10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in North Carolina
With museums, outdoor activities, and theme parks on offer, there are plenty of things to do in North Carolina no matter what the season. Mountains in the High Country provide opportunities for great skiing and tubing during the winter months, hiking during the warm months, and amazing foliage in fall. Beaches and coastal attractions tempt with a relaxing weekend throughout the year. And the entire state has a history all its own, from the famous flying Wright Brothers to the expansive Biltmore Estate and WWII-era Battleship North Carolina.
1 The Biltmore Estate
One of North Carolina's must-see attractions is the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. At the center of an 8,000-acre compound, the Vanderbilt Mansion is the largest private home in the United States. The mansion has 250 rooms with impressive artwork, antiques, and architecture. Visitors should also plan to walk through the gardens and River Bend Farm.
Address: 1 Lodge St, Asheville
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Asheville
2 Battleship North Carolina
Located in Wilmington, the USS North Carolina was the first of 10 battleships to join the American fleet in WWII having been commissioned on April 9, 1941. The vessel is well armed: there are nine 16-inch, 45-caliber guns in three turrets, and 20 five-inch, 38-caliber guns in ten twin mounts. She was the world's greatest sea weapon, but today tourists can wander through the ship to visit the mess hall, tour the sailor's and officer's quarters, and wander the expansive deck to see the intimidating guns up-close and personal.
Address: 1 Battleship Rd NE, Wilmington
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Wilmington
3 Morehead Planetarium and Science Center
The Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, located at the University of North Carolina in the heart of Chapel Hill, has been a stop for over seven million guests since first opening in 1949. The center hosts multiple shows every day - a schedule that changes with the seasons. In addition to regularly shows, there are fun activities such as a lessons on how to identify planets, bright stars, and constellations.
4 Linville Gorge and Falls
Known as the "Grand Canyon of the East," Linville Gorge is the deepest and one of the most scenic gorges in the eastern United States. The Linville River enters the gorge at the magnificent 90 ft Linville Falls, and is one of the most (if not the most) photographed waterfalls in North Carolina. The trails here are easy to moderate, and if you have time, it's worth viewing the falls from different angles.
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Linville Gorge
5 Chimney Rock State Park
Twenty-five miles southeast of Asheville, a 315-ft granite spire rises to an elevation of more than 2,280 ft in Chimney Rock State Park. There is a 26-story elevator built inside the mountain, making the trip to the top an easy excursion for tourists. Also within the park, the Hickory Nut Falls Trail is a moderate, mostly-level trail to the base of the 404-foot Hickory Nut Falls.
6 Grandfather Mountain
Hiking at Grandfather Mountain in Linville ranges from leisurely trails with picturesque views to challenging treks that could include ladders and reward with expansive, mountainous panoramas. Visitors can also learn about local flora, or catch a glimpse of wildlife. Plan a walk across the park's well-known Mile High Swinging Bridge, a highlight that has been in place since 1952 and offers 360-degree views.
7 North Carolina Aquarium
The North Carolina Aquarium has four coastal locations at Roanoke Island, Pine Knoll Shores, Fort Fisher, and Jennette's Pier. While Jennette's Pier is not an actual aquarium, it does offer views of marine animals like humpback whales in their natural habitat. (Check with the aquarium to find out what marine life might be passing through during your trip.) The Roanoke Island location, situated close to Jennette's Pier, features the largest collection of sharks in the state. At Pine Knoll Shores, visitors learn about the state's varied marine life, while Fort Fisher introduces the freshwater streams, swamps, and open ocean of Cape Fear.
8 North Carolina Zoo
Strolling five miles of shaded pathways, tourists can see more than 1,600 animals and 52,000 plants at North Carolina Zoo. (Wear comfortable shoes.) Located in Asheboro, the animals represent species from Africa (elephants, rhinos, ostriches, lions, chimps, zebras, and giraffes) and North America (cougars, alligators, bobcats, red wolves, bison, elk, roadrunners, and grizzly and black bears). Exhibits are designed to resemble the natural habitat.
9 Outer Banks
With beach erosion and shore damage, the future of the Outer Banks is unknown - which is why it's an important area for visitors to explore now. This 200-mile stretch of barrier islands offers natural beauty, rich history, and lovely towns. Visitors can uncover history about the Wright Brothers, shipwrecks, and the lost colony of Roanoke Island. Sightseeing attractions include historic lighthouses, majestic wild horses, and the Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout National Seashores.
10 NASCAR Hall of Fame
For race car enthusiasts, the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte provides plenty of appeal. Attractions include historic cars on Glory Road (a banked ramp simulating a racetrack), a Hall of Honor, and behind-the-scenes exhibits. Sit back and catch a show on the 64-ft projection screen in the High Octane Theater.
11 Old Cardinal Gem Mine
Franklin, a little more than three hours' drive from Charlotte, is known as the "Gem Mining Capital of the World," and budding geologists can dig for treasures at the town's Old Cardinal Gem Mine. Operating for more than 40 years, the mine produces rubies, sapphires, moonstone, amethyst, and garnets. Visitors can dig through the dirt in the pile or purchase a pre-filled bucket and sift through the contents. After the treasure hunt, the friendly staff will help weigh and identify the gems and bag them up for the journey home. This is a fun family attraction that will keep the kids entertained for hours.