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Top 20 Most Beautiful Places to Visit in North Carolina

Jason has a background in business, travel, and athletics. He is happy to share his knowledge with others and loves to continually learn.

Hikers enjoying the view from Hanging Rock, one of North Carolina's many beautiful parks and destinations.

Hikers enjoying the view from Hanging Rock, one of North Carolina's many beautiful parks and destinations.

North Carolina has one of the most diverse landscapes in the country. The Atlantic Ocean shore offers some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Mount Mitchell, in the Appalachian Mountains, is the highest eastern peak in North America. From swimming, skiing, and hiking there are many ways to enjoy the state’s natural beauty.

The Tar Heel state also offers rich and varied culture. From the colorful musical history on the Blue Ridge Mountains to the universities in Research Triangle, North Carolina has cuisine, arts, and entertainment to keep a visitor busy for as long as they like.

These are my top 20 best places to visit. I list a variety of sights, including shopping areas, local communities, museums, and beautiful natural places. For the most part, these sites are very affordable—if not free—places to visit. They are all great for the entire family, and no matter what type of interests or activities you enjoy, there is sure to be something here that you love.

Read on for my top favorite destinations and some ways to enjoy North Carolina depending upon your interests.

Top 20 Most Interesting Places to Visit in North Carolina

DestinationLocationFeatures

20. Concord Mills

Charlotte

massive shopping center

19. Old Salem

Winston-Salem

historic architecture, living museum

18. Stone Mountain State Park

Allegheny and Wilkes counties

four-mile loop trail, views, historic homestead

17. Black Mountain, Swannanoa, and Montreat

Interstate 40 near Asheville

mountain village shopping and dining, music festivals

16. NASCAR Hall of Fame

Charlotte

exhibits, historic films, Glory Road

15. Pisgah National Forest

Waynesville

accommodations, mountainous terrain

14. Natural Science Center

Greensboro

live animal exhibits, aquarium

13. Lake Jame State Park

Nebo

swimming, boating, camping, fishing

12. Discovery Place Science Museum

Charlotte

hands-on exhibit, IMAX screen

11. Kitty Hawk

Outer Banks

Wright Brothers' flight site

10. State Capitol

Raleigh

historic neighborhoods, architecture

9. Carowinds Theme Park

Charlotte

13 roller coasters

8. Chimney Rock State Park

Rutherford County

hiking trails, waterfalls

7. North Carolina Museum of History

Raleigh

state history exhibits

6. USS North Carolina

Wilmington

WWII battleship

5. Hanging Rock State Park

Stokes County

camping, hiking, swimming

4. Biltmore Estate

Asheville

historical mansion and grounds

3. Craggy Gardens

off Blueridge Parkway

hiking trails, views

2. Clingmans Dome

Great Smoky Mountains

views, hiking

1. Cape Hatteras Light

Outer Banks

historic lighthouse and museum

Historic Places to Visit in the Tar Heel State

Old Salem

If you love history, you will enjoy a visit to Old Salem. This is a quiet community that was settled by the Moravian community in the 1750s. It is the historic district of Winston-Salem and features a living history museum where interpreters demonstrate aspects of early life in North Carolina in a restored blacksmith, baking, apothecary, and other trade shops.

Old Salem visitors information

The USS North Carolina

The USS North Carolina

USS North Carolina

This massive battleship is fascinating for anyone, not just those with a special interest in military history. Nicknamed the “showboat,” it was the most highly decorated American battleship of World War II.

USS North Carolina visitors information

The NC State Capital Building

The NC State Capital Building

Downtown Raleigh

The Greek Revival state capitol was completed in 1840 and once housed the state legislature. Today it is home to the governor’s offices. Located on Raleigh’s Union Square, the Capitol Building is just one of many sites worth visiting while in the state capitol. Raleigh is an early example of a planned city. Incorporated in 1792, the downtown is home to historic sites including the Sir Walter Raleigh Hotel and restored City Market.

North Carolina historic sites information

North Carolina History Museum visitors' information

Cape Hatteras Light

The most amazing place in North Carolina and a North Carolina icon, the Light is a lighthouse in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Situated in the Outer Banks, the Light is just next to the Hatteras Island Visitor Center and Museum of the Sea, operated by the National Park Service. The Light was actually moved in 1999 due to erosion of the shore. The move, 2,900 feet inland, made the Light the tallest masonry structure ever moved.

Cape Hatteras Light visitors' information

The Wright Brothers tower located at the site where they conducted the first airplane flight.

The Wright Brothers tower located at the site where they conducted the first airplane flight.

Kitty Hawk

Kitty Hawk is a beautiful coastal town in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, a series of barrier islands off the state’s eastern coast. The town became famous as the place where the Wright brothers conducted the first controlled powered airplane flight. A unique and relaxing village, Kitty Hawk has lots of pleasant beaches and a unique park called Kitty Hawk Forest. Located in the center of the village, Kitty Hawk Woods is nearly 2,000 acres of maritime deciduous swamp, forest, and marsh. It is accessible by walking trails from which visitors may see a variety of wildlife including otters, fox, woodpeckers, and hawks.

Town of Kitty Hawk information

Kitty Hawk historic site information

Craggy Gardens, located along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Craggy Gardens, located along the Blue Ridge Parkway

North Carolina's Beautiful Outdoors

Craggy Gardens

A subrange of the Blue Ridge Mountains, these mountains feature a look-out spot, visitor’s center, and hiking trails. Here are some of the most picturesque mountain views in the country. Forests include rhododendron, blueberry, ash, and beech.

Chimney Rock is accessible by elevator as well as by walking trail.

Chimney Rock is accessible by elevator as well as by walking trail.

Chimney Rock State Park

Look for miles and miles from one of the most awesome rock formations on the east coast. The park features hiking trails and waterfalls but the most notable feature is Chimney Rock itself, which is accessible by elevator as well as footpath.

Chimney Rock State Park information

North Carolina parks information

Lake James sits in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains.

Lake James sits in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains.

Lake James State Park

On the southern shore of Lake James, this park is nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is a popular lake for swimming, boating, camping, and fishing large and smallmouth bass, among other varieties. Hiking trails, warm showers, and an amphitheater make this park a pleasant place for a family camping trip.

Lake James State Park information

Stone Mountain offers great rock climbing opportunities.

Stone Mountain offers great rock climbing opportunities.

Stone Mountain State Park

The massive granite face of Stone Mountain can be seen for miles from where it rises in the park. Stone Mountain offers some of the best rock climbing in the state and offers a spectacular view from the top. A four-mile loop hike will allow visitors to climb up the mountain and enjoy a waterfall and the historic Hutchinson Homestead is open year-round for visitors.

North Carolina Parks Information

Linville Gorge in the Pisgah National Forest.

Linville Gorge in the Pisgah National Forest.

Pisgah National Forest

More than 500,000 acres of mountainous terrain in western North Carolina, the Pisgah National Forest offers views that cannot be beat. Visitors can stay the night or explore for a day of hiking and picnicking. Three beautiful long-distance trails through different terrain (meadow or mountainous) offer unique and exhilarating experiences.

Top Museums, Entertainment, and Fun

NASCAR Hall of Fame

Visit the official NASCAR Hall of Fame in its new facility. Here is the place for any fan of NASCAR racing. North Carolina has a long, proud history with stock car racing. The Hall of Fame has a screening room that shows historic videos, plus there's a 33 degree banked ramp called Glory Road saluting eighteen different cars and tracks, a Great Hall of rotating exhibits, and Studio 43 (named for NASCAR winner Richard Petty’s number) which served as home for the Inside NASCAR show.

Hall of Fame visitors' information

Biltmore Estate

Built by George Washington Vanderbilt in the late 1880s, the Biltmore is the largest private estate in the U.S. It is surrounded by gardens and forests. Built in French Renaissance style, the building’s construction absorbed most of Vanderbilt’s inheritance. It is still owned by one of Vanderbilt’s descendants.

Biltmore Estate information

The lift hill for the Intimidator roller coaster at Carowinds.

The lift hill for the Intimidator roller coaster at Carowinds.

Carowinds

Carowinds is one of the biggest theme parks in the southeast with 13 roller coasters, a variety of thrill rides, children's rides, and a water park. There are a total of 64 rides in the 398-acre park. The tallest ride, Intimidator, is over 230 feet tall and reaches a speed of 80 MPH.

Carolwinds information

The Discovery Place is a hands-on technology and science museum with activities for all ages.

The Discovery Place is a hands-on technology and science museum with activities for all ages.

Discovery Place

Located in uptown Charlotte, the Discovery Place is science and technology museum featuring hands-on activities and an IMAX dome theater. Recently renovated, the museum has special exhibits on frogs, aliens, androids, and dinosaurs. The museum shows films on the IMAX screen and curates rotating exhibits related to science subjects, including perception, microscopic organisms, animals, and space.

Discovery Place information