The USA’s second-smallest state, teeny Delaware is just 96 miles long and 35 miles wide at its widest point. Crossing the state at its narrowest point is super easy—it measures just nine miles. The state has just three counties, the smallest number in the country.
The population may not be huge but, thanks to the state’s small size, Delaware is one of the top ten most densely populated states in the USA. You’ll never be too far away from a potential friend!
Located in the northeastern part of the country, Delaware shares land borders with Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. The border with PA is especially interesting—it curves in a semi-circular fashion for some 12 miles. It’s the only such border in the country.
The state also has a long stretch of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean, meaning that there are lots of beaches to enjoy in the summer months.
Early inhabitants were Native Americans, including the Nanticoke and Lenape groups. The first Europeans to colonise the area, in the 1630s, were from The Netherlands. They had all been killed, however, within a year of arrival.
The Swedes were the next to stake a claim to land in Delaware, followed by the Dutch once again and then the English. The colony grew up as a slave society, with huge numbers of indentured servants shipped here from Mother England and a large number of African slaves sent to work alongside in the tobacco industry.
One of the original Thirteen Colonies, Delaware was the first state to sign the Constitution of the United States. It is therefore often referred to as The First State.
Although they may not be enforced, some fairly strange laws were passed in Delaware’s communities. These include having a picnic along the highway, changing your clothes in the car, wearing pants that are snug-fitting around the waist, whispering in church, and flying over water without adequate supplies of food and drink. Perhaps of more practical value to the average person, do note that Delaware is one of a few states where fireworks are completely prohibited.
Despite being a tiny state, Delaware is diverse. Top attractions include the First State National Historical Park, Rehoboth Beach, Brandywine Zoo, Hagley Museum and Gardens, Fenwick Island, and Bethany Beach. The state’s tax-free shopping is sure to appeal to shopaholics!
You may think you’ve already seen it all, but there are still sure to be several hidden gems in Delaware that you’ve missed. Here are some ideas for your next trip:
1. University of Delaware Mineralogical Museum, Newark
What better to kick off a list about hidden gems than an actual gem museum? Located within the University of Delaware’s Penny Hall, the museum displays around 350 precious and semi-precious stones and minerals from its 3,000+ collection.
Many of the museum’s pieces are rare or unique, with each dazzling item vying for attention. In addition to raw stones you can also see gems that have been exquisitely carved and crafted. See a piece of outer space with the collection of meteorites, discover more about the area’s mineralogy, and learn interesting facts about crystallography.
Although the museum opened in 1971, many pieces have a much longer history. The university now owns a fantastic collection that was started by Irenee du Pont in the 1920s. As well as being a place to display fascinating rocks, the museum also serves as a research centre for students from the university.
2. Russell W. Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge, Wilmington
Named after a former state governor, who was known for being an enthusiastic scientist, environmentalist, and activist, Russell W. Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge is a terrific place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city for a while.
Covering more than 200 acres, the refuge sits alongside the Wilmington Riverfront. The visitors’ centre provides lots of interesting information about the state’s wildlife and you can observe an array of creatures in and around the water.
The marshes were restored in the late 1990s, helping to preserve important habitat. Fish, insects, birds, rodents, butterflies, and reptiles are among the creatures that live around the refuge. There’s also plenty of interesting fauna to admire as well. Follow the walking trails to immerse yourself in nature.
Free to enjoy, the refuge is open to the public each day between sunrise and dusk.
3. The Inn, Montchanin
A stone-built guesthouse in the small village of Montchanin, The Inn is a pleasant place to spend the night if passing through the area. Filled with rustic charm and character, rooms are comfortable and cosy.
Located within a historic building and surrounded by attractive scenery, the inn is especially charming in the autumn months when the nearby trees display a riot of seasonal colours; shades of gold, brown, red, orange, and yellow cover the branches, with fallen leaves creating a beautiful russet and rusty-looking blanket on the ground.
Indulge in a little TLC and some blissfully relaxing downtime in the spa, with a wide range of treatments and techniques to choose between.
Perhaps the real star of the show, however, is The Inn’s restaurant. If you’re expecting something run of the mill you’re in for a pleasant surprise.
The restaurant serves delectable French cuisine in a high-class setting. The ambience is, however, relaxed and unpretentious. Savour delicious European dishes and sip on fine wines.
4. Clayton Theater, Dagsboro
Clayton Theater has been providing the locals of Dagsboro with entertainment since the 1940s. A great leisure facility in the small town, it is the only single-screen movie cinema still in operation in the area. There’s no need to mull over the options and argue with your friends or loved ones over which movie to see—there’s only one choice!
The current movie is advertised outside on a traditional signboard over the main doorway into the whitewashed building. Inside, the theatre hall may be a bit antiquated, but the sense of nostalgia in the 500-person auditorium makes it all worthwhile.
Loved by locals, the cinema is often packed in the summer months. It’s a charming find for out-of-towners, though, and somewhere any movie buff should visit when in the area.
Showing golden oldies and popular classics on the large screen, be transported back in time by both the venue and the movie. More modern screenings and seasonal films are also sometimes shown.
5. Newark Reservoir, Newark
A fairly new secret spot within easy reach of Newark downtown, construction of Newark Reservoir was finished in 2006. It was built in response to a major water shortage in the area in 1999, now ensuring that enough water is held in reserve to meet the town’s needs for at least 100 days.
Interestingly, it was the first reservoir to be built in the state since the early 1930s.
Newark Reservoir draws water from White Clay Creek. A pretty recreational area that not so many people visit, there are almost two miles of paved trails to enjoy. Stroll around the reservoir’s edge for lovely views, a brilliant contrast to the views commonly seen in the city. It is especially pleasant in the cooler evening time.
In the winter months, the hill is ideal for fun sledding in the soft snow.
While the shimmering water may be tempting on a hot day, do note that swimming and other water-based activities are not allowed at the reservoir.
6. Museum of Business History and Technology, Wilmington
Tucked away within a humdrum and rather boring office of a legal software company, the Museum of Business History and Technology is a quirky little museum in Wilmington that will appeal to fans of vintage items and unusual collections. Do note that you can’t just stroll in, though, and will need to make a prior appointment to visit.
The museum takes visitors on a fascinating journey through the evolution of business technology, housing a large collection of old office equipment and typewriters.
It’s kind of difficult to imagine how people of the past functioned in an office, communicated with others, and sealed important business deals without laptops, smartphones, tablets, the internet, high-quality printing facilities, and so on.
An ancient abacus from China sits close to an old American pocket calculator. You’ll spot almost every type of typewriter conceivable. It’s quite eye-opening for younger generations!
Telephones with huge buttons and mouthpieces, circular dials, and looped cables are joined by antiquated cash registers, photocopying and scanning machine, time-keeping equipment, and telegraph devices.
You’ll also find educational materials that sought to teach people how to use what was, back in the day, modern technology. Old advertising and marketing materials, merchandise, and office supplies can also be spotted in the collection.
7. Messick Ag. Museum, Harrington
It’s time to move from the office to the fields.
Housing another novel collection, Messick Ag. Museum is located near to the state capital of Dover. It was founded in 1976 as a place to display old farming and agricultural equipment.
Providing an interesting look at the state’s developments in agricultural practices and tools over the years, the museum offers a fascinating glimpse into the past.
The diverse collections are spread throughout two main buildings and several smaller outbuildings. Agricultural equipment includes tractors, harvesters, scythes, ploughs, carts, baskets, and more. There’s a selection of vintage cars to admire, as well as many old toys.
The onsite store is the company’s main business, selling a range of modern-day farming equipment and useful items for home gardening and small-scale yard growing. If you need a sit-on lawn mower, for example, this is the place to come!
8. Bethany Massage and Healing Arts, Bethany Beach
After days of exploration in Delaware it may be time to give yourself a break and indulge in some you time. Located at the popular Bethany Beach, Bethany Massage and Healing Arts is a real diamond for anyone looking for an exceptional treatment for the body, mind, or spirit … and, at reasonable prices too!
You cannot help but feel calmer from the moment that you step inside the premises. Feel any stresses and strains start to ebb as you leave the challenges of everyday life at the door and enter a tranquil and healing space.
Members of staff are well trained, professional, experienced, and friendly. You can choose from a diverse menu of massages, including Swedish massage, Thai massage, hot stone massage, and foot massage. Special services are available for pregnant women and for couples.
Benefit from holistic healing with a session of reiki, take part in a shamanic healing ritual, based on traditional practices from Peru, rehydrate your skin with a body wrap, have a facial, and more. All treatments and packages are tailored to meet your individual needs.
Whether you want to relax, unwind, de-stress, and rejuvenate, relieve aches and pains, ease anxiety, or take care of yourself in some other way, book an appointment and reap the rewards.
9. Lavender Fields Farm, Lewes
Although just a short distance outside of Lewes, many people don’t realise that there is such a beautiful jewel hiding just out of sight. Lavender Fields Farm is part of the historic Warrington Manor.
Take a leisurely stroll through row upon row of blooming lavender in all hues of purple, lilac, mauve, and violet and inhale the distinctive strong smell of the aromatic plant. Learn about the varied uses of lavender; some might surprise you!
Many people know of lavender’s soothing and therapeutic properties. It is often used in essential oils, room sprays, soaps, herbal teas, and other herbal products. But did you also know that there are several culinary uses for lavender too? Pop a few springs in the pot the next time you’re cooking up something fancy!
The farm is peaceful and quiet, offering a lovely way to spend a soothing couple of hours. You can cut your own flowers to take away with you or buy an array of goods in the store. Think of almost anything related to lavender and there’s a high chance that you’ll find it in the well-stocked shop. Demonstrations are also sometimes given in the barn.
10. Mt. Cuba Center, Hockessin
Another of Delaware’s top spots for gardening enthusiasts and people who love admiring an assortment of colourful blooms, the 500-acre Mt. Cuba Center is a large and impressive botanical garden. Just a short distance from Wilmington, there’s no excuse not to visit if you’re in the area.
Situated in the undulating hilly landscapes of the Delaware Piedmont, the Mt. Cuba Center is said to boast some of the most magnificent wildflower displays in the mid-Atlantic area.
The centre works hard to protect the natural habitat, encourage growth of native flora, and educate people about plant life. The gardens contain a huge collection of plants from the eastern part of North America, with a particular focus on local plants.
As you walk around you’ll find that the centre is split into different areas, each one offering something new and beautiful. Wander through the Formal Garden, relax in Lilac Allee, enjoy the vistas from the South Terrace, follow the Dogwood Path, spot wildlife at Pond Garden, and appreciate nature throughout the complex.
11. British Bell Tea Room, Newark
Be transported to an elegant English tea house and enjoy a time-honored tradition that started with the aristocracy and other members of the upper echelons of English society at Newark’s British Bell Tea Room.
A quintessential English experience, indulge in afternoon tea in charming surroundings. You’ll certainly feel at least a little bit posh! The air is charmingly olde-worlde and refined, yet without any stuffy pompousness or ostentation.
From the dainty tea cups and the ornate tea pots to the table décor and the well-arranged sugar lumps, no detail is left uncovered.
Order a pot of your poison, well, your favourite tea, and savour a cute selection of finger sandwiches and cakes. For the ultimate in English-ness, accompany your tea with cucumber sandwiches and scones with jam and cream.
The extensive tea selection includes loose-leaf black teas, green teas, and white teas, and there are many specialities to tempt you. Teas available include pomegranate green tea, black tea from the Darjeeling Estate, the Berry Patch fruit blend, raspberry ginger white tea, Kenya Milima, and South African Rooibos in flavours like mojito, caramel cream, lemon soufflé, and chocolate mint.
Any serious tea drinker will fall in love with this hidden gem in Delaware.
12. Delaware Rock Gym, Bear
If you’re looking to burn-off excess energy or calories, get some exercise, and have fun at the same time, Delaware Rock Gym could be the ideal destination for you. Open since 2007, it is the only indoor climbing facility that is open to the general public in the entire state.
People of all ages and climbing experience levels are welcomed, though everyone must sign a disclaimer. Parents and guardians must sign for children under the age of 18. Though not mandatory, the introduction classes are a great way for newbies to learn how to climb safely, use relevant equipment, and gain confidence at height.
There are many different routes for climbers to tackle, and people can choose between rope courses or bouldering routes, where no ropes are needed.
Bright and airy, the gym is a cool way to get active in the winter months and do something different to a regular fitness centre. The air-conditioning means that you’ll keep your cool in the summer too.
While you can rent equipment here, there’s also a pro shop where dedicated climbers can add to or upgrade their personal climbing equipment.
13. Marian Coffin Gardens, Wilmington
Delaware has a good number of attractive landscaped gardens—we’ve already mentioned some on this list—and the Marian Coffin Gardens in Wilmington is another fabulous such garden to add to your list of places to visit in the state.
The gardens were created by a talented landscape designer between the mid-1910s and early 1920s and restored to their former glory in 1997. They surround a stately historic home, Gibraltar, but unfortunately the house is not open for visitors. The gardens alone, however, make a trip here more than worth the effort.
The formal garden is well laid out, with beds of colourful flowers and plenty of lush greenery. Various tree species provide shade and you can walk along the wooded pathway to spot diverse flora and fauna. Interesting Italian-like statues stand proudly throughout the grounds, and a handsome fountain makes a nice centerpiece.
Other features of the park include a relaxation shelter, a reflecting pool, and a terrace from here you can admire unobstructed views over the gardens. Events and classes are sometimes hosted in the lovely natural setting.
14. Roosevelt Inlet Shipwreck, Lewes
Lying forlornly and a shell of its former self, Roosevelt Inland Shipwreck is located just off the coast close to Lewes. The vessel dates back to the times of the American Revolution and it fell victim to the surging seas in 1772.
The ship’s name was The Severn. It was a British cargo ship that regularly transported goods between Great Britain, Germany, The Netherlands, China, and South Africa. It was bound for the Broadkill River on its last fateful journey, with a sandbar finishing it off. Research has found that all the crew members escaped unharmed. The cargo, however, was swallowed by the ocean; people today still find old items from the ship strewn across the nearby coastal areas.
Best seen at low tide, the rotting pieces of wood are a striking reminder of how unpredictable life can be and how one should never underestimate the might of the ocean deep.
15. The Resort at Massey’s Landing, Millsboro
A fairly new establishment within easy reach of the popular Rehoboth Beach, The Resort at Massey’s Landing is a chilled-out and tranquil spot where you can enjoy near seclusion in stunning surroundings.
Stay right on the waterfront and enjoy days of fun on the resort’s private beach. Splash around in the sea to cool down on hot days. Rent a bike and explore the local area by peddle power, or challenge your buddies to a round of golf. If you want to dip in and out of the action, shuttle services are available to take you the 15-minute drive to the busier Rehoboth Beach area.
In addition to cosy cabins, the resort also has a number of spots for RVs. Onsite amenities include a heated swimming pool, complete with an adults-only area with a swim-up bar, a coffee shop and a restaurant, a fitness centre, and a small shop. Activities include kayaking and fishing.
Get away from the world and take some time out to recharge your batteries and slow down the pace of life at The Resort at Massey’s Landing.
16. Rockford Tower, Wilmington
Standing 75 feet tall and promising stunning views from the top, Rockford Tower is located in Rockford Park, Wilmington. The park itself is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the city’s oldest parks.
The stone tower was built in 1901. It was created to be both an observation tower and a water storage facility. A staircase winds around the circular water tank, allowing visitors to climb to the top and admire the vistas from a lofty position. Peer down upon the Brandywine River and across over the landscapes of Delaware as you catch your breath from all those steps.
Close to hand, within the park, you’ll also find three interesting memorials: a statue of Samuel Francis Du Pont, Canby Seat, and the Bancroft Memorial. There are several smaller statues throughout the park as well.
17. Hummingbird to Mars, Wilmington
Only those in the know make it into the chic and secret Hummingbird to Mars. A cool speakeasy-style bar hidden in the heart of the city, the Hummingbird to Mars promises a novel night out in a funky setting with splashes of nostalgia and old-fashioned glamour.
There’s nothing ordinary about the Hummingbird to Mars. Even the bar’s name is pretty unusual. It was inspired by a quote from a Texan senator in the 1930s; the senator quipped that, “There is as much chance of repealing the eighteenth amendment as there is for a hummingbird to fly to the planet Mars with the Washington Monument tied to its tail”. The Eighteenth amendment, if you’re unaware, was the law related to prohibition. It was this law that led to hidden drinking dens springing up, places where patrons could knock back a few drinks while shrouded in secrecy.
Relive those days of prohibition and mystery with an evening cloistered away from the hustle and bustle of Trolley Square. Do note that the bar is generally open only between Wednesdays and Saturdays; you’ll know if the moonshine is flowing because the lantern outside will be glowing. There is a fairly strict dress code too; make sure that you’re dressed to impress!
18. Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Milton
One of Delaware’s best-kept secrets when it comes to places of natural splendour, Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge can be found close to Milton. Sitting along the shore of Delaware Bay and covering some 10,000 acres, the large refuge is an important place for migratory bird species.
Established in 1963, the sanctuary has varied habitats and terrains, including ponds, forests, woods, grasslands, and both saltwater and freshwater marshes. More than 250 types of bird live here, either permanently or temporarily depending on the seasons, and the area is also home to numerous species of reptiles, small mammals, insects, and amphibians. It’s positively bursting with wildlife!
There are various ways to enjoy the refuge. Explore the walking trails and snap plenty of pictures of the interesting wildlife and natural surroundings. Sit patiently and quietly in the bird hide or at designated observation spots and watch an array of creatures. Learn more about the sanctuary’s work and goals at the visitors’ centre. Hop in a canoe for a different perspective.
19. Woodland Beach, Smyrna
If you’re looking for a quiet stretch of coastline for a scenic stroll, head to Woodland Beach. It’s practically empty even in the summer months. While you shouldn’t plan to swim here there’s still plenty to enjoy … hunt for hidden treasures along the beach (or, as more likely, look for flotsam, jetsom, and shells!), watch the sun setting over the ocean, spy boats and tankers making their way along the Delaware River, see what you can catch and go fishing and crabbing at the metal pier.
There are few (read no) facilities for visitors other than a parking area and some porta loo toilets. Take your own snacks and drinks with you. The fact that it isn’t set up for visitors, though, means that you can enjoy the area in almost solitude.
The nearby town itself is pretty cute. Go and explore and you’ll come across an eclectic assortment of houses, ranging from fancy abodes to basic trailers. There’s also a historic site, namely the Thomas Sutton House, as well as a wildlife area close to hand.
20. The Cannonball House, Lewes
Battle-scarred and dented, if the walls of the Cannonball House in Lewes could talk they would surely have some interesting tales to tell. And, probably a few complaints as well, given the battering that the building has taken over the years!
The building dates back to the middle of the 1760s. While Lewes has a number of historic homes, few are as visually interesting, and injured, as the Cannonball House. Fired upon by British troops in the early 1800s, a cannonball is still embedded in the walls from all that time ago.
Sitting close to the canal, the building is today home to a small maritime museum. Once you’ve finished ogling the building’s wounds, check out the displays inside and learn more about the area’s maritime history and past sea trade.
21. James Farm Ecological Preserve, Ocean View
Although just a short drive from the popular Bethany Beach, Ocean View’s James Farm Ecological Preserve could be a million miles away based on the calm environs, views, and wildlife.
The wild and fairly rugged land is located next to Indian River Bay. The sandy beach is nice for relaxing, strolling, and swimming. When the tide is out you can meander through several types of terrain and habitat, including salt marsh, maritime forest, and meadows. If you can visit in the autumn months you’ll be greeted by a flaming riot of russet tones on the trees.
Covering 150 acres, the park was a generous gift to the county from a wealthy local landowner. The land was gifted in memory of her son who tragically died in a car crash, with stipulations that the area be used for educational, recreational, and conservation purposes.
There’s no charge to visit the park and visitors can enjoy wildlife watching and hiking, as well as paying visits to the observation areas and information booth.
22. The Johnson Victrola Museum, Dover
The Johnson Victrola Museum is another quirky museum with an unusual collection in Delaware.
The museum is named in honour of the man who invented the Victrola Talking Machine Company at the start of the 20th century, paving the way for musical enjoyment and listening to pre-recorded sounds. Glimpse into the past and be in awe of how much life has changed in such a relatively short period.
Feast your eyes on early talking machines, many of which are ornately embellished with attractive designs and patterns. Learn how the machines worked and imagine sitting in your parlour in times long past, working the hand crank to get the machine working and listening enraptured to the scratchy sounds coming through the large horns.
There’s heaps of related memorabilia too, such as old records, posters, programs, and record sleeves. Hop back in time and see how things were in the olden days.
With tucked-away scenic spots, quiet places that are filled with interesting wildlife, unusual museums that see small numbers of visitors, peaceful resorts, and more, there’s a hidden Delaware gem to suit everyone. Choose the ones that appeal to you the most and tick them off your list as you explore the First State.