Renowned for its majestic Blue Ridge Mountains and the alluring beaches of the Outer Banks, North Carolina—a state slightly more extensive than England—abounds in natural beauty. With a rich history as one of the original 13 U.S. colonies, North Carolina offers a diverse range of attractions from Indigenous sites, early European settler spots, to pirate tales. Here are the top experiences you shouldn’t miss.
Venture the Blue Ridge Parkway
Over 250 miles of the mesmerizing Blue Ridge Parkway cut through North Carolina’s western mountains, revealing picturesque overlooks, hiking trails, and notable detours like the dramatic Linville Gorge. The parkway even extends almost to Mount Mitchell’s peak—the highest east of the Mississippi—offering a simple hike to the summit at 6,684 feet.
Discover Asheville’s Craft Beer
In Asheville, moonshine brewing has a long history, setting the stage for more than 60 breweries that operate in this mid-sized mountain city today. Amongst them, the South Slope Brewery District is worth a visit with its unique breweries like Wicked Weed’s Funkatorium and Burial Beer. River Arts District Brewing, a recently opened venue in a rustic barn, is recommended by local beer historian Anne Fitten Glenn for its unique woodland feel.
Relax on Outer Banks’ Beaches
The Outer Banks, a string of barrier islands stretching along the state’s coastline, offer sandy beaches, quaint towns, and historic lighthouses. Opt for oceanfront house rentals or hotels like the luxurious Sanderling Resort in Duck or the historical Roanoke Island Inn in Manteo, which is housed in a restored 1860s mansion.
Immerse in Nature’s Pool
Transylvania County in western North Carolina is home to over 250 waterfalls. Dupont State Recreational Forest and Gorges State Park are amongst the popular spots, with attractions like Triple Falls and Rainbow and Turtleback Falls. The county’s most popular destination is Pisgah National Forest, known for its extensive hiking and mountain biking trails.
Experience the Craft Tradition
North Carolina is famed for its craft traditions, including weaving, pottery, and woodworking, which largely grew from the isolated, rugged mountain region. Institutions like Penland School of Craft and John C. Campbell Folk School continue to celebrate these creative traditions, offering classes and shops to explore.
Savor North Carolina’s Oysters
North Carolina’s oyster farming thrives due to the state’s large coastal estuaries. The NC Oyster Trail allows you to taste these local delicacies, with 27 restaurants and 17 farms on its path. Options range from boat tours to oyster shucking lessons or enjoying fresh oysters in a historic setting.
Step Back in Time at Old Salem
At Old Salem Museum & Gardens, experience early North Carolina life through reenactments of cooking, woodworking, and other practices. The open-air museum focuses on the Moravians, a German-speaking Protestant religious group that founded Salem in 1766.
Meet the Wildlife in the Great Smokies
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a biodiversity hotspot, home to a variety of wildlife including elk, deer, turkeys, coyotes, and red-tailed hawks. Explore Cataloochee Valley’s lush lowland or embark on a four-mile hike to Andrews Bald to appreciate the area’s diverse flora and fauna.
Tour the Biltmore Estate
The Biltmore, a 250-room French-style mansion built in 1895, is a marvel in Asheville. The grand mansion tours showcase Gilded Age architecture and décor. Make the most of your visit by exploring the estate’s winery, hotels, and beautiful gardens.
Experience Whitewater Rafting
The U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte offers a unique experience with its manmade, recirculating river. Apart from attracting Olympic kayakers, the center is perfect for families seeking adventure, with walking trails, a climbing wall, and a challenging ropes course also on offer.
Authored by Melissa Reardon, a North Carolina-based writer. Follow her on Instagram.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about North Carolina attractions
What are the top attractions in North Carolina?
North Carolina offers a variety of top attractions, including the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville’s craft beer scene, the beautiful beaches of the Outer Banks, numerous waterfalls in Transylvania County, the historic Biltmore Estate, and thrilling whitewater rafting at the U.S. National Whitewater Center.
How many breweries are there in Asheville?
Asheville is home to over 60 breweries, making it a haven for craft beer enthusiasts. Visitors can explore the South Slope Brewery District and enjoy unique breweries like Wicked Weed’s Funkatorium and Burial Beer.
Are there opportunities for outdoor activities in North Carolina?
Absolutely! North Carolina provides ample opportunities for outdoor activities. From hiking and mountain biking in the Blue Ridge Mountains and Pisgah National Forest to beach activities along the Outer Banks, visitors can enjoy a wide range of outdoor adventures.
Can I visit waterfalls in North Carolina?
Yes, North Carolina is known for its abundant waterfalls. Transylvania County alone has over 250 waterfalls, including popular ones like Triple Falls and Rainbow Falls in Dupont State Recreational Forest. Visitors can explore these waterfalls through road trips or hiking trails.
What can I expect at the Biltmore Estate?
The Biltmore Estate is a grand French-style mansion in Asheville. Visitors can take self-guided tours to admire its stunning architecture and explore rooms like the banquet hall and library. The estate also features a winery, beautiful gardens, and offers guided tours to discover the lives of the estate’s servants.
Is there wildlife to see in North Carolina?
Yes, North Carolina is home to a diverse array of wildlife. Great Smoky Mountains National Park provides an opportunity to spot animals such as elk, deer, turkeys, and red-tailed hawks. Cataloochee Valley and other areas within the park are popular for wildlife observation.
What are some family-friendly activities in North Carolina?
Families can enjoy various activities in North Carolina, such as visiting the beaches of the Outer Banks, exploring nature trails and waterfalls, and experiencing outdoor adventures like whitewater rafting at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. The Biltmore Estate also offers family-friendly activities and attractions.
Can I participate in craft workshops or classes in North Carolina?
Yes, North Carolina has institutions like Penland School of Craft and John C. Campbell Folk School that offer classes and workshops to learn traditional crafts. Visitors can explore these institutions, shop for handmade crafts, or follow the Blue Ridge Craft Trails to discover galleries and artist studios.
Are there options for dining and food experiences in North Carolina?
Absolutely! North Carolina offers diverse dining experiences, from enjoying craft beer and local cuisine in Asheville to savoring fresh oysters along the NC Oyster Trail. The state is also known for its culinary heritage, barbecue traditions, and farm-to-table dining options.