North Carolina has the highest mountain peaks in the eastern U.S. and 300 miles of shoreline—something for every taste. Drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, which winds through two national forests, and stop at the Biltmore Estate, America's largest privately owned home, near Asheville. You'll find restaurants (try the state's famous barbecue) and cultural activities in Raleigh, Charlotte and the college town of Chapel Hill. And on the barrier islands of the Outer Banks, you can visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial, site of the man's first powered flight—or stay on the ground with your toes in the sand.
North Carolina Highlights
Classic road trip
There’s a reason the Blue Ridge Parkway is called ‘America’s Favorite Drive’. Actually, there are lots of reasons—glorious autumn foliage, spring flowers, charming towns, friendly mountain folk, rich Appalachian culture, dramatic vistas and intriguing tunnels. The parkway stretches 250 miles in North Carolina, from Cherokee and the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the Virginia-North Carolina border and beyond. It has more than 200 scenic overlooks (with 16 peaks at more than 6,000 feet in elevation), 369 hiking trails and 26 tunnels (25 of which are in North Carolina).
Don't leave without tasting...
North Carolina barbecue. Starting at the Skylight Inn in Ayden and finishing at Herb’s Pit BBQ in Murphy, the North Carolina Barbecue Society Historic Barbecue Trail spotlights 24 stops that specialise in roasting pig the old-fashioned way—slowly over pits of wood or charcoal.
Don't overlook this...
Actor Andy Griffith grew up in Mount Airy, and it's no coincidence that a stroll down Mount Airy's Main Street reminds people of the town of Mayberry from the American sitcom The Andy Griffith Show. The town features the Andy Griffith Museum, Andy Griffith Playhouse and squad car tours. Mayberry Days festival, held every September, features activities relating to the show, including guest appearances from the stars.
History happened here
It only took 12 seconds to forever change the way people travelled. Discover how it all happened at Orville and Wilbur Wright’s National Monument in Kill Devil Hills. The First Flight grounds feature museum exhibits, a reproduction of the 1903 aeroplane and 1902 glider, a monument to the Wright Brothers and reproductions of the living quarters and aircraft hangar, as well as documenting where each flight started and finished. Then experience your own flight with hang-gliding at nearby Jockey’s Ridge State Park.
Raleigh’s state-of-the-art Nature Research Center, part of the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, brings science to life through interactive features and exhibits. The $56 million (£35 million) project aims to make scientists and their work more accessible to the public, demystify the field of science and inspire a new generation of young scientists.
One awe-inspiring building
America’s largest private home, Biltmore, was the vision of George W. Vanderbilt. Located in Asheville, it’s a 250-room French Renaissance chateau exhibiting the Vanderbilt family’s original collection of furnishings, art and antiques. You can also explore the estate’s 8,000-acre Blue Ridge mountain backyard by horse riding, rafting and other activities. The complex also has an award-winning winery and restaurants.
- From the Hickory Furniture Mart—with a selection of 100 factory outlets, stores and galleries, representing 1,000 of the world’s most popular furniture manufacturers and all under one roof—to High Point and Lenoir’s 20 Miles of Furniture, North Carolina is the home furniture capital of the world
- Concord Mills is a shopping and entertainment destination with more than 200 stores, including manufacture and retail outlets.
Top photo opportunities
- The tallest brick lighthouse in the nation, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was moved nearly 3,000 feet inland from its original location to protect it from the surf
- Chimney Rock, a 535-million-year-old remnant of igneous rock, was the location for much of the filming of The Last of the Mohicans
- Watch wild horses graze among dunes in the northern Outer Banks, Shackelford Banks and Ocracoke
- North Carolina is home to more than 300 waterfalls, including 260 in Transylvania County alone. One of the most memorable, Looking Glass Falls, is practically by the road near Brevard in the Pisgah National Forest.
Where locals go to relax
With 200 miles of mostly undeveloped coastline, the Outer Banks—a finger of land that sits 20 miles away from the mainland—is the ultimate relaxation spot. Particularly in the autumn and spring, you can meander along vast stretches of open beach on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and see nothing but natural beauty and hear nothing but the melody of the surf.
Your child will always remember...
North Carolina’s Blackbeard Trail is a four-day, self-guided tour through the coastal section of the state where the world’s most famous pirate lived and died—from a museum with the world’s largest exhibit of Blackbeard artefacts to the site of the wreck of his flagship to the place where the authorities finally caught up with him and where his body still (probably) lies. Also: don’t miss the Beaufort Pirate Invasion every August.