There is so much to do, see, and explore in the mountains of North Carolina. In fact, the state is home to some of the best attractions and most beautiful scenery in the United States. The best tourist destinations in North Carolina include a mix of natural splendor, opulence, and good old-fashioned family fun.
The best tourist destinations in North Carolina show off the best of the Tar Heel State. Some of the must-visit destinations and greatest tourist attractions in the state include:
North Carolina covers more than 53,819 square miles. You’ll find awe-inspiring mountain backdrops, pristine coastlines, bustling cities, and rich history spanning the state. Let’s look into 20 of the best tourist destinations in North Carolina so you have the information you need to plan your next retreat in the Tar Heel State.
The prettiest place in North Carolina just might be Cashiers. Travelers and locals alike love Cashiers, NC. You’ll find pretty views, true southern hospitality, unique shopping and dining, and much more in beautiful Cashiers.
While Cashiers might be the prettiest place in North Carolina, it’s not the only place worth visiting in this charming and diverse state. Let’s dive into the best tourist destinations in North Carolina.
You’ll find that the best tourist destinations in North Carolina are located across the state, from the peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains to the eastern-most barrier islands. The state’s divergent landscape means there is truly something for everyone.
All this means there are many, many reasons to visit North Carolina. No matter whether you’re craving the urban jungle, a relaxing beach day, or even a mountain retreat, you’ll find it here. Let’s dive into 20 of the best tourist destinations in North Carolina so you can start planning your perfect vacation.
The Great Smoky Mountains are a can’t-miss destination in Western North Carolina. The mountains straddle the state lines between Tennessee and North Carolina and provide 520,976 acres of natural splendor to explore.
You’ll find historic sites to experience, trails to hike, wildlife to view, and much more in the GSMNP. There are 5 entrances to the national park on the North Carolina side, many of which are just a drive from Cashiers. Make a point to check out visitors centers near Cherokee and Bryson City to learn more about the park.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore is another U.S. national park to check out in North Carolina. It spans 70 miles, all the way from the Outer Banks to Ocracoke Island.
You’ll find that Cape Hatteras is beautiful, but this coastline is also dangerous. It was once known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” for its haunting history of shipwrecks. Today the seashore is much safer, though the currents, shoals and storms are still treacherous.
See beautiful and historic lighthouses, learn about maritime history, observe unique waterfowl and wildlife, and put your toes in the water at Cape Hatteras.
Constructed during the height of the Gilded Age, the Biltmore Estate is a 178,926-square foot mansion in Buncombe County in Western North Carolina. The estate is a can’t-miss attraction for area visitors thanks to its Chateauesque architecture and never-ending luxuries. The estate was inspired by the French Castles in the Loire Valley and is likely the largest home ever constructed in the U.S.
The Biltmore Estate was built between 1889 and 1895 for George Washington Vanderbilt II. Vanderbilt created his wealth through railroads, steamboats, and other business ventures. The Vanderbilt family was worth more than $105 million at the time of patriarch George Vanderbilt I. In today’s money, the Vanderbilt family wealth would exceed $143 billion — right on par with the net worth of Elon Musk.
Make visiting the Biltmore Estate a day trip from Cashiers!
All of this adds up to a stunning attraction for visitors to enjoy today with many things to do. You may take tours of the mansion, be pampered at the spa, visit the estate winery, and even find activities for little ones at the Biltmore Estate today.
North Carolina’s Outer Banks crosses more than 100 miles of open shoreline, which means you’ll find beaches, quaint seaside cites, and much more to enjoy along the coast.
The Outer Banks, known as OBX, is a series of barrier islands running north to south. You’ll find the Northern Beaches, Roanoke Island, and Hatteras along the coast.
What makes the Outer Banks one of the best tourist destinations in North Carolina? Visitors love OBX because it is home to unspoiled public beaches. You can comb beaches for shells and sea glass with your toes in the sand. You might see wild horses frolic in the surf. You’ll find fabulous restaurants and great golf courses to tee off in the OBX, too.
Are you a nature lover looking for paradise? Take a trek to Chimney Rock State Park. The famous Chimney Rock spire lets you take in views of the expansive countryside surrounding the bald.
What makes Chimney Rock rank among the best tourist destinations in North Carolina? It is one of the most accessible ways to enjoy nature on the East Coast. In fact, you may climb or even take an elevator to the peak of the rock. You’ll also find trails for all levels of hikers. You’ll see rare flowers in the summer, take in the famous Devil’s Head balancing rock, and enjoy the outdoors in new ways here.
Old Salem is a historic district in the city of Winston-Salem, N.C. The area was originally settled by the Moravian community in the mid-1700s. Much of their presence remains today through architecture and living history.
The Moravian community was made up of followers of one of the world’s oldest Protestant denominations. The community’s heritage is steeped in Bohemian and Czech culture.
Today more than 70% of the buildings in Old Salem are original. You can see living history through tinsmith, blacksmith, cobblers, bakers, carpenters and others showing off their trade, wander historic gardens, and check out quaint shops in Old Salem.
The City of Asheville, North Carolina, is an eclectic city comfortably located in the hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Asheville is known for its unique culture, the diverse business community, and beautiful landscape.
What makes Asheville rank among the top tourist destinations in North Carolina? Many flock to this Western North Carolina city for the arts and culture. Music, performing arts, visual arts, culinary arts, and even television and film thrive here. Other points of interest than make Asheville a can’t-miss destination include the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway, the Botanical Gardens at Asheville, the North Carolina Arboretum, and the boyhood home of famed American author Thomas Wolfe.
The North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains are a sight to behold. This section of the Appalachian Mountains is special, as it is noted to have a blueish hue when gazed upon from a distance.
The Blue Ridge Mountains are home to miles of twisting mountain roads to cruise and trails to hike. You’ll see Appalachian bogs, balds, and even temperate rain forests through this mountain range.
There are many reasons the Blue Ridge Mountains are placed on our list of best tourist destinations in North Carolina. History, adventure, and natural grandeur make these mountains special. Cool off with a waterfall hike, learn more about Appalachian art, bike through valley greenways, sip mountain wine, and much more in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Seeking out the gem of the Blue Ridge Mountains? Take a cruise down the Blue Ridge Parkway. This special section of highway runs from Virginia to Cherokee, N.C., and lets you take in striking mountain vistas.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is known as America’s Favorite Drive and it is easy to see why. The roadway has a rich history. It was the first planned roadway in the United States and construction began in 1935. Building the road involved blasting 26 mountain tunnels.
A drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway will be a memorable experience. Looking for even more on-road adventures? We’ve put together a list of 10 Great Motorcycle Rides in North Carolina — conquer The Dragon if you dare!
Wilmington, North Carolina is more than a little beach town. This city with Colonial beginnings is known not only for its coastline, but also for its Riverwalk, rich history, and diverse culture.
In fact, the arts thrive in Wilmington. The city was known as “Hollywood East” in the 1990s. Popular television series like Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill were filmed here, along with movies like Maximum Overdrive, The Crow, and many others.
There are also more than a dozen museums and historic areas in Wilmington, many of which are located in the downtown area. The annual Azalea Festival is also a great draw to Wilmington and features great food, home and garden tours, parties, music, and even fireworks.
Science and space lovers will enjoy sitting under the stars at the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, located on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Morehead facility was used for NASA training astronauts in the Appollo and Gemini programs. The planetarium has been open to the public since the 1970s and has seen many upgrades and refurbishments along the way. It remains one of the largest and most advanced planetariums and observatories in the country even today.
Today you can see the skies with educator-led programs and special events held at the Morehead Planetarium. The facility is also home to the annual North Carolina Science Festival.
There are quite a few reasons why Raleigh ranks among the best tourist destinations in North Carolina. The city has a broad-ranging assortment of restaurants, museums, shopping, and other cultural attractions.
Raleigh is North Carolina’s state capital and is located in an area known as the Research Triangle. It is surrounded by hills and forests, which make an alluring background to the cityscape.
Activities to enjoy in Raleigh are diverse. You can tour a chocolate factory, sample and stroll on a food tour, see sculptures from Ancient Rome, and enjoy plenty of other adventures in this city,
Pristine beaches and undeveloped islands bring folks out to Cape Lookout National Seashore.
These barrier islands can be accessed by a 3-mile boat ride and offer horse watching, fishing shelling, camping, birding, and other seaside activities. You can drive on the beach, camp on the beach, and conquer lighthouse stairs at Cape Lookout.
Nags Head is a destination for recreation. Tourists and locals alike love Nags Head for the water activities, art galleries, and golf. In fact, many consider Nags Head to be the best tourist destination in North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
You’ll also find that Nags Head is steeped in legends and history. Pirates once ruled the area’s seas and used the name Nags Head to lure in unsuspecting ships. Horses, known as nags, would have lights hung around their necks. The lights would be visible to ships off the coast and would pique sailor’s curiosity and lead them onshore.
Today the area is known as a top beach destination on the east coast. You’ll find great surf, great restaurants, great golf, and many other things to enjoy at Nags Head.
Looking for backcountry hiking with a challenge? Consider checking out Grandfather Mountain State Park. The park is home to nearly 2,500 acres of trails, with awesome features like rock scrambles and cliff ladders.
Hiking Grandfather Mountain isn’t for the faint of heart. It is among the best tourist destinations in North Carolina for those who love to get their adrenaline pumping. You’ll find a dozen trails to hike in the park, many of which take you to the mountain’s rugged peaks with cables and ladders to scale sheer cliffs.
Wilbur and Orville Wright were the true pioneers of aviation. Not only did they break technological boundaries, but they taught the world to fly right here in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kitty Hawk in Kill Devil Hills is dedicated to their accomplishments.
The Wright Brothers National Memorial ranks among the best tourist destinations in North Carolina because it is steeped in history. Celebrate the first flight and see a 60-foot-tall monument dedicated to the famous brothers. Tour the “Century of Flight” museum and learn about the history of aviation.
Beachfront enjoyment and hiking opportunities can be found at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area. This pristine coastline park is popular for fishing, surfing, and four-wheel-drive beach cruises.
There are other things to take in at Fort Fisher, too. The park is home to a state aquarium ad historic site from the Civil War. The beaches at Fort Fisher are a known nesting ground for Loggerhead sea turtles, too.
Hikers, rock climbers, and backpackers love Linville Gorge. This wilderness area is home to some of the most beautiful uncut forests in Appalachia.
Located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, Linville Gorge and Falls is home to a visitors center, many cliffs to climb, and unique flora and fauna. You’ll find that the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area is one of the only places in the country where you can see Carolina, Roseby, and Catawaba rhododendron grow alongside each other.
Linville Gorge and Falls is a great place for a day hike or an overnight hike. Read more about what you’ll need to do before lacing up your boots and setting out on the trail in our detailed post about overnight hiking in North Carolina.
Thrills, chills, and exciting experiences make Carowinds Amusement part near Charlotte a fun place to spend the day. The park is home to several roller coasters and thrill rides and the neighboring Carolina Harbor water park offers wet wonders from mild to wild!
Scream and shout as you endure the twists and turns of the Afterburn or twirl around on the Carolina Cyclone. These roasters offer maximum thrills right in the North Carolina hills. Little ones and those with a tamer taster for adventure might enjoy a ride on the Camp Bus or a quick dip on the Carolina Goldrusher.
There’s something for everyone at Carowinds, which is why this amusement part is a best tourist destination in North Carolina!
Movie buffs will enjoy a trip to Lake Lure. Many scenes from the classic 1987 film Dirty Dancing were shot at Lake Lure Inn and Spa. This isn’t the only reason to check out Lake Lure, though, as the waterfalls, mountain landscapes, and forested scenery make this one of the best tourist destinations in North Carolina.
Lake Lure is tucked away about 30 miles from Asheville and about 70 miles from Cashiers. It is near Chimney Rock. The trip to Lake Lure is definitely worth it. You’ll find this little mountain town is home to unique real estate, great fishing, good eats, and many other great draws.
Plan your next escape to Old North State with Landmark Vacation Rentals. You’ll find that many of the best tourist destinations in North Carolina are right here (or within a short drive) of Western North Carolina, which means you’ll find lots of things to do right where you are.
Find a luxury cabin rental in North Carolina to enjoy during your stay. No matter whether you’re planning a romantic escape for the two of you or the whole family is coming along, Landmark Vacations offers the rental you’ll need to feel comfortable and cozy while you’re away from home.
Ready to start planning your vacation? Contact Landmark today and get ready to make memories to last a lifetime.