49 Unique + Fun Things to Do in North Carolina Bucket List

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North Carolina couldn’t be a more perfect home for us. From the mountains to the coast, we’re surrounded by unbelievable natural beauty, outdoor adventure, vibrant culture, friendly people, and an almost perfect climate (a little too cold for my Aussie blood in the winter).

family posing in front of great smoky mountains national park sign
Exploring the Great Smoky Mountains NP

We’re excited to share this epic post on fun things to do in North Carolina. We’ve lived on and off in NC for ten years and have experienced a lot, both before we had kids, and now with them.

We can’t wait to continue to explore North Carolina more in-depth and share it with you here and on our other website, ThisisRaleigh.com

We’re mixing up this list with typical favorite North Carolina attractions as well as more of a local insider’s tips on cool North Carolina activities and places to see.

It’s going to give you a more rounded insight into the amazing experiences this Tar Heel state has to offer. We’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments!

+ insider tips and updates
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Table Of Contents
  1. Unique Things to Do in Eastern NC (North Carolina Coast)
  2. 1. Rise for an Outer Banks Sunrise
  3. 2. Honor the Birthplace of Flying, Wright Brother's National Museum
  4. 3. Go Hang Gliding in Jockey Ridge State Park
  5. 4. Kayak / Paddleboard the Intracoastal Waterway
  6. 5. Soak up a North Carolina Sunset
  7. 6. See the Wild Horses
  8. 7. Tour Nicholas Sparks Locations
  9. 8. Wilmington Movie Tour
  10. 9. Visit Secluded Masonboro Island (Hidden Secret)
  11. 10. Take a Surfing lesson at Wrightsville Beach
  12. 11. Find Pirate Treasure in Beaufort
  13. 12. Tour the USS Battleship North Carolina
  14. 13. Visit Cape Hatteras National Seashore (and the lighthouses)
  15. 14. Leave a note (or read one) at the Kindred Spirit Mailbox, Bird Island
  16. 15. Climb the Oak Island Lighthouse
  17. 16. Explore Southport
  18. Fun Things to Do in the North Carolina Mountains
  19. 17. Visit the Extravagant Biltmore Estate
  20. 18. Relax at Lake Lure
  21. 19. Attend the Dirty Dancing Festival
  22. 20. Climb to the Top of Chimney Rock State Park
  23. 21. Fall in Love with Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  24. 22. Go Whitewater Rafting on the Nantahala River
  25. 23. Catawba & Looking Glass Falls, Pisgah National Falls
  26. 24. Summit the Highest Peak, Mount Mitchell
  27. 25. Photograph Linville Falls
  28. 26. Experience Small Mountain Town Life
  29. 27. Explore the Craft Brew Scene in Asheville
  30. 28. Explore the River Arts District, Asheville
  31. 29. Take a Wild Hike on Grandfather Mountain
  32. 30. Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway
  33. 31. Heal Yourself in the Hot Springs
  34. Best Things to Do in the Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill)
  35. 32. Visit Mordecai Historic Park
  36. 33. Learn at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
  37. 34. Attend an Iconic Durham Bulls Baseball Game
  38. 35. Watch a Basketball Game at UNC
  39. 36. Explore Black Wall Street, Durham
  40. 37. Visit a Sports Museum
  41. 38. Attend the World of Bluegrass Festival
  42. 39. Visit Duke University Campus and Duke Chapel
  43. 40. Admire the Sarah P. Duke Gardens
  44. 41. Get Artsy at North Carolina Museum of Art
  45. 42. Play at Pullen Park
  46. 43. Eat / Drink at Wye Hill Brewery + Kitchen with Views
  47. 44. Follow the Craft Brew Trail in Raleigh
  48. Top Things to Do in the North Carolina Piedmont
  49. 45. Learn at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum
  50. 46. Get Your Racing Thrills at Charlotte Motor Speedway
  51. 47. Spook Yourself at Scarowinds (And Carowinds!)
  52. 48. Get Adventurous at the U.S. National Whitewater Center
  53. 49. Play a Game of Golf at Pinehurst
  54. North Carolina Video Playlist
  55. FREE NC Bucket List

Unique Things to Do in Eastern NC (North Carolina Coast)

aerial view of Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
Wrightsville Beach is one of many beautiful North Carolina beaches

The beaches of North Carolina are the most similar to what we’d find back home in Australia so we have a special bond with it.

They are not too overdeveloped, have pristine conditions, loads of space, spectacular sunrises and sunsets, the stunning Intra-coastal waterway offering even more water activities, and a vibrant surf culture!

Here are a few of the top bucket list moments of a NC beach vacation (apart from beach play of course!). We’re also sharing our top 13 experiences on the North Carolina Beaches. And here is our guide on 12 great beaches near Raleigh.

1. Rise for an Outer Banks Sunrise

silhouette of lady watching orange outer banks sunrise
Outer banks sunrise

An Outer Banks sunrise is at the top of my list of best sunrises in the world (that I’ve seen so far!)

Watching the giant orb light up the sky in pastel pinks and orange over the glass like ocean and dolphins swimming past its lighted staircase was magical, mystical, and serene. And this happened all three mornings we rose to watch it.

It’s one of the most beautiful things to see in North Carolina. You won’t ever forget it.

Read more:

2. Honor the Birthplace of Flying, Wright Brother’s National Museum

mother and daughters walking up to wright brother monument
Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills. Image Credit: Courtesy of Meredith Travel Marketing

As you road trip North Carolina, you’ll discover it’s a place of many firsts, one of those being the place of the first flight. 

Why not go and honor the birthplace of flying at the Wright Brothers National Memorial, one of North Carolina’s most historic landmarks?

In case you don’t know, the Wright Brothers (Orville and Wilbur) piloted four successful flights with their powered, heavier-than-air flying machine in Kitty Hawk, and you can visit the historic site to see a monument.

You can also see the historic sand dune where they did most of their gliding, and the location they lived whilst experimenting.

3. Go Hang Gliding in Jockey Ridge State Park

A girl hang gliding with guide on the beach
Hang Gliding at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, Outer Banks, NC

Let’s take your flight experience one step further with a hang-gliding lesson over the sand dunes at Jockey Ridge State Park. This was one of our favorite adventures in the USA and one of the best things to do in North Carolina with kids.

Kitty Hawk Kites have been operating hang gliding lessons since 1974 with beginner, intermediate and advanced lessons from qualified instructors – who are awesome by the way!

We had a blast learning how to launch, fly, and land on the soft sands of Jockey’s Ridge with our instructor holding a rope all the way giving you a sense of safety!

Read our full review of hang gliding with Kitty Hawk Kites and more fun 7 Fun Outer Banks Activities


4. Kayak / Paddleboard the Intracoastal Waterway

family kayaking the sound wrightsville beach
Explore the Intracoastal waterway in Wrightsville on a kayak

It’s quiet and peaceful kayaking or stand up paddle boarding around the marshlands of the sound. The Atlantic Intra-Coastal Waterway runs the entire length of the NC coast (and beyond) offering miles of open sound water and narrow channels bordered by marshes, swamps, and small islands.

You’ll get a different ocean perspective with the hundreds of oyster beds, herons flying low over the grassy reeds with beautiful white wings outstretched, and mullet jumping out of the water while fleeing from prey.

Great destinations to go paddling include:

5. Soak up a North Carolina Sunset

Sunset in Wrightsville Beach
Sunset at South end Wrightsville Beach

Thanks to the Intra-Coastal Waterway, you’ll find many places along the North Carolina coast to see the sun set over the water.

The Brunswick Islands also run east to west, so in the Fall months (when the planets and starts align perfectly) you can see the sun rise and set over the ocean!

Th places we have experienced a beautiful sunset have been South End of Wrightsville beach, Outer Banks, Jinks Creek in Ocean Isle Beach, and while on board an evening sunset cruise around the Intracoastal Waterway in Wrightsville.

6. See the Wild Horses

wild horses in the outer banks
Wild horses in the outer banks

The North Carolina coast is one of the best places in the USA to see wild horses.

I’ll never forget the fun we had searching for the wild ponies of Shackleford Island with my parents and rising over the sand dunes to see them grazing on the grass. My Dad was spellbound. It was a memory.

You can also see the wild horses in Corolla at the northern end of the Outer Banks. You can see them on a wild horse tour, or, if you have a 4WD, cruise along the beach (permit needed) until you find them,

You can also see wild horses on Ocracoke Island in a secluded 180 acre area enclosure on the soundside of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Seeing the Ocracoke wild mustangs remains high on our North Carolina bucket list.

See available wild horse tours in NC here.

7. Tour Nicholas Sparks Locations

exterior of the home from Nights of the Rodanthe Inn
Nights of the Rodanthe Inn

Are you a Nicholas Sparks fan?

I am. I’ve read almost all his books and seen all the movies based on them. Nicholas Sparks lives in New Bern, North Carolina (birthplace of Pepsi) which is why many of his books are set in North Carolina and one reason I love reading them.

The filming locations are spread out over North Carolina and Southeast USA. Some aren’t filmed in NC, but the books are set in real places of North Carolina so be sure to pencil down some of your favorites mentioned in his book so you can see them in real life!

We enjoyed recently seeing the real Rodanthe Inn on the Outer Banks which is featured in his popular book, Nights of the Rodanthe and was filmed in the real location. We also recently visited Southport in the Brunswick Islands, which is the setting for Safe Haven.

You can read a good guide of locations here.

8. Wilmington Movie Tour

woman walking on a board walk
Wilmington Cape Fear Riverwalk

Did you know at one stage, Wilmington was known as Wilmywood – the Hollywood of the East?

It was one of the biggest filming places in the US. Sadly, the government changed some tax breaks and the film industry moved down to Georgia. BIG mistake!

They are starting to come back now, which is a big win for the city. Scream was being filmed there when we last visited in September. One Tree Hill and Dawson’s Creek fans will know Wilmington well.

You can head out on a self-guided film location scouting adventure, it’s one of the best things to do in Wilmington. With more than 400 film and TV credits to our name, there are plenty of famous—and infamous—sites to discover. See more here.


If you are a fan of the TV show Outer Banks and should be if you like Goonies style adventure set in the most stunning location! It’s not actually filmed in the Outer Banks; it’s filmed down in Charleston.

When I started watching the TV show, I immediately felt like it was shot in the Wrightsville/Wilmington area. The scenery is more like that region than the Outer Banks.

Plus, there were a few references dropped in the show, like Figure Eight Island and Masonboro Island – which are Wrightsville Beach locations.

It was meant to be filmed in Wrightsville and they had everything ready for it – hence those name drips – but was switched at the last minute to Charleston because of political issues happening at the time.

9. Visit Secluded Masonboro Island (Hidden Secret)

aerial view of surfers at Masonboro Island Wrightsville Beach NC
Surfers at Masonboro Island with Wrightsville in the background

We only recently set foot on Masonboro Island. It’s Wrightsville’s greatest treasure and a hidden surf break. Well not anymore. We visited just after a hurricane and the waves were incredible!

This remote protected island can only be reached by boat and if you want stunning solitude, pack a picnic, your surfboard, and your beach gear, and come out here for the day. People even camp out here.

It’s 8.4 miles long so take your pick of secluded spots. Although the northern end is where the best waves break.

Masonboro Island is the largest undisturbed barrier island along the southern part of the North Carolina coast. Most of the island is covered in covered with marsh and tidal flats.

10. Take a Surfing lesson at Wrightsville Beach

girl surfboarding
Surfing lesson in Wrightsville Beach

Wrightsville Beach is where surfing started in North Carolina. It also receives accolades as one of the world’s best surfing towns (National Geographic, Coastal Living and Surfer magazines all agree). And we also have experience in global surfing towns to say this is a legit title.

Don the wetsuit, grab a board, and hit the waves. And don’t worry if those waves look far too small to ride.

Craig and Savannah had a blast riding what looked like un-surfable waves thanks to the great instruction by Steve from the South End Surf Shop. How come my girls can stand up first go looking like a pro and I still can’t after many hours of trying?

11. Find Pirate Treasure in Beaufort

Historic Southern home woth pretty garden out the front
Downtown Beaufort NC

Good luck. We tried hard with my parents when we took them here in 2010.

This charming Southern coastal town is an NC coastal favorite. A known pirate town, Beaufort, NC was on my Dad’s list of things to see on this South East Coast road trip. He knew all the rumors of Captain Blackbeard’s jaunts – one of the most feared renegades of the seas –  in the sleepy village off the Atlantic Ocean.

We had a great time here seeing the wild ponies on Shackleford Island and doing a self-guided tour of this historical NC town, especially Hammock House, the oldest in the town, which once served as a pirate inn and the place where Blackbeard is documented to have stayed when in town.

Rumors speak of the treasure that is hidden somewhere within the house or property but Dad remains convinced it is buried on an island on the Caribbean somewhere.

Start digging and let me know what you find.

Read more about Beaufort North Carolina and discover these cool things to do on the Crystal Coast.

12. Tour the USS Battleship North Carolina

girl looking at guns on USS North Carolina battleship top things to do in North Carolina
USS North Carolina battleship Image: VisitNC.com

The USS North Carolina has a permanent home in Wilmington and is one of the top North Carolina attractions.

It was the first of ten battleships to join the American fleet in WWII. She was considered the world’s greatest navy ship and you can wader through the ship to see the sailor’s and officer’s quarters and mess hall as well as the vast amount of artillery on the expansive deck.

With two daughters, we were unsure if they would like touring the North Carolinian battleship, but we all enjoyed it. 

It was a fascinating insight into life aboard a navy vessel, helping us see the difficulties of life cramped below a steamy, smelly deck – and that’s without being stuck in the throes of a fierce battle. NO THANK YOU! It will raise the respect and admiration you have for our service men and women. 

You can read more things to din Wilmington in our 2 day getaway guide.

13. Visit Cape Hatteras National Seashore (and the lighthouses)

black and white striped cape hatteras lighthouse
The famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse attraction

Cape Hatteras National Seashore was the country’s first coastal preservation area and includes the important barrier islands along a 70 mile stretch of the North Carolina’s coast in the Outer Banks region.

People visit for its wild natural habitats and endless activities such as beach fishing, kite-boarding, surfing, swimming, windsurfing, crabbing, shell-collecting, kayaking and paddle boarding, camping, and beach driving. It’s one of the most unique places in North Carolina.

The easily recognizable Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, with its spiraling black and white stripes, protects one of the most hazardous sections of the Atlantic Coast and was officially completed way back in 1870.

One of the most popular OBX activities is to climb to the top of the historic Hatteras lighthouse to get stunning views from the tallest brick lighthouse in North America.

Bodie Island Lighthouse is also located in Cape Hatteras National Seashore and a popular lighthouse to visit, especially at sunset.

14. Leave a note (or read one) at the Kindred Spirit Mailbox, Bird Island

girl looking inside Kindred Spirit Mailbox, Bird Island, North Carolina
The Kindred Spirit Mailbox

People have been coming here for over 40 years to this secret mailbox tucked into the sand dunes on Bird Island, the most southern beach before reaching South Carolina.

The Kindred Spirit Mailbox was first planted on the island by Frank Nesmith in the late 1970s.

People walk the 1.4 miles along the beach from Sunset Beach Pier to record their wishes, thoughts, prayers, and dreams through letters in the mailbox.

Savannah and I wrote our own before leaving our hotel. She wrote her dreams for the future and I shard our manifesto for travel – which really applies to living a full life.

The mailbox is filled with notebooks and pens so you can write your stories when you arrive. Or you can just spend time reading them. There is a seat waiting for you.

While here spend time on Bird Island and Sunset Beach, one of my favorite beaches in North Carolina for its pristine beauty.

15. Climb the Oak Island Lighthouse

Quite an unexpected thrilling adventure is to climb the 131 steps up to the Oak Island Lighthouse viewing platform. What makes it thrilling is it is the only known lighthouse that uses a ladder configuration the entire way, rather than the typical spiral staircases.

While not as beautiful on the outside as some of the other North Carolina lighthouse’s, it’s the most adventurous and exciting lighthouse to visit on the NC coast.

 The views up here are magnificent and a definite Brunswick Islands Highlight.

16. Explore Southport

woman walking on a board walk
Southport is beautiful

What a delightful small town Southport is It’s located at the mouth of the Cape Fear River where it converges with the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean.

Stroll the live oak tree-lined streets as you explore ornate Victorian homes, historic buildings, and vibrant riverfront restaurants.

The picturesque harbor town has been a favorite location for Hollywood, featuring in scenes from many films and TV shows, including Safe Haven, A Walk to Remember, Weekend at Bernie’s, and I Know What You Did Last Summer.

You can also catch the ferry from Southport to Fort Fisher Recreation Area at the end of Kure Beach and Carolina Beach giving you a much faster access to Pleasure Island.

Read more amazing things to do in the Brunswick Islands region of North Carolina.

Fun Things to Do in the North Carolina Mountains

family posing on Chimney Rock with view of lake lure
With my parents at Chimney Rock

The North Carolina Mountains area is to the west of the State near the Tennessee border. It’s the region nestled among the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains and are full of outdoor adventure, spectacular natural beauty, and cute small mountain towns.

We have more in-depth suggestions here on top places to go in the North Carolina Mountains.

17. Visit the Extravagant Biltmore Estate

pond in front of the the biltmore house and estate north carolina
The Biltmore House

One of the most popular North Carolina tourist attractions is the extravagant Biltmore Estate, America’s largest home. 

Is it worth it?

Well, we’ve been three times and would pack my bags now to go tomorrow if I could. It’s where we take our family when they visit North Carolina which is an indication that it is one of the best things to see in North Carolina.

You can read our full post on the Biltmore House and Estate here. Be sure to spend at least half a day there enjoying the home, gardens and sampling some of their wine. To enhance the magic of your experience, stay at The Biltmore Inn

18. Relax at Lake Lure

mother and child paddle boarding on lake lure, nc attraction
Love Lake Lure!

Lake Lure is my favorite lake in the USA. It places a serene spell over you best felt while paddle boarding in the middle of the lake with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Hickory Nut Gorge and the green pine tree forest surrounding the banks.

One of the most fun things to do in North Carolina is go stand up paddle boarding or kayaking on Lake Lure. That’s the place you can truly relax and absorb the beauty and solitude.

A cruise on Lake Lure is also a great activity to learn more of the history and culture of the area.

Read our full post of things to do in Lake Lure. 

19. Attend the Dirty Dancing Festival

man lifting up woman in lake lure
Dirty Dancing lift competition

While in Lake Lure, you cannot miss carrying a watermelon at the annual Dirty Dancing Festival. It’s one of those quirky and unique North Carolina attractions.

We attended the 35th anniversary of the movie and had a blast dancing, racing with watermelons, and listening to music.

Lake Lure is where they filmed several scenes, including the lift scene in the lake. You can even enter the lake lifting competition!

You can read more in our post about the Dirty Dancing Festival.

20. Climb to the Top of Chimney Rock State Park

american flag on top of chimney rock with views of lake lure
Views from Chimney Rock

Just up the road from Lake Lure is the Chimney Rock State Park, which has also been featured in a film, the Last of the Mohicans. 

Chimney Rock is a 315-foot high large granite outcropping located on a summit above the village of Chimney Rock and inside of Chimney Rock State Park.

It’s a beautiful walk up 499 stairs to the chimney rock for some of the best views of Lake Lure, the valley and surrounding mountains. 

Read more in our post on Chimney Rock, NC including the easy Hickory Nut Falls trail .

21. Fall in Love with Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Sunset at Morton Overlook in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Sunset at Morton Overlook in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

America’s most visited national park earned that status for a reason.

We love the green, lush world of the Smokies, which stretches across into Tennessee. We’ve mostly explored the Tennessee side (Read: biking the Cades Cove Loop and our itinerary in this Tennessee road trip post.)

The North Carolina side of the Smoky Mountains is typically a bit quieter and a more relaxed experience.

There are several great hiking trails including the Little Cataloochee Trail, Oconaluftee River Trail (great for spring wildflowers), and the 5-mile loop Deep Creek Waterfall hike, which takes you pass three beautiful waterfalls.

Deep Creek is also popular for tubing. The NC side is also very popular for roaming majestic elk. The best places to spot them are the Cataloochee Valley and the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.

NOTE: Deep Creek is just 3-miles from Bryson City. Check out our 3 day guide on things to do in Bryson City.

Be sure to go to Newfound Gap where you can straddle both North Carolina and Tennessee. Near to here is Clingman’s Dome, which is the highest point in the Smokies at 6,643 feet. There is a short walk up to an observation tower.

Not much further away on the Tennessee side is Morton Overlook with some of the best sunset views of the Smokies.

CONSIDER: Newfound Gap Smoky Mountains 3-Hour Jeep Tour

Videos: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Click play below to see all of our videos on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

22. Go Whitewater Rafting on the Nantahala River

people Whitewater Rafting Nantahala River NC
Whitewater Rafting Nantahala River NC

The Nantahala River is in the Nantahala National Forest, just outside Bryson City and near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Nantahala features eight miles of practice on easy Class II rapids before splashing through the exciting Class III whitewater of Nantahala Falls.

We went white water rafting along these grade two rapids with friends years ago! While the water was a little chilly for it at the end of the season we had a lot of fun, and the spa after it back in our vacation rental tapped off the experience.

This is definitely something to consider for warmer months. Season runs April to October.

The word “Nantahala” comes from the Cherokee language and means “Land of the Noonday Sun.” for the narrow and steep gorge the river runs through, which only sees the sun during the middle of the day.

23. Catawba & Looking Glass Falls, Pisgah National Falls

kids posing on rock at catawba falls asheville
Catawba Falls

Comprised of over 500,000 acres, the Pisgah National Forest is home to mile-high peaks, cascading waterfalls, whitewater rivers, scenic drives, a vast array of wildlife, and hundreds of miles of trails. It’s considered one of the USA’s best for outdoor recreation.

There are many waterfalls in the forest including the 75 ft. Looking Glass Falls, and the 100 ft. tall cascading Catawba Falls that we hiked to at the beginning of our USA RV trip. They were beautiful and it was a great family friendly hike.

You can read more of that hike in our post on things to do in Asheville on a short trip.

24. Summit the Highest Peak, Mount Mitchell

view of mountains from mount mitchell at sunset
Top of Mt Mitchell

At 6,684 ft. high, Mt Mitchell is the highest peak east of the Mississippi.

You can dive to the top, with only 1/4 mile paved trail to the observation deck. Hopefully, you time it with a clear day, as the 360 degree, 85 mile views of the Blue Ridge Mountains will be breathtaking. 

25. Photograph Linville Falls

A waterfall surrounded by trees
Linville from Chimney Rock overlook

Linville Falls is the most popular waterfall in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

It is a three-tiered waterfall plunging 90 ft. into the 12-mile long Linville Gorge, known by the Cherokee as “the river of many cliffs,” You can enjoy it on three hikes:

The Falls Trail distance is 1.6 miles round trip and easy. The Gorge Trail distance is 1.4 miles round trip and strenuous. The Plunge Basin Trail is 1 mile round trip and moderate.

26. Experience Small Mountain Town Life

people standing in front of boone mural
Cool mural in downtown Boone

Known as the ‘Heart of the High Country,” Boone is one of the best small towns in North Carolina popular for outdoor adventure at any time of the year.

Years ago, we enjoyed the Horn in the West outdoor drama that brings to life the story of pioneer Daniel Boone, for who the town is named after. 

Black Mountain, located at the southern end of the Black Mountain range of the Blue Ridge Mountains has been ranked as the “Prettiest Small Town in America”

It’s home to amazing musicians and artisans, and the surrounding NC mountains offer hiking and biking trails, camping, trout fishing, lakes, and waterfalls.

Craig and I will never forget visiting Black Mountain years ago and walking into a small local’s pub in its tiny downtown and having all 10 heads in the bar swivel around to stare at us! Once we started speaking they wanted to know all about our story – it’s grown a lot in popularity since then.

Banner Elk and Blowing Rock are two other mountain towns to consider, both located near Beech Mountain ski resort.

To add to the unique places to visit in the North Carolina Mountains, The Land of Oz is a theme park in the resort town of Beech Mountain, North Carolina, USA.

Read our guide to things to do in Boone and the High Country.

27. Explore the Craft Brew Scene in Asheville

exteriro of wedge studios
WEdge Brewery

Asheville is the most popular place to visit in the North Carolina mountains. It’s famous for art, music and great beer!

It’s close proximity to so many amazing outdoor beauty and adventure makes it a worthy North Carolina vacation destination.

Since Asheville boasts more breweries per capita than any other US city, one of the most unique things to do in North Carolina is to visit Asheville and sample as many as you can (there are over 100).

Some breweries worth mentioning: Upcountry Brewing, Catawba Brewery, Asheville Brewing and I loved Ginger’s Revenge for their ciders. Let us know in the comments your favorites.

The Omni Park Grove Inn is a great spot to visit for a drink with sensational views over the valley. A unique attraction is their annual Gingerbread House competition. You never knew it was possible! (You may even want to stay at this luxury 5-star hotel!)

Read our review of the Hotel Indigo Asheville Downtown and things to do in Asheville NC

28. Explore the River Arts District, Asheville

river arts district asheville mural
Incredible art!

From the coffee to urban wine, restaurants and skate parks, art in its various mediums and form is the focus of the River Arts District in Downtown Asheville.

Paintings adorn the walls, sculptures stand proud in gardens, murals form the backsplashes to bars, and graffiti wraps around the revitalized warehouses and brick buildings of the region.

This is just not one or two buildings dedicated to celebrating local artisans and a vibrant community spirit but blocks of it. It’s well suited to the free and adventurous lifestyle of Western North Carolina.

It’s definitely one of our favorite things to do in Downtown Asheville. 

Read our full guide to the River Arts District – the what, why and how!

29. Take a Wild Hike on Grandfather Mountain

people standing on a bridge
On top of grandfather mountain mile high bridge

One of the most popular North Carolina tourist attractions, Grandfather Mountain is home to the famous “Mile High Swinging Bridge,” America’s highest suspension footbridge.

It’s a 228-foot suspension bridge that spans an 80-foot chasm at more than one mile in elevation at an altitude of 5,280 feet.

Grandfather Mountain has 11 trails varying in difficulty from a gentle walk in the woods to a rigorous trek across rugged peaks.

Years ago, Craig and I did the challenging Grandfather Trail (2.4 miles one way), called the most technical hike east of the Mississippi (without climbing equipment). The hike to McRae’s Peak, Attic Window and Grandfather Calloway Peak involves scrambling over steep rocks and ladders. Fun but a little scary at times!

30. Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway

Linn Cove Viaduct flanked by bright fall foliage
Linn Cove Viaduct, Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina, USA. | Photo: Visit NC

Ready for what’s labeled as America’s favorite scenic drive?

The Blue Ridge Parkway travels 252 miles through the North Carolina mountains with ample exits for weekend getaways from Asheville to Boone. The total length of the parkway (46 miles) extends into Virginia. 

There are mileposts (MP) along the way as handy reference points with plenty of places to stop for hikes, viewpoints and wildlife spotting. 

More Blue Ridge Content

31. Heal Yourself in the Hot Springs

aerial view of small town Hot Springs in mountains by river
Hot Springs North Carolina | | Photo: Visit NC

Hot Springs is renowned for its healing mineral springs, scenic mountain setting and abundance of natural beauty. It’s surrounded by the 3,500 ft mountains that are part of the Pisgah National Forest.

It was recently voted the Best Small Mountain Town from Georgia to West Virginia by readers of Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine. It’s a unique and fun place to visit in North Carolina.

Best Things to Do in the Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill)

family crossing boylan bridge with raleigh skyline in background
We love our home town

The Triangle region is actually part of the piedmont (see below) but we’re giving it its own section because it deserves it!

It’s also where we live. Raleigh is the place we chose after traveling to over 50 countries and lived in 5 and this is the place. Yes it is that special to us, evident by so many people moving here and me never hearing another person do anything other than rave about living here!

It has a vibrant, small town atmosphere with big town options, and opportunities with a thriving food and craft beer scene, growing live music scene, huge college sporting culture, and a hugely diverse savvy entrepreneurial mindset.

Plus, it’s the City of Oaks – I feel like I live in a forest.

It’s not just Raleigh that is great but the nearby cities of Durham and Chapel Hill. All of which form a triangle on the map and offer plenty of things to do.

You can read more in-depth posts here:

32. Visit Mordecai Historic Park

mordecai historic district raleigh

This historical site is home to some of N.C.’s most extraordinary treasures, including the Mordecai House and the birthplace of 17th President Andrew Johnson, the 17th president of the United States, serving from 1865 to 1869. 

Read more in this review of the Mordecai House tour and free things do to in Raleigh

33. Learn at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

dinosaur in exhibit under domed glass ceiling

Located in downtown Raleigh, the Museum of Natural Sciences is the Southeast’s largest natural history museum and North Carolina’s most visited museum.

There are over four floors of exhibits featuring live animals, education and research centers, and so much more. To us, it’s just a museum but, If you love natural history and science it will be a fun North Carolina attraction.

Read our review of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

34. Attend an Iconic Durham Bulls Baseball Game

person holding beer cup with Durham Bulls Baseball logo on it
So much family fun at the Durham Bulls game

The iconic Durham Bulls are a Triple-A minor league baseball team that currently plays in the International League.

Durham Athletic Park was built in 1994 so it’s modern and fun-filled. All seats have pretty good views and you can walk around bar hopping or to watch the game from different angles. It’s a fun family friendly day or evening out.

Read more about our time at the Durham Bulls Baseball Game here and see this Reel on a day at the Durham Bulls.

35. Watch a Basketball Game at UNC

a woman and child sitting next to a basketball mascot
Caz and kalyra with team mascot

As big University of North Carolina Tar Heel fans, we do recommend seeing a live game out at UNC, Chapel Hill, one of our favorite college towns.

Of course, you’ll want to try and make that a basketball game and be sure to hit up The Top of the Hill for a before the game or after it.

You’ll have views of Franklin St and all those people jumping over the fires when they win yet another championship. Been there done that. Well okay, if you want to watch Duke play too you can.

The Morehead Planetarium and Science Center is located at the University of North Carolina and has been a stop for more than 10 million visitors since 1949!

Read more things to do in Chapel Hill, NC

36. Explore Black Wall Street, Durham

lucky stripe tower above tobacco road district in durham
Durham North Carolina. Image credit: Credit: VisitNC.com

Durham has a fascinating history of an African Americans entrepreneurial spirit that helped to build the Bull City.

Black Wall Street as West Parrish Street became known as in downtown Durham, was a hub for black-owned businesses that thrived during the early 1900s.

The very first African American bank and second-oldest minority-owned bank in the United States (Mechanics and Farmers Bank) was founded here as well the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance, the largest and oldest African American life insurance company.

Black Bull City entrepreneurs are continuing to thrive in this diverse city. Some downtown businesses to check out Jeddash’ Tea, Zen Succulents, and Beyu Caffe.

Discover Durham has a Black History Guide that showcases 33 places in Durham related to black history. You’ll find many plaques and murals across the city sharing the Black history story.

Read our post on things to do in Durham in 48 hours

37. Visit a Sports Museum

exhibits inside sports museum
Inside the NC Sports Hall of Fame

North Carolina has an impressive sporting history, particular in college basketball.

Two of the best teams in the country: Duke and UNC are constantly battling it out. We’ve seen 3 national championship wins for UNC since living here. #JustSayin

The N.C. Sports Hall of Fame in Downtown Raleigh exhibit spans more than 3,000 square feet and showcases artifacts of many of the members, along with a recognition of notable accomplishment across all sports.

UNC-Chapel Hill has the fascinating Carolina Basketball museum and Duke University, the impressive Duke Basketball Museum and the renovated Duke Athletics Hall of Fame. Both are free and tell the stories of past and present stars. (Remember, Michael Jordan played for UNC!)

38. Attend the World of Bluegrass Festival

woman on banjo and man on guitar in shack
IBMA Bluegrass festival Raleigh. Image Credit VisitNC.com

One of the most fun and unique things to do in North Carolina is attend the annual Wide Open World of Bluegrass in Raleigh, NC.

It’s an urban bluegrass music festival that closes out the International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass Week in Raleigh. NC.

The festival features the best performers and musicians in the national and international bluegrass scene each year. Streets are blocked off and you’ll find free music all over the city In addition to the main stage at Red Hat.

The event also includes an amazing street festival complete with delicious food, a dance tent, a BBQ cook-off, an arts & crafts market and a many other activities for all ages.

Read our complete guide to the Bluegrass Festival in Raleigh and a list of other fun festivals and events in North Carolina

39. Visit Duke University Campus and Duke Chapel

gothic style building in Duke University in Durham NC
Duke University

When deciding what to do in North Carolina piedmont region, you might want to include a visit to the Duke University campus.

It’s often referred to as the ‘Harvard of the South’ and is one of America’s most prestigious colleges.

It is definitely one of the most beautiful universities I’ve wondered through with it’s neo-gothic revival buildings designed by noted African American architect Julian F. Abele. S. including the impressive 1,800-seat Duke University Chapel which features the Flentrop Organ (5,200 pipes), 50-bell carillon and stained glass windows.

Student-led campus tours are conducted through the admissions office.

40. Admire the Sarah P. Duke Gardens

Big Easy Sculpture reflected in water
Big Easy Sculpture, Sarah P. Duke Gardens

Don’t miss the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, located in the West Campus of Duke University, recognized as one of the premier public gardens in the United States.

This 55-acre public garden features both wooded and landscaped areas and five miles of trails to wander through. 

My favorite is the The Big Easy sculpture on the south lawn, made entirely from red maple and sweetgum saplings collected from Duke Forest. It’s like a Stonehenge of woven twigs and is an enchanting playground for the kids to run in and out of the maze like structure. 

Video: Sarah P. Duke Gardens

41. Get Artsy at North Carolina Museum of Art

family posing in sunflowers at North Carolina musueum of art
Love this Art Trail

The North Carolina Museum of Art is one of the most popular Raleigh NC attractions.

This free Raleigh art museum has more than a dozen beautiful gallery spaces showcasing art from around the world. Our favorite part is 164-acre Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park, featuring more than a dozen commissioned works of art.

It has the most beautiful sunflower garden I’ve ever seen during the season. 

Cloud Chamber by Chris Drury is a popular and unique art installation. The low-lying hut is made of large, dry stone blocks in the shape of a rocky igloo with a lush, green turf sitting on top.

It operates walk-in camera obscura, or pinhole camera, with a small opening in the roof as the aperture. Once inside (with the door closed for optimal effect), the viewer sees an inverted image of the sky on the floor of the chamber.

There is also a cool Art to Heart Trail (6 miles) that goes from the Museum into Downtown Raleigh.

42. Play at Pullen Park

Located next to NC State University on 66 acres of land, 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. 

Here you can rent a pedal boat, ride a carousel and miniature train, let the kids run free on the playgrounds, have a picnic or grill out, sign up for an art class, see a play, or play your favorite sport and much more.

This was our place to visit when the girls were young and always makes the list of stuff to do in North Carolina.

43. Eat / Drink at Wye Hill Brewery + Kitchen with Views

Wye Hill is a kitchen and a brewery and our favorite place to eat and drink in Raleigh.

It’s outdoor covered patio has the best city views perfectly matched with their own craft brew, delicious mezcal cocktails, and outstanding innovative food. In fact, I’d say it has some of the best food in the country.

Read a full review of Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewery

44. Follow the Craft Brew Trail in Raleigh

pint of beer on table

While Raleigh has over 30 local breweries, there is one we recommend you add to your North Carolina bucket list. Download the Raleigh Beer Trail Passport and plan for a fun day out!

Bond Brothers in Cary was named best new brewery in America by USA Today in 2017. I’m gluten free, and Bond Brothers in Cary (a town in Raleigh) is the only beer I test those dangerous waters with.

They brew exceptional high-quality artisanal beers – mostly ales and sours. I’ve never had one that I didn’t like. They are also one of the few breweries that have gluten free beer.

It’s a popular local hangout with its beer garden and annual events like the Mid-town Square Summer Fest and the Guinness Book of Records 1km Flip flop run (which we participated in).

See the other breweries in Raleigh

Top Things to Do in the North Carolina Piedmont

girls Tubing on Kerr Lake NC
Tubing at Kerr Lake

The Piedmont is the central foothill region of North Carolina between the Appalachians mountains and the coast.

It’s where you’ll find the States largest cities, and interesting places like Winston Salem and Greensboro plus wine country, craft breweries, gorgeous lakes, world-class golf, the home of NASCAR and an incredible whitewater rafting facility.

45. Learn at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum

seats at the woolworths counter greensboro
The place of the sit-in on Feb 1st 1960 Credit: Visitnc.com

The International Civil Rights Center & Museum is located in Greensboro NC, in the F.W. Woolworth’s Building to commemorate the A&T Four and their role in launching the sit-in movement that inspired peaceful direct action demonstrations around the country during the American Civil Rights Movement.

The “white only” seats and counter where the four freshmen refused to move from are in the building in their original form. It’s an important stop on the Civil Rights Trail.

46. Get Your Racing Thrills at Charlotte Motor Speedway

cars on charlotte speedway
Get your race on at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Credit Visitnc.com

How does zooming around a motorway at up to 180 mph sound? Well Craig has done it at top speed at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, America’s home of NASCAR. 

I did it with the much slower pace car at 80mph. 

Get a behind-the-scenes look at Charlotte Motor Speedway, with the Feel the Thrill Speedway tour that takes you into several areas that are off-limits on race days

Built in 1959, the superspeedway hosts three NASCAR Cup Series events, two NASCAR Xfinity Series races and a NASCAR Truck Series race annually. If you love it why not go see it live?

It’s one of the best things to do in North Carolina for sport lovers.

Fans will also want to visit the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which honors NASCAR’s history, heritage, and icons with interactive exhibits.

47. Spook Yourself at Scarowinds (And Carowinds!)

Blue roller coaster behind a sign for carowinds amusument park north and south carolina
The Fury 325 at Carowinds

Carowinds is one of North Carolina’s post popular attractions for locals. They love this adventure theme park with many thrilling roller coasters including the Nighthawk which takes you through eight inversions. 

Kalyra will tell you the best time to visit is during Halloween for their special Carowinds spookfest. She visited with friends and was more than terrified at all the costumes and staff trained to make you scream! 

They also have a popular WinterFest each year. These are unique things to do in North Carolina.

Read MoreThe Ultimate guide to Carowinds Amusement Park

48. Get Adventurous at the U.S. National Whitewater Center

people in whitewater raft
National Whitewater Center Credit: Visit Charlotte

The U.S. National Whitewater Center is the world’s largest man made white water river and home of the U.S. Olympic training and trials. 

It’s situated just west of Charlotte on the Catawba River and you can visit to go whitewater rafting, kayaking or a leisurely paddle. They also have hiking and mountain bike trails, rope courses and huge outdoor climbing facilities and ziplines on the weekends. 

And in the summer they have live music during spectacular sunsets!

49. Play a Game of Golf at Pinehurst

man standing outside hedge carved with words pinehurst in front of hotel
Tee off time at Pinehurst Credit: VisitNC.com

Pinehurst is for golf lovers. It’s America’s first golf resort and its famous No.2 course consistently ranks as one of the best golf courses in America. Pinehurst has hosted the U.S. Open three times.

Also in this region you’ll find horse farms, century-old houses, and a quaint village with plenty of boutique shopping among a 120 year history. 

Yet another attraction that is one of the best things to do in North Carolina for sports lovers!

We’ll be attending the US Open at Pinehurst this year (2024)! You can see more about Pinehurst and surrounding areas here.

Book Car Rental for NC

Need a car to explore North Carolina on a road trip. Check current prices and availability through DiscoverCars.com

Booking North Carolina Accommodation

Each of our posts referred to above on individual North Carolina places to visit and experiences have accommodation recommendations specific to the destination and from our personal experiences + ones we have thoroughly reviewed. We recommend the following two booking sites:

North Carolina Video Playlist

What Are Your Favorite Things to do in NC?

As you can see from the comments, we already have so many wonderful tips on places to visit in NC. Please shares yours as well.

We absolutely love living in North Carolina, it’s one of our favorite US states, and we are huge North Carolina Tar Heels fans and love getting among the college sports scene.

We know there are so many places we have yet to see and places we need to explore more of in NC.

FREE NC Bucket List

You can receive a free printable version of this bucket list when you join our email community. Plus, loads of insider travel tips and personal updates.

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So, when we visit again we still want to experience the popular attractions in North Carolina, but can you suggest other places to visit? What are your best tips for a vacation in NC? 

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