North Carolina has so much to offer travelers well beyond the mountains and cities. Whether you’re looking for the great outdoors or swanky restaurants, important history, or quirky experiences, you’ll find it here.
These six destinations are our picks for the places you can’t miss when visiting North Carolina.
Asheville, North Carolina is one of the South’s most popular weekend destinations, located a short drive from major cities like Atlanta and Charlotte. It’s also off the Blue Ridge Parkway, an incredible scenic drive.
Biltmore Estate is the largest private home in America, where the Vanderbilts once spent their summers. It’s also one of the city’s top attractions.
Another draw is the many breweries, including some that sit on the French Broad River in the River Arts District. This neighborhood is popular for its street art.
If you love the great outdoors, go on a paddleboarding or ziplining excursion. There’s even a tour company that brings guests into the forest to search for edible plants.
Asheville has equal amounts of fine dining restaurants and casual eateries. Cúrate, Benne on Eagle, and Table are on the high end while White Duck Taco Shop and Biscuit Head are fast and affordable.
The Grove Park Inn is by far the most well-known hotel in Asheville, hosting countless celebrities and politicians over the years. If you’re traveling on a budget, Sweet Peas Hostel is in the heart of downtown.
Bryson City and Cherokee
Bryson City and neighboring Cherokee are on the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This area is also the ancestral land of the Cherokee people.
Learn about the history and customs at Unto These Hills, a seasonal outdoor drama, the Ocanaluftee Indian Village, and the Museum of the Cherokee Indian.
In Bryson City, take a ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad or go for a walk on the Road to Nowhere. This area popular for whitewater rafting. End the day with a pint from Nantahala Brewing.
Bryson City is home to the majority of the area’s restaurants. The High Test Deli is an automotive-themed restaurant with hearty sandwiches and foot-long hot dogs with toppings piled high. Nabers Drive In has carhop service, homemade barbecue, and classic milkshakes.
Book a luxurious room at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino or camp at Cherokee KOA. Bryson City has a number of rentals and resorts like Lakeview at Fontana and A Loft in the Smokies.
Charlotte is an essential stop for visitors to the state, located in the middle of everything. Start your visit at the Levine Museum of the New South, an interactive museum focusing on the history and culture of the South.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame showcases the sport with virtual reality experiences and exhibits from racing’s most famous names.
The city also has an abundance of art museums. The Mint Museum has two campuses, including one in a former US Mint. The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art has an incredible permanent collection.
The U.S. National Whitewater Center has over 700 acres made up of a training facility and outdoor park. The Carowinds theme park is nearby as well.
Halcyon Flavors From the Earth at the Mint Museum incorporates Southern ingredients in artfully prepared dishes. Optimist Hall is a food hall with stalls selling Japanese, Italian, and Indian cuisines.
There are plenty of Charlotte hotels, with new ones opening every year. The Westin Charlotte is convenient to Uptown while Kimpton Tryon Park Hotel has perks like daily happy hour. The Ballantyne is a luxurious resort.
Durham is the Triangle’s most underrated destination, home to Duke University. Here you’ll find a number of unique attractions like the Duke Basketball Museum and Sports Hall of Fame, Duke Lemur Center, Nasher Museum of Art, and Sarah P. Duke Gardens.
During the spring, catch a Durham Bulls game, the beloved minor league baseball team is best associated with the film Bull Durham. Get outside and explore the Eno Rock Quarry, a popular spot for swimming, hiking, and biking.
Visitors have endless choices for a good meal. Start at Jack Tar and the Colonel’s Daughter, which has midcentury diner decor and a menu of breakfast all day.
Dashi serves both ramen or izakaya small plates with Japanese and American beers, sakes, and whiskeys. Open since 1998, Guglhupf serves authentic bratwursts, potato dumplings, and schnitzel with German beers.
Spend the night at Durham’s trendy hotels, including Unscripted Durham and The Durham Hotel. Morehead Manor is a bed and breakfast that has been operating in a Colonial Revival home for over two decades.
The High Country is made up of dozens of towns, including Boone, Blowing Rock, Valle Crucis, Wilkesboro, Banner Elk, Beech Mountain, and Linville.
The area has a number of longtime attractions like Tweetsie Railroad, Grandfather Mountain, Linville Caverns, and Mast General Store. The Land of Oz is a seasonal theme park inspired by the classic tale.
The region also has a number of wineries including Grandfather Vineyard & Winery, Banner Elk Winery, and Linville Falls Winery. Some even have onsite villas.
During ski season, you can hit the slopes at Beech Mountain Resort, Sugar Mountain Resort, and Appalachian Ski Mountain.
College students love the large portions at Black Cat Burrito and Boone Bagelry. Woodlands Barbeque Restaurant in Blowing Rock and Famous Louise’s Rock House Restaurant in Linville Falls have been around for years.
Cabins are a popular option in the High Country but there are also resorts like Pinnacle Inn Resort and Chetola Resort at Blowing Rock. Green Park Inn is a historic hotel in Blowing Rock.
The Outer Banks is certainly an incredible stretch of coastline but Onslow County to the South is also worth exploring, including Jacksonville, Camp Lejeune, Topsail Island, and Swansboro.
Learn about the history of the area at Onslow County Museum, which has exhibits on Native American dugout canoes, venus flytraps, and the military ties in Onslow.
Lejeune Memorial Gardens on the Marines base honor the sacrifice of the members of the armed forces, including the Montford Point Marines.
Hammocks Beach State Park and Bear Island are as close you can get to a private island, accessible by ferry. There are also kayaking outfitters in town.
Support veteran-owned restaurants like The Milk Road and Kettle Diner. Or enjoy fresh seafood and waterfront views at BORO Restaurant & Bar and Saltwater Grill.
If you’d like to stay in the heart of Swansboro, book a room at Church Street Inn or Hook Wine and Sinker property on VRBO. Villa Capriani offers beachfront condos on Topsail Island.
Wilmington was used as a filming location for your favorite movies and television shows throughout the last few decades. Many can still be visited today.
Among them is Airlie Gardens, a 67-acre former private home dotted with sculptures. Battleship North Carolina is another popular stop, a World War II battleship that now permanently resides in the Cape Fear River.
The Cape Fear Museum of History features exhibits on the region in the prehistoric age, a simulated space station, and artifacts from basketball legend Michael Jordan.
On the way to the beach, detour to Fort Fisher, home to Fort Fisher Historic Site, Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, and the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher.
Wilmington is perhaps the South’s most underrated food town with incredible restaurants around every corner. Pinpoint is among them, focusing on sustainable and local ingredients, especially seafood.
The Caribbean flavors at Savorez include dishes like tuna tostadas, sancocho, and jerk shrimp tacos. Benny’s Big Time, from chef Vivian Howard, serves Italian-inspired dishes like wood-fired pizzas, risotto, and ravioli.
Spend the night at the trendy ARRIVE Wilmington, a stylish chain with an in-house restaurant and bar. Dreamers Welcome has two locations in the city with an emphasis on design.
Graystone Inn is a 1905 mansion-turned-inn featured in countless film and television projects. Blockade Runner Beach Resort is right on Wrightsville Beach.
The Moravian people and former tobacco giants developed much of Winston-Salem into what it is today. Learn about the early settlement at Old Salem, a living history museum.
Tour the home of RJ and Katharine Reynolds at Reynolda House Museum of American Art, which features the works of some of America’s most notable artists, from Mary Cassatt to Georgia O’Keefe. There’s also an adjacent botanical garden.
The Katharine Brasserie is named for the matriarch of the Reynolds family. The French-inspired eatery serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as cocktails and brunch.
Fuel up for the day at Krankies Coffee, which has coffee and beer, along with sandwiches and salads. Later in the day, chow down on “puffy” tacos and margaritas at Porch Kitchen and Cantina.
The Kimpton Cardinal Hotel in the historic Reynolds Building has been carefully restored with perks like daily happy hour and morning coffee.
The Brookstown Inn is another historic hotel with a resident cat and daily breakfast. Or live in luxury at Graylyn, a 1930 mansion that is now a hotel and conference center.
The Yadkin Valley, located north of the Triad, is home to the state’s best wineries, set in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Among the popular vineyards to tour are Shelton Vineyards, Raffaldini Vineyards & Winery, and Childress Vineyards. Each offers tours and tastings.
You’ll also find communities like Mt. Airy, home to the Andy Griffith Museum, and Wilkesboro, where the annual Merlefest music festival takes place.
The Wilkes Heritage Museum informs visitors on the history of Wilkesboro while Call Family Distillers makes authentic moonshine.
In Mt. Airy, dine at Snappy Lunch or Old North State Winery. Lexington is home to legendary barbecue so start at Lexington Barbecue.
Most of the hotels in this area are chains near the highway, but have all the desired amenities. Choose from Hampton Inn Wilkesboro, Days Inn Yadkinville, Holiday Inn Express Mount Airy, and Holiday Inn Express Lexington.
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