Lewes, Delaware.

8 Most Underrated Towns In Delaware To Take A Trip To

Delaware, beloved to Americans as the "First State" for its shot at independence during the American Revolution, has drawn history lovers and sun-seekers to its shores for centuries. With past inhabitants that include Native American peoples, colonists, presidents, and working folks, Delaware's place in the history of its region and country is beyond dispute. History enthusiasts and fans of fun should head to some of Delaware's underrated towns outside Dover or Wilmington, where past stories and enduring traditions remain vibrant today. The state's parks, preserves, and beaches only make Delaware more attractive as a getaway destination of choice. 


The Circle, in Georgetown, Delaware
The Circle, in Georgetown, Delaware houses the Town Hall, the Sussex County Courthouse, and other historic buildings.

Georgetown, population 7,700, serves as the seat of Sussex County and sits in south-central Delaware. The rapidly growing town, founded in 1791, suffered divided loyalties during the US Civil War when townspeople and even members within the same families demonstrated split loyalties to the Union and Confederate sides.

That history is reflected today in the Delaware Confederate Monument, a controversial structure erected in 2007. It bears the name of nearly 100 Delaware residents who supported the Confederacy, including former Delaware governor William H.H. Ross. For more 19th-century history, the town offers a Marvel Carriage Museum, commemorating former carriage-style transportation modes. Fun fact: Georgetown developed around a town circle instead of a more common town square. The area, called Georgetown Circle or simply "The Circle," gathers historic buildings and a green park with a fountain in the middle.  


Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, in Kent County, Smyrna, Delaware
Boardwalk at the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Smyrna, Delaware.

Smyrna, with 13,300 residents, lies about ten miles north of Dover in north-central Delaware. Like the Greek seaport that inspired its name (now called Izmir in modern Turkey), Smyrna developed as an important center of shipping along the Duck Creek and Mill Creek tributaries to the Smyrna River. Once called Duck Creek Cross Roads, the town voted to change its name following a powerful 1806 sermon by a local Methodist minister on the topic of the "church at Smyrna" mentioned in Revelation 2 from the Bible. Thus, the town and its name wear its religious and historical influences on its sleeve. 

These days, that history lives on through Smyrna's wealth of preserved period architecture, many examples of which appear on the National Register of Historic Places. Duck Creek Village offers a look at colonial settlement life, while the town's historic district gathers no fewer than 850 notable buildings. Most of these date from the mid- to late-19th century and range from stately homes to Methodist and other churches. Outdoor enthusiasts will love how close Smyrna lies to Blackbird State Forest.


The historical Everett Theatre in Middletown, Delaware.
The historical Everett Theatre in Middletown, Delaware. Editorial credit: Alexanderphoto7 / Shutterstock.com

Middletown, population 24,700, is located in New Castle County in Delaware's northern neck. The town sits just east of the state border with Maryland. Incorporated in 1861, Middletown celebrates its agricultural roots every August with its Old Tyme Peach Festival, which draws visitors in the tens of thousands. The town's historic Main Street becomes pedestrian-only at this time, and events include a 5K run, local art exhibits, and live music. Peach-flavored foods and drinks of various kinds are a major attraction.

The town's status as a transportation hub for cars, buses, flights, and rail makes Middletown an easy place to get to for travelers who may be short on time. Neat fact: the 1989 film The Dead Poets Society, starring Robin Williams and Ethan Hawke, was filmed here. 

Bowers Beach

Bowers Beach at the mouth of Murderkill River on Delaware Bay.
Bowers Beach at the mouth of Murderkill River on Delaware Bay.

Known to most as Bowers Beach, the town of just 300 inhabitants is officially simply called Bowers. It delivers on the Delaware beach charm that its name and reputation promise. A former fishing village, the local population swells with beach vacationers in the warm months. 

If the weather is too cold to be outdoors, opt instead for the Bowers Beach Maritime Museum. The site shows 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
A beautiful restored historic colonial home in downtown Laurel, Delaware. Editorial credit: Dee Dalasio / Shutterstock.com

Laurel, an inland town with 4,200 inhabitants, celebrates the colonial history in which Delaware played such a central role. The town was settled at its current location, on Broad Creek in the southwest corner of the state, beginning in the 1790s. Laurel boasts a number of buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, including a local architectural style with an unusual name: the "potato house."

As a kind of barn used for storing Delaware's signature type of sweet potato, these potato houses reflect the region's particular architecture as well as a cash crop that the area's farmers grew for centuries. Laurel has ten potato houses — all of them listed on the US national register. 


Lewes, Delaware.
Aerial view of Lewes, Delaware.

Lewes, a seaside place with 3,500 souls, is Delaware's oldest town. Founded by Dutch whalers in 1631, Lewes' history still shines through some of its old buildings, namely the Ryves Holt House, which is the state's oldest building and was built in 1655. Lewes' 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 a lighter program, head to Lewes Beach for some relaxation of the sand-and-sun variety. The town takes its health and green spaces seriously: smoking in Lewes' public parks is prohibited, and the town's floral society has won the "America in Bloom" contest four times in the past twenty years. 


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

Hockessin, population about 14,000, sits in Delaware's northwest corner, near its unusual border with Pennsylvania. First settled in 1688, the town draws nature enthusiasts to its Ashland Nature Center, with a locally famous habitat for butterflies. Other natural interests include Swift Memorial Park, a green space in the heart of town. 

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 should note that Hockessin lies along the Twelve-Mile Circle, an arc 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. 

Rehoboth Beach

A beautiful gazebo on Silver Lake in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
A beautiful gazebo on Silver Lake in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

Rehoboth Beach, with 1,200 residents, welcomes many thousands more in the summer season to its famous beach and seaside amenities. Several prominent families and individuals from mid-Atlantic cities, including US president Joseph Biden, maintain summer homes in town. Rehoboth offers a famous beach boardwalk, first erected in 1873, which makes for a great stroll at any time of year.

For time off the sand and to rest that sunburn, Rehoboth Beach's numerous parks, notably Deer Park and Central Park, promise a chance to see local wildlife and get some fresh air. Silver Lake, though it lies in downtown Rehoboth, has been a legally protected bird sanctuary for nearly a century. 

Delaware's Best Features Run Through Its Small Towns

Delaware may have been the first state, but it has been working hard ever since to keep attracting visitors of all kinds. The state's famous beach towns, from Lewes and Bowers Beach to Rehoboth Beach, make the state an obvious choice for a getaway outside its larger cities. Inland towns promise a charm of their own, whereas places like Georgetown, Smyrna, and Laurel offer a fascinating look at Delaware's agriculture, industry, and modern life beyond the well-worn tourist trails. Whatever a traveler's tastes, they will find a fascinating time over a weekend or longer visit in Delaware's underrated towns. 


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