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Wilmington Riverfest 2023: Details & Full Schedule

One of the best festivals in Southeast North Carolina is Wilmington Riverfest in Wilmington, NC. It will be held October 7 and 8, 2023

If you’re planning a trip to the area, check out all of our Wilmington, NC posts.

A woman standing in a street fair with the words "5 Reasons To Visit Wilmington Riverfest" digitally written above her.

Wilmington Riverfest started in 1979 and had been held (almost) annually every year since then.

For a couple of days each October, food and craft vendors set up and the alluring smell of turkey legs brings a ton of people to downtown Wilmington. There’s live music, a kids zone with inflatables with children to enjoy, classic car displays, and more.

This year’s annual Riverfest is on the scheduled for October 7 and 8, 2023. It’s a little different than it has been in the past, with a new location and no fireworks, so definitely read this post before you head down to the festival.

The Battleship North Carolina on the Cape Fear River with the words "Wilmington, North Carolina Travel Guide From A Local" digitally written on top.

Planning a trip into Wilmington, NC for Riverfest? Get help planning your trip with this Wilmington, North Carolina Travel Guide.

Wilmington Riverfest: Frequently Asked Questions

Before we get into the reasons to attend, let’s get a couple frequently asked questions out of the way.

What are the dates for Wilmington Riverfest in Wilmington, North Carolina?

Wilmington Riverfest is always on the first full weekend of October. This year, it’s scheduled for October 7 and 8, 2023.

Quick note: For 2023, Riverfest is a two-day event. The yearly festival had been a three-day event in the past.

Who is playing Wilmington Riverfest 2023?

Band performances are listed on the schedule for Sunday, but there’s no mention of who the bands are. In the past, the free live music was performed by local musicians, so it would make sense to assume it would be the same this year.

Where is Wilmington Riverfest held?

Wilmington Riverfest will be held on Front Street from Brunswick Street to Chestnut Street.

It had previously been held on Water Street in historic downtown Wilmington, along the Cape Fear River. Hence the name. But it has moved around a little bit the last few years.

5 Reasons To Go To Wilmington Riverfest

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Food at a street fair vendor.

The Food

I’ll be honest: The main reason I ever want to go to a festival is because I want an excuse to get a corn dog. I won’t often let myself get one outside of a festival because then I would get into a really bad habit. But at a festival, it’s okay.

There’s more than just corn dogs here. There are food booths where you can get funnel cake, lemonade, turkey legs, ribbon fries, huge sodas … you name it, it’s available for your enjoyment.

A music stage set up for the North Carolina Azalea Festival.

The Music

There’s always good live music at Wilmington Riverfest. It’s usually off in an area away from the street vendors, so it’s not crazy loud when you’re walking downtown.

This year, a performance stage will be set up in the Cape Fear Community College Student Parking Lot with bands scheduled to play on Sunday.

A street fair.

The Vendors

The street fair portion of the Riverfest is a big draw. I love checking out the small crafters to see what they have to offer.

The last few years, the Wilmington Riverfront Farmers’ Market had been incorporated into the Saturday portion of Riverfest, so you may have seen Pete selling Rita’s Wooden Spoon there. This year, though, the Riverfront Farmers’ Market is taking the week off, so don’t head downtown looking for it on Saturday.

A fireworks display.

The Fireworks

My favorite holiday is July 4th because nothing beats a good fireworks show for me. In fact, the night I met Pete was minutes before a fireworks show. Literally. Not figuratively.

But, this year’s Riverfest is a little bit of a bummer because there won’t be any Saturday night fireworks. Hopefully they’ll be back for next year.

A red classic car in a car show.

The Car Show

One of the big Wilmington events for car lovers is the huge Rims On The River festival every fall. It’s canceled indefinitely, so if you want to see cars in Wilmington, this is your chance.

The Cape Fear Chapter of the Antique Auto Club of America hosts the Antique Car Display on Saturday. To be considered an antique, the vehicle must be 25 years old or older (which means it goes back to 1998 and I don’t think anything from 1998 should be considered an antique but what do I know).

The Sun Coast Cruisers hosts the Classic Car Display on Sunday. I don’t quite know how old cars have to be to be a part of the classic car show rather than the antique car show, but hopefully older than my high school diploma.

Full Wilmington Riverfest 2023 Schedule

Saturday, October 8

9 am to 8 pm: Street fair (Food vendors and craft vendors are set up).

10 am to 3 pm: Kidz zone (with a children’s play area for kids)

10 am to 4 pm: Car show (on Hanover Street)

10 am to 3 pm: Performances on the KidZone Stage (​10 am to 10:45 am: A Leap Above; 11 am to 12 pm: Dance Express; ​12 pm to 12:30 pm: Martial Arts & More of Wilmington; 12:30 pm to 1 pm: Queens Showcase (Note: The Wilmington Riverfest pageant queen was awarded in August); 1 pm to 1:30 pm: Confidence Martial Arts; 1:30 pm to 2 pm: Dance Theater of Dreams; 2 pm to 3 pm: SEDA)

*Note: There are no fireworks on Saturday night this year.

Sunday, October 9

9 am to 8 pm: Street fair (Food vendors and craft vendors are set up).

11 am to 5 pm: Band performances

11 am to 4 pm: Car show

The outside of the front of a hotel.

Where To Stay For Wilmington Riverfest:

If you’re coming into Wilmington for the festival weekend, you’ll need somewhere to stay. A good option is staying downtown, which means you can walk to the festival. But, you’ll probably get a better hotel price if you stay within driving distance, so we listed out both options for you.

Hotels Within Walking Distance Of Wilmington Riverfest:

Hotels Within Driving Distance Of Wilmington Riverfest:

There are also a bunch of vacation rentals in the area, if you would prefer one of those over a traditional hotel.

Food at Dram Yard in Wilmington, NC.

Where To Eat And Drink In Wilmington, NC:

If you’re not as into street fair food as I am, you might be looking for some other places to eat and drink. Our 20+ Must Try Restaurants In Wilmington, NC will help you find the best food in the area.

For coffee to get you ready for the festival, check out our Best Cups Of Coffee In Wilmington, NC post. And to get your drink on at night (if you’re 21+), The Complete Guide To Breweries In Wilmington will help.

And, of course, if it’s nice out, you’ll want to cool down with some ice cream. Figure out where to go using our The Best Ice Cream Shops In Wilmington, NC post. Almost all of them are within walking distance of the festival.

Venus Flytrap sculpture in downtown Wilmington, NC.

Things To Do In Wilmington, NC:

Wilmington Riverfest doesn’t last all day, so you might be looking for other things to do in the area when you’re done with the festival. A few of our posts below can help you plan your trip:

And, if you’re coming for a weekend away with your significant other, be sure to check out these Romantic Things To Do In Wilmington, NC while you’re in town.

A street fair with the words "A Guide To Festivals In Wilmington, NC" digitally written on top.

More events near Wilmington, NC:

If Riverfest was your first time in the Wilmington area and now you’re looking for more excuses to come back, there are some other events you’ll want to put on your calendar. For all of them, check out this Guide To Festivals In Wilmington, NC, with a breakdown by month.

For our favorites, check out the ones tagged below.

For the spring, add the North Carolina Azalea Festival (the biggest annual event in Wilmington) and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Festival to your calendar.

For the fall, there’s Rims on the River.

In the winter, there’s Enchanted Airlie (the light display at Airlie Gardens) and Leland in Lights (a light display in neighboring Leland, NC).

Have you been to Wilmington Riverfest? Let us know your favorite part in the comments!

Mommy Sigrid

Friday 4th of October 2019

You got me at food. Then to cap the day, fireworks. What a lovely outing. It's something that I can bring my kids to.


Thursday 3rd of October 2019

In all honesty i've never heard of Wilmington Riverfest!!! I would love to go there, the place looks amazing..I love it.


Thursday 3rd of October 2019

This reminds me of the Texas State Fair in some ways! I always love trying new foods, haha. And the car show and vendors are great to peruse. Have a great time!!


Thursday 3rd of October 2019

This looks like so much fun! I love a good street market!

Krysten Quiles

Thursday 3rd of October 2019

Oh gosh, this looks like so much fun! I love going to events like this. Thanks for sharing!