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Why Go to Wilmington, NC

Wilmington, North Carolina, is one of the South's best kept secrets. Founded in the 1730s, Wilmington's past tells a story of ascension and decline: It was a major shipping port and the state's largest city by the mid-19th century. And as such, its historic center brims with gorgeous old homes and gardens. After a period of decline, Wilmington has risen again, thanks in part to the University of North Carolina Wilmington's youthful energy and the burgeoning film and TV industry: In fact, the city is known as "Hollywood East" for its large production studio and the number of movies and shows that have been filmed here, including "Dawson's Creek," "One Tree Hill" and "Iron Man 3." But along with its historic attractions and Hollywood appeal, Wilmington is beloved by visitors for its relaxed beachy vibe, its slow Southern gait and its swelling foodie scene. 

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Wilmington, NC Travel Tips

Best Months to Visit

The best times to visit Wilmington, North Carolina, are from March to May and September to November when room rates and temperatures drop from their summertime highs. The months between June and August are considered high season, when vacationers descend on the city and nearby beaches. The winter months of December, January and February are characterized by cold weather and a deserted city.  

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What You Need to Know

  • It's Hollywood East Wilmington hosted the productions of some popular TV shows and films, including "Dawson's Creek" and "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood." Learn more on a Hollywood Location Walk.
  • It's water sports-central Stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking and surfing are all popular pastimes here, and visitors can take lessons and rent equipment through operators like Hook, Line & Paddle and WB Surf Camp.
  • It's the South Near the border of South Carolina, Wilmington is situated squarely in the South, where Southern hospitality and a slower way of life reign. 

How to Save Money in Wilmington, NC

  • Buy a passport If you want to see more than one historic home, including Bellamy, the Burgwin-Wright House and the Latimer House, you can purchase a discounted three-house passport.
  • Visit in the winter The months between December and February are the cheapest time to visit since accommodation rates are at their lowest.
  • Book a hotel with a deal Wilmington's tourism site lists hotels that offer visitors deals on attractions and hotels. Check out its list of current deals here.

What to Eat

The Wilmington area's dining scene is currently undergoing a transformation, with establishments like Manna Ave, Surf House, PinPoint and 40Eats trailblazing the local and seasonal approach to food. And as you might imagine, fresh fish and seafood – prepared with a Southern flair – feature heavily on many menus. Other popular and scenic spots are found along Wilmington's Riverwalk, including Riverboat Landing and Caprice Bistro. For beer and spirits, visitors should head to Front Street Brewery

A few must-try places (according to locals and visitors) include the Noni Bacca Winery, which earns rave reviews from recent travelers for its award-winning vino and its thoughtfully curated tastings. Motts Channel Seafood, a fish and seafood market centered in Wrightsville Beach, is another place to try, especially if you plan to cook while on vacation. One recent visitor recommends picking up a homemade key lime pie, along with the freshest fish and seafood you'll find in the area.

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Getting Around Wilmington, NC

The best way to get around Wilmington is by car. Although the city is very pedestrian-friendly in certain places – including its Riverwalk, its Historic District and nearby beaches like Wrightsville – the city is far too big to manage on foot alone. If you're downtown, you can also hop aboard a public bus or the free trolley; both are operated by Wave Transit. Hailing a taxi or using your smartphone to order an Uber or Lyft is an option too.

To reach Wilmington, you can fly into Wilmington International Airport (ILM), which is located just 5 miles north of downtown Wilmington. You can rent cars at the airport, or you can take the Wave bus service No. 207 to get from the airport to downtown Wilmington. Keep in mind:

The Wilmington airport only operates flights arriving from and departing to northeast destinations, such as Atlanta, Charlotte and New York City. So if you're coming from anywhere else in the country, you'll likely have to make a layover in one of these cities. Alternatively, you can fly into Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) and drive a little more than three hours to the coast. 

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