Things to do in North Carolina

Our top activities in North Carolina

Mountain high

Western North Carolina is dominated by the subranges of the mighty Appalachians, including the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains. This is a terrain of sheer beauty – known to the Cherokee as the ‘land of the blue mist’. Autumn appears to set the slopes on fire as leaves shift to brilliant scarlet and gold, infused with the wafting hickory smoke from cosy fireplaces. Winter is a silent white; snowshoe the forests for a glimpse of Narnia. Spring snowmelt brings one of the mountains’ most popular activities: whitewater rafting. You can also enjoy the mountain rivers with tubing, canoeing and waterfall treks – all of which can be guided or unguided. The cooler temperatures up here mean you can enjoy the hiking, mountain biking and bridle trails into the summer months.
Make time to drive at least part of the epic Blue Ridge Parkway; a linear park which stretches from Asheville up into Virginia. There are scenic viewpoints, dramatic rock formations and waterfalls – plus welcoming cabins and traditional restaurants to recharge at along the way.

Hit the coast

115km of the sandy Outer Banks are protected as part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore – head here for crashing surf. NC’s beaches are generally wilder than their South Carolina counterparts – perfect for beachcombing and scaling the high dunes. However, there are plenty of guarded options for families, plus historic lighthouses to explore, kayaks to paddle, wrecks to dive to and boat tours to see dolphins frolicking offshore.
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Tar Heel culture

History here will seduce the whole family – with interactive exhibits at the Cherokee Museum, Kitty Hawk (site of the Wright brothers’ first flight) and the Roanoke Farm – which brings to life the island’s first British colony in the 1800s.

For contemporary culture, the artists’ studios, live music venues and theatres of Asheville and Greensboro offer quirky inspiration.

Farm to fork – and glass

Pepsi may have been invented in North Carolina and the first ever Krispy Kreme store may have opened in Winston-Salem – but when it comes to North Carolinian cuisine, think local, not global. The beloved barbecue pork – of the slow, pit-cooked variety – is a statewide staple, but know your Lexington style from your Eastern to avoid committing a cultural faux pas (the main difference is in the sauce). Go the whole hog (sorry…) and track down a local pig pickin’ event – a whole pig roast, and the focal point of many a social event.
If you’re travelling during any month with the letter ‘r’ in it, head to an oyster bar where the shellfish is freshly shucked in front of you – try them steamed or raw. And the ubiquitous collard greens are just delicious with a kick of homemade chilli vinegar.
Wash it all down with a local craft beer or bottle of sweet wine; with over 400 vineyards in North Carolina and some 125 breweries, you could enjoy a different tipple every night of the a year.
Photo credits: [Mountain high: Jan van der Crabben ] [Hit the coast: Madeleine Deaton] [Farm to fork - and glass: Cristina Bejarano] [Tar Heel culture (outside-huts): Wesley Fryer] [Tar Heel culture (inside skin tents): Joshin Yamada]
Written by Vicki Brown
Photo credits: [Page banner: Dave Allen Photography]