25 Best Things to Do in North Carolina

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
Our travel recommendations are based on our personal experiences and research, written by locals and travel experts with deep familiarity with the destination. When you book a hotel or tour that we link to, we may earn a commission.

The spectacular natural history of North Carolina is enough to attract any traveler.

In addition, the state has museums, art galleries and theme parks. For outdoor enthusiasts, the state has much and more to offer.

Hiking in the Linville Gorge and skiing in the High Country are both fun and a great way to appreciate the state’s beauty while beaches and the state’s coastline provide an opportunity to relax.

If culture and history is your thing then rest assured that the museums and art galleries are among the best in the country.

Here is our list of the best things to do in North Carolina:

1. The Biltmore Estate

The Biltmore EstateSource: dnafoto50 / shutterstock
The Biltmore Estate

This private home in Asheville is the largest private estate in the United States and a top attraction in the state of North Carolina.

The mansion is situated at the center of 8,000 acres of stunning grounds and has 250 rooms, each containing impressive antiques and artwork.

After touring the mansion visitors should also walk around the gardens and farm.

2. USS North Carolina

USS North CarolinaSource: 1512 Creative / shutterstock
USS North Carolina

The USS North Carolina joined the American fleet during World War 2 and was the first of ten battleships to do so.

The vessel, as you would expect, is well armed and has 29 guns in different shapes and sizes although all are a formidable sight.

Now retired, the ship is available for tours including access to the officer’s quarters and mess hall.

The upper deck allows up close viewing of the powerful weapons.

3. Morehead Planetarium

Morehead PlanetariumSource: Bryan Pollard / shutterstock
Morehead Planetarium

First opened in 1949, the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center has since hosted seven million guests.

It can be found at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and is guaranteed to entertain with a number of shows everyday.

The educational shows are supported with a wealth of other fascinating information such as how to spot different planets and constellations in the night sky.

4. Linville Gorge

Linville Gorge, North CarolinaSource: Serge Skiba / shutterstock
Linville Gorge, North Carolina

This spectacular natural attraction is one of the deepest gorges in the United States.

It is home to the Linville waterfalls where the Linville River cascades into the gorge from heights of up to 90 feet.

The site is a great place for photographs and there are opportunities to see the falls from various perspectives.

Several walking trails of varying difficulties are also available.

5. Chimney Rock State Park

Chimney Rock State ParkSource: Alexey Rotanov / shutterstock
Chimney Rock State Park

Another naturally stunning place in North Carolina, the Chimney Rock State Park is home to an extraordinary 2,200-foot high granite spire.

Even more extraordinary perhaps is the elevator within the mountain making the ascent an easy one.

Also within the park are several walking trails including a route leading to the base of the Hickory Nut Falls, which are just over 400 feet tall.

6. Grandfather Mountain

Grandfather MountainSource: Cvandyke / shutterstock
Grandfather Mountain

Grandfather Mountain in Linville is heaven for hikers. The area includes a wide range of picturesque routes for beginner, intermediate and expert skill levels.

No matter what your skill level, the effort of hiking in the area is always worthwhile due to the stunning panoramic views.

Learning about the areas wildlife and flora is a rewarding experience and the Mile High Swinging Bridge is as exciting as it sounds and offers unbeatable views.

7. North Carolina Aquarium

North Carolina AquariumSource: Felicia Clark / shutterstock
North Carolina Aquarium

The North Carolina Aquarium is made up of four locations: Pine Knoll Shores, Roanoke Island, Jennette’s Pier and Fort Fisher.

Jeanette’s Pier allows visitors to view animals in their natural habitat and can be contacted in advance to see which animals may be visiting during your trip.

Roanoke Island is home to a frighteningly large collection of sharks.

Fort Fisher highlights streams, swamps and Cape Fear’s ocean.

Finally, Pine Knoll Shores allows visitors to learn about the diverse marine life within the state of North Carolina.

8. North Carolina Zoo

North Carolina Zoo, AsheboroSource: JNix / shutterstock
North Carolina Zoo, Asheboro

Visitors to this impressive zoo can walk along the five miles of paths and see more than 1,600 animals.

The enclosures in the zoo are well themed to represent the natural habitats of the animals and range from the plains of Africa with lions and zebras, to the forests of North America which house bears and wolves.

There are also 52,000 different species of plants at the zoo.

9. Outer Banks

Outer Banks, North CarolinaSource: Paul Brady Photography / shutterstock
Outer Banks, North Carolina

The Outer Banks are a beautiful 200-miles of barrier islands that, along with their natural charm, offer fascinating history and quaint towns also.

The Outer Banks may not be around for much longer due to shore damage and that means a visit should be a top priority for tourists in North Carolina.

Wild horses, shipwrecks and historic lighthouses are just a few of the points of interest in the area.

Related tour: Outer Banks: Full-Day Offshore Sport Fishing Charter

10. The NASCAR Hall of Fame

NASCAR Hall of FameSource: one line man / shutterstock
NASCAR Hall Of Fame

Situated in Charlotte, the NASCAR Hall of Fame is an absolute must for racing enthusiasts.

“Glory Road” features a number of historic cars.

There is also a hall of honor and a High Octane Theater featuring a large screen showing some highlights from the sports throughout the years gone by.

11. Contemporary Art Museum

Contemporary Art Museum, RaleighSource: Jay Yuan / shutterstock
Contemporary Art Museum, Raleigh

This museum in the warehouse district of Raleigh proves that you can keep up with the modern art scene even if you live outside of New York.

It showcases a wide variety of pioneering new art and design and opened in May 2011.

The museum is also well known for its educational and community programs.

12. Kings Barcade

Live MusicSource: Evannovostro / shutterstock
Live Music

Kings in Raleigh is one of North Carolina’s top music venues.

They host a wide variety of acts from national stars to local up and comers.

When the music isn’t playing, there are also game nights to enjoy as well as comedy acts and other performances.

The bar downstairs, Neptunes, is a great place for dance parties and regularly hosts guest DJs.

13. William B. Umstead State Park

William B. Umstead State ParkSource: Zhong Chen / shutterstock
William B. Umstead State Park

William B Umstead State Park, which opened in 1937, is another area of natural beauty in North Carolina and another place for outdoor enthusiasts to savor.

The park features several paths and trails and is also perfect for hiking, boating and fishing.

The state park covers an expanse of 5,500 acres and has ample locations for camping and parking.

14. The James B. Hunt Jr. Library

James B. Hunt Jr. LibrarySource: KAD Photo / shutterstock
James B. Hunt Jr. Library

This high tech library located on the Centennial Campus of the North Carolina University is a modern looking building and has the technology to match.

The library features the state of the art BookBot delivery system which is automated and allows the mighty collection of two million volumes to be housed in an area 1/9th of what would be needed if the books were contained on traditional library shelves.

15. The Raleigh Greenway System

Raleigh Greenway SystemSource: samray / shutterstock
Raleigh Greenway System

This extensive network of paths is the perfect way to travel around the city of Raleigh.

It is possible to join the network from almost anywhere within the city and the paths cover about 100 miles.

The paths are a great way to get around but also provide a unique perspective of Raleigh and are used by cyclists, runners and dog walkers alike.

16. Pullen Park

Pullen Park, Raleigh, NCSource: ying / shutterstock
Pullen Park

Pullen Park was the first public park in North Carolina and offers a wide variety of things to do and see for all the family.

Visitors will find a traditional and restored carousel, boats and a mini train for children.

For adults, the park has tennis courts, baseball fields and an art center for a taste of culture within peaceful surroundings.

17. Lincoln Theater

Lincoln Theater, RaleighSource: Wileydoc / shutterstock
Lincoln Theater, Raleigh

Lincoln Theater is the place to go in North Carolina if you are a lover of the performing arts.

The theater hosts a great variety of shows including music from cover bands and local artists as well as musicals and plays.

The tiers in the theater guarantee a flawless view regardless of tickets purchased and allow space to dance as a bonus.

18. North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

North Carolina Museum of Natural SciencesSource: zimmytws / shutterstock
North Carolina Museum Of Natural Sciences

This impressive museum is situated in Downtown Raleigh. It offers a huge selection of exhibits and is one of the south east United States largest natural history museums.

As well as exhibits there are also labs and interactive exhibits to keep everyone interested.

The museum is also home to Willo, notable for being the world’s only dinosaur with a fossilized heart.

19. Mordecai Historic Park

Mordecai Historic ParkSource: gurezende / shutterstock
Mordecai Historic Park

This historic park is most notable for being the birthplace of the 17th president of the United States, Andrew Johnson.

Also within the site is the oldest residence in the city of Raleigh, the Mordecai House.

The property is a great example of the plantations that used to dominate the area in the past.

20. North Carolina State Capitol

North Carolina State CapitolSource: Joseph Sohm / shutterstock
North Carolina State Capitol

The State Capitol in North Carolina is a fantastic and fascinating example of Greek revival architecture and is one of the best preserved in the United States.

It was built in 1840 and housed the government of North Carolina up until 1888.

Business is now conducted on the first floor but the building is also open for guided tours and it provides a great insight into both architecture and US government history.

21. J S Dorton Arena

J S Dorton ArenaSource: KAD Photo / shutterstock
J S Dorton Arena

The J S Dorton Arena is located in Raleigh and is a stunning example of modern architecture.

The building is recognized throughout the world and is a medley of engineering and architecture perfectly fused.

It was completed in 1952 as an arena for judging livestock in competitions.

In the present day, the arena is a venue for live performances and exhibitions.

22. JC Raulston Arboretum

JC Raulston ArboretumSource: Belight / shutterstock
JC Raulston Arboretum

This arboretum encompasses 10 acres and is houses a collection of diverse plants from all regions and climates.

The arboretum strives to research and evaluate all of its plants.

There are more than 5,000 species of plants to be found here and plenty to keep visitors intrigued.

23. North Carolina Museum of History

North Carolina Museum of HistorySource: zimmytws / shutterstock
North Carolina Museum of History

The perfect place to learn more about North Carolina’s history is, of course, the Museum of History.

The exhibits here cover the civil war and other events in American history including women’s rights and the toils with Native Americans.

There is also information to be found on the first inhabitants of the area and the state’s sport hall of fame.

24. Marbles Kids Museum

Marbles Kids MuseumSource: North Carolina National Guard / Flickr | CC BY-ND
Marbles Kids Museum

The Marbles Kids Museum is a hands-on extravaganza of learning and interactive education for children.

Five galleries and two outdoor attractions are housed here as well as an Imax Cinema.

There is plenty to keep young children interested here and it is especially aimed at young ones under the age of 10.

25. Dead Broke Farm

Horseback RidingSource: Iancu Cristian / shutterstock
Horseback Riding

A great place for animal and farm lovers or for those who want to experience a little North Carolina farm life.

Activities available to guests include horse riding (private and trail), western style riding lessons and camping trips.

For the less experience riders or for children, there are also pony rides available.

25 Best Things to Do in North Carolina:

  • The Biltmore Estate
  • USS North Carolina
  • Morehead Planetarium
  • Linville Gorge
  • Chimney Rock State Park
  • Grandfather Mountain
  • North Carolina Aquarium
  • North Carolina Zoo
  • Outer Banks
  • The NASCAR Hall of Fame
  • Contemporary Art Museum
  • Kings Barcade
  • William B. Umstead State Park
  • The James B. Hunt Jr. Library
  • The Raleigh Greenway System
  • Pullen Park
  • Lincoln Theater
  • North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
  • Mordecai Historic Park
  • North Carolina State Capitol
  • J S Dorton Arena
  • JC Raulston Arboretum
  • North Carolina Museum of History
  • Marbles Kids Museum
  • Dead Broke Farm