When you’ve lived somewhere for what feels like forever, it can seem like you’ve seen it all. Tourist attractions? Done and done. You went by yourself and then you did them all over again whenever you had friends visiting from out of town. What else is there to see?
It’s easy to get stuck in your comfort zone, so this list was created to get you unstuck. It might be hard to believe, but North Carolina has much more to offer than what you think. You are surrounded with lively cities that are waiting for you to visit. It also doesn’t hurt that North Carolina has magnificent mountains, charming small towns, and beautiful beaches.
It’s not too late to add new places to your bucket list! Sometimes, traveling doesn’t have to involve some grand international trip. Get in your car, grab your best friends or SO and just start driving. Adventure awaits!
Content disclaimer: We strongly advise that before you go swimming or visit a potentially hazardous location, you check for the most recent updates on potential hazards, security, water quality, and closures. The locations listed below may or may not have changed their regulations in regards to what you can or cannot do on site since the article was last updated. Always consult with local authorities. If you do plan to visit a location, know the risks beforehand and respect the environment.
Even if you’re not a nature lover, you have to admit that waterfalls are always worth seeing. Lucky for you, it’s not a difficult hike to see Mingo Falls! It’s located conveniently on the Pigeon Creek Trail, so you can’t miss it. I would recommend viewing it and not actually going into the water. It’s cold even on a hot day! Go for the waterfall, stay for the great ‘gram you’ll get out of it.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Where: Hatteras Island
Why use a Stairmaster when you can climb up a lighthouse? Climbing the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the equivalent of climbing a 12-story building, but the view at the top makes the leg soreness worth it. And if you’d rather not climb the lighthouse, that’s fine too! Spend your time taking cheesy pictures like leaning against the lighthouse or like you’re pinching it.
This garden has over 67 acres of walking paths, gardens, and historical sites. But the best part? It has a butterfly house featuring a variety of species! And if you’re into gnomes (hey, there’s no judgment here!), the garden currently has an extensive collection of gnomes that are around 5 feet tall placed around the garden.
The Bellamy Mansion
You won’t have to search far in Wilmington to find this gorgeous house. It’s located right in the heart of downtown Wilmington! So head on over to be in awe of this mansion and to learn about its history. At some point, you will have to resist the urge to say, “What’s up, MTV? Welcome to my crib!” as you enter this place.
Greensboro Science Center
Science and learning? Does anybody really want to do that on their day off? But listen, this place is an aquarium, zoo, and museum wrapped up in one and that’s pretty cool. You’ll get to hang out with animals, find Nemo and Dory, and touch small sharks! As if that wasn’t enough to get you excited, this place has penguins and otters. We can all agree that those are the two cutest animals to ever exist.
McDowell Nature Center and Preserve
In the market for a new place to view the sunset? It's right here. Spend the day hiking, being on the lookout for turtles, and kayaking. And at the end, just relax and enjoy the sunset. You earned it after being so outdoorsy.
Historic Yates Mill County Park
This place promises "an escape from the daily grind." Take a tour of the old mill, take advantage of their numerous hikes, go fishing, or just sit along the water and contemplate life. After all, you're trying to escape from your real life!
Neuse River Greenway Trail
Get your camera ready. There are so many photo opportunities on this trail! You can take your bike or walk on the boardwalk through the wetlands while getting a spectacular view of the Neuse River. Take a seat on the white fence when you're tired, walk in the sunflower fields, or go fishing for your dinner tonight.
Jockey's Ridge State Park
Where: Nags Head
It's the home of the largest natural sand dune on the east coast! Frolick on the sand, look at the sand dune from the boardwalk, or head to the museum for a history lesson. The best part? There's no admission or parking fee! And if you're feeling like a daredevil, you can even take hang gliding lessons there.
Where: Bryson City
It doesn't take a lot of work to see a breathtaking view. It's just a half-mile walk to the tower at the top. So why do it? The Clingmans Dome offers 360° views of seven states: Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina. Even when it's cloudy, the view is unforgettable.
Where: Outer Banks
Technically, it's no longer an island. But who wants to worry about terminology when you can say you went to an island for a day? Yes, there's another lighthouse for you to visit, but you should definitely walk along the water on the beach across from it! And if you're up for it, there are dive shops that will take you snorkeling or diving near wreck sites!
Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier
Where: Emerald Isle
Just as the name suggests, it's a place where you can fish! And if you'd rather someone else catch your food, just walk along the pier and take in the view of the ocean. If you're with bae, make sure to take a photo under the pier of you two kissing because that's Insta gold.
Big Lost Cove Cliffs
Compared to other trails, this one is a little less traveled. And that’s perfect if you want to brag to your friends that you found a new trail that they don’t know about. It’s a bit of an uphill battle both ways, but the view of Grandfather Mountain from the top is glorious.
Where: Old Fort
To find a stunning set of waterfalls, just make your way through a mossy and deep forest. Make your way through the mossy and thick forest to find a stunning set of waterfalls. The trail is steep in some places, so be careful! When you get there, sit and watch the waterfalls on the rocks! Take it all in and enjoy the company of your friends or SO.
Did you just get transported to Paris? The Grove Arcade is located in downtown Asheville and is the hub for boutique shops, restaurants, and even a hair salon. Walk around and enjoy the winding staircases and the hanging plants. And if you're not embarrassed to stop foot traffic, then take a dozen photos for your Instagram story.
Hanging Rock State Park
Are you afraid of heights? Then maybe sit this one out. Or don’t venture out onto the very edge of Hanging Rock! But for those who want to live on the edge, that rock is the perfect opportunity for you to recreate the famous Titanic pose. You know the one that I’m talking about!
Drive to Wilmington to see this historic building. It's one of the oldest theaters in the US! Come see a show or take a tour. Either way, sit in one of those chairs and take it all in. Doesn't the sea of red chairs look inviting?
DuPont State Forest
Where: Cedar Mountain
Picnic? In a park in the city? Nah, it’s time to go all out. Head to DuPont, set up camp and have a picnic at Lake Dense! You’ll feel relaxed and at peace in this quiet area. After you’ve had your fill of sandwiches, go exploring to see Triple Falls!
Duke University Chapel
Even if you never even dreamed of going to Duke, it's about time you visited it. The campus is filled with beautiful buildings that you can appreciate even if you aren't a sleep-deprived student. The one building you can't miss is the chapel. The church is open daily from 8:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m., so feel free to walk around and be in awe of the stained glass windows and the pointed arches.
Believe it or not, you can see black bears, bald eagles, cougars, river otters, and more at Grandfather Mountain. Don’t be scared off by that list. A visit here allows you to walk on over ten trails to see the fantastic view at the top. And if you want to experience what it’s like to be a mile above sea level, the suspension bridge offers that. Just keep walking and don’t look down!
Where: Blue Ridge Parkway
Drag your bestie along and come here for a day trip. Just north of Asheville, you can head to Craggy Gardens for some quality BFF time. The high elevation summits are the main attraction, but you can also see some gorgeous flowers in bloom depending on when you decide to go.
If you've been to the Biltmore Estate before, then why not check out Biltmore Village instead? Take a romantic stroll around the historic little village while you browse the shops, check out the art gallery, and marvel at the charming houses. If you love spirits, head on over to Eda Rhyne Distillery. They offer complimentary tastings from Wednesday-Saturday.
If you want to really experience nature, skip the day trip. Go camping instead. Spend a couple of days hiking, swimming, picnicking, biking, and being on the lookout for wildlife. Make your own cup of coffee and enjoy the sunrise. Is there anything more peaceful than that?
Where: North Topsail Beach
Topsail has it all. You've got the beaches, the boardwalks, the bike trails, and the nature hikes. But the main reason you should go here is for the turtle sanctuary! You can learn at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue Center how they protect and preserve the sea turtles. And if you happen to live near the area, you can sign up to volunteer to work directly with the turtles.
You can actually go visit the house that was made famous by the Nights in Rodanthe movie based on the Nicholas Sparks novel. It's a beautiful oceanfront inn that you can stay at! But if you'd rather go for the quick experience, take a walk around and even take a look inside. It's got that old Hollywood feel that everybody loves!