North Carolina Holiday Planning Guide
A top destination for a holiday in nature, North Carolina provides a seemingly endless variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, mountain climbing, and skiing. While the state's rural regions offer a taste of traditional Appalachian music and culture, its increasingly diverse big cities feature modern skyscrapers, renowned museums, and historical neighborhoods perfect for sightseeing tours. The coastal region, famous for its year-round temperate climate, attracts millions of annual visitors, making North Carolina the sixth most-visited state in the country. Though it's hard to find a quiet time of year in coastal North Carolina, the state's inland areas retain many secluded corners where you can experience the laid-back Old South atmosphere.
Places to Visit in North CarolinaNorth Carolina Mountains
: Named “Land of the Blue Mist” by Native Americans, this mountainous region is a listed World Heritage Site, with a protected old forest, native natural abundance, and numerous small towns fit for exploration on an active or relaxed North Carolina itinerary.North Carolina Coast
: With an extensive array of barrier-island beaches and wildlife, this coastline attracts visitors for its range of outdoor sporting opportunities, its character-filled towns steeped in history, and its attractive natural environments, great for relaxation and recreation.Asheville
: Nicknamed the “Paris of the South,” this city boasts a lively and varied music scene and heritage, a proud culinary culture with Cajun and southern influences, and impressive surrounding landscape.Charlotte
: Rapidly developing and gaining a place within North Carolina’s tourism sector, this large, busy city offers an impressive range of neighborhoods, each with their own character, and a burgeoning nightlife and cultural scene with theaters, museums, and nightclubs. Raleigh
: The state capital, this city provides visitors with an impressive set of cultural attractions, a great range of outdoor activities in the area’s many parks, and welcoming, friendly, and artistic atmosphere, owing much to its status as the home of five separate universities and colleges.Cherokee
: Accessible by mountain roads, this interesting and important town within a Cherokee reservation attracts many tourists each year for its location on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains. It provides experiences of Native American culture, handmade arts and crafts, and traditional cuisine in a range of family-run and independent businesses.Durham
: An historical town that was once at the epicenter of the tobacco industry, the town’s early 20th century architecture, civil rights history, and restaurants and entertainment spaces attract visitors wishing to engage with a bygone era and experience the contemporary culture that is returning to the town center.Bryson City
: A relaxing place in the mountains with family-run restaurants and pleasant accommodations, this town sits on the location of an old Cherokee settlement, offering adventurers a comfortable stopping-off or jumping-off point plus a great range of outdoor activities, such as horseback riding, fishing, and whitewater rafting.Wilmington
: With an award-winning riverfront and a popular and historic downtown area, this port city nestles up close to the Cape Fear River, attracting visitors with its history, impressive architecture, and natural surroundings, including the river and nearby beaches. Hendersonville
: A pleasant place for sightseeing, this city benefits from 19th- and early 20th-century architectural landmarks and a wealth of interesting, independent local businesses in numerous historic neighborhoods, ideally laid out for exploration.
Things to Do in North Carolina
Popular North Carolina Tourist AttractionsBiltmore Estate
: The largest privately owned home in the world, this palatial estate includes landscaped gardens, an award-winning winery, and expansive hiking trails, along with the house itself--a Renaissance-inspired giant.Blueridge Parkway
: Noted for its scenic views, this iconic road traverses the famed Smoky Mountains, giving sights of Cumberland Knob, Looking Glass Rock, and Grandfather Mountain and allowing access to historic settlements, towns, and hiking trails. Wright Brothers National Memorial
: A tribute to two of the most important inventors of the 20th century, this granite monument benefits from an impressive visitors center, which displays a full-size replica of the first airplane designed by the brothers.Battleship NORTH CAROLINA
: The most decorated U.S. Battleship in World War II, this impressive feat of engineering is open to the public, with original features such as the living quarters, weapons, and a surgical clinic displayed, plus exhibits collecting photographs, objects, and letters from the time. Carowinds
: A popular North Carolina attraction, this amusement park offers a range of themed areas, rides to suit all age groups, and a good choice of restaurants and cafes. Chimney Rock State Park
: Named after a gigantic rock in its center, this park offers an impressive range of hiking trails for all skills levels and includes attractive natural features,like waterfalls and rock formations, plus visitor conveniences such as an elevator up to the top of the rock itself. Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
: With restored vintage trains and cabins, this railroad offers extensive views of diverse scenery--such as gorges, valleys, and mountains--plus an interesting perspective on the history of the area and a rich abundance of wildlife in the surrounding landscape.The North Carolina Arboretum
: A great place to explore or stroll around, this arboretum contains cultivated gardens providing seasonal displays, a large collection of exotic plant life, and 16 km (10 mi) of hiking and biking tracks.Grandfather Mountain
: One of the highest points in the expansive mountain range, this natural wonder has become known for its mile-high swinging bridge, its plentiful vistas, and its rich ecological diversity, with chances for hikers and casual walkers to spot black bears, river otters, and bald eagles. Jockey's Ridge State Park
: North Carolina’s most frequented park, this expansive state park offers a great range of hiking routes through duneland and forest, and sights of many species of birds, along with opportunities to try out a diverse array of outdoor activities, such as swimming, kite-flying, and kayaking.
Planning a North Carolina Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in North Carolina with Kids
Enjoying a resurgence in recent years, North Carolina tourism has come to include many sights and attractions ideal for younger visitors centered around its abundant areas of natural beauty and historical landmarks. The North Carolina Coast
, with its temperate climate and fine natural beaches, offers a wealth of things to do for kids, with seaside activities, interesting wildlife, and characterful towns. Close by Wilmington
represents a pleasant destination for a family holiday, with its riverfront and natural features providing ample opportunities to get outdoors along with the comforts of the urban area nearby. A culturally rich and entertaining city, Asheville
offers plentiful cultural points of interest and exciting local cuisine for young visitors keen to explore the region’s history and artistic heritage. For explorers and outdoor enthusiasts, North Carolina Mountains
include many features of interest, with great hiking routes, stunning and photogenic scenery, and interesting small towns offering a great introduction to Native American and rural American life.
Things to Do in North Carolina with Kids
More and more manmade attractions have popped up in recent years, increasing the popularity of the state and providing great options for a family holiday in North Carolina. Carowinds
, with its great range of themed areas and rides for the entire family, represents a good choice for those wanting to appeal to a range of tastes in one trip. Traversing the mountainous landscape of the state’s most famous feature, Blueridge Parkway
provides a good set of additions to an itinerary for families with children of different ages. With impressive roadside vistas, and hiking trails for older children to explore, the road connects the small towns nestled in the mountains. Consider a ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
for spectacular views and a glimpse into rich industrial and commercial heritage--the restored vintage trains and cabins evoke a bygone era and appeal to children with their evocative and aesthetically pleasing designs. Further enjoyment for history lovers can be found at Battleship NORTH CAROLINA
, a remarkably well-maintained heritage site, with neatly restored rooms and weapons, and a touching memorial to the North Carolinian lives lost during World War II.
Tips for a Family Vacation in North Carolina
The state’s temperate climate and mixture of natural and urban sites make it a good place for a family trip. Your North Carolina itinerary can include attractions that appeal to a range of tastes, ages, and abilities. The coastal and mountainous regions appeal primarily to the outdoorsy and adventurous types, with a range of activities, sports, and recreation opportunities amidst the backdrop of the local scenery. However, the abundant history and thriving contemporary culture of the state’s urban areas make sure that all members of your group will find something to enjoy. Because many of the natural points of interest include a visitor center and facilities, it is possible to let the older children in your group explore the wilder parts of a given attraction, while younger ones enjoy the comforts of the industries that have grown up to support ecotourism in the area, such as restaurants, cafes, and gift shops.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in North Carolina
Cuisine of North Carolina
As an agriculturally rich state, many well-known food and drink brands and companies, such as Pepsi and Krispy Kreme, got their start in North Carolina. As to the cuisine itself, it takes influence from traditional southern-style cooking and applies similar methods to the ingredients--primarily grass-fed meats, and seafood--farmed in the state. One of the culinary places to visit in North Carolina is Lexington
. The town has become famous for its barbecue dishes, including pulled pork and spicy sauces of various varieties. As for seafood, pay a visit to Asheville
for Cajun fried catfish and a wealth of markets that sell all kinds of treasures of the sea. Also, consider a trip to Calabash
, a small fishing village that has given its name to a local delicacy, ‘Calabash seafood’--locally caught seafood covered in cornmeal batter and deep fried. For a good general overview of the cuisine of the state, try a food tour around a major city, such as Charlotte
Shopping in North Carolina
In the major urban areas of the state, you will find all you need to have an enjoyable and comfortable stay in North Carolina. However, for something particular and more quintessentially local, seek out the charming, attractive towns and villages of the North Carolina Coast
. You’ll find a great range of outdoor shops here, along with family-run souvenir stores. Delve further into the agricultural abundance of the area at a farmers market, such as the long-established one in Raleigh
, where local produce and charming floral displays bring to life the state and its pastoral industries. As perhaps the most bohemian of all the places to visit in North Carolina, Asheville
provides visitors with a range of stores selling ethical, artistic, and sustainable locally produced fare. Check out the town’s galleries for one-of-a-kind pieces, and the numerous boutique sweet shops for something special to take home with you.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to North Carolina
History of North Carolina
For thousands of years, Native Americans lived in the area now called North Carolina. Building settlements and spreading across the landscape, tribes with unique cultures and languages called the region home, such as the Cherokee and the Waccamaw. The North Carolina Mountains
have traditionally been an important place for indigenous peoples--in particular, the Cherokee--for spiritual, economic, and agricultural reasons. The reservation town of Cherokee
, situated in the mountain range, continues this relationship between the society and their land, and remains one of the most interesting places to visit in North Carolina. While there, take a trip to Oconaluftee Indian Village
for an example of a traditional village that offers performances, lectures, and exhibits detailing the culture of the Cherokee people.
In the 1560s, Spanish explorers arrived in the region, but their attempts to settle the area failed as they met resistance from the native peoples. It wasn’t until the turn of the century that a colonial presence appeared, with British colonists migrating from Virginia. In 1663, the region was officially declared a colony by royal charter, and the area’s infrastructure and industry developed in the years preceding the Revolutionary War. For an introduction to the colonial era, and a perspective on the multiculturalism from which the state has developed, pay a visit to Old Salem Museums & Gardens
. Established in 1766 by Moravians--a Protestant group from what is now called Czech Republic--this restored town displays a singular architectural style, and a rich, varied history.
Heading into the 19th century, North Carolina--a slave state--was home to a greater amount of debate and indecision regarding slavery than surrounding regions, with some farmers and plantation owners freeing slaves and becoming critical of those who refused. Still, when the continued legality of slavery became threatened by the federal government, North Carolina seceded from the United States and joined the Confederate States of America, with many residents fighting for the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Somerset Place
, a slave plantation now functioning as a museum, provides an important perspective on this troubling period in the nation’s history, with neatly restored buildings and exhibits detailing the lives of the slaves and the people that owned them.
Racist laws and violence blighted the state in the years directly following the Civil War, but the 20th century brought North Carolina back into the American mainstream, with the Civil Rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s particularly effective and prominent in the state. Once again--as with the issue of slavery 100 years earlier--North Carolina came to straddle the divide between the liberal North and the conservative South. To see the state’s renewed importance and reputation within modern America, and the role it has played in the development of a superpower, visit Battleship NORTH CAROLINA
, a battleship with a wealth of different rooms kept as they were during the crew’s deployment in World War II, indicative of the state’s contemporary place within the nation.
Landscape of North Carolina
The recent increase in tourism in North Carolina owes much to the diversity of its landscape and abundance of natural features. Split roughly into mountainous and coastal regions, the scenery offers plenty of things to do. Head to North Carolina Coast
and enjoy the temperate and inviting weather on one of the area’s many barrier-island beaches. A particular jewel of the coast, Jockey's Ridge State Park
, offers tall dunes stretching far along the coast, creating ample walking and biking opportunities, along with a whole host of other outdoor activities. Discover the natural variety of North Carolina Mountains
, where the ancient mountains have long been treasured by locals for their impressive views, fertile lands, and hazy peaks. Journey along Blueridge Parkway
for a drive that is an event in and of itself, but also links you get to the main towns of the area, and to the starting points of some of the state’s best hiking trails.
Holidays & Festivals in North Carolina
North Carolina celebrates the same public holidays as the rest of the U.S. In addition, the state observes Confederate Memorial Day on May 11. During your trip to North Carolina, watch for regional and local festivals celebrating music, food, and history throughout the year in the state’s primary urban areas, and smaller towns. Head to Wilmington
early in the year for festivities celebrating local cultural heritage, and make a trip there in summer for a renowned riverfront party and parade. Lexington
hosts a world-class barbecue festival in late October, while Asheville
highlights events throughout the year celebrating the seasons with many well-organized and popular festivities taking place in the superlative grounds of Biltmore Estate
North Carolina Travel Tips
Climate of North Carolina
The climate of North Carolina is greatly affected by its geographical features. If you stay in the coastal region, you can expect mild winters and moderate summers; if you stay in the mountainous areas, you can expect it to be colder throughout the year, with a much higher chance of snow in the winter. Extreme weather conditions often occur in the state, with tornadoes and thunderstorms hitting North Carolina at various points during the year. On average, North Carolina is hit by a hurricane every 10 years. Pay attention to weather warnings before your holiday in North Carolina, particularly when planning to visit rural areas. Generally speaking, pack for the season you are visiting in, but bring a range of clothing and gear appropriate to layer so you’re prepared for all weather conditions.
Transportation in North Carolina
North Carolina is easily accessible by air, with airports in the primary cities serving international and domestic passengers. Amtrak runs the state’s growing passenger rail service, with lines connecting the main urban areas, making it simple to traverse the state without a car during your stay in North Carolina. Those who do wish to rent vehicles will find a well-organized and maintained system of main roads, with the mountainous region in particular benefitting from great, simple accessibility. Interstate highways offer a good option for travelers coming from other states, in rented vehicles or coaches. The main urban areas boast good internal and external communications, with local bus services and cross-state routes both available.