The best places to visit in North Carolina depends on what type of getaway you want. There are so many places in North Carolina that I love and deciding where to go for a weekend trip is always a difficult decision. It always comes down to what I’m looking for out of that trip and the unique things that each location offers.
Are you looking to go out on the town or back in the woods where you don’t see a soul? Relax in a fancy spa or on the beach? Do you want mountain views or that salty breeze whipping your hair?
Here in North Carolina we’ve got it all.
Each city or town that you might visit offers a particular experience that you’ll find nowhere else. I hope to highlight what makes each of these destinations unique so it might make your choice of where to go a bit easier. Or maybe not once you see how many cool places there are to explore.
Cities – Places to Visit in NC
When I think of Asheville, I think of beer. It did win the title of Beer City USA four years in a row. Downtown you can explore many different breweries plus some interesting art galleries. Beer and art aren’t the only things that have made this quickly growing city famous though.
Asheville’s foodie scene is booming. There are multiple chefs in the area that were James Beard finalists and you’ll find many restaurants on “Top 100” lists of restaurants in the USA in all types of publications.
I can’t talk about Asheville without talking about the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains surrounding it. The Blue Ridge Parkway runs right by the city and it’s between Pisgah & Nantahala National Forests and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
This is North Carolina’s “Big City.” Raleigh is the next largest city and Charlotte has almost double the population that Raleigh does. Not quite, but almost. Fun fact: Charlotte is the largest metro area in the US without a zoo.
They do have our only two major league sports teams though. The Carolina Panthers are our NFL team and they play at Bank of America Stadium. The Hornets are our MBA team who play at The Spectrum Center.
Charlotte is also the capital of NASCAR. For those of you not familiar with the sport, that is stock car racing although the cars aren’t really stock anymore. The NASCAR Hall of Fame is here as is the Charlotte Motor Speedway where you can watch the All-Star Race every spring.
Last thing I’ll mention about Charlotte is the US National Whitewater Center. This man-made river offers white water adventure for any river junkie but also hiking, zip lining, mountain biking, a rock wall, and even flat-water kayaking. Obviously no shortage of adventure activities here.
As the capital of North Carolina this would be your destination for NC history and anything related to government functions. Some of the buildings you can tour are the Capitol & Legislative buildings, NC Museum of History, and the NC Executive Mansion. You can also tour the North Carolina Museum of Art which was the first state funded art museum in the US.
State history isn’t the only reason to visit this city though. Raleigh is usually hosting a festival downtown on any given weekend other than in winter months. The State Farmer’s Market is also open year-round and has one of the best breakfast restaurants and a great spot to get seafood straight from the NC coast.
North Carolina State University is also here and even if you don’t have ties to the university, you should walk through campus. Try to find the wolf ears sculpture and don’t miss their state of the art library. The bell tower is also an iconic spot.
If you’re in search of ocean waves but still want bright city lights, then Wilmington is your place. With Wrightsville Beach just a short drive away you’ve got the best of both worlds. Wrightsville is home to Johnnie Mercer’s Pier and The Wrightsville Beach Mailbox. This mailbox contains notebooks and pens where you can sit and leave a note for the next travelers.
The city of Wilmington has a gorgeous Riverwalk downtown with restaurants, boutiques, and other shops. You can have dinner with a beautiful view of the Cape Fear River and Cape Fear Memorial Bridge.
A few other special things in Wilmington include the USS North Carolina where you can either take a self-guided or guided tour of the ship. Bitty & Beau’s Coffee has their flagship store here. They employ people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. There are plenty of things to do in Wilmington to keep you busy for a long weekend or more.
Mountains – Places to Visit in NC
Boone is one of my absolute favorite mountain towns. I guess I do say that about many of them though. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast then the North Carolina mountains are the place for you. There’s some great mountain biking at Rocky Knob Mountain Bike Park and hiking to entertain you for weeks.
Some of the best hikes in the area are Rough Ridge, Linville Falls, and the Glen Burney Trail. The Glen Burney Trail is probably the least well known but the trialhead is almost right in the middle of downtown Blowing Rock. Don’t let that fool you though, this one is a tough hike. Your reward is three gorgeous waterfalls.
While Boone is a college town home to Appalachian State University, Blowing Rock is a quieter luxury getaway about 15 minutes away. Blowing Rock offers shopping at quaint boutiques downtown and fine dining options. Chetola Resort is a popular place to stay, but it can be pricy in high season.
Related: A Weekend in Linville Falls, NC
This little town is almost like a second home to me. My husband’s family has a cozy little cabin tucked away in the woods right outside of downtown Black Mountain and it is the perfect getaway after a long week. The town itself is quiet, but it’s right outside of Asheville (about a 20 minute drive) which makes it the best of both worlds.
There are three different breweries in town and all are worth a visit. The largest one, Pisgah Brewing, has concerts throughout the year. The tasting room for Pisgah is cash only though! Another great spot is Mellie Mac’s which is a wine bar and garden shop. So grab a glass and buy some pretty flowers.
There’s no shortage of good food and cute shops here so plan to stay for longer than a weekend if you can. Like all the other mountain towns there’s an abundance of hiking and other outdoor activities.
I’ve only spent one night here, but I am dying to go back. Tyler and I went to see the outdoor drama “Unto These Hills” which is about the history of the Cherokee Indians. I would highly recommend going to see it, but maybe not bringing children younger than middle school/high school age.
Of course, there is Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel & Casino. I am not much of a gambler so I’ve never been. They also have comedy shows, concerts, and the like at their event center. You can also tour the Oconaluftee Indian Village to see what life was like for the Cherokees back in the 1760s.
If there are any motorcycle fanatics out there then the Wheels Through Time Museum is for you. It’s all about the history of motorcycles and unique automobiles. This one was recommended by my parents who ride their Harley all over North Carolina.
Beaches – Places to Visit in NC
The first time you visit the North Carolina coast after always traveling to Myrtle Beach, SC it’s a shock to the system. Those of you from the Southeast know what I mean. The fact that you almost have a beach to yourself in the peak of summer is unfathomable. This is how I felt the first time I came to Atlantic Beach.
There was someone maybe every so often on the beach and you would have people walk by occasionally but other than that you had the place to yourself. Not to mention that Atlantic is a short 15 minute drive from Beaufort. Beaufort has been awarded all kinds of titles most recently – “America’s Favorite Town” by Travel + Leisure.
Atlantic Beach boasts some of the best fishing on the North Carolina coast. If you have your own boat head out to Cape Lookout and try your luck early in the morning. You can also fish from the beaches at Fort Macon State Park. Get a history lesson while you’re there. Make sure you have your saltwater fishing license in the state of North Carolina!
Ocracoke has been on my list for a little over a year now, so I hope to be able to update this post soon with personal recommendations. I’m dying to visit those secluded beaches.
Getting to the island is an adventure in itself. Since it’s an island you must take a ferry over and that’s the only way in. This is the ultimate place to get away from it all. Most everything you can do relates back to the water somehow. Fishing, shelling, lying on secluded beaches.
If you’re looking for something else though you can ride a bike, take a ghost tour, or go on a nature walk at Springer’s Point or Hammock Hill Nature Trail. And it wouldn’t be the outer banks if there wasn’t a lighthouse nearby to visit (Ocracoke lighthouse).
Ever seen the videos of the wild horses on the beach? This is the place to visit to see them. They even have Wild Horse Tours that you can take. Corolla is also one place along the outer banks that you’re able to drive out onto the beach. Be sure and check the local regulations though.
Just a bit south is the town of Duck where you can get the famous Duck Donuts. You’ll definitely want some for breakfast before a day spent out on the beach.
Corolla’s lighthouse is the red Currituck Beach lighthouse right beside the Whalehead residence. The Whalehead is a historic home that you can tour once your done climbing the lighthouse.
Small(ish) Towns – Places to Visit in NC
Back in Revolutionary War times, New Bern was North Carolina’s first permanent state capitol. Tryon Palace was the first Governor’s Mansion, but burned down in 1798. It wasn’t until 1959 that the palace was rebuilt.
The other interesting historical fact about this town is it was the birthplace of Pepsi! Pepsi was invented at a little pharmacy on the corner in downtown New Bern. The building that housed the pharmacy is still there but now it’s a gift shop.
The history lover in me went wild over this town. New Bern is also right on the Neuse River so it offers beautiful waterfront views.
Ever heard of Mayberry from the Andy Griffith Show? This is the town it was based on! Andy was originally from Mt. Airy so there’s no shortage of Andy Griffith Themed things to do. Take a ride in a model squad car, walk through the Andy Griffith Playhouse, or try the Porkchop sandwich at Snappy Lunch.
Mt. Airy is also right in the middle of the Yadkin Valley American Viticulture Association. Which means lots of great wine! Old North State Winery has a tasting room and restaurant right on Main Street downtown. Go here if you’re looking for fine dining at a reasonable price. Round Peak is just a short drive out of town with views of the rolling hills before they flow into the Blue Ridge Mountains.
If you want to explore a bit of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia this is the perfect starting point. You head 30 minutes north and you’ll be on the Parkway – America’s Most Scenic Drive (one of them at least).
I dream of staying at the Old Edwards Inn & Spa. That is just wayyyyy out of my price range. Maybe one day. Visiting Highlands doesn’t have to be expensive but it’s sure to be unique. This little mountain town has a beautiful walkable downtown area and is located in the Nantahala National Forest.
Don’t miss out on the waterfalls in the area like Dry Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, or Whitewater Falls. There is also no shortage of hiking opportunities near Highlands. If you’re the adventurous type then try learning fly fishing. Or if the thought of fly fishing makes you cringe just take your spinning rod out to the stream and fish for some trout.
While there are many things to do in Highlands, this is also the perfect place to take a step back from the rush of daily life and slow down. The Old Edwards Inn is the perfect spot to relax with a massage and enjoy their whirlpool even if you don’t stay there.
Best Places to Visit in North Carolina
These are only a few of the best places to visit in North Carolina and I plan to continually update this list as I visit more places in this amazing state. By no means is this an exhaustive list, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
These are just a few of the towns that I’ve loved visiting or that I’ve had on my bucket list for a while now. If you have some other suggestions for the best places to visit in North Carolina then I’d love for you to send me a message on Facebook or Instagram or you can leave a comment below.