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North Carolina has a little bit of everything: city life, mountain getaways, coastal fun, the most visited national park in the country, the Great Smoky Mountains. Whether you’re into urban culture or Mother Nature, the state has got you covered. Towns run the gamut from tech hubs like Raleigh to smaller bohemian communities like Asheville. On the Eastern Seaboard, there’s the port city of Wilmington, home to one of North Carolina’s more popular seaside getaways, as well as the rugged Outer Banks, which span more than 100 miles of pristine coastline. And, of course, there’s the largest metropolis, Charlotte, a center for the state’s pro sports franchises as well as the famed Charlotte Motor Speedway. One of the country’s top craft beer destinations, North Carolina also boasts more than 340 breweries and gastropubs.
North Carolina has 10 passenger airports. Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) is the state’s largest, and Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) services Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. If you’re visiting Nantahala, the Pisgah National Forest, the Smokies, or the Blue Ridge Mountains, you can fly directly into Asheville Regional Airport (AVL), which has nonstop service to dozens of U.S. cities. Similarly, if you’re headed to the coast, Wilmington International Airport (ILM) is just 19 miles from Carolina Beach, while Norfolk International Airport (ORF) in Virginia is the closest airport to the remote Outer Banks. North Carolina’s major cities have plenty of rideshares and taxis to help you get around, and Amtrak services the major hubs, but if you’re planning to travel farther afield or between destinations, you’ll want to consider renting a car.
Spring and fall are generally the best time to visit North Carolina for guaranteed good weather. Overall, the summers can be hot and humid, while the winters can bring below-freezing temperatures and snow into the more mountainous regions of western North Carolina. The coastal areas are particularly busy during the summers, so plan your trip for shoulder season in late spring or early fall if you want to avoid crowds. The annual Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in July is a great opportunity to come learn about North Carolina’s Scottish heritage.
The 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway starts in Great Smoky Mountains National Park near the Tennessee-North Carolina border and winds its way northeast into Virginia, offering scenery galore paired with glimpses of Appalachian culture and Cherokee life. Popular stops include Grandfather Mountain and the Mile High Swinging Bridge with its 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains.
If watching wild horses roam a sandy beach sounds like something out of a fairy tale, then you’ll want to add Carova Beach to your itinerary. The northernmost community in the Outer Banks is accessible only by unpaved beach, and the 100 Corolla wild horses that populate the area are descendants of the Spanish mustangs that arrived by colonial ships in the 1500s. Other herds are scattered throughout the barrier islands. Be sure to keep your distance and never feed the animals.
The largest home in America looms just outside Asheville. Built in 1895, the 175,000-square-foot mansion once served as the home of George and Edith Vanderbilt. Take in the fascinating history of their railroad dynasty while on a self-guided tour of the 8,000-acre estate, which includes a winery.