Brandywine Valley is a great getaway destination that is often overlooked by residents of the Mid-Atlantic region. Located in Delaware just an hour south of Philadelphia, an hour north of Baltimore, and two hours north of Washington, D.C., the Brandywine Valley offers historic attractions, art museums, scenic countryside vistas, and plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities—many of which are within a 10-mile radius of Wilmington, Delaware. The gardens and arboretums are spectacular destinations for nature lovers, and the historic homes are must-sees for those interested in the decorative arts.
Like many of the attractions in the Brandywine Valley, the Hagley Museum and Library celebrates the legacy of the du Pont family, which founded the DuPont chemical company in the early 1800s to manufacture gunpowder. The 235-acre Hagley Museum site is located along the Brandywine River on the outskirts of Willmington and houses the original DuPont gunpowder mills, estate, and gardens. The museum hosts special year-round programs for many age groups and features exhibits, demonstrations of the powder mill machinery, and tours of the first DuPont family home, which was originally constructed in 1803.
Built in 1919, Longwood Gardens is the living legacy of Pierre S. du Pont and is the most renowned attraction in the Brandywine Valley. The 1,077-acre premier horticultural showplace includes 20 outdoor garden areas, four acres of indoor Conservatory gardens, and 11,000 different types of plants. The gardens also offer classes and workshops, flower shows, gardening demonstrations, garden walks, and other special events throughout the year. Located in the heart of Brandywine Valley near Kennet Square, Pennsylvania, Longwood Gardens is open daily year-round, and admission is required to explore the grounds.
The 1,000-acre estate of Henry Francis du Pont known as the Winterthur Museum houses a collection of more than 85,000 American antiques and decorative arts. The 175 rooms, exhibition galleries, and gardens are open for tours and a variety of special events year-round, and throughout the year, guests can take part in yoga classes, embark on guided wellness hikes, browse handmade goods at the Winterthur Store pop-up shops, or peruse the extensive research library of the estate. The museum is open daily Tuesday through Sunday in the spring, summer, and fall, and is open seven days a week during Yuletide (November 23 to January 5).
The 102-room home of Alfred I. DuPont known as the Nemours Mansion features fine antique furniture, rugs, tapestries, paintings, and delicate Chinaware, and the 200-acre gardens include reflecting pools, fountains, and sculptures. Tours are available and reservations are suggested to experience the majesty of this scenic estate, but visits to the Nemours Mansion are largely self-paced and self-guided. The estate is open for visitors from May through December each year on Tuesdays through Sundays, and admission is required to explore the property.
The 19th-century gristmill with a beautiful setting along the Brandywine River houses one of the largest collections of paintings by N.C., Andrew, and Jamie Wyeth—contemporary American artists who were inspired by the lush setting of the Brandywine River Museum estate. The art museum also features the works of other well-known American illustrators and provides guided and self-guided tours of the galleries. Shopping, dining, and entertainment are also available, and the art museum also features several special exhibits throughout the year. The museum is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. year-round.
Another great place to see contemporary and classic American art in the Brandywine Valley is the Delaware Art Musem, which features a world-renowned collection of American art and illustration and British Pre-Raphaelite art. The Copeland Sculpture Garden, located on the grounds of the museum, shows the works of contemporary sculptors. Adult, youth, and family programs are available throughout the year, and guests can also attend performance series year-round. The Delaware Art Museum is open Wednesdays through Sundays year-round but is closed on New Year's Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
For a look at the latest in contemporary American art in the Brandywine Valley, look no further than the Delaware Contemporary. This museum presents more than 30 temporary art exhibitions in all media, including painting, sculpture, photography, and installation, and houses seven galleries, 26 artist studios, a gallery shop, an auditorium, and an art classroom. The Contemporary also offers educational programs, gallery talks, and family events throughout the year. Located on the popular Riverfront Wilmington, the Delaware Contemporary is open Tuesdays through Sundays all year. While admission to the art museum is free, donations are highly encouraged to help keep the galleries open.
Take a Guided Tour of the Read House and Gardens
A National Historic Landmark, the Read House is a Federal mansion surrounded by 1.5 acres of formal gardens that feature seasonal decorations throughout the year. Located in New Castle, Delaware, this unique historic site is open to the general public Wednesdays through Sundays from April through December, but guests can also tour the estate by appointment from January through March. Additionally, the riverfront town of New Castle served as the first state capital of Delaware, so be sure to stick around after you tour the grounds to explore the town's historic sites, specialty shops, and restaurants.
Although the museum itself may be a little small, the Delaware Museum of Natural History features an extensive collection of seashells, marine life, and dinosaur skeletons discovered in the region. Also home to an African watering hole, a giant squid, and an interactive Nature Nook with hands-on activities for kids, the Delaware Museum of Natural History is a great destination for families hoping to learn more about the natural environment of the region. The museum is open seven days a week throughout the year, but the Nature Nook is closed on Mondays. Admission is required to attend.
The Mt. Cuba Center is a horticultural institution dedicated to the study, conservation, and appreciation of native Appalachian Piedmont plants and is also home to one of the region's finest woodland wildflower gardens. Tours are given seasonally and require advance reservations, and classes are also available throughout the year for guests to learn about the study and conservation of wildlife at the center. Located in Hockessin, Delaware, the gardens are open for general admission from April through November, but classes are available year-round.
The English country estate known as as the Rockwood Museum features a Rural Gothic mansion built by Joseph Shipley, a Quaker merchant banker, in 1851. Owned and operated by New Castle County, this unique museum retells the history of its original inhabitants and life in the Brandywine Valley during the turn of the 20th century. The Carriage House and Walled Garden are available for rent for private events, and guided tours of the mansion are available by reservation on Wednesdays through Sundays year-round. While admission to the museum requires a small fee, the park and gardens are free to visit and are open to the general public from dawn to dusk.