12 Best Places to Visit in North Carolina

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Looking for the best places to visit in North Carolina? If so, you’re certainly in the right place.

North Carolina is one of my favorite states to visit. I love that it has changing seasons there. It never gets too hot and only has a month or so of snowy winter weather. The weather is temperate and perfect for being outdoors—my happy place!

With all the amazing scenery and hiking opportunities, North Carolina is a great place to visit if you love the outdoors and being active while on vacation. I was born in North Carolina and spent my early childhood years there, so I might be a little biased! 

The state also boasts a pretty long coastline with beaches and barrier islands. These are great spots if you are visiting in the warmer months. No matter what season you plan to visit, the great state of North Carolina has endless things to do. 

If you’re planning a North Carolina vacation, here are my top recommended places to visit in the state. I included a few cities and many tourist attractions to help you plan your road trip or visit. 

north carolina state sign, best places to visit in north carolina, attractions in north carolina

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1. Asheville 

Asheville is easily one of the best places to visit in North Carolina.

My family rents a cabin in the mountains near Asheville every Christmas, so this city has become one of my favorite places to visit. Even in the colder winter, the weather tends to be mild. You can still walk downtown and explore all the shops and restaurants in the coldest months. 

One of my favorite things in Asheville is hitting all the local breweries. My favorites are Wicked Weed and The Funkatorium. They also have seasonal food menus if you feel like eating while you’re there. 

Asheville is also a great place to center yourself if you want to take some of the best trips in NC. You can get to Chimney Rock State Park, Lake Lure, and Mount Mitchell State Park in less than two hours. 

Here is a map of downtown Asheville to help you find all the best places to eat, drink, and shop. 

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aerial view of asheville, sunset, places to visit in north carolina

2. Raleigh 

One of the other cities you need to visit in North Carolina is Raleigh. As the capital of North Carolina, it has a large downtown area worth exploring. The city is also known for its many art museums, including the North Carolina Museum of Art. 

If you love nature, Raleigh is also a nice spot because of Hemlocks Buff Nature Preserve. It’s full of hiking trails, nature trails, and scenic overlooks that make perfect photo ops. They also have some small interactive exhibits and educational programs if you bring the kids along. 

There’s also the Juniper Botanical Gardens just a little north of Raleigh. And if you really love hiking, you can hit the Mountains to Sea Trail. It’s the longest hiking trail in North Carolina. Most people choose to just hike small sections, though. 

Check out this beer tour of Raleigh.

Here is a map of Raleigh to help you get around. 

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downtown raleigh, statues in a courtyard, fun things to do in nc

3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park on the East Coast and one of the best places to visit in North Carolina. It’s stunning and is easily accessible from many North Carolina cities. Straddling the border of NC and Tennessee, you can easily visit both states if you’re in the area. 

I recommend visiting the park in the spring to see flowers blooming or in the autumn to see the leaves changing colors. While the park is open all year, I think it looks a bit dreary in the winter since all the trees are bare. 

Hiking is the most popular activity in this amazing park. You can also camp in a tent or with an RV in several places throughout the park. 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is also a great North Carolina day trip if you just want to do a half-day of hiking or sightseeing. 

Here is a map of the park. 

great smoky mountains national park, spring time, purple flowers blooming

4. Hanging Rock State Park 

Hanging Rock State Park is a perfect day trip from Winston-Salem. It’s another great place for hiking, especially if you have kids. Many of the trails are paved and not very difficult. 

In the middle of Hanging Rock State Park, a large lake is perfect for boating and swimming. You can even fish in certain areas if you have your own equipment. Of course, you must see the hanging rock as it’s the main attraction. 

You can hike up a short trail and then go to the edge of the rock. It’s very large, so you can grab a few photos and head out or sit down and take in the views. 

Hanging Rock State Park is located at 1790 Hanging Rock Park Rd, Danbury, NC 27016, United States. You can enter every day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and entrance is $6 per person. 

close up view of hanging rock, places to visit in north carolina, attractions in north carolina

5. Blue Ridge Parkway 

When I was a kid, my parents used to take me to the Blue Ridge Parkway in the fall to see all the colors of the leaves changing. It’s one of the best places to visit on the East Coast to see the beautiful colors of autumn. 

It’s also a great place to see if you love long car rides because you can sit in the car and watch all the colors go by. There are certain places to park the car and take photos as well. In the summer months, the parkway is entirely green, which means some pretty incredible views as well. 

Chances are you won’t drive the entire parkway because it’s 469 miles long. Driving small sections of it is enough to witness the incredible views. 

Check out this map of the parkway to help you plan your drive. 

autumn at blue ridge parkway, leaves changing to orange, red yellow and orange trees

6. Outer Banks 

This is one of the most popular places to visit in North Carolina. The Outer Banks are a set of barrier islands along the coast of North Carolina. I recommend visiting in the summer so you can go swimming and boating. 

The islands are family-friendly, with many miniature golf courses and fun restaurants. Bodie Island is the main place to go shopping. I also recommend a stay on this island if you want more amenities and to feel close to civilization. 

The further south you go in the island chain, the more underdeveloped the area becomes. Cape Lookout National Seashore is one of the southernmost points and is great for shelling and birding. 

It’s also very remote, so the water is clean, and the sand is soft and white. You can also camp here if you’re okay with primitive surroundings. 

Take a look at this map of the Outer Banks to see the location of the islands. 

lighthouse on one of the islands of the outer banks, best places to visit in north carolina

7. Carowinds Amusement Park 

Carowinds is different from your average amusement park. They recently built a waterpark near the amusement park, making it a great summer destination. 

The amusement park section has roller coasters and rides suited for children and those who might be afraid of getting on adrenaline rides. If you’re a real adrenaline junkie, you can head to the drop tower or the electro-spin ride. 

Carowinds is one of the top-visited places in North Carolina because it’s also located in the large town of Charlotte. You can spend days or even a full week in Charlotte with all the different things to do. Some top spots include the US National Whitewater Center and the NASCAR Hall of Fame. 

Carowinds Amusement Park is located at 300 Carowinds Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28273, United States. Hours change according to season, so make sure to check their website. Daily ticket prices start at $45. 

rollercoaster at carowinds amusement park, fun things to do in nc

8. Poplar Grove Plantation 

North Carolina has a lot of beautiful old plantations. Many are now historical sites that can be toured, and Poplar Grove is one of the most visited. 

They have daily tours of the museum and the grounds where you can learn about the slaves that lived there. The tour encourages people to reflect on the experiences of the people who once called it home and the surrounding community. 

I personally found the tour to be very moving and much more in-depth than some plantation tours. They provide the perspective not only of the owners but also of the slaves. Many other plantations don’t provide the whole picture. 

There’s also a farmer’s market every Saturday morning if you’re staying in the area and want to support the local farmers. 

Poplar Grove Plantation is located in Wilmington, NC. Wilmington is right on the coast, so you can access the beach from here, too. 

Poplar Grove Plantation is located at 10200 US-17, Wilmington, NC 28411, United States. They’re open Wednesday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tours start at $10. 

north carolina plantations, poplar grove plantation, large tree on plantation

9. Biltmore Estate 

While you’re in the Asheville area, head to Biltmore Estate. It’s about a 30 to 45-minute drive, depending on the traffic. The Biltmore is set against the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and is the largest home in America. The estate is over 8,000 acres. 

You can visit the Biltmore any time of the year, and each season has its advantages. The estate has every room decorated with a Christmas tree and other decorations around Christmas. The grounds aren’t as fabulous at this time of year since the cold weather makes it hard to grow flowers. 

If you are interested in the gardens more than the home, go in the spring or the early autumn months before it gets too cold. 

You can also take a horse and carriage ride throughout the estate, along with a self-guided tour. You can also do a wine tasting, which is my favorite part. The wine tasting room is located near the gift shop, and you can choose which wines you prefer to try. 

Biltmore Estate is located at 1 Lodge St, Asheville, NC 28803, United States. They’re open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. I recommend you buy your tickets in advance online. Tickets start at $86. 

close up side view of the biltmore mansion, places to visit in north carolina

10. Chimney Rock State Park 

Chimney Rock State Park is another beautiful park in NC with great views and even better hiking trails. Park trails range from easy to difficult, so all skill levels will be able to pick a trail to enjoy. Many of the trails are also suitable for kids. 

Devils Head to Chimney Rock Trail is the most popular trail since it takes you to the top of the famous Chimney Rock and gives you an awesome view below. Other popular trails include Exclamation Point Trail and Four Seasons Trail. 

There’s also an Animal Discovery Den that is worth checking out. Chimney Rock rescues injured animals and then releases them back into the wild when they are ready. Some animals have lifelong injuries or health conditions that make it unsafe for them to be released, though. 

These animals are kept at the Discovery Den, receiving care and food. They have several groundhogs, different species of snakes, and opossums that you can see and learn more about. 

You can also go rock climbing in the state park. No matter how experienced you are in rock climbing, Chimney Rock requires you to go with a guide from Fox Mountain Guides

The guide company and the state park are partners, so you can schedule your rock climbing from the park directly, and guides will meet you there. 

Chimney Rock State Park is located at 431 Main St, Chimney Rock, NC 28720, United States. They’re open every day from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Entrance fees are $17. 

chimney rock, american flag flying over chimney rock, things to do in north carolina

11. Old Salem

If you enjoyed visiting Winston-Salem, you will also probably enjoy Old Salem. The entire city is a National Historic Landmark and you’ll feel like you’ve walked back into the 18th century when you see the architecture and little museums.

The small city center also has reenactors where you can see how the people of Old Salem lived life in the past centuries. Some of the best reenactments include blacksmiths and shoemakers.

If you’re traveling with kids, this is especially a great place to visit because some of the reenactments include hands-on activities where your children can participate and be part of the show.

Here are some of the best things to do in Old Salem:

  • Frank L Horton Museum Center. This museum has many different artifacts showcasing the history of Old Salem. There is also a giant collection of pottery which is stunning to see. Some of the furniture and other pieces in the museum date all the way back to the early 1700s.
  • See the architecture. Take a few hours to walk around the old city center and down the side cobblestone streets. You feel like you’re stepping back in time. There are also many different buildings and homes to admire.
  • Tour some of the open homes. Some of the open homes include the Vogler House, the Salem Tavern Museum, and the Blum House Joinery.
old salem, historic home with garden in the front

12. Charlotte

As the largest city in the state, Charlotte is an amazing place to visit with endless things to see and do. It’s a very family-friendly city as well since it’s home to many places that are perfect to visit with the kids including Carowinds, the US National Whitewater Center, and the Discovery Place.

The downtown area has tons of shops and restaurants that you can explore as well as breweries and bars.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame is also here and should be visited for all NASCAR fans.

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The Best Places in North Carolina are Waiting For You!

It’s easy to see why North Carolina is an amazing place to visit. It offers countless state parks, scenic drives, and quirky cities to explore. To see the best places in North Carolina, I recommend making a road trip or staying in a large city and taking several day trips. 

You’re bound to find your next favorite vacation spot, and you might even find new places that aren’t even mentioned on this list! 

Have you been to North Carolina? What’s your favorite place to visit?

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