Welcome to New Bern, North Carolina — a charming town full of amazing attractions that are sure to keep you engaged. The riverfront city also happens to be the state’s first capital, boasting a rich heritage and culture you don’t want to miss. It’s where the “old meets new” in a faultless marriage of historic buildings and modern amenities.
Join us in the heart of Craven County as we explore some of the best things to do in New Bern NC. We’ll cover activities catering to a wide range of interests, so stay tuned to learn the highlights of this scenic North Carolina city.
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WHERE TO STAY IN NEW BERN NC
- Best on the Riverfront: DoubleTree by Hilton New Bern – Riverfront is located in New Bern’s historic city center. This hotel offers views of the Trent River and is less than 1 mile from Tryon Palace Historic Sites & Gardens. Casual dining is available at Christoph’s on the Water for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Best Bed & Breakfast: Hanna House Bed & Breakfast is perfect for couples. Breakfast features a selection of 3 juices, fruit, and choice of 1 entrée from 12 to 15 different entrée choices. Enjoy bike rentals and free shuttle service too!
- Best with Pool: Clarion Pointe New Bern features an outdoor pool and fully renovated guest rooms. Free hot breakfast included! Located near lots of New Bern’s best attractions.
EXPLORE DOWNTOWN NEW BERN
The first stop most people make is the historic downtown area. You’ll find charming 19th-century buildings with exquisite architecture that perfectly embodies the city’s past. It’s also where you’ll indulge in some of the best dining options.
For a more structured experience, consider signing up for a walking tour of downtown New Bern. This guided tour takes you to all the must-visit spots, accompanied by informative commentary that brings the city’s history to life. Adventurous types can opt for the “Ghosts of New Bern” tour. Hosted at nighttime, it takes you to the city’s most haunted locations and features some truly spine-tingling stories.
As in most towns, downtown is the central hub for entertainment, so you’ll find plenty of other things to see and do there, including our next recommendation.
VISIT TRYON PALACE
As imposing as it is beautiful, Tryon Palace is a must-visit destination for anyone who considers themselves a history buff. This magnificent 18th-century structure is where North Carolina’s first governor lived and worked, serving as the seat of power for Colonial North Carolina. Governor Tryon himself oversaw the construction of this magnificent structure, and its beautiful design is a testament to his eccentric tastes.
Exploring the North Carolina History Center takes you on a journey through the state’s history, featuring patriots and historical figures who played a major role in shaping the state we know today. (More on the history center below.) Even George Washington visited Tryon Palace, so it is no surprise that this site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
After your visit, stop by the Palace Gardens to relax and enjoy the gorgeous landscaping. It’s a romantic spot for a stroll with your loved one, or you can simply enjoy the peaceful surroundings as you contemplate the history of this remarkable place.
TOUR THE NORTH CAROLINA HISTORY CENTER
We mentioned the North Carolina History Center at Tryon Palace, but it deserves its own entry. This fascinating museum is dedicated to the history and heritage of this state, which is rich in both culture and tradition. It takes a really deep dive into all things North Carolina, from the formation of the coastline to the present day.
There are also a number of exhibits that change periodically, while others are permanent fixtures. Many of these exhibits are interactive, such as the “printing press” that allows you to make your own newspaper. There are also video presentations to give you a greater understanding of the exhibits.
The Cullman Performance Hall is also a highlight. Musicians, public speakers, and theatre groups often make appearances here, adding an artsy touch to the overall experience. With a restaurant and gift shop to complete the experience, set aside enough time to explore all the North Carolina History Center has to offer.
NEW BERN BATTLEFIELD PARK
Not all of New Bern’s history is as joyous as George Washington dancing in Tryon Palace. The nationwide conflict during the Civil War also significantly impacted the city, as evidenced by the New Bern Battlefield Park. Nearly one-third of the Battle of New Bern was fought on the grounds surrounding this park, marking a major site in the city’s military history.
Owned and maintained by the New Bern Historical Society, this Civil War battlefield park has remained virtually untouched since the battle was over. The fighting positions have been carefully preserved and offer an authentic glimpse at what the soldiers would have experienced in their struggle. You can even quite literally walk in the footsteps of the young confederate soldiers who fought here.
Today, you can take a self-guided tour through the park with an app that provides a detailed history of the conflict and what happened in this very spot. This immersive experience gives you a true sense of how intense war can be, whether in 1862 or 2023. On a more positive note, you’ll also have a nature walk with bird-watching opportunities.
SHOP AT THE PEPSI STORE
Fun fact: New Bern is the birthplace of Pepsi, one of the world’s most popular carbonated soft drinks. We returned downtown to Middle Street to visit the Pepsi Store. This one-of-a-kind establishment is where you can sample and buy delicious Pepsi products and merchandise that show off your love for this iconic beverage.
More of a museum than a typical store, the Pepsi Store features a detailed history of the beverage as well as vintage memorabilia related to its creation. A lot of it is for sale, so you can take a piece of New Bern’s history home with you. Beyond that, you’ll learn all about Caleb Bradham, the pharmacist who invented Pepsi, and how Mountain Dew became an offshoot of the parent brand.
BIKE, CANOE, OR HIKE THE CROATAN NATIONAL FOREST
There’s something idyllic about the Atlantic Ocean brushing up against a picturesque forest. And that’s exactly what you’ll find at the Croatan National Forest, a protected area along North Carolina’s coastline. Over 160,000 acres of forest, marshlands, and ponds make up this area. It is also home to several wildlife species, including black bears, alligators, and white-tailed deer.
Those with a bicycle can choose from several trails that wind through the park. The scenery is breathtaking, and the exercise is good for you. If you’d rather be on the water, the Croatan also offers some great canoeing and kayaking opportunities. Bring your own or rent one from a local outfitter for a memorable adventure.
At the end of the day, you can camp and stargaze in the forest or pitch a tent in one of the beautiful lakeside campgrounds. RV camping is also available for those who prefer a more luxurious experience.
FIND ALL THE NEW BERN BEARS
Back in 2010, New Bern was celebrating its 300th anniversary. To commemorate this special occasion, a number of “New Bern Bears” made of fiberglass were hidden throughout the city. Each statue was hand-painted by local artists, and the details are just amazing. Nearly 30 of these statues remain, so it’s a fun scavenger hunt to find them all.
If you’re feeling up for a treasure hunt, pick up a map at one of the participating businesses and start looking for all the New Bern Bears. You’re sure to have a memorable time discovering some of the city’s hidden gems!
ROAM THE RIVERFRONT
As a waterfront city, New Bern is all about the water. This should come as no surprise, but you can spend hours wandering along the scenic waterfront areas dotted with restaurants, shops, and other interesting attractions. The aptly-named Riverwalk is a popular spot for tourists, allowing you to start your stroll from downtown.
However, one spot really stands out in terms of significance. The New Bern Firemen’s Museum is a homage to the city’s long and storied firefighting history. From the tragic Great Fire of 1922 to the New Bern Fireboat, you’ll find all kinds of interesting exhibits related to the oldest fire company in North Carolina.
TOUR THE NEUSE RIVER
Since Neuse and Trent Rivers meet near New Bern, it’s a no-brainer to take a cruise or tour along the picturesque waterway. The North River Boat Tours are especially popular, as you’ll see the city from a different perspective and learn about its history in an immersive way. The captain has a lot of stories and interesting facts about the area, which will keep you entertained throughout the ride.
Alternatively, you can rent or bring your own kayak or paddleboard along the river to explore the natural surroundings and get some exercise simultaneously. Remember to bring a camera, as you’ll pass some beautiful sights along the way.
WALK ALONG UNION POINT PARK
Water is once again the theme of Union Point Park, a picturesque stretch of green space that hugs the Neuse River. This six-acre park is a local favorite for morning walks, afternoon jogs, or evening strolls when the sun sets. Picnic tables and benches are scattered throughout the park, so it’s the ideal location for a family outing.
Special events are held at Union Point Park throughout the year, and you might be lucky enough to catch one during your visit. Musical performances are the most common, but this space is also known for art shows and community festivals. In short, Union Park is a place for socializing, relaxing, or simply enjoying nature.
SHOP THE NEW BERN FARMERS MARKET
Next is the New Bern Farmers Market, a popular local institution that’s been around for nearly 40 years. It takes place on Front Street, right in the heart of downtown. The market is open on Saturday mornings only, giving you an excellent opportunity to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables and other locally-made products.
Visiting the Farmer’s Market is your opportunity to experience the laid-back, community-oriented vibe of New Bern and its residents. The vendors are friendly and happy to answer any questions you might have about their products. Plus, you can’t beat the wide selection of artisanal products. Arts and crafts, honey, jewelry, and more are all available.
With convenient parking and on-site bathrooms, the New Bern Farmers Market makes it easy to do your shopping. And if you’re in town during the holiday season, you’ll be treated to a festive Christmas market with merry decorations and holiday cheer. Note that the market only opens on Saturdays, so you’ll want to plan accordingly to enjoy it during your trip.
STROLL THE BOARDWALK AT LAWSON CREEK PARK
Our last suggestion of things to do in New Bern is in Lawson Creek Park. This 140-acre park starts where Trent River ends, so you can expect plenty of water views to go along with the forested trails and picnic sites. Fishing piers, boat launches, and swimming areas are all available for visitors to enjoy.
But the real highlight of Lawson Creek Park is the Boardwalk, a 400-foot-long wooden walkway that meanders through the forest and over the water.
TAKE A DAY TRIP
While in New Bern, you might also want to take a day trip to neighboring cities. There are plenty of nearby towns in North Carolina perfect for weekend getaways!
South of New Bern is the charming coastal town of Wilmington. You might recognize the town from a number of films and TV shows, including Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill.
Like New Bern, Wilmington is also steeped in history, with antebellum homes and other sites to explore.
Read More: 29+ AMAZING THINGS TO DO IN WILMINGTON NC YOU JUST CAN’T MISS
Halfway between New Bern and Wilmington is the town of Jacksonville. The home of US Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Jacksonville is a military town with a heavy focus on history.
There are plenty of monuments and memorials here, as well as museums dedicated to preserving the memories of those who served in the armed forces.
Read More: 13+ ADVENTUROUS THINGS TO DO IN JACKSONVILLE NC AND THE SURROUNDING AREA
A popular spot for vacationing families, Emerald Isle is a jaw-dropping strip of land that offers unrivaled views. Good fishing, good amenities, and good times await the traveler.
If you’re lucky, you might even come across nesting sea turtles or dolphins frolicking in the surf.
Read More: 12 ABSOLUTE BEST THINGS TO DO IN EMERALD ISLE NC
Finally, you can leave the mainland behind and head to the Outer Banks, an island chain world-famous for its gorgeous beaches. Whether you’re looking for a serene walk along the shore or want to try your hand at surfing, the Outer Banks has something for everyone.
One of Netflix’s hit shows, Outer Banks, is even set in the area, although it isn’t filmed in the North Carolina town.
Read More: 33 THINGS TO DO IN OUTER BANKS BY TOWN (+ an itinerary)
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO NORTH CAROLINA
- YOUR NORTH CAROLINA VACATION
- BRYSON CITY: 9 Amazing Things To Do In Bryson City NC For Outdoor Lovers
- CHARLOTTE: 51+ Awesome Things To Do In Charlotte NC For An Amazing Time
- RALEIGH: 17+ Unforgettable Things To Do In Raleigh, NC That You’ll Love
- BLOWING ROCK: 21 Fun & Amazing Things To Do In Blowing Rock NC
WHERE TO STAY IN NEW BERN NC
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