45+ Best Things To Do In North Carolina For An Amazing Time

North Carolina is known for its beautiful landscapes, historical sites, cultural events, and outdoor adventures. There are so many things to do in North Carolina — you will never run out of fun things to do and places to experience. 

From outdoor exploration to historical landmarks, and from top tourist attractions to weird and unusual sites, North Carolina is a vacationer’s dreamland.

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45+ Best Things To Do In North Carolina For An Amazing Time

The Biltmore Estate

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.

  • Learn more about the estate by taking a tour and exploring the grounds and gardens.
  • Visit and tour the winery.
  • Enjoy outdoor activities like horseback riding, paddle boarding, fly fishing, biking, and more.
  • Kid-friendly options include playgrounds, a farmyard, and blacksmith demonstrations.
  • Enjoy dining in one of their many amazing restaurants.
  • Biltmore Estate offers lots of different lodging accommodations as well.

Read More: Biltmore: 27 Reasons Families Adore This Relaxing Resort| 15 Delectable Biltmore Restaurants To Indulge Your Taste Buds (+ 2 Bonuses)

Chimney Rock State Park

Truly one of the most beautiful state parks, Chimney Rock State Park is an amazing place to visit! I’ve visited this park with my family (and pups!) and we all had the best time.

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!  You can also take an elevator 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, like the trail to the mountain’s waterfall — a gorgeous site to behold.

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.

After, head to the restaurant in Chimney Rock Village and fill your bellies before heading out again.

Great Wolf Lodge

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 additional 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.

Stay Here: Great Wolf Lodge Concord/Charlotte | Read More: Great Wolf Lodge NC: 21 Unbeatable Tips For Newbies

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

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. We’ve taken many trips on this railroad with the kids, and it’s always a huge hit.

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 if you’re feeling really adventurous, have a look at their zip and rail packages, with ziplining options for the entire family!

Read More: 9 Amazing Things To Do In Bryson City NC For Outdoor Lovers

Visit The NC Film Sites

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!

Explore The Outdoors

things to do in north carolina beach

Blue Ridge Parkway

Take a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway and catch some of the most beautiful views in North Carolina. We love the many great hikes and overlooks here. The Blue Ridge Parkway is insanely popular during the fall season, but I think it’s great any time of year.

There are so many great opportunities for hiking, fishing, biking, and golfing along the parkway too. Campgrounds are open seasonally on the parkway. 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. 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.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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. Watch for elk!

Read More: 15 Things To Do In Cherokee NC That You Can’t Miss

Outer Banks Beaches

The beaches of the Outer Banks have so many great things to do. 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 is a must visit. 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.

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!

Read More: 33 Things To Do In Outer Banks By Town (+ An Itinerary)

Grandfather Mountain

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. Take a simple walk on their in-park nature trails, or tackle their backcountry hiking trails where you’ll find yourself climbing rope ladders and holding onto cables. 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! 

Read More: 24 Fun Things To Do In Boone NC You Can’t Miss

Linville Gorge

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, or 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.

Read More: 23+ Incredible Day Trips In NC For Every Style Of Traveler

Sliding Rock

Sliding Rock is a 60-foot natural water slide. 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!

Blue Ghost Fireflies

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. 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. 

Jordan Lake State Rec Area

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

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.

Read More: 31+ Essential Things To Do In Gatlinburg TN For Family Fun

JC Raulston Arboretum

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. The Japanese Garden, the Rose Garden, and the Butterfly Garden are favorites.

Read More: 17+ Unforgettable Things To Do In Raleigh, NC That You’ll Love

Capital Area Greenway Trail System

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.

Skiing And Snow Tubing

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.

You’ll find skiing, snowboarding, and tubing for every experience level at the mountain ski resorts in NC.

Hit the slopes at Sugar Mountain, or head to Beech Mountain for higher elevation. New to skiing?  Check out Appalachian Ski Mountain in Blowing Rock.  It’s the perfect place to learn.

Read More: 6 Best North Carolina Ski Resorts: We’ve Got The Deets So You Can Pick The Right Escape

HISTORICALLY SIGNIFICANT

Wright Brothers National Memorial

Wright Brothers Memorial

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.

Battleship North Carolina

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.

Read More: 29+ Amazing Things To Do In Wilmington NC You Just Can’t Miss

Old Salem Museums And Gardens

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.

Sullenberger Aviation Museum

The Sullenberger Aviation Museum, formerly 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.

NC Museum Of History

The North Carolina Museum of History in downtown Raleigh is the perfect place to learn about every aspect of North Carolina’s history.

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. You’ll also find numerous galleries and an events calendar offering up a number of cultural festivities.

The Omni Grove Park Inn

Book yourself some time at The Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville. The inn features immaculate rooms, several restaurants, a spa, and activities.

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.

Stay Here: The Omni Grove Park Inn | Read More: 24 Resorts In North Carolina That Will Have You Packing Your Bags

Mordecai Historic Park

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

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

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.

Read More: 23 Spectacular Christmas Train Rides In Georgia & The Southeast

Pullen Park

Pullen Park, just west of downtown Raleigh, 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.

Reed Gold Mine

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.

Read More: 51+ Awesome Things To Do In Charlotte NC For An Amazing Time

International Civil Rights Center and Museum

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.

Read More: 14 Family-Friendly Things To Do In Greensboro NC

High Hampton Inn

With cottages and multi-bedroom homes to choose from, visitors to the High Hampton Inn 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

Read More: High Hampton Resort: An Outstanding Respite In The Mountains

The Elizabethan Gardens

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.

Guilford Courthouse National Military Park

The Guilford Courthouse National Military Park in Greensboro features colonial exhibits featuring old looms, a water wheel, and a museum of Revolutionary War artifacts. 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

45+ Best Things To Do In North Carolina For An Amazing Time

Marbles Kids Museum

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.

Morehead Planetarium and Science Center

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.

North Carolina Zoo

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.

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. Your kids will also love taking a spin on the carousel, or riding on the tram.

NASCAR Hall Of Fame

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.

Charlotte Motor Speedway

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 often. From the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race to monster trucks, this is a destination that racing fans will not want to miss.

North Carolina Aquariums

North Carolina Aquariums is one of the best places to go with kiddos. 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.

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

The Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh features 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.

NC Transportation Museum

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.

Museum Of Life + Science

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.

WEIRD, BUT AWESOME

Carnivorous Plant Garden, Wilmington

Land Of Oz

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.

Read More: Escape to the Enchanted Land of Oz Beech Mountain Theme Park

The Road To Nowhere

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. Located inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the tunnel itself is open for those intrigued enough to walk through it. 

The Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden

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.

Whirligig Park (aka Acid Park)

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.

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.

Cloud Chamber

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.

Shangri-La Stone Village

A unique miniature village made completely of stone? 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.

North Carolina FAQ

What is North Carolina’s #1 attraction?

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the number 1 attraction in North Carolina. The park averages 12 million visitors a year, making it the most visited national park in the United States.

What is the most populated city in North Carolina?

The most populated city in North Carolina is Charlotte, NC.

When is the best time to visit North Carolina?

North Carolina is great to visit year-round, because there are so many great outdoor activities to do. If you’re looking for milder temperatures though, spring or fall would be ideal times to visit this state.

MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR NORTH CAROLINA VACATION

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45+ Best Things To Do In North Carolina For An Amazing Time