North Carolina Travel Guides

Super useful & totally free travel guides, written by locals who love North Carolina

The colorful sky during sunset in the Blue Ridge Mountains
A beautiful sunrise over the Blue Ridge Mountains

Why We Love North Carolina: North Carolina is made up of stunning and diverse natural scenery, growing cities, and charming small towns. From west to east, this southern state offers visitors a variety of travel experiences for everyone to enjoy. The beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains in the west provide an abundance of outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and camping. The central piedmont of North Carolina is home to larger cities like Charlotte, Greensboro, and Raleigh, as well as top universities like UNC Chapel Hill and Duke. On the east coast are the Outer Banks, with wide coastlines and historic beach towns. 

Best of North Carolina

🏙️ Places to Visit in North Carolina

The Bodie Island Lighthouse from afar at sunset
Nags Head in the Outer Banks

Each area of North Carolina has its own unique flair—from mountain town charm to city life and laid-back beach vibes.

  • Asheville – Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains, Asheville has incredible scenery, breweries, and infinite outdoor activities
  • Charlotte – North Carolina’s largest city and metro area. There are trendy neighborhoods, great restaurants, and fun things to do in Charlotte.  
  • Wilmington – A charming, historic town on North Carolina’s coast with access to the beach and great local spots. 
  • Blue Ridge Parkway – Known as “America’s favorite drive,” 175 miles of this 469-mile long parkway go through North Carolina. 
  • Outer Banks – A line of barrier islands on North Carolina’s eastern coast known for its quaint, relaxing beaches.
  • Great Smoky Mountains – Technically part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Great Smoky Mountains is its own national park.

👉 Read the full list of best places to visit in North Carolina.

Things to Do in North Carolina

From the mountains to the ocean and everything in between, there are tons of things to do and ways to explore the Tar Heel state.

  • Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway – Enjoy the stunning scenery of rolling blue and green mountains as far as the eye can see. 
  • Explore the Biltmore Estate – The Biltmore House & Estate includes “America’s largest home” and 8,000 acres of gardens, attractions, and scenery.
  • See wild horses in the Outer Banks – Take a tour to see the wild, Spanish Mustangs who live within the Outer Banks islands. 
  • Enjoy local breweries – North Carolina’s brewery scene has exploded in recent years with tons of craft beer breweries and cideries. 
  • Visit the Nascar Hall of Fame – Learn all about Nascar’s racing history with artifacts, exhibits, a theater, and more.  

👉 Read the full list of the best things to do in North Carolina.

Wild horses by-the-beach in Outer Banks
Wild horses roam the Outer Banks

🗺️ Where to Stay in North Carolina

Skyscrapers under the clear blue sky in Uptown Charlotte
Uptown Charlotte

With different scenery and places to explore, it can be hard to decide where to stay. Each of these places offers something unique, yet distinctly North Carolinian. 

  • Asheville – Located in the heart of Western North Carolina. The perfect place for nearby hiking, outdoor activities, and day trips.
  • Charlotte – A good place to stay if you want city amenities while still having access to nearby outdoor attractions.
  • Raleigh – The capital of North Carolina offers great restaurants, museums, and parks, and is only 2.5 hours from the beach. 
  • Wilmington – A great landing spot for an Outer Banks vacation. Wilmington is charming with great local shopping and dining. 
  • Lake Toxaway – A luxurious mountain town on North Carolina’s largest private lake. Private, secluded, and more off the beaten path.

🛎️ Best Hotels

Cars parked outside the Omni Grove Park Inn
Entrance to the Omni Grove Park Inn (photo: Irina Mos / Shutterstock)

North Carolina has a variety of unique, historical hotels and bed & breakfasts with a ton of character and Southern charm. 

  • The Inn on Biltmore Estate – This inn, located on the Biltmore Estate, is relaxing, luxurious, and has great hospitality. 
  • Omni Grove Park Inn – This historic, stone inn near downtown Asheville has beautiful mountain views and an incredible spa. 
  • Fearrington House Inn – A quaint and elegant boutique hotel located on a historic farm 45 minutes outside of Raleigh.
  • The Greystone Inn – A luxurious and private inn nestled in the mountains along Lake Toxaway.
  • Sanderling Resort – A family-friendly resort located in the northern Outer Banks with tons of amenities.

🚗 Best Road Trips

Scenic view from Blue Ridge Parkway
Blue Ridge Parkway views

North Carolina is one of the best states for road trips and exploring by car. These road trips are the most scenic in the state:

  • The Blue Ridge Parkway – One of the best drives in America with almost nonstop scenery and tons of stops for hiking and waterfalls. 
  • Outer Banks Scenic Byway – A beautiful Intracoastal drive that straddles the Atlantic Ocean and the Pamlico Sound.
  • Highway 64: Waterfall Byway – This 98-mile scenic drive includes over 200 waterfalls along its route, as well as many small towns.
  • Hanging Rock Scenic Byway – Only an hour away from Greensboro, this scenic byway takes you through the northern Piedmont’s rolling hills. 
  • Tail of the Dragon – An amazing drive for sports car enthusiasts and motorcyclists who love a thrill ride. Not for the faint of heart. 

⛱️ Best Beaches

View from a beach in Nags Head at sunset
Beaches at Nags Head

Part of the appeal of North Carolina’s beaches is that they’re less crowded than other beach destinations, yet relaxing all the same:

  • Cape Lookout National Seashore – Remote 56-mile-long beach with a beautiful shoreline, iconic lighthouse, and even wild horses.
  • Carolina Beach – Just outside of Wilmington, this family-friendly beach has tons of attractions and recreational activities. 
  • Nags Head – Beautiful Outer Banks beach that has the tallest living sand dune on the east coast at Jockey’s Ridge State Park.
  • Ocracoke Beach – A quaint and peaceful island with white sand beaches, great fishing, and water recreation. 
  • Emerald Isle – A relaxing strip of coastline with beautiful beaches and an array of small, charming beach towns.

⛰️ Best Mountains

View of the suspension bridge at Grandfather Mountain
Cross the suspension bridge at Grandfather Mountain!

Western North Carolina has no shortage of beautiful mountain peaks. Here are the best mountains worth seeing:

  • Mt. Mitchell – The highest peak east of the Mississippi. A 360-degree observation deck provides breathtaking views.
  • Grandfather Mountain – America’s highest suspension footbridge sits at the top of one of the highest peaks of the Appalachian Mountains.
  • Mt. Pisgah – A steep, 1.5-mile hike for more experienced hikers that offers 360-degree views from the top. 
  • Looking Glass Rock – A great all-day hike for more experienced hikers. Lots of switchbacks but a rewarding view at the top.
  • Black Balsam Knob – A scenic, grassy mountain summit that can be reached by walking the Art Loeb Trail in Pisgah National Forest. 

⛷️ Best Ski Resorts

View of skiers in Beech Mountain during winter season
Ski down from the top of Beech Mountain.

Even though it’s the south, don’t be fooled, Western North Carolina has some great spots for skiing and winter sports.

  • Beech Mountain Ski Resort – The highest ski resort on the east coast. This popular resort has a Swiss Alpine atmosphere.
  • Sugar Mountain Ski Resort – With 21 runs, this is the largest ski resort in North Carolina and is a great place to accommodate all kinds of skiers.
  • Wolf Ridge Ski Resort – 45 minutes outside of Asheville, this ski resort is small, charming, and great for families.
  • Appalachian Ski Mountain – A classic ski resort known for its terrain parks. Great for skiing and snowboarding.
  • Cataloochee Ski Area – The oldest ski area in the state, only an hour from Asheville. Great for beginners and intermediates.

🎢 Best Theme Parks

The thrilling ride of Intimidator at Carowinds
Take a ride on the Intimidator at Carowinds (photo: Andrii Vodolazhskyi / Shutterstock)

You’re never too old for a little amusement park fun, and luckily, North Carolina has some great options!

  • Carowinds – The largest theme park in the state with over 50 rides and rollercoasters as well as a waterpark.
  • Carolina Beach Boardwalk – This amusement park offers classic beach boardwalk fun, with a Ferris wheel, games, shows, and more.
  • Santa’s Land – A great Christmas-themed park for younger children. There are rides, shows, a zoo, and the kids can even meet Santa.
  • Adventure Center of Asheville – Not a typical theme park, but so fun and memorable. Think ziplining and aerial obstacle courses.
  • Wet ‘n Wild Emerald Pointe – Water park in Greensboro with over 25 water slides, rides, and attractions. 

North Carolina Travel Advice

🗓️ Best Time to Visit

North Carolina is a great destination all year long. The time of year you should visit will depend on what activities you’re interested in.

  • 🌞 Summer –  Perfect time for outdoor activities like hiking, swimming, and camping. It does get humid, however.
  • 🍂 Fall – One of the most popular times to visit. The weather is crisp and the fall foliage is spectacular.
  • 🌼 Spring – A beautiful time to visit with lots of flowers and trees blooming. Allergies are no joke, though. 
  • ❄️ Winter –  Winters are cold, but generally mild, with occasional snow. There are a few areas for winter sports.

🚌 Getting In & Around

Although driving is the best way to explore North Carolina’s scenery and towns, there are many ways to get around, depending on where you are.

  • ✈️ Airports – The largest regional airports include Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT), Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU), Asheville Regional Airport (AVL), and Wilmington International Airport (ILM).
  • 🚗 Driving – Driving is the most convenient way to travel around North Carolina, especially for road tripping and outdoor activities.
  • 🚇 Public Transit – Other than Charlotte’s light rail, there isn’t much public transit in North Carolina.
  • 📲 Ride Share – Ride Share is available in larger cities, but not so much in small towns.
  • 🚴‍♀️ Biking – North Carolina has tons of mountain biking trails, beach bike paths, and other scenic pathways.
  • 🏍️ Motorcycling – North Carolina has great, scenic roads for motorcycling, including the Blue Ridge Parkway and Cherohala Skyway.
  • 🚶‍♀️ Walking – Asheville, Wilmington, and most small towns are very walkable.

👉 Tips & Things to Know

  • 🏀 – College basketball is a big deal – North Carolinians take college basketball seriously. The biggest rivalry is UNC Chapel Hill versus Duke. 
  • 😊 – Southern hospitality – North Carolinians are friendly and it isn’t uncommon for locals to strike up conversations with visitors.
  • 🍺 – Craft beer culture – In recent years, the craft brewery scene has boomed, especially in western North Carolina. 
  • 🐖 – BBQ controversy – There are Western-style (ketchup-based) and Eastern-style (vinegar-based) BBQ sauce and everyone has a favorite.
  • ⛈️ – Weather changes – North Carolina weather can be a bit unpredictable with frequent thunderstorms. Pack layers so you’ll be prepared.  

🧳 What to Pack

  • 🥾 – Comfortable walking shoes – Comfortable shoes are a must for anywhere in North Carolina. If you’re heading to the mountains, opt for hiking shoes. 
  • 👡 – Outdoor Sandals – Chacos and Tevas are both popular and practical. They’re good for hiking or heading to the beach in the summer.
  • 🚰 – Water bottle – Staying hydrated is crucial for outdoor activities and visiting in the summertime when it gets hot and humid.
  • 🦟 – Bug spray – Protect yourself from mosquitoes throughout the state and other insects if you go hiking in Western North Carolina.
  • ☔ – Rain jacket – North Carolina weather can be a bit unpredictable. The summers are especially rainy. 
  • 🎒 – Day pack – Small backpacks, crossbody bags, and sling backpacks are all popular and great for exploring all around North Carolina.

👉 Read the full North Carolina packing list.

🤓 Facts & Info

  • Population – 10.39 million
  • Capital – Raleigh
  • Largest Metro Areas – Charlotte, Raleigh, and Greensboro
  • Time Zone – EDT Time (UTC -4)
  • Airports – Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT), Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU), Asheville Regional Airport (AVL), and Wilmington International Airport (ILM)
  • Colleges & Universities – UNC Chapel Hill, NC State, Duke, Appalachian State
  • Nickname – Tar Heel State
  • Demonynm – North Carolinian 
  • USPS Abbreviation – NC
  • Governor – Roy Cooper (Democrat)
  • CountryUnited States of America

💵 Costs & Budgeting

  • MERIC Cost of Living State Rank – 22nd most affordable 
  • 3 Star Hotel Room – $100-$200+/night
  • 1 Bedroom Apartment Rental – $60-$200/night
  • Rental Car – $75-$150/day
  • Public Transit Ticket – $3-$5 
  • Take Out Meal for Two – $30-$50
  • Sit Down Dinner for Two – $40-$100
  • Draft Beer – $4-$10

FAQs About Visiting North Carolina

Is North Carolina safe for tourists?

Tourist destinations in North Carolina are safe to visit. Each regional area has slightly different safety concerns (for example, crime is a little higher in cities and outdoor safety is important for the mountains and beaches) so be sure to check safety guidelines for your specific destination.

When is the best time to visit North Carolina?

Anytime between April through November is a good time to visit North Carolina. Summer and fall are particularly popular.

What is the number one attraction in North Carolina?

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the biggest attractions in North Carolina, as well as the most visited national park in America. If you’re visiting Western North Carolina, this is a must see.

Is North Carolina a good place to vacation?

North Carolina is a great place to vacation. With mountains, beaches, and cities all in one state, there’s no shortage of exploring and sightseeing opportunities.

Is North Carolina known for its BBQ?

North Carolina is known for its BBQ and has some of the best in America. Depending on where you visit, there are two distinct sauce styles: western-style (ketchup based) and eastern-style (vinegar based).

Meet Our North Carolina Travel Expert

Lea Rose Allbaugh

Lea Rose Allbaugh is a Chicago-based freelance writer who’s obsessed with all things travel. She caught the travel bug back in 2015 during an exchange to the Netherlands and has traveled to 13 other countries since. Travel writing is her favorite way of inspiring others to get up and go experience the world. In her free time, she loves to eat pasta and make everything a dance party. She also writes at her website, Written World!

👉 Read Lea Rose’s Articles

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