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From the sun-bleached Atlantic Coast to the heavily forested Appalachian Mountains, North Carolina boasts an array of beautiful landscapes that are just begging to be explored. While the state has its exciting cities, those looking for a more quaint ambiance might find some of the smaller towns more appealing. An alluring destination full of history, take a trip to one of these coastal and mountain towns in North Carolina to discover an abundance of recreational activities, natural beauty, and family-friendly attractions. Perfect for a weekend escape, take a look at these charming small towns to visit in North Carolina.
While many might not consider Asheville to be a small city, it has won numerous awards, including one of the ‘Top 25 smallest Cities in America’ according to American Style Magazine. The city boasts an array of alluring attractions with its unique shops, cultural museums, and historical attractions that appeal to visitors from around the country, and its sheer abundance of outdoor activities and beer breweries are just the icing on top of the cake. Take a wander around the downtown area to appreciate the beautiful Art Deco buildings, visit the Biltmore Estate to see an American castle, and if you’re up for a drive, soak in the mountain scenery along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The second town founded by European immigrants, and what would later become North Carolina, New Bern is a historic town full of Southern charm. Nestled along the Trent and Neuse rivers, this city goes all the way back to 1710. With this, you can appreciate its multiple historic districts with buildings listed on the state’s historic register. Also the birthplace of Pepsi Cola, visit the Pepsi Store on Middle Street to purchase memorabilia or take a day to explore the Masonic Temple and Athens Theatre, both of which contributed to the city’s nickname, the “Athens of the South.” Close to the Croatan National Forest, those in need of some nature therapy can spend an afternoon swimming, canoeing, and hiking, or head to Union Point Park in the historic downtown district for a picnic or fishing along the pier.
Named after America’s well-loved American explorer Daniel Boone, Boone is steeped rich in history. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Boone is a college town that is home to Appalachian State University. The city has a quaint, small-town appeal where you’ll find its four seasons create a playground for recreational activities, from hiking to biking. Mountain lovers flock to Boone, as adventurers can walk across the Mile High Swinging Bridge to Grandfather Mountain or take the journey out to Elk Knob State Park. In addition to its quaint downtown area, park space is abundant, as the Greenway Trail boasts the Junaluska Park, Boone Jaycee Park, and North Street Park that are ideal for a day of barbecuing and picnics.
Incorporated in 1705, Bath is the state’s oldest town. Located on the Pamlico River, here you can learn about the town’s first settlers and how the city became the first port. History enthusiasts will revel in the opportunities to explore the city’s rich history, and a visit here wouldn’t be complete without a stop at St. Thomas Episcopal Church. Built in 1734, the church is the oldest church building in North Carolina. A combination of historic attractions and coastal charm, take a seat by Bonner’s Point and watch the sunset or enjoy the range of outdoor adventures at your fingertips, particularly the swimming and fishing available at Pamlico Sound.
A beautifully forested town in the Piedmont, Hillsborough has consistently been recognized as one of the “coolest” towns in the state. Lined with charming restaurants and quaint shops, the historic buildings that make up the area adds to its small-town ambiance. Travelers interested in the history of the early settlers that inhabited Hillsborough can explore some of the more popular downtown sites, including the Ayr Mount plantation house, while those ready to give their credit card a workout will find plenty of opportunities in the downtown shops. Stroll along the Riverwalk, take a history tour of the Orange County Historical Museum, or take a hike in nearby Eno River State Park.
Tucked away in the mountains, Blowing Rock is known as the Crown of the Blue Ridge, only a 15-minute drive from Boone. Aptly named after The Blowing Rock, an enormous cliff high above the Johns River Gorge, visitors will find plenty of outdoor activities and family-friendly entertainment. Go fishing or hiking at Moses Cone Memorial Park, ride along the Tweetsie Railroad or explore the gravitational phenomenon at Mystery Hill. The heart of the village lies Main Street, a pedestrian-friendly area lined with shops, galleries, and restaurants. Memorial Park sits in the middle of all the action, while nearby attractions include Grandfather Mountain, Linville Caverns and Linville Falls.
Reminiscent of the Old South, Pinehurst is home to parks and greenways, considered a golfing haven of North Carolina. Take a swing at the historic golf course, Pinehurst Resort, where you’ll find nine golf courses. Dating back to 1897, the Pinehurst No. 2 course is a frequent stop on the PGA tour. Many of the buildings are also on the National Register of Historic Places, famous for their design and significance to the history of golf. Explore the downtown area and you’ll discover the city has more to offer than golf, as it offers boutique shopping and family-friendly dining options, while those interested in other sports can play soccer, baseball, in-line hockey or tennis at their choice of parks and greenways.
One of North Carolina’s seaside beauties, Beaufort is a small coastal town and the third largest oldest town in the state. Founded in 1709, visit the North Carolina Maritime Museum to see over 300 pieces from the Queen Anne’s Revenge, Blackbeard’s ship that sank in the Beaufort Inlet, or browse the exhibits on the natural landscapes of the area. A must-see in the area, take a ferry to Shackleford Banks, a barrier island in Cape Lookout National Seashore, to see a beautiful herd of wild horses. Perfect for an evening stroll, explore the historic Front Street to find a scenic downtown area with a variety of shops and restaurants.
Offering a range of scenic vistas, Brevard is best known for its natural beauty. Just 30 miles from Asheville, the town is part of the state’s “Land of the Waterfalls,” an area that boasts more than 200 waterfalls. Full of bustling activity, head to the main street during the day to see the shops and restaurants, while those in need of an outdoor adventure will have plenty of activities to fill an itinerary. The town’s location makes it close to both the Pisgah National Forest and DuPont State Recreational Forest, where parts of “The Hunger Games” were filmed. An excellent location for travelers who love to go hiking, mountain biking, and rock climbing, even kids can get in on the action at Sliding Rock, a 60-foot natural waterfall with a natural pool at the end.
Perfect for a weekend of peace and quiet, Hot Springs offers a relaxed setting out in nature. Named for its natural hot spring waters that have made this picturesque area a resort destination, the springs were first discovered by Native Americans and was said to have healing powers. The only hot springs in North Carolina, this laid-back town offers plenty of natural beauty, where you can go hiking on part of the Appalachian Trail or spend a day tubing, swimming, and kayaking in Spring Creek and the French Broad or Laurel rivers. After your outdoor adventures, shop for local artisan crafts and dine at one of the many locally-owned restaurants, or pack a picnic and climb Max Path, the 5,000-foot bald mountain with panoramic views.
Located along the Elk River, Banner Elk is a charming little mountain village that offers the perfect destination for those looking for a woodsy getaway. Just 15 miles from Boone, the town sits between Sugar Mountain Resort and Beech Mountain Resort, two of the biggest ski resorts in North Carolina, as this town is a mecca for winter sports enthusiasts. An excellent choice all year-round, here you’ll find water activities like swimming, fishing, and canoeing at Wildcat Lake, while Watauga Lake is another hotspot for outdoor recreation. Known for its annual Wooly Worm Festival, here you can celebrate the coming of the snow season and participate in exciting worm races.