Perfect for travellers who seek unspoiled beaches or peaceful mountain scenery, North Carolina is not a state known for its high-paced cities and cultural attractions. Its two best features, the mountains and the coast, are situated on opposite sides of the state, with miles of sparsely populated ground separating them.
The west is home to beautiful rugged mountains, valleys and flower-filled meadows, waterfalls, streams and rivers brimming with trout, scenic drives and miles of hiking trails. Sharing the border with Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most visited parks in the country with acres of virgin forests and the oldest mountains on earth. Snaking its way along the backbone of the Blue Ridge Mountain Range is the dramatic Blue Ridge Parkway providing magnificent scenery and elevated views on its way towards Virginia.
To the east is the Atlantic coast with good beaches, fascinating historical sites and natural refuges that stretch from the thin band of barrier islands known as the Outer Banks to the Cape Fear Coast and the seaport of Wilmington in the south. Apart from seaside holiday resorts, most of the beaches, dunes and marsh areas are protected within the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and there are plenty of recreational activities such as surfing, fishing, swimming and birdwatching on offer.
The central Piedmont, or Heartland, lies between the coastal plains and the mountains and is a largely industrial and agricultural region of textile and tobacco towns, dominated by the academic institutions of the celebrated Research Triangle, a trio of university towns including Durham, the state capital of Raleigh, and Chapel Hill. A typically southern pace of life exists among the rolling farmland and picturesque golf courses despite the growth and swift economic progress, with landscapes reminiscent of the writings of Southern authors such as Thomas Wolfe.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Designed as a scenic drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile (755km) road connecting the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the North Carolina-Tennessee border. Running through the Southern Appalachians, most of the roadway follows the spine of the Blue Ridge Range providing stunning scenery and magnificent vistas of distant mountain peaks, twisting through mountainous country that would otherwise be inaccessible. It was begun in 1935 to link the parks and also to provide employment during the Great Depression, and today the parkway attracts more than 20 million visitors annually. Its main attraction is the endless dramatic viewpoints overlooking forested mountains and valleys, and the rich autumn colours that blaze in October that are the highlight of the year, drawing crowds of motorists. The parkway's highest elevation of 6,047ft (1,843m) at Richland Balsam Overlook has magnificent views. The road provides access to many hiking trails, including a section of the Appalachian Trail that follows the parkway from Mile 0 to Mile 103, as well as unusual rock formations, impressive waterfalls, wild flowers, lakes, and camping and picnic sites. Along the way are visitor centres, food and modern lodgings nestled in striking mountain scenery.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park boasts many natural assets that have made this one of the most visited national parks in the country. The Smoky Mountains, named for the blue smoke-like mist that frequently hovers in the air (caused by the natural oils and water vapour released into the air by the plants), are the oldest mountains in the world. The mountainsides are covered in an unparalleled diversity of wildflowers, plants and trees, and the park is renowned for its multitude of birds, fish and mammals, particularly black bears. Within its vast wilderness are streams, rivers and waterfalls, acres of virgin forest and miles of hiking trails, including part of the Appalachian Trail that runs along the crest of the mountains through the park. Remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture can be discovered in the numerous historic buildings around the park, many of them found in the isolated mountain valley of Cades Cove that features cultural history as well as many recreational opportunities. Barns, churches, farmhouses and a gristmill preserved from the pioneer settlers of the 19th century can be viewed along the one-way loop road that is the most popular way to visit the Cove. The land was once sacred to the Cherokee who were brutally removed from their ancestral home in 1838 to Oklahoma along the Trail of Tears, but some remained hidden in the mountains and the Quall Indian reservation was later formed, sharing part of the park's southern border. On the edge of the park the town of Cherokee (North Carolina) and Gatlinburg (Tennessee) offer extensive visitor facilities, and the smaller towns of Bryson City (North Carolina) and Townsend (Tennessee) are more pleasant but with limited services. During summer and autumn, accommodation can be booked up for weeks and roads leading to the park become jammed with traffic. The headquarters of the North Carolina side of the park is the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee.
Asheville Historic Trolley Tours
Asheville's historic attractions are best seen from aboard a vintage trolley. This narrated tour features the town's memorable sites such as the Montford Historic District, the Grove Park Inn and Biltmore Village. The Thomas Wolfe memorial and Grove Arcade Building are also included in the tour. The ghost tours add a darker twist...
Established in 1901 and spanning 67 acres, these gardens by the sea comprise formal gardens, a butterfly garden, wildlife, historic structures, walking trails, sculptures, freshwater lakes and breathtaking views over Bradley Creek. Airlie Gardens are best known for their collection of over 1,000 azaleas, their countless cultivars of camellia and the Airlie Oak, the gardens' majestic centrepiece dating back to 1545. Airlie offers various events throughout the year, including kayak eco tours, oyster roasts and concerts.
Bald Head Island
Beautiful Bald Head Island lies off the tip of the Cape Fear peninsula, a serene retreat to a simpler way of life. Scattered along the tiny island's beaches and tidal creeks, and nestled amid its maritime forest, are stunning homes carefully constructed in the coastal architectural style to complement their natural surroundings. Many are available as holiday rentals, and year after year, families board the ferry at Southport, the only way to reach the island, for a week or two of relaxation. Bald Head is also a lovely day trip, however. There are no cars on the island, so visitors are free to meander along the roads on bicycles or golf carts. Other than the tiny, picturesque harbour, the country club and the Old Baldy Lighthouse, the main attractions are the sun, the sand and the quiet.
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences has recreated a series of natural environments, complete with living animals and a 20-foot-high (6m) waterfall, through which visitors can walk and discover North Carolina's diverse geography, geology, plants and animals. The museum is also home to Willo, a 66-million-year-old dinosaur skeleton, the only one in the world with a fossilized heart. Other dinosaurs are also on display, as is one of the world's finest great whale skeletons. The Afro CafÃ© serves tasty breakfasts and lunches.
Artspace is a pioneering visual arts centre that allows the public to become part of the creative process. As the heart of Raleigh's arts community, Artspace stages countless challenging and award-winning exhibitions, workshops, outreach programs and public events each year. Its unique open studio environment enables artists to collaborate with one another and with visitors. Today, it is the second-largest open studio space in the country.
North Carolina Museum of Art
The collection at the North Carolina Museum of Art spans 5,000 years, from ancient Egypt up to the present day. Ancient pieces include Greek and Roman sculptures and vases, but it is the European collection that is internationally celebrated. This includes significant works from the Renaissance through Impressionist periods by artists such as Botticelli, Raphael and Monet. American art, however, is certainly not neglected. The museum has a range of 18th and 19th-century American works as well as modern art by major contemporary artists. The museum shop offers books, posters and other art-related merchandise, while the Blue Ridge restaurant, overlooking the lush grounds scattered with sculptures, serves delicious lunches.
The Liville Caverns are an underground labyrinth of rooms and passageways moulded out of the rock-bed beneath Humpback Mountain by years of flowing water. The caverns were first discovered in the 19th century when it appeared that fish were swimming out the mountain. Today, guided tours make this extraordinary attraction available to all.
Famous as the site of the Wright Brothers' first flight in 1903, Kitty Hawk is a sleepy village on the North Carolina coast that offers visitors the chance to enjoy outdoor activities such as kayaking, boating, golf, fishing, surfing, and more. The town itself has a few shops and restaurants, and family entertainment like cinemas and mini golf. The most popular attraction in Kitty Hawk is the Wright Brothers National Memorial and Visitor Centre.
Raleigh-Durham International Airport
Location: The airport is situated 10 miles (16km) south of Durham and equal distance northwest of Raleigh.
Contacts: Tel: +1 919 840 2123.
Time Zone: GMT -5 (GMT -4 from March to November).
Departure tax: None.
Transfer between terminals: Free buses run between the two terminals.
Facilities: Facilities include ATMs, a post box, WiFi, restaurants, bars, shops, 24 hour flower vending machine, spa, shoeshine, smoking areas and tourist information and hotel reservations. Business Centres in both terminals offer currency exchange and travel insurance. Facilities for the disabled are good.
Parking: Hourly and daily parking is available. Daily parking in the Park and Ride lot costs $6 while daily rates in the hourly lot cost $10. Hourly rates are $1 per hour up to $24 per day.
Transfer to the city: TTA offers a connecting airport shuttle service to major areas such as Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Cary and Research Triangle Park, every day except Sunday; a single fare is $2. Taxis are also available; the fare to either Raleigh or Durham is around $27.50.
Car rental: Car rental companies Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz and National are located at the airport. A shuttle service runs every 15 minutes from outside the baggage claim area of all terminals to the car rental offices. Look for green bus shelters marked Rental Car. Thrifty is located off the airport premises and also offers a shuttle service.
Charlotte Douglas International Airport
Location: The airport is situated seven miles (11km) west of Charlotte, near the border between North and South Carolina.
Contacts: Tel: +1 704 359 4000.
Time Zone: GMT -5 (GMT -4 from March to November).
Departure tax: None.
Facilities: A bank, ATMs and bureau de change are available. Other facilities include restaurants, bars, shops, duty-free, post office and tourist information. Facilities for the disabled are good.
Parking: Daily, hourly and long-term remote parking is available. Valet parking is also an option. Complimentary shuttle buses transport passengers between parking lots and the terminal building.
Transfer to the city: The CATS airport express shuttle ferries passengers to the city centre from the arrival area on the lower level of the main terminal. Courtesy shuttles are available for most local hotels and motels. Taxis are available from outside the terminal and cost approximately $20 to the city centre.
Car rental: Car rental companies include Alamo, National, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Thrifty and Hertz. All rental car counters are located on the lower baggage claim level of the passenger terminal.
Piedmont Triad International Airport
Location: The airport is nine miles (14km) from Greensboro, 17 miles (27km from Winston-Salem and just 12 miles (19km from High Point.
Contacts: Tel: +1 336 665 5666.
Time Zone: GMT Â 5 (GMT Â 4 from March to November)
Departure tax: None.
Facilities: ATMs, post office, UPS and FedEx drop-off boxes, conference facilities, a chapel, shoe shine stand, help phones, hotel information desks, airline lounges, vending machines, a games room and wifi are all available at Piedmont Triad Airport. There are also a number of newsstands and bookstores as well as a PGA Tour Shop and souvenir shops. Restaurants and snack bars range from Dunkin Donuts to Natty Green's Sports Bar.
Parking: Parking garage rates are $8 per day while long-term lot rates cost $6 per day. A free shuttle runs between the long-term lots and the terminal. Short-term metered parking bays are available in front of the terminal. There is also an overflow lot which costs just $4 per day.
Transfer to the city: Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation (PART) offers a shuttle between the airport and town. Shuttles run at 30-minute intervals between 6am and 9am and 3pm to 7pm. The shuttle runs every hour between 9am and 3pm. Tickets cost $2.40 and the shuttles run to Pleasant Ridge, PTIA Airport, Burnt Poplar and Piedmont Center. Taxis can be booked at the Triad Transportation Desk on the lower level of the terminal. Taxis fares range from $25 to Greensboro to $50 for a trip to Winston-Salem.
Car rental: Rental desks are in the baggage claims area. Car rental companies with desks at the airport include Alamo, Avis, Enterprise, National, Hertz, Thrifty/Dollar and Triangle.
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