North Carolina offers some of the East Coast’s most diverse scenery. We have selected several of the best places to visit in North Carolina for this round-up of some of the best the state has to offer!
All of these places (and heaps more!) should be on every North Carolina bucket list. From natural destinations in North Carolina to some of the most exciting cities, you really can find everything in the state!
What are your favorite places to visit in NC? Let us know in the comments!
Best Places to Visit in North Carolina
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
One of the most beautiful national parks on the East Coast (and in the entire US), Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited park in the US and is shared with Tennessee.
It is home to ancient mountains and deep-rooted Appalachian culture.
The Smokies are renowned for their diverse wildlife and plant life – including many black bears and wildflowers that come to life during spring in North Carolina.
Some of the most popular activities in the North Carolina Smokies are hiking and camping. The legendary Appalachian Trail also passes through the park and you can enjoy the scenery any time of the year!
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the must-visit national attractions in North Carolina, without a doubt!
Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is one of the most popular places to visit in North Carolina.
The city is famous for its historic architectural landmarks, like the Basilica of Saint Lawrence, as well as its vibrant art life.
Built in the 19th century, the famous Biltmore Estate is one of the icons of North Carolina and is the home to colorful gardens and even Renoir artwork. It also is home to one of North Carolina’s most romantic hotels.
Another remarkable area worth visiting in Asheville is the Downtown Art District.
It has many galleries, hip cafes, and museums where you can also see repurposed factories that now are home to creative centers and art galleries.
Some of the best restaurants in Asheville are located around here.
3. Outer Banks
The rugged and majestic Outer Banks is one of the best places to visit on the North Carolina coastline.
You will find everything along OBX from mysterious Roanoke Island to shipwrecks off the coast and some of the most iconic lighthouses in North Carolina.
Some of the most popular attractions and things to do in the Outer Banks are to visit Corolla’s wild horses, check out the Currituck and Hatteras Lighthouses, see the 21,000 square foot Whalehead in Corolla, and go to the Wright Brothers National Memorial.
In 1903, they tested the first engine-powered airplane in Kitty Hawk.
There are some of the best small towns in North Carolina located here!
4. Chimney Rock State Park
Located in Rutherford County in Chimney Rock, North Carolina, Chimney Rock State Park is a beautiful 8,014-acre state park that is located merely 40 minutes away from Asheville.
The North Carolina state park offers visitors to check out several attractions.
You can also hike along many trails such as the Hickory Nut Falls Trail, discover the Rocky Broad Riverwalk, play golf at Chimney Rock Adventure Golf, and learn about the history of mining at the Chimney Rock Gemstone Mine.
Raleigh is the capital of North Carolina and is a fantastic place that you can’t miss on your travels in the state!
Youʻll find plenty of amazing things to do in Raleigh to keep occupied for weeks!
The city is famous for its beautiful North Carolina State University and being part of the ‘Research Triangle’ that includes Chapel Hill and Durham (and their universities – Duke and the University of North Carolina).
North Carolina’s capital city is also home to many interesting museums like the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences where you can see dinosaur skeletons, the North Carolina Museum of Art which dates back to 1956, and more!
Nature lovers will enjoy William B. Umstead State Park where you can go hiking, boating, and camping. There are also small parks, such as Pullen Park, where you can enjoy a picnic under the NC sun.
Another perk is that there are some fantastic day trips from Raleigh that you can enjoy for a quick getaway.
There are many places I have visited in North Carolina over and over like Rocky Mount, but Raleigh is right up there and it feels like such a familiar place to me no matter how many years pass between visits.
Be sure to spend some time in the city so you can take advantage of the really amazing day trips from Raleigh!
6. Merchant’s Millpond State Park
Take your time exploring this enchanting state park, which has a unique ecosystem combining mossy swamps with hardwood forests. Hiking trails wind through forests of trees dripping with Spanish moss.
Canoe rentals are available (or bring your own) which you can take out for an interesting day paddling through the cypress swamps at Merchantʻs Millpond State Park.
A visitor center, picnic grounds, restrooms, and campsites are available at the park, giving you the option of going for just an afternoon or multiple days.
7. Chapel Hill
Close to Raleigh and part of the Research Triangle is Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
It is renowned because it is home to the University of North Carolina… and, naturally, made famous many decades ago by Michael Jordan and coach Dean Smith.
However, there is a lot more to Chapel Hill than just basketball and UNC – you will find some of the most famous artworks in the state such as the Ackland Art Museum – which also contains many Asian and European artworks on its walls.
Visitors to Chapel Hill can also stroll along the many nature trails and greenways in the surrounding areas.
You can also take a trip to the North Carolina Botanical Garden to witness rare and colorful plant life. The gardens date back to the early 1900s.
Another fascinating place to visit in Chapel Hill is the Morehead Planetarium & Science Center which just so happens to be one of the United States’ largest and oldest planetariums.
The port city of Wilmington, NC is another one of my favorite places in North Carolina. Known for its Cape Fear Coast, it is a gateway to beautiful Wrightsville Beach and many other famous attractions.
One of the best things to do in Wilmington NC is to take a stroll along the Riverwalk that is a part of the Historic District.
You will find plenty of galleries, restaurants, and cafes situated nearby and it is a can’t-miss place in the city!
History lovers will enjoy visiting the Battleship BB-55 North Carolina Museum on the Cape Fear River where they can learn more about the history of WWII’s naval combat, including the battle at Pearl Harbor.
Durham is part of the Research Triangle which is a well-known hub for scholarly institutions and tech companies.
Also, Durham has rich art landmarks and museums like the Nasher Museum of Art and the Neo-Gothic Duke Chapel, which is located on the Duke University campus where visitors and art enthusiasts can admire the artworks of Ai Weiwei and Christian Marclay (both contemporary artists).
There are so many exciting things to do in Durham from enjoying its calming cafe scene and delicious restaurants to heading to the Museum of Life and Science, an 84-acre indoor and outdoor museum with treehouse bridges.
You can also check out the Farmyard, Sprout Cafe Butterfly House, Hideaway Woods, and other constructions dating back to the early 20th century there.
Also, be sure not to miss out on the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, where you can see colorful flowers and diverse plant species.
The most populous city in North Carolina is Charlotte and it is the state’s commercial hub and one of the most beautiful places to visit in NC.
There are many things to do in Charlotte and you can start by visiting the city’s museums, such as the Civil War Levine Museum, which may appeal to history buffs as well as the family science museum at Discovery Place.
Charlotte is also known for being home to the NASCAR Hall of Fame where travelers can view the interactive exhibits dedicated to the exciting sport.
There are many incredible hikes near Charlotte that you can venture off to on a sunny day.
You will also find several fantastic weekend trips from Charlotte that will take you to many nature spots in Western North Carolina and even down into Georgia and beyond.
11. Blue Ridge Parkway
While part of the Blue Ridge Parkway is located in Virginia, a large portion of it is in North Carolina and it truly is one of the most beautiful drives in the United States.
It runs through 29 counties throughout the two states and connects Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
One of the best things about the Blue Ridge Parkway is the many hikes and waterfalls along the way.
You can find some of the best waterfalls near Asheville there and so much more!
Some of the main highlights of the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC are the Linn Cove Viaduct, Mount Pisgah, Looking Glass Rock, the Pisgah National Forest, and so much more. It truly is spectacular.
12. Hanging Rock State Park
This 9,011-acre state park should be on every North Carolina bucket list. Located about 30 miles north of Winston-Salem, Hanging Rock State Park is situated in the Sauratown Mountain Range (one of NC’s easternmost ranges).
Inside the North Carolina state park, you will find over 18 miles of hiking trails and even some waterfalls and peaks.
There is also a large campground inside. You are also permitted to rock climb at Cook’s Wall and Moore’s Wall.
The park is free to enter.
13. Emerald Isle
If you’re visiting the Crystal Coast and looking for one of my favorite towns to visit there, look no further than Emerald Isle.
Located in Carteret County, it may only have around 3,700 permanent residents, but the population increases significantly during the summer months.
Emerald Isle is a family-friendly destination in North Carolina and you’ll find waterparks, safe beaches, and a lot more in the town.
The beaches are also a nesting ground for sea turtles and are protected by federal law. You will find many things to do in Emerald Isle – from delicious restaurants and beyond.
14. Pisgah National Forest
The gorgeous and colorful Pisgah National Forest is located in North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains. There are local ranger districts in three areas around it – Nebo, Pisgah Forest, and Mars Hill.
Established in 1916, the forest was one of the first designated in the eastern US.
The North Carolina forest spans over 512,758 acres and parts of it are over 6,000 feet tall. It is known for hiking, cool mountain towns (I absolutely love Brevard), mountain biking, and much more.
15. Bald Head Island
Bald Head Island provides stunning scenery on the east coast of North Carolina all year round. In order to reach the island, you’ll board the ferry at Deep Point Marina for a 20-minute ride to the harbor.
The island spans over two miles and contains North Carolina’s oldest standing lighthouse from 1817, the Old Baldy Lighthouse.
There are so many things to do on the secluded island, including spending the day at some of the best North Carolina beaches, discovering the old lighthouse, exploring the protected creeks and maritime forests, shopping, dining, spending some time at the spa, and so much more.
The island even offers plenty of activities just for kids!
16. Linville Gorge & Falls
The Linville Gorge & Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Linville Falls, North Carolina.
Visitors will be able to see the stunning views provided by the three-tiered waterfall, which is accessible via the many trails for hikers.
It is an especially great destination for hikers as the area offers several different trails ranging in difficulty that you can take to access the falls.
Both of the trails will still offer stunning views of the Linville Gorge and Falls no matter what the season is. Many people especially love to visit in the fall because of the beautiful colors.
17. Grandfather Mountain
Located in Linville, North Carolina, Grandfather Mountain is another popular destination for all nature lovers.
There are so many things to do during a visit to Grandfather Mountain, including taking a walk across the Mile High Swinging Bridge, walking, hiking, checking out the wildlife habitats, birdwatching, visiting the Nature Museum, and many special events offered by the state park.
Visitors must purchase tickets, which include access to the museums, animal habitats, and everything else the mountain has to offer. Be sure to take a walk across the bridge to check out the stunning 360-degree views of the region.
18. Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a beautiful beach in Nags Head, North Carolina. Have fun with the entire family and relax on the beach.
There is so much to do at Cape Hatteras, including swimming, surfing, crabbing, sightseeing, lighthouse-climbing, kiteboarding, and more.
You can even rent a bicycle and take a trip around the beach. In addition, you can check out the campgrounds, museums, and lighthouses depending on the season.
Be sure to double-check the calendar for specific activities available during the season. There are also special passes for children to learn more about the history of the park, too.
Located in Watauga County, North Carolina, Boone is an adventure town that you should add to your itinerary when visiting the state. It offers everything from mountain sports and cabins to the Tweetsie Railroad Theme Park.
You could check out many different festivals and art galleries, go fishing, canoeing, zip-lining, skiing, and so much more during your visit. In addition, many people enjoy hiking the trails in the mountains.
Another popular activity is the Boone Area Wine Trail, which is one of the loftiest vineyards on the East Coast. You can also take a ride on an authentic steam train on the Tweetsie Railroad.
20. Elizabeth City
Declared one of the 100 Best Small Towns in America, Elizabeth City is located west of the Outer Banks in North Carolina.
The town has a rich history and many cultural traditions that make it a popular site to visit for tourists.
There are plenty of hotels, breweries, wineries, and restaurants featuring authentic Southern cuisine in the town.
Be sure to check out the museums, self-guided tours, and other historical sites, including the very streets that the Wright brothers walked on.
The waterfront community also provides stunning views and activities, such as kayaking and more.
Located in Pitt County, North Carolina, Greenville is another spot to visit during your trip to the state.
It was considered one of the top 100 Best Communities for Young People, meaning that there’s so much you can do during your visit.
The Greenville Museum of Art is one of the most popular spots in the town, featuring many exhibitions and programs for people of all ages.
Theater and dance are widespread activities, and the town boasts many restaurants and nightclubs that offer live entertainment on the weekends.
You can also check out the Umbrella Market every Wednesday in the warmer months, which features local producers.
Known for Davidson College, Davidson is one of the most popular college towns in North Carolina.
You can check out the wide variety of restaurants and eateries in the town, play outdoors, explore the town’s parks and greenways, enjoy the art galleries, and participate in lots of activities that are fun for the whole family.
You can check out the Farmer’s Market featuring local producers and farmers, go to the beautiful Davidson College campus, grab a book to read at the independent Main Street Books, and go to the Belk Visual Arts Center to see the art galleries.
23. Cape Lookout National Seashore
Cape Lookout National Seashore is a fun, year-round destination on the coast of North Carolina. Here, you will be able to go shelling, fishing, lighthouse climbing, camping, birding, and so much more.
You can enjoy the stunning views right on the beach and camp in a tent for the night. Many visitors also enjoy touring the historic villages of the barrier islands.
Since these are remote beaches, visitors are reminded to bring food, water, and important supplies.
There are also plenty of guided tours and special events that guests are encouraged to check out depending on the season.
24. New Bern
Explore the first state capital of North Carolina, New Bern, which has tons of history to check out.
It’s also the birthplace of Pepsi Cola, featuring a signature Pepsi Store where you can get all kinds of Pepsi merchandise while enjoying a large glass of traditional Pepsi.
You can also visit the Civil War Battlefield Park, the New Bern Firemen’s Museum, Union Point Park, and the Tryon Palace, which is one of the most popular sites in the town.
It was a symbol of the first capital and the home of the town’s royal governor during colonial times.
There are many things to do in New Bern and many reasons to make a stop if you’re in this part of North Carolina.
One of the best places to visit in North Carolina is Winston-Salem, a large city that is the administrative center of Forsyth County and NC’s fifth-largest city.
In recent years, Winston-Salem has undergone a lot of revitalization, and many new hotels, restaurants, cafes, and cool establishments have opened.
There are several things to do in Winston-Salem including visiting the Bethabara Historic District (where Moravians first settled in NC), Old Salem, the New Winston Museum, and Wake Forest University.
The city was named the ‘City of Arts and Innovation’ in 2014 and there are many cultural sights, murals, and more.
26. High Point
High Point, located in the Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina, is often called North Carolina’s International City because of the High Point Furniture Market, which attracts hundreds of thousands of people from around the world every year.
High Point University is another site the city is known for. You can also visit the High Point City Lake Park, which is a popular recreational and amusement park filled with fun activities like boating, fishing, canoeing, picnicking, trains, and even the largest outdoor swimming pool in all of North Carolina.
The High Point Community Theater is another fun site to check out performances by local actors.
Although Hickory, North Carolina is also known for its furniture manufacturing, there are still plenty of fun activities to do there that people of all ages will enjoy.
Outdoor exploring, lake adventures, and local restaurants are among the town’s most popular activities. Explore the waterfront and check out the parks and trails if nature is your vibe.
You can also check out the special events and many seasonal things to do in Hickory, as well as arts, culture, museums, and shopping centers.
Some of the most fun activities people enjoy include race cars and Crawdads Baseball- all offered in this Southern town.
What are your favorite places to visit in North Carolina? Let us know the best North Carolina destinations… especially the ones we missed!
Places to Visit in North Carolina (On a Map!)
Other Travel Resources
- Best places to visit in Tennessee
- Best places to visit in Maryland
- Best places to visit in West Virginia
- Best places to visit in Kentucky
- Things to do in Washington DC
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Megan is a travel blogger and writer with a background in digital marketing. Originally from Richmond, VA, she has lived all around the world (including Germany, Finland, Norway, etc) but her heart always finds its way back to Virginia. This blog is to help encourage travelers to explore the great state of VA… and its wonderful neighbors! Megan has written for or been featured by National Geographic, Forbes, Lonely Planet, Fodor’s Travel, the New York Times, and more. She has visited 45 US states and 100+ countries… and wholeheartedly believes that Brunswick Stew is probably the greatest food to ever exist.