North Carolina is a gorgeous coastal state with an interesting history, plenty of nature and many awesome sites for travelers. Here are some of the top things to do and see during your travels to the Tarheel State:
North Carolina’s capital and second-largest city is known as The City of Oaks for its abundance of oak trees, and there’s plenty to do and see here:
Check out the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences for interesting exhibits and a peek at scientists at work in the Nature Research Center. The North Carolina Museum of Art is another free gem. See works spanning 5,000 years back and let the kids explore sculptures in the surrounding nature trails at Museum Park. The fountains in the beautiful Rodin Courtyard are also a must-see. Visit North Carolina Museum of History, also free, to see the state’s story from 18th century clay pottery to the Wright Brothers’ historic flights. The Marbles Kids Museum isn’t free but has plenty of interactive exhibits for learning through play, including a near-life-size chess game, a faux pizza shop and a massive pirate ship replica.
- Take a walk among the flowers at the JC Raulston Arboretum or the Raleigh Little Theatre Rose Garden. The acres and acres of blooms, plants and hiking trails at the North Carolina Botanical Garden in nearby Chapel Hill are also a must-visit.
- Ride the train and carousel and rent paddle boats in Pullen Park, just east of North Carolina State’s north campus.
- Go bicycling, hiking and horseback riding in Umstead State Park in northwest Raleigh.
- Hike Bobbitt Hole Trail or kayak on a rushing river in 3900 acres of hills, oaks and scenic beauty in Eno River State Park.
North Carolina’s largest city is the home of NASCAR’s Hall of Fame, and there’s plenty to do and see in the Queen City:
What to Do
- Go wild at the 105-acre Carowinds water and theme park, which has something for everyone.
- Engage in hands-on science and technology projects and see a science-themed documentary at Discovery Place in Uptown.
- Stroll in scenic, 98-acre Freedom Park and be on the lookout for beautiful butterflies and birds.
- Be adventurous! Visit the U.S. National Whitewater Center to go whitewater rafting on the nearby Catawba River, zipline or take a ropes course through the trees and try your hand - or rather feet - at stand-up paddleboarding.
- Spend time with the kids at ImaginOn: The Joe & Joan Martin Center. It’s technically a library, but there are toys, exhibits, computer games and a theater. Check the schedule and buy tickets to one of many excellent traveling theater companies’ shows.
- Bike near the creek in scenic and relaxing Little Sugar Creek Greenway.
- Catch a Carolina Panthers NFL game at Bank of America Stadium.
What to See
- Check out the massive collection of art at the Mint Museum in Uptown. One of the most interesting exhibits is the collection of American and European textiles and costumes.
- Pay a visit to Carolina Raptor Center in northwest suburb Huntersville to learn about raptors - the hawk-like bird, not the dinosaur - and meet some of the resident orphan or injured raptors.
- Learn about African American history, art and culture at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts & Culture.
- Take a hike and look for creatures native to North Carolina at the McDowell Nature Center and Preserve.
- See early planes up close and learn the history of flight and North Carolina’s important role in it at the Carolina Aviation Museum
- View exhibits about Charlotte’s post-Civil War history at the Levine Museum of the New South.
The Outer Banks are a popular visitor destination due to their natural beauty and shore location. Here are some excellent things to do and see on the Outer Banks:
- Take a lighthouse tour. Visit Cape Hatteras Lighthouse - the nation’s tallest - which had to be moved inland for preservation. On a cool day or during the early morning hours,climb to the top for gorgeous coastal views. Other lighthouses worth a visit include the one at Currituck Beach - supposedly haunted due to its dark history, the one on Bodie Island just south of Nags Head and Ocracoke Island’s lighthouse.
- Hit the miles of beautiful beaches! Frisco Beach on Hatteras Island is one of the best. Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head is a great place to climb the dunes and watch the sunset and Currituck Beach is perfect for sunbathing and horseback riding.
- Learn about the area’s history of shipwrecks - and even see some remnants - at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum on Hatteras Island. The structure itself is worth a view as it was made from part of an old boat’s hull.
- Stroll through the marine forest on the wooden boardwalk of the Estuarine Nature Walk in Corolla.