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The 20 Best Things to Do in North Carolina for First Time Visitors


If you are visiting North Carolina, you will find plenty of things to see and do during your visit. There vary from cultural activities to exploring the stunning landscape to having fun with the children. With a whole state to discover, choosing which activities to include in your vacation itinerary is something that you may have some difficulty deciding. Which activities you decide to include will make the difference to your overall experience of a stay in North Carolina. To help you to get the most out of your visit to this interesting and diverse state, the following are the 20 best things to do in North Carolina for first-timers.

Carl Sandburg Home

20. Carl Sandburg Home

A landmark of historical interest that you should try to visit during your stay in North Carolina is the Carl Sandburg Home. This is the former home of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Carl Sandburg. The home has been renovated to resemble its appearance when the poet was living in this property. In addition to taking a tour of the house, visitors can also enjoy the five miles of hiking trails surrounding the property. There is also a pretty apple orchard and two small lakes. Another feature for visitors to enjoy is the goat farm. This attraction is located on Carl Sandburg Lane in Flat Rock. It is open every year except for certain holidays. The house is now a United States National Historic Site.

North Carolina Zoo

19. North Carolina Zoo

One of the top family attractions in North Carolina is North Carolina Zoo. As you walk along the five miles of shaded pathways, you will see more than 1,60 animals and 52,000 plants. Some o the species to which this zoo is home include elephants, rhinos, ostriches, chimps, lions, giraffes, zebras, black bears, elk, and red wolves. It is split into two main sections according to the native regions of the animals; North America and Africa. These exhibits are designed to look like the natural habitat of the animals. This attraction is both fun and educational for people of all ages.

Morehead Center

18. Morehead Planetarium and Science Center

The Crazy Tourist recommends a trip to the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. Open since 1949, more than seven million people have visited this center. It is located at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and it hosts shows throughout the day. You will some fascinating information during the educational shows, such as how to identify the constellations in the night sky. This activity is educational and interesting, and it will particularly appeal to those interested in astronomy.

Southern Highland

17. Southern Highland Craft Guild Folk Art Center

Those who are interested in arts and crafts may enjoy a visit to the Southern Highland Craft Guild Folk Art Center. Thee arts and crafts pieces on display have all been created by the 900 or so members of this guild. Only their best work is showcased. The focus of the displays is on the craft of the Southern Appalachians, and there are examples of both traditional and contemporary pieces. At this attraction, there is also a bookstore, a library, an information desk, and a craft shop. At various times of the year, there are craft sessions held. If you wish to participate in any of these sessions, you will need to book in advance.

Wheels Through Time

16. Wheels Through Time Museum

An unusual museum to visit during your time in North Carolina is the Wheels Through Time Museum, and this will appeal to those who are interested in cars and motorcycles. This museum is home to one of the biggest and best collections of automobiles and motorcycles in the world. There are more than 350 machines displayed in a 40,000 square foot exhibition space. These are roughly arranged in a chronological timeline of American automotive history. This attraction also hosts many events and temporary exhibitions throughout the year.


15. Banner Elk Winery and Villa

North Carolina is known for its many wineries and vineyards. Many of these are open to the public for them to tour. One of the best wineries to visit in North Carolina is the Banner Elk Winery and Villa. This is a highly acclaimed and award-winning winery that is set in the stunning landscape against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Visitors can tour the vineyards, participate in wine tastings, enjoy the stunning surroundings, and buy some of the wine to take home. It is possible to stay at this winery as The Winery Villa offers upscale accommodation that offers luxurious rooms and fine dining.

Airborne Museum

14. Airborne and Special Operations Museum

Part of the United States Army Museum System, the Airborne and Special Operations Museum has been open to the public since 2000. The exhibits in the main gallery are displayed in chronological order, and these date from the 1940s onwards. In addition to the main exhibition, there are also temporary exhibitions that change regularly. This attraction will particularly interest those interested in war history, aviation, and the armed forces.

Marbles Museum

13. Marbles Kids Museum

A fun place to visit if you have younger travelers in your party is the Marbles Kids Museum. This attraction has been open since 2007, and it is now one of the most popular family-oriented attractions in North Carolina. Located in Raleigh, this museum is an interactive and hands-on attraction that encourages visitors to learn about a variety of topics, such as electricity, music, and science. Some fo the top features at this museum are the outdoor gardening space and the IMAX theater.

Good Karma Ranch

12. Good Karma Ranch

Located in Station, Good Karma Ranch is an alpaca ranch that was established in 2009 that focuses on sustainability. The purpose is to promote environmentally-friendly livestock farming. The ranch uses scientifically focused breeding methods. Visitors can tour the ranch, pet the animals, and learn about the farming methods. The fur from the alpacas is used to craft beautiful products that are available to buy from the ranch.

11. Museum of Life and Science

Although there are many museums in North Carolina, one of the best to visit is the Museum of Life and Science. There is something for everyone to enjoy at this attraction, regardless of their age. This attraction covers 84-acres, and there are many parts that are aimed primarily at children. In the main museum, the exhibits are spread over two stories. Many of these exhibits are interactive, and one of the most interesting is an aerospace exhibit. There are also more than 60 species of live animals living at this exhibit, and there is one of the largest butterfly conservatories on the East Coast.


10.Lexington Glassworks

A top attraction in Lexington is the Lexington Glassworks. This renowned glassblowing gallery and the working studio have been opened to the public by the owners. Visitors can watch the glass blowing process in a tour that lasts approximately 30 minutes. It is necessary to book in advance if you wish to take this tour, as the tours will only take place if there are more than 10 people booked onto the tour. In the gallery, there are many beautiful pieces of glass art for sale.

Mountains to Sea Trail

9. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail

North Carolina consists of stunning and diverse landscapes, and one of the best ways to fully appreciate the outdoors in this state is to walk the Mountain-to-Sea Trail. This is the official state hiking trail of North Carolina. As this trail spans more than 1,100 miles between the Outer Banks and the Great National Smoky Mountains, it is likely that you will only complete short sections of this trail unless you are on an extended hiking holiday. Along the trail, you will pass by some of the most important natural landmarks on the trail and enjoy spectacular views and scenery.

Wright Brothers

8. Wright Brothers National Memorial

Some of the most notable people to hail from North Carolina are the Wright Brothers, who were the first people to successfully fly an airplane. The location of the memorial is on the spot where the brothers first took off and landed in the plane they had built. In addition to the memorial, there is an informative visitors center with educational displays and several buildings that have been reconstructed to demonstrate the working conditions of the Wright Brothers.


7. Biltmore Estate and Biltmore Gardens

A top historical landmark to visit during your stay is Biltmore Estate and Biltmore Gardens. This vast property that dates back to the 1890s sits on an 8,000-acre plot in Asheville. Within the estate, there are 250 rooms that are filled with priceless objects. In addition to taking self-guided tours of the house and the gardens, visitors to the chateau are entitled to a free wine tasting as part of their entry fee.

Elijah Mountain

6. Elijah Mountain Gem Mine

North Carolina has a rich history in mining, and one of the best places to learn more about this is at Elijah Mountain Gem Mine. Visitors can mine for gems and gold to take home with them. There are also indoor and outdoor flumes. Some other attractions that visitors can enjoy during their visit include a rock shop, picnic tables, the world’s largest gem mine bucket, and a baby goat petting zoo.

Discovery place

5. Discovery Place

An excellent idea for an activity when traveling with children is a visit to Discovery Place. This is an attraction that is ideal to keep the children entertained for hours on a rainy day in the state. Located in Charlotte, this attraction has been open since 1981. Vacation Idea says that this attraction aims to educate children through play in the fields of science, technology, maths, and engineering. There are two further locations of this attraction in Rockingham and Huntersville.


4. Battleship North Carolina

If you are interested in war history, then a fantastic attraction to visit is Battleship North Carolina. According to Planetware, this was the first of 10 battleships commissioned in 1941 for the American fleet in World War II. This well-armed vessel is now open to the public, and they can tour the mess hall, the officer’s quarters, and the deck. You can also examine the guns on the ship closely.

Slidiing Rock

3. Sliding Rock

A fascinating natural attraction to visit is Sliding Rock in the Pisgah National Forest. This is a natural rock water slide that measures 60-feet at its highest point. This drops into a pool of warm water at the bottom. Sliding down the rock is a lot of fun, and it is a fantastic way to cool down in the summer months. There are also two observation decks, one on either side of the Sliding Rock.

2. Sarah P. Duke Gardens

One of the most peaceful attractions to enjoy in North Carolina is the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. The 55 acres of landscaped gardens are divided into four sections, each of which is a stunning display of beautiful flowers and trees. It is possible to take a guided tour of the gardens to learn more about the different species. The ambiance at this attraction is tranquil.

North Carolina Museum of Natual Sciences

1. North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

According to Vacation Idea, the best thing to do in North Carolina for first-timers is to visit the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Located in Raleigh, this was the first museum established in this state and it is one of the largest natural science museums in the United States. The exhibits are divided into four sections; the Nature Research Center, the North Carolina Museum of Forestry, the Nature Exploration Center, and the Prairie Ridge Ecostation. Therefore, it is like visiting four attractions in one. Visiting this attraction is free, although they welcome donations, so it is a good option for those who are visiting the area on a budget.

Liz Flynn

Written by Liz Flynn

Liz Flynn has worked as a full-time writer since 2010 after leaving a career in education. She finds almost all topics she writes about interesting, but her favorite subjects are travel and food. Liz loves the process of researching information, learning new things, and putting into words what others who share her interests might like to read. Although she spends most of her time writing, she also enjoys spending time with her husband and four children, watching films, cooking, dining out, reading, motorsports, gaming, and walking along the beach next to her house with her dog.

Read more posts by Liz Flynn

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