Cape Fear Historic Byway

A Scenic Drive

Wilmington and Beaches CVBCape Fear Historic Byway

Take a carriage tour of Wilmington's historic district

Length: 8 miles
Driving Time: 40 minutes
Region: Wilmington Area

The Cape Fear Historic Byway in downtown Wilmington takes visitors through one of the most scenic urban areas in the nation as it travels beside the tranquil Cape Fear River, along thriving colonial-era streets and through the majestic Greenfield Park and Gardens.

Known as the Port City, Wilmington was incorporated in 1739 and sits on a peninsula between the Cape Fear River and Atlantic Ocean. The city contains North Carolina’s richest collection of 19th-century urban architecture and still maintains its original grid pattern, which was finalized in 1743. Largely built by commission merchants and prosperous businessmen who indulged in the extravagances of the culture of the late 1800s, today Wilmington is home to about 100,000 people and is the largest city on the North Carolina coast.

The Byway begins at the intersection of U.S. 74 and N.C. 133 (Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway) and North Third Street, adjacent to the Isabel Holmes Bridge over the Cape Fear River.

Drive south on North Third Street. You’ll first pass the site of the planned 1898 Memorial Park, which bears witness to racial violence that occurred near this location on Nov. 10, 1898, an important event in Wilmington’s history.

The Byway turns right on North Front Street, where you’ll be greeted with a sweeping view of the Cape Fear River. Turn right onto Red Cross Street, which becomes North Water Street, which then changes to South Water Street after passing Market Street.

The waterfront area features the federal courthouse; Wilmington’s Riverwalk, a well-maintained pedestrian promenade that extends the length of Water Street; and many unique shops and restaurants. Battleship North Carolina, which played a major role in a number of Pacific Ocean battles during World War II, rests just across the river. The ship, now a state historic site, offers tours for a fee.

At the entrance to Chandler’s Wharf – a colonial seaport-turned-shopping area featuring oyster shell streets – turn left onto Ann Street and follow it for one block, then turn right onto South Front Street.

This residential avenue features some of the city’s most exclusive homes.

Turn left onto Castle Street and then again onto South Fifth Avenue.

These two streets comprise the heart of the Wilmington National Register Historic District, an antique district that once was the home for workers at the city seaport.

At the end of South Fifth Street, the Byway enters Greenfield Park and Gardens.

This scenic park surrounding Lake Greenfield is home to a wide variety of trees and plant life. While in the park, the Byway passes the world’s largest Rotary Club International sign and the Greenfield Lake Amphitheater, which hosts summertime Shakespeare performances.

Continue following East Lake Shore Drive around the lake for 2.5 miles. The road name then changes to West Lake Shore Drive. Follow it for 1.3 miles before briefly turning right onto U.S. 421 North, and then right onto Willard Street. Follow Willard Street two blocks before turning left onto South Fifth Street, passing again through the historic district. Continue nearly a mile before turning left onto Castle Street. Two blocks later, turn right onto South Third Street.

This stretch of roadway is home to the city’s government buildings as well as many historic churches. Also along this section is Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts. The Soldiers of the Confederacy Monument is located at the intersection of South Third Street and Dock Street.

If you briefly turn right off the Byway onto Market Street, you can visit Bellamy Mansion Museum of History and Design Arts, First Baptist Church, the Kenan Memorial Fountain and both the Senator George Davis and Cornelius Harnett monuments.

Continue along Third Street, which changes from South to North at Market Street, back to the intersection of U.S. 74 and N.C. 133, where the Byway ends.

North Carolina Department of Transportation

Places in This Trip Idea

Select a pin to see details about a location.

Request your Travel Guide

Download or order FREE guides and maps

Discover Project Project 543

Explore unique spots across North Carolina

See all of our videos »

Close X