island Reserve, an undeveloped barrier island accessible only by boat. This pristine island is part of the North Carolina Coastal Reserve and is known for its beautiful beaches, dunes, and salt marshes. It's a popular spot for kayaking, birdwatching, and fishing. The island's remote and unspoiled nature makes it a perfect destination for those seeking a tranquil escape and a chance to experience North Carolina's coastal ecosystems up close.

11. Bellamy Mansion Museum

Step back in time with a visit to the Bellamy Mansion Museum, one of North Carolina's most spectacular examples of antebellum architecture. Built in the 1860s, the mansion has been meticulously restored and offers guided tours that provide insight into the history and architecture of the period. The museum also hosts rotating exhibitions, cultural events, and educational programs highlighting Wilmington's rich history and residents.

12. Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park

For family-friendly fun, Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park is the place to be. This amusement park features a wide range of attractions, including a water park with slides and a lazy river, go-karts, mini-golf, laser tag, and an arcade. It's a perfect destination for a day of excitement and entertainment for visitors of all ages.

13. Wilmington Ale Trail

Craft beer enthusiasts will enjoy exploring the Wilmington Ale Trail, highlighting the region's burgeoning craft beer scene. The trail features a variety of local breweries and taprooms, each offering unique brews and a friendly atmosphere. Many breweries offer tours, tastings, and special events, making it a fun way to experience the local culture and meet fellow beer aficionados.

14. N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher

The N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher is a fantastic destination for families and marine life enthusiasts. The aquarium features a diverse range of exhibits, including a 235,000-gallon saltwater exhibit with sharks, rays, and a variety of fish. Visitors can also explore exhibits on local marine life, touch tanks, and interactive displays that educate about coastal ecosystems. The aquarium's outdoor gardens and nature trails add to the experience, making it a comprehensive destination for learning and fun.

15. Battleship North Carolina

A visit to the Battleship North Carolina offers a unique glimpse into naval history. This historic World War II battleship is moored in Wilmington and serves as a memorial and museum. Visitors can explore the ship's decks, engine rooms, and living quarters while learning about the ship's role in the war through exhibits and artifacts. It's a fascinating and educational experience for history enthusiasts of all ages.


New Hanover County is a treasure trove of attractions that cater to a wide range of interests. Whether you're drawn to the natural beauty of its beaches and parks, the rich history of its museums and historic sites, or the vibrant culture of its arts and entertainment venues, there's something for everyone to enjoy. Whether you're a local resident or a visitor, these top attractions are sure to make your time in New Hanover County unforgettable.

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