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12 Things to See in North Carolina

Updated on March 9, 2013

Ever wonder why James Taylor was "gone to Carolina" in his mind? North Carolina is one of the most beautiful states in the country. Known to be one of the few states that truly gets to experience each of the four seasons, and with a geography that includes both mountains and the beach - North Carolina will take your breath away!

Check out twelve "must-see" locations in North Carolina.

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The Biltmore Estate

The largest privately-owned house is situated in beautiful, mountainous Ashville, North Carolina. Built in the late 1800's by George Washington Vanderbilt, it spans over 8,000 acres and includes a massive indoor swimming pool, bowling alley, and two-story library. The estate also features a winery, 750 acres of immaculate gardens, and a five-star hotel.

Famous guests to the Vanderbilt throughout history include Presidents William McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson, as well as Prince Charles of Wales, and author Edith Wharton.

The grounds and buildings of the Biltmore Estate have appeared in many well-known films, including Forrest Gump, The Last of the Mohicans, and Richie Rich.

The Biltmore hosts several events each year, but my personal favorite time to visit is in December, when the house is decorated for Christmas!

Traveling to this beautiful home and having a chance to experience 19th century history is well worth it.

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Roots of NASCAR

If you're a fan of NASCAR racing, visit the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina. Check out information about some of the greatest racing pioneers, like Bill France, Sr., Bill France, Jr., Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Junior Johnson.

The museum is set up like a mock speedway, but it allows you to get up close to your favorite cars. See artifacts and exhibits from your favorite racing legends, take part in interactive exhibits, and get a chance at the wheel yourself in a simulation in the High Octane Theater. Then, grab lunch in the NASCAR Hall of Fame Cafe.

Nearby, make a pit stop at the Hendrick Motorsports Complex. Hendrick, which sponsors NASCAR favorite, Jeff Gordon, shows off the history of racing with several old racecars, trophies, and other memorabilia.

Finally - head over to Charlotte Speedway, and if you're lucky, you can watch an actual race!

The dinosaur exhibit in the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
The dinosaur exhibit in the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences | Source

The Museums of Downtown Raleigh

If you're headed for the Capital City of North Carolina - Raleigh, make sure you check out the multitude of active learning experiences available.

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Science
The oldest established museum in North Carolina, and the largest science museum in the Southeast, the NC Museum of Natural Sciences features live animals , dinosaurs, whales, walk-through dioramas, science education and research.

The North Carolina Museum of History
Located in downtown Raleigh, directly across the street from the Museum of Natural Sciences, the NC Museum of History provides a glimpse into the past. Permanent exhibits focus on the state’s military history, decorative arts, the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, and more.

The North Carolina Museum of Art
Fresh after renovations, the NC Museum of Art was opened in 1956 as the first major museum collection in the country to be formed by State legislation and funding. The collection includes an outdoor monument park, and Rodin sculpture garden, and pieces from all eras of art history.

Marbles Kids Museum
Targeted at youngsters, Marbles aims to "inspire imagination, discovery and learning through extraordinary adventures in play and larger-than-life IMAX experiences." Featuring interactive, hands-on programs for young children, Marbles promotes active learning and creative thinking.

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Battleship North Carolina

Located on the coast of Wilmington, North Carolina, the Battleship "North Carolina" is one giant WWII museum, floating in the water. Explore nine decks, crew's quarters, gun turrets, and much more, and discover history as it comes to life.

The North Carolina was the first of ten fast battleships to join American fleet in World War II. During the war, the ship participated in every major naval offensive in the Pacific area of operations and earned 15 battle stars.

The ship is very well-maintained, but it still allows for an accurate glimpse into what life would have been like for soldiers in the South Pacific during WWII.

On guided and tours, or while exploring the ship yourself, you'll get to walk on decks, climb through portholes, and scale up and down ladders. I spent two nights on this ship as part of a girl scout trip, and we got a chance to sleep in triple-decker bunks, eat in the galley, and simulate a day in the life of a sailor on the Battleship North Carolina. It was an experience I'll never forget!

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Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, which is still operational, is recognized by the National Park Service as the tallest lighthouse in America.

The Cape Hatteras lighthouse is still considered an operational aid to navigation maintained by the United States Coast Guard and the National Park Service. However, the need for the lighthouse has been reduced by modern day GPS and other electronic navigational devices.

If you hope to stumble across the lighthouse on a stroll across the beach, however, you're out of like. Due to shore erosion, the Cape Hatteras lighthouse was relocated to safer ground, nearly 3,000 feet inland.

If you're up for the physical strain, climb to the top and check out the view - it's equivalent to a twelve-story climb!

After all of that exercise, head over the beautiful beaches of the Outer Banks for some fun in the sun.

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Great Smokey Mountains National Park

If you're more of a mountain person than a beach bum, head for western Carolina to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.

The park was chartered by the US Congress in 1934 and dedicated by President Roosevelt six years later. Today it remains one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States. It was actually the first national park to be paid for with federal funding.

There are approximately 850 miles of park trails for hiking, including seventy miles of the Appalachian Trail. You can hike up to Chimney Tops to enjoy the view, hike the Laurel Falls Trail to enjoy the majesty of an 80-foot waterfall, or make your way up to the Clingman's Dome observation tower.

After a long day of hiking or just enjoying the view, explore nearby towns such as Cherokee or Maggie Valley. If you're really the adventurous type, pitch your tent in one of the National Park's campgrounds.

Just watch out for black bears!

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Old Salem

If you're a fan of the historical village of Williamsburg or Jamestown, but you want something a little less cliched and packed with tourists, head down to Old Salem. Experience early American history and check our original buildings, gardens, artifacts, and hands-on workshops to see what Moravian life was like upon early settlement.

The Moravian Church and Salem residents kept meticulous records and accounts of their lives, their interactions, their buildings and landscapes, and their evolution into the town of Winston-Salem. These records, diaries, and accounts provide accurate details to tell the stories of those living and working in Salem.

Salem residents were also well respected for their architecture and attention to detail. The architecture and landscape of Salem are still quite accurate, as many of the Historic Town buildings are original structures.

Around 70% of the buildings in the historic district are original, and are staffed by living-history interpreters such as blacksmiths, cobblers, gunsmiths, carpenters, and bakers. These interpreters interact with guests and bring history to life.

Some of my favorite attractions in Old Salem include the Salem Tavern, which is famous for housing George Washington on his Southern tour, as well as St. Philip's Moravian Church and the Home Moravian Church.

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Mayberry

Whether you're a die-hard Andy Griffith Fan, a lover of the Andy Griffith show, or just looking for some small-town kitsch - you can't miss the town of Mayberry!

Okay, okay. So Mayberry was just a fictional town for the show. But it was based off of Andy Griffith's hometown of Mount Airy, North Carolina. And Mount Airy has dedicated part of their historic downtown area to celebrating Andy Griffith and his show in every way.

You can rent a ride in one of the Mayberry squad cars for a Mount Airy tour. Stops on the tour include Floyd's Barber shop, the Blue Bird Diner, and the childhood home of Andy himself.

Visit the Andy Griffith Museum to check out mementos from the show and learn more about Mr. Griffith and his life.

Stop by the recreation of the Old City Jail and the Courthouse that appeared in many episodes of the Andy Griffith Show.

Check out other small town pleasures, like the soda fountain, the old-fashioned candy store, and the cheese and cider country store, too!

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Blowing Rock

If you're looking for spectacular scenery, you have to check out one of North Carolina's oldest travel destinations, Blowing Rock.

Blowing Rock, a massive cliff 4,000 feet above sea level, is so called because the gorge walls form a flume through which the northwest wind blows with such force that one can actually feel the air blowing upwards. If you're brave enough to venture to the edge, you can feel the air blow against your hand. Also, if you throw a lightweight object over the edge, the winds are usually strong enough to blow it back up at you.

While you're at Blowing Rock, you can hear more about the Cherokee legend behind this natural phenomenon.

Touted as "the only place where snow falls upside down," this exciting location overlooks the Johns River Gorge and provides exquisite views of Grandfather Mountain and Mount Mitchell, the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River.

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Wilmington

What can't you do in Wilmington?

Wilmington is half an hour from three beautiful beaches - Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach, and Kure Beach.

Wilmington is also the home of the EUE Screen Gems Studios, the largest US television and movie production facility outside of California. Some of the most famous movies and television shows to be produced here include

If you have a Nicholas Sparks fan in the family, check out Southport - where the latest Nicholas Sparks novel-turned-movie Safe Haven was filmed. Aside from its beautiful and laid-back feel, you can check out the Old American Fish Company bar, which was transformed for the movie into the restaurant where Katie (played by Julianne Hough) worked. You won't be able to see Ryan's Port Market, however, as it was constructed for the movie and then actually burned to the ground.

If you want to be a part of the parade that was featured in the movie and experience real small-town charm, stop by for the Fourth of July weekend celebrations. (Sadly, Josh Duhamel isn't part of the deal.)

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North Carolina Zoo

Explore one of the largest and nicest walk-through zoos. This zoo, spread across 500 acres in Asheboro, NC, features over 1,500 animals of 225 species in their natural habitats.

Kid-friendly displays, playgrounds, and hands-on interactive areas make a day at the zoo the perfect family activity. The zoo is split into two halves - Africa and North America. Travel through the swamps, prairie, and desert as you explore some of the amazing animals that live on this earth. Fan favorites include the polar bears, lions, giraffes, and lemurs.

The zoo has shops and picnic areas, and it sponsors family events all year long! It is open every day of the year, except Christmas.

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Nantahala River

If you have a thirst for adventure that simply can't be quenched, try your hand - or, in this case, your paddle - at a white water rafting adventure down the Nantahala River.

Located within the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Nantahala River (Nantahala means "Land of the Noonday Sun" in Cherokee,) is popular with whitewater rafters, canoeists, and kayakers. The Lower Run contains class II and III rapids. In periods of wet weather, the Upper Run contains class III and VI rapids, including the "Horns of God."

If white water rafting isn't your thing, enjoy the beautiful North Carolina scenery. The Nantahala National Forest is the largest national park in North Carolina, and it is home to many gorgeous waterfalls, old growth trees, and beautiful overlooks of mountains and valleys.


North Carolina has something for everyone - whether you enjoy the mountains, the beach, or anything in between.

These twelve must-see attractions represent some of the best that North Carolina has to offer. Where are your favorite travel locations in North Carolina?

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    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      A wonderful hub and one which I keep for my armchair travelling slot.

      Your obvious hard work has certainly paid off here.

      Enjoy your day.

      Eddy.

    • laurathegentleman profile image
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      laurathegentleman 4 years ago from Chapel Hill, NC

      Thanks so much for the comment, Eiddwen! I love North Carolina, so writing this Hub HARDLY counts as work ;)

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