Call it a triple threat: North Carolina boasts a beautiful mountain region, a thriving and sophisticated city set, and a seashore that many other destinations would envy. Groups that travel through the state can plan stops in these three distinctive regions to experience and enjoy the diversity of North Carolina.
Mountains: Biltmore and More
The forested mountainous region of North Carolina is spectacularly scenic. The Blue Ridge Mountains dominate the landscape in this part of the state, providing ample opportunities for driving tours, adventure activities and other outdoor pursuits. The area also has plenty of history and other points of interest that allow it to offer complete tour experiences.
Asheville has become one of the state’s most popular tourist destinations, and nearly everyone who visits makes a point of seeing the Biltmore Estate. Built by George Washington Vanderbilt III and completed in 1895, Biltmore’s 250 rooms include 34 bedrooms, 42 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, three kitchens, an indoor swimming pool and a bowling alley. After 35 years as a private home, the Biltmore House opened to the public in 1930.
Today, there are a variety of tours of the massive estate, among them overview tours, tours of the servants’ quarters and others that offer “behind the scenes” views of areas of the house not often seen by the public. Groups visiting the estate can also enjoy 250 acres of gardens; shop or dine at Antler Hill Village; and do a tour and tasting at the Biltmore Winery.
Groups traveling in the western part of the state should also plan time to visit Cherokee, which sits just across the state line from Gatlinburg, Tennessee, in North Carolina’s portion of the Great Smoky Mountains. As its name suggests, the area boasts a strong Cherokee heritage, which visitors can explore at Oconaluftee Indian Village, a historic interpretive site. And an outdoor drama, “Unto These Hills,” explores the story of the Cherokees with music, lights, costumes and elaborate staging.
Central: The City Scene
The largest cities in North Carolina can be found in its central region, sandwiched between the mountains and the coast. With numerous high-profile universities and high-tech industries, these destinations enjoy a sophisticated attitude that upscale travelers will appreciate.
In addition to being one of the financial centers of the South, Charlotte is home to some of the state’s most notable museums. NASCAR got its start in North Carolina, and today, the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte gives visitors a detailed look at one of the most beloved sports in the country. Visitors see numerous historic race cars and hear stories of the teams that raced them to victory.
Another popular attraction for groups, the Billy Graham Library, tells the life story of America’s most famous preacher. Visitors learn about Billy Graham’s childhood and family life, his early years in ministry and the series of evangelistic crusades for which he became famous. Along the way, exhibits display artifacts from his career and many of the gifts he has received from dignitaries worldwide.
The theme continues in Winston-Salem, a city about 80 miles northeast of Charlotte, where historic structures have been repurposed as museums. The Reynolda House Museum of American Art, once the home of local tobacco barons, now houses one of the South’s preeminent collections of American art, with pieces dating to 1755.
Also in Winston-Salem is the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, which is housed in a 1929 English Tudor home. It features contemporary works by regional and national artists.
Coast: Beaches and History
Coastal North Carolina attracts plenty of beachgoers, but there is more to this destination than sun and sand. Groups that visit the area can enjoy the ocean views while also learning about the region’s distinctive history.
On the northeastern edge of the state, North Carolina’s Outer Banks is a 200-mile stretch of barrier islands in the Atlantic Ocean, and the area has a story to tell about some of America’s first settlers.
In 1585, Sir Walter Raleigh and a group of settlers arrived on Roanoke Island and established the first English settlement in the New World. The 166 settlers later disappeared, earning Roanoke Island the name “the Lost Colony.” At Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, groups can see where these early settlers lived. The site also has information and programming that details the roles Native Americans, European settlers and African slaves played in the area until the Civil War.
For more of the story, many groups attend a performance of “The Lost Colony.” The production is the longest-running outdoor drama in the United States and recounts the events leading up to the disappearance of the Roanoke colony.
Wilmington, a town near the Atlantic Coast, is famous for its historical charm. At the heart of this is the 230-block National Register Historic District, which features hundreds of beautiful historic homes.
Many of the homes in the district are still private residences, but some of the most impressive mansions in town serve as house museums. One of the oldest, the Burgwin-Wright Museum House, was built around 1770 and features classic Colonial architecture and period lifestyle demonstrations.
Wilmington also has a pair of mansions from the middle of the 19th century: The Latimer House Museum was built in 1852 and features Victorian period furnishings and artwork. Another antebellum home, built in 1859, serves as the Bellamy Mansion Museum of History and Design Arts.