Last Updated on September 20, 2023
Last Updated on September 20, 2023
After years of living in this state and traveling to all 100 counties, we’ve created a bucket list of unique things to do in North Carolina. Overall, it really is a lot of fun to look back through all the cities and towns we’ve visited, the hikes, the food, and all of the memories we’ve created.
Inside this NC bucket list guide, we’re sharing our favorite places to visit from the mountains to the sea. So buckle up for the best things to do in NC and take notes for your next vacation!
If you’d like to scroll to a specific part of our state, here is how we’ve organized this guide:
- Western North Carolina Things to Do
- Things to Do in North Carolina (Central)
- Things to Do in North Carolina (Eastern)
You can jump ahead to one of the three main sections or keep reading about how to have fun in North Carolina’s westernmost cities, towns, and outdoor spaces.
Whether you’re a new resident, a frequent visitor, or a local, and are wondering, “What are the best things to do near me?” or “What are the best things to do in North Carolina this weekend?” we think this guide will help you out!
You can also visually plan your NC bucket list adventures with our North Carolina Travel Map.
Read More: The North Carolina Bucket List Book
Western North Carolina Things to Do
From the Foothills to the Tennessee border, Western North Carolina is known mainly as “the Mountains” by those lucky enough to visit. It includes Asheville and the very popular High Country, but you have to keep coming back to explore the rest of this region.
You may think we forgot about Nantahala National Forest and Pisgah National Forest, but remember that many things to do in North Carolina’s mountains lie within those public lands.
Without further ado, here are the best things to do in NC’s westernmost cities, towns, and landmarks. This list will help you jump ahead, but you can always keep reading about each attraction from the beginning to the end.
- Mountain Towns
- The Appalachian Trail
- Apple Orchards
- Ashe County Cheese
- Asheville River Arts District
- Biltmore Estate
- The Blue Ridge Parkway
- The Carl Sandburg Home
- Chimney Rock
- Christmas Tree Farms
- Clingmans Dome Observation Tower
- DuPont State Recreational Forest
- Earl Scruggs Center
- Fields of the Wood
- Fontana Lake and Fontana Dam
- Grandfather Mountain
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park (the NC Side)
- Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
- Henry River Mill Village
- The High Country
- Hot Springs Resort
- Lake Lure
- The Land of Oz
- Lexington Style Barbecue
- Linville Caverns
- Linville Gorge Wilderness Area
- Mast General Store
- Mount Mitchell and the Black Mountains
- Museum of the Cherokee Indian
- The Omni Grove Park Inn
- Road to Nowhere
- The Shadow of the Bear
- Ski Resorts
- Stone Mountain State Park
- The Switzerland Inn
- Western North Carolina Waterfalls (Hikes and Roadside)
- Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster
The best things to do in North Carolina’s mountains require time spent in our wonderful mountain towns. We may mention a few of them in more detail below, but here are some of our favorites:
From here on out, these Western North Carolina things to do will be alphabetically ordered.
The Appalachian Trail
One of the most challenging, rewarding, and unique experiences in NC is hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT). The AT runs 2,181 miles in 13 other states, but the highest mountains and most beautiful views await in North Carolina’s 95.7-mile portion.
You can also pick and choose day hikes at any of these major AT spots in North Carolina:
- Max Patch along the North Carolina-Tennessee border in Madison County.
- Wayah Bald Tower and Wesser Bald Fire Tower in Franklin, Macon County.
- Roan Mountain along the NC-TN border, near Bakersville in Mitchell County and Burnsville in Yancey County.
- Fontana Dam in Graham County. You can cross this landmark like Bill Bryson (and Robert Redford) did in A Walk in the Woods. We’ll share more about this NC attraction shortly.
Apple picking in North Carolina picks up in late summer around the end of August through most of September. The NC Apple Festival in Hendersonville showcases the area’s apple orchards and is a great Labor Day tradition.
There are wonderful orchards throughout western NC and we’ve featured them here.
Ashe County Cheese
One of the best North Carolina attractions (and the first we’ll mention) is the ever-so-famous Ashe County Cheese in West Jefferson.
A retail shop opens for your perusing eyes, and at the factory across the street, you can watch them make cheese at specific times each week!
Read More: Places to Visit in the High Country
Asheville River Arts District
Inside Asheville’s River Arts District (RAD), more than 200 artists work in former industrial buildings, providing visitors with various mediums to experience in one place. You can tour the district or walk around on your own.
There are some cool breweries in RAD too, including New Belgium and Wedge.
Read More: Airbnbs in Asheville
The Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway headlines a wonderful collection of scenic roads in our state. Driving the 252 miles of Parkway that we share with Virginia is one of those mandatory things to do in North Carolina if you’re keeping a bucket list like us.
From its entrance into North Carolina around Cumberland Knob to its southern terminus just outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance, there are innumerable stops along the way.
Some of our favorites include the following in ascending order of milepost (MP):
- Cumberland Knob (MP 217)
- Moses H Cone Memorial Park (MP 294)
- Rough Ridge Trailhead (MP 302)
- Linn Cove Viaduct (MP 304)
- Linville Falls (MP 316)
- Little Switzerland (MP 333)
- Crabtree Falls Trailhead (MP 339)
- Craggy Gardens (MP 364)
- Devil’s Courthouse (MP 422)
- Waterrock Knob (451)
Read More: Blue Ridge Parkway Hikes
The Carl Sandburg Home
Flat Rock in Henderson County is south of Hendersonville and home to some of the area’s best restaurants. It’s also known for the Carl Sandburg Home, a National Parks site that honors the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and his final home.
Tour the home and hike five miles of trails around the residence. Don’t forget to visit the dairy barn that houses Lilian Sandburg’s famed dairy goats.
Read More: Hendersonville Restaurants
Hiking (or taking an elevator) to the famed Chimney Rock is one of the most iconic places to visit in North Carolina. You can look down at Lake Lure and the Hickory Nut Gorge from the top.
You can keep going from there and check out more views of the Gorge from the Opera Box, Exclamation Point, and eventually the top of Hickory Nut Falls. Of course, a hike to the bottom of that 404-foot waterfall is absolutely necessary, too!
The Chimney Rock access is a rare State Parks site where admission is charged, but it goes toward the wonderful cause of maintaining the trails and keeping up the park.
Christmas Tree Farms
You can find Fraser Firs and other varieties throughout Watauga and other neighboring counties. Still, Ashe County is the largest producer of Christmas trees in the US and during the holidays.
Frosty’s is one of our favorite Christmas tree farms in North Carolina, with tons to choose from!
Read More: Winter in North Carolina
Clingmans Dome Observation Tower
Clingmans Dome is a mountain that hugs the North Carolina-Tennessee border and is part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The Clingmans Dome Observation Tower sits on the North Carolina side, offers bucket list-worthy views, and rightfully attracts hordes of visitors every year.
Read More: National Parks Sites in North Carolina
DuPont State Recreational Forest
This amazing place is shared by Transylvania and Henderson counties. It’s one of the most beautiful tourist attractions in NC.
Of course, many of our favorite waterfalls are here, including:
Read More: Hiking in Hendersonville
Earl Scruggs Center
We think Cleveland County deserves some of your time while exploring Western North Carolina, too! Head there and hang out around the home of Earl Scruggs.
His memory lives on forever at the Earl Scruggs Center, and visiting that place is a must on your NC Bucket List!
Read More: Things to Do in Shelby and Cleveland County
Fields of the Wood
Murphy sits on the western end of US-64 in North Carolina and is known for more than starting the drive from “Murphy to Manteo.”
Fields of the Wood is a massive representation of the 10 Commandments. Regardless of your religious views, visiting this place is one of the most interesting NC tourist attractions.
Fontana Lake and Fontana Dam
Not far from Cherokee and Bryson City, Fontana Lake (the largest lake in Western NC) is Swain County. You can rent a boat and ride on the lake throughout the year.
Construction on the dam began in 1942 and was completed in 1944. You can reach it via the Indian Lakes Scenic Byway that eventually merges with the famed Tail of the Dragon.
When you say “Grandfather Mountain” to someone, you might be referring to just the mountain, the non-profit tourist attraction with the mile-high swinging bridge, or the state park.
Of course, you should visit its mile-high swinging bridge, which requires entering the non-profit tourist attraction side. On the state park side, trails range from easy to difficult.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park (the NC Side)
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most visited national park, and half of its 522,427 acres reside in North Carolina. The southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway meets the park, where you might happen upon elk making their daily walk through the Oconaluftee Valley.
Some of North Carolina’s most beautiful waterfalls and hikes await in and around the Smokies. One shining example is the Deep Creek Trail, which will take you to three beautiful named falls.
A host of other sights await on our side of the Smokies, and we hope you add it to your NC bucket list.
Read More: Blue Ridge Parkway Hikes
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad is an amazing reason to visit Bryson City, especially in winter when they’re running the Polar Express.
That popular ride is one of the best things to do in North Carolina. Holiday magic takes over the attraction, as the 75-minute train ride reenacts the classic story.
Read More: Lakeview at Fontana
Henry River Mill Village
We mentioned The Hunger Games earlier but thought you should know about the Henry River Mill Village in Burke County, too. This once-abandoned planned mill community near Hickory served as the movie’s location for District 12 filming scenes.
Read More: Amazing Restaurants in Hickory
The High Country
- Glen Burney Trail
- The Summit Trail at Elk Knob State Park
- Boone Fork Trail (home to Hebron Falls aka Boone Fork Falls)
- The Flat Top Tower hike at Moses Cone Memorial Park
We think a visit to Blowing Rock should be on anyone’s bucket list of things to do in North Carolina. Many folks come to stay at Chetola Resort, to see The Blowing Rock, and to ride Tweetsie Railroad, but there are plenty more fun things to do in this awesome mountain town.
Read More: Day Trips from Boone
Hot Springs Resort
A visit to Hot Springs for its hot mineral springs is one of the healthiest places to visit in North Carolina. Tourists have long been traveling from all over to soak in the waters, and it’s time for you to join the fun.
Have the time of your life, and remember that no one puts Baby in a corner! Most folks know Lake Lure for its role as a backdrop for Dirty Dancing.
Filmmakers sought it out for the beauty that you’ll find when arriving in this wonderful town.
You can get out on the water with a boat tour or kick back and relax on the beach. A walk around the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge is wonderful throughout the year, thanks to the tireless work of its volunteers.
Of course, you can always experience movie-inspired dance, music, arts and attempt the famous lake lift at Lake Lure’s Dirty Dancing Festival.
That event is typically held in September.
The Land of Oz
The Land of Oz was once a Wizard of Oz-themed park in Beech Mountain. During special events held at the Land of Oz, visitors today can still follow the yellow brick road and visit with their favorite characters along the way.
It is currently only open on special occasions like Autumn at Oz.
Read More: 18 Unique Luxury Resorts in North Carolina
Lexington Style Barbecue
Barbecue is a sensitive topic in North Carolina, especially when you’re debating Lexington-style versus Eastern-style. We won’t tell you our favorite and will stick to the facts here.
Standard Lexington-style uses only the pork shoulder smoked long and slow over hickory until it is fall-apart tender. Basted with a “dip” of tomato, vinegar, and perhaps some spice, the smoked meat is traditionally served with a slaw also containing tomato, making it red.
Bar-B-Q Center in Lexington is where we’d start, but you can find Lexington-style barbecue in many places. Shelby is one great example, with Alston Bridges and Red Bridges standing out as two of the best.
Linville Caverns is one of the most unique things to do in North Carolina, thanks to the attraction’s current status as NC’s only caverns available to tour. Hosting tours since 1937, this remains one of our oldest (and most popular) places to visit.
30 tours per day are offered on a first-come, first-served basis, but we highly recommend you arrive early to beat the crowds.
Linville Gorge Wilderness Area
Linville Falls is the most popular waterfall in North Carolina and the first outdoor spot that we’ll mention in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area.
From there, you can venture up to Wiseman’s View, which is totally worth the rocky drive. We’ve made it up in a four-door sedan, but an SUV might get up there easier.
If you’ve never tried livermush, put a plate of it on your North Carolina bucket list, 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.
Order it “split and dropped,” and hopefully, the cooks in the back will know that this is the best way to serve up that livermush.
Mast General Store
There are Mast General Stores scattered throughout North Carolina and even in neighboring states, with an REI/general store kind of vibe.
Any time we’re in Boone or elsewhere in Western NC, Mast is usually on our minds for a hiking shirt or accessory that we “need.”
All of these stores have earned our approval, but you have to visit the original in Valle Crucis. It’s well-known for its collection of just about everything, moon pies, and an inviting back porch.
Read More: Why and How to Support Local Businesses
Mount Mitchell and the Black Mountains
Mount Mitchell is the tallest mountain east of the Rockies, but that’s not the only reason it should make your list of places to visit in NC.
Museum of the Cherokee Indian
Head into Cherokee and check out the town, which is full of history and lots of outdoor adventure. Learn more about the people and the history of the area here. The Museum of the Cherokee Indian is one great place to start.
Witness the retelling of 11,000-plus years of history here. With multiple permanent and rotating exhibits, this building is one you should visit if you want to find a “Model for Museums.”
The Omni Grove Park Inn
The Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville is worthy of this NC Bucket List for various reasons.
A stay here is one of the most luxurious North Carolina attractions.
This home within a hotel offers comfy rooms, excellent service, and views that you’ll never grow tired of admiring.
You can also pamper yourself at the subterranean spa with some time in the pools, the saunas, or with one of their many treatment options. Of course, we can’t leave out the delicious meals that await at the property’s multiple fine dining establishments, including the Sunset Terrace.
Road to Nowhere
Today, the Road to Nowhere is a tourist destination, but its intriguing past is also worth noting. In the 1930s, the Federal Government built the dam to create Fontana Lake
That meant the nearby communities lying at the bottom of the lake were displaced.
Today, the “Road” officially ends at a quarter-mile tunnel known as The Road to Nowhere. You can walk through it and beyond if you’re ready for a long trek.
Read More: Facts About North Carolina
The Shadow of the Bear
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.
Skiing and Snow Tubing
Most of them are nestled in the High Country or further west in the mountains around Asheville. Regardless of where you’re headed, grab your snow bibs and mittens and get ready for an adventure on our snow-covered slopes.
Read More: Things to Do in Banner Elk
Stone Mountain State Park
Stone Mountain State Park (near Elkin) is a great place to hike and is shared by Wilkes and Alleghany counties. Many folks come here to climb Stone Mountain itself, to check out the namesake 200-foot Stone Mountain Falls, or to admire and have a dip at Widow’s Creek Falls.
The Switzerland Inn
This place has it all, including beautiful views, amazing food, and cozy rooms.
The Little Switzerland General Store down the road serves up some of the finest barbecue in Western North Carolina that you’ll find.
Read More: Independent Bookstores in North Carolina
It is always fun watching the cowboys and train robbers duke it out. No spoilers!
Of course, you can’t miss Tweetsie Christmas, one of the most popular North Carolina attractions during the holidays.
Western North Carolina Waterfalls (Hikes and Roadside)
We’ve already mentioned a few of our favorite waterfalls but want to share more that should rank high on your bucket list of things to do in North Carolina.
Some of our favorite waterfalls sit near Brevard and include:
- Looking Glass Falls
- Moore Cove Falls
- Rainbow Falls and Turtleback Falls
- Schoolhouse Falls
- Silver Run Falls
- Sliding Rock Falls
- Soco Falls
- Upper Whitewater Falls
Drive between Franklin and Highlands along the Waterfall Byway, and you’ll want to stop at one or more of the following awesome waterfalls:
- Cullasaja Falls
- Bust Your Butt Falls
- Dry Falls
- Bridal Veil Falls (not the one inside DuPont State Forest)
Here are some of our favorites in ABC order:
- Carter Falls in Elkin
- Elk River Falls near Banner Elk
- High Shoals Falls in South Mountains State Park (near Morganton)
- Linville Falls in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area
- Lower Cascades Falls in Hanging Rock State Park
- Otter Falls near Banner Elk
- Widow’s Creek Falls in Stone Mountain State Park
Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster
Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster in Banner Elk is easily one of our favorite places to visit in Western NC, no matter the time of year! This amazing High Country attraction brings in people from all over to experience one of NC‘s most thrilling rides.
Central North Carolina Things to Do
With all that going on in one area, it was tough to narrow it down. But we did our best to bring the best things to do in North Carolina’s center, all worthy of our NC Bucket List.
This list will help you scroll ahead, but you can always keep reading about each Central NC attraction from the beginning to the end.
- Black Wall Street in Durham
- Carolina Balloonfest
- Carolina Renaissance Festival
- Carolina Tiger Rescue
- Carowinds Amusement Park
- Cat’s Cradle
- Charlotte by Light Rail
- Charlotte Motor Speedway
- Crowders Mountain State Park
- Dorothea Dix Park
- Duke-Carolina (or Carolina-Duke)
- Guilford Courthouse National Military Park
- Hanging Rock State Park
- Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve
- International Civil Rights Center
- Lake Norman
- McAdenville (Christmas Town USA)
- The NC Chinese Lantern Festival
- The NC Music Hall of Fame
- The NC State Fair
- The NC Zoo
- Old Salem
- Pilot Mountain and Mount Airy
- Pinehurst Resort
- Raleigh Museums
- Reed Gold Mine
- Southern Grace Distillery
- Umstead State Park Chainsaw Art
- US National Whitewater Center
- Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve
- Yadkin Valley Wineries
- Yates Mill County Park
Read More: Small Towns in North Carolina
Black Wall Street in Durham
Parish St and its surroundings in Durham were once known as Black Wall Street. It was a huge hub of African-American entrepreneurship and one of the most important places to learn about Black history in North Carolina.
Today, you can walk around and read about its place in history, thanks to a marker at the corner of Parrish and Mangum streets.
We think BalloonFest is a spectacular event, but you can take a balloon ride throughout the year if your schedule doesn’t line up. Going up is one of the most fun and unique things to do in Statesville!
Carolina Renaissance Festival
You can enjoy Huntersville year-round, but the Carolina Renaissance Festival makes it one of our favorite places to visit in North Carolina during fall. Nearly 1,000 artists fill a 25-acre village, along with music, theater, food and drinks, and even more.
Popular events include tournament Jousting, falconry demos, and a Living Mermaid exhibit!
Read More: Day Trips from Charlotte
Carolina Tiger Rescue
Carolina Tiger Rescue in Pittsboro is a wonderful and very important place. The 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.
Carowinds Amusement Park
We still count it among our favorite NC attractions, though. Sorry not sorry, South Carolina.
Border disputes aside, Carowinds hosts multiple world-class rollercoasters, one of the world’s largest water parks (Carolina Harbor), interactive play areas, live entertainment, special events, and much more!
There are bigger music venues in North Carolina but Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro is a hard one to beat. The 750-person capacity venue offers a more intimate setting, something we prefer to distant arenas and amphitheaters.
Over the years, Cat’s Cradle brought in some major acts over the years, including Nirvana, Public Enemy, Iggy Pop, and many more. Step inside and you’ll see why this place belongs on your NC Bucket List.
Charlotte by Light Rail
Uptown Charlotte is the place for Hornets games and meals at the always-fun 7th Street Public Market. It’s also a great spot to stay, and we’ve enjoyed multiple nights at both the Hilton Charlotte Center City and also the Dunhill Hotel.
Some other fun things to do in Charlotte include exploring NoDa, Southend, and more of the city’s awesome neighborhoods. Thanks to the LYNX Light Rail, you can do that without having to drive around and search for a parking spot.
People in the know will tell you to park at UNC Charlotte and take the train into Uptown and elsewhere from there.
Charlotte Motor Speedway
In a word, Charlotte Motor Speedway is massive. A visit to any of the races here is among the most exciting things to do in North Carolina.
Inside the main Speedway, you’ll find the 1.5-mile quad Oval, the .25 mile Short Oval, and the 2.28-mile road course (Roval). Across US 29 is zMax Dragway and the Dirt Track.
Read More: Restaurants in Concord and Cabarrus County
Crowders Mountain State Park
Gaston County sits on the western edge of Central North Carolina between Cleveland and Mecklenburg counties. It’s home to Gastonia (county seat) and surrounding towns like Belmont, Dallas, and others.
Crowders Mountain State Park is one of the most popular places to go, especially for views of the Charlotte skyline on clear days.
Read More: Things to Do in Gastonia and Gaston County
Dorothea Dix Park
It’s not far from NC State University and Pullen Park, another of our favorite things to do in NC’s capital city. When summer is flexing its muscles, head to Dix Park for a gorgeous sunflower display.
Read More: Things to Do with Kids in Raleigh
Duke-Carolina (or Carolina-Duke)
Even if you’re not a college basketball fan, this is one ticket you should try to buy at least once in your life.
Apologies to all the other institutions in North Carolina, but the two regular-season games (and sometimes the one ACC tournament game) between the Blue Devils and Tar Heels are like the World Series and Super Bowl rolled into an evening.
Tickets at either Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham or the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill go quickly, even when the two teams aren’t at the top of their games. My best advice is to befriend an alum and hope they get word of available tickets.
Guilford Courthouse National Military Park
It’s the site of an important Revolutionary War Battle, an awesome national parks site, and a great spot to stretch your legs in Gate City.
Hanging Rock State Park
Hanging Rock State Park isn’t too far from Piedmont Triad cities like Winston-Salem and Greensboro. We call it our favorite mountain away from the mountains, thanks to its relatively eastern location.
Read More: Hiking Trails in North Carolina
Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve
With a rare collection of Eastern Hemlock trees that you’ll normally find in our mountains, this is for sure one of the unique things to do in North Carolina.
Read More: Airbnbs in Raleigh
International Civil Rights Center
The famous Woolworth Sit-ins happened here and launched a movement of young African-Americans fighting to desegregate establishments throughout the south.
Lake Norman is one of the most popular getaways for Charlotte residents, and rightly so. People in Statesville, Troutman, Mooresville, and elsewhere in Iredell County are lucky to claim much of North Carolina’s largest artificial lake.
Speaking of Mooresville, you really need to visit downtown and just walk around before exploring all the other things to do in and around town.
McAdenville (Christmas Town USA)
It’s one of our favorite collections of Christmas lights in North Carolina for a reason, and all one of the most interesting North Carolina attractions.
Read More: December in North Carolina
The NC Chinese Lantern Festival
This is an awesome event held each winter and is one of those unique things to do in North Carolina. To prepare for the festival, 25 Chinese artisans from Chicago-based Tianyu Arts & Culture hand-assemble each beautiful lantern.
The NC Music Hall of Fame
You’ll learn about the stories and backgrounds of the bands and musicians from North Carolina that are enshrined there.
The NC State Fair
The North Carolina State Fair typically kicks off in Raleigh on an October day and runs for about a week and a half. It’s our state’s biggest agricultural fair, with almost too many options to name. There are agricultural exhibits, competitions, and entertainment galore.
You’ll definitely want to come for the fireworks and all the rides, including the State Fair Flyer. We didn’t even mention the food, with tastes out of this world but provided by local vendors.
Read More: Fall in North Carolina
The NC Zoo
It’s a massive place and especially worth a visit if you’re bringing little ones along.
Read More: Things to Do in Asheboro and Randolph County
Chow down on Moravian cookies and harken back to the times before Winston and Old Salem combined to make one amazing Dash City. You can walk around the historic town for free or pay admission and step inside them for a closer look.
One can easily spend a day visiting the various shops, historic buildings, gardens, and everything else that makes up the place.
One of the tastiest things to do in North Carolina is to eat at Old Salem. Winkler Bakery is the way to go for some delicious Moravian cookies, bread, or both.
Read More: Things to Do in Winston-Salem
Pilot Mountain and Mount Airy
Pilot Mountain stands on its own as an awesome state park, but it’s largely associated with the Surry County town of Mount Airy. Pilot Mountain State Park 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.
And speaking of Mount Airy, we know time-traveling back to Mayberry might already be on your bucket list of places to visit in NC, but you’d yell at us if we left Mount Airy out.
Read More: North Carolina State Parks Sites
A visit to Pinehurst Resort is one of the best things to do in NC’s Sandhills that we’ll mention.
This iconic resort in Pinehurst has hosted several prestigious golf tournaments, including multiple US Open Championships, the US Women’s Open, the PGA Championship, and the Ryder Cup.
Among its nine 18-hole golf courses, Pinehurst No. 2 is the best known.
Of course, there’s more to do here beyond golf. While staying at Pinehurst Resort, you can enjoy spa treatments, take in views from their wide verandas, and relax in luxurious rooms.
Read More: Day Trips from Durham
Raleigh is home to some of our favorite museums, including the Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural Sciences. Of course, there’s also the African American Cultural Complex, which houses a unique collection of artifacts and documents.
And we can’t forget about the ahead-of-the-game art and innovative experiences that await as you stroll through the Contemporary Art Museum of Raleigh (CAM).
Finally, across from the Museum of Natural Sciences is the North Carolina Museum of History. Here, you’ll find the “Story of North Carolina” that covers prehistory to today.
The NC Sports Hall of Fame is inside this building and recognizes inductees Michael Jordan, Richard Petty, and more legendary figures.
Reed Gold Mine
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, Cabarrus County.
This is the site of America’s first documented commercial gold find. Today, there’s a visitor’s center with exhibits documenting the gold rush’s history and displaying mining equipment.
For just a few dollars, you can pan for gold. If you’re lucky, you might just take something shiny home!
While in Winston-Salem, imagine life in luxury at the city’s wealthiest home, Reynolda. It was designed by Katharine Reynolds and featured along with these awesome women-owned businesses in Winston-Salem.
Today, it’s an art museum and is open to the public. You can also walk around Reynolda Gardens, one of our favorite outdoor activities in the city.
Read More: Museums in Winston-Salem
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.
Southern Grace Distillery
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.
This place should be one of the first distilleries you should visit!
In December, visitors can peruse 2,500 ornaments when the Holiday Ornament Sale kicks off. These pieces are all produced by local artists, so you’ll be supporting the area while also filling your home with something beautiful.
Read More: The Best Pumpkin Patches in North Carolina
Umstead State Park Chainsaw Art
The lengthy Sycamore Trail and the scenic Company Mill Trail are two of our favorites at Umstead. However, we think the awesome chainsaw art awaits along the Multi-Use trails should be the first thing you search for here.
Read More: Hiking near Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill
Hang out in Chapel Hill and grab some food at Time Out, one of the other fun places to eat on Franklin Street, or more next door in Carrboro.
The Campus of UNC-Chapel Hill itself is very nice, so please do yourself a favor and walk through it. It’s one of our favorite things to do, though there’s plenty more to explore away from campus.
US National Whitewater Center
One of the most popular outdoor things to do in NC’s largest city Charlotte is to visit the US National Whitewater Center.
The center is on the raging Catawba River and has whitewater rafting, kayaking, canoeing, rock climbing, mountain biking, zip-lining, and hiking.
You can also just relax with a meal at River’s Edge, brew at the Pump House Biergarten, or picnic in one of the many open areas. One big event there that we must mention is the Green River Revival which happens around St Patrick’s Day each year.
Read More: Outdoor Things to Do in Charlotte
Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve
A series of great trails interweave with one another around the main Weymouth Tract, one of three preserved by the park.
The other two tracts include Paint Hill and Boyd. At the latter, the Round Timber Trail will take you past the oldest known living longleaf pine tree.
Yadkin Valley Wineries
It is the first federally approved American Viticultural Area (AVA) ideal for growing exceptional grapes.
Today, it covers 7 counties and hosts dozens of amazing wineries. We don’t want to play favorites, but a few of them include the following:
- Elkin Creek
- Jones von Drehle
Those three are part of the Surry County Wine Trail, which holds about 20 of the area’s wineries. An additional one (Grassy Creek in Elkin) offers amazing wine and serves as a trailhead that eventually leads to Carter Falls.
Yates Mill County Park
Historic Yates Mill County Park sits just 5 miles south of downtown Raleigh and is one of 70 mills in Wake County. However, it’s the last that’s still operable.
Today, you can walk the 174 acres of the park around the lake and join one of the mill’s guided tours. Yes, you can watch as they grind corn right in front of you.
Read More: Free Things to Do in Raleigh
Eastern North Carolina Things to Do
Last but not least, we’ve arrived in Eastern North Carolina.
This list will help you jump ahead, but you can always keep reading about things to do in North Carolina’s easternmost reaches from the beginning to the end.
- Coastal Towns
- The Beaches
- Ava Gardner Museum
- Battleship North Carolina
- Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament
- Calabash Seafood
- Carolina Bays
- Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station
- Croatan National Forest
- Duplin Winery
- Eastern-Style Barbecue
- Fort Fisher State Historic Site
- Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
- Halifax Resolves
- Hammocks Beach State Park
- Jockey’s Ridge State Park
- The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center
- Lake Mattamuskeet
- Lejeune Memorial Gardens
- Mike’s Farm
- Mount Olive Pickle Drop
- NC Aquariums
- The Pepsi Store
- Portsmouth Island
- Roanoke River Lighthouse
- Rocky Mount Mills
- Springer’s Point
- Sylvan Heights Bird Park
- Tryon Palace
- US Army Airborne and Special Operations Museum
- Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park
- Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum
- Weeping Radish Brewery
- Wild Horses
- Wright Brothers National Memorial
Note: If you think we missed a place or left something out that’s close to your heart, check our guide that covers Places to Visit in Eastern North Carolina.
We’re biased but our coastal towns measure up against any others in the world. Famous pirates and revolutionaries passed through but today, these towns are much tamer and more welcoming.
Many folks have one thing in mind when mentioning Eastern North Carolina: the beach. Of course, a visit to one of our beaches is a wonderful opportunity for a new adventure throughout much of the year.
And there are hundreds of miles of beaches that await. They surround our many coastal towns or sit fairly isolated, accessible only via 4WD or even boat.
Here are our favorites that belong on your NC Bucket List:
There are seven coastal lighthouses in North Carolina, each distinct outward appearance meant to help sailors. For folks who’ve never visited, seeing these picturesque lighthouses is one of the most fun things to do in North Carolina.
Here they are from north to south:
- Currituck Beach Lighthouse
- Bodie Island Lighthouse
- Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
- Ocracoke Lighthouse
- Cape Lookout Lighthouse
- Old Baldy Lighthouse (also known as Bald Head Island Lighthouse)
- Oak Island Lighthouse
Ava Gardner Museum
Head to Johnston County and check out the Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield. It’s a true tribute to one of Hollywood’s most famous actresses who just happened to be born in JoCo (Grabtown).
Bath is North Carolina’s oldest town and is about 20 minutes from Washington. You can take tours of the town and visit St. Thomas Church, North Carolina’s oldest-standing Episcopal Church.
Read More: Goose Creek State Park
Battleship North Carolina
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 visit it each day.
Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament
You can join the fun and watch the weigh-ins, or just grab a seat at a local restaurant and watch the massive boats pass through.
This small fishing town along the Calabash River is now known as the “Seafood Capital of the World.” Featuring lightly battered and deep-fried seafood, over 1.25 million diners have flocked to these restaurants.
And just how did this small fishing community reach this fame? Jimmy Durante, a national radio talk host, let the secret out by making Calabash his signature sign-off. “Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are,” he would say.
Carolina Bays are found throughout many parts along the east coast and are believed to have formed following meteor showers a long time ago.
Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station
You’ll come upon the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station while driving through Rodanthe on the Outer Banks Scenic Byway. This museum commemorates the first life-saving station along North Carolina’s coast, commissioned in late 1874.
At Chicamacomico, you can also learn about America’s only life-saving station crewed by African-Americans.
Croatan National Forest
Croatan National Forest (near New Bern) is home to 160,000 pine forests, saltwater estuaries, raised swamps, and more diverse ecosystems. It’s the “only true coastal forest in the East” and is defined by the Bogue Sound and tidal rivers.
There are quite a few nice watery spots and beaches, including Flanners Beach and Pine Cliff.
Enjoy a tour or lunch from The Bistro from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm on the days that the winery is open. The Bistro offers daily lunch specials and has many offerings, such as gourmet soups and salads, sandwiches, and more.
Read More: Things to Do in Duplin County
For the vinegar-based yumminess that is Eastern-Style Barbecue, there are plenty of places to visit. Greenville (B’s) and Ayden (Bum’s) in Pitt County are home to two of the best.
You’ll find great Eastern barbecue in Wilson (Parker’s), Kinston (King’s), Goldsboro (Grady’s and Wilber’s), and elsewhere between Raleigh and the coast.
Read More: Things to Do in Greenville
Fort Fisher State Historic Site
A visit to Fort Fisher State Historic Site is one of the best NC attractions for Civil War history lovers. This was the site of the largest amphibious assault of the Civil War, and you can learn all about it inside the Visitor’s Center.
Incredible exhibits detail the two Civil War battles that happened here. You can also learn about Wilmington’s place in history beyond the war.
Of course, you need to walk around the site because it’s amazing to see in person. Across the street is a huge stretch of beach and walking trails that are perfect throughout the year.
Read More: Beaches near Wilmington
Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
Those wrecks are how the area earned its nickname, Graveyard of the Atlantic. Exhibits touch upon maritime culture, history, wars, ghost ships, and more.
Halifax County seat Halifax is known for the “Halifax Resolves,” a North Carolina-based Declaration of Independence that predated the Continental Congress’s version by three months.
You can visit the state historic site today and learn about this event and more about the area.
Read More: Medoc Mountain State Park
Hammocks Beach State Park
Having a couple of hours on the Intracoastal Waterway and Queen’s Creek were among the most peaceful I’ve ever experienced. Walking around Bear Island was one of my all-time favorite things to do in North Carolina.
Jockey’s Ridge State Park
North Carolina officially designated it as a state park in 1975, not long after the dunes were in danger of being destroyed. Thankfully, we can all enjoy it today.
The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center
Visit the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center and you’ll be experiencing one of the most earth-friendly places to visit in North Carolina. This volunteer-run non-profit rescues and cares for sea turtles, with the hopes of releasing them back into the wild.
You are welcome to visit from June through December, and tours provide a valuable educational experience for ocean lovers of all ages.
Lake Mattamuskeet is North Carolina’s largest natural lake and is managed as a National Wildlife Refuge. Many waterfowl spend winter here, including various duck, geese, and swan species.
Lejeune Memorial Gardens
Tributes include the Beirut Memorial, 9/11 Memorial Beam, a Vietnam Memorial, and Montford Point Marine Memorial. Drive through Downtown toward the New River, and you’ll see Freedom Fountain next to City Hall. It honors everyone who has served and is currently serving in all branches of our military.
50 water jets recognize each state and three flag and fountain jets feature our local, state, and federal governments. On most nights, the fountain is lit up with red, white, and blue.
Start your Christmas season with a trip to Mike’s Farm in Back Swamp (Beulaville). Catch one of their dinner shows, visit one of their many annual events, or just stop by the bakery for some delicious baked goods and fudge.
Read More: Christmas in North Carolina
Mount Olive Pickle Drop
When most people are singing Auld Lang Sang, you can count down the new year and watch the Pickle Drop in Mount Olive at the stroke of midnight on December 31.
Read More: Things to Do in Goldsboro and Wayne County
One of the most popular tourist attractions in North Carolina along the coast is to visit one of our NC Aquariums. Each one offers education, resources for rehabilitation, and research for marine creatures.
They also feature exhibits filled with marine animals commonly found in our waters. Locations include the following:
The Pepsi Store
Its original name was Brad’s Drink, first sold out of a drugstore in New Bern in 1898. A great New Bern restaurant (the Chelsea) sits in the original spot if you’re really searching for the source.
Just down the street, you can visit the Birthplace of Pepsi in New Bern and enjoy a cold one fountain-style with some popcorn.
Read More: Exploring Historic Tryon Palace
A visit to Portsmouth Island (also known as North Core Banks) belongs on anyone’s list of things to do in NC, including ours. The uninhabited island sits across Ocracoke Inlet from Ocracoke Island and is one of the most beautiful places in North Carolina.
A once-inhabited village here predates many of the Outer Banks towns we know today. Previously an important shipping hub, nobody lives on Portsmouth Island today.
However, the uninhabited island is protected by the National Parks Service as part of Cape Lookout National Seashore. We’ve been lucky enough to visit this wonderful place and hope you can, too!
Roanoke River Lighthouse
This was the first permanent European settlement of North Carolina, its second permanent capital, and the third oldest town.
The Roanoke River Lighthouse is a screw-pile lighthouse, distinct from traditional straight-pile lighthouses. A screw-pile lighthouse is one that resides on sandy or muddy river bottoms, and they are made of hexagonal wooden buildings and a cupola for viewing.
Rocky Mount Mills
Rocky Mount is shared by Edgecombe and Nash counties, but more of it sits in the latter. This Tar River-adjacent city is home to many historic places, and Rocky Mount Mills is one of them.
Read More: Things to Do in Rocky Mount
Springer’s Point is a well-maintained coastal preserve on Ocracoke Island. A short trail will take you through sandy woods before you eventually reach a serene sound-front beach.
Interestingly, this beach is met by waters where the world’s most famous pirate—Blackbeard—was killed.
Sylvan Heights Bird Park
Visit Sylvan Heights Bird Park in Scotland Neck to look at the world’s biggest collection of endangered and rare waterfowl.
2,000 exotic bird species from all corners of the world await, including ducks, geese, parrots, flamingos, and more. The aviaries are continentally themed, and interactive experiences include parakeets and flamingo feedings in the Landing Zone exhibit.
Tryon Palace is one of North Carolina‘s best-known historic homes and a major part of North Carolina history. Locals have put in years of hard work to restore and manage the palace.
It was originally built as the Governor’s Palace William Tryon to serve as the first permanent capitol building of the Colony of North Carolina.
Today, visitors can learn about the Palace and a variety of other historic buildings nearby through a series of tours organized by the Tryon Palace Foundation.
US Army Airborne and Special Operations Museum
The US Army Airborne & Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville is a tribute to the history of airborne and special operations from the 1940s to current units with well-designed, interactive exhibits and memorabilia.
Greeting you at the entrance is Iron Mike, the 3,235-pound statue dedicated to all past, present, and future paratroopers.
Do not miss Veterans Park’s dog tag chandelier, made of 33,500 tags dedicated to NC veterans. Another place to pause is in front of is the bronze statue of Constant Vigilance, the first memorial for K9 soldiers killed in action.
Read More: Things to Do in Fayetteville
Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park
Marvel at the strange wonders of Wilson’s Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park. It’s truly a fun place just to walk around and stare at the whirligigs as they get blown around by the wind.
The two-acre park features 30 kinetic sculptures created by local farm machinery repairman Vollis Simpson. Along with those 30 whirligigs, there’s a large grass amphitheater and a pavilion for community events.
Read More: Things to Do in Wilson
Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum
Pair your visit to Washington (or Little Washington) with a stop at the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum. Housed in a caboose, the museum’s collection shares the story of enslaved people in the area who sought freedom from slavery.
The site is designated by the National Parks Service’s “Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.”
Weeping Radish Brewery
Why? Because this is North Carolina’s first microbrewery. Uli Bennewitz opened Weeping Radish Brewery in 1986, and his brewery remains as innovative as it was on day one.
Their beer is only brewed with four ingredients: hops, malt, yeast, and water. The restaurant follows the same principles and uses no additives, and supports local North Carolina farmers.
Read More: North Carolina Breweries
When we first visited the Rachel Carson Reserve, we had one thing in mind: finding wild horses.
Of course, that’s not the only place to find them. The Shackleford Banks wild horses might be the best-known in North Carolina.
Along the Outer Banks, there’s also a beautiful collection of wild horses roaming around Corolla and Carova Beach. There are also some ponies in Ocracoke, kept in a pen for their protection by the National Parks Service.
Hopefully, you’ll get to see them in one (or all) of these places someday. Just remember to keep your distance and never feed them.
Read More: How to See Outer Banks Wild Horses
Wright Brothers National Memorial
The site known for “First in Flight” is the last of this guide’s North Carolina attractions. Isn’t that ironic?
Yep, we’re talking about the Wright Brothers National Memorial on the Outer Banks.
Read More: Outer Banks Vacation Rentals
What’s On Your Bucket List of Things to Do in North Carolina?
It was tough for us to narrow down this bucket list of things to do in North Carolina because we know more. Also, we know that you can do some of these things elsewhere, but we think you’ll enjoy yourself a little 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 everything you can do here, especially if you can’t find them anywhere else.
Of all these places to visit in North Carolina, what stands out as your favorite? Got anything you’d like to add to the list? Let us know about it here!
Don’t forget to share your adventures in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group.
More Things to Do in North Carolina Travel Guides
We’ve created many more guides covering these North Carolina things to do and tourist attractions around the state. Here are a few of them: