Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in North Carolina
Built by American magnate George Washington Vanderbilt II, the Biltmore Estate was modeled after the mansions of Europe when it was constructed in the late 19th century. The Biltmore House is the largest home in the United States—a staggering 178,926 square feet (16,623 square meters) sitting on more than 8,000 acres (3,237 hectares)—and a prominent example of America’s Gilded Age.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of America’s most scenic road trips—a slow-paced drive through the connecting Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the south to Shenandoah National Park in the north. Along the way, find stunning long-range vistas and close-up views of the parkway’s namesake: the rugged Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Mint Museum is the oldest art museum in North Carolina, and houses one of the largest collections in the Southeast, with more than 35,000 objects. Explore its permanent collection spanning Ancient American, Native American, American, European, and Contemporary art at its two branches: Mint Museum Randolph and Mint Museum Uptown.
Opened in 1996, Bank of America Stadium is home to the Carolina Panthers football team. The stadium is located in uptown Charlotte and was specially designed for football. The open-air, natural grass stadium has 73,778 seats. During a 2014 renovation, high-definition video boards were added above each end zone, along with a high-efficiency, high-octave sound system.
In addition to the actual playing field, Bank of America Stadium is also home to the Carolina Panthers’ headquarters, training facilities, practice fields and administrative offices.
Located inside the Concord Mills Mall, theSEA LIFE®– Charlotte-Concord Aquarium features over 5,000 underwater creatures, including clown fish, jellyfish, green moray eels, sea horses, octopus, triggerfish, southern stingrays, and a variety of different sharks.
The sea creatures at SEA LIFE – Charlotte-Concord Aquarium are divided into over 20 themed exhibits reflecting the natural surroundings in North Carolina. There is an interactive quiz trail you can follow, and a 180-degree ocean tunnel where you can walk by fish and sharks swimming overhead. If you’re traveling with young ones, they’ll enjoy the children’s soft play area. Kids can also check out the interactive touch pool with sea urchins, sea anemones, and horseshoe crabs.
Don’t miss the interactive demonstrations and feedings that take place throughout the day. You’ll also learn more about the aquarium’s conservation efforts, including breeding programs for endangered animals.
Located in Uptown Charlotte, Discovery Place Science is one of the most popular hands-on science centers in the region. The museum brings science, technology, math, and nature to life through fun and educational interactive exhibits, activities, and programs. It also features the largest IMAX screen in the Carolinas.
Victorian mansions line the shady streets of Charlotte’s historic Fourth Ward, among the city’s most prosperous neighborhoods during the mid-19th century. Today, it remains one of the most charming, with shopping boutiques and restaurants filling out many of the lovingly restored homes.
Straddling the border between North and South Carolina the Carowinds theme park south of Charlotte fuses southern charm and fast-paced thrill rides. The nearly 400-acre lot houses more than 60 rides and is divided into eight Carolina-themed sections including the (new for 2016) Carolina Harbor, one of the largest waterparks in the region with a wave pool, a lazy river that crosses the state line that bisects the park, kiddie pools and numerous slides and water rides.
A looped path takes visitors past Planet Snoopy’s little kids’ rides, the massive Intimidator coaster inspired by southern race car drivers, the Dinosaurs Alive park – a forest filled with more than 30 animatronic ancient beasts – a 3D theater that hosts regular battles between zombies and plants, traditional fair rides, the inverting stand-up coaster called the Vortex and other thrill rides including the new Fury 325 coaster. The Fury 325 coaster soars 325 feet off the ground before dropping down at speeds of 95 miles per hour; it was the tallest giga-coaster in the world when it was unveiled in 2015.
Under the Cedar Fair umbrella that also owns Cedar Point, Carowinds is a well-oiled machine that shares many features with the other parks in its brand. Expect the sounds of carnival music, shrieking children and southern summer heat while waiting your turn in the regularly long lines.
Built in 1815 by Archibald Frew, and located just minutes away from Uptown Charlotte, the Historic Rosedale Plantation is considered one of North Carolina’s finest examples of federal-style architecture. Explore the fully restored house and expansive grounds and gardens, and learn about life on an antebellum plantation.
Gorgeous blue mountain scenery, abundant wildlife, and a prime location within driving distance of the Eastern Seaboard make Great Smoky Mountains National Park the most visited national park in the United States. Come to camp, hike, and explore for an adventure-filled vacation, or stay and enjoy a mountain retreat away from it all.
More Things to Do in North Carolina
This one-and-a-half acre park is a well-known landmark in Uptown Charlotte. The Green has an artsy flair, with colorful sculptures and fountains, and there are numerous options alongside the park to grab a bite to eat, while the park itself has all the makings for a nice picnic. It’s a frequent lunch spot for employees who work nearby and plays host to the Charlotte Shakespeare Festival every summer.
The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art is one of four distinct components of Charlotte’s Levine Center for the Arts. The Bechtler collection includes more than 1,400 works by 20th-century modern artists including Picasso, Calder and Warhol. Visitors should set aside an afternoon to enjoy the Museum in its entirety. A free audio guide and museum map can be picked up at the visitor services desk. The Bechtler also has special materials available for visiting families.
Charlotte’s Levine Center for the Arts is actually comprised of four unique locations, including the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, the John S. and James L. Knight Theater and the Mint Museum Uptown. The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art boasts a collection of more than 1,400 works by 20th-century modern artists.
The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture highlights the contributions of Africans and African-Americans to American culture. It is also home to the John & Vivian Hewitt Collection of African-American Art, one of the country’s most comprehensive collections.
The 1,150-seat James L. Knight Theater hosts touring Broadway productions, concert artists and symphony and opera productions, while the Mint Museum Uptown features collections of American, European and contemporary art along with the Mint Museum of Craft + Design.
Celebrate African and African-American culture at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Art + Culture. In addition to a permanent collection of inspiring works by notable African-American artists, the center also offers a diverse cultural program of music, dance, and theater performances, film screenings, lecures, and workshops.
Located in Charlotte’s Fourth Ward neighborhood, Old Settlers’ Cemetery is where many of the area’s first settlers are buried. It was the first cemetery owned and operated by the City of Charlotte, and its gravestones and monuments carry dates from 1776 (the year the Declaration of Independence was signed) to 1884. It’s a great American site in Charlotte for visiting history buffs.
Once an abandoned track of warehouses along a destitute stretch of Asheville’s French Broad River, the River Arts District (RAD) has transformed into a hotbed for artists and budding businesses. There is a vast array of studios where you can see artists working on creative projects ranging from photography and painting to basketry and pottery.
Set on the grounds of Charlotte/Douglas International Airport (CDI), this may be the only attraction in Charlotte you can visit within a few minutes of retrieving your luggage. Dedicated to the history of aviation in North and South Carolina, the 50-craft collection set in a 40,000-square-foot hangar includes several military and passenger planes.
You’ll also find a reproduction of the Wright Brothers original 1903 Wright Flyer, which was flown in nearby Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. You can also explore a detailed exhibit dedicated to airline captain Sully Sullenberger’s miraculous Hudson River landing of US Airways’ Flight 1549; this flight was bound for CDI when it struck a flock of geese.
While here, don’t miss an opportunity to climb into the cockpit of a fighter jet or to see the S.56B, one of only two single-engine biplane flying boats in the world.
Please note The Carolinas Aviation Museum is currently closed for relocation. The reopening is scheduled for 2022.
At the intersection of Trade and Tryon Streets in Charlotte lies Independence Square, a focal point of the city that features a public art display. Erected in 1995 and completed by American sculptor Raymond Kaskey, the square hosts four, 24-foot-high bronze figures that personify Charlotte’s past and future.
Located between the historic Dilworth and Myers Park neighborhoods, Freedom Park is considered the Central Park of Charlotte. Spanning 98 acres (40 hectares), this popular park includes a 7-acre (3-hectare) lake, green spaces, walking and biking trails, sporting fields and courts, a demonstration garden, bandshell, and concessions.
Chug along the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (GSMR) for a scenic train ride through the mountain range shared by the most visited national park in the United States: Great Smoky Mountains National Park. From family-themed specials to romantic luxury upgrades, it’s easy to create your perfect train trip through the North Carolina countryside.
Satisfy your need for speed at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, “America’s Home for Racing.” Located just outside of Charlotte, the speedway is home to some of NASCAR’s biggest races, along with a full schedule of other races and events. The speedway also offers behind-the-scenes tours and racing experiences for fans.
Located in Charlotte, the US National Whitewater Center is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream playground. In addition to the world’s largest man-made whitewater river, the outdoor recreation mega-complex offers hiking and biking trails, a rock climbing wall, ropes course, ziplining, and more. It’s also a popular spot for outdoor festivals.
The Museum of the Cherokee Indian is home to vibrant displays that tell the story of the Cherokee people, from their paleo ancestry to their current lifestyles. Far more than an exhibit of artifacts, the museum keeps the tribe’s culture alive through education, events, and traditional gatherings.
A nature-filled respite just a mile from Uptown Charlotte lies the quiet Wing Haven Garden and Bird Sanctuary. Designed and cared for by a married couple with a passion for ornithology, Elizabeth and Edwin O. Clarkson transformed their home and backyard into a lush and always-verdant bird sanctuary.
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