North Carolina is known for the beauty from the mountains to the sea, but some of our favorite places to visit are in the cities. Many folks may know a bit about Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham, and Greensboro, but what about the other busy spots?
And that’s why we’re sharing those cities in North Carolina to visit and more. We’ll be highlighting things to do (including the outdoors), places to eat amazing food, and more about why you’ll find them in our NC Bucket list.
This post is a part of our series on places to visit in North Carolina, where we share fun spots such as museums and breweries, and much more. We originally created it on November 13, 2017. We have kept it updated and maintained as of December 27, 2019.
Cities in North Carolina
There are tons of things to do in Asheville, one of the coolest cities in North Carolina. You can hike in the beautiful mountains that surround it, drive or cycle the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway, or just eat your way through a weekend Downtown.
Settle in and walk around the famed Biltmore Estate, enjoying its accompanying gardens that amaze even the most seasoned visitors. You can spend even more time in the River Arts District and grab a beer at nearby Wedge Brewing, one of the dozens you’ll find in the area.
Quick tip: You’re also within a short drive of Brevard, which we’re quite partial to as well!
A visit to Asheville and some of what we mentioned also appears in our bucket list of things to do in North Carolina.
If many people are asked to name the third-largest city in the Research Triangle, they might respond with “Chapel Hill” instead of Cary. The town’s population has quickly grown since the 1970s, which was then around 8,000. As of the last estimate, Cary houses about 170,000 people and is one of the fastest-growing municipalities in the US.
And even if you’re not looking to live here, there are plenty of things to do in Cary that will keep you coming back. That’s a part of why this is the first of many places in this post that we included in our guide to Triangle day trips.
For starters, it’s home to WakeMed Soccer Park, the home of North Carolina FC of USL Championship, and North Carolina Courage of the NWSL. Cary is where you’ll find the USA Baseball National Training Complex. It hosts our national team and the NCAA Division II Baseball Tournament Championship.
Cary is pretty spread out and full of fun places to explore, but spend some time walking around downtown’s shops and eateries and you’ll fall in love with it.
La Farm Bakery, Bond Brothers Beer Company, and Taipei 101 are a few places that we’d start with on any trip to Cary, but Ashworth Drugs is great for a look at an old fashioned soda fountain…and hot dogs, too!
The outdoor fun doesn’t stop with Umstead, as Cary’s Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve is yet another reason to visit this town. A rare collection of hemlock trees typically found in Western North Carolina is protected here and you can see them while walking through the Preserve’s well-maintained trails.
Have you ever visited this booming town? What do you enjoy doing here?
I mean, you have to keep all those students at UNC happy somehow, right?
Franklin Street goes above and beyond to help, with wonderful restaurants like Crooks Corner and Top of the Hill. And don’t forget about the awesome burgers at Al’s Burger Shack and on Rosemary, the amazing Southern eats at Mama Dip’s!
Note: Stay tuned for an upcoming guide to Chapel Hill Restaurants.
Many of these places are covered in our guide to a weekend in Chapel Hill and Orange County, too!
Throughout the city, there are some interesting neighborhoods filled with awesome restaurants, breweries, and more. There are also tons of lighter food options, as we covered in our guide to healthy places to eat in Charlotte.
And of course, the Carolina Panthers and Hornets are a big deal and the Knights play Minor League Baseball at the beautiful BB&T Ballpark.
Concord is next door to the Queen City and one of many spots that we included in our guide to day trips from Charlotte. For starters, it’s known as the home of Charlotte Motor Speedway and zMax Dragway. People come from all over to catch races throughout most of the year.
Great Wolf Lodge Water Park and SEA LIFE are also here, making this Cabarrus County city a hotspot for family travelers. If you’re into North Carolina’s craft beer scene, you should head to Cabarrus Brewing, which is also in Concord.
And when you want to get outside for a bit, check out the paths and scenery at Frank Liske Park.
Learn more about the area in our guide to a weekend in Concord and Cabarrus County.
Durham’s Museum of Life and Science does a great job of combining both in ways we love. You can also chill out with a beer or two at Fullsteam (or at these awesome breweries in Durham) or relax in and around The Durham Hotel.
And we can’t leave Fayetteville without visiting one of the city’s veteran-owned breweries, either!
However, even the most business-centric travelers have some pretty fun things to do in the city. Outdoor options include the Bog Garden and Bur-Mil Park.
If the weather doesn’t cooperate, head to the Greensboro Science Center and Greensboro Children’s Museum for the kids or even yourself. They both featured in our guide to children’s museums throughout the state!
Greenville is one of the biggest cities in North Carolina, thanks to East Carolina University. It’s also got a reputation for some of the state’s finest barbecue, which you’ll remember after visiting B’s or Parker’s.
You can get outside at River Park North and if you’re up for a short drive, Goose Creek State Park isn’t too far away.
Olde Hickory Brewery pumps out some of NC’s finest beer and you can also visit their three restaurant locations throughout town.
If you’re in town during baseball season, stop by L.P. Frans Stadium for a Hickory Crawdads game and soak up that Minor League atmosphere.
High Point is known as the “Furniture Capital of the World” and there are some interesting places to explore there. If you visit from mid-April to October, check out All-A-Flutter Farm, you can see a real working butterfly farm in person!
For day trip options, I’d recommend traveling to nearby Hanging Rock State Park. It’s beautiful from the top!
Family travelers will want to stop by Zing Zumm Children’s Museum of Jacksonville. Spirits lovers should head to Walton’s Distillery for a tasting and a tour. It’s one of our favorites in all of North Carolina!
We also think that if you’re in the area, at least take a few moments to pay your respects at Lejeune Memorial Gardens.
We think you easily find 20-plus things to do when spending a weekend in Jacksonville. Challenge accepted?
Raleigh is filled with great museums and restaurants that would be perfect for an afternoon day date, definitely for an entire weekend. If you’re in the area during the summer, a section of Dorothea Dix Park transforms into one of the state’s most beautiful sunflower fields.
Year-Round Things to Do in Raleigh
Throughout the year, we love getting outside at spots like Umstead State Park and eating at Ashley Christensen’s Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, where you’ll be eating food designed by the best chef in the US.
Raleigh also has an awesome brew scene that you can understand better through the Raleigh Beer Garden‘s Guinness World Record-winning selection of drinks.
We also included Beasley’s, Raleigh Beer Garden, and more in our guide to must-eat restaurants in Raleigh.
You can relax after kayaking or scuba diving with some locally caught seafood by the beach. Or you can venture into Wilmington’s historic downtown.
Wrightsville Beach has the most beautiful water I’ve seen in North Carolina, and that’s a pretty tough list of challengers to top! Regardless of when you visit Wilmington, check out all of these spots and you can’t go wrong!
Winston-Salem is was once two separate cities (hence the hyphen) and the largest in North Carolina. Many folks visit Old Salem first for a look at early America, the Moravians, some pretty delicious food, and more!
Foothills Brewing makes some of our favorite NC beer. Their Downtown tasting room is a welcoming spot for visitors to come and try their special creations, as well as the delicious food coming out of their kitchen.
Our weekend guide covers things to do in Winston-Salem while staying there or visiting for the day!
What is Your Favorite North Carolina City?
We’re huge fans of these cities in North Carolina and can’t wait to keep revisiting these fun places. We’d also love to know which one(s) you like best.
And if you think there’s one missing, let us know in the comments but make sure it’s not in our guide to the wonderful small towns of our state.