Best Things to Do in the Carolinas: Top 12 Attractions to Visit

by Saad Backup
Best Things to Do in the Carolinas
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Are you thinking about visiting the Carolinas soon? Here are some of the most fun and unique things to do in the Carolinas. These diverse sights, activities, and attractions are sure to make for an epic vacation experience.

Ahh the Carolinas—where the air is tinged with the sweet aroma of magnolia blossoms, and the soulful melodies of bluegrass fill the air. From the misty peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains to the sun-kissed shores of the Outer Banks, this enchanting region beckons travelers with a blend of natural beauty, rich history, and southern charm.

Whether you’re a thrill-seeker looking to surf the Atlantic waves, a history buff aficionado to stroll through Historic Charleston, or a foodie on the hunt for the ultimate shrimp and grits, things to do in the Carolinas offer an endless array of experiences that promise to captivate your senses and ignite your wanderlust.

As you navigate through this guide, you’ll discover the crème de la crème of activities and attractions that make the Carolinas a must-visit destination. We’ll take you on a journey through charming small towns, awe-inspiring national parks, and vibrant cities that pulse with energy and creativity.

So get ready to explore the Carolinas like never before. Whether you’re planning a romantic getaway, a family vacation, or a solo adventure, this guide is your ultimate roadmap to discovering the hidden gems and iconic landmarks that make the Carolinas a treasure trove of unforgettable experiences. Here’s everything you need to know about these fun things to do in the Carolinas.

The best things to do in the Carolinas right now
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Best Places to Visit in the Carolinas

Ready to jump into all the coolest things to do in the Carolinas? As noted above, there’s something for everyone at this captivating vacation spot. So keep reading to discover all these unique Carolinas places to visit.

Are you looking to enjoy a mix of outdoor adventures, cultural experiences, and delicious Southern cuisine? Or would you prefer to visit charming coastal towns? Whatever you’re planning, these must-sees in the Carolinas can accommodate your needs. Here’s all the best attractions in the Carolinas that you should know about.

1. The Great Smoky Mountains

If you’re searching for the coolest things to do in the Carolinas, look no further than the Great Smoky Mountains. Straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, this national park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. With over 800 miles of hiking trails, you’ll find routes for all skill levels, from leisurely walks to challenging backcountry treks. The park is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, making it a hotspot for wildlife photography. Keep your eyes peeled for black bears, deer, and a myriad of bird species.

The Smokies aren’t just about hiking and wildlife, though. The area is steeped in cultural history, with several preserved Appalachian cabins and farm buildings that offer a glimpse into the life of early settlers. Don’t miss the chance to visit Cades Cove, a broad valley that’s a living museum of southern mountain life. Here, you can explore historic churches, log cabins, and even old grist mills.

For the adventure-seekers, the park offers opportunities for horseback riding, fishing, and even zip-lining. And if you’re visiting in the fall, you’ll be treated to a spectacular display of autumn foliage that transforms the landscape into a tapestry of red, orange, and gold.

A trip to the Great Smoky Mountains should be at the top of your what to do in the Carolinas list. It offers something for everyone, from nature lovers to history aficionados.

Exploring the Tranquility of The Great Smoky Mountains and experience the best things to do in the Carolinas
Exploring the Tranquility of The Great Smoky Mountains and experiencing the best things to do in the Carolinas

2. Historic Charleston

When it comes to unique places in the Carolinas, Historic Charleston stands out like a gem. This South Carolina city is a living museum, its cobblestone streets and antebellum architecture telling tales of a bygone era. As you stroll through the French Quarter, you’ll encounter a mix of well-preserved colonial buildings and modern boutiques, creating a delightful juxtaposition of old and new.

Charleston is a city that knows how to preserve its history without sacrificing its contemporary edge. The Dock Street Theatre, America’s first, still hosts performances, while the Charleston City Market offers an eclectic mix of artisan crafts and gourmet foods. Don’t miss the Battery promenade and Waterfront Park, both offering stunning views of Charleston Harbor.

Foodies will find themselves in heaven here. The city’s culinary scene is a blend of traditional Southern comfort food and innovative gastronomy. From shrimp and grits to farm-to-table delicacies, Charleston’s restaurants are a gastronomic delight.

Compiling a list of best places to go in the Carolinas? Make sure Charleston is on it. It’s a city that effortlessly combines history, culture, and modern amenities, making it a must-visit for anyone exploring the Carolinas.

Historic architecture and vibrant streets of Charleston, capturing its rich history
Historic architecture and vibrant streets of Charleston, capture its rich history

3. The Outer Banks

If you’re compiling a list of Carolinas places to visit, the Outer Banks should be a top contender. This chain of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina is a paradise for water enthusiasts and beach lovers alike. With miles of pristine beaches, it’s the perfect spot for sunbathing, swimming, and building sandcastles with the kids.

For the more adventurous, the Outer Banks offers a plethora of water sports. From kiteboarding and windsurfing to deep-sea fishing and scuba diving, there’s no shortage of ways to get your adrenaline pumping. And let’s not forget the iconic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, a landmark that offers panoramic views of the surrounding seascape.

History enthusiasts will appreciate the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, where aviation history was made. And if you’re into legends, you can’t miss the mystery of the Lost Colony of Roanoke, one of America’s oldest unsolved mysteries.

So, when you’re wondering about the things to do in the Carolinas, make sure the Outer Banks is on your itinerary. Providing a blend of relaxation and adventure, it stands as an essential spot to explore in the Carolinas.

A stunning sunset over the calm waters of The Outer Banks, with vibrant orange and pink hues painting the sky
A stunning sunset over the calm waters of The Outer Banks, with vibrant orange and pink hues painting the sky

4. Asheville

When you’re thinking about cool destinations in the Carolinas, Asheville should definitely be on your radar. This North Carolina city is a haven for artists, musicians, and creatives of all kinds. With a bustling downtown filled with art galleries, live music venues, and unique boutiques, there’s never a dull moment.

Asheville is also home to the stunning Biltmore Estate, America’s largest privately-owned home. This opulent mansion offers a glimpse into the luxurious lifestyle of the Vanderbilt family and is surrounded by lush gardens that are a treat for the senses. Don’t miss the chance to tour the estate and perhaps even enjoy a wine tasting at the Biltmore Winery.

For those who love the great outdoors, Asheville provides easy access to the Blue Ridge Parkway, known for its scenic beauty and hiking trails. Drive along this iconic road, and you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the Appalachian Highlands.

Blending natural beauty with artistic flair, Asheville caters to a diverse array of interests, establishing a unique charm of its own.

Indulge in moments of serenity as you explore the Blue Ridge Mountains in Asheville
Indulge in moments of serenity as you explore the Blue Ridge Mountains in Asheville

5. Myrtle Beach

If you’re scratching your head over where to visit in the Carolinas, Myrtle Beach is your answer. This South Carolina gem is a family vacation dream come true. With its 60-mile stretch of sandy beaches, it’s a paradise for those who love the sun and surf. Build sandcastles, take a dip in the ocean, or simply relax under the sun; the beach is your playground here.

For those who crave a bit of action, Myrtle Beach has plenty to offer. The city is home to several amusement parks, including Family Kingdom and the SkyWheel, one of the tallest Ferris wheels in North America. And let’s not forget the plethora of mini-golf courses, a fun activity for kids and adults alike.

When the sun sets, the city comes alive with entertainment options. From live shows at the Carolina Opry to dance clubs and bars along the Boardwalk, there’s something for everyone. And if you’re a seafood lover, you’re in for a treat. The city’s restaurants serve some of the freshest catches you’ll ever taste.

Myrtle Beach promises fun and relaxation for visitors of all ages, making it one of the best things to do in the Carolinas.

Sun-kissed Adventures at Myrtle Beach
Sun-kissed Adventures at Myrtle Beach

6. Greenville

Greenville is often overlooked, yet it’s one of the best places in the Carolinas for a balanced mix of urban and natural attractions. Situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this South Carolina city offers a unique blend of scenic beauty and cultural richness. The downtown area is a lively hub, filled with art galleries, theaters, and a range of dining options that will satisfy even the most discerning palate.

One of the city’s standout features is Falls Park on the Reedy, a stunning urban oasis with a waterfall, gardens, and a suspension bridge. It’s a perfect spot for a leisurely stroll or a romantic picnic. For those interested in history, the Upcountry History Museum provides a deep dive into the region’s past, from Native American heritage to the Civil Rights Movement.

Outdoor enthusiasts will appreciate the Swamp Rabbit Trail, a 22-mile multi-use greenway that winds through the city and beyond. It’s ideal for biking, jogging, or a simple walk in nature. And if you’re a fan of craft beer, Greenville’s burgeoning brewery scene is not to be missed.

Where to go in the Carolinas that offers something for everyone, from nature lovers to culture vultures? Greenville is the answer.

Discover the irresistible allure of Greenville, where Southern hospitality meets modern vibrance
Discover the irresistible allure of Greenville, where Southern hospitality meets modern vibrance

7. Wilmington

Wilmington, North Carolina, is a coastal city that’s often overshadowed by its more famous neighbors. Yet, it’s one of the coolest things to do in the Carolinas if you’re a fan of both the beach and the big screen. Known as the “Hollywood of the East,” Wilmington has been the backdrop for numerous films and TV shows, including “Dawson’s Creek” and “One Tree Hill.”

The city’s historic district is a charming area with a riverwalk, boutiques, and cafes. It’s a great place to wander and soak in the atmosphere. For history enthusiasts, the USS North Carolina Battleship Memorial is a must-visit. This World War II battleship is now a museum, offering a glimpse into naval history.

Of course, no visit to Wilmington would be complete without spending time at Wrightsville Beach. It’s a hotspot for surfing, paddleboarding, and kayaking. The crystal-clear waters and white sandy beaches make it a perfect place for relaxation and water sports.

Wilmington offers a blend of historical landmarks, natural beauty, and a touch of Hollywood magic, making it a diverse and interesting destination.

Wilmington's blend of modern energy and classic allure leaves a lasting impression
Wilmington’s blend of modern energy and classic allure leaves a lasting impression

8. Beaufort

If you’re compiling a list of Carolinas places to visit, don’t overlook Beaufort, North Carolina. This charming coastal town is a maritime lover’s dream. With its rich history of pirates and seafaring, Beaufort offers a unique blend of adventure and relaxation. The town’s Maritime Museum is a treasure trove of artifacts and exhibits, showcasing the area’s nautical past.

For those who love to be on the water, Beaufort provides ample opportunities. Kayaking through the Rachel Carson Reserve gives you a chance to see wild horses and a variety of bird species. Sailing and fishing are also few of the coolest activities in the Carolinas, with many local companies offering charters.

Foodies will appreciate the local seafood, especially the oysters and blue crabs. The town’s eateries range from upscale restaurants to laid-back shacks, all serving mouthwatering dishes that highlight the bounty of the sea.

What to do in the Carolinas that offers a maritime experience that’s hard to beat? Explore Beaufort. From its historical sites to its water activities, this coastal town is an essential place for anyone looking to explore the Carolinas’ diverse offerings.

Discover the timeless elegance of Beaufort. Where history meets charm, and every street tells a story
Discover the timeless elegance of Beaufort. Where history meets charm, and every street tells a story

9. Raleigh

If you’re searching for unique things to do in the Carolinas, a visit to Raleigh should be on your list. As the capital city of North Carolina, Raleigh is a hub of innovation, culture, and Southern charm. The city is part of the Research Triangle, along with Durham and Chapel Hill, making it a hotspot for tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs.

For those interested in history and architecture, the North Carolina State Capitol building is a must-see. This Greek Revival structure offers a glimpse into the state’s political past. Nearby, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences captivates visitors with its interactive exhibits and live animal displays.

Outdoor lovers will find plenty to do as well. The William B. Umstead State Park offers miles of hiking and biking trails, along with fishing and boating opportunities. It’s a peaceful escape within the city limits.

Foodies won’t be disappointed either. Raleigh’s culinary scene is booming, with a range of options from traditional Southern fare to international cuisine. The city’s food trucks are particularly popular, offering gourmet bites on the go.

Raleigh offers a blend of modernity and tradition, making it one of the compelling Carolinas attractions for all types of travelers.

Find serenity in the lush green parks and tranquil lakes that make Raleigh a haven for nature enthusiasts
Find serenity in the lush green parks and tranquil lakes that make Raleigh a haven for nature enthusiasts

10. Hilton Head Island

When you’re brainstorming best places to go in the Carolinas, Hilton Head Island should be a top contender. This South Carolina island is a haven for golf enthusiasts, boasting some of the most picturesque courses in the country. The Harbour Town Golf Links, for instance, is a PGA Tour stop and offers stunning views of the iconic red-and-white lighthouse.

But Hilton Head isn’t just for golfers. The island is also home to beautiful beaches like Coligny Beach Park, where you can relax on the sand or take part in water sports like jet skiing and paddleboarding. Families will love the interactive Coastal Discovery Museum, which offers hands-on exhibits and nature trails.

For a unique shopping experience, visit the Shelter Cove Towne Centre, where you’ll find a mix of local boutiques and well-known brands. The area also hosts regular events, including live music and farmers’ markets.

As you explore Carolinas things to do, Hilton Head Island offers a blend of leisure and excitement. Whether you’re teeing off on a world-class golf course or enjoying a beachside picnic, this island has something for everyone.

A serene sunset scene on Hilton Head Island, with the sun casting a warm glow over the water and beach
A serene sunset scene on Hilton Head Island, with the sun casting a warm glow over the water and beach

11. Lake Lure

If you’re compiling a list of must-see in the Carolinas, Lake Lure in North Carolina should definitely make the cut. This idyllic destination is a feast for the eyes, with its emerald-green lake surrounded by lush mountains. It’s the kind of place that makes you want to dive into outdoor activities the moment you arrive.

For water enthusiasts, the lake offers boating, fishing, and even a sandy beach for sunbathing. If you’re more of a hiker, the trails around Chimney Rock State Park provide panoramic views that are nothing short of breathtaking. The park is also home to the Hickory Nut Falls, a 404-foot waterfall that’s a spectacle in its own right.

Foodies will find plenty to love here as well. The local dining scene is a mix of cozy cafes and fine dining establishments, all offering dishes that showcase the region’s farm-to-table ethos.

Lake Lure stands out for its natural beauty and range of activities. It’s one of the cool destinations in the Carolinas that offers something for everyone, from outdoor adventures to culinary delights.

Escape to tranquility at Lake Lure. Let the ripples of serenity soothe your soul as you embrace nature's masterpiece
Escape to tranquility at Lake Lure. Let the ripples of serenity soothe your soul as you embrace nature’s masterpiece

12. Chapel Hill

When you’re searching for unique places in the Carolinas, don’t overlook Chapel Hill. Known primarily as a college town, it’s home to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one of the oldest public universities in the U.S. Yet, this vibrant community offers more than just academia.

For starters, Franklin Street is the town’s main artery, pulsing with an array of shops, cafes, and galleries. It’s a hub for both students and locals, offering a taste of the town’s eclectic spirit. Don’t miss the Morehead Planetarium, where you can stargaze without leaving the city limits.

Art lovers will appreciate the Ackland Art Museum, which houses an impressive collection ranging from European masterpieces to contemporary works. For a different kind of art, catch a performance at the PlayMakers Repertory Company, a professional theater associated with the university.

The best things to do in the Carolinas aren’t complete without a nod to Chapel Hill’s food scene. From food trucks serving global cuisines to upscale restaurants like Lantern, the culinary landscape is as diverse as the town itself.

An iconic view of historic and modern buildings coexisting in Chapel Hill, showcasing its cultural richness
An iconic view of historic and modern buildings coexisting in Chapel Hill, showcasing its cultural richness

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Best Things to Do in the Carolinas

Looking for more content on the top things to do in the Carolinas? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get that will help you plan your trip to the Carolinas:

What’s the best time to visit the Carolinas?

The Carolinas are a year-round destination, each season offering its own unique charm. Spring and fall are particularly pleasant, with mild temperatures and fewer crowds. Summer is ideal for beachgoers, while winter offers cozy getaways and, in some areas, winter sports.

What is the Carolina’s #1 attraction?

Here are the most iconic attractions in North and South Carolina:

Biltmore Estate (North Carolina)

  • Location: Asheville, North Carolina
  • Highlights: This is America’s largest privately-owned home, built by George Washington Vanderbilt II. The estate features a 250-room mansion, extensive gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, and a winery. It’s a glimpse into the opulence of the Gilded Age and offers various seasonal events and activities.

Charleston Historic District (South Carolina)

  • Location: Charleston, South Carolina
  • Highlights: Known for its well-preserved architecture and rich history, the Historic District is a walk through time. Cobblestone streets, historic homes, and landmarks like Fort Sumter make it a popular destination. The area is also famous for its Southern hospitality, cuisine, and vibrant arts scene.

How do I get around the Carolinas?

Both North and South Carolina have well-maintained roads, making it easy to explore by car. Public transportation options are available in larger cities like Charlotte and Raleigh, but a car is recommended for a more comprehensive experience.

Are the Carolinas family-friendly?

Absolutely! The Carolinas are family-friendly destinations. With a variety of attractions and activities suitable for all ages, families can enjoy exploring the diverse landscapes, historical sites, and vibrant culture. From educational museums to outdoor adventures, there’s something for everyone to create lasting memories together in the Carolinas.

Historic street in Charleston, South Carolina with colorful houses and cobblestone pavement
Historic street in Charleston, South Carolina with colorful houses and cobblestone pavement

What are some must-try foods in the Carolinas?

Don’t leave without trying Carolina barbecue, shrimp and grits, and, of course, a slice of pecan pie. The Carolinas offer a rich culinary landscape that reflects their diverse cultural heritage.

Which is better to visit in the Carolinas? South Carolina or North Carolina?

Choosing between South and North Carolina depends on your interests. South Carolina offers charming cities like Charleston and beach havens like Myrtle Beach. North Carolina boasts diverse landscapes, from the Outer Banks to the Smoky Mountains. Both states offer rich history and culture, making either a great choice.

Is it worth visiting the Carolinas?

Absolutely, the Carolinas offer a diverse range of experiences that cater to all types of travelers. From stunning natural landscapes and historic sites to vibrant cities and a rich culinary scene, there’s something for everyone. It’s a destination that promises both adventure and relaxation.

Concluding Thoughts on Exploring the Carolinas

If you’ve been pondering where to go in the Carolinas, this guide has hopefully given you a nudge in the right direction. From the mountainous terrains of the west to the sun-kissed beaches of the east, the Carolinas are a tapestry of experiences waiting to be unraveled. Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, a history buff, or a foodie, you’ll find something to love in this dynamic duo of states. So pack your bags, hit the road, and discover the best places in the Carolinas for yourself. Trust us, it’s a journey you won’t want to miss.

The best things to do in the Carolinas for all types of travelers
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