12 Jan DC Road Trip: Holidays in the Brandywine Valley
Nestled amongst the rolling hills between Wilmington, Delaware and Philadelphia lies the picturesque Brandywine Valley. With gorgeous du Pont family estates and more than 3,000 acres of landscaped gardens, it’s a region best known for being a flower-lover’s paradise. But once the mid-Atlantic’s leaves have finally fallen and the flowers have moved on to make room for winter, the Brandywine Valley’s elaborate holiday season begins.
Here, tradition and beauty, nature and panache come together to make the Brandywine Valley arguably the best mid-Atlantic destination to celebrate the holidays.
Time needed: 36 hours*
*Note: This itinerary could also be truncated and done as a day trip.
Distance from DC: Around 225 miles, roundtrip
Best time to visit: Visit in December to partake in holiday cheer. (Or, April through October for a equally impressive flower-themed getaway.)
Best suited for: Couples, Families, Seniors, Solo Travelers, Girlfriend Getaway
Other things to note: Be sure to plan ahead! The holidays are a very popular time in the Brandywine Valley and many tours do book up far in advance.
THE ITINERARY—HOLIDAYS IN THE BRANDYWINE VALLEY:
1.) Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library (5105 Kennett Pike, Winterthur, DE)
Begin your trip with a visit to Winterthur, one of the Brandywine Valley’s most spectacular attractions. From mid-November to early January, H. F. du Pont’s 175-roomed mansion-turned-museum is elaborately decorated for the season. The special Yuletide tour allows for a special glimpse into how an American dynasty celebrated the holidays. From dining rooms set up with champagne and caviar, to countless Christmas trees (each adorned with a different theme), Winterthur is truly a holiday-lover’s paradise.
Guided Yuletide tours are $25 for adults, $23 for seniors and students, and $5 for children. Timed tickets are required and tickets should be purchased in advance.
For our next 2 stops, you’ll be traversing state lines. It’s time to visit the Brandywine Valley’s Pennsylvania attractions!
2.) Brandywine River Museum (1 Hoffman’s Mill Road, Chadds Ford, PA)
The du Ponts are arguably the most well-known family in this area, but did you know that the Brandywine Valley’s home to another dynamic clan, too? Indeed, it was here where three generations of Wyeth’s created iconic American art inspired by the people and landscapes of the region. The Brandywine River Museum, a restored 19th century grist mill, provides stark and rustic housing for some of the family’s best works.
The museum’s annual “A Brandywine Christmas” event (running from after Thanksgiving to early January) features caroling, the immensely popular “critter sale” ornament event and perhaps the greatest model train display you will ever see.
Tickets may be purchased on-site. $15 for adults; $10 for seniors (65+); $6 for students with ID and children ages 6-12. Children under 6: free.
And, since photos don’t quite do the train room justice, here’s a peek of it in action!
3.) Longwood Gardens (1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, PA)
If you need a little extra push to get you in the holiday spirit, Longwood Gardens is the place to go. With over a million visitors a year, Longwood has long been regarded as one of the most spectacular gardens in the Mid-Atlantic. Also established by the du Pont family, an expansive 1,077 acres transports guests to a different era, with Italian and French influence along every turn. During the holiday season, thousands of twinkling lights adorn the outdoor pathways, leading visitors to the 4-acre glass conservatory, decked out from top to bottom in festive flower displays.
Tip: Plan to arrive to Longwood Gardens by 3:30 to allow ample time to wander outdoors before retreating to the conservatory after dark.
Tickets with timed arrivals should be reserved prior to your visit. During peak holiday season: $27 for adults, $24 for seniors, $13 for students or children 5-18. Children under 5: free.
4.) Dinner at 1906 Restaurant
For dinner, consider making reservations for dinner at 1906 inside Longwood Gardens. Overlooking the conservatory, the upscale restaurant features local wines and sustainable produce grown on-site as part of their seasonally changing menu. Every meal begins with a complimentary amuse-bouche and a mushroom-shaped brioche roll but the restaurant’s must-try showstopper is its local mushroom soup topped with crispy shallots and chives ($10).
5.) Once you’ve had your fill of Longwood’s festivities, head back into Delaware for your night’s lodging. I’d recommend one of two properties:
- Westin Wilmington (818 Shipyard Drive, Wilmington, DE)
In spring 2014, the new, ultra hip Westin Wilmington opened in the heart of Wilmington’s downtown riverfront district. The rooms are comfortable and standard (from $87) but it’s the hotel’s common areas that really shine. Walking into the lobby, crisp whites and clean lines mingle with vertical walls covered in plants, creating a modern statement that makes an instant impression.
- Inn at Montchanin Village (514 Montchanin Road, Montchanin, DE)
Often considered the area’s most luxurious property, in another era the Inn at Montchanin Village was once home to the workers of the du Pont powder mills. 28 uniquely designed guest rooms (from $192) have luxurious touches like nightly turndown service and heated towel racks, and the surrounding village grounds are filled with gardens reminiscent of the English countryside.
6. Hagley Museum and Library (200 Hagley Creek Road, Wilmington, DE)
In 1802, the du Pont family left France to begin their American empire in Delaware. The Hagley Museum is a 235 acre site along the Brandywine River that is home to several of the most important places in the du Pont family story. Most notable is the Powder Yard trail along the riverbank, where E.I. du Pont first began building his black powder mills (and effectively, his family’s wealth.) Be sure to stop in the Millwright Shop for an explosive gunpowder demonstration. And don’t miss a tour inside Eleutherian Mills, the du Pont family’s first home in America, which is particularly special in December when the home is decorated in full holiday spirit.
Tickets may be purchased upon arrival. $14 for adults, $10 for students and seniors, $5 for children 6-14. Children under 5: free.
7. Pizza By Elizabeths (3801 Kennett Pike, Wilmington, DE)
For lunch, stop by the stylish Pizza by Elizabeths, which brings a dash of glamour to the Brandywine. Eclectic decor like chandeliers, boldly painted accent walls and oversized portraits of famous Elizabeths set the tone and an expansive menu featuring creative pizzas and salads (and don’t resist trying an order of Breadsticks with 3 sauces) delivers a more than satisfying meal.
8. Nemours Mansion and Gardens (50 Alapocas Drive, Wilmington, DE)
I’ve saved my favorite Brandywine attraction for your trip’s final stop! Built by Alfred du Pont at the turn of the century, Nemours is a mansion with 77 rooms, 22 bathrooms, 14 fireplaces, over 110,000 objects of art and the largest formal French garden in North America (inspired by the palace of Versailles, no less!) While it may seem like “just another amazing du Pont mansion,” Nemours offers guests an incredibly intimate visitor experience, with a tour guide for every 6 people. The mansion becomes even more magical during the holidays, as the halls are decked from top to bottom with trees, lights, decorations and fresh flowers.
DID I MAKE IT TO ALL OF YOUR FAVORITE BRANDYWINE VALLEY ATTRACTIONS? ARE YOU ALSO A FAN OF HOLIDAYS IN THE BRANDYWINE? SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS IN THE COMMENTS BELOW!
*DISCLAIMER: My accommodations and activities for this trip were provided by the Greater Wilmington Convention and Visitors Bureau. All reflections and opinions are completely my own.**