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Eastern North Carolina (and 100+ Awesome Places to Visit)

Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on April 22, 2024.

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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 we’ll hopefully uncover something new together!

Read More: The North Carolina Bucket List Book

What Makes Up Eastern North Carolina?

map of North Carolina with the eastern counties highlighted

Before sharing the best things to do and 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 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

Read More: Eastern North Carolina Map (with 300+ Amazing Places Listed)

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. Our guide will 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 are not a part of the count.

Read More: Map of Outer Banks NC Attractions (175+ Great Places Listed!)

Beaufort County (Washington, Bath, and More)

a old church in Eastern North Carolina

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, where Edward Teach (aka Blackbeard) stayed 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)

calm water at the Roanoke River National Wildlife Refuge

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)

a lone tree at Jones Lake

The two largest towns in Bladen County are county seat Elizabethtown and Bladenboro.

We visit Bladen County for White Lake, a town that surrounds a beautiful freshwater lake at any time of the year. This place gets pretty packed during summer, 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.

Read More: 50+ Easy Day Trips from Fayetteville (Great Getaways!)

Brunswick County (Southport, Calabash, and More)

a long sound near Holden Beach

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.

A few prominent areas include Southport, a great place to hang out even if you’re not hopping on a boat to Bald Head Island.

We’re also hooked on Holden Beach, also known as NC’s “Family Beach.”

Of course, you could spend all 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)

lush waterfront area with the trees reflecting off of the river

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.

Camden County is the first of three counties that contains the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. It’s also the only one where you’ll find Dismal Swamp State Park.

Carteret County (Beaufort, Morehead City, and More)

two horses at the Rachel Carson Reserve

Known as Big Rock, Morehead City is home to a huge fishing tournament under that moniker. It’s a lovely town serving as a popular gateway to Atlantic Beach, Emerald Isle, and the rest of the Bogue Banks.

We love staying at Atlantis Lodge, a family-run vintage hotel with easy beach access!

To the west of Atlantic Beach is Fort Macon State Park, one of the state’s smallest but most popular state parks! Another great attraction on the Bogue Banks is the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores.

Carteret County Seat Beaufort has a beautiful waterfront with excellent restaurants like Moonrakers. Take a boat to the Rachel Carson Reserve for wild horses and more.

Shackelford Banks is another place to see wild horses and is part of Cape Lookout National Seashore. This National Parks unit includes Cape Lookout Lighthouse, Great Island, and Portsmouth Island.

Read More: 30+ Amazing NC Coastal Towns (+ Things to Do in Each One!)

Chowan County (Edenton and More)

a lone house next to the Atlantic Ocean

Edenton is located east of the Chowan River, which runs south and feeds into the Albemarle Sound. This historic town has adorable shops, plenty of history, and unique architecture.

Did you know that Edenton was the second capital of North Carolina from 1722 until 1743? You can learn more about that fun fact when visiting this charming town.

Speaking of history, you must stop by the Roanoke River Lighthouse, NC’s last surviving screw-pile lighthouse. We also recommend visiting the Penelope Barker House and staying 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)

a pier leading out too the ocean at Lake Waccamaw State Park

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, including Venus flytraps!

The famed Green Swamp Reserve also boasts Venus flytraps and other interesting species. Also, there’s a satellite museum of the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in the county seat of Whiteville.

Read More: 25+ Great Lakes in North Carolina (+ Our Top 5 Picks)

Craven County (New Bern, Havelock, and More)

Tryon Palace in New Bern NC

New Bern is an amazing small town packed with historic sites like Tryon Palace. Home to a beautiful community and great restaurants, 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)

The Lafayette Memorial statue in Cumberland County

Many folks associate Fayetteville with Fort Bragg, but there are 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!)

a row of grapes at the Duplin Winery

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, an excellent 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 its Christmas lights and shows.

Read More: Christmas in North Carolina

Edgecombe County (Tarboro, Princeville, and More)

a trailer with a sign reading 1885 in Tarboro

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) Black history in North Carolina!

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.

Read More: 4 National Forests in NC (Things to Do + Why We Love Them!)

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)

patriotic street art in Roanoke

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 operated in Halifax County.

The Roanoke Canal Museum and Trail in Roanoke Rapids is a great way to learn about the area’s history and 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)

the overhang of Raven Rock
Raven Rock

Dunn is the largest city in Harnett County, but Lillington is the county seat. Raven Rock State Park is nearby and is an excellent spot for hiking and watching the Cape Fear River flow by.

Hertford County (Winton, Murfreesboro, and More)

Many members of the Meherrin Indian Tribe live around Winton, the seat of Inner Banks-located Hertford County. The tribe holds an annual Pow Wow each October.

Murfreesboro is another notable town in Hertford County. Here, you’ll find the Jefcoat Museum of Early American History.

Hoke County (Raeford and More)

A few interesting historical landmarks in Hoke County include the Mill Prong House and the Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads.

Hoke County also shares a part of Fort Bragg. As a result, quite a few people are moving around the county seat in Raeford.

Johnston County (Smithfield, Benson, and More)

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.

Jones County (Trenton and More)

This is the last of three counties (along with Carteret and Craven) that contain the 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)

a sour beer from Mother Earth Brewing

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)

County Seat Williamston and Robersonville are the two largest towns in this Eastern North Carolina county. Each September, thousands of people head to Williamston for the Carolina Country Stampede.

Nash County (Rocky Mount, Nashville, and More)

Rocky Mount Mills

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)

Masonboro Island beach

Wilmington and New Hanover County boast fun things to do for all ages, especially for families. Of course, there’s plenty to explore downtown along the Riverwalk.

Wilmington is also surrounded by its amazing beach towns, which include:

Carolina Beach State Park is one of our favorite things to do on Pleasure Island. It’s not far from some of the best Carolina Beach restaurants, perfect for a post-hike meal.

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.

Throughout the area, we think you’ll enjoy all the fantastic restaurants and breweries found here.

Read More: Airbnbs in Wilmington (and Nearby)

Northampton County (Gaston, Jackson, and More)

Northampton is a northern border county with a few towns that hover around 1,000 people. 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 become 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 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, the amazing Bear Island, and the southern half of Topsail Island (shared with Pender County).

While in the area, check out these amazing restaurants in Jacksonville and its surroundings.

Read More: 15 Best Topsail Island Restaurants (Great Food for All!)

The Outer Banks

a black and white Lighthouse in front of a small building

The Outer Banks is the only place in this Eastern North Carolina guide encompassing multiple counties.

There are multiple geographic definitions of the Outer Banks, but the consensus always includes Currituck County (Corolla), Dare County (Duck to Hatteras), and Hyde County (Ocracoke).

The Outer Banks towns in each county (including Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills) are popular destinations surrounded by epic beaches and more fun things to do in Eastern NC that could fill weeks of itineraries!

Of course, don’t forget about the quieter Manteo, home to a beautiful waterfront, Fort Raleigh, and the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island.

You’ll also find some great restaurants and breweries here, including Weeping Radish in Grandy, which is NC’s first (and oldest!) microbrewery. We interviewed the owner here!

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, 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 exciting 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 paddling, biking, and boating weekend.

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)

Topsail Island beach with one person walking in the distance

We mentioned Pender County as one of two counties (Onslow is the other) that share Topsail Island. People come here for amazing beaches on the oceanside and gorgeous sunsets on the sound side.

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, especially during high blueberry picking season and the NC Blueberry Festival in June.

Read More: Map of Topsail Island and Nearby Places (200+ Great Attractions Listed!)

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)

a shredded chicken sandwich from B's in Greenville
B’s.

Greenville is home to East Carolina University, great breweries, amazing barbecue at B’s (and other awesome restaurants, too!), and Piratefest in April.

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)

Ribs and other southern comfort food at Southern Smoke

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 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!)

a scenic pier on the Albemarle Sound

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)

Plymouth is bustling with life every June with the annual National 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 on the sights here!

Read More: 7 Wonderful Aquariums in North Carolina and How to Visit them All!

Wayne County (Goldsboro, Mount Olive, and More)

a gray plan named the Spirit of Goldsboro

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 in Eastern NC, and it has 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 hosting an interesting New Year’s tradition called the Pickle Drop.

Wilson County (Wilson and More)

the crazy colorful attractions at Whirligigs

There are more things to do in Wilson beyond the Whirligigs, even though they’re pretty awesome! Spend time at Lake Wilson and find some amazing barbecue at Parker’s or steaks at Beefmastor Inn.

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 places to visit in Eastern NC most appeal to you and which you plan to visit first!

As you explore the area, we know 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 in the comments.

More Things To Do in Eastern North Carolina

We’ve featured Eastern North Carolina in many of our travel guides. Here are a few of them.

2 thoughts on “Eastern North Carolina (and 100+ Awesome Places to Visit)”

  1. I live in Calabash and plan go visit as many of these amazing locations as I can. Have not been to many of them.

    Reply
  2. Moved here in 2018 to columbus co. and have been exploring eastern north carolina. It’s a beautiful state so much to see .

    Reply

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