The Top 8 North Carolina Attractions

The Tar Heel state has always been known for its friendly people, coastal plains, and its mild climate.

However, these are not all that North Carolina has to offer. If you’re moving to this area, vacationing here, or just passing through, you’ll want to continue reading to discover the top 8 North Carolina attractions.

How We Chose Our North Carolina Attractions

North Carolina is bordered by South Carolina and Georgia, Tennessee Virginia, and the Atlantic Ocean. It has a population of over 10,200,000 over its 100 counties. Raleigh is the capital of North Carolina and its busiest city is Charlotte.

The State of North Carolina contains some beautiful geographical sites including the Sauratown mountains, the King’s Pinnacle and part of the Appalachian Mountain range. It has 17 major river basins including Cape Fear.

North Carolina has one of the more temperate climates in the United States and it averages less than 20 tornadoes per year. Most of these are caused by hurricanes and tropical storms that occur along the coast. Although tornadoes don’t happen often in North Carolina they do tend to be severe when they do occur.

The Top 8 North Carolina Attractions

Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway runs for 469 miles through North Carolina to Virginia. Technically it can be referred to as a road, but it is much more than that. It passes some of the oldest mountains in the world including Mabry Hill and Mt Mitchell which is the highest mountain in the eastern United States.

The Linville Falls are a popular attraction along the parkway and there are 20 RV sites and 50 tent sites for camping on the banks of the Linville River.

From the campsite you can hike the trails that lead up to four sites that give you a perfect view of the waterfalls, the wild flowers, and the native foliage.

The native plants and wildlife of the Blue Ridge Parkway are two more of the main attractions in the area. You can expect to see wild turkey, white-tailed deer, and if you’re very lucky, a black bear. There’s a multitude of native plants that are easily viewed from the trails.

Morehead Planetarium

The Morehead building and planetarium was a gift from John Motley Morehead III to the University of North Carolina in 1891. The planetarium opened in 1949 and has been producing original shows since then. In 2010, the planetarium hosted the first North Carolina Science Festival, that still runs today.

The science center hosts many educational and fun programs for children, teenagers, adults, and families. Here’s a small sample of what they currently offer:

  • Equestrian Center: ride Biltmore program
  • The Vanderbilts at home and abroad: an exhibition detailing the lives of this famous family
  • Live piano music in the library lounge: also host to live jazz
  • Kayaking and fly-fishing experiences
  • A gardener’s place seminars
  • Falconry: experience these majestic birds fly and return to your gloved arm
  • Biltmore concert series: live, outdoor music

You can explore the vineyards and purchase some wine, or even join the Biltmore wine club. The gift shop will make sure that you have some precious mementos to take home with you.

North Carolina Aquariums

Technically, this entry counts as four North Carolina attractions because you can visit aquariums in Pine Knoll Shores, Roanoke Island, Jennette’s Pier, and Fort Fisher. The aquariums have been around since 1976 and were created to protect and promote North Carolina’s oceans, rivers, streams, and estuaries.

All of the aquariums offer unique aquatic experiences and programs, and all are involved in conservation projects. We suggest you visit the website of each location to see what specific events they offer at the location you intend to visit, but here’s a small selection of what’s available at each:

Pine Knoll Shores: behind the scenes tours, fish-feeding experiences, junior volunteer job shadows, crabs and clam catching, stand-up paddle boarding, sea turtle treks.

Roanoke Island: swim with the sharks, educational films, animal feeding, shipwreck story sessions, summer camps, and day camps.

Jennette’s Pier: summer camps, fishing programs, exhibitions, field trips, outreach programs, and aquarium scholarships. 

Fort Fisher: interactive learning programs for all ages, family paint nights, sensory nights for individuals with special needs and their families.

Some of the programs and experiences at each location have age restrictions and rules, so you’re best to check these out before you make the trip.

two girls in a garden

Located at Duke University, these gardens contain five miles of walks and paths, a gift shop, and a café. Admission is free, and the gardens are open every day of the year, between 8am and dusk.

Walking tours and trolley tours of the gardens are available, and you can even attend a Japanese tea gathering. Other events and programs for adults include carving your own wooden spoon from wood collected at the gardens and workshops about growing orchids at home.

Children’s programs include the natures adventure camp, naturalist classes, and companion planting workshops. As you can imagine the gardens are often used as a wedding venue and various spaces are available to rent for special occasions.

International Civil Rights Center

The center’s mission is to memorialize the Greensboro four who staged the first sit-in in February, 1960. Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair, Jr. and David Richmond sat at the whites-only space of the F.W. Woolworth lunch counter.

The museum provides guided tours that detail the history of the civil rights movement using video reenactments, pictorials, artifacts, and interactive components. The And Still I Rise exhibition is a tribute to the athletes and artists who have made a stand against racial discrimination.

The Center had meeting rooms available for hire and often host events and galas.

Corolla Wild Horses

Not everyone is aware of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund. It was incorporated as charity fund in 2001 and its mission is to protect, conserve, and responsibly manage the herd of wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs roaming freely on the northernmost Currituck Outer Banks.

The fund offers several excursions that take people to see the horses in a safe way that fits in with the daily activities of the horses. These excursions are guided by a wild horse specialist and the proceeds go back into helping the horses in their own environment.

At the time of writing the museum was still under construction as the fund had recently moved to new premises. Merchandise could still be purchased from the store.

Mount Airy Main Street

Take a walk down memory lane at Mount Airy. The town was the inspiration for the Andy Griffith show that aired in the 1960s and you can see a replica of the jail and courthouse from the show on Main street.

The Mount Airy Main Street Association (MAMSA) host several events over the course of the year. Events scheduled for 2018 include a chocolate crawl, a search for a golden egg and a chili cook-off. A farmer’s market runs every Wednesday from mid-May through to late September.

In October, Mount Airy hold a HarvestFest cornhole tournament and Christmas events include live entertainment, tree lighting festivities, a Santa Parade and a Meet Mr. & Mrs. Claus event.

Mount Airy is a fascinating town with a rich history that is always on display. Main Street has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places and a leisurely stroll down the street will show you why.

A short distance from Main Street is the Pine Grove Cemetery where you can visit the graves of civil war soldiers and the grave of John Vincent Atanasoff, who invented the first electronic digital computer.

The Final Word on North Carolina Attractions

Our list of the top 8 North Carolina attractions could easily have turned into a top 20 list. Other attractions we could have added were the Battleship North Carolina in Wilmington, Grandfather Mountain, the Cape Lookout National Seashore, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

North Carolina is overflowing with historical sites of national importance and interest.

The Tuscarora war was fought here in 1711, and the mystery of the colony of Roanoke is still waiting to be solved. The first African-American to become a member of the United States Congress, Hiram Rhoades Revels was born in Fayetteville in 1822.

On a lighter note, the first miniature golf course was created in Fayetteville and the Krispy Kreme Doughnut was founded in Winston-Salem.

Whether it’s history you’re looking for, an educational and fun aquatic experience, or a pleasant stroll while surrounded by colorful flowers, there are several North Carolina attractions to keep you amused.

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