Held in April at the height of Azalea blooming, The North Carolina Azalea Festival is a celebration of Wilmington’s exceptional gardens, artwork, rich history and culture. During its five days of entertainment the festival includes a parade, street fair, circus, concerts, pageantry, and garden tours. There is something for every member of the family at this charming Southern event.
First held in 1948, the North Carolina Azalea Festival in Wilmington was created to showcase the beauty of local gardens in the city. Today over 300,000 people attend the festival and it has grown to become Wilmington’s biggest annual celebration. Held in the beginning of April, when the Azaleas have begun blooming; this five-day event showcases exquisite gardens, great artwork and our city’s southern cultural history and heritage.
The North Carolina Azalea Festival has several events that cover a period of five days. Such events include street fairs, concerts, athletic events, art shows, a parade, a circus, and tours of homes and gardens. The main event of the festival is the garden tour which highlights Wilmington’s most beautiful gardens; showcasing both private homes as well as publicly established garden’s like Airlie Gardens. In the tradition of southern belles, young women wear traditional antebellum, or hoop-skirt dresses and serve as hostesses of the gardens in the festival.
The Southeast Tourism Society recently selected the North Carolina Azalea Festival as one of its Top 20 Events. It is a springtime tradition that has grown to be nationally recognized and enjoyed, drawing in thousands of visitors to Wilmington year after year.
Some of the most noteworthy events of The Azalea Festival are:
- Queen’s Coronation- The Queen’s Coronation is popular free annual event where the North Carolina Azalea Festival Queen is officially crowned. In attendance are all the Festival Celebrity Guests.
- Parade– The parade takes place on Saturday morning of the festival in downtown Wilmington. It features elaborate floats, marching bands, clowns, show animals, and is highlighted by visiting celebrities, the Azalea Queen and her court, and the Azalea Princess. This event is viewed by over 100,000 people each year.
- Street Fair- This is a free, family event with over 200 arts and craft vendors, 40 food vendors, 4 music stages, a children’s area and more. You can eat everything from funnel cake to gyros, have your face painted, or grab a drink and check out one of the concerts. The Street Fair is located in downtown Wilmington on Water, Front, and Market Street.
- Concerts- Typically every year the Azalea Festival draws in two or three well-known music artists/bands to entertain. These shows take place in an outdoor venue downtown and usually sell out. This year’s festival highlights are Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Avett Brothers.
- Juried Art Show- More than 100 North Carolina artists and national artists will have their paintings on display at the annual Juried Spring Art Show and Sale. Admission is free.
- Circus- The Cole Bros. Circus is a favorite event of the Festival. Its combination of costumed characters, exotic animals, acrobatics, clowns, and entertainment acts draw packed crowds each year. The Circus takes place at the Wilmington International Airport.
- Cape Fear Garden Club Azalea Garden Tour- The main event of the festival is the garden tour which highlights the Wilmington area’s most beautiful gardens. The event begins with a ceremonious ribbon-cutting and the Queen, her court, the Belles, ticket holders and celebrities are all present during the tours. The tour has been featured in Southern Living Magazine and is one of the longest running and most popular garden tours in the South. Tickets are $20.
- The Garden Party- The garden party takes place on the Friday of the festival, after the garden tour opening ceremony. The Queen and her court make their way to Airlie Gardens around midday for a luncheon with others who were lucky enough to land a ticket. Star News said about the party: “It’s sort of a Who’s Who of Wilmington. It’s quintessential Old South at its finest, complete with Citadel cadets escorting the Queen and her belles, men in seersucker suits and women in the frilliest spring dresses you’ve ever seen topped with hats of all sizes, colors and shapes.” This party is not open to the public.
- After Party- As the Garden Party winds down, the party-goers head over to Dockside and The Bridge Tender to continue the fun. These local restaurants along the Intracoastal host what is commonly referred to as the “After Garden Party.” Plenty of locals join in here for an afternoon of outdoor drinking and socializing. Everyone from UNCW college students to Wilmington socialites and the high society crowd can be found mingling at the party. The action usually gets very ‘spirited’ as many guests carry on the festivities here for hours. This is one of the best parties of the year in Wilmington and as many locals know, should not be missed.
This year the 66th annual Azalea Festival will be held from April 10–14. For more information, including the festival’s schedule, concerts and ticket sales please visit http://www.ncazaleafestival.org or call (910) 794-4650.