20 Best Things to Do in North Carolina [Bucket List]

Melanie Haiken

Whether you’re white-water rafting or taking a stroll through the beautiful gardens, North Carolina has something for everyone, whatever your idea of perfect action. With all of the cities (which are ample), there are a variety of things to do—from trekking scenic paths of the Blue Ridge Mountains to exploring some of the nation’s top museums. With attractions such as these to offer visitors, North Carolina is a place that visitors plan on returning time and time again.

With an array of landscapes that range from the West to East mountains, the northern forests to the southern deserts, and beaches, all combined with a rich and varied history, any visitor will find their perfect getaway in this state. Curious about which North Carolina destinations best align with your travel style?

Keep reading to discover fun things to do across the state, from lively cities to serene shores. There are so many selections that there is something for you to keep coming back to discover.

20 Best Things to Do in North Carolina

1. Find Exciting Adventures at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, N.C.

One of my top things to do in North Carolina is go to the US National Whitewater Center. Gathering in a grand facility established in 2001, the location is well-known for being the largest man-made whitewater river around the world and provides a thrilling experience for adventurers everywhere.

Committed to building a sense of community and environmental stewardship, the SCOUT Center represents an active and healthy lifestyle that values outdoor recreation and conservation, while encouraging social and civic involvement.

At 1,300 acres, the center has numerous water-based activities from kayaking and paddle boarding to rafting. In addition to all of the aquatically adventurous fun, the Center will also host cultural happenings such as the popular Green River Festival, Irish breakfast, yoga, river greening, live music, etc.

2. Asheville – Majestic Biltmore Estate

Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina It took six years to complete the construction of this estate and once it was ready and opened for the Vanderbilt family in 1895.

The sprawling French Renaissance chateau features 250 rooms, 35 bedrooms, and 43 bathrooms, with 65 fireplaces. A tourist attraction since it was opened to the public by the Borden family in 1930, the estate still draws visitors who are charmed by its graceful beauty and its place in history. Noteworthy attractions feature the bass pond, the wide succulent paths, and the Biltmore Winery, among the maximum visited in the United States. If your stay falls over the holiday season, “Christmas at the Biltmore” is a special event not to be missed.

3. Visit the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Visiting the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is one of the best free things to do in North Carolina. Based in Raleigh, this museum serves as a place of learning and the biggest in the Southeastern United States welcoming its visitors with its history and association with the Smithsonian Institution.

This mega-site is over 300,000 square feet and sees more than a million visitors every year. Over four floors, guests can interact with a variety of exhibits, live animal displays, gift shops, and dining options.

In its service to the nation, the museum is home to the National Science and Media Museum Institute, which provides world-class research facilities for historians, scientists, researchers, practitioners, and business individuals working in photography, film, television, and new media; it also offers an expanded educational program for both undergraduate students and professional practitioners, with live sessions and a large assortment of online content exploring the full range of scientific disciplines. It also provides dedicated areas for exhibitions, and research labs focusing on the biodiversity of the Appalachian Mountains east to the Atlantic Ocean.

4. Exploring Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Venture to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which spans North Carolina and Tennessee and is also a well-loved U.S. national park. It is a sprawling expanse of 800 square miles of undeveloped, forested land crisscrossed by hiking trails that lead to breathtaking waterfalls and are home to many species of plant and wildlife, including the elusive black bear.

The park is also famous for its colorful, fall foliage which can be experienced on a picturesque drive. Other activities include fishing, camping, horseback riding, and viewing historical structures throughout the park.

5. Go to the Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway (Northern Virginia to Southwestern North Carolina) 469 Becoming one of the most recognized scenic drives in the US. It is beautiful any time of the year you visit, but it is a gusher of sceneries once autumn has come nearer. Overlooks yield wide views of the landscape as travelers ride past, as well as the marvel of the Linn Cove Viaduct.

Several stops are encountered along the way for waterfall treks, larger museums, and historical spaces. Scenic mountain towns such as Little Switzerland, Blowing Rock, Boone, and Bryson City mark the route, all offering unique local appeal. From one day to seven, the Parkway is certain to offer memorable experiences.

6. Explore Wrightsville Beach

Renowned for its clear blue waters, wide sandy beaches, and busy local vibe, Wrightsville Beach is perfect for unwinding after a long week. While this vibrant town is best known for its dazzling coastline, voted one of the best beaches in North Carolina. It is highly regarded for the most part and is a must-visit place in the state.

And while you’re there, make sure to head over to Wilmington to check out some of the best dining in the area!

Wrightsville Beach lies 10 miles east of Wilmington’s Historic District and offers wonderfully warm waters and exceptionally clear visibility below the surface. It is one of the top family-friendly things to do in North Carolina with kids.

Activities for families span top-tier watersports such as surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, and kayaking. The region is home to outstanding restaurants and charming waterside dining, along with full resort accommodations, perfect for a North Carolina weekend escape.

7. Hiking Grandfather Mountain State Park

The RM of Grandfather Mountain State Park features the highest peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains at elevations up to 1,946 feet, giving it a prominent place in the United Nations Southern Appalachian Man and the Biosphere Reserve. It is estimated that this ancient landform is over 300 million years old.

To further conservation work on Grandfather Mountain, visitors are asked to pay a small entrance fee. Visitors enter the park through a wildlife museum that leads to the Mile High Swinging Bridge, which spans an 80-foot gap between two rock cliffs at more than one mile in elevation. The park provides a unique opportunity to view not only native flora and fauna but the 360-degree views that come with the Skybridge.

There are two main trails in this park. The Profile Trail follows the mountain’s western slope, while the Daniel Boone Scout Trail goes down the eastern slope above the Blue Ridge Parkway. While there is no fee to use the trails, hiking them after registering at the trailhead helps park rangers monitor the number of visitors.

Easily one of the best things to do in NC for nature lovers, anyone visiting Blowing Rock must discover Grandfather Mountain.

8. Take a Trip to the Cape Fear Botanical Garden

Started in 1989 as a grassroots effort by a group of local gardeners and community members, the Cape Fear Botanical Garden has grown to 80 cultivated and 100 adjoining acres to provide a haven for families, nature lovers, and gardeners to take a step away from life and enjoy nature.

The garden is most famous for its horticultural therapy program, in which participants help build raised beds, garden art, and plants and cook on the spot. The produce grown is donated to a food bank, yielding a doubly positive result for the local food and the community.

The garden is ringed by a mix of pine and hardwood forests and has a 1.2-mile loop trail for strolling rather than trekking.

This is one of the best things to do in North Carolina and easily has to be one of the most relaxing places in the state, but perfect for adults looking for solace. Plus while you are in Fayetteville make sure to eat at some super awesome places in the city!

9. Visit the International Civil Rights Center & Museum

The US fight for civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s is remembered at the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, in the city of Greensboro, North Carolina. You also get to know this epoch important as this museum offers a detailed educational experience of that time.

The museum, in part, is best known for the section of the F.W. Woolworth’s lunch counter that has been preserved, entirely with original stools,– where, on February 1, 1960, four North Carolina A&T State University undergraduate students– Ezell A. Blair Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond– directed a sit-in challenging segregation by sitting at the “whites only” counter during the 1960 Civil Rights Movement. This act served as an impetus for the large-scale youth-led sit-in movements of the 1960s.

The museum itself functions as a thriving resource center that offers a wide array of onsite programs and educational opportunities. It has used changing exhibits, permanent collections, feature areas, video presentations, landscapes, a collection of galleries, a collection of interactive classrooms that focus on the global struggle for human and civil rights, as well as an archival center, a collecting museum, and educational facilities.

10. Appreciate Scenic Views at Kitty Hawk Beach

Kitty Hawk Beach, known as “Chickahawk” to its resident Native Americans (as it meant “place to hunt geese”), not only provides a picturesque coastal expanse but just as captivating a forested swathe, these factors together have created the top 10 places to visit in North Carolina.

Kitty Hawk Beach is known for some of the biggest waves on the northern beaches in the United States and has been a surfer’s paradise. It is also a great area to do some skimboarding. Dogs are even allowed all year round too, so bring your furry friend along!

Covering more than 1,800 acres this area presents stunning forests and marshes. A maritime forest with nature trails also provides great bird-watching opportunities, especially to see the geese which are said to have given the area its original name. Kitty Hawk Beach, which features more rambunctious ocean waves and gentle forest trails, provides the best of both worlds for people in need of both beachy and woodland environments.

11. Hoorah At Lejeune Memorial Gardens

Holidays may be adventures but they also are significant as time for mindfulness. In Jacksonville, NC between two special installations is the Lejeune Memorial Gardens, a tribute to American soldiers whose sacrifices allow us to enjoy the precious freedoms we hold dear.

The Lejeune Memorial Gardens is an extraordinary dedication to the lives that served for our country. The site also comprises an array of military memorials, which play a significant role in the local community. The gardens are always changing, offering to add more memorials, and hope to feature memorials such as the Corpsmen Memorial.

The gardens also feature the Beirut Memorial, the Onslow Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Montford Point Marine Memorial, and the 9/11 Memorial, where a remnant of steel recovered from the World Trade Center is integrated.

In addition, Lejeune Memorial Gardens Greenway and Trail provide a peaceful walkway in the region. Once rail tracks, the now converted rail trail provides a means of both physical and metaphoric connection between the Jacksonville community and the military presence of Camp Lejeune and the memorials contained within.

12. Enjoy Live Shows at Durham Performing Arts Center

The Durham Performing Arts Center has gone on to be one of the must-visit venues in the entire Durham area since it opened its doors in 2008. The theatre has a 2,700 seating capacity and is housing in excess of 200 performances each year, making it a hot spot for touring Broadway musicals, the biggest names in comedy, and some of the best national concert acts.

The center has presented epic Broadway smashes, for example, “Felines,” “Hey, Dolly! Miss Saigon, Fiddler on the Roof, Dear Evan Hansen, Anastasia, Frozen, and of course, Hamilton. It has played host to a number of musical acts including Styx, comedians Jeff Foxworthy, Tom Segura, and the Indigo Girls.

A few standouts of the venue include its spacious lobby and great acoustics – which contributes to the ambiance. The staff is friendly and welcoming and positive vibes are everywhere, which is why visitors always remember their entertainment experience in Casino Gudar. The rest of the hopeful night owls in the state of North Carolina, however, can look forward to a step in the right direction – the upcoming lineup at the Durham Performing Arts Center.

13. Discover Old Salem: A Peek into the Past

Historic Old Salem, recently recognized as one of the top Southern cities on the rise, is one of Winston-Salem’s not-to-be-missed destinations. The site has extensive archives about the lives of Moravian, Black, and Indigenous peoples during the colonial time.

Visitors with an interest in history will especially enjoy a visit to Old Salem Village. Also called a National Landmark, the town serves as a museum and tackles issues of food insecurity.

Exploring the Old Historic Gardens gets visitors a taste of ancient Moravian horticulture. The Historic Bethabara Garden – designed to convey the oldest surviving physic garden in the U.S., c. 1970 – gardens re-creates a Hortus Medicus, one of the earliest medicinal herb gardens in North America, providing an interpretive reference for over 200 years of horticultural history.

In addition, the downtown historic district houses the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Art (MESDA) which includes metalwork, needlework, paintings, and other decorative arts made and used by early Americans in the Southern United States.

Winston-Salem DiningOn the food front, be sure to check out our dining recommendations while in Winston-Salem.

14. Enjoy a Day at Pullen Park

Raleigh’s Pullen Park is North Carolina’s first public park and has a large carp-filled pond. It is the fifth oldest amusement park in the United States and the 16th oldest in the world. Pullen Park has been a preferred site for family fun since it was founded in 1887.

The park provides many activities which are enjoyed by visitors of all age groups. Standouts are a vintage carousel that dates back to 1911, a train that does a loop of the park, and pedal boats for relaxing rides on Lake Howell. Moreover, the park, includes tennis courts and baseball and softball fields.

Raleigh boasts one of the best competitive swimming venues in the country with the on-site Aquatic Center. Visitors to the site can use an indoor Olympic-sized pool for water exercises, aquatic therapy, and lap and recreational swimming. The practice includes a pool that also doubles as a warm water therapy pool for relaxation.

The two-story Pullen Place Cafe, open when hunger strikes for a fresh, from-scratch experience with local ingredients, partners with a variety of farmers and ranchers who provide healthy, local, seasonal produce and meats. The cafe near the Welcome Center in the park area makes for a great place to have some food and get a quick bite before moving on with the day in the park.

15. Camping at Jordan Lake State Recreation Area

If you love to be outside, a trip to Jordan Lake State Recreation Area near Apex, North Carolina is a must-visit. Boasting the best of being surrounded by the outdoors, as well as all the activities you would want to partake in to host an active retreat.

The large shoreline of Jordan Lake State Recreation Area provides nine access points. It’s developed around a 14,000-acre reservoir, but other than that, it’s all-natural. Some of the best places to jump in Lake Cumberland are at the many swim beaches and boating ramps around the lake making it one of the best spots for water activities if the summer sun is blazing.

With over 1,000 campsites available, you can choose from both RV and primitive camping. The facilities like electric hookups and group camping result in community building. The area is also home to more than 14 miles of trails for hikers, from easy to moderate difficulty levels for all types of hiking lovers.

Walkers can use the Birds of Prey Visitors Center exhibit hall to learn more on the local landscape and the birds and wildlife — together with bald eagles and wild osprey — additionally, they could observe on the trails.

16. Immerse yourself in art at the Ackland Art Museum

For those who wish to incorporate a trip to the museum in their holidays, the Ackland Art Museum in Chapel Hill can give you a great overview of various kinds of art work.

With more than 19,000 works its collection spans styles, cultures, and history. Their 10-12 rotating exhibitions per year, also offer a reason for repeat visits, with new, interesting content periodically filling these galleries. Large areas of the gallery are set aside for special and travelling exhibitions, meaning there is always something different to see.

The museum stages a wide range of exhibitions, from modern American and European photography, to video installations and contemporary portraiture. In one day, a visit can transport you from ancient Greek ceramics to the likes of Delacroix and Warhol.

The museum also contains a preservation lab used for art restoration. This means repairing rips or holes, removing stains or discolourations, and, where possible, some paper analysis to inform better dating of the works.

17. A Play In Lake Lure With Water Activities

Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Lake Lure is considered one of the most beautiful lakes in North Carolina. The 720-acre man-made lake is a great choice both for a romantic getaway and a family vacation.

Swimmers, beach volleyball players, and sunbathers will love the sandy beach. The attraction also hosts great fishing, boating, picnicking, hiking, and kayaking opportunities.

PreviousPrevious post: The lovely local shops and restaurants of Lake Lure town itself. Make some time to walk across the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge in Lake Lure, one of the highlights of the area.

Historically, Lake Lure provided the backdrop for this and other movies, most notably the 1987 smash “Dirty Dancing.” This rich cinematic history is honored every year in September when the town hosts the Dirty Dancing Festival, filled with live music, entertainment, dance lessons, and more – a perfect occasion for film aficionados.

In many ways, Lake Lure is the epitome of what people have in mind when they think of a mountain town in North Carolina that combines natural beauty with charming festivals.

18. Conquer Crowders Mountain State Park

Rising 1,625 feet above sea level, Crowders Mountain is more than just tall; it has a slew of outdoor activities spread across this summit.

For folks who prefer to go for a hike, the park offers a number of trails that are good for beginner and intermediate-level hikers, including the 2.5-mile Carolina Thread Trail and the more strenuous 10.5-mile Ridgeline Trail.

Be warned though, Crowders Moutain is much more of a climber’s climb, and for only the most daring of climbers. Climbing is allowed, however, you cannot put pitons in the walls, bolts or any gear that could damage the rock faces. And bouldering, or free-climbing, in most areas where climbing is not allowed, requires a permit available from the Park Office.

For a very relaxed experience, try the Linwood Access Area or the Boulders Access Area. Hail these perfect stops for an escape from nature. Nine picnic tables provide plenty of space for you to enjoy a meal, and you have easy access to drinking water as the restrooms.

19. Try skiing in NC

During the winter months, you experience a whole different side to the North Carolina Mountains, perfect for skiers. With a few ski resorts in the region to feed off visitors; novices to skiing and the experienced. End of the scale ski spiel.

Appalachian Ski Mountain in Boone is a popular stop for North Carolina skiers. There are classes and baby bunny slopes for beginners while others can tackle the difficult black diamond slopes.

The mountain is also available for snowboarding and an ice rink. All equipment can be rented on the park And for those looking for something special, experience the Midnight Blast night skiing.

After finishing your Skiing or Boarding for the day, cool down and head to the Lodge. Relax by the fireplace, have a meal in the restaurant, or observe the slopes from an observation deck.

20. Explore Linville Falls

North Carolina is known for its beautiful waterfalls, and Linville Falls is one of the prettier ones. Located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway at the bottom of Linville Gorge, this 90-foot waterfall is an awe-inspiring sight to see.

As such, a well-groomed trail system is in place that provides different views of the falls. If you want something shorter, the Erwins View Trail is 1.6 miles roundtrip and is a pretty easy walk. The Linville Gorge Trail — 1.4 miles roundtrip, difficultFollows the Linville River down to its rocky shores; for those looking for a strenuous hike.

Swimming is not allowed, but visitors can enjoy the stunning views and take lots of photographs. One of the best free things to do in North Carolina is to visit Linville Falls, which costs nothing to be amazed by nature at its finest.

Linville Gorge is famously called “The Grand Canyon of the East,” but the area also boasts scenic overlooks and waterfall looks, making it a popular camping destination. This gorge also makes for a great day trip from Asheville, filled with day-long adventure.

With its many metropolitan centers, there is no shortage of fun and exciting activities in North Carolina. It might become quite difficult to decide where to go first when you are planning your visit. Budget enough time to check off each of the states’ long and varied list of things to see and do.

North Carolina offers a plethora of premium activities for all its visitors, No matter the taste of hiking or historical enthusiasts. We wish you a wonderful trip as you take on all that North Carolina has to offer!

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