Endowed with natural beauty and several historical spots, North Carolina is a traveler’s delight. If you are planning a vacation there, then read on to know where exactly you should go.
North Carolina, also called the wine country, is located on the Atlantic seaboard in the southeastern part of USA. It comprises 100 counties, Raleigh being its capital. The state has a lot of geographical diversity. The fact that it has mountains, beaches, wineries, sports venues and more, makes it a perfect hub for vacationers. Tourism in this state revolves around the rhythm of urban life and the serenity of nature.
Geographically, North Carolina is divided into 3 regions:
- The Mountains (colored in green)
- Piedmont Region (colored in brown)
- Coastal Plains (colored in blue)
Appalachian Mountain range forms the western part of North Carolina topography. If you compare with the other regions, these mountains form the smallest portion. As a result of a difference in the altitudes, variation in the climate, weather, and temperature is also observed. Average temperature varies from 25° F to 35° F, depending on the altitude.
The Appalachian Mountains that are located in the state are the Great Smoky Mountains, Blue Ridge Mountains, the Black Mountains and Great Balsam Mountains. Backpacking across these mountains ranges is definitely a treat. Moreover, Asheville and Boone are one of the many cities located in this region which offer phenomenal experience to travelers.
Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville also boasts of being the largest city in the western part of North Carolina. Also, it is the most favored holiday destination for all age groups. With a scenic setting and favorable climate throughout the year, it draws many tourists for the refreshing hiking experience and serves as a complete retirement package for those who want to relocate.
Things to Do
This city offers a long list of hiking opportunities. Blue Ridge Parkway is one such location nestled among the mountains, providing a splendid drive along the valleys and favorable hiking spots for mountaineers.
Trekking and wildlife enthusiasts should definitely try the Mountain-to-Sea Trail which covers a distance of 900 miles. Another popular access point to this trail includes a path that has a distance of about 20 miles. It starts from Folk Art Center milepost, passes Craven Gap and Craggy Gardens, and terminates at Balsam Gap on Blue Ridge Parkway.
Looking Glass Rock is a significant geological formation of foliated granodiorite intrusion, having a large dome. Located in Pisgah National Forest, Looking Glass Rock is a part of Blue Ridge Parkway. It is also a hot spot for rock climbing, especially during spring.
The major tourist attraction is the Biltmore Estate; a mansion constructed in the 1800s with the Châteauesque style of architecture. This huge estate, spreading out over 8,000 acres, spellbinds the visitors with its well-maintained gardens and a 250 room, 175,000 square feet mansion. It’s owned by the government, and there are different type of tours arranged for the visitors. Usually, it takes an entire day to take the tour of this intricately designed estate.
Folk Art Center is also a widely recognized place for its traditional Southern Appalachian crafts, with the daily live demonstration of arts and crafts. It is also a specialty museum, hosting a variety of exhibits dating as old as 100 years.
Asheville has a vibrant nightlife, comprising local brewpubs, wine bars and even sidewalk cafes and bistros. The Orange Peel is a frequently visited club for its wide range of beer selection. Tressa’s Downtown Jazz and Blues is the best place to unwind and relax after a tiring week.
On the dance front, Broadway’s and Club Metropolis are the places to be, even for those having two left feet! Theater fanatics will adore The Montford Park Players for the quirky performances it has in store for them.
When it comes to cuisine, Asheville has something for everyone, however, it is Cúrate that captivates you with its authentic Mediterranean and Spanish cuisine, particularly its tapas. With its warm atmosphere and delicious palette of food, Cúrate is one place you don’t want to leave.
For all the vegans out there, Plant Vegan Restaurant is definitely a pit stop for having a peaceful breakfast and brunch.
Boone is named after a famous American explorer, David Boone. Situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Boone is two hours away from both Asheville and Charlotte. With a climate that boosts outdoors activities, this town is filled with hiking trails, caves and plenty opportunities for adventure sports.
The town has an elevation of 1,016 m above sea level and exhibits subtropical climate. It is often considered as the ultimate outdoor adventure destination of southeastern part of USA.
Things to Do
Wahoo’s Adventures and River and Earth Adventures, Inc provide a perfect adrenaline rush with their rafting and kayaking adventure tours on the New River and Watauga river rapids. If amusement parks are in your wish list, do pay a visit to Foggy Mountain Gem Mine for an exhilarating experience where you get to go on a gem-hunting spree and can make jewelry out of your find.
Visitors flock Moses Cone Manor each year for its grandeur and scenic beauty. Built in 1901, Moses Cone Manor, also known as Flat Top or Parkway Craft Center, has a living space of 13,000 square feet. It is open to the public from spring to fall. Apart from the architecture, it is also famous for its designs and authentic artifacts.
Boone Saloon offers a one-of-a-kind experience for visitors who admire live music, and also for those who prefer music out of a jukebox. Apart from this, Char and Portafinos are also recommended.
Caribbean cuisine being its specialty, Coyote’s Kitchen fails to disappoint gourmets with its great mix of flavors and simplicity. Vidalia is another option for American Cuisine lovers. Casa Rustica, Joy Bistro, and Mellow Mushroom are the places to be for an Italian gastronomist.
Forming the central portion of the state, Piedmont plateau comprises one-third of the total area of North Carolina. It has hills of gentle elevation, however, it is not as cool as the mountain region. Majority of the North Carolina population resides in the Piedmont plateau.
Here, the summer is considerably hot with average temperatures going up to 90° F and during the winters, it ranges around 40° F, thus making it the hottest region of the state. In spite of this, some of the major tourist attractions are cities like Charlotte, Raleigh, and Winston-Salem, to name a few.
Since Charlotte is situated away from the coast and towards the center of the state, it is less likely to get affected by the hurricanes developed in the Atlantic Ocean. Known as the Queen City, Charlotte offers a mesmerizing variety of culture and cuisine, right from art galleries to a bustling nightlife.
Apart from being the largest city in the state of North Carolina, Charlotte is also one of the most important financial centers in the US. With reference to American War, it is also called The Hornet’s Nest.
Things to Do
Charlotte houses one of the most visited adventurous spots called U. S. National Whitewater Center (USNWC). This adventure arena has a plethora of choices for adventure lovers, right from whitewater rafting and kayaking to mountain bike ride and eco trekking.
Located next to the Catawba River, USNWC provides different types of passes, such as a day pass or season pass. For all the NASCAR fans, Charlotte is the place to be. So if you want to pump up your adrenaline, do take out some time for Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Mint museum is one such venue that you shouldn’t miss. It is called Mint Museum because it used to be a United States mint production building, before getting converted into a museum. The museum has everything from traditional designs and crafts to European art, contemporary prints and photography.
For theater enthusiasts, Blumenthal Performing Arts Center should top the list. Started in 1992, this center manages six theaters. Out of which, 3 theaters – Belk Theater, Booth Playhouse, and Stage Door Theater are a part of Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.
It features Broadway productions and some other musical attractions. Apart from this, pubs and clubs such as Howl At The Moon, Ri Ra Irish Pub, Suite, Mez Charlotte and the likes are the perfect places to kick up your heels.
Charlotte sizzles with a potpourri of cuisines from Chinese, French and Italian cuisine. Dishes such as sushi, tapas, satay along with local specialties like steak, barbecue, seafood, and pizza are also part of the menu. Del Frisco’s is one such popular joint known for its ambiance, prompt service, and scrumptious steaks.
Marked by hot summers and cool winters, Winston-Salem is yet another vacation hot spot in the Piedmont region, especially for people who like history. This city was originally called Salem till 1849.
But later, the northern portion of the land was sold off and was renamed as Winston. However, in the year 1913, the city was officially called Winston-Salem. It is now the fifth largest city in North Carolina state.
Things to Do
More than the adrenaline rush, Winston-Salem is known for its rich history and heritage.
If you want to go back in time and see the past riches of this city, then head to Old Salem Museum and relive the 18th and 19th century Moravian life. The Children’s Museum is also a major attraction, hosting children’s books.
Nature lovers would love to visit the Bethabara Historic District of Winston-Salem which boasts of breathtaking nature trails, having lush green trees and variety of birds. It also offers suitable hiking conditions.
The nightlife in Winston-Salem isn’t as energetic as Charlotte, nonetheless, it does have a large number of trendy nightclubs and pubs. For a perfect lounge and bar experience, you can visit Ziggy’s and Tate’s Craft Cocktails.
Continental cuisine is best served at Fabian’s whereas a trip to The Basil Leaf Thai & Sushi Restaurant is recommended for Thai cuisine. Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and Camino Bakery are sure to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Coastal plains occupy almost half of the total area of North Carolina and are sub-divided into the immediate coastal part, the area occupied by tidal water and the section connecting to the Piedmont plateau.
The average temperature recorded in this region is about 40° F in January and around 60° F in August. Here are a few of the many must-visit places in this region where you can spend your vacation and rejuvenate.
Known for its sandy beaches and calm, blue water, Outer Banks is a long chain of islands just off the coast of North Carolina, stretching for about 200 miles. Abuzz with tourists throughout the year, it is famous for its temperate climate and a string of pristine beaches.
Emerald Isle and the Atlantic Beach are the populated vacation spots. If you’re looking for comparatively less commercialized ones, the most preferred towns and villages in the Outer Banks are Duck, Kill Devil Hills, and Buxton.
Located in the northern region of Outer Banks, this getaway derives its name from the presence of a large number of ducks seen on the island. Back in the day, it was the most sought after location for the hunters.
Even today, during the peak season, the duck population increases up to 20,000! With around 500 people residing there, this peaceful town hosts a few of the most exuberant and serene vacation homes.
Things to Do
Apart from the marine riches, Duck is also known for adventurous sports such as kayaking, jet skiing and many more.
Duck is home to the well-known national musical event called the Duck Jazz Festival which attracts hundreds of visitors every year. This small town’s nightlife is marked by restaurants such as Aqua Restaurant, Ocean Boulevard Bistro & Mini Bar and Sunset Grille.
This island has a variety of cuisines. The French cuisine lovers should try Left Bank, whereas Duck Donuts, famous for their fresh, soft, homemade delicious donuts, are huge favorites amongst kids and adults alike.
Kill Devil Hills
Situated to the south of Duck, Kill Devil Hills houses Wright Brothers’ National Memorial, a popular tourist hub. There are several stories circulating about the origin of its name. One legend claims that this town derived its name during the colonial times when ships transporting bottles of rum were attacked by the local people.
The locals then hid these bottles in the sand dunes of the town. As rum was often called Kill Devil during those times, the town began to be known as Kill Devil Hills.
Things to Do
Professor Hacker’s Lost Treasure Golf and Raceway is a perfect family spot for all the adventure, race cart, and golf lovers. Spanning over seven different locales, this park offers an excellent opportunity to do a little bit of expedition, and experience the joys of a mining car ride through ancient caves and waterfalls. With the addition of mini-golf courses, this destination promises a day full of fun and laughter for the entire family.
An excellent break from the ocean, Nags Head Woods Preserve is the place to be for nature lovers and people who are seeking an enthralling hiking experience. The best time to visit this ecological preserve is during spring and summer. It is recommended to carry a bug spray.
Wright Brothers’ National Memorial is a place where visitors can figuratively go back in time and garner information about the iconic flight. Wilbur and Orville Wright took their first successful flight here in a machine-powered plane heavier than air, which gave this place a historic significance.
Outer Banks Brewing Station, the first wind-powered brewing station in the US, is one of the most visited bars in Kill Devil Hills. Other bars and dance clubs such as Port O’ Call Restaurant and Awful Arthur’s Oyster Bar also draw a lot of crowds.
Apart from the history, this small city, home to about 6000 residents does not disappoint the foodies out there. Right from fast food to seafood, and from Mexican to French, all sorts of cuisines are available with their local touch. While Colington Cafe is known for its French cuisine, The Avalon Fishing Pier is quite famous for its authentic seafood.
Buxton is located near Cape Hatteras and was formerly known as The Cape. This island does not have a happening nightlife per se but is an excellent location for windsurfing. Even in early winter when most of the other lakes of USA are frozen, Buxton is a major tourist hub.
It is located in the Dare County of North Carolina. The town was named Buxton in the year 1882, in the honor of Judge Ralph P. Buxton.
Things to Do
If you love surf fishing, then this is the perfect vacation spot for you as Cape Point has a large sandbar, taking you closer to the deeper part of the ocean, and thus also the marine life. Camping stations are also available if you want to spend the night underneath the stars.
This island is known for being home to the country’s tallest lighthouse, made from bricks (210 ft) called Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
Apart from exquisite seafood, Buxton is also known for a variety of cuisines it offers. Cafe Pamlico is one of the most beautiful cafes in Buxton, with sprawling lawns and a variety of flowers at its entrance. This cafe is not only famous for its decor, but also for the flawless International, Contemporary and Continental cuisine it offers.
Formerly known as Chattoka, New Bern is a small city nestled in the Craven County of North Carolina. Founded in 1710, New Bern is famous for its historical significance, being the second oldest city in North Carolina. Nicholas Sparks’ novel The Notebook is set in the city of New Bern, which is located at the confluence of two rivers, Neuse and Trent.
It also houses a variety of churches and a world famous palace. In addition to that, it has a splendid waterfront, making it your perfect holiday spot.
Things to Do
New Bern is just an hour away from the popular tourist destination Crystal Coast, comprising towns such as Emerald Isle, Indian Beach and Salter Path. A wide range of activities like surfing, kayaking along with other ecological tours are the main attractions of this hot spot.
History lovers will admire Tryon Palace which is a modern reconstruction of the original building which burned down in 1798. Tryon Palace, home to the first motion picture theater in North Carolina, impresses all the visitors with its rich past, thus making it to the list of every vacationer.
Island Creek Trail in the Croatan National Forest of New Bern is a spot frequented by hikers. The hike can be up to 2 miles, depending on the trail loops you take. This scenic nature trail, having a variety of flora and fauna, provides a rejuvenating experience in the lap of nature.
American cuisine dominates this town, but you do get restaurants serving Mediterranean, Chinese, and Japanese cuisines. The Chelsea, popular for its New American Cuisine, is one of the highest rated restaurants in New Bern. Visit this joint for its culinary excellence and fine dining.
For exclusive seafood with a hint of local flavor and history, Morgan’s Tavern & Grill is a place not to be missed. Renovating a 100-year-old building into a restaurant, Morgan’s Tavern & Grill still retains the old warehouse look where you get the feel of stepping back in time.
Best Time to Visit North Carolina
Given that the climate of North Carolina state is more or less moderate throughout the year, the best time to visit this state is during the months of April and May. But as spring arrives late in the mountainous part of the state compared to the rest of the region, the appropriate holiday durations may vary.
The most suitable time to visit Outer Banks and New Bern is at the end of spring, that is, around the end of April. The weather during this time is pleasant. So, don’t forget your beach gear and indulge yourself in the cool breezes.
The best time to visit Piedmont Region is, again, the end of spring and beginning of summer where outdoor activities in Charlotte and Winston-Salem are in full swing. After The Mountains, it is the most preferred destinations to beat the summer heat.
Although fall isn’t the peak time for a trip to Charlotte, the city looks gorgeous during this time, littered with colorful leaves.
The best part about this region is that you can visit it during any time of the year. Asheville and Boone are heaven-like during spring, summer, and fall, offering a number of recreational activities and perfect conditions to unwind yourself.
Snowfall is generally light and infrequent during winters, thus giving you a chance to spend the vacation away from the chilling winters.
Vacationing at least once in North Carolina should definitely top your bucket list! North Carolina will not let you down with its splendid locations, delectable food and rich culture. So, do not waste much time and embark upon a journey full of adventures and learning, right away. Bon Voyage!