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

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).

Best places to go in North Carolina mountians
Exploring the Great Smoky Mountains NP

We’re excited to finally write this epic post on fun things to do in North Carolina. We’ve lived on and off in NC for nine 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. And of course, we’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments!

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

Things to do in Eastern NC
The most amazing beaches of NC

The North Carolina Coast brings us so much joy! 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!

Our dream is to have a beach home on the coast one day. Apart from exploring and enjoying the many beautiful beaches in North Carolina, here are a few of the top bucket list moments of a NC beach vacation.

1. Rise for an Outer Banks Sunrise

Outer Banks sunrise
No filter needed with an OBX 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

The Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.
Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills. Image Credit: Courtesy of Meredith Travel Marketing

As you road trip around North Carolina, you’ll soon 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?

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

Hang Gliding at Jockey's Ridge State Park, Outer Banks, NC
Hang Gliding at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, Outer Banks

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 so much fun 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!

4. Kayak / Paddleboard the Intracoastal Waterway, Wrightsville Beach

kayak 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 offers 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.

Read our 2-day Itinerary for Wrightsville Beach and our one day road trip to Wrighstville from Raleigh.

5. Soak up a North Carolina Sunset

Sunset in Wrightsville Beach
Sunset at South end Wrightsville Beach

It’s not typical to see a sun set over the water on the east coast of any country. But you’ll find many places along the North Carolina coast to see the sun set over the water.

This is thanks to the beautiful Intra-coastal Waterway that runs parallel to the Ocean. It’s a unique North Carolina thing to do.

Th places we have experienced a beautiful sunset have been South End of Wrightsville beach, Outer Banks, 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. Horses are such beautiful animals that command your presence. Seeing them in the wild just intensifies your connection to them.

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

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 for them 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.

You can read a good guide of locations here.

8. Wilmington Movie Tour

Wilmington NC
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 through Wilmington and surrounding areas. With more than 400 film and TV credits to our name, there are plenty of famous—and infamous—sites to discover. See more here.

FUN FILMING FACT:

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. What a shame!

9. Visit Secluded Masonboro Island (Hidden Secret)

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

surfing lesson Wrightsville
Surfing lesson in Wrightsville Beach – Savannah’s first go and she stands up effortlessly!

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.

So of course, you want to learn to surf while here. 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

downtown beaufort nc
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.

12. Tour the USS Battleship North Carolina

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 sea weapon 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 weaponry and guns on the expansive deck.

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

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse - top NC attraction
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.

Fun Things to Do in the North Carolina Mountains

Chimney Rock, North Carolina
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.

14. Visit the Extravagant Biltmore Estate

the biltmore house and estate north carolina top attraction
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 the experience stay at the Biltmore Inn

15. Relax at Lake Lure

things to do in 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. 

16. Attend the Dirty Dancing Festival

Dirty Dancing Festival Lake Lure lake lift competition
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.

17. Climb to the Top of Chimney Rock State Park

chimney rock state park hike nc
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 .

18. Fall in Love with Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Sunset at Morton Overlook in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. One of the best places to visit in Tennessee
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.

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.

19. Go Whitewater Rafting on the Nantahala River

Whitewater Rafting Nantahala River NC
Whitewater Rafting Nantahala River NC Credit: VisitNC.com

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.

20. Catawba & Looking Glass Falls, Pisgah National Falls

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.

21. Summit the Highest Peak, Mount Mitchell

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. 

22. Photograph Linville Falls

A distant view of the massive Linville Falls pouring over a rock face in Linville Gorge
A distant view of the massive Linville Falls pouring over a rock face in Linville Gorge

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.

23. Experience Small Mountain Town Life

Boone, North Carolina, USA campus and town skyline at twilight.
Boone, North Carolina, USA campus and town skyline at twilight.

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.

24. Explore the Craft Brew Scene in Asheville

Sierra Nevada Brewery Asheville Bartender Top things to do in NC
Ashville breweries – top things to do in NC Credit: VisitNC.com

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!)

25. Take a Wild Hike on Grandfather Mountain

on top of grandfather mountain mile high 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!

26. Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway

Linn Cove Viaduct, Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina, USA.
Linn Cove Viaduct, Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina, USA.

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. 

27. Heal Yourself in the Hot Springs

Hot Springs North Carolina
Hot Springs North Carolina

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)

Raleigh fun things to do in North carolina
We love our home city of Raleigh

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 has my mojo.

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:

28. Visit Mordecai Historic Park

Johnson House Kitchen, Mordecai Historic Park. Raleigh attraction
Johnson House Kitchen, Mordecai Historic Park. Credit: VisitNC.com

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 free things do to in Raleigh

29. Learn at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

North Carolina  Museum of Natural Sciences. Top NC Attraction
One of the Top Things to do in North Carolina! Image: Karen Swain/visitRaleigh.com

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.

30. Attend an Iconic Durham Bulls Baseball Game

Durham Bulls Baseball Game - family fun in NC
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!

31. Watch a Basketball Game at UNC

North carolina Basketball - don't miss NC activity
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 fries when they win yet another championship. Been there done that. Well okay, if you want to watch Duke play too you can.

Read more things to do in Chapel Hill, NC

32. Explore Black Wall Street, Durham

Durham  top place to visit in North CArolina
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

33. Visit a Sports Museum

N.C. Sports Hall of Fame - NC attraction
Inside the NC Sports Hall of Fame. Credit: Courtesy of Meredith Travel Marketing

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!)

34. Attend the World of Bluegrass Festival

IBMA Bluegrass festival raleigh family friendly NC attraction
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. This year, due to COVID it was a free virtual event. Fingers crossed for 2021.

35. Visit Duke University Campus and Duke Chapel

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.

36. Admire the Sarah P. Duke Gardens

Big Easy Sculpture Sarah P Duke Gardens. Top NC thing to do
Big Easy Sculpture, Sarah P. Duke Gardens

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

It’s a 55-acre public garden that 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. 

37. Get Artsy at North Carolina Museum of Art

North Carolina musueum of art one of the best things to do in NC
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.

38. Play at Pullen Park

Pullen Park fun for families
A long time favorite

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.

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

Wye Hill Kitchen Raleigh - best places to eat in NC
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 killer 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

40. Drink a Brew from Bond Brothers Brewery

Best beer in North Carolina - Bond Brothers
Bond Brothers Brewery, Cary

While Raleigh has over 30 local breweries, there is one we recommend you add to your North Carolina bucket list.

Named best new brewery in America by USA Today in 2017, and I can stand by this 100%. 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).

Top Things to Do in the North Carolina Piedmont

Tubing and camping 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.

41. Learn at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum

International Civil Rights Center and Museum
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.

42. Get Your Racing Thrills at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Charlotte Motor Speedway fun NC
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.

43. Spook Yourself at Scarowinds (And Carowinds!)

North Carolina theme park - Carowinds
Carowinds WinterFest Credit: VisitNC.com

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.

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

the U.S. National Whitewater Center Charlotte NC
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!

45. Play a Game of Golf at Pinehurst

Pinehurst NC for golf lovers
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!


Book Car Rental for NC

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

Some experiences on our North Carolina bucket list that we have not done include:

  • Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway
  • Eat BBQ – NC is famous for it
  • More NC beach communities
  • Ghost tours in Winston Salem

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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