With the Atlantic Ocean to the east, North Carolina features plenty of shoreline for visitors to enjoy with water activities, sunbathing, or simply relaxing on the beach. The state's long history means that you can find important historic sites from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.
The changing seasons mean that you can warm up in the spring in North Carolina by visiting mountains or coastal retreats. There are also vineyards for adults to enjoy and theme parks geared to guests of all ages.
Visiting during the spring or summer gives you the bonus of being able to attend a world-famous music festival, but no matter when you visit, check out these top 25 attractions in North Carolina.
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The Biltmore Estate is one of the top Asheville attractions. The grand estate is the largest house in the US, privately owned. It's owned by the wealthy Vanderbilt family and is open to the public to explore the mansion and grounds.
Biltmore Estate is a Gilded Age mansion completed in 1895 and now listed on the US National Register of Historic Places. It offers lots of experiences for visitors and thus one of the best things to do in North Carolina.
Take a tour of the house to see preserved décor from the era, which showcases the family's wealth. Tours are self-guided with audio to learn more about each room you visit. There are also various exhibitions throughout the house. You can take a walk through the gardens, dine in at the restaurant, or do a wine tasting in the winery.
The best times to visit the mansion are during the spring to see the flowers bloom or during the holiday season for decorations.
Accomodation: Where to stay in Asheville
Address: 1 Lodge St, Asheville, NC 28803
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the top attraction in North Carolina and a must-visit place during your trip. With over 12 million visitors every year, it's the most visited national park in the US. It's located near several major cities, so it's easily accessible. Visit the park for sightseeing, outdoor recreation, and more.
The Great Smoky Mountains is a vast park with over 500,000 acres stretched across North Carolina and Tennessee. It includes the Great Smoky Mountain Range and parts of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are also several other landscape features, from forests to waterfalls.
Hiking is the most popular activity in the park. There are plenty of trails to explore, including a section of the Appalachian Trail or routes to various points of interest like Clingman's Dome and Laurel Falls. Other activities include horseback riding, fishing, biking, and camping.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Accomodation: Where to stay near Great Smoky Mountain National Park
Address: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC
Climb aboard the USS North Carolina Battleship to learn about its military history as one of the most successful vessels used during World War II. The ship is located in Wilmington, NC. It's a museum that offers visitors the opportunity to walk through the ship to immerse themselves in the experience.
The US Navy operated USS North Carolina Battleship. It was in service from 1940 until 1947 when it completed multiple successful missions in the Pacific Ocean during WWII. It was converted into a museum in 1962 and recognized as a National Historic Landmark.
Even after being decommissioned, the ship remains in its wartime configuration. It gives an accurate view of how life was like onboard during the war. You can take a self-guided tour around the nine decks while learning about the ship's history. There are various displays, and you'll get to see the original features of the well -preserved ship.
Accomodation: Where to stay in Wilmington
Address: 1 Battleship Rd NE, Wilmington, NC 28401
Immerse yourself in science and natural history at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Located in Raleigh, the museum is one of the most visited North Carolina attractions with one 1.2-million visitors every year. It has fun and interactive exhibitions for everyone.
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is the oldest museum in the state. It has multiple floors full of fun activities and live shows. You will discover dinosaur fossils and reassembled whale skeletons. You can take an inside look at the human anatomy, dive into the deep sea, or take a journey into outer space. Many of the exhibitions are hands-on.
In addition to the exhibits, the museum also features live science experiments. Trained scientists perform fun and exciting experiments in the museum's atrium every day.
The museum experience also includes screenings in the theater and educational programs.
Address: 11 W Jones St, Raleigh, NC 27601
Also Read: The Best Science Museums in the US
North Carolina Zoo is one of the best places to visit in North Carolina with family.
It welcomes nearly one million visitors every year to see animals from around the world. It's the largest natural habitat zoo in the world, so prepare for lots of walking and exploration.
The North Carolina Zoo opened in 1976 near Asheboro in the central part of the state. It covers 2,600 acres, with a majority of the area undeveloped.
The entire zoo is divided into sections reflecting different habitats. Some of the exhibitions include grasslands, swamps, forests, deserts, and mountains. There is also an aviary and features an art collection.
There are over 250 species in the zoo with more than 1,800 animals. Most of the animals come from North America and Africa, with plans to add more regions.
Animals you'll see in the zoo include chimpanzees, lions, polar bears, cougars, giraffes, elephants, and bison.
Accomodation: Where to stay in Asheboro
Address: 4401 Zoo Pkwy, Asheboro, NC 27205
Also Read: 30 Best Zoos in the US
The infamous Blue Ridge actually runs across multiple states, connecting with multiple national parks and the Great Smoky Mountains along the way. Most of it can be found in Virginia and North Carolina, however.
North Carolina is especially breathtaking, giving visitors a great view of the mountain crests and old settlements from early American life. Trails are many and varied, great for both beginners and experienced adventurers.
Go for a scenic ride with the family through Blue Ridge Parkway and have a fun picnic along their camping grounds. You could also opt to spend a weekend at one of their campsites and arrange a hiking tour or a bicycling tour with a group.
It really is one gorgeous spot and one of the top tourist attractions in North Carolina.
Address: 2551 Mountain View Rd, Vinton, VA 24179
The Wright Brothers were pioneers in early air flight. The Wright Brothers National Memorial commemorates their achievements for the first slight in a powered machine. Although the brothers were from Ohio, they relocated to the site to develop the first aircraft. Today, the site highlight lots of details about the successful flight.
Wright Brothers National Memorial includes several features on the same site used for flight testing. The visitor center has a museum exhibiting a replica aircraft used for the flight, details about various flight experiments, tools, and more.
The memorial also has a replica flight hanger where the Wright Brothers lived. One of the highlights of the attraction is the memorial tower located at the top of Kill Devil Hill.
Visitors can walk the flight route with markers at significant points of take-off, landing, and more. More than a half-million visitors come to the memorial every year, making it one of the top North Carolina attractions.
Accomodation: Where to stay in Kill Devil Hills
Address: 1000 N Croatan Hwy, Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948
Views from the top of Chimney Rock are well worth a visit to the Chimney Rock State Park. The state park is named after the famous rock, but also has lots of other interesting landmarks to explore. It's one of the most popular Asheville attractions located just outside of the city. Take a day trip to the park to enjoy the natural wonders outdoors.
Chimney Rock State Park covers over 8,000 acres of the natural landscape. The most prominent feature is Chimney Rock, towering 315-ft high. Visitors can hike to the top or take an elevator to make it accessible to everyone. The summit provides panoramic views extending upwards of 75-miles far on a clear day.
Other natural landmarks in the park include Hickory Nut Waterfalls, Devil's Head Balancing Rock, and Lake Lure. There are several trails ranging in difficulty to reach notable areas in the park.
Accomodation: Where to stay in Chimney Rock
Address: 431 Main St, Chimney Rock, NC 28720
Also Read: 25 Best State Parks in the US
After bids from multiple cities, Charlotte was selected as the location of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It's one of the top Charlotte attractions where you'll get to explore everything about the sport of NASCAR. Walkthrough the Hall of Fame to learn about the all-time great drivers, owners, and broadcasters.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame was opened in 2010 near the Charlotte Motor Speedway. North Carolina has a rich history of driving legends, so it's a suitable place for the venue.
The venue includes exhibitions across multiple floors. As soon as you enter, you'll be greeted with a welcome video to learn about NASCAR before checking out the other exhibits. You'll see a collection of former racing cars, ride in a race car simulator, and other interactive displays.
The Hall of Fame includes 58 people, and each person has a designated exhibit to highlight their accomplishments in the sport.
Address: 400 E M.L.K. Jr Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28202
Stimulate your brain and immerse yourself in learning at Discovery Place. Kids will have an incredible time exploring the interactive exhibitions found in the museum. It's one of the best Charlotte attractions for tourists where time seems to fly by while you're having fun.
Discovery Place is a museum to explore science and technology. It creates a highly engaging setting with hands-on activities, live experiments, and more. Kids can walk through a simulated rain forest or have live animal encounters. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions.
More than 500,000 people visit the museum every year, making it a popular place to visit in North Carolina. The museum is located on a campus that includes several other buildings. Because of its popularity, it has a separate building for educational programs and events.
Discovery Place has branch venues for kids and a nature center. It also hosts summer camps for kids.
Accomodation: Where to stay in Charlotte
Address: 301 N Tryon St, Charlotte, NC 28202
Space exploration comes to life when you visit the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. It's one of the top attractions in North Carolina located on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus – it was donated to the university. The center is one of the largest planetariums in the US and hosts lots of interactive activities for all ages.
Morehead Planetarium and Science Center was built in 1949 as one of the first planetariums in the United States. It serves as a training site for NASA astronauts and has lots of fun things to do to learn about outer space.
One of the highlight features is the planetarium, which has 240 seats to see universe projection displays on the massive dome. Carolina Skies is a popular show to see constellations from a local perspective.
Visit the top-level observatory to peer through the telescope or attend one of the live educational events.
Accomodation: Where to stay in Chapel Hill
Address: 250 E Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Also Read: Best Science Museums in the USA
The Linville River flows through the Blue Ridge Mountains into the Linville Falls. It's one of the biggest waterfalls in North Carolina – it's a tiered waterfall with multiple drops as high as 150-ft. The falls have an upper section before ending in the Linville Gorge.
The Linville Falls is a favorite tourist activity to enjoy the outdoor scenery. There are multiple hiking trails around the waterfall and down in the gorge suitable for various hiking skills. Hike along the Upper Falls trail to see views from the top of the falls. Of take the Plunge Basin Trail to reach an overlook for an alternative perspective.
The outdoor attraction includes a visitor center to learn more about the waterfall. You'll have access to maps and routes for all the trails at the falls. Keep in mind that swimming is not allowed at the waterfall.
Accomodation: Where to stay in Linville Falls
Address: Gingercake Road, Linville Falls, NC 28647
Pleasure Island is one of North Carolina's coastal islands where you'll discover the Carolina Beach State Park. The state park features unique vegetation, including carnivorous plants like the Venus flytrap that grow naturally in the park.
Carolina Beach State Park covers more than 760 acres of the island, predominantly consisting of wetlands. Tourists can explore the park by walking along trails – trails also include boardwalk areas for walking through swamp areas.
Keep your eyes out for the carnivorous plants. One of the most popular trails is the Flytrap Trail, where you'll come across several of the plants. There is also rich wildlife living within the park habitat.
In addition to hiking, other activities include boating, picnics, and camping. The park has a marina and several places to have a picnic. Camping is permitted at designated sites.
Be sure to check out the visitor center to see exhibits on natural history found in the state park.
Accomodation: Where to stay in Carolina Beach
Address: 1010 State Park Rd, Carolina Beach, NC 28428
Ever since opening in 1976, the North Carolina Aquariums expanded to three locations – you'll have a chance to experience local marine life when you visit either of the facilities. The largest aquarium is located in fort Fisher, with other branches found in Pine Knoll Shores and Roanoke Island.
Fort Fisher exhibits marine life from the local Cape Fear Region. The region includes the Cape Fear River and wetlands, so it has a diverse ecosystem. It's ranked one of the best aquariums in the US, with exhibits tailored to specific areas. You'll see alligators, sea turtles, sharks, eels, octopuses, and jellyfish.
Pine Knoll Shores highlights native marine life from all of North Carolina. Visitors can see large tanks will everything from sharks to game fish. Roanoke Island showcases coastal marine life. It's popular for its hands-on activities to touch the animals and various events hosted onsite.
Accomodation: Where to stay in Kure Beach
Address: 900 Loggerhead Rd, Kure Beach, NC 28449
Also Read: 25 Best Aquariums in the US
Outer Banks, or OBX, is one of the best places to visit in North Carolina for the beaches and other fun outdoor activities. There are multiple places to visit within Outer Banks, each filled with recreation, history, and culture. It's a favorite tourist destination to discover a unique area in North Carolina.
OBX is a chain of barrier islands off the North Carolina coast leading to the Atlantic Ocean. It was one of the first settled areas in the country by European settlers and has a rich Native American history.
There are several popular destinations in the Outer Banks – Buxton, Nags Head, Kitty Hawk. Tourists can take advantage of the extensive coastline for pristine beaches. Go swimming in the ocean or relax on the sandy beaches.
Other activities in Outer Banks include visiting the nature parks to explore the diverse environment or exploring the region's maritime heritage.
Address: Outer Banks, NC
If you're looking for a place for outdoor recreation near Raleigh, William B. Umstead State Park is an excellent option. Umstead State Park is a scenic park perfect for enjoying outside for all ages.
Umstead State Park covers nearly 5,600 acres. It was an area once inhabited by Native Americans. It has an abundance of wildlife and some of the oldest trees in the state, dating back 300 years. It was designated as a state park in 1937 to preserve the environment and promote recreation for tourists.
Some of the favorite things to do in Umstead State Park include hiking, biking, horseback riding, and boating. There are dozens of miles of trails extending throughout the park. The trails are great for walking or running. The trails are also included as part of the famous East Coast Greenway stretching from Maine to Florida.
Check out the visitor center for park information and nature exhibitions.
Accomodation: Where to stay in Raleigh
Address: 8801 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh, NC 27617
Founded in 1887, Pullen Park is the oldest public park in the state. It's one of the top North Carolina attractions for the entire family. Spend the day in the park for relaxation, recreation, and more.
Pullen Park is located near Downtown Raleigh. It's a vast green space with lots of venues and activities established inside of it. Sit down for a picnic on the lawn or let the kids run around the playground. There are also hiking trails winding around the park for walking and running.
The park includes several amusement rides. There is a recently updated carousel, a train ride around the park, and paddle boats in the lake. There are also several venues – an aquatic center, an arts center, and a theater. You can always find events, classes, and other activities happening in the park.
Address: 520 Ashe Ave, Raleigh, NC 27606
Kids will have hours of fun playing and learning at the Marbles Kids Museum. It was established in 2007 in Downtown Raleigh to inspire learning in a fun environment. It's one of the best places to visit in North Carolina with kids up to age 12.
Marbles Kids Museum features interactive exhibitions where kids can learn while playing. It hosts various exhibits to highlight the values of education, health, creativity, and science. Kids will hardly know that they are learning because they'll be having so much fun.
The museum is large, with two floors and an outdoor play space. There is also a 3D IMAX theater with over 250-seats that plays movies and documentaries. Visit the museum to host a special birthday party or to experience seasonal events like Halloween costume parties.
If you get hungry during your visit, there is a museum café to grab a bite to eat.
Address: 201 E Hargett St, Raleigh, NC 27601
There are several places where you can go horseback riding in North Carolina, but the best place is located near Raleigh. Dead Broke Farm has one of the largest horse farms in the state. It welcomes visitors to ride horses and other activities with the animals.
Dead Broke Farm covers 100 acres of farmland. It has lots of trails leading through the wooded areas to give a fun, scenic ride with the horses. Whether you're a first-time rider or an expert, you can have some fun on the farm.
Groups can book guided tours to trot along the trails. You will have a choice of over 50 horses to ride, and you'll go together as a group to ride along with your family and friends. It's ideal for all ages.
Dead Broke Farm hosts events, parties, and summer camps. It also offers horse training and sells horses.
Address: 6921 Wildlife Trail, Raleigh, NC 27613
Established in 1953, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is one of the ten national seashores in the US. It's a 70-mile stretch of protected coastal island region along the Outer Banks. It's preserved for its cultural significance and natural resources.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore is the longest region of undeveloped coastline on the Atlantic coast. It includes multiple islands with attractions to see on each of them. Choose a destination along the seashore to enjoy the beach and other activities.
Many shipwrecks happened along the rugged coast, so you'll find notable lighthouses, including the Bodie Island Lighthouse and the Cape Hatteras Light on their respective islands. Each island also has a visitor center to learn about things to do in the area and sights.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore is one of the best places to visit in North Carolina for surfing and fishing. It has incredible beaches that attract nearly two million visitors annually.
Accomodation: Where to stay in Nags Head
Address: Nags Head, NC 27959
Ride along the scenic Blue Parkway to reach the Grandfather Mountain, one of the most prominent peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains. At nearly 6,000-feet, the summit provides incredible views of the landscape. Grandfather Mountain is recognized as a nonprofit attraction to bring tourism to the region.
The attraction includes the Grandfather Mountain and the nature reserve surrounding it, covering 720-acres. It not only consists of the natural attractions around the mountain but other tourist attractions.
Hiking is a favorite activity at Grandfather Mountain. It has multiple trails, from leisure to intensive hiking. The views are well worth the hike to the top. There is lots of wildlife that you'll encounter, including bears, elk, cougars, and eagles.
Take a walk across the famous Mile High Swinging Bridge to an adjacent peak or browse the Nature Museum exhibitions. All proceeds from visiting the Grandfather Mountain attractions go towards preserving the environment.
Address: 2050 Blowing Rock Highway, Linville, NC 28646
Learn about the life and times of Billy Graham, considered one of the most influential Christian leaders in the 20th century. His work in spreading Christianity through media is well documented in the museum and library dedicated to him.
The Billy Graham Library opened in 2007 and became one of the popular Charlotte attractions for tourists. The museum building is modeled after a bard to reflect Graham's childhood raised on a farm. A large cross serves as the main door where you'll enter into a venue promoting a message of hope and religion.
There are several multi-media exhibitions in the museum, including photos, videos, presentations, music, and sound clips from his sermons. Visitors can learn all about the life and work of Billy Graham. The site also includes a prayer garden, café, and a bookstore.
Special events and decorations are set up for Christian holidays.
Address: 4330 Westmont Dr, Charlotte, NC 28217
The Appalachian Mountains features a diverse landscape within the range, including the Pisgah National Forest. The forest covers a large area protected by the national forest designation. The headquarters is in Asheville, but the forest is so large that it's divided into three ranger districts for better management. You'll have plenty of scenic nature to explore/
Pisgah National Forest has various landscape features, including old-growth forests, rivers, and wilderness areas. Visit the designated ranger station for each district to get more information on the best trails to take and the points of interest to check out. Some of the popular destinations within the forest are the Linville Gorge Wilderness and the Upper Creek Falls.
Many people visit the Pisgah National Forest for recreational activities. It has several hiking and biking trails, rock climbing, and backpacking. Camping is also permitted in the forest at specific campgrounds.
Accomodation: Where to stay in Pisgah Forest
Address: 1600 Pisgah Hwy, Pisgah Forest, NC 28768
The North Carolina State Capitol is one of the most famous buildings in the state. It formerly housed the state government until 1888 but now holds the offices of the governor and staff. The National Historic Landmark is worth visiting to explore the beautiful architecture and learn about the state's history.
The North Carolina State Capitol was built in 1833 in Raleigh in a Greek revival style. It has a stately appearance to reflect its importance to the building. Start your visit by walking the grounds to admire the building. There are several statues outdoors.
Visitors are allowed to enter inside the building and take tours of the different rooms. You'll see statues and busts of US Presidents, war heroes, and more. Many of the rooms contain preserved original furniture. There is also a museum inside to learn more about the state's history.
Address: 1 E Edenton St, Raleigh, NC 27601
Carowinds is an amusement park located in Charlotte. It was inspired by Disneyland and established right on the state border to include sections in South Carolina. Since opening in 1973, it's been a fun destination for the entire family with lots of rides and other attractions.
The amusement park also includes a water park and Carolina Harbor. It's divided into themed sections, some of which are Celebration Plaza, Carolina Boardwalk, County Fair, and the Thrill Zone with the most adrenaline-rushing rides.
Carowinds has over 50 rides, including 14 roller coasters and a handful of water rides. It also features seasonal events for Halloween and winter. There are plenty of rides for kids to have fun, too. The onsite hotel accommodations make planning a trip around the park easy.
The park is open seasonally from March to December. It welcomes over two million visitors seeking fun and entertainment. Families looking for fun places to visit in North Carolina should come to the Carowinds Amusement Park.
Address: 300 Carowinds Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28273