The Riverwalk in Downtown Wilmington is a showstopper of a stroll that is a distinctive attraction all its own. Originally conceived in the 1980s as a way to generate more interest and tourism to the Cape Fear River waterfront regions of Wilmington's historic Downtown, today the Riverwalk encompasses a full mile of scenic boardwalk, hugging the borders of the riverfront, and providing visitors with endless views and easy access to some of the Downtown's most beloved attractions.
Wilmington staples like The Cotton Exchange, the USS North Carolina Battleship, and the 1914 Murchison Building are all located along the route, although visitors may be hard pressed to leave the scenic wooden walkway which is bordered by some of Wilmington's most prestigious buildings as well as miles of open water views.
The Riverwalk, in fact, with its collection of pastel colored shops and historic structures has been the subject of numerous works of art, and several local tours, including both water and land tours, are dedicated to exploring this 1 mile area.
The Riverwalk was initially envisioned as a pedestrian pathway that went from "bridge to bridge," or specifically, from the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge to the Isabel Holmes Bridge. With a couple minor gaps through the route, plans are in the works to complete the initial goal by 2016, but in the meantime, strollers can still enjoy the endless vistas and entertainment from the wide walkway.
The Riverwalk itself is wooden, with heavy but unimposing concrete railings toprotect walkers from the drop to the water below, and leads through the heart of Wilmington's downtown. Popular with joggers and runners, the Riverwalk is also lighted at night with decorative hanging street posts, and also has benches and embedded stools throughout the route for visitors who want to sit down, relax, and enjoy the salty breeze.
Besides the large attractions, like the impossible-to-miss USS North Carolina Battleship stationed along the docks, the Riverwalk also provides easy access to some of the downtown area's favorite shops and restaurants. Located just across the cobblestoned street, visitors can easily tour a number of local boutiques, souvenir shops, house ware stores, and even a candy store as they stroll through the town. There are also a number of local cafes, bistros, and restaurants with summertime patio seating overlooking the riverfront, which can effortlessly serve as a scenic stop to enjoy the views and a little grub before patrons continue on their way.
Perhaps most impressive about the Riverwalk, however, is the number of events that are held along its borders throughout the year. On every Saturday summer morning, the streets bordering the Riverwalk are crowded with vendors from all around the coastal area, selling their fresh wares as part of the weekly Wilmington Farmer's Market. Here, shoppers can load up on fresh fruits, veggies, herbs, locally grown plants, and homemade goodies from dozens of local coastal farms and businesses.
The Riverwalk region is also home to the acclaimed annual Riverfest, a local celebration that has been a Cape Fear staple for decades, and which features a full weekend of arts, food, and continuous entertainment destined to charm any visitor.
Other local area events, like garden parties or seminars with the Cape Fear River Watch, avidly take place on a weekly basis, as well as the impromptu performances of local musicians, artists and performers. Perhaps the best aspect of the Riverwalk is that you never know what you will encounter en route, whether it's a local festival, or a local musician providing some harmonious background strolling music.
As a community boardwalk, the Riverwalk is open 24/7, with no charge to stroll along this serene stretch of Wilmington's waterfront. With renovations and expansions an ongoing process, visitors may encounter small seasonal closures of the Riverwalk during a visit, but this in no way hinders the overall experience.
For an easy way to dive into the Wilmington scenery, while enjoying steps-away access to the local attractions, shops, and restaurants that has made the historic Downtown a distinctive destination, the Riverwalk is a must-stop for any traveler. Plan an afternoon strolling down this stunning patch of Wilmington's waterfront, and enjoy a front row seat to all the action of this bustling port city, both on and off the water.