What do you look for when you are deciding where you’ll travel to next? For most of us mere mortals, we have to decide our next travel destination based on wether or not we can afford it. Beach vacations in particular can be very expensive. The cost to visit Wilmington however may be a bit of a shock.

After moving to North Carolina almost two years ago, I’ve had the chance to spend a lot of time traveling through the state. There’s a lot about North Carolina that has shocked me. However, one of my most rememberable moments was when I first visited Wilmington.

Wilmington is stunning; it’s not only a beautiful city, it also has a lot to do and see, as well as some astounding restaurants. The city is known as the Hollywood of the east, because over 300 movies and shows have been filmed there.

With everything that Wilmington has going for it, you’d think you could expect to spend a pretty penny to visit the city, but you’d be wrong. Wilmington is actually really affordable. I’m going to break down the cost of visiting for you — from how much you can expect to pay for accommodations, to exactly how much you should budget for your trip.

1. Attractions

Wilmington is full of free and cheap attraction. Cheap attractions meaning that they cost $15 or less per person. Here’s a list of some of the most popular & some of my favorite things to do in Wilmington.

The Arboretum
This is a FREE attraction in the city. They have beautiful gardens to walk through and it’s a great place to have a mini photo shoot. The arboretum has a big koi pond in the middle of the gardens and a children’s garden that will keep your little ones entertained as well.

Wilmington Riverwalk
A 1.75 mile boardwalk along the Cape Fear river in the historic district–if you only do one thing in Wilmington, I recommend you take a stroll along the river walk. You can see wildlife in the water (we saw river otters while we were there), stop by the river front park, eat at one of the dozens of restaurants that line the walk, and you’ll also get a great view if the Battleship USS North Carolina.

You should start your day at the river walk, because there are lots to park in near by and you will be within walking distance of dozens of other attractions, sweet shops, and restaurants. However, you will have to pay for parking. Budget around $20 for around 4-6 hours of parking in the historic district.

Cryptozoology & Paranormal Museum
This is a free museum and one of the most unique things to do in Wilmington. If you love ghost stories, haunted dolls and big foot then this museum is for you. I love all things big foot, you could say it’s my guilty pleasure. If you are in the same boat, you can read about big foot as well as paranormal occurrences at the museum on their blog, HERE.

Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden
A small garden in the Piney Nature Preserve with a walking trail through the garden of carnivorous plants –most notably, 1000’s of Venus flytraps.

USS Battleship North Carolina
Guided tours of the battleship are offered at different time lengths. One of the coolest things about this battleship is you can rent it out for a birthday party! How cool is that?!

Wilmington Water Tours
While on the river walk you may see people standing outside selling ticket for boat rides along the Cape Fear river. I recommend choosing Wilmington Water Tours if you decide to take a tour of the river. They use handicap assessable boats which also allows you to take strollers on board.

A 50 minutes tour of the river is only $12 per adult and children under 5 are free. There’s a bathroom on board as well as a bar that has drinks and snacks. The captain of our boat was so friendly and knowledgeable. He was so kind to my daughters and even carried my youngest around the boat when she got fussy. I cant recommend them enough.

Curiosities Museum
You may have noticed that I said the crypto and paranormal museum was just ONE of the most unique museums in Wilmington. Yeah, there is more than one fascinating and budget friendly museum in Wilmington. The Curiosities Museum is has things like Houdini’s Ouija Board, Alexander Hamilton’s hair, a possessed clown, a big foot imprint, as well as numerous movie props.

Entrance to the museum is just $3 to see the exhibits. They also have a mirror maze and a laser fault maze as well. In order to see the exhibits as well as the other two events — it’s just $7 a person. Score!

Related Post: Travel Diary: Wilmington, North Carolina

2. The Surrounding Areas

When you stay in Wilmington, you have quick and easy access to great beaches. If you are looking for a beach to visit on your trip to Wilmington — Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, and Wrightsville Beach are my favorite around. Wrightsville Beach being the closest.

[Read about our travels to Carolina Beach here]

Things to do when visiting Kure Beach
-Ocean Front Park
-Fort Fisher State Historic Site
-Fort Fisher Aquarium

Things to do when visiting Carolina Beach
-Carolina Beach Boardwalk
-Carolina Beach State Park

3. Accommodation

Scoring a decent place to stay in a great vacation town that is close to the beach for less than $100 a night can be difficult. In Wilmington, that’s not the case. You can book 4-star hotels for $80! So if you have a $50-$60 a night budget for accommodation, this city will be able to accommodate that.

If your budget is even smaller, you are still in luck! On Air BnB you can book a place to stay for less than $40 a night. Yes, less than $40 a night!

If you are considering staying outside of Wilmington on one of the areas beaches you can expect to pay a little more for a hotel or rental. However, even if you get a hotel right on the beach, you can find a hotel for around $100 a night, less in the off season.

4. Good Eats

Given that Wilmington is a touristy area, they are not short on a great places to eat. I always think when traveling on a budget it’s great to have a go to sit down restaurant that you love and that won’t break your budget. For me, thats the Pilot House.

The Pilot House
Along the Wilmington River Walk and built in the 19th century, this restaurant is right on the water and had some DELICIOUS food. My daughters and I couldn’t get enough of their yummy food.
Samantha’s Pilot House Tip: Order the Pimento Cheese Dip Appetizer

Check out these links below for more cheap eats in Wilmington

Cheap Local Places To Eat in Wilmington

Wilmington Cheap Eats Challenge

So, How Much Does It Cost To Visit Wilmington?

Let’s break it down. How much should you actually budget for a trip to Wilmington? As a middle ground budget traveler, I’m going to make this cost break down as such. This budget will be for a two night stay in the city for a family of three.

As always, everyones transportation costs will be different, so simply add your estimated transportation costs to the budget to get your total travel costs. When it comes to food for a budget traveler, I’m going to include one sit down meal a day with all other meal being ate from groceries or cheap eats.

Accommodation for both nights: $130
Attractions & Activities: $70
Food: $120
Random misc. expenses: $50

TOTAL: $370 + transportation

Let me know, were you shocked by how cheap Wilmington is to visit. I can’t believe that a stay in a beautiful historic town so close the beach is so cheap!

If you have been to Wilmington, I’d love to hear about your experiences!

Follow along with me & my two little girls as we travel on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest 🙂

Related Post: How To Travel North Carolina on a Budget

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