The expansive mountains, breathtaking beaches, and southern charm are only some of the aspects of North Carolina that make it a popular destination.
In addition to the natural beauty and warm welcome from the locals, the Tarheel state has a plethora of places to visit that need to be added to your vacation to-do list.
Whether you’re a vacationer who prefers to relax on the beach, soak in a hot tub in the mountains, hike over rough terrain, or explore a quaint, historic town, North Carolina will not disappoint.
The 14 Best Places to Visit in North Carolina in 2023
Do you enjoy being out in the trees and witnessing natural beauty? What about getting a feel for marine and aquatic life? If you answered ‘yes’ to either of these questions, North Carolina should be on your list of places to visit.
The gorgeous views that abound when you hike the trails of the Great Smoky Mountains are unlike anything you’ve ever witnessed, while turtles hatch on the Outer Banks, letting you experience marine wildlife first-hand.
Start your North Carolina trip planning by choosing which of the best places to visit for the ultimate vacation.
Sitting on the foothills of the famous Blue Ridge Mountains, you will find the vibrant town of Asheville, North Carolina. Asheville is known for its stunning views and artsy community as it is full of quaint boutiques and local art.
Asheville has received national recognition by both Travel & Leisure and Good Morning America as it holds the title of “America’s Quirkiest Town” and “Most Beautiful Places in America.”
The unique vibe of the town is accompanied by a plethora of creative bars and spectacular dining. The Biltmore Estate in Asheville is one of its most popular attractions.
This mansion has a rich history as it is full of 16th-century art, an expansive ballroom, endless fireplaces, and other priceless features from George and Edith Vanderbilt’s original art collection. Explore the mansion, stroll the garden grounds, and relax at the on-site winery for the ultimate visit.
2. Old Salem
Experience the 18th and 19th-century culture of the area by engulfing yourself in what Old Salem has to offer. Old Salem is full of those with a passion for history as they recreate what it was like to live in the era of the national landmark.
Visitors will get a first-hand experience of the diverse culture as they are immersed in the living museum. Shop the merchant shops like the C. Winkler Bakery and the E.A. Vogler Coffee & Confections for a bite to eat and grab a souvenir from Salem Stitches.
If you want to immerse yourself in the culture even further than shopping and walking the streets will allow, visit the Stockberger Supply at the Old Salem Visitor Center. Here, visitors can learn more about the history of Old Salem and take home a keepsake souvenir.
3. Bald Head Island
Bald Head Island in North Carolina gives off major Mackinac Island vibes as the only way to travel around the island is via foot, bicycle, or golf cart. Visitors can only reach the island by ferry or private boat, making it a unique experience for all involved.
The island offers 14 miles of shoreline, perfect for you and your family to play in the sand or splash in the waves. A laid-back atmosphere makes the island a great place to relax or enjoy a round of golf at the Bald Head Island Golf Course.
The island is a popular nesting ground for turtles during the summer months, making for an exciting destination as the island’s conservancy hosts Turtle Walks for those wanting to witness the baby turtles making their grand expedition to the ocean waters from their nest.
Wilmington, North Carolina, is a charming town that had an impressive boost in popularity in 2003 due to the release of One Tree Hill, a drama TV series.
While fans of the show flock to Wilmington to this day to see where Chad Michael Murray’s character Lucas lived, the town has a lot more to offer than just the show’s filming locations.
This area is where visitors will find some of the most popular beaches in North Carolina. Beaches like Carolina, Kure, and Wrightsville call this port city home.
The North Carolina Aquarium also calls Wilmington home and is a top family-friendly destination as it was named one of the best in the US by the “Travel Channel.” If you enjoy revisiting history, Battleship North Carolina is another top destination in Wilmington.
The battleship is located in downtown Wilmington and opens its decks to visitors who envision what it was like to be a part of the crew that braved the Pacific waters during World War II.
5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
A trip to North Carolina isn’t a trip to North Carolina without visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Noted as the most visited National Park in the United States, this national park is ready to accommodate all visitors’ needs while giving some of the most breathtaking views.
Abundant wildlife, breathtaking views, expansive waterfalls, and miles of hiking trails are what visitors will find at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Hiking trails are immersed in lush forests and color-popping wildflowers, making it a photographer’s dream destination. Guests can camp under the stars at the park, either at one of the designated camping spots or along a rugged hiking trail.
If you want to sleep in the national park but don’t fancy camping, additional lodging is available at LeConte Lodge. However, this lodge is located on the park’s third-highest peak and is only accessible to hikers.
Read Next: The 21 Best National Parks in the United States
6. Blue Ridge Parkway
Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile stretch of roadway that begins in Afton, Virginia, and takes you down to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee.
Along this stretch of road, travelers will take in some of the most breathtaking views in all of the United States. Noted as America’s Favorite Drive, this scenic roadway takes drivers through four regions; Ridge, Plateau, Highlands, and Pisgah.
Throughout these regions, you will witness endless ridgetop views, quaint farmland on the plateau, stunning foliage in the highlands, and rolling mountain tops in Pisgah.
Throughout this journey, travelers can enjoy the art and culture in the quaint towns along the way, hiking, motorcycling, various waterfalls, and camping.
Try your hand at fishing or engulf yourself in the history of the area. Don’t forget to stop by one of the many unique and mom and pop restaurants to get a feel for the entire experience.
Charlotte is the largest city in North Carolina and provides visitors with a plethora of attractions to keep them busy. Attractions include amusement parks, water parks, aquariums, and discovery centers.
Likely the most popular attraction in the city, at least for motorsports enthusiasts, is the Charlotte Motor Speedway. This speedway is home to some of the most popular NASCAR races and brings in visitors from all across the country.
Charlotte is also home to the NASCAR Hall of Fame and a variety of other NASCAR-themed shops. If NASCAR isn’t your thing and water parks and amusement parks don’t interest you, consider the expansive drinking and dining scene in Charlotte.
Fainting Goat Brewing Company, Green Man Brewery, Cougar Run Winery, and South Mountain Distilling Company are only a few of the many local breweries, wineries, and distilleries in the area.
8. Chimney Rock State Park
Established in 2005, Chimney Rock State Park is another natural attraction in North Carolina that boasts stunning views. As you may have guessed, the most popular view of the park comes from atop a 300-foot rock structure known as Chimney Rock.
Take the 26-story elevator to the top, or lace up your tennis shoes and climb the estimated 500-steps to take in the views. In addition to Chimney Rock, the state park offers breathtaking views of the 400-foot Hickory Nut Falls.
This nature-lovers paradise provides guests with remarkable views, multiple hiking trails, and various events and experiences throughout the year.
For the more adventurous vacationer, Chimney Rock State Park provides a platform for climbers to climb the seemingly endless rock structures. Use the outdoors as a way to stay fit and create lasting memories at Chimney Rock State Park.
9. The Outer Banks
Another area made famous by a TV series, the outer banks of North Carolina is one of the best places to visit in the state. Outer Banks has been rising in popularity due to the teen drama Outer Banks, which originally aired on Netflix in 2020.
While the show is based on a fictional island in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, the outer banks are very much real and a must on your list of places to visit. Also known as OBX, the Outer Banks region of North Carolina is composed of a line of islands just outside the state’s coastline.
Visitors to the northern end of the islands may witness the sight of wild horses roaming the dunes, while the beaches are a popular spot to escape the summer heat.
Kitty Hawk is a popular destination located in the Outer Banks as it is the town that welcomes visitors to the islands. Explore the true history of Kitty Hawk and their association with the Wright Brothers as you may find the history of the ‘First in Flight’ stories may not be all that true.
Whether you’re visiting to escape the heat or explore its rich history, the Outer Banks is a North Carolina destination you won’t regret visiting.
10. Hanging Rock State Park
Hanging Rock State Park is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. The state park is a result of a 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps project and offers some of the best outdoor experiences in the area.
Aside from the spectacular hanging rock that makes for stunning photos, the park has 73 camping sites, picnic areas, a stocked lake for swimming, and canoe rentals.
Guests can also enjoy over 20-miles of hiking trails that offer a variety of sights, including waterfalls, streams, and views as far as the eye can see.
If you are looking for a more extreme outdoor adventure, Hanging Rock State Park also has mountain biking trails, rock climbing spots, and access to the Dan River for paddling. Guests can stay on one of the campsites or book a vacation cabin for an extended stay.
11. Beech Mountain Resort
Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Beech Mountain is a quaint town known for the Beech Mountain Resort. The Beech Mountain Resort attracts guests for its numerous ski trails, panoramic views, and all-season trail park perfect for mountain biking and hiking.
While both winter and summer outdoor sports are a hot commodity at Beech Mountain Resort, they also offer summer concert series, disc golf, yoga classes, swimming, and a variety of other activities to keep you entertained.
With new trails, a variety of events, and something for the whole family, Beech Mountain Resort is a must-stop destination on your North Carolina to-do list. Don’t forget to plan your trip ahead of time to ensure ticket and space availability!
Raleigh is the capital of North Carolina and is known for its high volume of higher education institutes, including North Carolina State University. While the city is more of a metropolitan hub than a tourist destination, it offers visitors multiple things to do and sites to see.
Whether you’re interested in local art and culture or you prefer to judge a city based on its craft beer selection, Raleigh has plenty of unique art to see and beer to drink to give you a feel for the city.
A favorite craft beer destination is Aviator Brewing Company. From the Madbeach Orange Wheat to the Mezzanotte Cappuccino Tiramisù Porter, it offers visitors a little bit of everything.
For the arts and crafts scene, locals and vacationers alike find that the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater at Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts is a unique and exciting spot to visit. If you prefer more stationary art, the Alia Fine Art Studios is a must.
13. Cape Hatteras
If camping near the ocean is on your bucket list, you will want to visit Cape Hatteras. Cape Hatteras is located on Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
While it has seen its fair share of tropical storms, it still offers a variety of activities for guests to enjoy. As previously noted, primitive beach camping is a popular activity on Cape Hatteras.
Four campgrounds are scattered throughout the area, providing ample camping sites for visitors. While enjoying your camping trip along the National Seashore, try your hand at fishing or get a closer look at the sea turtles that take over in the summer months.
Visitors can also learn more about the people, nature, and wildlife of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore by visiting one of the area’s visitor centers.
14. North Carolina Zoo
The North Carolina Zoo is an excellent family-friendly attraction with an affordable entry fee. The zoo not only has over 1,800 animals within its borders, but it also offers unique experiences like Art in the Park, Zoo Tours, and special seasonal events.
Habitats from prairies, streams, swamps, marshes, and the rocky coast scatter throughout the grounds. Get up-close and personal with Grizzly and Black bears while learning the history of the Red Wolf.
Whether you love everything about animals and want to expand your knowledge, or you want to experience something new, the North Carolina Zoo is the perfect destination.
Read Next: The Best Zoos in the United States in 2023
Things to Consider
Visiting new places can pose challenges to travelers. What is the parking situation like? Do we need hiking boots or tennis shoes? Where is the closest place to eat? These are all questions you may ask yourself before embarking on your journey for the day.
Take these aspects into consideration when planning your visit to North Carolina attractions:
The cost of an attraction may determine whether or not you add it to your to-do list. If your budget is tight, there are plenty of fun and exciting things to do around North Carolina that don’t cost a penny or have a small price tag.
The proximity of the attraction to the nearest restaurant or convenience store will play a role in most vacation planners’ decision-making process. If you’re planning on visiting an attraction off the beaten path, you may want to pack a bag of snacks just in case you get hungry before you can make it back to eat.
Parking is a vital yet often overlooked part of visiting attractions. Sometimes, parking is free while there may be a fee other times.
Sometimes, it is within walking distance of the attraction, while other times, you have to ride a tram to make it to the end destination. Look up the attraction and determine the parking situation ahead of time to know what to expect.
Wearing the proper footwear can be a game-changer when it comes to the enjoyment of an activity. If you’re visiting one of the many hiking trails in North Carolina, you will want to wear hiking boots or tennis shoes. Conversely, if you go to a water park, you may prefer to wear sandals.
I can’t tell you how often I’ve tried visiting a new place without researching operating hours. More times than not, I get to the restaurant or attraction only to find out they are closed or about to close.
To create fluidity in your trip and ensure you don’t waste time going somewhere that’s closed, make a note of the operating hours.
Frequently Asked Questions
The places to go and sights to see in North Carolina seem endless. The hype about the state continues to grow its popularity. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions surrounding North Carolina:
What is the prettiest place in North Carolina?
There are so many beautiful places in North Carolina that it’s tough to narrow it down to one. However, some of the prettiest include Mount Mitchell State Park, Cape Lookout National Seashore, Chimney Rock State Park, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
What is the number one attraction in North Carolina?
The most visited attraction in North Carolina is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The 12 million annual visitors make it the most visited national park in the United States. Its proximity to larger cities in North Carolina make it easy to access.
What is the coolest place in North Carolina?
The cities of North Carolina boast both southern charm and tropical vibes, making it difficult to choose the coolest place in the state. However, some of the most unique cities to visit in North Carolina are Asheville, Raleigh, Durham, Wilmington, and Charlotte.
Why is North Carolina so popular?
Not only does North Carolina have stunning beaches, breathtaking mountains, and a thriving job market, but it also boasts excellent weather year-round and has some of the nicest neighborhoods in the country. These factors and many others make it a popular destination for vacationers and those looking to plant their roots somewhere new.
Is North Carolina worth visiting?
North Carolina is packed full of exciting things to do and breathtaking views to see, making it a popular place for all types of travelers. Whether you want to dig your toes in the sand, hike through the mountains, or experience the southern charm, North Carolina offers it all.
So, What’s the Best Place to Visit in North Carolina?
From the great mountain ranges to the quaint little towns scattered throughout the borders, North Carolina is a historic and adventure-filled state.
Whether you enjoy exploring the wildlife that inhabits the mountainous regions or you prefer to relax and unwind in the Outer Banks, North Carolina is a top destination if you’re looking for a little bit of everything.