The Ultimate NC Bucket List: Things to Do in North Carolina

The Ultimate NC Bucket List: Things to Do in North Carolina


North Carolina is a state that boasts incredible contrasts.

From the stunning heights of the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains to the sun-soaked beaches of the Outer Banks, there is something for every type of traveler.

Bustling cities such as Charlotte and Raleigh provide world-class museums, exciting attractions like the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and a lively cultural scene.

Meanwhile, charming towns nestled in the mountains or dotted along the coast invite you to slow down and enjoy the simple pleasures.

History enthusiasts can walk in the footsteps of aviation pioneers at the Wright Brothers National Memorial or explore significant sites of the Civil Rights Movement.

And let’s not forget about the food – North Carolina barbecue is renowned!

Add a sprinkle of those quirky roadside attractions the South is famous for, and you have yourself an unforgettable North Carolina experience.

Are you ready to plan your getaway?

Buckle up and let’s explore the best things this diverse state has to offer!

Fly to North Carolina with Skyscanner for the vibrant fall colors of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

FAQs About Visiting NC

Wide view of the ground floor at the NASCAR Hall of Fame

1. What’s the best time of year to visit North Carolina?

North Carolina is enjoyable year-round, but the best times depend on your interests:

  • Spring and Fall: Pleasant temperatures, beautiful foliage changes, fewer crowds at popular destinations.
  • Summer: Ideal for beach vacations and mountain activities. Be aware of higher prices and bigger crowds along the coast.
  • Winter: Mild in the lower elevations, offering cozy mountain getaways and potential for snow sports.
2. What are the major airports in North Carolina?

The largest airports for visitors are:

  • Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) – Biggest airport, great for connections
  • Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) – Centrally located in the state.

πŸ‘‰Stay near the Blue Ridge Parkway for easy access to breathtaking mountain vistas and outdoor activities.

3. Do I need a car to get around North Carolina?

It depends on your plans:

  • You can explore cities like Charlotte, Raleigh, or Asheville using public transportation or ride shares.
  • A car gives you the most freedom to explore beaches, small towns, and scenic mountain drives.
4. What kind of accommodations can I find in North Carolina?

North Carolina offers everything!

  • Hotels: Wide variety of chain and boutique hotels in cities
  • Bed & Breakfasts Plenty of charming options in historic towns and the mountains
  • Vacation rentals: Great for beach trips or mountain stays with larger groups
5.  What are some of the must-try foods in North Carolina?

Get ready for deliciousness!

  • Barbecue: Eastern-style (vinegar-based and whole hog) or Lexington-style (tomato-based, pork shoulder)
  • Fresh Seafood: Especially on the coast
  • Sweet Potatoes: A major NC crop
  • Fried chicken, biscuits, and all those Southern fixings

πŸ‘‰Book with Skyscanner and explore the historic charm of Old Salem in Winston-Salem.

The Blue Ridge Parkway

Fall on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Imagine a road that unfurls like a ribbon across the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, offering panoramic views at every twist and turn.

That’s the Blue Ridge Parkway, a true gem of North Carolina and a beloved destination for nature lovers.

With countless overlooks and pull-offs, you can simply step out of your car and soak in the majesty of the mountains or embark on an adventure.

The Parkway is your gateway to countless hiking trails. Seek out hidden waterfalls tucked into lush forests, challenge yourself on a climb to a breathtaking summit, or enjoy a leisurely walk surrounded by vibrant wildflowers.

As you journey south, the Parkway seamlessly leads you to the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, promising even more opportunities for outdoor adventures.

Things to do:
  • Hike to stunning waterfalls and mountain vistas
  • Enjoy scenic overlooks and capture panoramic photos
  • Explore visitor centers and exhibits along the route
  • Camp under the stars in designated campgrounds
  • Connect with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at the southern end

πŸ‘‰Book a historic hotel in Old Salem for a step back in time and easy exploration of this living history museum.

Beaches and Coastal Fun: From Wild Horses to Family Shores

Outer Banks, NC

North Carolina has a coastline that stretches over 300 miles, providing ample opportunities for sun seekers, surfers, and beachcombers.

The Outer Banks (OBX) string of islands is a true gem, with Corolla being famous for its herd of wild horses that roam freely along the beaches.

Witnessing these majestic creatures galloping beside the ocean is a sight you will cherish forever.

History enthusiasts will be fascinated by the iconic lighthouses that dot the OBX, serving as silent sentinels that have guarded the coast for centuries. \

Cape Hatteras National Seashore is home to pristine beaches, diverse wildlife, and recreational activities for all ages.

If you venture further south, you will discover the charm of Wilmington.

This friendly coastal city boasts a historic district with cobblestone streets and charming shops that are perfect for a leisurely stroll.

Families will appreciate the selection of peaceful sandy beaches that are ideal for building sandcastles and splashing in the waves.

Don’t forget to explore other family-friendly destinations like Emerald Isle, known for its wide beaches and gentle surf, or Kure Beach, which is renowned for its fishing pier and watersports rentals.

Things to do:
  • Spot wild horses roaming the beaches of Corolla in the Outer Banks
  • Explore lighthouses like Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and learn about their maritime history
  • Swim, sunbathe, and build sandcastles on the pristine beaches of Cape Hatteras National Seashore
  • Stroll through the charming historic district and shops in Wilmington
  • Relax on the family-friendly beaches of Emerald Isle or Kure Beach
  • Go surfing, kayaking, or paddleboarding in the crystal-clear waters
  • Enjoy fresh seafood at waterfront restaurants

πŸ‘‰Skyscanner takes you to the heart of Raleigh’s renowned museums and cultural sites.

Calling All Adventure Seekers: Outdoor Thrills in North Carolina

Lookinglass Falls

North Carolina’s diverse landscape translates to a smorgasbord of outdoor adventures for every thrill level.

Adrenaline junkies can get their hearts pumping with whitewater rafting on some of the state’s exciting rivers.

The French Broad, Nolichucky, and Watauga rivers offer varying degrees of challenge, ensuring an exhilarating experience for all skill sets.

For a calmer pace, kayaks and paddleboards glide effortlessly across lakes, rivers, and the calm waters of the coast.

Fishing enthusiasts cast your lines! North Carolina boasts an abundance of freshwater and saltwater fishing opportunities.

Whether you seek rainbow trout in mountain streams, battle it out with a feisty largemouth bass in a lake, or cast a net for fresh seafood off the coast, North Carolina’s waters have something for every angler.

Beyond the adrenaline rush, immerse yourself in the beauty of North Carolina’s natural world.

Explore the vast network of state parks and national forests scattered across the state.

Pisgah National Forest, encompassing over half a million acres, offers endless hiking and camping possibilities.

Imagine waking up to crisp mountain air and embarking on a scenic trail, surrounded by lush forests and breathtaking vistas.

North Carolina’s state parks, like Chimney Rock State Park, with its iconic rock formations, and Gorges State Park, known for its waterfalls, provide incredible opportunities to reconnect with nature.

Things to Do:
  • Go whitewater rafting on exciting rivers like the French Broad, Nolichucky, or Watauga
  • Explore calm waters by kayaking or paddleboarding on lakes, rivers, or the coast
  • Cast your line for trout, bass, or saltwater fish in diverse water bodies
  • Hike and camp in stunning state parks like Pisgah National Forest
  • Discover hidden waterfalls and natural wonders within state parks

πŸ‘‰Find centrally located accommodations in Raleigh to enjoy the city’s rich history, art, and green spaces.

Mountain Gems: Asheville and Boone

City of Asheville, North Carolina

Nestled among the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina’s mountain towns possess a captivating charm as beautiful as the scenery.

Asheville is the vibrant hub of the region, with a dynamic arts scene and a touch of bohemian flair. Asheville offers a unique energy with funky galleries and craft breweries, lively music venues, and farm-to-table restaurants.

You can explore the grandeur of the Biltmore Estate, immerse yourself in the artistic culture, or embark on a scenic hike in the surrounding mountains.

Boone, a mountain town that is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, provides a gateway to adventure.

You can hike to the summit of Grandfather Mountain, zipline through the lush forests, or hit the slopes during ski season.

Don’t overlook other smaller towns peppered throughout the mountains.

Each offers a unique character – Blowing Rock charms with its quaint shops, Highlands delights with its waterfalls, and Hendersonville provides an inviting base for exploring the surrounding areas.

Things to do:
  • Discover Asheville’s thriving arts scene, galleries, and breweries
  • Explore the grand Biltmore Estate and its gardens
  • Hike, bike, or ski in the mountains around Boone
  • Zipline through lush forests and enjoy scenic vistas
  • Visit the charming towns of Blowing Rock, Highlands, and Hendersonville
  • Stroll through quaint streets, visit local shops, and savor mountain cuisine

πŸ‘‰Discover the Outer Banks’ lighthouses and wild horses with flights found on Skyscanner.

North Carolina’s Coastal Favorites:Β Wilmington &Β Outer Banks (OBX)

Wilmington, North Carolina

Wilmington is a historic southern port city that exudes timeless charm.

Taking a stroll along the cobblestone streets of its National Historic District is a treat, with antebellum mansions, inviting shops, and lively restaurants overlooking the Cape Fear River.

Wrightsville Beach, located nearby, offers classic beach town vibes, family-friendly amusements, and beautiful stretches of sand that are perfect for a day of fun in the sun.

History buffs will enjoy exploring the Battleship North Carolina, a WWII vessel turned museum that provides a fascinating glimpse into the past.

Just north of Wilmington, you’ll find the captivating Outer Banks (OBX), a collection of barrier islands that are renowned for their windswept dunes, endless beaches, and rich maritime heritage.

This is a place where time seems to slow down, and you can search for wild horses roaming the beaches, climb historic lighthouses for sweeping coastal views, or learn about the Wright Brothers’ history of flight at the Wright Brothers National Memorial.

The Outer Banks is a haven for sunbathing, fishing, surfing, and simply soaking up the peaceful coastal atmosphere.

Things to do:
  • Explore Wilmington’s historic district and walk along the scenic Riverwalk
  • Relax on the beaches of Wrightsville Beach and enjoy the classic beach town atmosphere
  • Step back in time on the Battleship North Carolina
  • Drive along the Outer Banks Scenic Byway and spot wild horses in Corolla
  • Climb historic lighthouses like Bodie Island Lighthouse or Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
  • Visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial and learn about the history of flight
  • Go kayaking, fishing, or surfing in the pristine waters

πŸ‘‰Choose a beachfront property in the Outer Banks for stunning sea views and direct beach access.

Dynamic Cities: Charlotte, Raleigh and Durham

Brightleaf Square

Experience the vibrant energy of North Carolina through its dynamic trio of cities: Charlotte, Raleigh, and Durham.

Charlotte, the largest city in the state, offers an exciting atmosphere with plenty to see and do.

Thrill-seekers can find their fix at the NASCAR Hall of Fame or with the heart-pumping rides at Carowinds amusement park.

Beyond the high-octane adventures, Charlotte boasts world-class museums such as the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and the Levine Museum of the New South, along with fantastic dining and vibrant entertainment districts.

As the state capital, Raleigh blends rich history with cutting-edge innovation.

Immerse yourself in science and discovery at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, or wander through the exhibits at the North Carolina Museum of History.

The city also boasts a thriving arts scene and plenty of green spaces, including the stunning Pullen Park located in the heart of the city.

Just a short distance from Raleigh, Durham offers a unique mix of innovation and laid-back southern charm.

Explore the city’s strong ties to the tobacco industry at the Duke Homestead Site & Museum, or visit the cutting-edge American Tobacco Campus, which has been revitalized as a hub of restaurants and entertainment.

With its lively performing arts scene and acclaimed restaurants, Durham adds a delightful dose of culture and flavor to any North Carolina city trip.

Things to do:
  • Rev your engines at the NASCAR Hall of Fame and Carowinds in Charlotte
  • Explore Charlotte’s diverse museums like the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art
  • Immerse yourself in science and history at Raleigh’s museums
  • Stroll through Pullen Park or explore Raleigh’s thriving arts scene
  • Learn about Durham’s tobacco heritage or enjoy a meal at the American Tobacco Campus
  • Experience the performing arts and vibrant restaurant scene in Durham

πŸ‘‰Use Skyscanner to journey to Asheville’s bustling arts scene and craft breweries.

Biltmore Estate

The Biltmore Estate (Asheville, North Carolina)

Step back in time to the lavish era of opulence and aristocratic elegance at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville.

Constructed by George Vanderbilt in the late 19th century, this vast mansion serves as a testament to the grandeur of America’s Gilded Age.

Once you step inside, you will be awed by the luxurious furnishings, priceless artwork, and the sheer grandiosity of its chambers.

The 250-room chateau exudes an unmatched sense of refinement, offering a glimpse into the lifestyle of one of America’s wealthiest families.

The beauty of Biltmore extends beyond its walls.

You can explore acres of meticulously designed gardens, bursting with colorful blooms, elegant fountains, and breathtaking vistas of the surrounding mountains.

You can also immerse yourself in the lush conservatory or take a romantic stroll through the manicured rose garden.

The vast estate also features a winery, outdoor activities, and comfortable lodgings, promising an unforgettable and immersive experience.

Things to do:
  • Explore the Biltmore House and its lavish rooms
  • Stroll through the magnificent gardens and conservatory
  • Go wine tasting at the Biltmore Winery
  • Enjoy hiking, biking, or outdoor activities on the estate grounds
  • Book a stay at one of the luxurious hotels on the estate

πŸ‘‰Select a cozy cabin or boutique hotel in Asheville to be close to art galleries, live music, and local eateries.

North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro

entrance to zoo

The North Carolina Zoo, situated in Asheboro, offers you a chance to experience a global safari without leaving the state.

Considered one of the largest natural habitat zoos across the world, it offers vast, well-designed environments that imitate the animals’ native habitats.

Wander through the African Plains, where giraffes stretch their long necks and zebras roam.

Come face-to-face with grizzly bears in the North American wilderness or bask in the tropical sounds of the Aviary.

The North Carolina Zoo seamlessly blends conservation, education, and recreation.

Learn about the diverse species through interactive exhibits and informative talks.

Children can enjoy the kid-friendly areas that bring them closer to their favorite animals.

With miles of walking trails, scenic vistas, and animal encounters around every corner, the North Carolina Zoo promises a wild adventure for the entire family.

Things to do:
  • Embark on a self-guided safari through African and North American habitats
  • Explore the diverse bird species in the Aviary
  • Learn about the zoo’s conservation efforts and endangered species
  • Enjoy interactive exhibits and educational talks
  • Bring the kids to the animal encounters and play areas

πŸ‘‰Find flights to Charlotte with Skyscanner and dive into the excitement of the U.S. National Whitewater Center.

Battleship North Carolina:

USS North Carolina Forecastle

Step aboard the legendary Battleship North Carolina in Wilmington and embark on a journey into the world of WWII naval history.

This mighty vessel was nicknamed “The Showboat” and earned 15 battle stars during its distinguished service, playing a vital role in the Pacific Theater.

While walking the decks, imagine the rumble of the massive guns and the hustle and bustle of the ship’s crew.

Explore the restored compartments of the Battleship and gain insight into the daily lives of the sailors.

Peer into the mess hall and sleeping quarters, climb steep ladders between decks, and marvel at the ship’s complex machinery and weaponry.

Engaging exhibits and multimedia presentations offer a glimpse into wartime operations, showcasing the bravery and sacrifice of those who served on this floating fortress.

Things to do:
  • Walk the decks and explore the various compartments of the battleship
  • Imagine life aboard the ship through interactive exhibits and multimedia displays
  • Learn about the battleship’s role in WWII and its 15 battle stars
  • Pay respects at the ship’s memorials to fallen sailors
  • Enjoy scenic views of the Cape Fear River and Wilmington

πŸ‘‰Opt for a stay near the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte for adventure and outdoor fun.

Quirky and Fun: Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden and Tweetsie Railroad

Tweetsie Railroad, Blowing Rock, NC

North Carolina is a state that offers a unique blend of whimsy and quirkiness that adds to its diverse landscape.

If you’re looking for an interesting road trip, you can explore the state’s roadside attractions, which often feature larger-than-life statues and quirky museums, adding a touch of the unexpected to your journey.

For something truly unique, check out the Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden in Wilmington, which boasts a fascinating collection of Venus flytraps and other insect-eating plants.

It’s definitely a sight worth seeing!

Alternatively, if you’re looking for some family-friendly thrills that come with a touch of nostalgia, you can hop on board Tweetsie Railroad.

This Wild West-themed amusement park in the mountains offers train rides, amusement park fun, and takes you back in time to the days of cowboys and steam engines.

Things to do:
  • Discover quirky roadside attractions dotting the state’s highways
  • Explore the unusual world of carnivorous plants at the Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden
  • Take a trip back in time at Tweetsie Railroad, a Wild West-themed amusement park

πŸ‘‰Skyscanner gets you to the scenic hikes and waterfalls of Pisgah National Forest.

History and Culture in the Tar Heel State

Aerial photo of Wright Brothers National Memorial in 2011.

North Carolina has a rich history and culture that has shaped its identity and enhanced the experience of its visitors. 

On the shores of the Outer Banks, visitors can stand in awe at the Wright Brothers National Memorial, which marks the site of the first successful powered flight in human history.

North Carolina is proud to claim its place as “First in Flight,” and visitors can learn about the pioneering brothers’ determination and innovation through fascinating exhibits and historic structures.

North Carolina played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement.

The International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro tells the courageous story of the Woolworth sit-ins that ignited a wave of protests across the South.

Visiting this powerful site helps us understand the ongoing fight for equality and the bravery of those who stood up against injustice.

Apart from the historical landmarks, visitors can also immerse themselves in North Carolina’s vibrant culture.

The state boasts a rich musical heritage, from traditional bluegrass tunes echoing in the mountains to soulful sounds of blues.

And let’s not forget that North Carolina barbecue is practically a religion!

Visitors can sample the different regional styles and discover why this smoky, flavorful food holds such a special place in the hearts of North Carolinians.

Things to do:
  • Visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial and learn about the history of flight
  • Explore the International Civil Rights Center & Museum and honor the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement
  • Discover North Carolina’s rich musical traditions by attending a bluegrass festival or a blues concert
  • Go on a barbecue tour and sample different regional styles of this iconic dish
  • Visit historic sites, plantations, and museums to delve deeper into North Carolina’s past

πŸ‘‰Secure a lodge or vacation rental near Pisgah National Forest for hiking, biking, and waterfall chasing.


Beautiful North Carolina Creek During Summer

North Carolina offers a diverse range of experiences.

This beautiful state has something for everyone, from sandy beaches to rolling hills, charming towns to towering peaks, and historic sites to modern, bustling cities.

Whether you’re seeking outdoor adventure, a foodie’s paradise, or a deep dive into rich culture, you’ll find your perfect version of North Carolina.

With its lush forests and cascading waterfalls, North Carolina is an ideal destination for nature lovers.

Its coastal and mountain regions offer unique flavors to savor, and the warmth of Southern hospitality will make you feel right at home.

So, why just dream about North Carolina?

Start planning your visit today and let the state’s diverse landscapes and vibrant spirit capture your heart. 

It’s a journey you won’t soon forget.

πŸ‘‰Secure your flight to Wilmington with Skyscanner for sun-soaked beaches and historic riverfront adventures.

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