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North Carolina is one of the best places to visit in the United States or even the entire world. You’ll find different landscapes, from beautiful coastal views at the Outer Banks to rolling peaks in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Learn about North Carolina’s rich history or focus on vibrant, modern towns. Families, couples, friends, and even solo travelers will all make lasting memories. Explore the 25 best places to visit in North Carolina and plan your trip today.

Public Beach access on Kure Beach on North Carolina's Atlantic coast.
Photo credit: Gary C. Tognoni/Shutterstock.

1. Old Salem

Take a trip back in time and experience life during the 1700s and 1800s. Old Salem, North Carolina, is a National Historic Landmark and a historical reenactment of life in Winston-Salem during the 18th and 19th centuries. Actors and artisans fill the town to give a realistic look at the Moravian settlers of the past. Visitors can watch tradespeople go about their business and even try crafts for themselves.

2. Asheville

Located in western North Carolina, Asheville is a great place to visit. Asheville offers an eclectic mix of attractions you won’t find anywhere else. Natural trails are nearby, and the town’s vibrant art scene is always worth a visit. History fans will love visiting restored antique homes and buildings, here.

3. Charlotte

Racing and motorsports fans won’t want to miss Charlotte. The biggest city in North Carolina is home to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Charlotte Motor Speedway, and plenty of NASCAR race shops. Visitors can immerse themselves in racing history thanks to unique exhibits and films. Even if racing isn’t your passion, the town is still worth a visit. Charlotte offers delicious dining, beautiful tree-lined streets, historic neighborhoods, and more. 

4. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most-visited national park in the country, with good reason.

The Great Smokies are part of the Appalachian mountains that run through most of the state. These mountains are relatively low, which makes them perfect for casual visitors. The rounded peaks have a soft blue color at sunset that inspired their name. Explore this beautiful park, the mountains, streams, forests, caves, wildlife, and 850 miles of trails.

5. Outer Banks

The Outer Banks barrier islands line the eastern coast of North Carolina. These islands are full of history: they were a favorite hiding place of the famous pirate Blackbeard, were home to the Lost Colony of Roanoke, and saw the Wright brothers’ first flight.

There’s still plenty to do without diving into history. The water is calm and beautiful since the barrier islands block the brunt of the Atlantic Ocean’s waves. Try birding, kayaking, swimming, and other peaceful outdoor activities.

6. Wilmington Beaches

Wilmington is located on the eastern side of North Carolina, where only a few islands separate the town from the ocean. One of the best things to do in Wilmington is explore the nearby beaches. Shell Island, Wrightsville Beach, and Masonboro Island are all easy to access. Wilmington is family-friendly, too, so you can feel comfortable bringing kids on your coastal North Carolina vacation.

7. Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile-long road stretching from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park into Virginia. The winding road isn’t the fastest way to travel, but it’s one of the most beautiful roads in the country. We suggest planning a trip during fall when the Blue Ridge Mountains light up in beautiful autumn reds, yellows, and oranges. Spring drives are also stunning when the rhododendrons and dogwood trees bloom.

8. Bald Head Island

Sick of your car? Visit Bald Head Island, where no cars are allowed! The island is only reachable by ferry or private boat. Visitors get around via golf cart, bike, or on foot. Life on the island is calm and relaxed as can be. Bald Head Island is home to 14 miles of beaches, a turtle conservation group, a golf course, and unique shops and restaurants.

9. Chimney Rock State Park

Located near Asheville, Chimney Rock State Park is one of the state’s newest investments. The destination was only authorized by North Carolina’s General Assembly in 2005. The main attraction is Chimney Rock, the formation that gives the park its name; it is is more than 300 feet tall! Climb to the top or take an elevator for breathtaking views of the valley below.

10. Hanging Rock State Park

North Carolina is the perfect place to visit if you like rock formations. Hanging Rock State Park is home to other fascinating rocks, ridges, and quartzite formations. Check out Devil’s Chimney and Hanging Rock, a large outcropping that inspired the park’s name.

Hanging Rock isn’t quite as tall as Chimney Rock, but it’s still worth the visit. You can also enjoy trails, cabins, camping, waterfalls, fishing, and swimming at this park.

11. Cape Lookout National Seashore

Cape Lookout is a collection of barrier islands off the North Carolina mainland. This federally protected area is mostly undeveloped, so you won’t find many tourist amenities there. Book a cabin or camp on the beach to stay overnight.

Even if you don’t like roughing it, Cape Lookout is a beautiful destination. There are more than 50 miles of untouched beaches to enjoy. Head south to see the seashore’s population of wild horses at Shackleford Bank.

12. Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill, home to the University of North Carolina’s (UNC) Chapel Hill campus, is a must-see for anyone who wants the real Tar Heel experience. This college town buzzes with energy thanks to the centrally-located UNC campus. Football fans will love seeing the Carolina Tar Heels play on their home turf. After the game, you can explore the seemingly endless restaurants, cafes, pubs, shops, and art galleries there.

13. Pisgah National Forest

The Pisgah National Forest wraps around the north side of Asheville and includes more than 500,000 acres of land around the Blue Ridge Mountains. This federally-protected hardwood forest is home to yellow pines, mountain oaks, spruce firs, and other tree species. The forest is open for day use, like picnics, hiking, photography, and fishing. Reserve a campsite if you’d like to stay longer. 

The Pisgah National Forest includes the first land set aside as a national forest, so there’s plenty of history to explore.

14. Kitty Hawk

Kitty Hawk is a small town with an extensive history. Located in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Kitty Hawk is famously where Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first powered airplane flight. The Wright brothers experimented at Kill Devil Hills, four miles away from town, but they were based in Kitty Hawk.

Just before dawn at Bodie Island lighthouse along North Carolina's Outer Banks
Photo credit: anthony heflin/Shutterstock.

You can visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills to trace the paths of these early flights, then return to Kitty Hawk to enjoy peaceful ocean views.

15. Discovery Place

Discovery Place in Charlotte, NC, is a science center the whole family will enjoy. This science museum features interactive exhibits, live shows, displays, and IMAX films. Visitors will discover activities for babies, adults, and everyone in between. There are several Discovery Place locations to explore, including children’s museums in Huntersville and Rockingham. Buy your tickets online to save $5 on admission.

16. Ocracoke Island

Ocracoke Island is another secret treasure tucked away in the Outer Banks barrier islands. You can only reach Ocracoke via ferry, which gives the island a calm, isolated feeling. Ocracoke is perfect if you’re looking for a peaceful beach to relax on. You can enjoy pristine, beautiful shores without feeling crowded by other beachgoers. Bring a deck of cards, a favorite book, or a crafting project for easy entertainment on this low-key island. Ocracoke is reasonably priced, too.

17. Frasier’s Ridge (AKA Blowing Rock)

Calling all Outlander fans! Blowing Rock is the real-world equivalent of Jamie and Claire’s fictional North Carolina homestead. Located in the NC High Country, Blowing Rock features dramatic rolling mountains covered in beautiful trees, streams, and lakes. The area is similar to the Scottish Highlands, and it was a prime destination for Scottish immigrants in the 1700s. Take a trip to Blowing Rock to soak in this part of the state’s history, beauty, and romance.

18. US National Whitewater Center

Nature lovers and adrenaline seekers won’t want to miss the US National Whitewater Center. This world-class outdoor facility holds the biggest man-made whitewater rafting park in the world, but it’s much more than that. The Center is a non-profit organization that promotes active lifestyles, environmental stewardship, and family connections. Their Charlotte, NC, location offers more than 30 different activities, delicious food options, competitions, education, and advocacy.

19. Biltmore Estate

Asheville is a beautiful destination, but its Biltmore Estate is worth visiting. The Biltmore has 250 bedrooms, making it the largest home in the United States. The Vanderbilt family built the estate in 1895, and it’s been a top attraction ever since. There are several options for exploring the grounds, main building, and stunning Italianate decorations all year round, including festive seasonal displays. You can even book a stay overnight for the ultimate four-star experience.

20. Carowinds

The Carowinds amusement park is open year-round in Charlotte, NC. The park straddles the border between North and South Carolina so that you can scratch another state off your bucket list after your visit. The park has entertained Carolina residents and visitors since 1973. 

Carowinds is split into several themed sections, including a children’s area and water parks. You’ll enjoy classic rides like bumper cars, carousels, and mine-style coasters. The park also offers modern rides full of spins, inversions, and other hair-raising moves.

21. Raleigh

As North Carolina’s capital city, Raleigh is full of unique attractions. The State Capitol, State Legislative Building, and Executive Mansion are all in Raleigh. Book a tour to enjoy their beautiful classical architecture and see history in the making.

Raleigh is known as the “City of Oaks,” so wander the tree-lined streets, lush gardens, and plentiful greenways. Foodies will love the top-notch restaurant scene, too.

22. Durham

Durham is home to Duke University, but that’s not its only claim to fame. Durham is well-known in technical, medical, and academic circles as part of North Carolina’s Research Triangle. Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill have world-class hospitals, research institutions, and corporate headquarters. Durham has lots to do, even if you’re not traveling for business. It combines the classic charm of a college town with modern amenities like hotels, restaurants, bars, and parks.

23. Emerald Isle

Another Outer Banks gem, Emerald Isle, is like visiting several different islands at once. It is home to a range of unique coastal communities, each with its special vibe. You might find a creative artist’s cove in one small town, a fishing community in another, and a resort-like area in another.

Emerald Isle is perfect for visitors who want a more natural experience. The region doesn’t allow high-rise buildings to protect the environment and native creatures. This protection pays off every year when sea turtles come ashore to nest.

24. Lake Lure

North Carolina is a great destination for sea lovers but offers beautiful lakes. Lake Lure is tucked away in the North Carolina foothills, almost like a private escape. Stunning mountain views surround the serene blue waters. It’s the perfect area for boating, fishing, swimming, and waterspouts. You can look for waterfront rental properties among the lake houses or visit the public park and waterpark during summer.

25. Carolina Beach Boardwalk

Finally, you don’t want to miss the Carolina Beach Boardwalk outside of Wilmington. Carolina Beach has plenty of beach activities like body boarding, swimming, making sandcastles, and waterspouts. Carolina Beach State Park is just around the corner, too. The famous boardwalk offers rides, arcades, biking, restaurants, and adult destinations like beer gardens and Tiki bars. You’ll enjoy a classic beachside vacation at the Carolina Boardwalk!

Get Ready To Fall in Love With North Carolina

North Carolina is one of the top destinations in the country. You know a state is unique when it offers diverse landscapes, attractions, and experiences.

Morning light on the Lynn Cove Viaduct along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina
Photo credit: anthony heflin/Shutterstock.

Whether you want to immerse yourself in nature, explore unique towns, discover our nation’s history, or enjoy time off, North Carolina is perfect for your next vacation. Check out your favorite ideas and start planning your dream trip today!

This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.

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Karen Kelly

Karen Kelly is a freelance food and travel writer, health coach, and owner of Seasonal Cravings. She enjoys sharing her love of food and travel.

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