Admitted to the Union: November 21, 1789
Capital City: Raleigh
Time Zone: Eastern United States (GMT-4 during Daylight Savings / GMT-5 during Standard Time)
Primary Airports: Charlotte Douglas International (CLT), Raleigh-Durham International (RDU), and Asheville Regional Airport (AVL).
Did you know? North Carolina is fondly known as “the Tar Heel State” – a moniker originated as a derisive term during the Civil War, referring to the locals involved in tar and pitch distillation for ship hulls.
Reasons to Explore North Carolina
Experience North Carolina’s unique blend of tangy whole-hog barbecue and the stunning landscape of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Explore the roots of Cherokee culture and soak in the colonial history, or relax on some of the best East Coast beaches along the Outer Banks.
When to Discover North Carolina
Spring: Enjoy a vibrant spring in North Carolina. Witness the Blue Ridge turn yellow with buttercups by late March, and see the peaks enveloped in a gentle pink hue with mountain laurels in May. Visit the Elizabethan Gardens on Roanoke Island for more seasonal blooms. At Biltmore estate near Asheville, discover the radiant roses and azaleas that adorn the grounds designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.
Summer: The Outer Banks of North Carolina become a hotspot for families and groups of friends from June through August, with rental houses and waterfront hotels aplenty. Enjoy swimming, kayaking, fishing, and shoreline walks amidst the surf and sand.
Autumn: From late September to early November, the mountains call hikers and campers to enjoy stunning foliage displays and cool temperatures. Experience the colors in an adrenaline-inducing way via canopy tours and ziplines.
Winter: The varied elevations across North Carolina offer a range of winter climates, from mild on the Outer Banks (average high temperatures in the 50s) to chilly and sometimes snowy in the western peaks, where ski resorts can be found in Beech Mountain and Blowing Rock. Enjoy the holiday lights at the Biltmore and the North Carolina Botanical Garden in Asheville, or drive through the brilliant display at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a renowned NASCAR venue.
Look closer for further detail.
Left: Asheville’s Biltmore house, a stunning 175,000-square-foot mansion constructed by the Vanderbilt family during the Gilded Age, showcases a collection of antiques and grand spaces, such as the indoor swimming pool. Visitors can explore through guided tours.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MELISSA FARLOW, NAT GEO IMAGE COLLECTION
Right: Biltmore’s Winter Garden atrium, designed to impress visitors, is host to events such as chamber music concerts.
PHOTOGRAPH BY KRISTA ROSSOW, NAT GEO IMAGE COLLECTION
Exploring North Carolina
Cities: Charlotte appeals to thrill-seekers with the National Whitewater Center’s prime rafting and kayaking opportunities and the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s car racing exhibits. Raleigh, the state capital, boasts renowned universities (including Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), as well as the North Carolina Museum of Art, home to a large August Rodin collection and a sprawling outdoor sculpture garden.
Mountains: The Blue Ridge Mountains and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which extends into Tennessee, offer scenic drives and excellent hiking trails. Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests feature hundreds of miles of trails, while the New River, one of the world’s oldest, attracts kayakers, campers, and anglers.
Coastal Plain: Relax along North Carolina’s 301-mile-long Atlantic coastline, featuring Cape Hatteras National Seashore on the Outer Banks and pristine barrier island beaches. In the summer, beaches like Kitty Hawk and Corolla attract swimmers, surfers, and sunbathers in droves.
Beach houses available for weekly rent line North Carolina’s Outer Banks, including this part of Hatteras Island.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MIKE THEISS, NAT GEO IMAGE COLLECTION
Getting Around North Carolina
By Plane: The state’s two largest airports, Charlotte Douglas International (CLT) and Raleigh-Durham International (RDU), offer connections to major cities across the United States and beyond. Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) provides convenient access to the artistic mountain city.
By Car: North Carolina can be easily reached via several major interstates including I-40, I-85, and I-95. Consider taking a road trip along the 252-mile stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway for breathtaking Appalachian Mountain views, or explore the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway starting in Nags Head and winding through picturesque beach towns and past historic lighthouses, with ferry rides along the way.
By Train: Amtrak’s Crescent (from New York to New Orleans) and Silver Meteor (New York to Miami) routes provide service to North Carolina, among others.
By Bus: The Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation offers express bus and shuttle services to major cities like Greensboro, High Point, and Winston-Salem.
City Transit: Winston-Salem and Asheville have bus systems, while Raleigh has a bike-sharing program. Charlotte’s LYNX light rail operates with 26 stations, including some near popular attractions like Discovery Place Science.
Preparing for Your Trip
Cultural History: North Carolina is the ancestral homeland of the Cherokee people. Today, you can visit the town of Cherokee to learn about traditional crafts at a center or explore a recreated 1760s settlement at the Oconaluftee Indian Village. The English first arrived in 1587, and North Carolina was among the initial 13 American colonies established in 1729. You can immerse yourself in colonial life at the Tyron Palace, a circa-1767 brick mansion where George Washington once attended a ball, or at Old Salem in Winston-Salem, an 18th- to 19th-century Moravian settlement featuring historic interpreters. Visit the Wright Brothers National Monument in Kill Devil Hills on the Outer Banks to pay tribute to the inventors who achieved the world’s first flight in 1903.
Festivals: Being a southern state, North Carolina knows how to throw a party. Highlights include the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh, the Wilmington Azalea Festival in April, Asheville Beer Week in May, and the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May.
Cuisine: North Carolina is known for its pork barbecue, with the whole hog pit-roasted and pulled off the bone, served in a tangy vinegar sauce – best enjoyed in a sandwich with coleslaw. Other regional specialties include Krispy Kreme Donuts and Cheerwine, a cherry-flavored soda crafted in Salisbury since 1917.
LGBTQ+: Despite North Carolina’s conservative leanings, the state ranked 33rd on a 2020 24/7 Wall St. report of the most LGBTQ+-friendly states in the U.S. Cities like Carrboro, Chapel Hill, and Winston-Salem receive high scores on the Human Rights Campaign 2022 Municipal Equality Index.
Wedge Brewing Company is one of the many microbreweries located in Asheville, North Carolina.
PHOTOGRAPH BY KRISTA ROSSOW, NAT GEO IMAGE COLLECTION
Sustainable Visits to North Carolina
Outdoors: Preserve the local habitat by staying on marked trails, roads, or designated paths. Support eco-tourism businesses like farm stays and wildlife refuges. The NC
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about North Carolina travel guide
What is the best time to visit North Carolina?
The best time to visit North Carolina varies based on the activities you prefer. Spring is great for viewing beautiful blooms, summer is ideal for beach activities, autumn is perfect for hiking and seeing fiery foliage, and winter can be enjoyed for mild coastal weather or skiing in the mountains.
What are the main airports in North Carolina?
The main airports in North Carolina are Charlotte Douglas International (CLT), Raleigh-Durham International (RDU), and Asheville Regional Airport (AVL).
What are some interesting facts about North Carolina?
North Carolina’s nickname, “the Tar Heel State”, comes from a Civil War-era insult to describe locals who distilled the tar and pitch used on ship hulls. It’s also home to the indigenous Cherokee culture and colonial history.
What are the main attractions in North Carolina?
The main attractions in North Carolina include the Blue Ridge Mountains, Cherokee historical sites, the Outer Banks beaches, the Asheville’s Biltmore house, and Charlotte’s NASCAR Hall of Fame.
What are the cultural historical places in North Carolina?
Cultural and historical places in North Carolina include the town of Cherokee, Tyron Palace, Old Salem, and the Wright Brothers National Monument.
What is the local cuisine in North Carolina?
North Carolina is famous for its pork barbecue, which includes a whole hog that’s been pit-roasted, pulled off the bone, and mixed with a tangy vinegar sauce. Other local specialties include Krispy Kreme Donuts and Cheerwine, a cherry-flavored soda.
How can one travel sustainably in North Carolina?
One can travel sustainably in North Carolina by staying on designated trails during outdoor activities, supporting sustainable tourism businesses, dining at restaurants that source food locally, and choosing lodgings that are certified sustainable.