The town of Lewes, Delaware.

8 Must-Visit Small Towns In Delaware

Delaware, famous for becoming the "First State" during the American Revolution, has attracted sun-seekers and history buffs to its shores for centuries. Its past inhabitants include Native American peoples, Dutch and English colonists, and even runaway slaves. Thus, Delaware's place in the history of its region and the United States is beyond dispute. Delaware's smaller towns highlight the state's past and current importance, where past stories and enduring traditions remain vibrant today. The state's tourism slogan, "Endless discoveries," suggests a place whose past and present combine for a strongly attractive place to visit next. 


The marina at Lewes, Delaware.
The marina at Lewes, Delaware.

Lewes, a seaside place with 3,500 residents, is Delaware's oldest town. Founded by Dutch whalers in 1631, Lewes' history still comes through in some of its old buildings, namely the Ryves Holt House, built in 1665, and the state's oldest building. The town's Zwaanendael Museum and Cannonball House both carry the memory of Lewes' colonial and 19th-century past, the latter taking its name from a cannonball that lodged into a home during the War of 1812 — and has stayed there ever since. For relaxation, go to Lewes Beach for sand, sun, and waves. 


Redbud tree in full bloom, Mt. Cuba Center, Hockessin, Delaware
Redbud tree in full bloom at Mt. Cuba Center, Hockessin, Delaware.

The town of Hockessin, with a population of about 14,000, stands in Delaware's northwest corner, bordering the state of Pennsylvania. The place, settled in 1688, attracts nature lovers to its Ashland Nature Center, especially for its habitat for butterflies, a local favorite. Other natural interests include Swift Memorial Park, a green space downtown. Sadly, Hockessin was the place of death of Neilia Hunter Biden, first wife of US President Joseph Biden, who died in a car accident there in 1972.  

For history buffs or those traveling with children, Hockessin sits at one end of the historic Wilmington and Western Railroad, a rolling museum that carries riders the few miles from Hockessin to the town of Greenbank and back. Geography students will be glad to know that Hockessin lies along the Twelve-Mile Circle — an arc and a cartographic anomaly that marks part of the northern border of Delaware with Pennsylvania. The Twelve-Mile circle is the only round-state border in the United States. 

Bowers Beach

Bowers Beach, Delaware. 
Bowers Beach, Delaware. 

Known to most as Bowers Beach, the town of 300 souls is officially just called Bowers and offers all the mid-Atlantic beach charm that its name and reputation promise. The former fishing town's population swells in the warm months with visitors of all kinds. Yet the small scale of Bowers Beach, especially in the off-season, endows it with the appeal of a secret gem.

If the weather is too cold to be outdoors, opt instead for the Bowers Beach Maritime Museum. The site exhibits the artifacts and seafaring history of the men who made their living from the ocean — known as "watermen." Nature seekers in Bowers Beach can go swimming, kayaking, and fishing, to name just a few of the local options. 


A beautiful restored historic colonial home in downtown Laurel, Delaware. Editorial credit: Dee Dalasio /

The town of Laurel, population 4,200, provides a vibrant display of the colonial past for which Delaware is so well-known. Planners organized Laurel at its current location, on Broad Creek in the southwest corner of the state, beginning in the 1790s. Laurel offers a high concentration of buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, not least is a collection of sites that go by an unusual name: the "potato house."

These places, a kind of barn used for storing Delaware's signature type of sweet potato, reflect the region's unique architecture and a cash crop that dominated local agriculture for centuries. Today, Laurel has no fewer than ten potato houses — all included on the national register. 


A church at Milford, Delaware.
A church at Milford, Delaware. Editorial credit: Khairil Azhar Junos /

Inland from the Atlantic coast, the south-central town of Milford, population 5,400, offers a view into the state's past and present agriculture, as well as a shipbuilding industry that supported Delaware's sea industries for many years. Sited on the Mispillion River, Milford offers the tourist a blend of its best.

The South Milford Historic District Walnut Farm symbolizes both Milford's growing activity and its historic sites, including the broader historic district itself, which offers the sights of Victorian buildings in the Gothic Revival and Queen Anne styles. To learn more about the town's past industries, head to the Milford Vinyard Shipyard, which sheds light on Milford's role as an inland hub of commerce. 


The ferry dock at Seaford, Delaware.
The ferry dock at Seaford, Delaware.

Despite its maritime name, Seaford, with 8,500 residents, actually sits inland along the Nanticoke River in Delaware's southwest. Once a part of the colony of Maryland, the town blends its history with many parks and green spaces. The Seaford Museum traces its past as a stop on the Underground Railroad, which brought runaway slaves to freedom, as assisted by the legendary Harriet Tubman, who spent time in Seaford.

History buffs visiting Seaford will like the Governor Ross Mansion and Plantation, built in the 1850s, which commemorates Delaware's agrarian and formerly slave-dependent economies. Nature enthusiasts will enjoy a tour of Phillips Landing Park and its possibilities for fishing, birdwatching, and walking, among other options. 


A sign welcoming visitors to Bethel, Delaware. Image credit: Famartin via Wikimedia Commons.

Bethel, population just 240, sits just south of Seaford, promising quaint appeal and the quiet of a much smaller place than the state's larger cities. Sited on Broad Creek, a tributary to the Nanticoke River west of town, Bethel was once an important shipbuilding center. Formerly known as Lewis' Wharf and Lewisville, Bethel is also a center of the local past: its historic downtown is included on the National Register of Historic Places. Travelers can learn about shipbuilding and other town histories at sites like the Bethel Maritime Museum and the Bethel Heritage Museum.

For some time in nature, head to the Nanticoke Park Wildlife Area, Philips Landing Park — found at the confluence of Broad Creek and the Nanticoke — and Philips Landing Recreation Area. 

Rehoboth Beach

The beach at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
The beach at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

Rehoboth Beach, with 1,200 inhabitants, welcomes many more during the warm seasons. Founded in 1873 as a resort destination, the Atlantic coastal town is now celebrated as a beloved beach destination. The main street, called Rehoboth Avenue, aims right for the beach, with hotels, restaurants, and other attractions lining the way. In the off-season, the town also organizes events for Halloween, Christmas, and other occasions. 

A number of prominent families and individuals keep summer homes in Rehoboth Beach, including US president Joseph Biden. The town has a famous beach boardwalk, built the same year as the town's founding, which allows for dogwalking, beachside strolling, and a great time out of doors. The town has a long tradition of free live concerts for warm evenings, and musicians have played from the Rehoboth Beach Bandstand and other venues since the 1960s.  

The Takeaway

Delaware may have been the first state, but it has been working hard ever since to keep attracting visitors of all kinds. Its tourism slogan, "Endless discoveries," suggests much to enjoy within its histories and traditions. From the state's beach towns, like Bowers Beach and Rehoboth, to the inland towns with a charm all their own, Deleware's attractions for the tourist run long. Whatever a visitor's interests, they are bound to discover a memorable place, or several while visiting Delaware's smaller towns. 

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