Whether it’s hiking the gorgeous trails through the Blue Ridge Mountains or visiting impressive museums in the heart of the city, the best things to do in North Carolina are by no means monolithic. North Carolina attractions offer an abundance of breathtaking sites and action-packed adventures that will have vacationers making multiple trips to the south!
North Carolina’s expansive topography, including mountains and beaches, as well as its long history, makes it a perfect location for any personality type and desired vacation experience. Still not sure exactly of what places to go in North Carolina?
This list will provide some fun things to do in cities all across North Carolina. There are so many fun activities to do in North Carolina and experiencing it all will require a second trip in the future!
16 Best Things To Do In North Carolina (Beaches, Hikes, Cities & More!)
White Water Rafting (Charlotte)
One of the best things to do in North Carolina is to visit the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte. The White Water Center was created in 2001 and is considered the world’s largest man-made white water river. Get ready for an adrenaline rush!
The community-orientated and environmentally conscious center’s mission is to “build stronger communities by promoting a healthy and active lifestyle, developing environmental stewardship, and encouraging family and civic interaction.”
The facility sits on an extensive 1,300 acres of land. There is kayaking (both flatwater and whitewater), paddleboarding, and whitewater rafting available. In addition to the daily activities, the center also hosts international festivals such as the famous Green River Festival. Enjoy some Irish breakfast, yoga, the greening of the river, and live music at this iconic festival.
Biltmore Estate (Asheville)
The Biltmore estate is the immaculate home of George and Edith Vanderbilt. The estate was built over a six-year period and finally opened to the family in 1995. Visiting the Biltmore is truly one of the best things to do in North Carolina.
This 250-room French Renaissance chateau, which contains 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces. The estate was officially opened to the public in 1930 and continues to be a popular attraction to tourists and locals alike. There are many things you can do at the Biltmore Estate. The Bass pond and garden trails are also a must-visit.
Another fun activity to do at Biltmore is to explore the Biltmore winery, known as one of the nation’s most-visited winery. A list of the best things to do in North Carolina is never complete if it doesn’t include Biltmore.
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (Raleigh)
When it comes to fun things to do in North Carolina, visiting the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is definitely a must-visit. Raleigh, NC itself is best known for its spectacular museums.
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, is the largest institution of its kind in the Southeastern United States. It’s also one of Raleigh’s most popular attractions.
The impressive 300,000 square-foot site boards of over a million visitors a year. There are an expansive four floors of exhibits, live animals, gift shops, and cafés.
The museum has curriculum-focused classes onsite, offsite, outdoors, and online for pre-kindergarten through graduate students across the state. In addition to classes, the museum also contains laboratories, exhibitions, and wildlife and geology from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.
Wrightsville Beach (Wilmington)
Known for its crystal blue waters, spacious beach, and active island lifestyle, Wrightsville Beach is a full town. But tit perhaps is the most famous for having one of the best beaches in the state. One of the best things to do in North Carolina, this historic town is worth a visit.
The Wrightsville Beach in Wilmington, NC is 10 miles east of the Historic District. The water of this beach is considerably warm and the water’s almost transparent color is especially admired. Visiting the beaches is one of the best things to do in North Carolina.
There are plenty of options for the family including plenty of world-class watersports like surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, and kayaking. The area has amazing taverns and oceanfront grills as well as full-service resort hotels, perfect for a weekend getaway.
Grandfather Mountain State Park (Boone)
One of the best things to do in North Carolina, Grandfather Mountain State Park has incredible peaks topping out at 1,946 feet. Part of the United Nations Southern Appalachian Man and the Biosphere Reserve, it may be over 300 million years old.
You will be charged a small fee to enter, but salves from tickets and souvenirs go towards preserving Grandfather Mountain. You can drive your own vehicles through the park, and stop along the way to enjoy native wildlife exhibits and the famous Mile High Swinging Bridge that connects two peaks one mile above sea level!
There are two trailheads you can take. The Profile Trail takes you on the western slope of the mountain while the Daniel Boone Scout Trail takes you down the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The trails are free, but you’re required to register at the trailhead so park rangers know how many people are out there.
Cape Fear Botanical Garden (Fayetteville)
The Cape Fear Botanical Garden was created by gardeners and community members that leased 80 acres together to create a garden in 1989. One of the best things to do in North Carolina, you won’t find a more beautiful place to stroll through nature.
The garden is famous for its therapeutic horticulture program. Participants learn how to make raised garden beds and garden art, grow plants, and prepare food. The food produced from this program goes to a local food bank. Not only does this help the environment, it helps the community as well!
The lovely surrounding forestry is a mix of pine and hardwood forests. The Cape Fear Botanical Garden also boasts a 1.2-mile loop trail that is ideal for those who want to visit the garden but don’t want to go on a strenuous hike.
International Civil Rights Center & Museum (Greensboro)
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s is an integral part of the push for racial equality in the United States. Visiting the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro, NC provides an immersive and educational experience to this important time period.
The museum’s biggest focus is on its permanent installation of the F.W. Woolworths lunch counter. On February 1, 1950, four North Carolina A&T State University Black students, Ezell A. Blair, Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond, sat down at the F.W. Woolworths “whites only” lunch counter. The challenging of segregation laws on that day launched the large youth led sit-in movements of the 1960s.
The museum has a large array of activities to offer including “The Battlegrounds” educational exhibits, a photography collection, video reenactments, galleries, auditoriums, classrooms, an archival center, a collecting museum, and teaching facilities devoted to the international struggle for civil and human rights.
Kitty Hawk Beach (Outer Banks)
Kitty Hawk Beach was originally named “Chickahawk” by its original Native American residents, meaning a “place to hunt geese.” One of the best things to do in North Carolina, Kitty Hawk offers a beautiful beach coastline AND a large charming forest!
Kitty Hawk beach is known to have some of the largest waves of the Northern Beaches in the United States, making it a surfer’s paradise. It’s also a fantastic location to go skimboarding. Better yet, dogs are permitted year-round at Kitty Hawk, so you don’t have to leave your best friend at home!
Take the time to traverse through the over 1,800 acres of jaw-dropping forests and marshes. The maritime forest features nature trails where you can see all the geese to which the Native Americans referred. Vacationing at Kitty Hawk Beach is an especially fun thing to do in North Carolina if you love ocean waves and forest groves.
Lejeune Memorial Gardens (Jacksonville)
While vacations are full of fun and adventure, you should always make some time for solemnity. To thank those that served in our military to ensure the protection of the country we hold so dear, a visit to the Lejeune Memorial Gardens is in order.
The Lejeune Memorial Gardens honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Here you’ll find a large collection of military memorials that are especially important to the locals of the area. As part of the Lejeune Memorial Gardens Master Plan, the site includes space for future memorials including the Corpsmen Memorial.
These beautiful memorial gardens house the Beirut Memorial, the Onslow Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Montford Point Marine Memorial, and the 9/11 Memorial Beam from the World Trade Center.
You can also walk the Lejeune Memorial Gardens Greenway and Trail. It connects former railroad tracks into trails to military bases. Installed with reverence to all the memorials on the grounds, the path now connects the community of Jacksonville to the Military community of Camp Lejeune.
Durham Performing Arts Center (Durham)
Opened in 2008, the Durham Performing Arts Center is considered the hotspot for live entertainment in the area. It boasts 2,700 seats and more than 200 performances a year. This venue offer touring Broadway productions, high-profile concerts, and comedy events.
The Durham Performing Arts Center has hosted the biggest Broadway shows like Cats, Hello Dolly!, Miss Saigon, Fiddler on the Roof, Dear Evan Hansen, Anastasia, Frozen, and of course, the big one: Hamilton. Other previous and upcoming acts include Styx, Jeff Foxworthy, Tom Segura, and the Indigo Girls.
The building has a large lobby space and great acoustics. What especially stands out to visitors is the energy of the staff that is often in good spirits and really want you to enjoy your show. For music lovers looking for fun things to do in North Carolina, check out the upcoming shows at the Durham Performing Arts Center.
Historic Old Salem (Winston-Salem)
Named “One of the Top Rising Cities in the South,” Historic Old Salem is one of the best things to do in North Carolina. What makes this historic site special is its famous long and detailed historical stories archive of people of the area during the colonial period, including Moravian, Black, and Indigenous peoples, of the American South.
For the history buff in the family, spending the day in Historic Old Salem will be a treasure trove of excitement. The town itself holds national landmark status and functions as a museum combating food insecurity.
Tour the Old Historic Gardens for 18th and 19th century Moravian traditions. The Historic Bethabara Garden allows you to dig up more than two centuries of gardening traditions with a stroll through the reconstructed Hortus Medicus, the country’s oldest known medicinal garden!
The historic downtown also contains the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA), which features metalwork, needlework, paintings, and other decorative arts made & used by the early settlers of the American South.
Pullen Park (Raleigh)
Pullen Park is the first public park in North Carolina, the 5th oldest operating amusement park in the U.S., and 16th oldest in the world. The first public park in North Carolina, Pullen Park has been captivating and entertaining guests since 1887.
You’ll enjoy Pullen Park for its terrific recreational opportunities for the entire family. You’ll love the operating carousel built in 1911, a miniature train that runs through the park, and pedal boats to cruise Lake Howell. Don’t forget tennis courts, baseball, and softball fields!
You can also enjoy the Aquatic Center which functions as Raleigh’s premier competitive aquatic venue. In an indoor 50 meter by 25 yard Olympic pool, you can participate in water exercise and aquatic therapy programs as well as lap and recreation swimming. There’s also a warm water therapy pool.
If you’re in need of a snack, then don’t worry. In the amusement area near the Welcome Center, the Pullen Place Cafe offers fresh, local, seasonal foods that will crush your cravings flat!
Jordan Lake State Recreation Area (Apex)
If you love the great outdoors, then one of the best things to do in North Carolina is to head to the Jordan Lake State Recreation Area. Filled with recreation activities and surrounded by lush nature, this is the best way to get the blood pumping.
The gorgeous Jordan Lake State Recreation Area has nine access areas scattered around the shoreline. Truly massive, its focal point is an undeveloped 14,000-acre reservoir. With so many waters to explore, there are a number of swim beaches and boating ramps, perfect on a hot day.
RV and primitive campers rejoice! In the lush wilderness, you’ll find over 1,000 campsites. Hookups are available as well as group camps so you can get to know your neighbors. There are also over 14 miles of hiking trails to explore ranging from easy to moderate difficulty.
The lake’s ecology is a sight to behold and you can prepare yourself by taking in the visitor center’s exhibit hall. That way you’ll be able to find and identify bald eagles and wild osprey as you walk along the trails.
Ackland Art Museum (Chapel Hill)
Every vacation should include at least one museum, so why not go to one where you can see a breadth of art? At the Ackland Art Museum, one of the best things to do in North Carolina, you’ll see a collection that showcase the depth of human expression.
Over 19,000 works span through styles, cultures, and periods of art with the museum hosting 10-12 changing exhibitions a year. You’ll always see something new here. More than half of the gallery space is dedicated to special and traveling exhibitions.
Each of these shows feature a wide stylistic range of art, ranging from contemporary American photography to European master paintings to video instillations to modern portraits. A single trip can be an introduction to ancient Greek vases, Delacroix, and Warhol all in one day!
On the premises is also a conservation facility that contributes to the restoration of art. Treatments include the repair of tears, reduction of stains and discolorations, and paper analysis which helps to date works of art.
Falls Park (Greenville)
If you ask a local for directions in Greenville and they say “down by the park,” they almost always mean Falls Park on the Reedy River. A great place to picnic with your family, this is one of the best things to do in North Carolina.
Falls Park is located in downtown Greenville’s Historic West End. The locals have nothing but admiration for this park, making it beloved by tourists and locals alike. While not the state’s biggest park, it is downtown, and central to Greenville life.
The park is known for its staggering waterfall that flows from the Reedy River and its luscious gardens. You can also appreciate the public art that decorates the park. Even if you don’t feel like picnicing, there is an abundance of restaurants that line the perimeter of the park to try.
If you’re in the park during the right time of year, you might even see wooden sword-wielding kings during the Upstate Shakespeare Festival! The park is so picturesque it is also used as a backdrop for special occasions like weddings and even local high school proms.
Crowders Mountain State Park (Gastonia)
Crowders Mountain, one of the best things to do in North Carolina, is truly a sight to behold. The mountain sits at a staggering elevation of 1,625 feet above sea level. But that’s not all this state park has to offer.
If you’re a fan of competition, the consider completing 100 miles of outdoor activity in 2021? Log your miles, earn digital badges and be entered for raffle prizes as you reach various milestones! You can start on the 2.5 mi Carolina Threat Trail or the 10.5 mi Ridgeline Trail.
Need more extreme? No problem. Take on the challenge of Crowders Mountain itself if you’re an experienced climber. Pitons, bolts, or devices that may damage cliff faces are not permitted. You can also go bouldering and free-climbing. Keep in mind that these activities are only allowed in specific areas with permits given at the park office.
If you just want to relax and enjoy the nature, then head to the Linwood Access Area or the Boulders Access Area. Pack a picnic lunch and sit at one of the 9 large tables to just enjoy your surroundings. Drinking water and restrooms are located nearby.
North Carolina has an abundance of fun and exciting things to do in almost every city in the state. When considering what to do in North Carolina, it’s difficult to choose. Make sure you allow enough time for your trip to see everything.
Whether you are a seasoned hiker or a passionate history lover, North Carolina has fun actives for everyone. We wish you happy trails, where every your adventure may take you!