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North Carolina is a great place to unwind and explore no matter where your interests lie. The geography of the state ranges from busy, bustling cities to towering mountains to the beaches, lakes, lighthouses and Outer Banks islands. Visitors can immerse themselves in some of the best museums in the country, admire the beauty of nature from the top of Grandfather Mountain or take a trip to the past by visiting some of the many Civil War sites. Here are the best things to do in North Carolina.
1.Sarah P. Duke Gardens
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Located on the grounds of Duke University in Durham, the Sarah P. Duke Gardens are made up of roughly 55 acres of landscaped gardens divided into four distinct areas. There are more than 5 miles of pathways throughout the gardens, and guided tours are offered both by foot and by trolley.
Tours take between 60 and 90 minutes, and groups consisting of more than 15 people are asked to register with the garden in advance for scheduling purposes. The gardens are open to visitors 365 days a year from 8 a.m. to dusk, and there is no admission charge for those wishing to enjoy a self-guided tour. Things to Do in Durham
420 Anderson St, Durham, NC 27708, Phone: 919-684-3698
2.North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
© North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh was the first museum to ever be established in North Carolina, and it is the largest natural science museum on the Southeast. The museum is made up of four components: the Nature Exploration Center (also known as NEC), the Nature Research Center, the Prairie Ridge Ecostation, and the North Carolina Museum of Forestry.
The Exploration Center and the Research Center are the most popular with visitors; together, they offer seven floors of interactive exhibits that the whole family can enjoy. General admission is free, but donations are gladly accepted. Things to Do in Raleigh
11 W Jones St, Raleigh, NC 27601, Phone: 919-707-9800
© Courtesy of Frank C Jones - Fotolia.com
Located in the Pisgah National Forest, Sliding Rock is a 60-foot-tall natural rock water slide. Depending on the time of year, the pool at the bottom of the slide is 6-7 feet deep and between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pay parking is available, and there is a $2 admission fee. There are two observation decks. The slide is open from the end of May until Labor Day, and lifeguards are on duty between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. This attraction can be very crowded and sometimes fills up. Parking along the roadside is prohibited.
US-276, Pisgah Forest, NC 28768, Phone: 828-877-3265
© Discovery Place
Established in 1981, Discovery Place in Charlotte is a non-profit organization that is an integral part of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) education in the Carolinas. Discovery Place actually consists of four components: Discovery Place Science and Discovery Place Nature in Charlotte, and two Discovery Place Kids locations in Huntersville and Rockingham.
The science center offers a number of hands-in exhibits, science experiments, and an IMAX Dome Theater, while the nature museum has interactive exhibits, live animal displays, and a beautiful butterfly pavilion. The children’s museums are designed to foster learning through play. Things to Do in Charlotte
301 N Tryon St, Charlotte, NC 28202, Phone: 704-372-6261
5.Battleship North Carolina
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Moored just across the river from downtown Wilmington, the Battleship North Carolina dates back to the beginning of World War II. With 15 battle stars, the ship is the most decorated American battleship from World War II.
Today, the boat has been transformed into a sort of museum, and it has the honor of being a National Historic Landmark. Many parts of the ship are open to visitors, including the main deck, two gun turrets, and a number of interior compartments. Visitors must pay an admission fee, and self-guided tours of the ship typically take around two hours.
1 Battleship Rd NE, Wilmington, NC 28401, Phone: 910-251-5797
6.Elijah Mountain Gem Mine
© Elijah Mountain Gem Mine
At Elijah Mountain Gem Mine, visitors have the opportunity to mine gemstones and gold that they can then bring home. The mine offers both indoor and outdoor flumes, so it is a great destination no matter what the weather. General admission is free, and visitors can choose from a variety of mining packages.
Other attractions at the mine include a baby goat petting zoo, the world's largest gem mine bucket, a rock shop, and a number of picnic tables. Special rates and packages are offered for groups, families, and birthday parties. The mine is open 7 days a week all throughout the year.
2120 Brevard Rd, Hendersonville, NC 28739, Phone: 828-692-6560
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7.Wright Brothers National Memorial
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The Wright Brothers were the first people to successfully fly an airplane, and the Wright Brothers National Memorial pays homage to this feat. The memorial showcases the exact places where the brothers' first airplanes took off and landed, and there are also several reconstructed buildings designed to show what their working conditions were like.
There is also a Visitors Center, which features several educational displays about the Wright brothers as well as exact replicas of two flying machines that date back to 1902 and 1903. Visitors must purchase an to view the memorial; children under the age of 15 enter for free.
N Croatan Hwy, Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948, Phone: 252-473-2111
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8.Biltmore Estate and Biltmore Gardens
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Dating back to the 1890s, the Biltmore Estate in Asheville is an 8,000-acre property that includes a winery, a small village, and a historic 250-room chateau filled with an incredible array of priceless objects. Admission to the estate includes a free wine tasting at the winery as well as access to all the sites of interest on the property.
Guests are invited to enjoy self-guided tours of the chateau as well as the beautifully maintained gardens and grounds, and special guided tours can be arranged for an additional fee. The estate is open every day of the year, but hours vary according to the season. Read more: Inn on Biltmore Estate
1 Lodge St, Asheville, NC 28803, Phone: 800-411-3812
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© Lexington Glassworks
Lexington Glassworks is a renowned glassblowing gallery and working studio. The owners encourage an open door atmosphere, and visitors are invited to watch the glassblowing process from start to finish. Demonstrations typically take around 30 minutes, and groups of more than 10 people are required to pay a small fee and to arrange a demonstration time in advance.
There are many pieces of art for sale in the gallery, and the studio's two owners Bill and Geoff designed and handcrafted each piece. The gallery is open 7 days a week, but there are no glassblowing demonstrations on Tuesdays.
81 S Lexington Ave, Asheville, NC 28801, Phone: 828-348-8427
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10.The Mountains-to-Sea Trail
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The Mountains-to-Sea Trail is the official state hiking trail of North Carolina, spanning more than 1,100 miles between the Outer Banks and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Approximately 680 miles of hiking and biking trails are offered, along with 500 miles of connecting roads linking segments together, though when completed, the trail will be completely accessible on foot or on bike. Along the way, visitors can trek past majestic mountain vistas, historic colonial towns and tobacco barns, hardwood and pine forest areas, and miles and miles of expansive seashore and coastal terrain. 18 individual trail segments span the state's mountain, piedmont, and coastal plains areas, including an optional paddling trail along the Neuse River.
11.Museum of Life and Science
© Museum of Life and Science
Located on an 84-acre property, the Museum of Life and Science is a natural science museum primarily aimed at children. The museum's main building is home to two stories of interactive displays, including a well-known aerospace exhibit.
The museum is home to more than 60 species of live animals, and it also contains one of the largest butterfly conservatories on the East Coast. Other highlights include an outdoor dinosaur exhibit, a small train visitors can ride around the museum grounds, and a treehouse village. There is an admission fee, but members can enter the museum free of charge.
433 W Murray Ave, Durham, NC 27704, Phone: 919-220-5429
12.Mile High Swinging Bridge
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The Mile High Swinging Bridge is a suspension bridge that was originally constructed in 1952 and rebuilt using the original towers in 1999. Today, it provides visitors to Grandfather Mountain with stunning panoramic views from the Linville Peak. The bridge spans an 80-foot chasm, and it is 228 feet long.
It sits at exactly one mile above sea level, which is how it got its name. The trail borders on Grandfather Mountain State Park, and visitors can access the State Park trail system via the bridge. From the parking area, the bridge can be reached by either an elevator or a flight of 50 stairs.
US 221 and Blue Ridge Parkway, Linville, NC 28646
13.Airborne and Special Operations Museum
© Airborne and Special Operations MuseumNorth Carolina Museum of Art
The Airborne and Special Operations Museum is part of the United States Army Museum System, and it has been open to the public since 2000. The main gallery is arranged in chronological order, with exhibits dating from the 1940s to the present.
There is also a temporary exhibit that changes regularly. Other features of the museum include a motion simulator ride and a large theater that is four stories tall. The museum is handicap accessible, and there is plenty of parking for cars, RVs, and buses. Admission is free of charge, but there is a charge for the motion simulator ride.
100 Bragg Blvd, Fayetteville, NC 28301, Phone: 910-643-2778
14.North Carolina Museum of Art
© North Carolina Museum of Art
Opened in 1956, the North Carolina Museum of Art was the first large museum collection in America to be funded by the state. In addition to more than 40 galleries, the museum is home to a 164-acre park dotted with various pieces of art. Admission to the permanent collection and to the park is free, but visitors must pay a fee to participate in special events and to view any temporary exhibits.
The park is open 365 days a year from dawn until dusk, but the museum itself has more limited hours that vary according to the season.
2110 Blue Ridge Rd, Raleigh, NC 27607, Phone: 919-839-6262
15.Marbles Kids Museum
© Marbles Kids Museum
Opened in 2007, the Marbles Kids Museum is an interactive, hands-on museum aimed at children between the ages of 0 and 10. Exhibits cover a wide range of topics, including water science, music, and electricity. There is also an IMAX theater and an outdoor gardening space, which boasts a 22-foot tall flower in addition to several garden beds.
The museum holds daily activities and a wide range of special events, including story times, science workshops, and family friendly holiday celebrations. The museum is open 7 days a week, and yearly membership passes are available.
201 East Hargett Street, Raleigh, NC 27601, Phone: 919-834-4040
16.Wheels Through Time Museum
© Wheels Through Time Museum
The Wheels Through Time Museum contains one of the world's best collections of rare or unique motorcycles and automobiles. The 40,000 square foot museum is home to more than 350 machines that have been arranged into a sort of timeline of American history.
Regular events are hosted on-site, including antique car rallies, holiday celebrations, and an annual motorcycle raffle. Visitors often enjoy the special atmosphere of the museum, which is created by large quantities of relevant artwork and memorabilia. Museum hours vary according to the season, and discounted rates are offered for children and seniors.
62 Vintage Ln, Maggie Valley, NC 28751, Phone: 828-926-6266
17.Banner Elk Winery and Villa
© Banner Elk Winery and Villa
Banner Elk Winery is a highly acclaimed and award-winning High Country winery set in the majestic landscape of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Known for setting the standard for High Country wines since 2005, the winery invites wine aficionados to come and enjoy wine tasting in this spectacular environment, while relaxing and spending some time surrounded by ripe grape vines and warm hospitality. The Winery Villa offers luxury accommodation for those looking for a retreat from the daily grind in an idyllic setting. Banner Elk wines reflect the rugged landscape of high mountains, capturing the subtle and delicate nuances of the fruit and producing unique wines recognizable as coming from the Blue Ridge Mountains.
60 Deer Run, Banner Elk, NC 28604, 828-898-9090
18.Southern Highland Craft Guild Folk Art Center
© Southern Highland Craft Guild Folk Art Center
The Southern Highland Craft Guild is composed of more than 900 members who have all been carefully selected for their outstanding artistic ability, and the Southern Highland Craft Guild Folk Art Center is where their best work is showcased. The center focuses on the crafts of the Southern Appalachians, both traditional and contemporary.
In addition to three galleries, the center features a library, a bookstore, an information desk, and a craft shop. Hours vary depending on the season, and live craft demonstrations take place during the summer. Plenty of free parking is available, and there is no admission charge. Read more
Folk Art Center: Milepost, 382 Blue Ridge Pkwy, Asheville, NC 28805, Phone: 828-298-7928
19.Morehead Planetarium and Science Center
© Morehead Planetarium and Science Center
Located on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center opened in 1949. Originally, the planetarium was used to train NASA astronauts. Today, it is open to the public, and the center is home to several educational exhibits.
Visitors can enjoy the exhibits free of charge, but an admission fee is required to view shows in the planetarium. Special pricing is available for groups larger than 10 if booked in advance, and members get free admission for all regularly scheduled shows. Hours vary according to the season.
250 E Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC 27514, Phone: 919-918-1155
20.North Carolina Zoo
© North Carolina Zoo
Situated on a 2,200-acre property, the North Carolina Zoo is the largest walk-through zoo in the world. Instead of cages, the animals are given enclosures designed to recreate their natural habitats. These habitats are divided into three categories: African, North America, and tropical forest.
The zoo is home to more than 1,600 animals that represent over 250 species. Other attractions include a carousel, a ropes course, and a giraffe viewing deck where visitors can see eye-to-eye with the animals. The zoo is also home to a large collection, and is open every day of the year except for Christmas.
4401 Zoo Pkwy, Asheboro, NC 27205, Phone: 800-488-0444
21.Carl Sandburg Home
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Also known as "Connemara," this attraction is the former home of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Carl Sandburg. The interior of the home has been designed to resemble its appearance the way it was during Sandburg's lifetime, and guided tours are available. Other highlights of the property include 5 miles of hiking trails, two small lakes, and an apple orchard.
Many visitors will also enjoy visiting the goat farm, which is home to three different breeds of goats. The home is open to visitors every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, and self-guided tours of the grounds take approximately two hours. Read more
81 Carl Sandburg Ln, Flat Rock, NC 28731, Phone: 828-693-4178
22.Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
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Located on an island in the Outer Banks, the 210-foot Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was erected in 1870. It was situated a safe distance of 1,500 feet away from the water when it was first built, but the shoreline gradually eroded, and by 1999 the lighthouse was only 15 feet away from the shore.
The city was forced to move the structure to preserve it, and it exceeded expectations by remaining in great condition. There is a Visitors Center and Museum located right next to the lighthouse, which showcase a number of exhibits about the history of the area.
46368 Lighthouse Rd, Buxton, NC 27920, Phone: 252-475-9000
23.Moores Creek National Battlefield
© NPS Photo
The Moores Creek National Battlefield commemorates the Patriot's victory in the 1776 Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge. At the Visitor Center, visitors can learn about the battle through a number of exhibits and an audio-visual program.
The park also features a picnic area, a campsite that visitors can use at no charge, and a short but pleasant colonial forest walk. Special events held at the battlefield include candlelight tours, a weekend-long anniversary celebration, and regular living history programs. Hours vary according to the season, so visitors are advised to check the website before planning a visit. There is no admission fee.
40 Patriots Hall Dr., Currie, NC 28435, Phone: 910-283-5591
24.Charlotte Motor Speedway
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Built in 1959, the Charlotte Motor Speedway hosted the first World 600 NASCAR race in 1960. Today, it regularly hosts a variety of NASCAR events on its 1.5-mile (2.4 km) quad oval track, and it is commonly considered the home track for NASCAR.
The speedway is located on a 2,000-acre property, which is also home to a dirt racing track as well as the only all-concrete, four-lane drag strip in America. Visitors wishing to spend plenty of time at the speedway can stay at the onsite campground, which offers tent and RV sites as well as RV rentals.
5555 Concord Pkwy S, Concord, NC 28027, Phone: 704-455-3200
25.North Carolina Maritime Museum
© North Carolina Maritime Museum
The North Carolina Maritime Museum has three locations: one in Hatteras, one in Southport, and one in Beaufort. All three museums are dedicated to preserving and protecting the coastal history of North Carolina, although each is unique.
The museum in Hatteras tells the story of the many shipwrecks in the region, while the one in Southport focuses on the maritime history of the Lower Cape Fear area. The Beaufort museum covers topics such as lighthouses and marine life, and it also offers boat building courses. All three of the museums offer free admission, although donations are gladly accepted.
315 Front St, Beaufort, NC 28516, Phone: 252-728-7317
25 Best Things to Do in North Carolina
- Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Photo: Courtesy of adinamnt - Fotolia.com
- North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Photo: North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
- Sliding Rock, Photo: Courtesy of Frank C Jones - Fotolia.com
- Discovery Place, Photo: Discovery Place
- Battleship North Carolina, Photo: Courtesy of ThinkTank Solutions - Fotolia.com
- Elijah Mountain Gem Mine, Photo: Elijah Mountain Gem Mine
- Wright Brothers National Memorial, Photo: Courtesy of Moelyn Photos - Fotolia.com
- Biltmore Estate and Biltmore Gardens, Photo: Courtesy of Angelique - Fotolia.com
- Lexington Glassworks, Photo: Lexington Glassworks
- The Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Photo: Courtesy of scherbinator - Fotolia.com
- Museum of Life and Science, Photo: Museum of Life and Science
- Mile High Swinging Bridge, Photo: Courtesy of simonwhitehurst - Fotolia.com
- Airborne and Special Operations Museum, Photo: Airborne and Special Operations MuseumNorth Carolina Museum of Art
- North Carolina Museum of Art, Photo: North Carolina Museum of Art
- Marbles Kids Museum, Photo: Marbles Kids Museum
- Wheels Through Time Museum, Photo: Wheels Through Time Museum
- Banner Elk Winery and Villa, Photo: Banner Elk Winery and Villa
- Southern Highland Craft Guild Folk Art Center, Photo: Southern Highland Craft Guild Folk Art Center
- Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, Photo: Morehead Planetarium and Science Center
- North Carolina Zoo, Photo: North Carolina Zoo
- Carl Sandburg Home, Photo: Courtesy of Zack Frank - Fotolia.com
- Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Photo: Courtesy of mrslevite - Fotolia.com
- Moores Creek National Battlefield, Photo: NPS Photo
- Charlotte Motor Speedway, Photo: Courtesy of tuelekza - Fotolia.com
- North Carolina Maritime Museum, Photo: North Carolina Maritime Museum
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Angelique - Fotolia.com
The Atkinson Mill
The original Atkinson Mill was built in 1757, and the current mill was built on the same site in 1950. It is the only water-powered gristmill in the area, and it produces a wide variety of cornmeal and flour products. These products can all be purchased from the on-site gift shop or from the company's website.
The site is handicap accessible and offers free parking for both cars and RVs. The mill is open to visitors Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and free guided tours of the site are available.
95 Atkinson Mill Rd, Selma, NC 27576, Phone: 919-965-3547
Guilford Courthouse in Greensboro was the site of a bloody battle in 1781 during the Revolutionary War, and today, the courthouse and the battlefield have become a National Military Park. The site includes a number of markers and monuments, and guided tours of the battlefield are offered every Sunday afternoon.
A museum in the Visitors Center offers exhibits about the battle, the people involved, and the American Revolution in general. A bicycle path links the courthouse to nearby Greensboro Country Park, and it offers a pleasant extension to any visit. Free parking is available at the Visitor Center, and admission to the site is free.
2332 New Garden Rd, Greensboro, NC 27410, Phone: 336-288-1776