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18 Things to Do While Staying in Dover

18 Things To Do While Staying In Dover

American cities do not get much more historic than Dover, the capital of the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. So while it is not a huge bustling metropolis — just over 37,000 residents as of 2014 — there is certainly plenty to see and do in the "Capital of the First State."

Though you could easily have a great time within the confines of Dover Downs Hotel & Casino, we encourage you to also enjoy the rest of this historic city with your spouse or family. But what to do in Dover, Delaware? Here is a list of popular sites, activities and seasonal events that will make your stay here even more enjoyable.

1. The Green

On its own, The Green does not look like much. It is a small city-block-sized strip of green grass scattered with a handful of tall trees. Do not let its appearance fool you, however. The Green is steeped in American history.

In the early 1700s, the town Dover — established by the famous William Penn in 1683 — had three main public squares, The Green included. During the days of the American Revolution, The Green served as a location for public gatherings and rallies, markets, troop reviews and many other patriotic proceedings. To this day, The Green is a vital part of the historic district of Dover and located adjacent to the Kent County Courthouse and Delaware Supreme Court.

2. Johnson Victrola Museum

The focus of this museum is Eldridge Reeves Johnson, a Delaware native who in 1901 founded Victor Talking Machine Company. On a request by disc record and gramophone inventor Emile Berliner, Johnson invented a spring motor that allowed disc records to play at a continuous speed without being cranked by hand. This was the birth of the modern record player.

The company went on to sell thousands of Victrolas over the better part of three decades before Johnson retired in 1927. Two years later, in 1929, Victor was sold to RCA.

Nearly 60 years later, in 1985, Johnson was posthumously awarded a Grammy Award for his innovation. That award is now on display at Johnson Victrola Museum.

3. Dover International Speedway

Monster Mile

Nicknamed “The Monster Mile” and billed as the "world's fastest one-mile oval," Dover International Speedway is home to two top-level NASCAR races each season. The AAA 400 Drive for Autism takes place in early June and the Dover 400 race in early October.

The track also hosts two Xfinity Series races each year, as well as one each in the Camping World Truck Series and the K&N Pro Series East.

If you cannot make it to an actual race, the speedway is open for behind-the-scenes tours for a very family-friendly $7 entry fee.

4. Biggs Museum of American Art

Open since 1993, the Biggs Museum of American Art has 25 galleries organized to showcase the progression of Mid-Atlantic art dating back to the early 1700s. The museum begins with the early baroque period and goes from there, touching on ages such as the Greek Revival period, the westward expansion period, and later, the period of American modernism.

In addition to its in-house collections, the museum hosts an array of traveling exhibitions. At the moment, the museum has an exhibition featuring the work of American photographer Ansel Adams, and next year exhibitions will touch on work from the likes of Rembrandt and John James Audubon. 

5. Spence's Bazaar

fruit stand at Spence's Bazaar

When thinking of things to do in Dover, DE, visiting a bazaar may not be the first thing that comes to mind. However, once you visit Spence's Bazaar, your mind will change.

Spence's is everything a bazaar should be, a conglomeration of vendors selling all sorts of items, ranging from clothing, rugs and scarves, to books, old records, random electrical parts and hand tools. If you need it, you will probably be able to find it at Spence's Bazaar. You will also find plenty of things you did not know you needed.

In addition to the variety of products, there are many food options to choose from. The bazaar is a good place to take in a quick brunch before browsing through the eclectic mix of vendors.

6. Woodburn

If you are looking for Dover, Delaware, attractions that will not cost you any money, this should be near the top of your list. Known as Woodburn, the Delaware Governor's Mansion has been the official home of the governor since the state purchased it in 1965. The structure dates back to 1798 and is known as one of the most exquisite Middle Period Georgian houses in the state.

Original builder Charles Hillyard III's estate sold the house in 1814 for less than $3,000. When the state purchased it in 1965, it paid $65,000 for the house and another $70,000 in renovations and repairs.

Free tours of the house are given Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The one caveat is that tours must be scheduled at least a full day in advance.

7. Air Mobility Command Museum

As the name indicates, the Air Mobility Command Museum focuses on the history of airlift and air refueling history.  The museum has more than 30 aircraft on hand, including presidential aircraft, cargo planes, helicopters, fighters, and one bomber.

There are also many other exhibits to experience, such as a history of airlift during the Korean and Vietnam Wars, an air control tower, and a flight simulator. If you have even a slight passing interest in the history of aircraft, the Air Mobility Command Museum is a must-visit location.

8. Fordham and Dominion Brewing Co.

beer taps

The craft beer craze continues to sweep the U.S., and Delaware is no different. One of Dover's most well-known brewing companies, Fordham and Dominion is the product of two separate original brewers.

Old Dominion Brewing Co. launched in Virginia in 1989, and six years later Fordham Brewing debuted in Maryland. The two companies teamed up in 2007 before officially consolidating operations in 2009, making Dover the joint company's new home.

Tours of the brewery take place on Saturdays at 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. For $10 you get the tour, samples of four beers and a souvenir pint glass.

9. Schwartz Center for the Arts

Back in 1904, the Dover Opera House opened its doors, and in 1923 it was purchased by George M. Schwartz and renamed the Capitol Theater. It later turned into a movie theater but began to suffer from the rise of multiplex theaters.

Revitalization of the building began in 1998, and in 2001 the Schwartz Center for the Arts was born. The theater maintained its historic look and now hosts a variety of events, including plays, movies, musical performances and lectures.

10. John Dickinson Plantation

He may not have the notoriety of other Founding Fathers such as George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, but John Dickinson signed the U.S. Constitution and was known as "Penman of the Revolution."

Samuel Dickinson, John Dickinson's father, moved his family to what is now known as John Dickinson Plantation in 1740. During his adult years, John Dickinson split time between homes in Philadelphia and Wilmington, as well as the Dover plantation.

After more than three years of restoration, the house opened as a museum in 1956 and has since been known as a site to learn about Dickinson's place in U.S. history.

11. Dover Days Festival

Dover Days is among the largest annual festivals in the state of Delaware, and in 2018 will celebrate its 85th anniversary. The free event is all about the culture and heritage of the first state, and its parade alone attracts roughly 6,000 annually.

Like most spring and summer festivals, Dover Days features games, food, music and many more family friendly activities. It also boasts re-enactment groups covering events of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and World War II.

If you happen to be in town during the first weekend in May, celebrate the heritage of Delaware with a stop at Dover Days.

12. Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village

The goal of the Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village is to help society understand the impact of agriculture on our history, present, and future. It is a great opportunity to teach kids where the food they eat comes from, and how it was grown and produced in generations of the past.

One of its most popular current attractions is LuLu, a 75-pound pot belly pig. Kids love to pet LuLu, who lives next door to the museum's chickens.

In addition to agricultural exhibits, the museum also welcomes other exhibitions from time to time, including a recent one that showcased artistic quilts.

13. Delaware Wine and Beer Festival

vineyard image

The Delaware Wine and Beer Festival is an annual event held at the State Fairgrounds in nearby Harrington. It takes place in mid-October and costs $40 at the door, but early bird tickets are sold for as little as $25. The price of admission also gets you 10 tickets for tasting beer, wine and spirits, and vendors sell their wares at discounted prices inside the festival.

There is plenty to drink at the festival, and it also features food from local restaurants, as well as games and musical entertainment. If you are a beer or wine lover, this annual festival is a must.

14. Old State House

Another key historic site in Delaware, the Old State House was the state's original permanent capitol building when it was built in 1791. It held that distinction for nearly a century and a half ending in 1933.

The Old State House's first floor includes an 18th century-style courtroom, while the second floor is where the state's original legislative chambers are located. Both chambers feature historic artwork, including an iconic portrait of George Washington in the Senate chamber.

The state of Delaware has gone above and beyond it preserving the Old State House, including $3.5 million in restoration funding a decade ago.

15. Delaware Public Archives

Digging through archives may not sound like the most exciting activity in the world, but for history buffs, the Delaware Public Archives is an excellent window to the past. One of the oldest public archives programs in the country, it holds more than 95,000 cubic feet of historical documents and government records.

The building is home to state government records, local government records, genealogical records, historic manuscripts, more than 5,000 rolls of microfilm and vital statistics dating back more than 100 years.

16. Kent County Theatre Guild

The Kent County Theatre Guild has been performing community productions since 1953. Its four-show season runs from September to May, and each show is performed at its 100-seat Patchwork Playhouse.

This season's performances included Neil Simon's "Fools," "Johnny Guitar the Musical," "Over the River and Through the Woods," "Sister Act" and "Strictly Murder." It is an excellent and intimate venue to catch a live stage show at a discount. Tickets for musicals are just $20, while regular shows are $18 for adults in $16 for senior, students and military.

17. Delaware State Police Museum

As you can probably tell by now, there are plenty of museums to choose from in Dover. For those interested in police work, the Delaware State Police Museum is an interesting stop.

As you would expect, the museum looks at the history of the Delaware State Police, which formed in 1923. It began as a small group of highway patrolmen but has since grown into a full-service law enforcement outfit with more than 600 troopers.

Topics covered within the museum include the history of criminal investigation methods, police equipment and vehicles, past and present uniforms and weapons, and the history of police communications technology.

18. Golden Fleece Tavern

When it comes to things to do in Dover, DE, at night, grabbing a drink at the historic Golden Fleece is essential. You may be thinking to yourself, "how historic can a tavern be?" In the cast of the Golden Fleece, very. The original location was where 30 delegates made Delaware the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution on Dec. 7, 1787.

That original location was demolished in 1830, but this one is just blocks away in the Historic Downtown district. Another great thing about the Golden Fleece — military members and veterans get a 10 percent discount all day, every day.

Next time you visit Dover Downs Hotel & Casino and feel compelled to step outside our luxury accommodations, remember there are many activities and sights to see in the capital of the first state.