Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on November 25, 2023.
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!
Read More: Unique Things to Do in North Carolina
What Makes Up 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.
We’ve defined its western edges from north to south as follows:
- Northampton County
- Halifax County
- Nash County
- Johnston County
- Harnett County
- Cumberland County
- Hoke County
- Scotland County
Along with the above borderland counties, here are all 41 Eastern North Carolina counties included in this guide:
- Beaufort County
- Bertie County
- Bladen County
- Brunswick County
- Camden County
- Carteret County
- Chowan County
- Columbus County
- Craven County
- Cumberland County
- Duplin County
- Edgecombe County
- Gates County
- Greene County
- Halifax County
- Harnett County
- Hertford County
- Hoke County
- Johnston County
- Jones County
- Lenoir County
- Martin County
- Nash County
- New Hanover County
- Northampton County
- Onslow County
- (Outer Banks) Dare County
- (Outer Banks) Currituck County
- (Outer Banks) Hyde County
- Pamlico County
- Pasquotank County
- Pender County
- Perquimans County
- Pitt County
- Robeson County
- Sampson County
- Scotland County
- Tyrrell County
- Washington County
- Wayne County
- Wilson County
How We Organized These Places to Visit in Eastern North Carolina
We’ve organized this guide alphabetically by county and include 1 or 2 prominent towns and cities in each one—For example, “Carteret County (Beaufort, Morehead City, and More!).
One exception is The Outer Banks, which encompass multiple counties. In our guide, we’ll include Currituck County, Dare County, and Hyde County in the Outer Banks section.
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 County (Washington, Bath, and More)
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.
Read More: Interesting Facts About North Carolina
Bertie County (Windsor, Roanoke River NWR, and More)
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.
Bladen County (Elizabethton, Bladenboro, and More)
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 wonderful state parks.
Brunswick County (Southport, Calabash, and More)
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 Calabash-style seafood, and enjoying all the sights at Oak Island. From the namesake lighthouse, you can look out over Caswell Beach and across the water at Bald Head Island (and Old Baldy Lighthouse).
Read More: Famous Foods from North Carolina
Camden County (Camden, Dismal Swamp State Park, and More)
Camden County is filled with small towns and protected lands like its far-eastern counterparts. A part of Elizabeth City is within the county limits and Camden, the county seat, sits across the river.
Carteret County (Beaufort, Morehead City, and More)
Known as Big Rock, Morehead City is home to a huge fishing tournament under that moniker. It’s a lovely town that serves as a popular gateway to Atlantic Beach and Emerald Isle, and the rest of the Bogue Banks.
We love staying at Atlantis Lodge, a family-run vintage hotel with easy beach access!
Chowan County (Edenton and More)
Did you know that Edenton was the second capital of North Carolina from 1722 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!
Columbus County (Whiteville, Lake Waccamaw, and More)
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!
Craven County (New Bern, Havelock, and More)
New Bern is an amazing small town, and packed with historic sites like Tryon Palace. Home to a wonderful community and great restaurants, too, New Bern is just waiting for you to explore it all any weekend you’d like!
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.
Read More: Wonderful Things to Do in New Bern
Cumberland County (Fayetteville, Hope Mills, and More)
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 more!
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!
Read More: Things to Do in Carvers Creek State Park
Duplin County (Kenansville, Beulaville, and More!)
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.
Beulaville is also in Duplin County and home to Mike’s Farm, a wonderful agro-tourism spot on the Onslow County side of the line.
However, we’ll include it with Duplin County in this article. Mike’s Farm is known for amazing events throughout the year, such as their Christmas lights and shows.
Read More: Christmas in North Carolina
Edgecombe County (Tarboro, Princeville, and More)
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.”
Gates County (Gatesville, Merchants Millpond, and More)
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.
Greene County (Snow Hill and More)
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.
Halifax County (Halifax, Roanoke Rapids, and More)
Roanoke Rapids and Halifax are just a couple of lovely spots in this northeast county. You can learn about the Halifax Resolves at the State Historic Site that commemorates North Carolina’s Declaration of Independence.
There’s even a sign commemorating the Underground Railroad, which operated in Halifax County.
The Roanoke Canal Museum and Trail in Roanoke Rapids is a great way to learn about the area’s history, its relationship with the Roanoke River, and get outside. Many people come to Halifax County to explore Sylvan Heights Bird Park, where 2,000 exotic bird species from around the world await.
Don’t forget about Medoc Mountain State Park, an excellent outdoor escape with trails and streams for fishing and boating.
Harnett County (Dunn, Lillington, and More)
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.
Hertford County (Winton, Murfreesboro, and More)
Murfreesboro is another notable town in Hertford County. Here, you’ll find the Jefcoat Museum of Early American History.
Hoke County (Raeford and More)
Hoke County also shares a part of Fort Bragg. As a result, quite a few people are moving around county seat Raeford.
Johnston County (Smithfield, Benson, and More)
More recently, the awesome Redneck BBQ Lab and fabulous resurgent towns like Benson and Smithfield are driving Johnston County full steam ahead.
Jones County (Trenton and More)
This is the last of three counties (along with Carteret and Craven) that contain Croatan National Forest. This county is a hotspot for outdoorsmen and women for this forest and the Neuse and White Oak Rivers.
The Bogue Sound is also accessible from this county.
Lenoir County (Kinston and More)
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.
Martin County (Williamston, Robersonville, and More)
Nash County (Rocky Mount, Nashville, and More)
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 Hanover County (Wilmington, Carolina Beach, and More)
Wilmington is also surrounded by its amazing beach towns, which include:
- Carolina Beach
- Kure Beach
- Wrightsville Beach
- Masonboro Island
Across the water from Wilmington, there’s the Battleship North Carolina, which is worth a visit at any time during the year. We also love venturing out to Airlie Gardens for a walk along their accessible pathways.
Read More: Airbnbs in Wilmington (and Nearby)
Northampton County (Gaston, Jackson, and More)
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.
Onslow County (Jacksonville, Swansboro, and More)
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.
While you’re in the area, check out these amazing restaurants in Jacksonville and its surroundings.
The Outer Banks
The Outer Banks is the only place in this Eastern North Carolina guide that encompasses multiple counties.
Of course, don’t forget about the quieter Manteo, home to a wonderful waterfront, Fort Raleigh, and the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island.
Across the Currituck Sound from Grandy is Corolla, known for its historic village, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, and those beautiful wild horses found on and around the 4X4 beach toward the Virginia border.
Of course, at least a few trips down US-12 (aka the Outer Banks Scenic Byway) are necessary for checking out the hiking trails at Pea Island, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and Buxton Woods on Hatteras Island, and beyond.
On the south end, Ocracoke headlines the Hyde County portion of the Outer Banks. Ocracoke is home to a unique lighthouse, a wonderful village, and Springer’s Point, a nature preserve near the spot where Blackbeard met his end.
The county extends into the mainland, with Swanquarter and Lake Mattamuskeet among other interesting places to visit.
Read More: The Best Outer Banks Vacation Rentals
Pamlico County (Bayboro, Oriental, and More)
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.
Pasquotank County (Elizabeth City and More)
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.
Pender County (Burgaw, Topsail Beach, and More)
North Topsail Beach (Onslow County), Surf City, and Topsail Beach are the three communities found on this beautiful island. On the mainland side of Surf City is the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center. Do yourself a favor and visit this important place.
Pender County is known for other great spots on the mainland, including Burgaw. This wonderful town is worth visiting throughout the year, but especially during high blueberry picking season and the NC Blueberry Festival in June.
Perquimans County (Hertford, Winfall, and More)
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.
Pitt County (Greenville, Ayden, and More)
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!
Robeson County (Lumberton, Pembroke, and More)
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.
Sampson County (Clinton, Garland, and More)
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.
Scotland County (Laurinburg and More)
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.
Tyrrell County (Columbia, Alligator River, and More!)
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.
Washington County (Plymouth and More)
Take a stroll along the boardwalk and gaze out at the Roanoke River. We guarantee you’ll be hooked with the sights here!
Wayne County (Goldsboro, Mount Olive, and More)
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.
Wilson County (Wilson and More)
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-to 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.