North Carolina is a beautiful state and a common site for holidays and recreation.
Plenty of people choose to relocate here permanently, so it’s little surprise that the state is so popular among tourists, too.
North Carolina is known as the Tar Heel State, though the origins of this nickname are blurry.
A few legends suggest that this is due to the Civil War, where soldiers may have felt “stuck” in their ranks as if glued with tar.
Despite the somewhat somber name, there is a lot of stuff to do in the state, and it is home to many sites to see related to history, nature, coast, and higher education and is the location of the world’s first flight.
So, if you’re visiting here, how do you decide where to go?
Without further ado, here are the 42 best things to do and places to visit in North Carolina!
Things To Do In North Carolina
1. Morehead Planetarium and Science Center
The Morehead Planetarium and Science Center has been open since 1949, welcoming over seven million visitors over the year and cementing itself as one of the most popular North Carolina attractions.
Situated on Chapel Hill at the University of North Carolina, the structure’s initial purpose was NASA astronaut training, providing celestial navigation lessons to over 60 of these officers between 1959 and 1975.
Today, the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center is more than that.
It’s a fun public attraction packed with educational exhibits.
These exhibits discuss many different topics, with highlights like Firsts in Flight, which pays homage to and discusses in detail the contributions of African Americans to space exploration and the development of aviation.
There is also Water in Our World, which talks about how crucial accessible, clean water is on the planet.
Touring the showcases costs no money, making this one of the coolest free things to do in the state.
However, planetarium shows do have an admission fee.
There are 15 of these shows in total, playing on a schedule that rotates throughout the year.
You’ll learn about astronauts, black holes, Galileo, heavenly bodies, and more.
Address: 250 E Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC 27514, United States
2. The Biltmore Estate
The Biltmore Estate is an absolute must-see in North Carolina.
Not only is it magnificent and historic, but it’s also one of the state’s most beautiful places to go.
Spanning 8,000 acres, the estate rests in Asheville and dates back to the 1890s.
The gardens of the Biltmore Estate stretch out expansively with lush greens and verdant flora of all kinds.
The Rose Garden is packed with over 250 types of roses and the Italian Garden has sculptures and pools scattered about in ornate glory.
Plus, the estate’s grounds boast the country’s first “managed forest”, multiple walking trails and paths, a winery with free tastings with admission, an entire little village, and even a deer park!
What is likely most loved about the Biltmore Estate, though, is its chateau: a large manor with 250 rooms, filled with unique architecture, genuine antiques, vintage accessories and clothing, gorgeous art, and an array of other priceless finds.
43 bathrooms, 35 bedrooms, and a whopping 65 fireplaces are just some of the parts of this 180,000 square feet mansion.
It was built for George Washington Vanderbilt II and is, most fascinatingly, filled with secret rooms, hidden passages, and disguised doors.
These little secrets were meant to conceal servants’ movements and provide guests and the family with more privacy.
Ask about special tours for these passageways!
Address: 1 Lodge St, Asheville, NC 28803, United States
3. Battleship North Carolina
The ship was commissioned on the 9th of April in 1941 and was the first of the American fleet’s 10 World War II battleships.
It boasts 15 battle stars, making it the era’s most decorated American ship of its kind, and is a National Historic Landmark now following authentic restoration.
A remnant of its years in the war, the battleship is well-armed to this day and is fondly remembered as one of the planet’s best weapons of the sea.
Three turrets hold a total of nine 45-caliber, 16-inch guns and ten twin mounts hold 20 38-caliber, five-inch guns.
Given all that firepower, it’s rather amazing to wander the ship’s interior now that it has been converted into a museum.
As one of the most interesting places to visit in North Carolina, the ship allows you to tour its mess hall, the quarters for officers and sailors, and the large deck where the guns rest for perusal.
Self-guided tours take about two hours to finish.
Address: 1 Battleship Rd NE, Wilmington, NC 28401, United States
4. Chimney Rock State Park
Chimney Rock State Park sits in the southeast region of Asheville, which is one of North Carolina’s chief vacation spots.
Its central attraction is what gave it its name: the huge spire of natural granite walk, totaling 315 feet in height for a total 2,280-foot elevation, that provides incredible views of the surrounding area.
There are 500 or so steps leading up to the peak of the chimney, but for better accessibility, there is also an elevator that will bring you up the 26 stories to its height if you aren’t in the mood for an excursion.
But it’s not just all about this rightfully famous rock at the state park, as many other activities are available for people of all ages and all desired levels of intensity.
The most commonly embarked trail other than that to Chimney Rock is the Hickory Nut Falls Trail.
It is primarily level and is moderate in challenge, eventually leading to the titular Hickory Nut Falls that rise 404 feet into the sky.
Rumbling Bald Climbing Access is also a great place to go for some fun climbing opportunities.
Finally, check out The Devil’s Head, a cool balancing rock, which you may recognize from the Last of the Mohicans’ 1992 film iteration.
Address: Chimney Rock, NC 28720, United States
5. Blue Ridge Parkway
Blue Ridge Parkway is often referred to as “America’s favorite drive”, and that’s for good reason.
It was designed by Stanley Abbott, a renowned landscape architect, in order to create a drive that was about the journey even more than the destination.
Stretching 469 miles from North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, it’s one of the most beautiful places in the country.
Along the road, you’ll see some of the best views that the state has to offer.
The landscape of the Blue Ridge mountains kicks you off on your journey through the endless expanse of panoramic scenery on every turn.
Along the way, you’ll find many more things to do in NC, with numerous hiking trails, pill-offs, campgrounds, picnic spots, and more.
There are also many museums, visitor centers, and more seen along the road, giving you lots of choices for mileposts to stop at and plenty of sightseeing to do.
6. North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is the state’s oldest museum and is made up of two buildings, namely the Nature Research Center and the Nature Exploration Center.
It is the southeast’s biggest natural science museum and additionally boasts the North Carolina Museum of Forestry and the Prairie Ridge Ecostation alongside its previous components.
There is no entry fee, making this one of the most valuable free things to do in the state.
In the Nature Exploration Center, you’ll find information on coastal portions of the state, the state’s gemstone history, and habitats of the rainforest and tropics.
You can even spend time with a two-toed sloth that lives onsite!
It’s also here that you’ll find a true gem, the world’s only displayed authentic Acrocanthosaurus skeleton, known also as the Terror of the South.
Just seeing it is one of the fun things to do in North Carolina.
On the other hand, in the Nature Research Center, you’ll get to learn all about the methods used to explore the natural world scientifically.
You’ll find out about deep space exploration, weather pattern science, the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, and DNA studies.
Address: 11 W Jones St, Raleigh, NC 27601, United States
7. Linville Gorge
If you’re looking for top vacation spots, you can’t go wrong with Linville Gorge that is often dubbed the Grand Canyon of the East.
It is one of America’s most scenic and deepest of its kind on the eastern side of the country and can be found in the Pisgah National Forest.
The gorge is filled by the Linville River’s flow into the 90-foot Linville Falls, carrying on in its flow for the next 12 miles.
Access to the trails for Linville Gorge is actually done via the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 316.
It’s one of the top things to see in the state of North Carolina and provides gorgeous photo opportunities for photographers while offering many options for adventurers, tourists, and nature enthusiasts.
top by the Visitor’s Center for information!
Address: Gingercake Road, Linville Falls, NC 28647, United States
8. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
One simply cannot discuss a trip to North Carolina without adding the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to their list of what to do!
It’s the National Park system’s most biodiverse park and is a crucial historical preservation of the culture of the southern Appalachian people.
Spanning 800 square miles, its temperate climate is a surprising host to over 19,000 confirmed species of flora and fauna, with an additional 80,000 to 100,000 potential undocumented species, too.
Multiple historic structures are scattered throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, providing fun and intriguing sites to visit.
Each one of the 90 tells the story of the long years that people have had with the region, ranging back to the Paleo-Indians of prehistoric times.
Europeans would eventually settle here in the 1800s and loggers and enrollees of the Civilian Conservation Corps would make it their grounds in the 1900s.
Buildings, all rehabilitated or preserved, include schools, barns, houses, mills, and churches.
There are tons of activities to enjoy at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Exploration is easy with the 384 miles of roads throughout the park, and you can hike, auto tour, cycle, or camp in many places on the grounds.
There are also numerous waterfalls to explore and over 1,500 flower plant species to peruse.
9. Grandfather Mountain
Grandfather Mountain is a part of the Linville scape and has grown into a must-do point of interest for hikers and nature enthusiasts.
Whether you desire low-intensity, easy trails, stunning views, or hard-hitting difficult treks, there will be something for you as you explore Grandfather Mountain.
The famous Mile High Swinging Bridge, which is the highest suspension footbridge in America, is probably the most famous site at Grandfather Mountain.
It offers 360-degree views and has been serving visitors since 1952.
As you enjoy your sightseeing at Grandfather Mountain, you may spot wildflowers of varying degrees of rarity and even catch glimpses of wildlife like owls.
Naturalists offer tours of the area to tell you more about the flora and fauna.
Don’t forget to check out the Grandfather Mountain Nature Museum to learn about the area, the birds and minerals of North Carolina, and many prominent explorers who have trekked through here.
Address: 2050 Blowing Rock Highway, Linville, NC 28646, United States
10. Sliding Rock
Sliding Rock sits in Pisgah National Forest and is one of the most unique and best things to do in North Carolina.
As its name suggests, it is an all-natural waterslide made from years of gentle grading and erosion.
It’s a waterfall that you can take a ride on and was created by Looking Glass Creek.
Measuring 60 feet, the mild slope of Sliding Rock has made it ideal for the adventurous to take a trip down it on their backs.
11,000 gallons of water make their way over the natural slide, bringing with it many guests and visitors from North Carolina and beyond.
Though it gets crowded quickly, many find it worth the trip!
At the base of Sliding Rock, you’ll land in a natural pool measuring 6 or 7 feet with a lovely 50 to 60-degree temperature.
The gorgeous view can be seen with a number of different built-in viewpoints, and lifeguards make the experience much safer for you and your family of all ages.
Address: Pisgah Forest, NC, United States
11. North Carolina Zoo
The North Carolina Zoo sits on 2,200 acres of land and is the planet’s biggest walk-through zoo.
While most zoos make use of cages, this zoo uses enclosures in order to provide as natural a habitat as possible to the animals therein.
Over 52,000 plants and 1,600 animals call the zoo, which is situated in Asheboro, their home.
The North Carolina Zoo’s habitats are separated into three categories.
The first is the North American section, which houses bobcats, cougars, bison, red wolves, roadrunners, black bears, grizzly bears, elk, and more.
The second is the African section, which boasts lions, rhinos, giraffes, elephants, zebras, chimps, ostriches, and beyond.
Finally, there is the tropical forest section.
Among the activities to partake in at this fun spot are the ropes course, a carousel ride, a train, and even a viewing deck for giraffes that lets you see these majestic mammals eye-to-eye.
Picnic tables, snack bars, and restaurants provide plenty of options for snacks.
It’s no wonder this is one of the chief North Carolina attractions!
Address: 4401 Zoo Pkwy, Asheboro, NC 27205, United States
12. Wright Brothers National Memorial
Everyone knows who the Wright Brothers are: the first people who successfully flew an aircraft, specifically an airplane.
Their name is synonymous with the advancement of flight technology, and you can pay your respects to their achievements in North Carolina through the Wright Brothers National Memorial.
The Wright Brothers National Memorial is designed to showcase the exact spots where the airplanes first took flight and landed.
It is built on Big Kill Devil Hill, a 90-foot dune.
Buildings have been reconstructed to recreate the experience and the working conditions of the time.
This is undoubtedly one of the best places to see for aviation enthusiasts and history buffs alike!
For more information, check out the Wright Brothers National Memorial’s Visitors Center.
It features a number of displays that teach you about the Wright brothers, their accomplishments, and even a couple of exact replicas of flying machines from 1902 and 1903.
Address: 1000 N Croatan Hwy, Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948, United States
13. Clingmans Dome
Clingmans Dome is a fascinating location, foggy and high with a winding walkway that leads you to its top.
375 in height, it sits on the Smoky Mountains National Park’s highest peak, making it 6,643 feet above sea level.
The trail to the dome lasts about a mile from Clingmans Dome Road, and expect the climb to be steep.
Once you get to the highest part of Clingman’s Dome, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful panoramic views of the world surrounding you that will make you understand why this is cited as one of the greatest places to visit in North Carolina.
There’s also a bit of melancholy to it, though, as from here you can also see the remnants of once-proud fir trees.
Fraser fir snags, colored in whitebark and stark of verdancy, were poisoned in the 1900s after the balsam woolly adelgid, an invasive species of insect, was introduced to the country.
95% of the firs in the park’s region have been killed by it, and you can witness the sad but oddly, tragically beautiful destruction from Clingman’s Dome.
It’s a little macabre, but it’s one of the sights you should see once in your life.
Address: 7 miles off US-441 on the Clingmans Dome Road, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC, United States
14. Lake Lure
North Carolina is, no doubt, one of the most beautiful states in the US!
If you’re visiting, don’t forget to check out the stunning Lake Lure, one of the must-see tourist places in North Carolina.
It is a manmade lake spanning 720 acres in the middle of the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains.
The town surrounding Lake Lure has risen to some fame thanks to its popularity as a Hollywood filming spot.
Movies such as Dirty Dancing, Firestarter, Last of the Mohicans, and Thunder Road have been filmed here.
The town that settled here began building its settlement up in 1902, and in 1925, the Broad River needed a dam to be set up.
The dammed river led to the forming of Lake Lure by 1927, and the rest is history!
The beautiful town of Lake Lure has enjoyed tourist attention and the creation of the stunning Lake Lure Flowering Bridge.
In 2010, a Dirty Dancing Festival began its life in Lake Lure, an annual event that would go on to donate part of its proceeds from 2013 to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network as a way of honoring Patrick Swayze.
You can also take tours of the town that will show you all the places used in the filming of Dirty Dancing.
15. The NASCAR Hall of Fame
Love cars, racing, or both?
The NASCAR Hall of Fame is one of the tourist attractions for you!
Located in Charlotte, North Carolina, which is one of the state’s more popular places to travel, the attraction provides entertainment and interactivity in one engaging and enticing package.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame is highly modernized and offers all sorts of high-tech exhibits designed to teach you about the heritage, history, and successes of NASCAR, whether you love racing or not!
The Glory Road exhibit is the most loved, featuring a range of historic cars and information about their drivers, teams, crews, and more.
A popular feature of the NASCAR Hall of Fame is the High Octane Theater, a 278-seater, highly modern, large-screen cinema that specializes in educational and engaging programs related to the history of NASCAR and its prominent figures.
Address: 400 E M.L.K. Jr Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28202, United States
16. North Carolina Aquarium
The North Carolina Aquarium is actually made up of four different aquariums spread throughout the state.
Each one is state-of-the-art and designed to provide an enjoyable, entertaining, and informational visit to its guests.
Trying to visit each one is among the many fun things to do in North Carolina!
One branch is at Roanoke Island, which boasts the state’s biggest shark collection.
It also provides the kid-friendly Aqua Tots program, geared at toddlers and younger children.
Another location is Jennette’s Pier of Nags Head, which isn’t technically an actual aquarium but still provides you with lots of sights of humpback whales and other aquatic creatures in their natural environment.
Contact the pier location in advance to know exactly what animals will be around when you’re there and ask about fishing if you’re interested.
The third branch is in Fort Fisher, which is located on Cape Fear and showcases the prime behind-the-scenes educational, interactive experience many go to aquariums for.
It boasts touch tanks and focuses on swamp and stream habitats.
Finally, there’s the Pine Knoll Shores branch, which is highly informational and has information about the state’s marine animals and their diversity.
You can also go surf fishing or look at turtles while you’re there!
17. Blue Ghost Fireflies
One of the best things to see in North Carolina isn’t actually a specific attraction or structure, but a phenomenon of blue ghost fireflies.
Lightning bugs are part and parcel of America’s southeast, but this particular kind, with the scientific name phausis reticulata, is especially delightful and unique.
Only male blue ghost lightning bugs fly, while females remain flightless and are, interestingly, colored either white or yellow.
Unlike most fireflies, blue ghost fireflies glow instead of flash, meaning that they remain brightly lit for up to a minute and send streaks of light shooting through the night.
The color they emit is also out of the ordinary.
Instead of being white-ish, the glow is a blue-green hue that is cited as being very difficult to catch on camera.
Blue ghost fireflies are hard for scientists to track and study, doubly so since they only show up in summer for about a month at a time.
Since 1825, their habitat has slowly shrunken, remaining now within a few forests in the Appalachian that retain spongy floors of leaves and stream beds.
These bugs have an interesting legend attached, reported that they are the ghosts of fallen Confederate soldiers.
Naturally, this is a mere myth, especially since they glow blue, not red!
Dupont State Forest is the most opportune place to spot blue ghost fireflies thanks to its pristine stretches of verdancy.
From the middle of May to the middle of June, you’ll be able to see them fly about after sunset.
You’ll have to be patient in the dark as you await their arrival and you’ll be rewarded with their rare sight just above the ground.
Address: Staton Rd, Cedar Mountain, NC 28718, United States
18. Museum of Life and Science
The Museum of Life and Science is a gorgeous natural science museum geared towards kids and youth.
The property spans 84 acres and the main building boasts two lovely stories packed with fun exhibits and displays, so there’s no shortage of what to do.
Over 60 live animal species live at the Museum of Life and Science, including a wide array of butterflies, which live in what is one of the East Coast’s biggest conservatories for the insect.
Birds, insects, and flowers also wander the conservatory.
There’s also an outdoor farmyard with farm animals, and the remaining fauna live in the Explore the Wild exhibits.
You can also view animals long dead; dinosaur exhibits in the Dinosaur Trail are a favorite.
There’s also a famous Aerospace Exhibit and a Weather Exhibit, in addition, providing new sources of hands-on information for children visiting North Carolina!
Address: 433 W Murray Ave, Durham, NC 27704, United States
19. Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site
The Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, referred to commonly as the Connemara, was the home of prolific journalist and poet Carl Sandburg, who won three Pulitzer Prizes in his lifetime.
He was also known for his activism during the Civil Rights Movement, which earned him the honor of being the first white male recipient of the Silver Plaque Award by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Originally from Illinois, Sandburg moved a few times in his life, and in 1945 he moved to Flat Rock, North Carolina from Michigan.
His home of choice was this “Connemara” estate, spanning 265 acres, for a multitude of reasons.
To begin with, it gave his wife the room and land necessary to raise and tend to her loved goats.
The solitude and preferably weather are also cited as reasons for his move.
Back then, the house had been owned by Confederate veterans and politicians before coming into Sandburg’s possession.
While living here, Sandburg wrote close to one-third of his works.
Today, his legacy is honored in this “museum” of sorts, which is one of the best things to do in North Carolina.
The house has been restored and redesigned to closely resemble how it looked while Sandburg lived in it, and lots of tours are available of the home, the goat farm (which houses three goat breeds), and the rest of the landscape.
The grounds of the land are tended by the National Parks Services and contain hiking trails totaling five miles, an apple orchard, and even a pair of small lakes.
Address: 1800 Little River Rd, Flat Rock, NC 28731, United States
20. Marbles Kids Museum
The Marbles Kids Museum first opened its doors in 2007 and has since grown into one of the key North Carolina attractions for children, especially those aged between 0 to 10.
Located in Raleigh, North Carolina, it features many hands-on and interactive exhibits and programs to facilitate fun learning and enrichment.
There are five different galleries at the Marbles Kids Museum, which include exhibits on electricity, water, music, and other aspects of science.
IdeaWorks provides children with the chance to create and imagine, the Art Loft lets them flex their artistic tendencies, and Power2Play provides indoor physical exercise!
There are also two outdoor locations at the Marbles Kids Museum.
One is a gardening space that houses an impressive flower measuring 22 feet.
There is also an IMAX theater for all sorts of educational shows.
Activities, events, and workshops are held daily, such as storytimes and games, and holiday celebrations also occur seasonally.
Address: 201 E Hargett St, Raleigh, NC 27601, United States
21. Sarah P. Duke Gardens
The Sarah P. Duke Gardens are nothing short of stunning.
They sit in Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and are named after the wife of one of the institutions’ benefactors.
It was set up in 1934 and was actually the best result of a “failure” of sorts, having been created after funding for a lake wasn’t met, leading to the gardens being made as a substitute.
By 1935, over 100 different beds of flowers had been planted, with annuals as well as daffodils, bulbs, and irises of all kinds.
In 1936, they were destroyed in a flood, and then the daughter of Sarah P. Duke herself made a new replacement garden on higher ground.
The new gardens were designed by a landscape designer pioneer in the style of Italianate architecture.
There are four places to go, or areas, in the Sarah P. Duke Gardens.
The first is the H.L Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, which comprises woodland terrain spanning 6.5 acres.
It is packed with native plants of the region, totaling 900 varieties and species in total.
There are even more spots within it, such as the Blomquist Wildlife Garden, the Steve Church Endangered Species Garden, the Bird Viewing Shelter, and the Carnivorous plant collection.
The second is the Asiatic Arboretum, which houses Southeast Asian flora of all kinds over 18 acres of land.
Japanese-inspired architecture adds to the atmosphere, and there are places to check out within like the Kathleen Smith Moss Garden, Durham-Toyama Sister Cities Pavilion and Garden, a Garden Pond and Pond-viewing Shelter, and the Pine Clouds Mountain Stream.
The third area is the Doris Duke Center Garden, which features multiple gardens designed for more promotional and commercial purposes.
There is the Virtue Peace Pond, the Angle Amphitheater, the Woodland Garden, and the sustainable, organic Charlotte Brody Discovery garden.
The final area is simply called the Historic Gardens, which is where the replacement Sarah P. Duke Gardens first began life once more.
They are home to the Terrace Gardens created in her honor, as well as the Frances P. Rollins Overlook, Walker Dillard Kirby Perennial Allée, Memorial Garden, Fish Pond, Camellia Garden, Azalea Court, Rose Garden, Roney Fountain, and Butterfly Garden.
Address: 420 Anderson St, Durham, NC 27708, United States
22. Cryptozoology & Paranormal Museum
If you’re looking for more unique and bizarre places to visit in North Carolina, look no further than the Cryptozoology & Paranormal Museum.
It’s no surprise to any resident of North Carolina that spooky, paranormal sightings often happen in rural areas, making this museum in Littleton an obvious addition to the mystique surrounding Bigfoot and other cryptids of the woods.
The Cryptozoology & Paranormal Museum is run by Stephen Barcelo, a local cryptozoologist.
He keeps it well-stocked and collects all sorts of artifacts from his personal research and investigations.
This includes the haunted doll Mrs. Beasley, casts of prints that are allegedly of Bigfoot, testimonials, and photographs of UFO sightings, and even a dedicated fakes section that covers confirmed hoaxes like the Feejee mermaid.
Barcelo also gives ghost tours of the sleepy town of Littleton and shows guests how to use the museum’s special ghost-hunting equipment.
The museum also teaches you about the history of Littleton.
Most interestingly, since it was founded in the year 2015, more sightings have been reported.
This may be due to the ease of reporting to a dedicated institution like the Cryptozoology & Paranormal Museum, but it’s also rumored that this is due to the logging activities of the forest that may be causing the anger of some cryptids.
Address: 328 Mosby Ave, Littleton, NC 27850, United States
23. North Carolina Maritime Museum
Like the state’s aquarium, the North Carolina Maritime Museum has three separate locations in opportune vacation spots.
All of them share the mission of the preservation and protection of the state’s coral reefs and history while providing education and information to guests.
Each location is unique and, with no admission fee, are great options for free things to do.
One museum is located in Hatteras and covers the history of the area’s shipwrecks and finds.
Another is in Southport and primarily focuses on the history of Lower Cape Fear’s maritime lifespan.
However, if you only can take one option of where to visit, you should definitely opt for the Beaufort branch of the museum!
The Maritime Museum’s Beaufort portion has an interesting collection of genuine structures and artifacts.
Among them are those found of the infamous Queen Anne’s Revenge, the ship of Blackbeard himself.
It ran aground in 1718 and was recovered in 1996, almost three centuries later.
Among them are weapons, everyday objects, and navigational tools.
The Beaufort location also discusses subjects such as marine life, lighthouses, and even boat-building.
It boasts curiosities and items such as fish models, small watercraft, a collection of shells, a sperm whale skeleton, and a preserved sperm whale heart.
Address: 315 Front St, Beaufort, NC 28516, United States
24. Southern Highland Craft Guild Folk Art Center
The Southern Highland Craft Guild Folk Art Center is the home for – you guessed it – the Southern Highland Craft Guild, which has 900 carefully chosen members who have displayed impeccable artistic skill.
At the center, their work is showcased, with a focus on contemporary and traditional Southern Appalachian art.
The Southern Highland Craft Guild was created during the Great Depression in 1930 in order to build a market for craftspeople in North Carolina and the rest of the Appalachian area.
Its actual roots, though, can be traced back to the late 1800s, when the Arts and Crafts aesthetic movement sprung into being in contrast to England’s Industrial Revolution.
The Southern Highland Craft Guild Folk Art Center sits on Blue Ridge Parkway, at milepost 382.
It has three galleries, a bookshop, and a library and is one of the free things to do in NC.
You’ll get to see quilts, pottery, woodwork, sculptures, glass crafts, paintings, jewelry, and more, and if you’re lucky, fun craft demonstrations rooted in culture and showcasing almost-forgotten methods may be put on.
Address: 382 Blue Ridge Pkwy, Asheville, NC 28805, United States
25. Discovery Place Science
Looking for more fun things to do in North Carolina?
It is a non-profit organization that plays a crucial role in the region’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math education.
Discovery Center was first set up in 1981, but its story can be traced back much further than that.
In 1946, Laura Owens, a schoolteacher, was receiving specimens, objects, and even live animals from parents, colleagues, members of the community, and friends.
She wanted to provide her students with a hands-on, interactive experience where they could learn about these items.
She decided to set up a little museum as an experiment for this concept, and it was so immediately loved that the community and county pooled together to create the Children’s Nature Center in 1951.
The community loved the brand new museum, and by 1965, it had grown to develop its own planetarium.
Five years later, it has become the town’s most loved attraction, causing even further development as the world’s interest in STEM fields grew following the Sputnik era of the Soviet Union.
The museum was expanded and relocated, and it is that museum that you see now as Discovery Place Science.
Within the 72,000 square feet of the delightful museum, you’ll find many experiments, interactive exhibits, live animal displays, a butterfly pavilion, and even an IMAX Dome Theater.
There are also three other branches of the museum around the country, which are just as worth a visit when you’re near them!
Address: 301 N Tryon St, Charlotte, NC 28202, United States
26. JC Raulston Arboretum
The JC Raulston Arboretum covers 10 acres of space and is home to a huge range of plants not limited to those local to North Carolina.
Diverse flora from climates and regions of all kinds are held here, with the goal of evaluating and researching all 5,000-plus of them while providing a chance for visitors to see them, too.
It’s one of the top things to see for any nature-lover.
The JC Raulston Arboretum is situated in Raleigh as part of NC State University and is one of the state’s free things to do.
Its history is interesting, beginning with the arrival of JC Raulston as a teacher at the university’s Department of Horticultural Science in 1975.
He began an arboretum as a means of providing the school with a living laboratory, the public with green space, and green industry professionals with resources.
The JC Raulston Arboretum has continued to grow and improve over the years.
Trees, berries, and all manner of plants are studied here, especially those that can adapt well to the state’s condition.
The Rose Garden, Butterfly Garden, and Japanese Garden are favorites of visitors, though the entire landscape is glorious to explore and go sightseeing in regardless!
Address: 4415 Beryl Rd, Raleigh, NC 27606, United States
27. North Carolina Museum of History
The North Carolina Museum of History is a fantastic option for what to see if you’re looking to learn more about the state and its history in a fun and engaging way.
Situated in downtown Raleigh, the museum contains over a whopping 150,000 different displayed artifacts, collected across six centuries of time with many different functions and purposes.
The state’s Museum of History is packed with different individual historical collections that are just waiting to be viewed.
Given the 14,000 years of people living in this state, it’s no surprise that this museum is so expansive!
Address: 5 E Edenton St, Raleigh, NC 27601, United States
28. Pullen Park
Pullen Park was North Carolina’s first-ever public park, which makes it one of the best places of interest if you need a relaxing, laidback break this weekend but want to keep soaking in the state’s history.
It’s also America’s fifth oldest amusement park that remains in operation, and when you set foot in it, you’ll feel transported back in time!
Numerous different activities are available for you to partake in.
A traditional carousel, restored to good working order while preserving its initial charm, can take you on a lovely ride.
A mini train and boats are perfect for a family excursion.
Sports-lovers can use the baseball fields or tennis courts, or they can simply swim in the water.
A famous Holiday Express event transforms the park into a winter wonderland each festive season, too, so mark it down if you’ll be traveling in December!
Address: 520 Ashe Ave, Raleigh, NC 27606, United States
29. International Civil Rights Center and Museum
The International Civil Rights Center and Museum is one of the top things to do in North Carolina.
Its mission lies in raising awareness for and promoting understanding regarding civil rights and the fight for social justice, freedom, and equality across the planet.
Located in Greensboro, it offers a wide range of information about the fight for the rights of African Americans and aims to reach out to people of all cultural backgrounds and races.
One of the key features of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum is a counter that was part of the building’s original purpose.
Back in the day, this was a Woolworth building, and it was the site of the famous 1960 sit-in stages by four Black students of the state’s Agricultural and Technical College.
The sit-in was a response to the existence of segregated lunch counters, and while it wasn’t the first of its kind, it became the catalyst for a five-month protest and an ongoing, forward-moving push for racial justice across the nation.
Address: 134 S Elm St, Greensboro, NC 27401, United States
30. Land of Oz Theme Park
Few haven’t heard of the famous classic tale of the Wizard of Oz, and in one of the most fun North Carolina attractions, you can live in it!
The Land of Oz Theme Park is located in Beech Mountain, North Carolina, and was first opened as part of the Beech Mountain Ski Resort in 1970, which wanted to continue attracting visitors even in the summer.
Many Wizard of Oz attractions pay homage to the film of 1939, but the Land of Oz Theme Park is different, aiming instead to emulate the original classic book and its illustrations.
Over time, the park evolved to replicate more of the movie, and it would survive a fire, a shutdown, and repairs and refurbishments before it flourished and reopened in the last 1990s with even more of its initial joy and wonder.
Address: 1007 Beech Mountain Pkwy, Beech Mountain, NC 28604, United States
31. Mordecai Historic Park
Mordecai Historic Park is the oldest home you can find in Raleigh, North Carolina, and it’s one of the key places to see if you’re a fan of immersing yourself in history.
The park’s draw is that it is where President Andrew Johnson, the 17th American president, was born, and it’s also a great example of the plantations of its time.
As you explore Mordecai Historic Park, which spans 3.2 acres, and the Mordecai House, you’ll get to get a close-to-authentic experience of the life and times of the late 1700s.
Once upon a time, this was Wake County’s biggest plantation, after all!
Don’t forget to check out the kitchen garden, recreated from its 19th-century description provided by the letters and memories of Ellen Mordecai.
Address: 1 Mimosa St, Raleigh, NC 27604, United States
32. Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden
The Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden is one of the most unique nature-themed places to visit in North Carolina, created by the titular Stanley Rehder, who was a passionate horticulturist.
He was known as the Flytrap Man due to his specific love of carnivorous flora.
In 2012, when he passed away, the city of Wilmington, North Carolina dedicated a small garden to him, naming it the Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden.
The fun garden rose to fame under unfortunate circumstances after $20,000 worth of venus flytraps were stolen from it in 2013.
The thefts, while a horrible blow for the garden, also sent it into the public spotlight.
Guests have since found enjoyment in exploring the little ¾-acre location.
It boasts a unique microclimate that allows the plants to grow all year long, so no matter when you come, you’ll get to check it out.
Address: 3800 Canterbury Rd, Wilmington, NC 28403, United States
33. Wheels Through Time Museum
The Wheels Through Time Museum is one of North Carolina’s key tourist spots for automobile enthusiasts.
The museum takes up 40,000 square feet of space and is home to what may be the greatest unique and rare vehicle collection on the planet.
Over 350 different cars and motorbikes call the Wheels Through Time Museum their home, arranged neatly in vague chronological order for easy perusal.
Memorabilia, artwork, and artifacts related to these automobiles are also on display.
Rare and renowned cars include the 1915 Locomobile, the 1949 Veritas, and the 1932 Packard and Lincoln.
Address: 62 Vintage Ln, Maggie Valley, NC 28751, United States
34. Carolinas Aviation Museum
The Carolinas Aviation Museum is one of the country’s coolest tourist attractions for aviation enthusiasts and history buffs alike.
It is home to many different aircraft and artifacts and aims to preserve the history of aviation in an informational and interesting way.
Among the attractions of the Carolinas Aviation Museum are the many tales of heroism, innovation, and positivity throughout the long history of flight, an onsite library with decades upon decades of information, and the famous Miracle on the Hudson showcase that won an award for its depiction of the famous safely landed passenger jet of 2009.
Currently, the Carolinas Aviation Museum is under renovation, pending a grand re-opening in the year 2022 after 26 years of operation.
So if your trip to North Carolina will come after that re-opening, make sure to check it out!
With 50,000 annual visitors, you can’t go wrong!
Address: 4672 1st Flight Dr, Charlotte, NC 28208, United States
35. Shangri-La Stone Village
The Shangri-La Stone Village of North Carolina was a hobbyist’s passion project.
Henry L. Warren began working on the structures of stone, concrete, and arrowheads in 1968 after his retirement.
The tiny village is sized just right for little fantasy gnomes and consisted of 27 finished buildings when Warren was laid to rest in 1977.
Since then, the buildings have remained standing proud, weather storm and snow thanks to the strength of their stone.
Thousands of arrowheads make up a winding path through them, and it’s easily one of the most fun things to do in North Carolina to make your way through them as you peer at the tiny houses!
Address: 11535 NC-86, Prospect Hill, NC 27314, United States
36. The Road To Nowhere
The tallest dam in the east of America is the Fontana Dam, and it is here that the story of the Road To Nowhere begins.
It took a long time to build the dam above western North Carolina’s Little Tennessee River, which began construction in 1941.
The road in question was built as a “compromise” for the little towns and communities that were washed out by the construction of the dam, allowing them to travel out and continue to visit their ancestral homes if desired.
Thirty years after that compromise agreement was made, very little progress had been made on the road, and by that time most of the area was washed out.
After some environmental concerns were raised due to the acidity of the road, construction ceased, leaving this unfinished Road to Nowhere that lies in wait now.
The melancholy road that doesn’t lead anywhere is a strange entry among things to see in North Carolina, but one can’t deny its intrigue as a hidden gem of the state’s tourist attractions.
Address: Lakeview Drive East, Bryson City, NC 28713, United States
37. Moores Creek National Battlefield
Moores Creek National Battlefield holds the honor of being the location of one of the Revolutionary War’s first battles, simply called the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge.
It’s also where the Patriots won their first significant victory right here in North Carolina.
The Moores Creek National Battlefield holds many remnants of that 1776 fight, allowing you to learn about the fearsome war that raged via audio-visual technology, exhibits, tours, and occasional special events.
A colonial forest walk, a free campsite, and a picnic area add more variety to the experience.
If you’re wondering what to do in North Carolina, this is a great choice.
Address: 40 Patriots Hall Dr, Currie, NC 28435, United States
38. Whirligig Park
Whirligig Park is a point of interest due to a mix of urban legend and fun, bizarre appearance.
Legend has it that the daughter of Vollis Simpson died in a car crash near here, leading to Simpson’s desire to create windmills covered in reflectors to prevent a similar accident.
In reality, though, this is entirely false – Simpson’s creations are entirely meant to be enjoyable art and his daughter is healthy and alive!
As a matter of fact, Whirligig Park is as silly as it sounds and as amazingly artistic as that, too.
The creations of massive windmills coasted in bright reflectors were merely for the heck of it, and Simpson calls them “whirligigs” – hence the park’s name.
They measure a minimum of fifty feet off the ground of their home field and, despite Simpson’s insistence that he’s far from an artist, the park has struck a chord with visitors to North Carolina!
Address: 301 Goldsboro St S, Wilson, NC 27893, United States
39. Elijah Mountain Gem Mine
Elijah Mountain Gem Mine is the premier point of interest for mining in North Carolina, allowing you to mine for your own gold and gemstones – just like many of the settlers that gathered in the Blue Ridge Mountains over the years!
Sapphires, quartz, fossils, rubies, amethyst, emeralds, citrine, moonstone, and many more are waiting to be unearthed.
Flumes are present indoors and outdoors and a range of choices of mining packages are available.
But there’s more to do at Elijah Mountain Gem Mine than just mine, believe it or not.
There’s also the biggest gem mine bucket in the world, a shop that sells rocks and geodes, picnic tables, and, of all things, a petting zoo for baby goats!
The entire experience is one of the best things to do in North Carolina, especially if you’re visiting with children.
Address: 2120 Brevard Rd, Hendersonville, NC 28791, United States
40. Lexington Glassworks
If you’re looking for more unorthodox North Carolina attractions, consider going for an experience instead of a specific attraction.
Lexington Glassworks, owned by a pair of friends and operated in North Carolina, is a well-known studio for glassblowing.
This interesting space allows you to watch glassblowers at work.
Demonstrations, each one lasting around half an hour, provide an open-door, insider’s glimpse into the world of this skill.
After you’ve satisfied your curiosity, you can view a gallery of glassworks and purchase handcrafted and self-designed pieces.
Address: 81 S Lexington Ave, Asheville, NC 28801, United States
41. Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky
The Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky is one of the coolest places to go in all of North Carolina.
Somewhat resembling a fantasy home straight out of Tolkien’s works, it’s a little short and stout hut designed by Chris Drury.
The hut is situated in the North Carolina Museum of Art and is designed to house a camera obscura.
A camera obscura is an optical illusion dating back to medieval times, where a small hole provides illumination on the indoor walls that projects a mirror image of the world outside.
The result is an indoor space that bears the image of the outside sky, clouds, and trees, which is why it is named the Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky.
This fun and fascinating effect is a unique feature in the 21st century and well worth a visit.
Address: 2110 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh, NC 27607, United States
42. William B. Umstead State Park
William B. Umstead State Park stretches across 5,579 acres of land right between multiple cities in North Carolina, namely Durham, Cary, and Raleigh.
Nature lovers will certainly consider it one of the must-do places to visit in North Carolina thanks to its many wooded paths and trails and beautiful lakes.
There are lots of ways you can spend time at William B. Umstead State Park.
Hiking, cycling, walking, running, and even canoeing or paddle boating can be done.
Once a hidden gem of sorts, it has progressively become more and more popular over the years and lost some of that silent charm.
Still, it’s a fantastic spot for some relaxation this weekend!
Address: 8801 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh, NC 27617, United States
Start Planning Your Trip To North Carolina
North Carolina’s rich history, heritage, and culture provide it with diverse vacation spots, many of which are relatively near to each other for a compact trip this weekend.
Regardless of the length of your stay, hopefully, this list has helped you narrow down the places to visit in North Carolina!