There are so many things to do in North Carolina — you will never run out of fun things to do and places to experience. Whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway, or just a quick day trip, there is plenty to do in NC!
From outdoor adventures to historical landmarks, and from top tourist attractions to weird and unusual sites, North Carolina is a vacationer’s dreamland.
Mountains or beaches, take your pick! Just get to North Carolina and have some fun.
Get ready for a fun, relaxing family vacation in Onslow County, NC. It is only 1.5 hour flight (or about a 7 hour drive) from Atlanta. Stay on the river in Swansboro, enjoying everything from a Family Picnic Cruise with Bayonet Enterprises to a half-day sand dollar/whelk/shark teeth excursion with Marsh Cruises. Try kayaking or paddleboarding, and shrimping and crabbing, too.
Or take a more relaxed coastal vacation in North Topsail Beach. Stay in the St Regis Resort or Villa Capriani. Both are right on the beach and ideal for families.
Camping more your thing? There is some awesome back-country camping right on the beach at Hammocks Beach State Park. What are you waiting for? Head to Onslow County!
Main Attractions Worth The Hype
North Carolina has some major tourist attractions you're going to want to experience! Here are some of the best.
The Biltmore Estate in Asheville is one of the most well-known attractions in North Carolina. It's America's largest private residence, and was once the home of George Vanderbilt and his family.
There are opportunities for you to learn more about the estate by walking around the house and the extensive gardens, or taking a tour of the winery. (Yes, please!)
You'll also find a number of outdoor activities to choose from, like horseback riding, paddle boarding, fly-fishing and biking, to name a few. There are lots of kid-friendly options too -- playgrounds, a farmyard, blacksmith demonstrations, and more.
After a full day, make sure you grab a bite to eat at one of their many fabulous restaurants. There are also many accommodations to choose from, if you're looking to make a weekend of it!
The Biltmore Estate has it all, making it the perfect place for a weekend getaway.
Truly one of the most beautiful state parks, Chimney Rock State Park is an amazing place to visit!
Chimney Rock is awesome because they have options for every type of visitor. There will be something for you whether you're looking for an athletic adventure, or just want to take in the views -- no climbing required.
If climbing is your thing -- try climbing the 500 steps to the top of the state park and take in the beautiful panoramic views -- you won't regret it! (Unless you think you might regret it, and in that case they do have an elevator that can take you most of the way up.)
Take a hike on the Skyline Trail that takes you to the highest peak in the park. Or try one of the many other trails available in the park. You can also take a hiking trail to the mountain's waterfall -- a gorgeous site to behold.
For those who are looking for even more adventure -- book yourself a rock climbing expedition for a full day, half-day, or a few hours, and be prepared to work your body as you learn to climb.
Want to take a break and grab a bite to eat? Head to the restaurant in Chimney Rock Village and fill your bellies before heading out again.
Ready to thrill (and exhaust) your kids? Then you've got to head to Great Wolf Lodge in Concord, just outside of Charlotte.
Great Wolf Lodge offers incredible accommodations on-site with kid-friendly rooms and suites big enough for an extended family vacation. But the best part is definitely their indoor water park that covers 80,000 square feet! With slides, rides, and pools for every age -- there truly is something for every kid at GWL.
And it's not just a water park! With attractions like mini-golf and bowling, arcades and a rope course, you and the kids won’t have a minute to be bored.
Grab a bite to eat at one of their many dining choices while you're there -- this resort is a one-stop-shop!
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad is located right outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the cute town of Bryson City!
Touring beautiful western North Carolina by train is a great way to take in all the amazing views!
Decide between a diesel- or a steam-powered experience, and choose between an open-air car (our favorite!) or a climate-controlled First Class car -- and everything in between.
There are some shorter family adventures the kids will love. During the holidays, families can board the Great Pumpkin Patch Express with the PEANUTS gang, or the Polar Express ride - complete with hot chocolate!
There are scenic train rides for every age -- the fall foliage train rides through the mountains are some of the most popular.
Order boxed lunches in advance and save yourself the trouble of packing something or picking up snacks. And if you’re feeling really adventurous, have a look at their zip and rail packages, with ziplining options for the entire family!
Are you a fan of The Hunger Games? How about Dirty Dancing? If you are, then you probably already know that these are just a couple of the movies that have been filmed across North Carolina.
Have "The Time of Your Life" reliving the famous "lift" scene from Dirty Dancing by visiting Lake Lure. And if you take our advice and visit Chimney Rock State Park -- you'll already be right there!
Hunger Games fans will love exploring from Charlotte to Asheville to DuPont State Recreational Forest in Henderson, so you can experience nature in a way that the characters did -- minus the stress of survival!
Or consider taking the Nicholas Sparks tour of the North Carolina coast. You definitely can't go wrong with that!
Exploring the Outdoors
When it comes to the outdoors, North Carolina has it all. Whether you're looking for mountains or beaches -- or something in between -- North Carolina has it!
Take a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway and catch some of the most beautiful views in North Carolina. I just cannot get enough!
The Blue Ridge Parkway is insanely popular during the fall season, but I think it's great any time of year! Taking in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains from the many overlooks along the parkway is just spectacular no matter when you make it up there. (But before you head up there in the winter months, make sure to check their site. It often closes for icy conditions.)
It's not just beautiful views! There are so many great opportunities for hiking, fishing, biking, and golfing too.
Looking to make it a weekend trip? Campgrounds are open seasonally on the parkway. For those who don't want to rough it, the Pisgah Inn is a great place to stay, and boasts spectacular views of Pisgah National Forest.
There are nine Blue Ridge Parkway visitor centers in North Carolina, and they make for great stops. They're located at some of the most popular points of interest. You'll find restrooms, snacks, and learning opportunities too. Make sure to get your kids "sworn in" as Junior Rangers at a visitor center along the way!
For those who love the outdoors, there is no better place to visit in North Carolina than the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Enjoy the scenery from the overlooks throughout the park, hike some of the many miles of trails, make a weekend of it and camp at the park, or hike up to LeConte Lodge for a stay.
Make sure to stop by Oconaluftee Visitor Center just outside of Cherokee. You'll find a Mountain Farm Museum, and an easy trail along the river that your kids will love.
Looking to plan a beach vacation for the whole family? The beaches of the Outer Banks offer everything you could possibly dream of.
Head to the charming town of Manteo, and visit the Roanoke Islands Lighthouse while you're there. Or head to Kitty Hawk, where kayaking, fishing, and paddle boarding are popular.
Go surfing or paddle boarding in Duck. With 7 miles of beaches, this delightful town consistently rates high with the Travel Channel. (Take a walk on the Soundside Boardwalk, too!)
And in Nags Head, you'll find plenty of free parking and wide open beaches! Want to fish? Head to Jeanette's Pier -- you can get your license, rent a rod, and get your bait while you're there, so you'll be all set.
Other must-dos? See the wild horses in Corolla and visit the Currituck Lighthouse while you're there. Visit the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and visit the Bodie Island Lighthouse, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the Avon Pier, or Frisco Beach. Or ride a horse on the beach with Equine Adventures!
There are so many great beaches in the Outer Banks, and you can't go wrong with any of them! Here's a great itinerary to get you started.
Grandfather Mountain in Linville offers some of the best hiking trails in the south, and it's the home of America’s highest suspension footbridge!
There is a hiking trail for every type of hiker here. Looking to become one with nature? Take a simple walk on their in-park nature trails. Want something more intense? Tackle their backcountry hiking trails where you’ll find yourself climbing rope ladders and holding onto cables. Not up for a long walk? Stop at the Nature Museum or have a look at some of the Wildlife Habitats.
And be sure to stop at The Fudge Shop before you leave! Trust me, you deserve it.
Linville Gorge in western North Carolina is one of the most incredible locations for hiking and backpacking in the state! It's sometimes referred to as the "Grand Canyon of the East" so you know it's amazing.
There are miles of hiking trails here. Plenty of beautiful mountain view hikes, and amazing waterfall hikes, too. Check out the Linville Falls Trail for waterfall views -- you'll be glad you did! Or if mountain views are your jam, try the Hawksbill Mountain Trail and catch the sunset from the top!
There are backcountry camping opportunities here too. Camping is free, but you must have a permit for camping on weekends and holidays from May through October.
All you need to know about Sliding Rock is that it is a 60-foot natural water slide. A 60-foot natural water slide! How cool is that?! The "slide" ends in a pool of water that's about 8 feet deep -- so get ready to get wet!
For $3, you can spend the day sliding to your heart's content. In order to slide, you must known how to swim. Flotation devices are permitted, and if you don't have your own, they rent them there too. Children under 7 must be accompanied down the rock with an adult. In the summer months, there is a lifeguard on duty.
This is a super popular tourist destination, so my advice is to get there early so you can get a parking spot!
And if you're not in the mood to slide, there are two observation platforms for those who just want to watch.
Often seen from mid-May to mid-June in the DuPont State Recreational Forest, the blue ghost fireflies are breathtakingly beautiful, but can be very difficult to find -- which just makes them all the more special.
These fireflies glow blue just above the forest floor. To see them, you must be very patient -- they don't come out at twilight like other fireflies -- they wait until it's dark.
To protect the blue ghost fireflies, make sure you follow the rules of the forest -- stay on the trails, pay attention to the forest hours, and bring a flashlight for your trek back to your car. And prepare to be amazed.
Jordan Lake in Apex is, simply put: a really beautiful lake. The entire area offers spectacular views that you can enjoy from the land out on the water.
Jordan Lake is home to seven swimming beaches, hiking trails, camping spots, and boating and fishing are enjoyed here too. Spotting bald eagles and osprey is a popular pastime.
The park rangers work with the Morehead Planetarium to offer Skywatching events, in which you’ll spend some time learning about the night sky.
Clingman's Dome is the highest point of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at 6,643 feet -- and it's a very popular spot that straddles both North Carolina and Tennessee.
The Dome offers some of the most beautiful views you’ll ever see, with an observation tower that offers a well-rounded view of the entire area.
The paved trail to the observation tower isn't far -- only a half-mile one-way -- but man, is it steep! Like...they don't recommend you bring a stroller for your little one, because it's just -- STEEP! But you'll be rewarded with 360-degree views of the Smoky Mountains, which makes the hike totally worth it.
Located at NC State University in Raleigh, the JC Raulston Arboretum is open every day and completely free to all guests. (Donations are encouraged.)
With over a dozen gardens featuring a variety of plants and flowers -- from perennial plants to berries and trees -- you’ll find plenty of beauty here.
Looking to find a moment of zen? Head to the Japanese garden. And don’t forget to stop at the Rose Garden and the Butterfly Garden, both favorites of Arboretum visitors.
Looking for something to do in Raleigh that keeps you outside for much of the day? Consider tackling the Capital Area Greenway Trail System.
The Greenway offers over 100 miles of interconnected trails for you to explore. You can walk, jog, ride your bike, take the kids in a wagon or stroller, and enjoy a bit of nature tucked away inside the capital city.
Head on up to North Carolina's High Country and experience winter sports to your heart's content!
This southern state is north enough to get real, actual snow in the winter months. (And even if they don't, they guarantee snow, no matter the weather!)
You'll find skiing, snowboarding, and tubing for every experience level at the mountain resorts in NC.
And if your prefer to stay off the skis, North Carolina has plenty of snow tubing spots -- which is a great choice the whole family will love.
History buffs rejoice! North Carolina has some amazing historical spots that are guaranteed to thrill you.
A visit to the Wright Brothers National Memorial is a must-do! Learn all about Wilbur and Orville Wright and their amazing accomplishments.
Have a look at exactly where they first took flight, and walk to the four locations where they landed. Then, keep walking to the national commemorative monument recognizing their success. The monument is perched on a dune 90-feet in the air -- Big Kill Devil Hill. It's where the Wright Brothers first tested their gliders.
Pick up a Junior Ranger booklet for the kids so they can learn all about the park and how to protect it. They’ll get a fun badge after they complete all of their ranger assignments.
The Battleship North Carolina is one of the most highly decorated battleships of World War II. It has been authentically restored and named a National Historic Landmark.
You can tour the ship, and take a walk through the exhibits -- which help you feel as though you're experiencing history first-hand.
Consider making an adventure of it and print out a copy of this trivia questionnaire about the ship and see how many answers you can come up with along your tour.
Want more to explore in Wilmington, NC? We've got a whole list of 29+ amazing things to do while you're there!
Old Salem is a historic district found in Winston-Salem, NC. Originally founded by the Moravian community in 1753, this small district features over 90 buildings and 100 acres of gardens.
You can walk down Main Street and enjoy the beauty for free, but if you buy an all-in-one ticket, you can explore the entire district. Twenty-five of the buildings are interpreted with a staff, so you can learn in-depth facts about these historical buildings.
The Carolinas Aviation Museum offers a wealth of information to its visitors.
Including commercial, civil, and military aircraft in their exhibits, the museum does its best to preserve aviation history.
With a library on-site, you’ll find the opportunity to read up on decades of aircraft history and review decades worth of artifacts.
Looking to learn about every aspect of North Carolina history? The North Carolina Museum of History in downtown Raleigh is the place for you.
You’ll find the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame here. Founded in 1962, the NC Hall of Fame offers over 200 pieces of sports memorabilia for you to see. With numerous galleries and an events calendar offering up a number of cultural festivities, the museum is the place to be.
Looking to take in some history and escape the every day for a while? Book yourself some time at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville.
The inn features immaculate rooms, several restaurants, a spa, and activities. And for the history buffs out there, they also offer self-guided, audio history tours!
The 45-minute tours are free to guests. Learn more about the history of the resort, which has been open to guests for over a century. Find out about some of their most memorable guests, and enjoy a look at how things used to be when they first opened.
Once the location of the largest plantation in Wake County, Mordecai Historic Park is filled with history. It is the oldest house in Raleigh at its original location.
With historic buildings, structures, and landscaping, this area captures a feeling of what life was like so many years ago.
The Historic Raleigh Trolley operates hour-long tours from here March-December.
Tweetsie Railroad is a Wild West Theme Park adventure located in Blowing Rock.
Here you'll find a 3-mile train adventure -- that starts with being pulled by a steam engine that's been in commission since 1919!
You'll also find live entertainment, amusement park rides, panning for gold, and the Deer Park Zoo. Basically -- if you have kids, this is a great place to go.
The park is open to the public from April through October. During the holidays, they offer special events -- like their Ghost Train, Day Out with Thomas, and Tweetsie Christmas.
Pullen Park, just west of downtown Raleigh, will instantly transport you back to the good ole days!
Pullen Park is the 5th oldest operating amusement park in the United States. Here, you can rent a paddleboat, ride a carousel, take a trip on their miniature train, go for a swim, or catch a play!
The park is best known for its yearly Holiday Express event -- which takes place every December, and turns the park into a winter wonderland filled with holiday decorations and activities.
Sounds like the perfect way to get in the holiday spirit!
The site of the first documented gold find in the United States, Reed Gold Mine in Midland is a fun and free place to visit.
Take a guided tour of the underground tunnels, have a look at some of the old mining equipment exhibits, or spend a few dollars and have the family pan for gold themselves. Kids can pan for gold from April-October.
Learn all about the history of gold and how North Carolina was one of the top producers of gold until the California Gold Rush of 1849.
(And it's only 20 miles from Great Wolf Lodge in Concord!)
At the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, aspects of the Civil Rights Movement are represented.
This educational center offers a number of historical images and information to teach its visitors about the fight for civil and human rights that African-Americans have faced throughout the years.
The non-violent protests of the Greensboro sit-ins that took place in the the 1960s are celebrated here.
Guided tours are offered daily.
Established in the 1830s as a cottage and estate for the Hampton family to escape the heat, the High Hampton Inn now offers the same to vacationers from all over the U.S.
With cottages and multi-bedroom homes to choose from, visitors rent lodging nearby and enjoy access to the lake for fishing and swimming.
Throughout the summer there are several children's programs offered, with options for kids of all ages. One of their most unique activities is an opportunity to take a hike with a llama! I mean, you can't pass that up.
Opened in 1960, The Elizabethan Gardens on Roanoke Island in the Outer Banks offers educational opportunities that go as far back as the early colonies.
With over 500 different species of plants and flowers, the gardens offer something beautiful for everyone.
Horticultural history abounds, from roses in the rose garden to an ancient live oak tree that dates as far back as approximately 1585!
If you’re a history buff, the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park in Greensboro is the perfect place for you to visit.
With colonial exhibits featuring old looms, a water wheel, and a museum of Revolutionary War artifacts, you won’t be bored. You can also take some time to explore the grounds and take in the history by walking the battlefield trails on your own.
Enjoy the many monuments documenting the history of these grounds as you go. The Guilford Council National Military Park also has a Junior Ranger program for the kids, so they can earn a badge as they learn about the park.
Zoos, Museums and More
Zoo, museums, science centers, aquariums, and more! You'll find something for everyone in your group to enjoy in NC.
Perfect for little ones, The Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh offers entertainment for children aged 10 and under.
With opportunities to be creative, to learn, and to play, Marbles offers your children a chance to learn through hands-on discovery. Exhibits like Art Loft and IdeaWorks allow kids to let their imaginations run free.
The Power2Play exhibit gets your kids moving, jumping and bouncing - getting out all of their excess energy while still playing indoors.
Quench your thirst for scientific discovery with one or more of the 14 planetarium shows available at the Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill.
You'll find ‘live’ star shows that incorporate the current night sky, along with several multimedia show options to choose from. The Science Stage shows offer live science demonstrations where the audience participates and interacts with the presenters.
The best part? Some of the shows are completely free to attendees.
Recognized as one of the largest natural habitat zoos in the United States, the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro offers you an opportunity to see exhibits featuring animals from North America to Africa.
There is so much to see and do at the North Carolina Zoo -- make sure you set aside time to see it all!
In between checking out all the awesome animals, you can grab lunch at one of the on-site restaurants or snack bars. Or you can bring a picnic and enjoy it at one of the picnic tables just outside of the zoo! (Just make sure you get your hand stamped so you can get back in.)
Your kids will also love taking a spin on the carousel, or riding on the tram.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte is the perfect destination for every NASCAR fan.
Honoring NASCAR’s history, heritage, and icons with interactive exhibits and information, you’ll learn more than you ever imagined about the sport here. And most importantly, you’ll be able to visit the Hall of Honor to find out all about the NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees.
Located in Uptown Charlotte, the hall is surrounded by great restaurants and hotels, and is about 20 minutes away from our next attraction!
Dubbed ‘The Greatest Place to See the Race,’ the Charlotte Motor Speedway is the perfect destination for those looking to catch some excitement and fast action firsthand.
With a number of events and tours available, you’re going to want to be sure to check their calendar and book your tickets in advance so you can plan your adventure.
From the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race to monster trucks, this is a destination that racing fans will not want to miss.
With four locations -- Roanoke Island, Pine Knoll Shores, Fort Fisher, and Jennette's Pier -- finding an aquarium near you is easier than ever.
The touch tanks and behind-the-scene tours at the Fort Fisher location make it the perfect place to head for an interactive and educational experience. Tired of just looking and want to catch yourself a fish or two? Head to Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head. Have a toddler in the family? The Aqua Tots program at the Roanoke Island location is perfect for them. Or consider checking out the turtles or going surf fishing at Pine Knoll Shores.
Whichever location you choose you’re sure to have an incredible time.
With so much to see and do at the Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, where should you begin?
Be sure to get yourself a copy of the museum guide once you’re on-site, or consider downloading their app in advance so you can map out your visit. With exhibits covering prehistoric NC, to the deep sea and ever-changing ocean floor, your perspective on the natural world will shift tremendously after a visit here.
Be sure to stop in at the Living Conservatory on the fourth floor to experience an incredible journey to a Central American dry forest without stepping off the museum grounds.
With a number of locomotive exhibits and an actual train ride, the Transportation Museum in Spencer is the perfect stop for your little (or big!) train fanatic.
Learn about North Carolina’s mass transit history, from streetcars to airlines. Take a ride on an antique diesel train and consider upgrading to ride with the engineer.
The Transportation Museum offers two very well-known special events each year, so be sure to look into the Day Out With Thomas or The Polar Express Train Ride during the holiday season.
The Museum of Life and Science in Durham will keep your family busy all day.
Start off inside with their Weather and Aerospace exhibits, and make your way outside to check out the farmyard and the animals in their Explore the Wild exhibits. They even have a Dinosaur Trail!
Their Magic Wings Butterfly House is one of the largest butterfly houses on the East Coast. With a variety of birds, insects, flowers and butterflies, it will easily be one of your favorite exhibits at the museum. And if you stay really still, you just might coax one into landing on you.
Weird, But Awesome
Weird, but awesome locations abound in North Carolina! The one thing they all have in common? You've got to see them to believe them.
In the 1970's, the Land of Oz was one of the most popular theme parks in North Carolina. And now, although not as active, you can still see this amazing site.
The Land of Oz is now available for personal tours, birthday parties, and private functions in the summer months. They also host special events throughout the year.
I mean, you can actually follow the yellow brick road! Or tour Dorothy's house! How cool is that?!
"I am going nowhere." --Michael Scott
The Road To Nowhere is exactly what it sounds like -- it's an unfinished road -- that goes nowhere. Specifically, it stops at the mouth of a tunnel.
Several decades after work on it began, it remains unfinished. Referenced as a “broken promise” by residents of the area, the road was to exist to ensure that they had access to old family cemeteries on the other side.
Located inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the tunnel itself is open for those intrigued enough to walk through it. Just make sure to bring a flashlight so you can find your way to the other side!
Featuring the endangered species of the Venus Flytrap -- the official carnivorous plant of NC (!) -- the Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden in Wilmington is a fascinating spot to visit.
As the Venus Flytrap plant is native to North and South Carolina, this is one of the few places in the U.S. that you can find them and see them in their natural environment.
Just be sure and wear closed-toed shoes when you go -- you don’t want one of the plants thinking you’re on the menu!
Covering two acres, Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park in Wilson currently houses 16 whirligigs! What are whirligigs, you ask? Whirligigs are the creations of Vollis Simpson, a master at his craft.
At age 65, after retirement, Simpson began creating whirligigs out of scrap metal and other ‘junk’ that he had collected over the years. In 2013, North Carolina named Simpson’s whirligigs the official folk art of the state.
The park itself offers a farmers market, an amphitheater and plenty of places for you to enjoy these fun creations on display, and become one with nature. Those supporting Whirligig Park have a plan in place to display all 31 of Simpson’s whirligigs.
Located at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, the Cloud Chamber is on the museum’s sculpture trail.
A small shelter built with one door and a small opening at the top, the cloud chamber offers a bit of an upside-down perspective -- one where, instead of looking up and out to see the trees and clouds, visitors look down at the ground and see an inverted projection. Neat!
A unique miniature village made completely of stone? Can you picture it? Well, you can see it in person with a visit to the Shangri-La Stone Village in Prospect Hill.
Henry Warren was about 75 years old when he started working on his tiny creations. It took him nine years to craft the entire thing. He created a magical village filled with places you'd find in a real town -- from a motel to a church, a school and a library, and even a small stone bathroom.
It's a quirky little spot to stop and enjoy on your way through town!
This post was originally written by Andrea Bates, but has since been updated in order to remain current.
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