Last Updated on April 15, 2021
Last Updated on April 15, 2021
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We’ve received lots of requests to create a bucket list of the best things to do in North Carolina from the moment we started NC Tripping. Overall, it really is a lot of fun to look back through all the places we’ve visited, the adventures enjoyed, and the memories we’ve created.
I say this a lot but we are so lucky to live in North Carolina.
Personally, I’m very happy to present you with this guide. Here, we’re sharing our favorite places to visit (both indoors and outdoors), from the mountains to the sea. So buckle up for all the things to do in North Carolina and take notes for your next vacation through this awesome state!
- Top 10 Statewide North Carolina Attractions (#1-#10)
- 109 Things to Do in North Carolina (Western) (#11-#119)
- 88 Things to Do in North Carolina (Central) (#120-#207)
- 98 Things to Do in North Carolina (Eastern) (#208-#305)
- More Things to Do in North Carolina (Related Posts)
We’ve also released a book dedicated to this bucket list.
Things to Do in North Carolina: The Complete NC Bucket List
Organization note: We’ve organized this bucket list alphabetically by the largest city in a particular county, followed by additional bucket list spots in said county.
There are some exceptions, of course, attractions that cross state lines, are better known together (ex. The Outer Banks) or stand out on their own (ex. Cherohala Skyway).
If we missed a place or left something out that’s close to your heart, don’t worry. We’re not done yet. Stay tuned as we continue exploring these (and more) things to do in North Carolina and sharing on our social media channels and on our website.
The Top 10 Statewide North Carolina Attractions
Scenic Road Trips
One of the best ways to enjoy this state is by getting out on the open highway. That’s why we think taking a scenic road trip through North Carolina is a must. Personal favorites start with the Blue Ridge Parkway in Western NC and the Outer Banks Scenic Byway along the furthest reaches along our coast.
Scenic drives through North Carolina are more than just finding things to see. They lead to a lot of the things we’re going to cover in this bucket list.
Water for Us All
(Rivers, Lakes, Waterfalls, and Beaches)
North Carolina is blessed with gorgeous natural features, which were largely shaped by water. All you have to do is look east and to the ocean and Intracoastal waterways that dominate the scene.
Now, look west and remind yourself of the gorgeous mountains, and listen to the waterfalls and rivers that run through them. We’ve created a map of our favorites in case you want to hop in a car and find them now!
Throughout the state, you’ll find river basins that many cities and towns would’ve never started without. With too many individual places to name in this one space, we’ll be giving lots of love to North Carolina’s amazing waters throughout this post.
Hiking from the Mountains to the Sea
Many of these amazing watery spots are accompanied by wonderful hiking trails. We’ve enjoyed many paths along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Appalachian Trail, and just off the Blue Ridge Parkway (Graveyard Fields and Rough Ridge Trail come to mind).
Many of our favorite places to find paths include, in no particular order, Nantahala National Forest, Eno River State Park, Pisgah National Forest, and Hanging Rock State Park. Our guide to hiking in North Carolina shares them and others in more detail.
North Carolina is known for the beauty from the mountains to the sea, but some of our favorite places to visit are its cities. Many folks may know a bit about Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham, and Greensboro, but what about the other busy spots?
These places have drawn commerce and industries to serve them. Of course, there are many local businesses to support in each of these cities. They include bookstores, retail shops, restaurants, and more.
Another reason these cities belong on our bucket list of things to do in North Carolina is all the ways you can enjoy the outdoors in our cities.
Wonderful Small Towns
Our state is filled with some amazing cities, but we think the amazing small towns of North Carolina deserve some spotlight, too. You’ll see a few in each section but their prevalence throughout the state earns them a spot here among the best of the best.
We’ve stumbled upon many small towns while heading elsewhere and others while looking on our map and deciding it was time for a road trip to somewhere new.
Some of our favorites (in no particular order) include the following:
We’ll be sharing more throughout this post, so keep reading!
Local Events and Festivals (All Year)
Whether you living in a big city, small town, or happen to be traveling through North Carolina, we hope you decide to get out and enjoy the numerous local events and festivals that take place throughout the year.
However, a whole host of events will keep you entertained through the depths of Carolina “winter.” We hope you can partake in at least a few, regardless of when you find yourself in North Carolina.
If you want to learn more about our state in an interactive and informative setting, look no further than our amazing museums. You’ll find the highest collection of them in Raleigh but nearly every county and all parts of our state have at least one worth visiting.
We’ve spent time at a lot of museums and think they’re perfect for nearly every age.
A few museums are located in our favorite winter getaways, too!
The BEST Barbecue (Eastern OR Western?)
Debating eastern and western barbecue might be one of our favorite things to do in North Carolina, especially when we meet someone with strong feelings on this subject. Of course, we tend to agree that they all taste pretty good.
Towns in Eastern North Carolina you’ll want to visit for barbecue include Greenville, Ayden, Wilson, Kinston, and Goldsboro. In Central and Western North Carolina, eat barbecue in Lexington (aka Barbecue Capital) and Shelby. Also, we must mention the amazing barbecue found in Little Switzerland and Asheville.
While we might have more famous foods to share in North Carolina, barbecue is the one that you need to come away knowing more about.
North Carolina is packed with sports for all to enjoy. Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord is where you can get your racing fix, but there are race tracks found throughout North Carolina.
Baseball is also big here, from Little League all the way to Triple-A heavyweights like the Durham Bulls and Charlotte Knights.
Of course, College Basketball is North Carolina’s most popular sport and more than Duke-UNC, even if it’s the biggest rivalry. Catch a game at a local pub and enjoy the atmosphere. Better yet, grab a ticket (if you’re lucky) to any of these events and get ready for a true thrill ride.
NC Beer, Wine, and Spirits
Beer-hop North Carolina, which is packed with the most breweries per capita in the South. Yes, you can start in Asheville, but you must explore beyond that awesome Beertopia in Central and Eastern North Carolina.
Here are a few beer scenes that we’ve featured in more detail:
North Carolina’s nearly 200 wineries and 500-plus vineyards are just as diverse. The Yadkin Valley is home to many of our favorites, but in total, there are six American Viticultural Areas to explore.
And finally, you can find some of the tastiest gin, vodka, rum, whiskey, moonshine, and all other applicable spirits in this state. The people behind these establishments take great care in providing excellent products, and we cover some of the best here.
Things to Do in North Carolina by Region
Western North Carolina
From the Foothills to the Tennessee border, Western North Carolina is largely known as “the Mountains” by those of us lucky enough to visit. It includes Asheville and the very popular High Country, but you really have to keep coming back to explore the rest of this region.
Many of the state’s most famous natural landmarks are found here, including the highest point in Eastern North America, Mount Mitchell. While much of this region has seen some commercial development, some remain relatively untouched.
One shining example is Linville Gorge Wilderness Area, within Pisgah National Forest. Here, you’ll encounter terrain tough enough to resist any industrial efforts until the Government protected it.
Today, you can drive through large portions of our mountains, take part in various outdoor recreational activities, and enjoy some of America’s finest scenery.
Asheville and Buncombe County
Visit over 200 artist studios in a 2-mile radius at Asheville’s River Arts District.
And while you’re in Asheville, explore the history of synthesizers at the Moogseum. There’s a factory in town that offers tours, too.
Explore the awesome WNC Nature Center, whether you’re young or young at heart. It’s home to over 60 species of animals that are native to Western North Carolina.
We covered a lot more things to do in Asheville (and beyond) in our guides sharing the best things to do in North Carolina’s biggest mountain town, as well as all these amazing spots for day trips. And if you’re coming from out of town, check out these unique Airbnbs in Asheville!
Banner Elk and Avery County
Banner Elk is the first of a few spots in the High Country (and Avery County) that we’ll mention. It’s a fun little town that’s spread out and well-known for its proximity to skiing, its laid-back atmosphere, and plenty of fun things to do.
Hang out with Alpacas at Banner Elk’s mountaintop Apple Hill Farm. We have and think it will relax even the most stressed-out visitors.
We’re big fans of many spots in Avery County, including the lovely community of Linville, not to be confused with Linville Falls in Burke County. This small community is lively enough, especially during summer when folks come to relax in the mountains.
Each July, it hosts the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, the largest of its kind in North Carolina.
Blowing Rock, Boone, and Watauga County
Choo! Choo! Go back in time on the Tweetsie Railroad, in Blowing Rock between there and Boone. Their Ghost Train in fall is a huge draw but the shows are pretty entertaining throughout the year. I won’t spoil them for you!
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 and see The Blowing Rock, but they also know that this is an awesome small town, home to amazing restaurants, and perfect for any weekend!
Boone is a great place to hang out any weekend, even if you’re not an App State student or alum. It’s packed with shopping options from local businesses, food, and especially, breweries. You can also stay in town at a nice hotel (like the Horton) or at one of these really cool Airbnbs nearby.
You’ll find plenty of hikes (and waterfalls) in the Boone and Blowing Rock area. Our favorites include Glen Burney Trail, Boone Fork, and Flat Top. The latter leads you to a fire tower with epic views of surrounding mountains.
And there are so many places to watch the sunrise in the Mountains, but Rough Ridge is hard to top.
There are Mast General Stores scattered throughout North Carolina and even in neighboring states, 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.
Use Boone as your base and explore all these day trip options that are some of the best things to do in North Carolina!
Brevard and Transylvania County
You must explore the “Land of Waterfalls,” also known as Brevard and its surroundings in and around Transylvania County. Start in downtown Brevard and you’ll enjoy the collection of shops and restaurants that await.
Some of our favorite waterfalls near Brevard include Looking Glass Falls and of course, Sliding Rock. Moore Cove Falls and French Broad Falls (Mill Shoals) are up there on our Brevard NC bucket lists, too.
Scope out Hunger Games scenes in North Carolina, especially from the beautiful Dupont State Recreational Forest. This amazing place is shared by Transylvania and Henderson counties.
Many of our favorite waterfalls are here, including High Falls and Triple Falls.
Gorges State Park sits in Transylvania County, too, and is home to even more waterfalls. The best-known ones include Hidden Falls, Rainbow Falls, Turtleback Falls, and Bearwallow Falls.
For more on this fun area, check out all the fun things to do in Brevard and its Transylvania County surroundings!
Bryson City and Swain County
Kick back with a beer at Nantahala Brewing Company, whose OG location in Bryson City (there’s another in Sylva) is great, especially after hiking nearby.
Over in Cherokee, a walk up the steps to Mingo Falls is one of our favorite things to do in North Carolina. Try to convince us otherwise.
The Museum of the Cherokee Indian is also worth a stop so you can learn more about the town’s namesake people.
Fontana Lake is also in Swain County, the largest lake in Western NC. Fontana Dam, the tallest in Eastern US, is also here.
You’ll drive past some nice views of the lake while heading toward the Road to Nowhere, which is a really cool and eerie place to visit.
Burnsville and Yancey County
We already mentioned Mount Mitchell but thought you should be reminded that it belongs on your bucket list of things to do in North Carolina. After all, it’s the highest point in Eastern North America and sees hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.
Oh, and it’s also located in Yancey County!
Thanks to Mount Mitchell and its surroundings in the Black Mountains, there are some gorgeous hikes in the area. At least a few of them lead to some of our favorite waterfalls. A short walk will get you to Setrock Creek Falls, while a little longer one leads you to Roaring Fork Falls, and a 1.6-mile hike reveals the epic Crabtree Falls (2.5 miles total).
Stop by Town Square in Burnsville and say hi to the Otway Burns statue. He’s an interesting character and surrounding by some fun things to do, including great eats and places to shop.
Connect with the kind folks at the Toe River Arts. There, you can see creations produced by area artists and get tips on participating members to visit in their studios. The organization’s Executive Director joined us to chat about the organization and more during this NC Travel Chat!
We’ve heard they exist in other parts of the state but think you need to search for barn quilts in Yancey County. Because we want to support this local effort, we suggest you pick up a map at the local Chamber of Commerce in Burnsville.
And if you visit on a clear day, please try to visit the Bare Dark Sky Observatory. It’s the largest public telescope in North Carolina and gives visitors a great look into our universe.
Franklin and Macon County
Franklin is the Macon County seat and home to the Scottish Tartans Museum, America’s only extension of the Scottish original.
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
Stop by Lake Sequoya in Highlands and enjoy gorgeous views of the water.
Hang out in Highlands, enjoying shopping and eating in one of our favorite small towns in Western North Carolina.
Hendersonville and Henderson County
Just across the county line from Buncombe County in Henderson County is Mills River, which is where you’ll find Sierra Nevada brewing’s North Carolina location. Inside this massive campus, there’s a huge taproom and even larger outdoor space for families and friends to chill.
Hendersonville is the county seat and home to fun throughout the year. Jump Off Rock and the Apple Valley Model Railroad Museum are just a couple of things worth exploring throughout the year.
If you asked us to narrow it down among the best things to do in Hendersonville, the Apple Festival around Labor Day would be the one. We included it in our guide to apple picking, too.
Flat Rock is south of Hendersonville and also in the county. Here, you can explore the Carl Sandburg Home, where the Pulitzer Prize-winning author lived for the final 22 years of his life.
Tour the home, hike five miles of trails around the residence. And visit the dairy barn that houses Lilian Sandburg’s famed dairy goats.
Speaking of hiking trails, we think you need to check out Bearwallow Mountain, which is within 30 minutes of Hendersonville in the county.
Hickory and Catawba County
Plus, there’s the best-nicknamed team in Minor League Baseball, the Crawdads, that you should check out during the season.
Jefferson and Ashe County
In Ashe County, Mount Jefferson stands tall and offers visitors views of surrounding towns Jefferson and West Jefferson, as well as the mountains of Virginia and Tennessee.
Speaking of West Jefferson, we’re big fans of this small town, especially its arts scene and walkable downtown.
One of the best things to do in North Carolina is to visit 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 during specific times each week!
New River State Park is also in Ashe County, ironically one of the oldest rivers in the US. It’s popular for canoeing, paddling, hiking, and fishing.
Ashe County is also known as 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!
Marion and McDowell County
Marion is the county seat of McDowell County and the Joseph McDowell Historical Catawba Greenway is a nice place to walk along the Catawba River.
Speaking of that river, its headwaters are found at Catawba Falls, McDowell County’s highest waterfall and only a hike away.
Morganton and Burke County
Linville Falls is the most popular waterfall in the Blue Ridge mountains and the first outdoor spot in Burke County that we’ll mention.
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.
Of course, we can’t mention Burke County without discussing Morganton. It’s an awesome place to spend a weekend, and the surrounding towns are also fun to explore.
We mentioned The Hunger Games earlier but thought you should know about the Henry River Mill Village in Burke County, too. This now-abandoned planned mill community served as the movie’s location for District 12 filming scenes.
Mount Airy and Surry County
Pilot Mountain stands on its own as an awesome state park, but it’s largely associated with Mount Airy. Pilot 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 things to do in North Carolina, but you’d yell at us if we left it out.
Nantahala National Forest
At 531,000 acres, Nantahala is the largest of North Carolina’s four national forests (the others include Pisgah, Uwharrie, and Croatan). The Joyce Kilmer Wilderness (and Memorial Forest) is the best-known within Nantahala’s boundaries.
A whole host of scenic trails and roads run through Nantahala National Forest.
Pisgah National Forest
If you’re driving through the western part of our state and especially around Asheville, there’s a good chance you’ll pass through Pisgah National Forest.
With thousands of acres of old-growth forests, rivers, and waterfalls all around. Hikes galore await in this protected area and one that comes to mind is Black Balsam Knob, though there are many more to explore.
Rutherfordton and Rutherford County
Pretend to dance like Baby at Lake Lure’s Dirty Dancing Festival in September.
You can look down at Lake Lure and the Hickory Nut Gorge from the top of Chimney Rock, one of North Carolina’s most iconic mountains.
There are plenty of things to do in Rutherford County, including Rutherfordton’s InterACTIVE Museum.
Stop by Forest City any time of year but especially around Christmas time, when their beautiful lights display is unveiled.
Shelby and Cleveland County
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 in Shelby.
If you’ve never tried livermush, put that on your bucket list of things to do in North Carolina, 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.
We also think you should bounce around all the towns in Cleveland County, including Kings Mountain and Boiling Springs. You can learn about them and more in our guide to a weekend in Cleveland County.
Spruce Pine and Mitchell County
Head into Mitchell County and hang out for a while in Spruce Pine. The town hosts fun events throughout the year, including the NC Mineral and Gem Festival in August and SPACE (Spruce Pine Alien Conference & Expo) in June.
Drive the Diamondback that leads into Little Switzerland or get there via the Blue Ridge Parkway. Spend at least a night at the Switzerland Inn. This place has it all, including beautiful views, amazing food, and cozy rooms.
Sylva and Jackson County
Jackson County is home to some of the best things to do in North Carolina. For starters, we absolutely love the hidden gem that is Bear Lakes Reserve in Tuckasegee.
Whether you’re exploring the excellent towns of Sylva, Cashiers, or Dillsboro, you’re in for a treat.
Just over the border from Transylvania County and South Carolina, you’ll find Upper Whitewater Falls. Regardless of where you stand on its place as the highest falls east of the Rockies, there is no denying the beauty of this massive 411-foot waterfall.
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.
Beautiful waterfalls are also here, including the two you’ll find at Soco Falls.
Waynesville and Haywood County
Each summer, you should visit Haywood County for Folkmoot, an international dance and music festival that draws 200 dancers and musicians to towns like Waynesville, Canton, Maggie Valley, and more.
Many folks visit Maggie Valley for its famed Cataloochee Ski Area, and motorcyclists love this place. We once sat in the same brewery (BearWaters) as Jason Momoa during a trip to Maggie Valley.
The Haywood County town is also home to the Wheels Through Time Motorcycle and Car Museum, hosting more than 350 rare and unique automobiles.
Beautiful outdoor spots await nearby, too, including Waterrock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Lake Junaluska is also around the corner from Maggie Valley, and you’ll want to explore this popular retreat more after marveling at its beautiful waters.
Wilkesboro and Wilkes County
Each year in April, Merlefest takes over Wilkesboro with bands galore. We interviewed Merlefest founder B Townes, if you’re interested in learning more about how that awesome music festival came to be.
Spend some time in this fun little town and you might just get hooked on all the fun things to do in Wilkesboro, North Wilkesboro, and elsewhere in the county.
Another fun time to visit Wilkesboro is in January when Moonshine Heritage Day takes over the town.
Stone Mountain State Park is a great place to hike and shared by both Wilkes and Alleghany counties. Many folks come here to climb Stone Mountain itself, to check out the namesake 200-foot falls, or to admire and have a dip at Widow’s Creek Falls.
More Western NC Points of Interest
Before we sharing more of the highest fun things to do in Western North Carolina, we should recognize more of the area’s amazing lakes beyond Fontana and Lure.
Hanging Rock State Park isn’t too far from the Piedmont Triad of Central North Carolina but still qualifies as “west.” We love hiking this park’s trails and scoping out waterfalls, which we cover it in more detail here.
And finally, drive on the Cherohala Skyway before crossing over into Tennessee. This high road begins near Lake Santeetlah and Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. There are plenty of scenic overlooks to enjoy along the way, including Huckleberry Knob and Santeetlah Overlook among the best.
Central North Carolina
Central North Carolina sits between the Fall Line and the foothills of Western NC. Parts of it are referred to as the Central Piedmont region and others are known as the Sandhills. It’s home to many of North Carolina’s largest cities but also some pretty amazing small towns and less-populated counties.
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 Central North Carolina, all worthy of our NC Bucket List.
Asheboro and Randolph County
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.
Did you know North Carolina has the world’s largest natural habitat zoo? Well, if not, then add that to your bucket list. The NC Zoo in Asheboro houses nearly 2,000 animals from over 250 species. It’s a massive place and especially worth a visit if you’re bringing little ones along.
Randolph County is home to Millstone Creek Orchards offers some of the best things to do in North Carolina throughout the year, including blueberry picking. Their apple cider slushies are worth a visit throughout the year, too!
We mentioned the NC Zoo and Seagrove in our guide covering a weekend in Asheboro and Randolph County.
Burlington and Alamance County
And then there’s Saxapahaw, which sits far away from it all. The former mill town has been repurposed for a new community, with restaurants, a brewery, a five-star general store, and musician-friendly Haw River Ballroom.
In the summer, Saturdays in Saxapahaw bring people from all around to enjoy music, food, and friendship.
The Haw River Trail is a great way to start your day in Saxapahaw, especially if you’ve brought little ones. They’ll absolutely love the fish slide!
Chapel Hill and Orange County
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 in 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, especially during weekends in the area.
We also couldn’t discuss Orange County without mentioning Hillsborough, the county seat and one of our favorite small towns in the Research Triangle. There, you can enjoy strolls through town, along the Riverwalk between River and Gold parks, and at the Historic Occoneechee Speedway.
Charlotte and Mecklenburg County
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.
Paddle hard or go ziplining at the US National Whitewater Center.
Where you’re in town during the week or one weekends, you also have to spend time in NoDa, Southend, and Charlotte’s other awesome neighborhoods.
We also recommend a visit to one of the city’s many parks, including Independence Park, Freedom Park, and Reedy Creek Nature Center and Preserve.
More of our favorite outdoor things to do in the Charlotte area include Latta Plantation and Carolina Raptor Center. They’re both located in Huntersville, which is also in Mecklenburg County and one of many awesome day trips from Charlotte.
You can enjoy Huntersville year-round, but especially in November during the Carolina Renaissance Festival.
Concord and Cabarrus County
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. It was one of our favorite distilleries to visit!
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. This is where the first documented commercial gold find.
And don’t forget about Kannapolis, which both Cabarrus County and Rowan County share! The North Carolina Music Hall of Fame is here and worth a visit, and not just because admission is free. You’ll learn about the stories and backgrounds of the bands and musicians from North Carolina that are enshrined there.
Kannapolis is also home to the Dale Trail, which commemorates the life and achievements of one Dale Earnhardt Sr.
We detailed these things and more in our guide to a weekend in Concord and Cabarrus County!
Durham and Durham County
Durham is the second-largest city in the Triangle and one we call “home.” Familiarize yourself with Main St and other prominent spots downtown, perhaps by joining a Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tour. It’s a great way to sample some awesome restaurants in Bull City.
The area around Parish St downtown is known as Black Wall Street. It was once a hub of African-American entrepreneurship, and one of the most important places to learn about Black history in North Carolina.
Speaking of Black history, Historic Stagville on the outskirts of Durham County shares the story of the enslaved people who lived here and worked the land. It’s spread across two sites and one of the most powerful tributes to plantation life in the state. We also think a visit here is one of the best things to do in North Carolina.
Walk down the hill to the American Tobacco Campus (ATC). It was once a major player in the tobacco industry, but today it’s filled with tech startups and home to Burt’s Bees HQ. Since it’s a great spot and free to enter, we take people there year-round, especially during Christmas when the Lucky Strike Tower is lit up!
The ATC also sits across from the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, which is one of the finest places anyone (including kids) can watch a baseball game. We’ll talk more about Minor League Baseball later, but remember that there’s only one team in North Carolina with a classic movie made about it.
Gastonia and Gaston County
On the western edge of Central North Carolina between Cleveland and Mecklenburg counties is Gaston County.
There are quite a few fun things to do in Gastonia (county seat) and in 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.
The Schiele Museum of Natural History has been a Gaston County mainstay since 1961. You can visit for exhibits about North America and North Carolina’s natural wildlife, the outdoor wildlife garden and interactive farm exhibit, and trails that detail the rich history of the region.
At the Dallas Lavender Lane Farm, 5,000 lavender plants dot the six-acre grounds, with sweet smells and beautiful sights throughout. It’s one of our favorite lavender farms in North Carolina, in case you were wondering.
If you’re in the area between December 1 and Christmas, head over to the 600-resident town of McAdenville, which sparkles and transforms into Christmas Town USA. It’s one of our favorite collections of Christmas lights in North Carolina for a reason, ya know?
Greensboro and Guilford County
Lots of important things have happened here, including the famous Woolworth Sit-ins that launched a movement of young African-Americans fighting to desegregate establishments throughout the south.
Along with the International Civil Rights Center, another fun spot that we included among the best things to do in North Carolina’s Gate City (especially with kids) is the Greensboro Science Center. It’s a museum, zoological park, and aquarium all in one and definitely one of our favorite museums in North Carolina.
There are quite a few ways to enjoy the outdoors in Greensboro. We think you should start with a visit to 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.
We drove past Guilford Mill once before deciding to turn around and learn more up close. This fun day trip from Greensboro is a historic grist mill that dates all the way back to 1767. On the outside, it’s beautiful and exquisitely photogenic. Inside, the mill’s store sells their own mixes, plus a variety of products and crafts produced in North Carolina.
The smallest city of the three mains in the Triad is High Point, mostly housed within Guilford County. Still, it’s filled with enough bucket-list-worthy things to do.
Sure, it’s known for the Furniture Market, but you’ll enjoy City Lake Park and All-A-Flutter Butterfly Farm, too.
Pittsboro and Chatham County
Carolina Tiger Rescue in Pittsboro is a wonderful place that we’ll mention on the way out of the Triangle. It’s a 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.
Jordan Lake State Recreation Area is shared by Chatham and Wake counties, and parts of the lake sit within Durham County, too. It’s a very popular boating and fishing lake, especially during warmer months.
Raleigh and Wake County
Fly into Raleigh-Durham International Airport in Morrisville and congratulate yourself because that’s the only place known as Raleigh-Durham. You can also watch planes take off and land at the airport’s observation tower. That’s one of many fun things to do with kids in Raleigh, but let’s keep going with more!
The first place in Raleigh you should visit is Dorothea Dix Park, where you can get a nice view of the city’s skyline. When summer is flexing its muscles, head to Dix Park for a gorgeous sunflower display.
Walk around Umstead State Park or the parks that surround Shelley Lake and Lake Johnson. These are a few of our favorite free things to Do in North Carolina’s capital city. We covered the park and how to reach its awesome chainsaw art in more detail here.
And speaking of food, don’t miss out on the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh. It’s a huge event in October and thousands of people attend each year.
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.
And while we’re talking about things to do in Cary, you can stop by the Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve there any time of year. It’s a rare collection of Eastern Hemlock trees that you’ll normally find in our mountains.
Statesville and Iredell County
You can take a balloon ride throughout much of the year if you can’t make it to the festival. We mentioned that in our guide covering things to do in Statesville.
Before Prohibition came to North Carolina, Statesville was known as the “Whiskey Capital of the World.” It took a long time for liquor to return to Statesville, with Southern Distilling among the finest distilleries in North Carolina.
Whiskey isn’t the only locally produced alcohol you can find in Statesville. The town is also home to two unique breweries (Fourth Creek and Red Buffalo, each with a unique vibe and deep connection to the community.
We mentioned NC Wine earlier but did you know that the Scuppernong is North Carolina’s official state fruit? At a couple of places in Statesville (Hazy Red Vineyard and Grietje’s Garden Vineyard), you can pick the delicious muscadine grapes that make wine, but also juice, jams, and other products. Here is a map of where to pick muscadine grapes through North Carolina.
Many historic sites in North Carolina commemorate the Revolutionary and Civil wars, but Fort Dobbs is a rare relic of the French and Indian War.
Lake Norman is one of the most popular getaways for Charlotte residents and rightly so. People in Troutman, Mooresville, and elsewhere in Iredell County are lucky to claim much of North Carolina’s largest man-made 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.
Carrigan Farms is a family-owned farm in the area, where you’ll find U-pick fruits (including strawberries) and vegetables. A natural rock quarry awaits for folks seeking a swimming hole on those long, hot summer days.
If you’re into racing, some of the biggest NASCAR teams are based in Mooresville, with shops for you to peruse.
Winston-Salem and Forsyth County
Chow down on Moravian cookies and harken back to the times before Dash City took over in Old Salem. You can walk around its historic buildings or step inside for a closer look.
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 (one of Winston-Salem’s finest) and open to the public.
You can also walk around Reynolda Gardens, one of our favorite outdoor activities in Winston-Salem.
More Central NC Points of Interest
In the Sandhills, head to Pinehurst and Southern Pines for more than a day at the links, even though it’s known as the Home of American Golf.
Before we leave Central NC, here are some more outdoor spots worth mentioning.
Uwharrie National Forest is fun for four-wheeling, horseback riding, hiking, trail running, mountain biking, and camping. Its trails are well-marked and well-maintained, perfect for folks looking for a hike.
Many folks don’t know about Morrow Mountain State Park since it’s so far east from the Blue Ridge. However, this park offers 15 miles of hiking, with awesome views that are within a drive.
Eastern North Carolina
We’ll keep things alphabetical after mentioning our beaches and lighthouses. These two deserve a spot at the top of our “Eastern North Carolina” section.
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 either surround our many coastal towns or sit fairly isolated, accessible only via 4WD or even boat. Each of our beaches possesses their own character, whether because of interesting physical features or a dish that’s local to the area.
There are seven lighthouses in North Carolina, each with a distinct outward appearance meant to help sailors. For folks traveling to see them on land, these picturesque lighthouses are perfect collector’s items from your camera lens. Here they are from north to south:
- Bodie Island
- Cape Lookout
- Bald Head Island
- Oak Island
Of course, there’s more to our coast and the plain than beaches and lighthouses. Here are all the places to visit in Eastern North Carolina, in alphabetical order.
People come from all over to visit the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. There, you’ll find unique pocosin wetland habitats, red wolves, and beautiful sights, and relaxing sounds all around.
Beaulaville and Duplin County
We mentioned Duplin Winery in our “Statewide” section and think it’s a great place to visit, However, we think you should explore more of Duplin County. Start with a trip to Mike’s Farm in Back Swamp (Beulaville).
Catch one of their dinner shows, visit during one of their many annual events, or just stop by the bakery for some delicious baked goods and fudge.
Exploring the coast is one of the best things to do in North Carolina and for many people, that starts with Brunswick County.
We love the towns scattered throughout this massive county, including Southport, which is largely known for its Fourth of July Festival.
From there, you can also ferry over to Bald Head Island. We already mentioned Old Baldy but there’s even more to this wonderful place. You could easily spend a weekend, week, or the rest of your life on Bald Head Island.
We’re partial to Holden Beach, which is also known as North Carolina’s “Family Beach.” You can totally relax at your rental, which is likely close to the beach or Intracoastal Waterway.
You also need to dig into Calabash’s amazing seafood, with Captain Nance’s and Dockside Seafood House among our favorite spots.
There’s also the beauty of Oak Island to explore, with its lighthouse offering a glimpse at Bald Head Island and nearby Caswell Beach.
Carolina Bays are found throughout many parts along the east coast and are believed to have formed following meteor showers a long time ago. There’s a scenic road trip you can take to see four of them (Jones Lake, Singletary Lake, White Lake, and Lake Waccamaw).
Dismal Swamp State Park
Don’t let the name Dismal Swamp State Park turn you away. This park on the North Carolina-Virginia border hosts paddling events throughout the year, drawing boaters from all over to ride through the Intracoastal Waterway.
Edenton and Chowan County
Enjoy wonderful views of the Albemarle Sound and relax in Edenton, a historic and cozy town to spend at least a weekend.
Fayetteville and Cumberland County
Fayetteville is the first place along the I-95 corridor that we’ll mention and we must start with their awesome veteran community. It’s responsible for amazing breweries and local businesses that are truly a great part of that community.
Fayetteville is also home to some awesome outdoor attractions. Two amazing green spaces include Carvers Creek State Park and Cape Fear Botanical Garden. They’re both a couple of our favorite things to do with kids in Fayetteville.
Explore Fayetteville’s surroundings in Cumberland County and you’ll find some fun small towns, including Hope Mills and Spring Lake.
We mentioned these things and more in our guide that covers things to do in Fayetteville.
Goldsboro and Wayne County
Since we’re talking about towns with a heavy military presence, let’s not forget Goldsboro. There, you’ll find an amazing collection of people and pig-centric restaurants to support the rest of its four Ps—planes and pickles.
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.
Every couple of years, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base hosts Wings Over Wayne, which is a fun all-day event filled with flyovers, food, and more fun.
In Wayne County, you can enjoy the hiking trails and beautiful scenes at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park. You can also rent a boat, grab a fishing pole, and swim in their seasonal pond.
Many of these attractions rank high among our favorite things to do in Goldsboro and Wayne County!
Greenville and Pitt County
Greenville is firstly known as the home of East Carolina University, but there’s plenty more to do than attend school here.
One thing we’re always excited to see is Pirate Fest in April. This huge event straddles the Tar River and is fun for all ages!
Kinston and Lenoir County
For those who recognized the name, yes, it’s owned by Mother Earth Brewing owner Stephen Hill. And if you like good beer, please spend time drinking from their taproom menu.
We also think the amazing arts scene in Kinston belongs on your list of things to do in North Carolina. You can find its footprint pretty much everywhere in and around town.
Jacksonville and Onslow County
Head to Jacksonville and spend time at Lejeune Memorial Gardens. This collection of memorials reminds us of those who’ve served and died for our nation.
You can easily take an entire morning and afternoon strolling around Swansboro, perusing shops and dining by the water.
Lake Mattamuskeet is North Carolina’s largest natural lake and managed as a National Wildlife Refuge. Many waterfowl spend winter here, including various duck, geese, and swan species.
Morehead City and Carteret County
Morehead City serves as a gateway to the Bogue Banks, which includes the awesome Atlantic Beach and Emerald Isle. We love staying in between them at the awesome Atlantis Lodge in Pine Knoll Shores.
Fort Macon State Park is one of our smallest but it’s the second-most visited in North Carolina. This fully restored fort is surrounded by trails, spots for fishing, and a swimming area.
Beaufort is also in Carteret County and a visit to the town’s waterfront alone belongs on your bucket list of things to do in North Carolina.
When we first visited the Rachel Carson Reserve, we had one thing in mind: finding wild horses. As you walk along the beach in search of those mysterious animals, you’ll find more to explore on this network of islands.
Life will surround you in the form of birds, diverse landforms, and a mingling mix of fresh and saltwater habitats.
The Shackleford Banks wild horses might be the best known in North Carolina and you can reach them from Beaufort.
And if you like fishing for big catches, you need to be in Morehead City for the Big Rock Tournament each June.
New Bern and Craven County
Stop by the Pepsi Store and grab a fountain pour of Brad’s drink. After all, you’re in the home of Pepsi, so you may as well!
Visit Croatan National Forest and explore nature trails and at low tide, beautiful beaches that sit along the Neuse River.
The Outer Banks
Not far from there, you can see where North Carolina became “First in Flight” at the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Each December, their achievements are honored during a Celebration of the First Flight.
We mentioned the beautiful beaches along our coast, but we just wanted to remind you they’re pretty special ones in each town along the Outer Banks. Technically, it’s just one long beach, ya know?
And while you’re in the Outer Banks, don’t forget to customize your own donut at the original Duck Donuts in, wait for it…Duck. Of course, there are other amazing donut shops and breakfast-y places to eat in the Outer Banks.
We mentioned the equine fun at the Rachel Carson Reserve in Beaufort and Shackleford Banks near Beaufort but there are more spots to find wild horses in North Carolina.
Along the Outer Banks, there’s also a beautiful collection of wild horses roaming around Corolla, Carova Beach, and at Ocracoke. Hopefully, you’ll get to see them someday but just remember to keep your distance.
Before booking your time in the Outer Banks, check out our guide to some of the best vacation rentals you’ll find there!
Raven Rock State Park
The Cape Fear River bisects Raven Rock State Park and you can overlook that iconic body of water from a lofty perch. You can also head down to the riverbank for a look at the actual Raven Rock that towers above.
Roanoke Rapids and Halifax County
Get to know Roanoke Rapids via the Roanoke Canal Museum and Trail and you might just want to stick around for a while.
County seat Halifax is known for the “Halifax Resolves,” which was 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.
Visit Sylvan Heights Bird Park in Scotland Neck for a look at the world’s biggest collection of endangered and rare waterfowl.
And of course, we can’t forget about Medoc Mountain State Park in Hollister. It’s a wonderful escape that’s good enough for Big Foot, though I don’t think you’ll run into him or her any time soon.
Rocky Mount and Nash County
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.
Another of our favorite things to do in Rocky Mount is to stay overnight in one of River & Twine‘s Tiny Houses, which are among the best in NC!). Some of our favorite restaurants in Rocky Mount are found at the Mills but some lie beyond that awesome place!
Smithfield and Johnston County
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).
If you’re driving on I-40 either to the coast or coming back from it, stop at exit 319 for some of the best food you’ll ever eat at Redneck BBQ Lab. Owner Jerry Stephenson and the folks there are doing some awesome things with competition style bbq.
Hopefully, you’ll luck out and stop by when they’re serving burnt ends.
And we can’t leave out Topsail Island, which is one of our favorite spots any time of year.
Surf City Pier is a great spot to watch people fish and look back on the beautiful beach that many folks love at Topsail.
Washington and Beaufort County
Also known as “Little Washington,” Washington lies along the Pamlico River and offers a cozy historic waterfront.
Bath is North Carolina’s oldest town and about 20 minutes from Washington. You can take tours of the town and visit St Thomas Church, North Carolina’s oldest standing Episcopal Church.
Goose Creek State Park is near Washington and a wonderful way to enjoy the outdoors in Beaufort County.
Wilmington and New Hanover County
A stroll along the Riverwalk is among our favorite things to do in Wilmington and the first place we’ll start with Port City. It’s fun for families but also those traveling alone, with friends, or with that special someone.
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 come and visit it each day.
Airlie Gardens is just a short drive away from downtown Wilmington and one of the state’s most beautiful places to visit. It’s popular for birding, home to massive oaks, and offers views of Wrightsville Beach in the distance.
Of course, we love visiting the amazing beaches near Wilmington. They include Carolina, Kure, Fort Fisher, Wrightsville, and Masonboro Island.
Speaking of Fort Fisher, we really love the NC Aquarium there.
Some amazing restaurants in Wilmington pair nicely with these fun things to do in North Carolina’s Port City! If you’re searching for places to stay, check out these cool Airbnbs in Wilmington and its beach surroundings.
Wilson and Wilson County
Marvel at the strange wonders of Wilson’s Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park. It’s truly a fun place to just walk around and stare at the whirligigs as they get blown around by the wind.
Their Whirligig Festival in November brings people from all over to check out the park, but also fun put on by 200-plus vendors. It’s a no-brainer that we included it in our guide to kid-friendly events in North Carolina.
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 there are more. Also, we know that you can do some of these things elsewhere, but we think you’ll enjoy yourself a little bit 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 all the things you can do here, especially if you can’t find them anywhere else.
Of all these things to do 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!