We’ve been thinking about bucket list things to do in North Carolina and had a lot of fun looking back through all the places we’ve visited. There are some real treats in our state, and not just the sweet and savory ones that’ll find their way on your plate.
Here are some that we could come up with so far, trying to organize things from east to west, though we do bounce around from time to time. Just be sure to check back as we continue uncovering more that North Carolina has to offer.
This guide is part of our series covering places to visit in North Carolina. It was originally created on December 11, 2018. It has been maintained and updated as of December 5, 2019.
Bucket List Things to Do in North Carolina
1. You can debate eastern and western barbecue, but agree that they all taste pretty good. Towns in Eastern North Carolina you’ll want to visit for barbecue include Greenville, Ayden, Wilson, Kinston, and Goldsboro. In Central and Western North Carolina, eat barbecue in Lexington, Shelby, Little Switzerland, and Asheville.
You can read more about where we like to eat North Carolina barbecue here. And if there are more places we need to explore, let us know and we’ll be happy to uh, investigate?
Favorite places of ours to catch a game include Durham Bulls Athletic Park, BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte, and Grainger Stadium in Kinston. Go Wood Ducks!
3. Speaking of sports, College Basketball is a big deal in North Carolina, whether you’re talking about the men or women. Duke-UNC isn’t the only rivalry that plays out every winter, but it’s certainly the biggest.
4. Beer-hop North Carolina, which is packed with the most breweries per capita in the South. Yes, you can start in Asheville, but you must explore beyond that awesome Beertopia. Here are some of our favorites.
6. There are great places to hike all over, especially via the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Appalachian Trail, or lose yourself (metaphorically) on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We’ll mention more of this when discussing specific places, but this guide to hiking in North Carolina includes our favorites.
Eastern North Carolina
7. Go even further down the coast and explore Brunswick County. There, you’ll need to dig into Calabash’s amazing seafood, the beauty of Oak Island, and more.
8. Sip on the sweet wines of Duplin Winery. It’s the South’s oldest and largest winery, producing wine for three generations.
9. Explore more of Duplin County and start with a trip to Mike’s Farm in Back Swamp (Beulaville). Catch one of their dinner shows, visit during one of their many annual events, or just stop by the bakery for some delicious baked goods and fudge.
10. We also can’t mention the eastern part of our state without talking about Fayetteville’s veteran community. It’s responsible for amazing breweries and local businesses that are truly a great part of that community.
11. Another offshoot of the veteran and military community is a really good food scene. And boy, does Fayetteville have one! With a mix of ethnic, Southern, and pub food, here are some of our favorite restaurants in Fayetteville.
12. Beyond the veteran impact (which is massive), Fayetteville hosts a pretty busy events calendar, and not just during spring, summer, and fall. Winter and Christmastime in Fayetteville are both jampacked with fun, as you’ll see here.
Spend at least a weekend in Fayetteville and see it all in action!
Goldsboro and Wayne County
14. Countdown the new year and watch the Pickle Drop in Mount Olive, also in Wayne County.
15. Every couple of years, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base hosts Wings Over Wayne, which is a fun all-day event filled with flyovers, food, and more fun.
We’re not done yet with Goldsboro, as you’ll see in our “Statewide” section.
17. And if you like cookbooks, hers is one of the essentials that we featured here.
19. While you’re doing that, stay at the Mother Earth Motor Lodge. For those who recognized the name, yes, it’s owned by Mother Earth Brewing owner Stephen Hill.
We shared more about our experience in our guide to a weekend in Kinston.
20. We also discussed the amazing arts scene in Kinston. You can find its footprint pretty much everywhere in and around town.
21. Kinston is home to King’s, which is an amazing barbecue restaurant that everyone there knows.
Jacksonville & Onslow County
22. Head to Jacksonville and eat a Paul Parker at Jeff’s.
23. Of course, you can’t spend time in Jacksonville without visiting Lejeune Memorial Gardens at least once. This collection of memorials reminds us of those who’ve served and died for our nation.
24. Spend at least a morning and afternoon strolling around Swansboro, perusing shops and dining by the water.
26. Head to Johnston County and check out the Ava Gardner Museum. It’s a true tribute to one of Hollywood’s most famous actresses who just happened to be born in JoCo (Grabtown).
27. If you’re driving on I-40 either to the coast or coming back from it, stop at exit 319 for some of the best food you’ll ever eat at Redneck BBQ Lab. Owner Jerry Stephenson and the folks there are doing some awesome things with competition style bbq.
Hopefully, you’ll luck out and stop by when they’re serving burnt ends.
28. And if you like fishing for big catches, you need to be in Morehead City for the Big Rock Tournament each June.
30. Visit Croatan National Forest and explore nature trails and at low tide, beautiful beaches that sit along the Neuse River.
The Outer Banks
32. Not far from there, you can see where North Carolina became “First in Flight” at the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Each December, their achievements are honored during a Celebration of the First Flight.
33. Of course, you need to check out the beautiful beaches along our coast, including the Outer Banks. Technically, it’s just one long beach, ya know?
34. And while you’re in the Outer Banks, don’t forget to customize your own donut at the original Duck Donuts in, wait for it…Duck.
35. More of our favorite beaches in North Carolina include Carolina Beach and Wrightsville Beach near Wilmington, which we’ll mention in a bit.
36. Stand in awe of North Carolina’s wild horses on the Coast. We know you can find them elsewhere but ours are the prettiest of them all!
37. And we can’t leave out Topsail Island, which is one of our favorite spots any time of year.
38. We also think you’ll love ticking off these Outer Banks Restaurants from your bucket list of things to do in North Carolina.
39. Further down the coast, visit Wilmington and spend time downtown, shopping, eating, and strolling it off along the Riverwalk. It’s a fun place for families but also those traveling alone, with friends, or with that special someone. Here are some of our favorite things to do there.
40. The Wilmington Railroad Museum is also along the river and a great place for children, as well as kids at heart who still love model trains and learning about the railroad industry.
41. Battleship North Carolina is just across the Cape Fear River and absolutely worth a visit. It was the first of its kind built by the US Navy and was almost lost. Luckily, it was saved and is now open to the public who come and visit it each day.
42. Airlie Gardens is just a short drive away from downtown Wilmington and one of the state’s most beautiful places to visit. It’s popular for birding, home to massive oaks, and offers views of Wrightsville Beach in the distance.
43. Speaking of Wrightsville, don’t forget about the beaches around Wilmington, including Carolina and Kure, too. Our favorites always change and we’d love to know yours if you’ve ever been through this area.
44. Marvel at the strange wonders of Wilson’s Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park. It’s truly a fun place to just walk around and stare at the whirligigs as they get blown around by the wind.
45. Their Whirligig Festival in November brings people from all over to check out the park, but also fun put on by 200-plus vendors.
Of course, we mentioned a visit to the Whirligig Park in our guide to a weekend in Wilson.
Central North Carolina
46. Alamance county sits on the edge of the Triad and Triangle, but we’ll place it into the former for grouping purposes. It’s home to some fun towns, including Burlington, Mebane, and Graham.
49. And then there’s Saxapahaw, which sits far away from it all. The former mill town has been repurposed for a new community, with restaurants, a brewery, a five-star general store, and musician-friendly Haw River Ballroom.
50. In the summer, Saturdays in Saxapahaw bring people from all around to enjoy music, food, and friendship.
52. And while we’re talking about Cary, you can stop by their Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve any time of year. It’s a rare collection of Eastern Hemlock trees that you’ll normally find in our mountains.
53. Hang out there and grab some food at Time Out, one of the other fun places to eat on Franklin Street, or more next door in Carrboro.
54. The Campus of UNC itself is very nice, so please do yourself a favor and walk through it.
55 & 56. Whether or not you plan to stay overnight in Chapel Hill, you should extend your time there at the Carolina Inn or the Tusan-themed Siena Hotel.
57. We especially enjoyed the latter hotel, and can’t leave out a meal at the on-site Il Palio from this North Carolina bucket list. Check it out for yourself and you’ll agree with us! You can read more about Il Palio and the Siena here.
Charlotte and Mecklenburg County
59. We recommend at least a night at Hilton Charlotte Center City if you really want to enjoy the area.
62. You also have to spend time in NoDa, Southend, and Charlotte’s other awesome neighborhoods.
63. We also recommend a visit to one of the city’s many parks, including Independence Park, Freedom Park, and Reedy Creek Nature Center and Preserve.
65. Huntersville is a fun town that shares Mecklenburg County with Charlotte. You can enjoy it year-round, but especially in November during the Carolina Rennaisance Festival.
Concord and Cabarrus County
67. Hang out at Southern Grace Distillery in Mount Pleasant. If delicious spirits aren’t enough, you’ll want to visit because Southern Grace is headquartered in a former prison. It was one of our favorite distilleries to visit!
68. Did you know that North Carolina was home to the first gold rush in the US? You can learn about it at Reed Gold Mine in Midland. This is where the first documented commercial gold find.
69. And don’t forget about Kannapolis! The North Carolina Music Hall of Fame is here and worth a visit, and not just because admission is free.
70. Kannapolis is also home to the Dale Trail, which commemorates the life and achievements of one Dale Earnhardt.
We detailed these things and more in our guide to a weekend in Concord and Cabarrus County!
71. Durham is the second-largest city in the Triangle and one we call “home.” Weekends here are awesome, especially if you’re joining a Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tour in Durham. It’s a great way to sample some awesome restaurants in Bull City.
72. Familiarize yourself with Main St and other prominent spots downtown, especially the area along Parish known as Black Wall Street. It was once a hub of African-American entrepreneurship, and you can learn about it here.
73. Walk down the hill to the American Tobacco Campus. It was once a major player in the tobacco industry, but today it’s filled with tech startups and home to Burt’s Bees HQ.
74. The ATC also sits across from the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, which is one of the finest places anyone can watch a baseball game. We’ll talk more about Minor League Baseball later, but remember that there’s only one team in North Carolina with a classic movie made about it.
75. While we’re on the topic of sports, make sure you choose the right shade of blue when watching Duke battle UNC (Or vice versa. Not picking sides!) on the court in Durham or Chapel Hill. State fans in Raleigh and beyond likely root for both to lose.
76. Greensboro is the Triad’s largest city, home to amazing restaurants, and full of fun streets and neighborhoods to explore.
77. Lots of important things have happened here, including the famous Woolworth Sit-ins that launched a movement of young African-Americans fighting to desegregate establishments throughout the south.
We included a visit to the former in our guide to a weekend in Greensboro.
79. Proximity’s sister property O.Henry is also amazing and worth your time while in Gate City!
80. The smalled city of the three mains in the Triad is High Point, also the smallest city of the three. Still, it’s filled with enough bucket-list-worthy things to do.
81 & 82. Sure, it’s known for the Furniture Market, but you’ll enjoy City Lake Park and All-A-Flutter Butterfly Farm, too.
83. Fly into Raleigh-Durham International Airport and congratulate yourself because that’s the only place known as Raleigh-Durham. You can also watch planes take off and land at the airport’s observation tower.
84. Carolina Tiger Rescue in Pittsboro is a wonderful place that we’ll mention on the way out of the Triangle. It’s a non-profit sanctuary for wildcats and open to the public.
The work going on here is important in protecting previously captive animals and also in educating the public about them and their plight.
85. The first place in Raleigh you should visit is Dorothea Dix Park, where you can get a nice view of the city’s skyline.
86. If you’re in Raleigh when summer is flexing its muscles, head to Dix Park for a gorgeous sunflower display.
88. Raleigh’s restaurant scene is always worth exploring, thanks to diverse tastes and James Beard award winners.
89. And speaking of food, don’t miss out on the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh. It’s a huge event in October and thousands of people attend each year.
90. The city is also home to some of our favorite museums, including the Museum of Art and Museum of Natural Sciences.
We share these things to do and more in our guide to a weekend in Raleigh!
91. Check out North Carolina’s pottery capital in Seagrove, Randolph County, throughout the year. November is when the Seagrove Pottery Festival brings people from all over and many of the area’s potters together.
92. Did you know North Carolina has the world’s largest zoo? Well, if not, then add that to your bucket list. The NC Zoo in Asheboro houses nearly 2,000 animals from over 250 species. It’s a massive place and especially worth a visit if you’re bringing little ones along.
We mentioned the NC Zoo and Seagrove in our guide covering a weekend in Asheboro and Randolph County.
94. Not far from Old Salem, you’ll find Brookstown Inn, which is one of Winston-Salem’s awesome historic hotels.
96. There’s also a wonderful restaurant inside, called The Katharine. Please do yourself a favor and grab a meal and a drink there. You’ll be missing out on one of Winston-Salem’s best restaurants otherwise.
More Spots in Central North Carolina
98. Before we leave the Triad, there are two state parks worth mentioning. The first one is Hanging Rock State Park, which we love hiking for beautiful views of surrounding mountains. It’s also a lovely spot for scoping out waterfalls and we cover it in more detail here.
99. Pilot Mountain is the second state park that we’ll mention, even though it’s largely associated with Mount Airy, which we’ll discuss in a bit. Pilot has a few short hikes to the top, but I think admiring the unique shape that gives the mountain its name is pretty fun, too.
100. And speaking of Mount Airy, we know time-traveling back to Mayberry might already be on your bucket list of things to do in North Carolina, but you’d yell at us if we left it out.
103. In the Sandhills, head to Pinehurst and Southern Pines for more than a day at the links, even though it’s known as the Home of American Golf.
Western North Carolina
105. We included it in our guide to restaurants in Asheville (aka Foodtopia). Exploring the city’s awesome food scene is another one of our favorite things to do in North Carolina, so please add that to your bucket list.
106. Visit over 200 artist studios in a 2-mile radius at Asheville’s River Arts District.
108. We couldn’t mention Robert Moog’s creation without mentioning Moogfest in Durham. This spring music festival brings together musicians, technology, and forward thinkers to Bull City each year. We took a closer look at it here.
110. Hang out with Alpacas at Banner Elk’s mountaintop Apple Hill Farm.
Blowing Rock and Boone
111. Choo! Choo! Go back in time on the Tweetsie Railroad, in Blowing Rock between there and Boone. Their Ghost Train in fall is a huge draw but the shows are pretty entertaining throughout the year. I won’t spoil them for you!
112. We think a visit to Blowing Rock should be on anyone’s bucket list of things to do in North Carolina. Many folks come for THE Blowing Rock, but they also know that this is an awesome small town, home to amazing restaurants, and perfect for any weekend!
113. Speaking of restaurants, there are some pretty awesome places to eat in Boone.
114. Boone is a great place to hang out, even if you’re not an App State student or alum. Stay tuned for more guides to that fun town.
115. You’ll find plenty of hikes in the Boone and Blowing Rock area. Our favorites include Glen Burney Trail, Boone Fork, and Flat Top. The latter leads you to a fire tower with epic views of surrounding mountains.
116. And there are so many places to watch the sunrise in the Mountains, but Rough Ridge is hard to top.
117. You must explore the “Land of Waterfalls,” also known as Brevard and its surroundings in and around Transylvania County. Some of our favorite waterfalls near Brevard include Looking Glass, Moore Cove, and French Broad.
You can read about them and others here.
118. The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad is an amazing reason to visit Bryson City, especially in winter when they’re running the Polar Express.
119. Over in Cherokee, Mingo Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls we’ve seen yet. Try to convince us otherwise.
120. The Museum of the Cherokee Indian is also worth a stop so you can learn more about the town’s namesake people.
121. Western North Carolina is hard to define, but we think Cleveland County is a part of it, too. Head there and hang out around the home of Earl Scruggs. His memory lives on forever at the Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby.
122. If you’ve never tried livermush, put that on your bucket list of things to do in North Carolina, too! There are plenty of places that serve it in our state, but it’s a specialty of many restaurants in Shelby and Cleveland County.
123. We also think you should bounce around all the towns in Cleveland County, including Kings Mountain and Boiling Springs.
128. Plus, there’s the best-nicknamed team in Minor League Baseball, the Crawdads, that you should check out during the season.
130. And each fall and winter in Jackson County, don’t miss out on the truly unique Shadow of the Bear. On sunny days not at around 5:30 pm, a bear-like shadow forms over the valley below Rhodes Big View Overlook.
131. You must pretend to dance like Baby at Lake Lure’s Dirty Dancing Festival.
132. Drive the Diamondback that leads into Little Switzerland or get there via the Blue Ridge Parkway.
133. Either way, spend at least a night at the Switzerland Inn. This place has it all, including beautiful views, amazing food, and cozy rooms.
134. Each year in April, Merlefest takes over Wilkesboro with bands galore, but spend some time in this fun little town and you might just get hooked. We interviewed Merlefest founder B Townes, if you’re interested in learning more about how that awesome music festival came to be.
More Outdoors in Western North Carolina
136. And finally, at the North Carolina-Tennessee state line, you can enjoy 360-degree views of the Great Smoky Mountains at Clingmans Dome.
What’s On Your List?
It was tough for us to narrow down this bucket list of things to do in North Carolina because we know there are more. Also, we know that you can do some of these things elsewhere, but we think you’ll enjoy yourself a little bit more here.
You might be detecting a hint of bias, but if you know us, you’ll understand that it’s all in good fun. We love this state and all the things you can do here, especially if you can’t find them anywhere else.
Of all these things to do in North Carolina what stands out as your favorite? Got anything you’d like to add to the list? We’d love to know about it in the comments section!