36 Things to Do in North Carolina in May: Spring into These Local Events and Festivals

Last Updated on August 25, 2021

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If you plan to visit Western NC, please check beforehand to see if the area is safe following the recent flooding. Officials have closed some sections of Pisgah National Forest (including Forest Heritage Scenic Byway and Blue Ridge Parkway stops) to keep visitors out of danger. Please respect signage and local guidance.

May is a beautiful time to explore and celebrate North Carolina, and one way is through these awesome local events scattered around the state. From the mountains to the sea, there’s plenty to do every weekend this month.

In this guide, we’re going to share events you should check out throughout the month. Here are 36 bucket list-worthy things to do in North Carolina in May, ordered by the starting date and alphabetized by the city when local events simultaneously occur.

Quite a few of these May events (along with March and April) in our Spring Things to Do in North Carolina, too!

Things to Do in North Carolina in May 2020

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Wilmington Wine and Food Festival, Wilmington (April 30-May 3)

Top chefs, delicious wine, and live music light up the iconic Bellamy Mansion during the Wilmington Wine and Food Festival. This is where you can indulge on expertly designed culinary pairings, with folks like Wilmington’s Front Street Brewery and Southern Smoke (Garland) in attendance.

And if you really want to go all-in, grab a three-day pass.

BBQ Fest on the Neuse, Kinston (May 1-2)

Things to Do in Eastern NC In May BBQ Fest on the Neuse Kinston Kings Barbecue Image
Save some room for a “Pig in a Puppy” (left) from King’s.

At the 38th annual BBQ Fest on the Neuse, you can celebrate Eastern North Carolina barbecue but dig into even more. Of course, there’ll be delicious food and competitions, but also shopping, and arts & crafts.

Get ready to explore the best of Kinston during a truly family-friendly (and kid-friendly) showcase.

While you’re in Kinston, check out the town’s restaurant scene. You’ll quickly find out that there’s more beyond Chef and the Farmer!

The Carolina Strawberry Festival, Wallace (May 1-2)

Food vendors, live music, helicopter rides, and a Dare Devil Dog Show are just a few of the fun things happening at The Carolina Strawberry Festival in Wallace, one of our favorite Duplin County towns. And don’t forget to take home a carton or two of beautiful strawberries, too!

If you can’t make it to this amazing festival, check out our guide to strawberry picking in North Carolina!

Jimmy-June Music and Arts Festival, Asheboro (May 2)

The first-ever Jimmy-June Music and Arts Festival will celebrate the people of the South who “make the world more special through their music, visual art, and creations of all kinds.”

Proceeds from the festival will benefit the Randolph/Montgomery Counties Family Crisis Center.

For more things to do in Asheboro and beyond in Randolph County, check this guide!

Bread Festival, Asheville (May 2)

At the annual Asheville Bread Festival, there’ll be workshops and an artisan bread fair. This event for professionals and home bakers will most certainly be “A celebration of natural leavening.” 

North Carolina Maritime Museum Wooden Boat Show, Beaufort (May 2)

What to Do in North Carolina in May Maritime Museum Beaufort Image

The longest ongoing wooden boat show in the Southeast occurs every year along the shores of beautiful and historic Beaufort. The 46th annual Wooden Boat Show features small wooden boats, historic vessels, nautical crafts, and demonstrations.

This free event is great for all ages and levels of interest.

We also mentioned the NC Maritime Museum in our guides to Beaufort and our favorite museums!

Ham & Yam Festival, Smithfield (May 2)

During the 36th Ham & Yam Festival, it’s off the races for the little piggies in Johnston County. Head out to Downtown Smithfield for pig races, vendors, and of course, ham and yams.

This event is filled with fun and entertainment for the whole family.

Paddle for the Border 2020, South Mills (May 2)

If you’re feeling some watery fun, join up with everyone else who’ll be at Paddle for the Border. Boaters from all over North Carolina and Virginia convene in South Mills to follow the Dismal Swamp Canal Trail.

You can canoe or kayak your way from South Mills, NC to Chesapeake, VA and enjoy the scenic waterways along the way.

Thrive NC, Raleigh (May 7-8)

Starting with a food security-focused summit and an actual hands-on service project, the Blue Cross NC-presented Thrive NC culminates with a food festival. 65 area restaurants will be waiting at Raleigh‘s City Market to serve amazing food and drink to those who attend.

Proceeds from this May culinary event go to a variety of non-profits. A couple of them include the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina and NC Future Farmers of America.

North Carolina Brewers and Music Festival, Huntersville (May 8-9)

If you love incredible beer and rocking good music, the 10th Annual NC Brewers and Music Festival in Huntersville is the place for you to jam out.

There, you can try new and favorite beers (including Charlotte‘s Birdsong and Asheville‘s Bhramari) and an incredible lineup of bands at the beautiful Historic Rural Hill.

Buggy Festival, Carthage (May 9)

The Carthage Buggy Festival is a celebration of the Moore County town’s history. It also commemorates the Tyson and Jones Buggy Factory that produced carriages between the mid-1800s and 1920s.

Beer and wine vendors will join the fun, along with a classic car and truck show, children’s activity area, and more.

Strawberry Festival, Ellerbe (May 9)

The Ellerbe Strawberry Festival is jam-packed with fun for everyone, including music, food, and strawberry-focused activities. Dessert and recipe contests and a strawberry shortcake eating contest are just a couple of reasons why you must attend this annual event.

Hickorycon (May 9)

Hickory’s 27th annual Hickorycon is one of the largest one-day events, with a ton of activity filling the Convention Center. The area’s best comic and toy dealers will be waiting and the ever-popular costume contest kicks off at 2:00 pm.

Outer Banks Bluegrass Island Festival, Manteo (May 13-16)

Enjoy some fast pickin’, down-home country cookin’, and the sea salt waves breezing at the Bluegrass Island Festival in Manteo, one of our favorite Outer Banks towns.

Hosted on beautiful Roanoke Island with an ocean backdrop, this festival is where the mountains truly meet the sea and yet another reason we love The Outer Banks.

Cape Fear Comedy Festival, Wilmington (May 13-17)

Venues around downtown Wilmington will host nationally touring comedians for five days during the annual Cafe Fear Comedy Festival. The Dead Crow Comedy Club serves as the home base and additional venues include Waterline Brewing Co and Bombers Beverage Co.

Greensboro Bound (May 14-17)

Greensboro Bound gives back to the community in a variety of ways throughout the year, but its annual festival in May is where everything comes together. This is when you’ll find 60-plus authors, poets, and spoken word artists in Gate City for a true celebration of literature.

Hang Gliding Spectacular, Nags Head (May 14-18)

During the 48th annual Hang Gliding Spectacular, professionals and spectators will be at Jockey’s Ridge State Park for five days of fun competitions. Admission is free for spectators and prices for competitors range from $60 to $100 for single or combo.

Beaufort Music Festival (May 15-16)

The Beaufort Music Festival is a coastal tradition, with over 30 years of keeping people entertained and looking forward to the next edition. A variety of vendors, including food and drink, will join the bands playing at Gallants Channel.

North Carolina Potato Festival, Elizabeth City (May 15-17)

Can you peel a potato faster than some can say, “Go Tar Heels?” Then you’ll want to be at the National Potato Peeling Contest in Elizabeth City. That event is part of the three days of food, fun, and games at the NC Potato Festival.

Plein Air Festival, Southport (May 15-16)

Festivities during Southport’s Plein Air Festival include a painting workshop and art auction. Visits to local galleries, supervised Plein Air for kids (supplies included), and multiple other events headline this festival that’s open to all painters, regardless of level and age.

Atlantic Beach Music Festival (May 16)

Bands will kick off the Atlantic Beach Music Festival at 11:00 am. They’ll keep things rolling until just after 6:00 pm along the Boardwalk at the Circle.

Admission to this event is free, but pets and glass containers are prohibited.

Charlotte Asian Festival & Dragon Boat Race, Cornelius (May 16)

Watch the heat go by on beautiful Lake Norman during the Charlotte Asian Festival & Dragon Boat Race! Races start at 9 am and go all day and there’ll be a cultural exchange festival that starts at 11 am.

If you’re dying for a day out on the lake, don’t miss out on this.

Bimbé Cultural Arts Festival, Durham (May 16)

Celebrating its 51st year, the Bimbé Cultural Arts Festival is a gathering for African and African American history, culture, arts, and traditions. This free festival is held in Durham’s Rock Quarry Park and is free to the public. 

Yadkin Valley Wine Festival, Elkin (May 16)

Elkin, in the heart of North Carolina’s wine country, will be hosting the Yadkin Valley Wine Festival. Visitors can sample creations from 25 local vineyards or stomp some grapes.

Or, you can be extra ambitious and participate in the Yadkin Valley Tour De Vino. Rides measure 30, 31, 52, 71, and 100 miles.

You can preview the best with our guide to Yadkin Valley wineries.

Carolina Blues Festival, Greensboro (May 16-17)

Greensboro’s LeBauer Park hosts this year’s Carolina Blues Festival, the longest-running of its kind in the Southeast. Local blues acts will share the stage with bands from around the US and beyond during this rain-or-shine event!

Crystal Coast Boat Show, Morehead City (May 16-17)

With over 100 in-water and on-land boats, the Crystal Coast Boat Show has tons of fun in store for boat enthusiasts. Organizers have arranged for top boating vendors to set up, and there’ll be free sailing rides and a scavenger hunt for the kiddos available.

Along with the annual Antique Auto Show, this is a fun time for the whole family!

Cheerwine Festival, Salisbury (May 16)

Take in all things cherry-flavored in Salisbury during the annual Cheerwine Festival. Local arts and craft vendors pair up with Cheerwine-inspired food and beer and family-friendly activities galore during this very popular day-long festival.

Hook, Line, & Drinker Festival, Sylva (May 16)

Celebrate North Carolina’s trout fishing capital at the third annual Hook, Line & Drinker Festival! Along the Fly Fishing Trail in Sylva, festival-goers can learn more about the craft, talk to vendors, listen to great music, and eat some delicious food.

Strawberry Wine Festival, Vale (May 16)

And if you missed the fun in Ellerbe, you can still savor the sweetness at the third annual Strawberry Wine Festival at Woodmill Winery in Vale, Lincoln County. There, semi-dry, semi-sweet, and sweet wines will be released with over 50 vendors and music on hand.

ACC Baseball Championship, Charlotte (May 19-24)

Things to Do in Charlotte NC BBT Baseball Stadium Image

In conjunction with Minor League Baseball’s Charlotte Knights, the ACC will host its annual Baseball Championship at BB&T Ballpark in Queen City. With the Charlotte Skyline sitting in the background, it’s hard to top this venue.

Of course, it’s fitting for one of college baseball’s most exciting conference tournaments.

NC Songwriters Conference, Fayetteville (May 21-23)

The BMI-sponsored NC Songwriters Conference looks like an exciting event for local singers and songwriters throughout Eastern North Carolina and beyond. An estimated 10,000-plus people are expected to attend.

And with nationally-recognized artists coming to Fayetteville for this event, that number might be an underestimation.

Lil John’s Mountain Music Festival, Snow Camp (May 21-23)

In Alamance County, Lil John’s Mountain Music Festival promises three days of amazing bluegrass music in a peaceful farm setting. Held at Cane Creek Campground and RV Park, this late-May event should be a nice Memorial Day weekend getaway.

White Squirrel Festival, Brevard (May 22-24)

Have you seen Brevard’s famed white squirrel? Well, even if not, you can celebrate this nutty rodent at the White Squirrel Festival. There’ll be white squirrel tours, live music, and the Squirrel Box Derby.

Together, those fun events should keep you more than entertained while spending time in Transylvania County.

Coca-Cola 600, Concord (May 24)

Kick-off Memorial Day with the rip of and engine at the Coca-Cola 600 in Concord. Watch the checkered flag drop at this historic 60th running at America’s Home for Racing, Charlotte Motor Speedway.

When you’re in the area, check out these amazing local restaurants and breweries, too!

Battleship North Carolina Memorial Day Observance, Wilmington (May 25)

During the Memorial Day Observance aboard the Battleship North Carolina, attendees can honor those who gave their lives by honoring veterans. Events include an all-service Color Guard, a 21-gun salute by Marine Corps Honor Guard, a military guest speaker, and more.

Pettyfest, Randleman (May 30)

Unique Places in North Carolina Richard Petty Museum Randleman Image

The last of our things to do in North Carolina in May is Pettyfest. And honestly, this is the most unique of events, considering it’s dedicated to a true racing legend.

During this special event, you can the museum, garage, and birthplace of Richard Petty. Vendors and food trucks will also be on-site, waiting for you to come hungry and hopefully, leave very happy!

Got Something to Add?

Thanks to all these things to do in North Carolina in May, you’ve got tons of ways to enjoy the state before the heat and humidity of summer truly kicks in.

Is there something we should add to this list? Let us know about it here or via email and we’ll gladly take a look!

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