Lewes (pronounced LEW-is), situated on Delaware Bay just east of the Atlantic Ocean, was the site of the first Dutch settlement in Delaware, established in 1631 (although it was soon after wiped out). A sedate escape from the masses at Rehoboth Beach, Lewes is known for its historic charm, fishing marinas and quiet beaches. It's also the southern terminus of the Cape May-Lewes Ferry and the site of Delaware's only winery—Nassau Valley Vineyards.
The town's historic sites include the Zwaanendael Museum, built in the architectural style of a Dutch town hall and filled with exhibits reflecting the early days of Lewes. Visit the Fisher-Martin House (circa 1727) for maps and information on the area. The Lewes Historical Complex, open to the public Tuesday-Saturday mid-June to Labor Day, is home to restored 18th-century buildings, including an old plank house, a country store, a one-room farmhouse and a medical and dental museum.
Shipcarpenter Square contains a collection of restored buildings from all over the U.S., some of which were relocated to the square for refurbishment. Also in Lewes is the College of Marine Studies of the University of Delaware, with its own shoreline park, harbor and two research vessels. Fishing boats leave the harbor for half- and full-day excursions April-November. Boat cruises, boat and kayak rentals, windsurfing and bicycling are also available.
Should you be in Lewes in November, do not miss the annual Punkin' Chunkin' Contest. Participants use homemade catapults and giant slingshots to hurl pumpkins as far as they can. Another annual event is the Great Delaware Kite Festival, held every Good Friday.
Just east of Lewes is Cape Henlopen State Park, an appealing combination of pine forest, dunes and beachfront. You can walk for miles/kilometers and run into very few people, even on the busiest summer days. Take your choice of hiking trails that wind through the dunes. Northwest of Lewes on Delaware Bay is Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, a peaceful preserve of marsh and forest that's an important stop for migrating birds. You can canoe on Prime Hook Creek or hike on the boardwalk that winds through the marsh. Lewes is 72 mi/115 km south of Wilmington.
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