North Carolina

In my mind, I’m going to Carolina…

That song lyric from James Taylor explains my life! I was born and raised in the foothills of North Carolina, thirty minutes west of Charlotte. While I haven’t lived there in over two decades, it will always be home. 

North Carolina is a wonderful vacation destination. It has beaches, mountains, big cities, small towns, and everything in between. Plus it is chock full of history from the earliest English settlement to a Gilded Age mansion. 

While my list of historical sites is not exhaustive, hopefully it’s a great start to planning your North Carolina vacation! Note that sites reviewed by The History Mom are marked with * (although I’ve been to many of the sites not yet reviewed). I’ve also included hotel and restaurant recommendations when possible.

Be sure to check out North Carolina’s travel tourism site as a starting point. Civil War enthusiasts will also want to refer to the Civil War Trails map. And feel free to reach out to me with any specific questions! Once a Tarheel, always a Tarheel!

Outer Banks/Eastern North Carolina

Image taken from Google Maps

From I-95 eastward, you’ll find amazing historical sites that go back to America’s earliest settlers. While many head here for the beautiful beaches, don’t forget to add in a visit to these unique and educational sites. 

Outer Banks

  • Fort Raleigh National Historic Site – The actual site of the “Lost Colony of Roanoke”
  • Roanoke Island Festival Park – A fun interactive site where your kids can learn about the Roanoke colony and the earliest English settlers. My kids loved it!
  • The Lost Colony – A play discussing the Lost Colony of Roanoke. If you’re here during the summer run, get tickets! It’s on my must-see list!
  • Island Farm – A living history farm from the 1850s
  • Wright Brothers National Memorial (pictured above) – Visit the actual site where the first flight took place. You’ll understand why the brothers chose this sandy dune when the wind hits you! My kids loved climbing on the statue and pretending they were part of the flight.

Recommended hotels: Sanderling Resort and Hampton Inn (pictured above) are both in the quiet town of Duck which is nice for kids and families.

Eastern North Carolina

Dining recommendations: Eastern NC is home to some of the best seafood and barbecue in the state (although those from western NC would disagree!). Its barbecue is more vinegary and less “saucy.” 

Research Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill)

Image taken from Google Maps

One of the busiest places in the state with the capital city, several major universities, and a huge business park, the Research Triangle is a fun place to stay. Whether you’re on a college tour or in town for a soccer tournament, there is always history to be found!


The state capital has one of the best history museums I’ve been to and many great historical sites.


Home to the prestigious Duke University, this town revolves around the university but also played a surprising role in the Civil War.

  • Bennett Place – The historic site where Confederate General Johnston surrendered his troops to Union General Sherman – over two weeks after Appomattox.
  • Duke Homestead – The place where Washington Duke first grew his famous tobacco.
  • Historic Stagville – One of the largest plantations in the state, it is now dedicated to telling the story of the enslaved.
  • Duke Chapel and Basketball Museum – Visit the campus to see a beautiful Gothic chapel that will make you think you’re in Europe. Basketball fans will want to go inside Cameron Indoor to see Duke’s championship memorabilia. I totally geeked out over the Christian Laettner memorabilia!

Chapel Hill

Just a few miles down the highway from Duke is its biggest rival, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This quaint small town is also historic as the home of the oldest public university (although William and Mary and University of Georgia also claim it!). 

Dining recommendations:

  • Raleigh: The Pit for amazing barbecue and Tupelo Honey for great modern Southern cuisine.
  • Durham: GRUB Durham looks great and is near Duke.
  • Chapel Hill: Sutton’s Drug Store – I love a soda fountain! Tons of restaurants can be found on West Franklin Street.

Recommended hotels:

  • Raleigh: Umstead Hotel in Cary – luxurious! 
  • Durham: Washington Duke Inn – great for visiting Duke or as a centrally located hotel for historic travel
  • Chapel Hill: Carolina Inn – the historic hotel right in the center of the UNC campus

Triad (Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and High Point)

Image taken from Google Maps

This large region of North Carolina is home to many universities, battlefields, and civil rights historical sites. 



Southern Triad

Dining recommendations:

  • Lexington is the home of western NC barbecue. It has several well known spots so look at this article for suggestions.
  • My favorite chain, Smithfield Chicken ‘n Bar-b-q, has several locations here.

Recommended hotels:

Charlotte Region

Image taken from Google Maps

Charlotte is the largest city in North Carolina and is the banking capital of the south. I grew up going to the suburban malls and museums in Uptown (what Charlotteans call the downtown area), but it has really changed since my childhood!


aerial photography of city buildings under the sky
Photo by John Hill on

West of Charlotte

Dining recommendations:

Recommended hotels:

Western North Carolina

Image taken from Google Maps

Western North Carolina is famed for its beauty and culture. From the artsy town of Asheville to the small mountain towns with sweeping views, it’s a wonderful place in every season!

Asheville: I love this town! Check out my review and recommendations in Asheville here.

  • *Biltmore – This Gilded Age mansion is a must-see while in Asheville! Even kids will be amazed at its size, the beautiful gardens, and fun farm area.
  • Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace – The birthplace of a former governor, this historical site is now dedicated to telling the story of the enslaved on mountain plantations.
  • Thomas Wolf Memorial – The home of one of the most famous authors from NC.

Outside of Asheville

There are so many cute little towns to visit including Boone, Blowing Rock, Hendersonville, and Black Mountain. Some of my favorite natural or historic sites include:

Dining recommendations: 

Recommended hotels:

  • Asheville: This town is full of great hotels. Luxurious resorts like the Grove Park Inn (my favorite pictured above!) and the hotels at the Biltmore are top notch. There are also great places to stay in Biltmore Village (Grand Bohemian) and downtown (Kimpton Hotel Arras). I also recommend the rental homes by Yonder if you’re looking for more space.
  • Outside Asheville: I’ve always wanted to stay at the Old Edwards Inn – looks so nice! Yonder also has many rentals available throughout the area.

This is just the tip of what North Carolina offers for a family vacation! From the beach to the mountains and everything in between, there’s a reason everyone wants to go to North Carolina! 

Books to Read:

Check out my list of my favorite books set in North Carolina in my shop. This is an affiliate link that helps independent bookstores and content creators.

This page is continually updated.