Delaware is the second smallest state in the country, but its narrow borders hold significant diversity. During the American Civil War, the citizens of Delaware were split in their loyalties, and even today, the state seems to have two distinct identities, one taking its cue from the industrious North, the other following the relaxed pace of the South.
In northern Delaware, the rolling, wooded hills of the Brandywine Valley provide a captivating backdrop to the state's colonial history, refined elegance and industrial prominence. It was here that the du Pont family built its empire, harnessing the river for gunpowder mills in 1802.
But the du Pont legacy includes a commitment to the community as well. It lives on today in the mansions, gardens, museums, libraries, and parks established by the family over the years and now open for visitors to enjoy.
Wilmington is Delaware's largest city, which grew along with the du Ponts' fortunes. Wilmington, and nearby upmarket towns like Hockessin and Greenville, offer stylish shops and boutiques, trendy nightspots, historic pubs, and excellent restaurants (Mediterranean cuisine is a specialty, due to the city's large Italian community). Most residents of Wilmington and its surrounding areas identify with their northern neighbours. It is not unusual to hear them describe themselves as living not in Delaware but 'just south of Philadelphia'.
Central and southern Delaware, on the other hand, have a decidedly different flavour. Small towns are surrounded by farmland. Charming bed and breakfasts take the place of grand hotels. In Dover, the quiet state capital, visitors might see Amish buggies travelling alongside regular traffic. A strong connection with the environment is apparent, as outdoorsmen revel in waterfowl hunting and fishermen take advantage of the many inlets and tidal marshes that crisscross the region.
The sandy beaches along the Atlantic Ocean are popular destinations and cater to all tastes, from sleepy Bethany Beach with its large family homes, to livelier Rehoboth with its boardwalk and outlet shopping malls. Speaking of shopping, Delaware is sales-tax free, making it an exciting destination for bargain hunters.
Featuring some fantastic exhibits, the Delaware Museum of Natural History is a great attraction for visitors of all ages and persuasions. The dinosaur gallery is a favourite with most visitors, with Tuojiangosaurus and Yangchuanosaurus skeletons towering over awe-inspired visitors. View the Elephant Bird egg in the Hall of Birds; admire animals from around the world in the Hall of Mammels; or explore the Shell Gallery which boasts an impressive collection of two million shells. In addition to the permanent exhibits, there are constantly changing special exhibits on display, tours, and interactive outdoor experiences.
Holding a collection of more than 12,000 works, the Delaware Art Museum was founded in 1912 by the Wilmington Society of Fine Arts in honour of the artist Howard Pyle, whose painting 'Battle of Bunker Hill' was in the museum's possession until it went missing and was presumed stolen in 2001. Apart from the remaining works of the much-loved local artist Howard Pyle, and some of his American contemporaries, the museum is perhaps best known for its extensive collection of British Pre-Raphaelite art. The urban landscapes of John Sloan can also be viewed here. Temporary exhibitions are hosted regularly and public and group tours of the museum are available.
The state's only museum solely dedicated to contemporary art, the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts (now usually just called the Delaware Contemporary), features displays of local, regional, and international artists in its seven galleries. It also features about 26 artists' studios, a gift shop, a high-tech auditorium, and a classroom where workshops and lectures are held. The museum is best known for its challenging and intriguing exhibitions, curated to be relevant and topical. The fact that admission is free is an extra incentive for visitors with time to kill in the city, and the quick turnover of art on display ensures that there is always something new to see.
The Hagley Museum and Library collects, preserves, and interprets the history of American enterprise and is a non-profit educational institution. With a range of exhibitions, guided tours, walking trails, and demonstrations, there is so much to learn at the Hagley Museum. Visitors can experience 19th-century living on Workers' Hill, visit the Powder Yard, where massive stone mills, storehouses, and a waterwheel echo a time when water was the main source of energy, and tour the Eleutherian Mills, a mansion that has been home to five generations of the famous du Pont family and features breath-taking views over the Brandywine Valley.
Wilmington has a humid subtropical climate, with cool winters and hot, humid summers. Average winter temperatures range between 50°F (10°C) and 65°F (18°C), while summer temperatures average a balmy 80°F (27°C) to 90°F (32°C). Spring is warm and mild, with the many gardens of the Brandywine Valley bursting into bloom, and visitors should note that often rooftops and cars can be turned yellow due to the pollen dusting during the season.
Delaware has a humid, temperate climate, with hot and humid summers and cold winters. Summer months are also the wettest, with August receiving the most rainfall. Winters are dry, but cold, and snow is likely. Average summer temperature highs are 86°F (30°C), while winter lows average 23°F (-5°C) in January, making the temperature range quite large in the state. The southern part of Delaware is generally milder than the north.
Wilmington is midway between New York and Washington DC, so it is perfectly situated for a weekend getaway or stop-over. In addition, it is full of undiscovered gems, like the Mt Cuba Center's indigenous gardens, which makes it an ideal setting for a romantic holiday. The Brandywine Valley is lovely for couples, though its many museums cater to children as well. Beer lovers should sample the libations of the Twin Lake Brewery just north of town.
Wilmington holds some treasures for art lovers, with the Delaware Art Museum and the Delaware Contemporary both highly regarded. History buffs should find something of interest in the Hagley Museum and Library, and the Delaware History Museum.
For those keen to discover some of the stately old homes of the region, the Nemours Mansion is in Wilmington and offers tours of the estate and gardens, and the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library, another du Pont mansion, is nearby.
Sports fans may want to catch a game at Frawley Stadium, and the Grand Opera House is an impressive venue for the performing arts. Those looking for a taste of Delaware's scenic beauty within the city limits should visit the Alapocas Run State Park or the Brandywine Creek State Park.
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