North Carolina, bordered by Virginia in the north, South Carolina in the south, Tennessee in the west, and the Atlantic Ocean on the east, has three different landscapes to offer in the three regions it encompasses.
The western side of North Carolina is mountainous, with the Appalachian Mountain range. These are the largest range in the eastern United States, and are said to be the oldest mountains on Earth. North Carolina features the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, spanning 276,000 acres in North Carolina (and spreading almost as far across the border in Tennessee), as well as the Blue Ridge, Pisgah and the Black Mountain sub-ranges. The western region of North Carolina also has rivers, making it a popular region for outdoor recreation such gas hiking and mountain biking, water sports like kayaking in the quieter rivers or white-water rafting in the rapids.
Asheville is the main city in western North Carolina, and is known for its arts and culture, craft beer, and outdoor recreational activities. In Asheville, one must-see is the Biltmore Estate, which is an 8,000-acre estate built by George Vanderbilt and is the largest private home in the United States.
In the center of North Carolina is the Piedmont region, which is a plateau with rivers flowing through it. The central region is home to several major cities. Raleigh hosts some of the most sought after restaurants, shops, arts and culture in the state. The University of North Carolina, Duke, and North Carolina State form the Research Triangle of universities in North Carolina’s Piedmont. The region is also famous for its breweries. Places worth visiting include the Duke Lemur Center, the American Tobacco Campus, and Fearrington Village in Pittsboro, which has gourmet restaurants, boutiques, spas and gardens. For sports lovers, there is the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the home base of the nation’s most famous Minor League Baseball team.
North Carolina’s eastern region features 300 miles of coastline, with beautiful white sand beaches and seven coastal lighthouses. This region also has a number of quaint towns, like Edenton, which has been named one of America’s prettiest towns. One of eastern North Carolina’s top destinations is the Outer Banks, a group of islands with beaches, state parks and some of the best wreck-diving sites. Outer Banks is home to Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, the Historic Corolla Park and the Wright Brothers National Memorial, dedicated to Wilbur and Orville Wright who completed the first successful airplane flight in the dunes of Kitty Hawk. Another fun thing to do on the east coast is surf fishing.
North Carolina has two National Heritage Areas: Blue Ridge National Heritage Area and Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. There are many state parks, state forests, state fish hatcheries, one national park (the Great Smoky Mountain National Park) and two national historic sites, Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site and Fort Raleigh National Historic Site.
For museums lovers, North Carolina has plenty to offer, ranging from art and natural history, to maritime museums and science museums. The most visited museums are North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, as well as Ackland Art Museum, Aurora Fossil Museum, Calvin Jones Historical House, Carthage Museum, Hickory Aviation Museum, and Marbles Kids Museum. Others include North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, Carolina Basketball Museum in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, Folk Art Center in High Country, Battleship North Carolina in Wilmington where one can climb on board one of the most decorated battleships of World War II. A few more popular attractions are the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and Thomas Wolfe Memorial.
The state also has some of the most charming heritage hotels, including the following:
- The Historic Brookstown Inn in Winston-Salem, established in 1837
- Dunhill Hotel, Charlotte, opened in 1929 as Mayfair Manor
- Old Edwards Inn & Spa, Highlands, built in 1878
- The Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, 1913
- The Mast Farm Inn, Banner Elk, built in the 1800s
- Green Park Inn, Blowing Rock, built in 1891, this hotel is on the National Register of Historic Places and one can still see part of the old post office in the History Room.
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