Last Updated on June 7, 2021
Last Updated on June 7, 2021
We’re lucky to have such amazing places to visit in Eastern North Carolina, including the Outer Banks, the Crystal Coast, and more seaside destinations! Beyond the amazing beaches, there’s a lot more to explore in this part of the state, especially in the areas between Raleigh (and elsewhere in Central North Carolina) and our coast.
The towns and cities in Eastern North Carolina all have interesting stories that we’re excited to share in this guide. We’d love to hear your thoughts regarding these destinations in the comments section!
Until then, keep reading and hopefully, we’ll all uncover something new together!
Where is Eastern North Carolina?
Before sharing the best things to do in places to go, we’ll answer the question: “Where is Eastern North Carolina?”
Eastern North Carolina has been typically defined as the area that sits east of the Fall Line and runs all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. It’s also referred to as the Coastal Plain, but for our purposes, we’ll call it “Eastern North Carolina.”
And to quickly answer the question, we consider Eastern North Carolina to be just east of Raleigh and Wake County and other similarly placed spots in Central North Carolina. Another boundary for us is I-95, though it is not as exact and is another reason why North Carolina geography can be frustrating.
Places to Visit in Eastern North Carolina
Counting and Organization Note
We’ve organized this guide alphabetically by the largest city or town in a particular county, followed by additional spots in said county (ex, Beaufort and Carteret County).
Among all the mentioned places to visit in Eastern North Carolina, we’re counting towns, cities, protected areas, lighthouses, and state or national parks. Specific spots within these places are not counted though. For example, the Museum of the Albemarle and Roanoke Canal Museum and Trail within their respective towns are discussed, but not a part of the count.
Beaufort and Carteret County
Known as Big Rock, Morehead City is home to a huge fishing tournament under that moniker. It’s a nice town that serves as a popular gateway to Atlantic Beach, Emerald Isle, and the rest of the Bogue Banks.
By the way, we love staying at Atlantis Lodge, a family-run vintage hotel with its own beach access!
At the southeast corner of North Carolina and bordering South Carolina, Brunswick County is home to some of Eastern North Carolina’s most beautiful beaches and coastal areas.
We’re also hooked on Holden Beach, also known as NC’s “Family Beach.”
Of course, you could spend all of your time devouring the famous seafood at Calabash, and enjoying all the sights at Oak Island. From the namesake lighthouse, you can look out over Bald Head Island and Caswell Beach.
Camden and Camden County
Like many of its far-eastern counterparts, Camden County is filled with small towns and protected lands. A part of Elizabeth City is within the county limits and Camden, the county seat, sits across the river.
Camden County is the first of three counties that contains the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.
Clinton and Sampson County
Clinton is the seat of the second largest county in North Carolina by area. Note: Keep reading and you’ll soon encounter the biggest!
An adorable town surrounding Sampson County is Garland, the home to the always-packed Southern Smoke BBQ.
Columbia and Tyrrell County
At the time of writing, Tyrrell is North Carolina’s least populous county but it doesn’t seem like it when visiting! The Albemarle Sound, Alligator River, and the Scuppernong River form the county’s north, east, and west borders.
The county also shares a part of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.
Dunn and Harnett County
Dunn is the largest city in Harnett County, but Lillington is the county seat. Raven Rock State Park is nearby and is a great spot for hiking and watching the Cape Fear River flow by.
Edenton and Chowan County
Edenton is located east of the Chowan River, which runs south and feeds into the Albemarle Sound. This historic town is filled with adorable shops, plenty of history, and unique architecture.
Did you know that Edenton was the second capital of North Carolina until 1743? You can learn all about that fun fact and more when visiting this charming town.
Speaking of history, you need to stop by the Roanoke River Lighthouse, NC’s last surviving screw-pile lighthouse. We also recommend a visit to the Penelope Barker House and a stay at the Inner Banks Inn. The latter will give you plenty of time to see all of our favorite things to do in Edenton!
Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County
Elizabeth City is a wonderful spot in Eastern North Carolina and home to the Museum of the Albemarle, a branch of the NC Museum of History. A part of the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge also calls Pasquotank County home.
Elizabethtown and Bladen County
The two largest towns in Bladen County are county seat Elizabethtown and Bladenboro.
We visit Bladen County for White Lake, which is a town that surrounds a beautiful freshwater lake to visit at any time of the year. During summer, this place gets pretty packed, so be prepared if you’re planning a summer trip.
White Lake is one of many Carolina Bays in Bladen County. Others include Jones Lake and Singletary Lake, both of which are managed by NC State Parks.
Fayetteville and Cumberland County
Many folks associate Fayetteville with Fort Bragg, but there is quite a lot of other things to do in this city and its surroundings. It’s home to an amazing collection of restaurants, both indoor and outdoor fun (especially for kids), and many more things to do!
If you didn’t stop by Fayetteville while on I-95, you’ll want to stop in Hope Mills and spend a few minutes with some food and a responsible pint at Dirtbag Ales. Hope Mills joins Spring Lake and other Cumberland County towns to make this one of our favorite places to visit in Eastern North Carolina, if not the whole state!
Gatesville and Gates County
A series of small towns, including county seat Gatesville, dot Gates County, where natural beauty reigns supreme. It’s the last of the three NC counties (with Camden and Pasquotank) that share more than half of the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge with Virginia.
Merchants Millpond State Park, a popular spot for paddling, fishing, and picnicking, is also in Gates County.
Goldsboro and Wayne County
Along the same vein as Fayetteville, Goldsboro is usually mentioned along with Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. This Wayne County seat is bursting with things to do, though, with an incredible food scene found in its downtown.
One such example is Dudley, which is home to Grady’s, one of the best barbecue stops in Eastern North Carolina. Another fun example we can’t leave out is Mount Olive, known for its pickles and the host of an interesting New Year’s tradition called the Pickle Drop.
Greenville and Pitt County
Awesome towns in Pitt County include Ayden, where Bum’s offers some of the best wood-cooked barbecue in Eastern North Carolina. In case you didn’t know, barbecue has a pretty big footprint in this part of the state!
Hertford and Perquimans County
Hertford and Winfall are a couple of the small towns that create this Inner Banks county. Perquimans County is famously known as the home of Catfish Hunter and the “S” Bridge that crosses the Perquimans River.
Jackson and Northampton County
Northampton is a northern border county with more than a few towns that hover around 1,000 in population. Jackson is the county seat, but Gaston and Garysburg are the two largest towns in the county.
Laurinburg and Scotland County
Heading a little further south is Scotland County, home to interesting small towns and events to honor their heritage. The Scotland County Highland Games is one example of the latter, held in county seat Laurinburg each October.
Lumberton and Robeson County
Named for the Lumber River that’s a popular fishing destination, Lumberton also hosts a variety of museums and parks for visitors.
Robeson is an interesting county (North Carolina’s largest), with a minority-majority population. Pembroke is one of the many towns in the county and the seat of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina.
Jacksonville and Onslow County
When considering a trip to Jacksonville, Camp Lejeune will inevitably come up as a must-see attraction. Its beautiful Lejeune Memorial Gardens (pictured above) are worth visiting any time of day or year.
There’s a lot more to this Eastern North Carolina county than its biggest city, though. Some of the things to do in this county include the gorgeous small town of Swansboro.
We also love getting out on the water from this town and also, from Hammocks Beach State Park, and the southern half of Topsail Island (shared with Pender County).
While you’re in the area, check out these amazing restaurants in Jacksonville and its surroundings.
Kenansville and Duplin County
Quite a few towns are shared by Duplin County and neighboring counties, including Mount Olive (Wayne County) and Faison (Sampson County). Duplin Winery, the oldest operating winery in North Carolina, is also located here.
Kinston and Lenoir County
Names like Vivian Howard (Chef and the Farmer) and Stephen Hill (Mother Earth Brewing) dominate the conversation around Kinston these days. This up-and-coming town is home to an amazing collection of restaurants, an awesome arts scene, and great people.
Nashville and Nash County
Parts of Zebulon and Rocky Mount sit in Nash County but they also reside in Wake and Edgecombe counties, respectively. Our favorite things to do in Rocky Mount include visits to Rocky Mount Mills and rides along the Tar River Trail.
Of course, there’s plenty more to explore here!
Some of our favorite restaurants in Rocky Mount are spread out, even stretching into county seat Nashville. That latter town hosts the Blooming Festival each spring, an event that draws in people from all over.
New Bern and Craven County
Croatan National Forest is also found in Craven County. Here, you’ll find an underrated collection of trails, such as Flanners Beach and Neusiok, and some relaxing stretches of beach.
This beautiful collection of coastal land borders the Neuse River, Bogue Sound, and White Oak River. The closest city to this area is Havelock, home to the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.
Oriental and Pamlico County
The town of Oriental sits across the water on the eastern end of Pamlico County and Lowland on the west. Oriental is the perfect location for a weekend of paddling, biking, and boating.
Pamlico County seat Bayboro and Minnesott Beach are two wonderful places to visit while in the area.
The Outer Banks
Names like Corolla, Duck, Kill Devil Hills, Buxton, and Ocracoke are commonplace around here. These Outer Banks towns are popular destinations surrounded by epic beaches and more things to do that could fill weeks of itineraries!
Of course, at least a few trips down US-12 (aka the Outer Banks Scenic Byway) is necessary for checking out the hiking trails at Pea Island, Buxton Woods on Hatteras Island, and beyond.
Before and after your days on the Outer Banks, you’re going to need a nice place to stay. Check out our guide to some of the best vacation rentals in the area!
Plymouth and Washington County
Plymouth is bustles with life every June with the annual North Carolina Black Bear Festival. Stop by for this event or any other time of year, even if this is just a stop on your way to the Outer Banks.
Take a stroll along the boardwalk and gaze out at the Roanoke River. We guarantee you’ll be hooked with the sights here!
Raeford and Hoke County
A part of Fort Bragg is also shared by Hoke County. As a result, quite a few people are moving to the area around county seat Raeford.
Roanoke Rapids and Halifax County
Roanoke Rapids and Halifax are just a couple of lovely spots in this northeast county. The Roanoke Canal Museum and Trail is here with the Roanoke River running through Halifax County, too.
Don’t forget about Medoc Mountain State Park, an excellent outdoor escape with trails and streams for fishing and boating.
Rocky Mount and Edgecombe County
Tarboro is the county seat of Edgecombe, but Rocky Mount is the largest city by far. The area is growing, with a series of projects (especially Rocky Mount Mills) predicted to bring in many more residents looking for a new place to call “home.”
In Edgecombe County, you’ll also find Princeville, the oldest town incorporated by African-Americans in the US. It’s one of many important places to visit (and learn) about Black history in North Carolina!
Snow Hill and Greene County
County seat Snow Hill is about 30 minutes southwest of Greenville and about the same distance east of Goldsboro. The town is largely known for its popular Green Ridge Racquet Club, where USTA-sanctioned events are held and bring in players from all over.
Trenton and Jones County
This is the last of three counties (along with Carteret and Craven) that contain Croatan National Forest. This county is a hotspot for outdoors-men and -women not only for this forest but also for the Neuse and White Oak Rivers. The Bogue Sound is also accessible from this county.
North Topsail Beach, Surf City, and Topsail Beach are the three communities found on this beautiful island.
Smithfield and Johnston County
Johnston County is quickly growing, partially thanks to neighboring Wake County, as well as I-95 and I-40 cutting through it. The county has long been known as the home of Ava Gardner.
More recently, the awesome Redneck BBQ Lab and fabulous resurgent towns like Benson and Smithfield are driving Johnston County full steam ahead.
Washington and Beaufort County
Washington is also known as the Heart of the Inner Banks. Take a stroll along the river and check out the North Carolina Estuarium. Also in town is the Underground Railroad Museum, housed in a caboose and one of the most important ways to learn about Black history in North Carolina.
Take a trip to the surrounding town of Bath, North Carolina’s oldest town, and where Edward Teach (aka Blackbeard) stayed in between raids.
Stop off at Goose Creek State Park on the way and you can enjoy some nice walking trails, a fun road for walking and biking, and various boating options.
Wilmington and New Hanover County
Wilmington and New Hanover County boast fun things to do for all ages, especially for families. Wilmington is surrounded by the amazing beaches at Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Wrightsville Beach, and Masonboro Island, but there’s plenty to explore downtown along the Riverwalk.
Across the water, there’s the Battleship North Carolina, which is worth a visit at any time during the year. Throughout the area, we think you’ll enjoy all the awesome restaurants and breweries found here.
If you’re searching for places to stay, check out these cool Airbnbs in Wilmington and its surroundings.
Whiteville and Columbus County
Lake Tabor is a popular spot for fishing and Lake Waccamaw State Park might be our favorite reason to visit Columbus County. The Carolina Bay hosts lovely walking trails, a swimming pier, and some rare plant life that includes Venus flytraps!
Williamston and Martin County
Wilson and Wilson County
Windsor and Bertie County
The Roanoke River National Wildlife Refuge sits in Bertie County and is known for its valuable fish- and wildlife-filled wetlands. Many folks also come to Bertie County (specifically Windsor) for paddling on the Cashie River.
Winton and Hertford County
Also in Hertford County is Murfreesboro, a town where you’ll find the Jefcoat Museum of Early American History.
Ready to Explore These Places to Visit in Eastern North Carolina?
Although we have visited Eastern North Carolina many times, we’re still excited about all the places we have yet to explore! If you know this area or have never been, we’d love to know which spots are your go-tos or which you plan to visit first!
As you explore the area, we know that you’ll find even more great locations and destinations along the way. If there’s a place you strongly feel belongs here, please let us know via email.