A small state in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, Delaware is most famous for being “The First State” after it was the first of the original 13 colonies to approve of the US Constitution in December 1787. Situated on the East Coast, the state is also renowned for its coastline, historic attractions, food, and simple, black-and-white license plates (starting with just the single digit #1).
Long and narrow, Delaware is only 96 miles in length. At its widest, it is 35 miles across and at its smallest, it’s only 9 miles wide. Even within the bite-sized boundaries, there are hundreds of attractions for visitors to explore. Whether you want to see the big cities like Dover or head into the Delaware wilderness.
Tourism in Delaware is also driven by food and festivals. Various culinary crafts from around the state have become well-known for their bold flavors and fresh seafood. Oysters, peaches, and dumplings are some of the most popular dishes in the state. Additionally, live festivals of music, apple, and pumpkin chunkin’ events are lots of fun for visitors of all ages.
Livin’ La Vida Delaware
Visit Delaware’s Top Towns and Cities
History of “The First State”
Once home to Native American Algonquian tribes, the first Europeans to settle in Delaware were the Dutch. Founding a small trading post called Zwaanendael in 1631, the Dutch lasted less than a year before being killed in confrontations with Native Americans. Several years later in 1638, Swedish settlers established a small colony called New Sweden.
Considered to be a “middle colony”, Delaware was initially wary of breaking with Britain. As one of the original 13 colonies, the only Revolutionary War battle in the state was at Cooch’s Bridge in 1777. The state officially gained independence from Britain in 1783 after being confirmed by the Treaty of Paris.
On December 7th, 1787, Delaware was the first of the original colonies to ratify the US Constitution. Since then, the official nickname has been “The First State”. During the American Civil War, it was one of 15 slave states in the Union. Within the state was Fort Delaware, which was used as a prison for Confederate soldiers.
After the end of the Civil War and into the 1900s, the state was heavily segregated. Within public places, Jim Crow laws were strongly enforced and they did not end until the late 1960s. Upon integration, the state has become more diverse and liberal.
Present-day Delaware has become a major destination on the Atlantic Seaboard of the United States. Aside from tourism, the economy’s main industry is chemical manufacturing for industrial and pharmaceutical use.
Capital City of Dover
Supporting a population of 39,403 as of 2020, Dover is the capital and second-largest city in Delaware. Located on the Delaware River coastal plain, the city sits next to the St. Jones River and it was named after the coastal town of Dover in Kent, England. “Dover” is believed to come from “dwfr” in Middle Welsh, which means “waters”.
Named and founded by William Penn, this capital is filled with historic and cultural sites. In addition, Dover is known for having one of the largest Air Force bases in the US and is a major military transport hub. Visitors will find a diverse array of attractions from historic to military, farmers’ markets, shops, restaurants, NASCAR, and festivals.
History buffs will want to check out major sites like Legislative Hall, the First State Heritage Park Welcome Center, the Governor’s Mansion, Old State House, and the John Dickinson Plantation. For those that are more curious about Dover’s military ties, the best place to go is the Air Mobility Command Museum, which is just a short distance away from the Dover Air Force Base.
More modern attractions are the Dover International Speedway and Dover Downs Casino. Hosting NASCAR Cup Series, tourists can head to the track to watch various racing events with some of the world’s best drivers. Many tourists also like to relax and play at the Dover Downs Casino, which has live racing and betting on various sports.
Wilmington, The Largest City in Delaware
Also called the “Chemical Capital of the World”, Wilmington is the largest city in the state with a population of 70,898 as of the 2020 census. Situated next to the confluence of the Christina River and Brandywine Creek, the city was built on top of the historic Fort Christina, which was North America’s first Swedish settlement.
Since then, the modern-day city has grown to cover other historic settlements including Timmerön, Sidoland, Strandviken, and Översidolandet. A fun capital, many people traveling along the East Coast will take a road trip to Wilmington.
The Riverwalk is among the most popular destinations in the city. With a 1.75-mile-long path, it winds along the bank as it takes visitors right into the heart of Downtown Wilmington. Along the way, there are dozens of shops and restaurants worth perusing. Elevated boardwalks ensure that visitors of all ages will have access to the walking path.
Additional attractions in the area are the Brandywine Zoo, Nemours Estate, Winterthur Museum, Delaware Art Museum, Brandywine Park, and the Russell W. Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge. The diverse array of activities ensures that anyone will love Wilmington. Young children are particularly fond of the zoo, Delaware Children’s Museum, and the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science.
Newark, A Historic City
A mere 12 miles southwest of Wilmington is Newark in New Castle County. Most famous for the University of Delaware, there were 30,601 residents in the city as of 2020. Originally established in 1694, the city feels like a college town and it has become an important historic destination. In addition, there is plenty of public recreation space within the city limits.
Of the many things to do in Newark, the busiest attractions are the Hale-Byrnes House, Iron Hill Science Center, Newark History Museum, Iron Hill Park, Midnight Oil Brewing Company, and the White Clay Creek State Park. Visitors may also be interested in taking a walking tour of the campus at the University of Delaware.
Lewes, “First Town in the First State”
In Eastern Delaware situated near both the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay is Lewes, which is home to a small population of 3,270 people as of 2020. The community is a neighbor to Rehoboth Beach. Nicknamed the “First Town in the First State”, Lewes was built on top of what was the first European settlement in the state. The city’s history goes back to 1631.
Although Lewes is tiny, it has become a popular Mid-Atlantic destination and throughout the year, waves of tourists head to the local beaches, resorts, and state parks. It’s considered one of the best beach towns in Delaware to live and visit.
Visitors enjoy water activities, historic tours, and leisure walks. Some of the top things to see in Lewes are the Cape Henlopen State Park, Cannonball House, Lightship Overfalls, Zwaanendael Museum, Junction and Breakwater Trail, and the Delaware Seashore State Park.
Rehoboth Beach, “The Nation’s Summer Capital”
Just to the south of Lewes on the Atlantic Ocean is Rehoboth Beach. With a permanent population of 1,590 people as of 2020, numbers can drastically swell as millions of people head to the city for vacations. In 2019 alone, it’s estimated that there were 7,759,000 visitors that went to Rehoboth Beach. Undeterred by the crowds, the city is known for its beaches and summer homes.
Known as “The Nation’s Summer Capital”, the most popular attractions in the city are Jungle Jim’s, the Rehoboth Beach Bandstand, Penny Lane Mall, Funland, Boardwalk, and the Cape May-Lewes Ferry. A few of the activities including the state parks and Junction and Breakwater Trail are also shared between Lewes in the north.
Bethany Beach, “The Quiet Resorts”
Much less crowded than Rehoboth Beach is Bethany Beach in Southeast Delaware. Supporting a population of 1,150 people as of 2020, the crowds can swell to more than 15,000 during the summer month.
Still quite busy, when compared to its northern neighbor beaches, Bethany Beach along with South Bethany and Fenwick Island, have fewer visitors giving them the nickname, “The Quiet Resorts”.
Unlike some of the beach destinations that are blocked by barrier islands, Bethany Beach has more space to spread out, which means that many of the area’s vacation homes are located just west of the town limits. Attractions in the area include the main beach, Boardwalk, Fenwick Island State Park, Bethany Beach Nature Center, Town Museum, and the Bear Trap Dunes.
Dewey Beach, “A Way of Life”
Another sandy spot to head to in Delaware is Dewey Beach in Eastern Delaware. With only 442 people living in the town as of 2020, the tourist crowds can swell up to 30,000 on summer weekends.
The beach and town are situated on a two-block wide strip of land that sits between Rehoboth Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Only one mile long, the main street is lined with restaurants and shops.
Most tourists in Dewey Beach are eager to hit the sand or escape to the nearby resorts. Additional accommodations include boutique hotels, cottages, and condominiums. Activities at the beach include water sports, live music, and a lively nightlife scene. There is also an award-winning boardwalk that has accommodations, stores, and restaurants.
First State National Historical Park
A part of the National Park Service is the First State National Historical Park in New Castle, Delaware. Dedicated to preserving the early colonial history of the area, the park also protects the natural and cultural landscapes of the Brandywine River Valley.
Covering 1,100 acres, important sites in the park are the New Castle Court House, New Castle Green, Sheriff’s House, Dover Green, Fort Christina, Old Swedes’ Church, John Dickinson Plantation, and the Brandywine Valley.
Delaware State Parks
Throughout Delaware, there are 17 state parks where visitors can hike, walk, camp, swim, fish, tour, and participate in special programs. Located all around the state from the coast to inland, the state parks are great places to experience more of Delaware’s landscapes, history, and culture.
The most well-known recreational area is the Delaware Seashore State Park near Rehoboth Beach. Covering 2,825 acres, the park is famous for its beaches and marina. The wide sand is perfect for walking or lounging, while the Indian River Marina gives visitors a way out onto the water. Being located near Rehoboth Beach, this state park is known to get very crowded during the summertime.
In Northern Delaware, the Brandywine Creek State Park takes visitors through rolling hills and woodlands. Perfect for solo, couple or family groups, activities in this park include horseback riding, hiking, biking, fishing, canoeing, and disc golf. Situated near Wilmington, Brandywine Creek is a nice place to venture that is away from the city noise.
The historic Fort Delaware State Park is both beautiful and educational. Dating back to 1859 and once used as a prison for Confederate soldiers, the fort offers unique hands-on experiences that include costumed interpreters. Accessible only by ferry, visitors are permitted to hike and picnic on the island.
The best state park for swimming is Cape Henlopen. Filled with stunning beaches, there are multiple swimming areas within the park that have lifeguards on duty from Memorial Day to Labor Day weekend. There are also bathhouses with toilets, showers, and changing rooms. When not hanging around the beach, visitors should check out the disc golf course or World War II observation tower.
From beautiful beaches to big cities and historic landmarks, Delaware is an engaging destination with plenty to explore.
Although some parts can be overly crowded, there are many places throughout the state where visitors can head away from the crowds to enjoy the peace and quiet of Mother Nature. A charming Mid-Atlantic destination, you won’t want to miss the iconic attractions, landmarks, and experiences of “The Diamond State”.