9 Essential Stops in North and South Carolina
Featured destinations: The Carolinas
Published 08 June 2017
North and South Carolina, tucked away in the southeast corner of the USA, just above Georgia and to the east of Tennessee, are something of an enigma to many travellers. But for those in the know, the hiking trails, forested mountains, Civil War history, lively music and southern charm of the Carolinas stand them head and shoulders above the other 48 states. Need convincing? Read on to find out our top nine stops in North and South Carolina:
The largest city in North Carolina, Charlotte is stuffed full of top-notch restaurants and historic monuments, as well as a selection of informative museums. Try the Levine Museum of the New South for local tales, Discovery Place for hands-on science for all the family and the Mint Museum, which showcases artworks from around the world. Meanwhile, Romare Bearden Park, a 5.4 acre green space which opened in 2013 is already proving popular with locals and tourists looking to be outside among the flowers, waterfalls and light displays.
South Carolina’s most holidayed-in town, Charleston is a warm and welcoming place with a charm all of its own. Dotted with antebellum mansions and flower-filled gardens, explore the town by horse and carriage, or simply while away a sun drenched evening sipping wine on a restaurant patio. The civil-war history is evident in Charleston, and is best experienced at Fort Sumter, a now-ruined national monument on an offshore island where the American Civil War began in 1861.
Hilton Head Island
Just a stone’s throw from the Georgia border, Hilton Head Island in South Carolina is blessed with delightful beaches and plenty of peace and quiet, making it a popular holiday spot for locals, many of whom come by yacht. Other than the sweeping sands, the island offers leafy parks, golf courses and cycling routes, while surfers will be in their element on the Atlantic Ocean waves; just keep an eye out for dolphins. Don’t miss Sea Pines Forest Preserve, a 605-acre reserve where you can pack a picnic and grab your fishing rod for adventures among the swamps, wildflowers and lakes, all linked together by walking trails.
In the heart of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is an arty, almost hippie kind of place, with a long list of galleries and an even longer list of architectural gems. If you’re coming to Asheville you’d better come hungry, because the city is overflowing with southern style restaurants, microbreweries and artisan chocolate shops, and hosts a wide variety of food and arts festivals throughout the year.
On South Carolina’s Atlantic Coast, Myrtle Beach is immensely popular with sun seekers and beach lovers, as well as golf enthusiasts. So popular in fact, that around 14 million people come each year, many from the nearby southern states. Not a golf fan? Fear not, as the mini golf is lots of fun too. The seafood here is second to none, but most come to chill out on the sands and paddle in the ocean. It’s not just about the seaside though, as the nearby Myrtle Beach State Park is home to a nature centre and some pretty trails through the forest.
Nestled among the North Carolina Mountains, Boone is an attractive place that forms the jumping off point for the Blue Ridge Parkway (see below). Make time for the drive to Howard’s Knob, which offers wonderful views over town and the surrounding mountains, or pay a visit to Moses Cone Memorial Park and Flat Top Manor, where the rather grand aforementioned manor is home to the Parkway Craft Center. In winter, Boone has access to a number of nearby skiable mountains.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Get back into nature on this scenic 469-mile route from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, taking in the best of the area’s scenery and the waterfalls. To give time for all the inevitable photo stops, it’s best to tackle the route over 2-3 days. But if you don’t want to drive the whole thing, you can try the Skyline Drive, an 105-mile highway through the Blue Ridge Mountains taking in the fabulous mountain views, especially attractive when the autumn leaf colours appear.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
This national park, an International Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage site, is found partly in Tennessee and party in North Carolina. It is the most visited national park in the USA, with a record-breaking 11 million visitors in 2016. There are plenty of hiking trails on offer, including part of the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, as well as a number of waterfalls, coves and peaks to explore. Look out for black bears, white-tailed deer, bobcats, coyotes, boars and foxes, as well as flying squirrels.
Named after Sir Walter Raleigh, North Carolina’s capital is a handsome place filled with galleries and museums. Pay a visit to the family-friendly Marbles Kids Museum, the free Raleigh City Museum and the Nature Research Center, home to an enormous aquarium and a right whale skeleton called Stumpy. For something more outdoorsy try Pullen Park, a popular leafy space with a miniature train and an early 20th century carousel. While you’re here, see if you can nab tickets for the PNC Arena to see Raleigh’s National Hockey League team, the Carolina Hurricanes, play. There’s usually plenty of support and a fun, light-hearted atmosphere.
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