Visit the true South with a trip to North Carolina! The state has both natural and cultural delights, and is a personal favourite, from the skyscrapers of Charlotte to the impressive Smokey Mountains. The state's 100 counties spread across a range of different elevations, from the mountain heights to sea level on the coast. Winters are mild and summers warm.
Wilmington is the biggest of North Carolina's coastal cities, the seat of New Hanover County. This city is home to The University of North Carolina, and I found it had a lot to offer a visitor- it is handy to beaches and other major North Carolina cities (easy driving distance), and is full of history!
The Historic District of Wilmington is pretty big, with lots to see- around 300 blocks! WE took a Wilmington trolley Tour, which showcases the best of the district, and you can also take narrated riverboat tours. A stroll around the area will give you an idea of the charms of historic Wilmington. All buildings must comply with the established historical standards, so taking a stroll through the residential area is like taking a step back in time to a neighbourhood of yesteryear! You can tour some of the houses in the district, like the Bellamy mansion, the city's most spectacular example of Antebellum architecture.
Wilmington's other drawcard is the beaches, and by extension, the seafood! There are three main seaside communities, Kure Beach, Carolina Beach and Wrightsville Beach. Wrightsville is the closest, while Kure and Carolina are to the south of the city. Whilst the beaches host a lot of holidaymakers in the summer, they are always pleasant, not too crowded and perfect for walking, swimming and sunbathing. Between Wrightsville and the Southern beaches we found the Masonboro Island Coastal reserve to be a great place to experience an undeveloped part of the coast. It is mostly untouched and accessible only by boat.
by bumeister1 Flickr Creative Commons
See here for Wilmington car rental, which makes it easy to see Wilmington and get to the North Carolina beaches!
Not too far from Wilmington is New Bern, a city named after 'Old' Bern in Switzerland, and originally inhabited by Swiss settlers. It is a port city located at the confluence of two rivers, the birthplace of Pepsi Cola and the county seat of Craven County. Tryon Palace is a reconstruction of what was once the home of Governor Tryon in the 18th century, and transported us right back to the past- colonial America. Also on the site is the North Carolina History Centre, an amazing interactive museum which really makes the most of technology to get visitors taking part and learning about history.
by rjones0856 Flickr Creative Commons
Another place we enjoyed visiting solely for the novelty factor was the birthplace of Pepsi, that cola eternally in the shadow of its red-labelled foe. There is also a Firemen's Museum, and tours available which take in the history of this very early settlement. There is a Ghost Tour for anyone who likes that kind of thing- not me!
Check out some New Bern car rental here if you need it!
After venturing inland several hours, we came across the smallish city of Winston-Salem, another one with a rich heritage dating back to the first European settlers of North America. The West End historic district is the perfect place to walk around and get in a bit of shopping or eating. We enjoyed walking in the Historic Bethabara Park, where there are two restored period buildings. There are plenty of museums in the city, and also many institutions of learning- including the women-only Salem College, and the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
by Barney Barnes Flickr Creative Commons
An unexpected bonus- Salem-Winston is also home to North Carolina's biggest shopping mall, Hanes Mall! Have a look here for Winston-Salem car rental.
The capital of North Carolina is Raleigh. Home to the North Carolina State University, and several others, it is a centre of learning and culture, with lots of museums and art galleries, broadway shows and live music. A personal favourite was the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, a tribute to the hallowed passtime of sport, from basketball, baseball and tennis to billiards and trap shooting. Sport is a big thing in Raleigh, home to the only major league North Carolina team to have won a championship, the Carolina Hurricanes who won the Stanley Cup in 2006.
The North Carolina Museum of Art is also worth a visit for those who enjoy all kinds of art. Food-wise, southern fare is of course the most popular style, and make sure you take the opportunity to enjoy some of what the city has to offer! Not far from Raleigh is the smaller city of Durham, home to Duke University and a city with a trendy and liberal vibe. These two cities form the 'Reserach Triangle' with Chapel Hill, a small and hilly city to the west of Durham.
by Matt Phillips Flickr Creative Commons
Car rental in Raleigh can be found here- makes it easy to explore the Triangle at your own pace!
Charlotte is North Carolina's biggest city, rapidly growing and a centre of finance, business, technology and entertainment for the region. The Uptown district is Charlotte's CBD, full of highrises, Fortune 500 headquarters, nightclubs, eateries, condos, parks and more. The area is safe and easily walked, or you can try the free Gold Rush Trolleys, minibuses which look like historical streetcars. Discovery Place is a great museum for kids, as is ImaginOn, the library/theatre. Families will also enjoy Charlotte's parks. For adults, venture out after dinner to the NC Music Factory, Whiskey River, EpiCentre or any of the great bars and clubs that can be found in Uptown Charlotte.
by Corey Griffith Flickr Creative Commons
Like Raleigh, Charlotte is big on sports, and has a NASCAR track- Charlotte Motor Speedway. The Carolina Panthers are the city's NFL franchise, and they play games at the Bank of America Stadium. The Bobcats play in the NBA, with their games taking place uptown.
Charlotte car rental can be found here.
Further inland and close to North Carolina's borders with Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina is Asheville. This city has a naturally stunning setting, between the Smoky and Blue Ridge mountain ranges. It is liberal, art-loving with many monikers, including the 'Paris of the South' and the 'San Francisco of the East,' which is surely confusing to anyone who has heard both! It defies the traditional southern stereotypes with it's alternative atmosphere and residents, and is popular as a tourist destination, especially with domestic visitors as those outside the States are usually not aware of this interesting city.
by Snotgoblin Flickr Creative Commons
The city's abundant Art Deco architecture adds to its uniqueness, and it has art galleries coming out of its ears, so do not miss Asheville if you are a fan of art! These are very varied- from the Appalachian Craft Centre to the Red Square Gallery of Russian Art and Culture to the Bella Vista Gallery of contemporary art. There is also an Art Museum, along with several other museums.
A landmark of Asheville is the Biltmore Estate, a magnificent mansion on sprawling grounds which was built as an escape by George Washington Vanderbilt II. It is still owned by one of his descendants, and is the largest privately owned home in the US at 250 rooms, 175,000 square feet. The amazing building is a monument to the Gilded Age which followed the Civil War, and the heady social heights which the Vanderbilt family reached thanks to the shipping and railroad tycoon Cornelius. We toured the house and gardens of the very impressive residence to get a glimpse of how the other 0.001% live, and it is enviable!
by Smart Destinations Flickr Creative Commons
Microbrewery tours, ghost tours, arts and culture festivals and the beautiful mountains and trails surrounding the city kept us very busy and far from bored during a visit to Asheville! To explore, have a look here for car rental.
Author: Kevin Hall+