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Visiting Airlie Gardens in Wilmington (+ 10 Things We Love!)

Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on May 27, 2024.

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The lovely Airlie Gardens in Wilmington spreads over 67 acres and is one of our favorite places to visit in Eastern North Carolina. This botanical garden is known for beautiful scenes, including a 500-year-old live oak, 10 acres of lakes, a chapel made of bottles, and more.

You can enjoy these gorgeous sights while strolling along accessible walking trails, many of which are paved. After visiting this beautiful Wilmington attraction with our kids multiple times, we’ve created this guide to help you experience Airlie Gardens, too.

There are many things to know before visiting, and here’s how we’ve organized the guide.

  • Where is Airlie Gardens?
  • History
  • Visiting Today
    • Ticket Info
    • Photography Policies
  • Inside the Gardens (and Things We Love)
  • Enchanted Airlie
  • More Annual Events
  • More NC Travel Guides

You can skip ahead to the tips for visiting today or continue reading about how to reach Airlie Gardens and the history of this beautiful place.

Read More: 100+ Unique Things to Do In North Carolina (Your NC Bucket List)

Where is Airlie Gardens?

Address: 300 Airlie Rd, Wilmington, NC

Airlie Gardens is just northeast of downtown Wilmington, North Carolina, in New Hanover County. Wilmington is known for its beautiful riverwalk, historic downtown, and surrounding beach towns of Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, and Wrightsville Beach.

Airlie Gardens is within a short drive from surrounding towns and cities, including the following:

Airlie Gardens is also an easy day trip from Raleigh and its neighbor Durham. You can visually plan a trip to Airlie Gardens and other Wilmington attractions with our North Carolina Travel Map and Eastern North Carolina Map.

Read More: 30+ Amazing NC Coastal Towns (+ Things to Do in Each One!)

History of Airlie Gardens

Airlie Gardens Wilmington butterfly house

The land of Airlie Gardens has a rich history, and here are a few essential facts about the property:

  • Native Americans occupied the area for thousands of years. They continued to reside here until after the Tuscarora War between 1711 and 1715.
  • After Native Americans’ displacement by European settlers, the land that makes up Airlie Gardens was initially part of a land grant from King George II in the mid-18th century.
  • Several prominent families owned this land until 1901 when Pembroke Jones purchased it. 
  • Jones was a wealthy industrialist, and alongside his wife Sarah, they turned the property into a private estate. The couple built an impressive mansion and extensive gardens, hiring notable landscape architect Rudolf Topel to design them. 
  • After Pembroke Jones passed away in 1919, his wife Sarah continued to live on the property and oversee the gardens until she died in 1944.
  • In the 1990s, the property was purchased by New Hanover County and transformed into a public garden. 

Read More: 80+ Interesting Facts About Wilmington (History, Famous People, and More!)

Visiting Airlie Gardens Today

Airlie Gardens Wilmington church

Airlie Gardens is open to the public throughout the year, and here’s a breakdown of hours, ticket info, accessibility info, and photography policies.

Airlie Gardens Hours

  • Open Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  • Closed on Mondays in January and February.

Ticket Info

  • General Admission: $10
  • New Hanover Residents (ID Required) $5
  • Military (ID Required) $5
  • Children (4-12) $3
  • Airlie Members: Free
  • New Hanover County Residents are also invited to “Free Days” on the first Sunday of each month.

Read More: 25+ of the Best Restaurants in Wilmington (and Surrounding Beach Towns)

Accessibility Info

Airlie Gardens Wilmington pergola garden

One thing we love is that Airlie Gardens is an accessible destination.

Many of the trails within the gardens are paved, and unpaved trails are still navigable by a wheelchair or stroller.

We have personally taken our jogging stroller throughout all of Airlie without any difficulty. 

There is a tram service that is included in general admission. It operates on a first-come, first-served basis and is unavailable during January and February.

Read More: Battleship North Carolina (Visiting Our Namesake Ship and How She Arrived at Wilmington)

Photography Policies 

Visitors can take photos at Airlie Gardens, and informal photography is allowed without reservation, like the ones you’ll see in this article. 

However, specific commercial photography policies are in place.

Portrait and Commercial photo shoots require reservations and a fee. Find more information on photography reservations and rates here

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Inside the Gardens at Airlie (and More Things We Love)

Airlie Gardens Wilmington fountain woman

Once you enter Airlie Gardens, you’ll witness various gardens and landscapes, including formal gardens, a butterfly house, a freshwater lake, and a unique glass bottle mosaic chapel.

In addition to the history of Airlie Gardens and its accessibility, we love each feature of this place. Here’s a breakdown of these sections, landmarks, and annual events.

Read More: 60+ Amazing I-40 Exits in North Carolina (from Asheville to Wilmington)

The Formal Gardens

Airlie Gardens Wilmington more oaks

Airlie Gardens is known for its stunning formal gardens. These gardens feature various plantings, including azaleas, camellias, magnolias, and roses.

Visitors can stroll along winding paths and admire carefully manicured lawns, decorative fountains, and colorful flowers.

Read More: Duke Gardens in Durham (10 Important Tips to Enjoy this Botanical Garden!)

Live Oak Trees

Airlie Gardens Wilmington Spanish Moss

And if you are visiting when flowers aren’t in bloom, you’ll still be enchanted with the numerous live oak trees dotting the 67-acre property. Swinging down upon you is the Spanish Moss, giving it a magical romantic vibe. 

The Butterfly House

The Butterfly House is a must-see when visiting Airlie Gardens. It is home to hundreds of butterflies, including monarchs, swallowtails, and painted ladies. Watch as the delicate butterflies flutter and land on flowers as they search for nectar.

In the center of Airlie Gardens is a freshwater lake. Visitors will notice a variety of aquatic plants and animals, including turtles, fish, and a variety of birds.

Read More: 25+ Great Lakes in North Carolina (+ Our Top 5 Picks)

The Airlie Oak

Airlie Gardens Wilmington live oak

One of the most popular spots in Airlie Gardens is the Airlie Oak, a Southern live oak estimated to be over 460 years old.

With a vast grassy field in front of it, it is common to see families enjoying a picnic or couples holding hands in the sun around this magnificent oak tree. 

Read More: Carolina Beach State Park (and 7 Great Things to Do There!)

The Pergola Garden

Airlie Gardens Wilmington fountain

Other historic structures at Airlie Gardens include the Bradley Creek Bridge, the Jones Garden Gate, and the Pergola Garden. The Pergola Garden is incredibly popular for weddings at Airlie Gardens.

And with a stunning backdrop like this, we can see why! 

Read More: Visiting the Awesome Wilmington Railroad Museum

The Bottle Chapel

Airlie Gardens Wilmington bottle chapel

A unique must-see spot at Airlie Gardens is the Bottle Chapel. Thousands of colorful glass bottles lay together in cement, surrounded by angel sculptures.

The artwork was handmade by Virginia Wright-Frierson to honor Wilmington artist and former Airlie gatekeeper Minnie Evans. 

The NC Birding Trail

Airlie Gardens Wilmington flowers

Also, suppose you’re a millennial who has started to take an interest in birds like me. In that case, Airlie Gardens is recognized on the North Carolina Birding Trail and has fantastic opportunities to spot something new!

Over 200 different bird species have been recorded in the garden. So download your Merlin ID app and see what you can find! 

Read More: Sylvan Heights Bird Park (How to See 2,000 Exotic Bird Species and More!)

Enchanted Airlie

Enchanted Airlie

Since 2005, Airlie Gardens has lit up for Enchanted Airlie, attracting visitors from all over North Carolina and worldwide. This holiday event shimmers with Christmas lights, music, and unique displays!

Tickets for Enchanted Airlie go on sale in October and sell out quickly- so make sure you are following Airlie Gardens for the most up-to-date information on purchasing tickets for this annual Christmas event.

Read More: Christmas Town USA (How to See the Wonderful McAdenville Christmas Lights)

More Annual Events at Airlie Gardens

Airlie Gardens also hosts a variety of special events throughout the year. These events include the following:

  • History Walks
  • Free admission days for New Hanover County residents (First Sunday of Each Month)
  • Summer Concert Series
  • Airlie Gardens Oyster Roast

Read More: 11 of the Best Spring Break Destinations in North Carolina!

Ready to Visit Airlie Gardens in Wilmington NC?

Airlie Gardens is always one of our favorite places to visit in Wilmington, and thanks to various annual events, there’s no wrong time to visit. We keep coming back and look forward to sharing more with you as we continue exploring.

If you’re familiar with this place, we’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Don’t forget to share your Wilmington NC adventures in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group!

More Things to Do in Wilmington NC (Airlie Gardens Included)

We’ve created many NC Travel Guides that include our favorite Wilmington attractions. Here are a few of them.

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