From towering scenic mountains to seaside towns to bustling cities, North Carolina is a great place to explore, learn, and unwind. There’s something for just about everyone here.
The coast offers the Outer Banks islands, lighthouses, beaches, and even wild horses, while the mountains provide a place to get out into nature and enjoy some peace and quiet in the natural beauty. In between, you have numerous museums, amazing restaurants, gardens, craft breweries, stunning vineyards, state parks, and more.
Biltmore Estate and Gardens
The Biltmore Estate spans across an expansive 8,000 acres in Asheville and offers a wide variety of things to do. The property dates back to the 1890’s and today includes the 250-room Biltmore house, a small village with shops, a spa, restaurants, gardens, a winery, and much more. Admission to Biltmore provides access to everything to do on the property. Along with wine tastings, garden viewing, and both guided or self-guided tours of the chateau, guests can also find outdoor recreation like horseback riding, biking, fly fishing, hiking, river float trips, and even falconry.
Chimney Rock State Park
Chimney Rock State Park is one of the many naturally stunning destinations within North Carolina, home to a granite spire measuring 2,200 feet in height. Possibly even more fascinating is the elevator situated in the mountain that transports visitors up to the top of Chimney Rock. The park also consists of several hiking trails, including one that leads to the bottom of the more than 400-foot tall Hickory Nut Falls.
Found within the boundaries of the Pisgah National Forest in western North Carolina, Sliding Rock is a sixty-foot natural rock water slide. The slide is open from around the end of May through Labor Day and there is a small $2 admission fee. Since the pool at the end of Sliding Rock is typically between six to seven feet deep, lifeguards are on duty from 10:00am until 6:00pm.
Another spot for exploring the natural beauty of the western North Carolina mountains, Grandfather Mountain is located near Linville and is a paradise for hikers. The pictures hiking routes here vary in skill level, ranging from beginner to expert. These hikes are always worth the efforts as you’re rewarded with breathtaking panoramic vistas. One of the main highlights of Grandfather Mountain is the Mile High Swinging Bridge and its unbeatable views.
North Carolina Zoo
Stretching across 2,200 acres and home to over 1,600 animals, the North Carolina Zoo is Asheboro is one of the world’s largest walk-through zoos, featuring animal enclosures designed to replicate natural habitats. These animal exhibits are divided into three different areas: the tropical forest, North America, and Africa. In addition to the animals, the North Carolina Zoo also includes a giraffe viewing deck where guests can get eye-to-eye with these tall creatures, a small ropes course, and a carousel.
Found on the grounds of Durham’s prestigious Duke University, the Duke Gardens consists of around 55 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens. Over five miles of walkways guide visitors through the botanical gardens and tours are offered on both foot and on trolleys, lasting around 60 and 90 minutes. One of the best things about the Duke Gardens is that they are open every day of the year and there’s no charge for admission.
Marbles Kids Museum
Looking for something to do in North Carolina for families with young children? The Marbles Kids Museum in downtown Raleigh is a hands-on, interactive, and fun museum designed for kids up to ten years old. These exhibits cover an array of topics, such as electricity, music, science, water, and more. There’s also an outdoor garden area and an IMAX theater.
Battleship North Carolina
Moored on the Cape Fear River just across from downtown Wilmington’s Riverwalk, the Battleship North Carolina is a historic ship dating back to the start of World War II. Given fifteen battle stars, it’s one of America’s most decorated battleships from the war. The Battleship North Carolina today is a National Historic Landmark and is open to the public for tours. Plan to spend about two hours for a self-guided tour of the ship.
North Carolina Aquarium
The North Carolina Aquarium overall consists of four different locations: Fort Fisher, Jeanette’s Pier, Roanoke Island, and Pine Knoll Shores. Fort Fisher provides a chance to see marine life from the ocean, swamps, and streams of Cape Fear, and also features touch tanks, animal encounters, and daily dive shows. Pine Knoll Shores highlights the diversity of the state’s marine life. For sharks, head to Roanoke Island, while Jeanette’s Pier lets guests view animals within their natural habitat.
The beautiful Outer Banks of North Carolina are a series of barrier islands boasting quaint towns, interesting history, and natural charm. Historic lighthouses, beaches, shipwrecks, and wild horses are just a handful of things that draw countless visitors every year. The Outer Banks are also home to some of the freshest and most delicious seafood in the state.
Tour the Wineries
The options when it comes to wineries in North Carolina are just as varied as they are plentiful, offering some very interesting experiences that range from your typical beautiful vineyard and tasting room to treehouses you can stay in and llamas. The climate of the state is well suited for just about any grape and there are more than 100 wineries and vineyards taking advantage of it. Here are some of my personal favorites:
Raffaldini Vineyards brings a taste of Italy to North Carolina, transporting guests to Old World Italy through Chianti wines and a Tuscan-style stone and terracotta villa that overlooks the vineyards and scenic mountains in the distance.
Divine Llama Vineyards
The main draw of the Divine Llama Vineyards is of course the resident llamas, however, the wine here is possibly my favorite of the North Carolina wineries I’ve been to, offering an array of wines from sweet to dry. Nothing beats sipping a glass of great wine and visiting with the llamas. The winery also now brings in food trucks on the weekends. You can also join one of their Llama Treks and take a walk with some of the friendly llamas.
Owned by Richard Childress, NASCAR team owner, Childress Vineyards is situated at the gateway to North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley AVA. Encompassing over 70 acres of vineyards, eleven different varietals can be found here and a wide variety of wines can be sampled in the large tasting room/gift shop, ranging from Muscadine wines to Syrah and Petit Verdot to sparkling and dessert wines.
While the Weathervane Winery may not look like much, this family-owned and operated small winery in Lexington offers some of the best wines (at least in my opinion) in the area. The atmosphere here is laidback and visitors can choose from either a sweet or dry wine flight. Weathervane also hosts concerts on their property during the summer.
If you’re looking for unique accommodations at a winery in North Carolina, look no further than the Treehouse Vineyards. The winery offers award-winning wines, daily tours and tastings, and several treehouses that can be rented for a night overlooking the beautiful vineyard.
Visit the Breweries
The brewery scene in North Carolina has grown considerably in reputation and size over the past several years and there’s no signs of it letting up any time soon. Here are some notable breweries you should think about visiting if you love beer:
Asheville Area: New Belgium, Sierra Nevada, Wicked Weed, Catawba Brewing Company
The Triangle (Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill): Raleigh Brewing Company, Lonerider Brewing Company, Carolina Brewing Company, Bond Brothers, Ponysaurus Brewing Company
Other: Duck-Rabbit Brewery, Mother Earth Brewing, NoDa Brewing Company