North Carolina is a quintessentially Southern state in the United States of America offering visitors endless variety with three distinct regions. Visitors can enjoy outdoor activities from hiking, mountain climbing, and skiing, along with a taste of Appalachian music and culture in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains. Increasingly diverse and fast-growing cities dot the Piedmont – from Charlotte's skyscrapers to Raleigh's museums and historic neighborhoods and Chapel Hill's college nightlife. Kite-surfing, fishing, sun, and sand await visitors to the state's coastal region, with secluded barrier islands in the Outer Banks and the bustling beach-side city of Wilmington.
The state's temperate climate has four distinct seasons and is highly acclaimed for its year-round living comforts. Rainfall is adequate and dispersed over the entire year. More than 56 million visitors traveled to North Carolina in 2008, ranking the state sixth behind California, Florida, Texas, New York, and Pennsylvania. Eighty-nine percent of all travelers traveled to North Carolina by auto, truck or camper/RV.
As North Carolina lies in the center of the eastern seaboard of the United States, nearly half of the country's population lives within a 500-mile (800-km) radius of the state. Murphy is the westernmost town of significance and Manteo is the easternmost town of significance; "From Murphy to Manteo" is a popular saying.
"The Carolinas" consist of both North Carolina and South Carolina immediately to the south.
Home to the highest mountains in eastern North America, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the vibrant mountain towns of Asheville and Boone.
From fast-growing and diverse cities to rolling farmland, this region includes Charlotte, the South's finance center and the home of NASCAR, the Research Triangle of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, a hub of high-tech research and both quaint college towns and bustling college "cities", and the Piedmont Triad of Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and High Point, full of old-time Southern charm and world-class barbecue.
|Coastal Plain |
Endless stretches of secluded beaches await visitors to the Outer Banks and the Crystal Coast, aviation history and the birthplace of flight in Kitty Hawk, the historic coastal city of Wilmington, with its spanish-moss draped oaks and booming film industry, the beautiful and historic New Bern, as well as the military bases of the interior coast, including Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville.
- 1 Raleigh - North Carolina's capital city and the location of many of the state's cultural institutions.
- 2 Asheville - Scenic and very fun mountain city, with extensive cultural establishments, microbreweries and liberal culture.
- 3 Chapel Hill - One of the country's best college towns, with college basketball, live music venues, vibrant nightlife, world-class restaurants and the beautiful magnolia-lined campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
- 4 Charlotte - North Carolina's largest city, known for its financial sector, the Carolina Panthers, the Charlotte Hornets, NASCAR, and other professional sports.
- 5 Durham - Home of Duke University - consistently ranked the South's top university - and its famous basketball program, the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, plenty of notable restaurants and breweries, and a revitalized downtown tobacco district.
- 6 Greensboro - Home to six colleges and universities, historic neighborhoods, civil rights history, and seasonal sports venues.
- 7 New Bern - Their motto is "North Carolina begins here", original capital and second oldest town in North Carolina. North Carolina Historical Museum, Tryon Place, Fireman's Museum, birthplace of Pepsi Cola. One of the most beautiful cities on the East Coast.
- 8 Wilmington - Colonial Port City, home of EUE Screen Gem studios. The main coastal city, a great destination for the beach lover.
- 9 Winston-Salem - Mid-sized city, home of a famous Moravian settlement (Old Salem), RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, Wake Forest University and Krispy Kreme.
- 1 Great Smoky Mountains National Park - The most visited National Park in the entire country.
- 2 Appalachian Trail
- Blue Ridge Parkway - One of the most visited units of the National Park System.
- Cape Hatteras National Seashore
- Cape Lookout National Seashore
- 3 Outer Banks - Known for its famous lighthouses and wild horses.
North Carolina, in many ways, represents the very best of both the New South and old Dixie. Booming, diverse cities lie just "down the road" from quiet Southern towns where not much has changed since the Civil War. The state's metro areas, and especially the Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham metros, have seen a rapid influx of migrants since the 1980s, with a significant number coming from the Northeast and Midwest, and the state's internationally-born population has skyrocketed. These newcomers have added layers of culture and dynamism to the down-home Southern way of life that has defined the state since colonial days. Because of this, visitors will find no shortage of cultural and culinary wonders throughout the state-- whether in experiencing the native Southern culture, which is very much alive and well, or the multitude of ethnic restaurants, off-Broadway shows, art galleries, and fine dining that have blossomed.
Despite the ever-evolving metro areas of the state, small towns throughout North Carolina remain deeply rooted in a past that goes back to America's colonial foundings. From the shipwrecks of 17th century pirates off the Carolina coast, to dramatic Civil War battlefields, North Carolinians are deeply proud of their heritage and place in American history.
Even with this shared heritage, visitors will notice a dramatic difference in food, culture and lifestyle as they travel from east to west in the state. Travelers spending a leisurely afternoon beneath a Spanish-moss draped live-oak tree along a waterway in Wilmington will feel worlds away from a hiker exploring the most hidden corners of the Great Smokey Mountains.
That said, throughout the state, even in the heart of downtown Charlotte or Raleigh, the ubiquitous easy-going and well-mannered way-of-life will always remind visitors that they are very much in the heart of the South.
Summers can be warm, especially during July and August, but in general the climate of North Carolina is mild compared to its neighbors in the southeast. For example, the average July high in Charlotte, and most central NC cities, is 90°F (32°C). In the mountains of Asheville, the average July high is only 84°F (29°C), and highs below 90°F are also found on the coast. For travelers coming from warmer climates, summers in North Carolina are quite nice, especially in the mountains.
However, during the summer, high humidity combined with summer temperatures above 90°F (32°C) can feel quite oppressive may be hazardous for senior citizens and those of ill health. Between the months of June and August, heat advisories are not uncommon. The good news about the heat is the air and ocean water temperatures, particularly for the Southeast NC beaches, remain comfortable for swimming and beach-going well into September, if not October.
In general, for travelers coming from cooler climates, the heat and humidity of southern summers can be a shock, making spring and fall much more attractive. During the fall season, the Blue Ridge Mountains are a popular destination due to the beauty of the foliage.
In the winter, the mountains of northwestern North Carolina offer skiing and other winter sports. Northwestern North Carolina has a distinct climate even for North Carolina. The area termed "The High Country" due to its elevation, has a climate more related to areas of New England and parts of the Upper Midwest, as compared to other areas of the South. This is particularly true in the winter, where the area gets considerably more snow and wintry precipitation than the rest of the state. In addition, this area stays, on average, much cooler year round than other parts of the state.
English, the state's official language, is almost universally spoken.
The Southern dialect is commonly found in North Carolina and is usually easily understood by most people. Being in the Northern South, or "Upper South," the dialect of North Carolina is somewhat different than the stereotypical southern accent, which is often more of the dialect found in the "Deep South". The standard dialect in most parts of the state, especially in the Piedmont and eastern parts of the state borrows from the Virginia Piedmont accent, which is derived from the Virginia Tobacco Planters of the colonial era. The difference may be trivial to the untrained ear, but in some people with thicker accents, it may sound a bit strange at first with some words sounding more British than in other parts of the South. The Southern dialect varies within the state, though, with the mountainous western portions having a dialect shared with most areas of the Appalachian Mountains in the South. Due to years of isolation, some residents of parts of the Outer Banks speak in a distinct "brogue" that in many cases sounds more like British English and Irish than any American dialect. This brogue can be difficult to understand at first, but not impossible to comprehend.
Spanish is spoken by a sizable minority population in some areas, and as a second-language throughout the state.
Cherokee is spoken by 15,000 to 20,000 people in western North Carolina, along with other Native American languages.
In the cities of Charlotte and Raleigh you will also find a wide variety of languages spoken due to these cities' high immigrant populations.
North Carolina borders Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina. North Carolina has the largest state-maintained highway system in the nation, incorporating over 78,600 miles of highways. It provides same-day access to major eastern US markets. I-40 connects North Carolina with California, while I-95 can take you to anywhere on the East Coast. NC also contains part or all of I-26, I-73, I-74, I-77, and I-85.
North Carolina has four international airports:
- Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT IATA) in Charlotte
- Piedmont Triad International Airport (GSO IATA) in Greensboro
- Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU IATA) between Raleigh and Durham
- Wilmington International Airport (ILM IATA) in Wilmington
North Carolina also has other passenger airports such as:
- Asheville Regional Airport (AVL IATA) in Asheville
- Fayetteville Regional Airport (FAY IATA) in Fayetteville
- Coastal Carolina Regional Airport (EWN IATA) in New Bern
Twelve daily Amtrak passenger trains serve 17 North Carolina cities on six routes, including the northbound and southbound Carolinian, Piedmont, Silver Star, Silver Meteor, Crescent and Palmetto. The Carolinian and Piedmont are operated jointly by the State of North Carolina and Amtrak to provide daily, round-trip passenger rail service between Charlotte and Raleigh. The Carolinian continues service to the Northeast.
Given North Carolina's central location on the East Coast, most visitors arrive to the state in their own personal vehicles. Roads are generally well kept and traffic, outside rush-hour in the major cities, is safe and uncrowded. However, visitors arriving by plane would be well advised to rent a vehicle, or arrange for other private transportation because, except in parts of Charlotte and the Triangle, public transportation is limited. Mountain roads in the state's western areas can sometimes be unpaved and, in winter months, extra caution is advised. Parts of the Outer Banks are inaccessible by car and can only be accessed either by the North Carolina ferry system or by private boat.
North Carolina’s ferry system on the Outer Banks/Coast, the second-largest in the nation and largest on the East Coast, operates 24 ferries. The ferry system annually transports nearly 2.5 million passengers and 1.3 million vehicles. For ferry information and reservations ☏
North Carolina is well served by Greyhound.
- The Biltmore Estate. George Vanderbilt's 250-room Biltmore House, extensive gardens, and winery in Asheville.
- Andy Griffith. In Mt. Airy - entertainment, lodging, dining, shopping, and more in the town that inspired Andy Griffith's Mayberry in the classic television series.
- The Lost Colony. A 400 year-old mystery haunts Roanoke Island on North Carolina's Outer Banks. There, in 1587, about 120 men, women and children established the first English colony in the New World -- then vanished without a trace, leaving historians and archaeologists with one of America's most perplexing mysteries.
- The Blue Ridge Parkway. A beautiful 469 mile route running north and south in the mountains.
- Charlotte, home to several sports teams and historic sites. Charlotte is a good base for the Carolina traveler as it is in the heart of the Carolinas; 2 main interstates (I-77 and I-85) run through Charlotte. Charlotte is a very green city (in terms of grass and trees), it claims to be America's greenest city, and it may very well be. The state's first metro area, Metrolina, encompasses Gastonia, Concord, Monroe, and Rock Hill, South Carolina.
- Asheville and the NC Appalachian Mountains, the most picturesque area of the state, Asheville is the main city. Mount Mitchell, the highest peak in the range, is also in the extreme west of the state.
- North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher and adjacent Fort Fisher museum and recreation area, 20 minutes south of Wilmington in Kure Beach.
- USS North Carolina Battleship Memorial, a museum featuring the USS North Carolina. The main deck, many internal compartments, and gun turrets can be viewed. There are several other attractions on the site also. There is an admission fee.
- Blandwood Mansion. Greensboro's National Historic Landmark that includes nineteenth-century Tuscan additions designed by New York architect A. J. Davis. The home of two-term governor John Motley Morehead, significant for being the "Father of Modern North Carolina".
- Pisgah National Forest. Pisgah is a must-see for visitors to the Western NC area. Pack a lunch for one of the various picnic sites, take a dip in one of the many swimming holes, visit the fish hatchey, or take a hike up to Looking Glass Falls or Mount Pisgah. Hiking trails range in difficulty, from easy to moderate to advanced. Many swimming holes and creeks are accessible without a hike involved, as with picnic areas. Check out one of the many maps around the park, and enjoy. But beware, the forest is packed come summertime!
- Tryon Palace The centerpiece of the restored historic district in New Bern is the restored home of British Governor William Tryon, who had his magnificent showplace built in 1770. The elegant Georgian style mansion served as both home of the governor and the capitol of the Colony of North Carolina. After the Revolutionary War, Tryon Palace became the capitol of the independent State of North Carolina.
- Old Salem, a colonial-era style settlement featuring some of the virtues and qualities of colonial life.
- Kitty Hawk, the site of the Wright brothers' first powered flight.
Hiking and Camping: The Appalachian Mountains in the western part of the state provide extensive trails for hiking and many places allow for overnight camping. Go see Grandfather Mountain, a popular tourist spot with a fantastic view, or climb Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River.
College Sports and College Towns Four top universities (Duke, University of North Carolina, North Carolina State and Wake Forest) are in the Piedmont. These schools have a tradition of college basketball excellence, and many North Carolinians are very devoted to following the sport. This statewide passion has helped make the Duke-UNC rivalry the most famous in college basketball. Carolina, NC State and Duke all have historic basketball arenas: Carmichael Auditorium (UNC) and Reynolds Coliseum (NC State) both host women's basketball games and other athletic events. UNC men's basketball is played at the Dean E. Smith Center and NC State men's basketball is played at the PNC Arena. Both Duke's men's and women's teams play at Cameron Indoor Stadium, named by Sports Illustrated (7 June 1999) as one of the top sporting venues in the world. Wake Forest plays at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem. While North Carolinians love the drama of the NCAA Tournament, they are also devoted to the annual Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament held in early March. The Tournament does not affect businesses and schools in the way that it once did (many North Carolinians have fond memories of long work "breaks" and lunches or games being shown in classrooms), but do not expect much serious work to get done in a typical North Carolina office or school on ACC Friday! Attending the ACC Tournament when it is held in either Charlotte or (especially) Greensboro will allow you to experience a North Carolina institution.
For those who are not interested in basketball or are unable to travel to North Carolina during basketball season the four universities offer art museums, library exhibits, lectures from leading intellectuals, arts/culture events and attractions ranging from the Morehead Planetarium to the Duke Gardens. Chapel Hill, the home of the University of North Carolina, is also notable for its downtown district (especially Franklin Street) and its music scene. Cat's Cradle in next-door Carrboro regularly hosts major "indie" acts such as Super Furry Animals, Neko Case, and Wolf Parade as well as local and regional acts.
Professional Sports: North Carolina has a number of successful professional teams. In Charlotte, the National Football League's Carolina Panthers play at Bank of America stadium from August through December (though, as with most NFL teams, single tickets may be hard to come by and should be purchased well in advance of game day). Also in Charlotte, the Charlotte Hornets represent the National Basketball Association (NBA), playing at Spectrum Center (formerly Time Warner Cable Arena). In Raleigh, the Carolina Hurricanes, winners of the 2006 Stanley Cup, tear up the ice as one of the few National Hockey League (NHL) teams in the South. Finally, for baseball action, check out the incredibly popular Durham Bulls, a minor league baseball team made famous by Kevin Costner's 1988 film, "Bull Durham."
Adventure: North Carolina has a lot to offer for those seeking adventure. Visitors can enjoy whitewater rafting and kayaking on one of North Carolina's many rivers that offer category 1 (easy) through category 5 (difficult) rapids. In the mountains, visitors can find many guided adventures including rock climbing and mountain bike tours. On the coast, visitors can enjoy parasailing, jet ski rentals and deep-sea fishing tours. The annual week-long Mountains to Coast bike ride lets you see North Carolina's range of scenery on two wheels. There are also outdoor zipline courses and a NASCAR Driving Experience for those looking for a fast-paced adventure.
Scuba Dive: See Diving in North Carolina
For authentic, non-kitschy North Carolina souvenirs, look for local pottery or Cackalacky spice sauce.
Hog farms are North Carolina's number-one commodity. The pig plays an important role in state cuisine. As in the rest of the South, pork meat (particularly ham, bacon, smoked ham hocks and salt pork) and pork fat (fatback and lard) are highly popular flavoring ingredients. Perhaps unsurprisingly, no part of the pig is wasted. Livermush, a delicacy that includes pig liver, parts of the head, and cornmeal is a favorite delicacy. The town of Shelby, NC has an annual festival celebrating the tradition of livermush and barbecue. A great local delicacy — albeit one that most people won't touch, if they weren't raised eating it — is chitterlings (most often abbreviated to chitlings or chitlins), aka pig intestines, which are thoroughly cleaned, boiled and fried. Small local companies like Neese's manufacture souse (also called headcheese), liver pudding, pickled pigs' feet and C-loaf (made from chitterlings). For the less adventurous, North Carolina offers plenty of mainstream ways to enjoy the humble pig:
- The pig pickin' is a longstanding North Carolina tradition, usually to be found at large gatherings like a church supper or family reunion. An entire pig is split and slow-roasted all day over the fire, then pulled apart and served to the hungry crowd along with a wide variety of accompanying side dishes and desserts.
- Barbecue tends to stir up strong emotions anywhere there's a prized local variation, and North Carolina is no different. Here the main split is between the east and the west. Western NC barbecue (or Lexington Style) favors only the pork shoulders, and the sauce (or dip) is vinegar- and tomato-based. Eastern NC barbecue roasts the entire pig, and uses a sauce made primarily from vinegar and hot red pepper. In North Carolina, the pork meat is pulled, or shredded (by hand or with forks) in the eastern part of the state, and chopped in the western part. Barbecue can be served all by itself on a plate (but usually with a generous serving of hushpuppies), but more commonly is piled atop a hamburger bun along with chopped coleslaw and eaten as a sandwich. A point about the slaw; in the eastern part of the state, the slaw is the familiar shredded cabbage and mayonnaise mixture you can buy in any grocery store, but the further west of the Triangle you get, the more likely you are to be served slaw of a different nature, BBQ slaw. BBQ slaw is made from the same, albeit more finely shredded, cabbage; but instead of mayonnaise and other spices, the same vinegar and tomato mixture (minus the hot sauce) that is used on the pork is added, along with sugar to give it a slightly sweet taste. One of the best barbecue restaurants is Parker's, in Wilson, NC.
- Country ham is thinly-sliced and heavily salted. It's usually pan-fried and eaten on a biscuit as a kind of breakfast sandwich. The drippings are mixed with black coffee to create red-eye gravy, which is served over the country ham or the other breakfast foods.
Chicken is also a highly popular food; while it may not be as ubiquitous as pork, it's much beloved. Fried chicken is commonly served as part of a traditional Sunday dinner (although a roast ham is an equally popular alternative). There's also the classic comfort-food of chicken and dumplings, and roast chicken is often served at a pig pickin' for those rare few who choose not to gorge on pork.
Thanks in large part to the African influences on the entire South, traditional Southern meals — particularly barbecues and buffets — are incomplete without a spread of vegetable side dishes, usually slow-cooked or deep-fried. These include greens (collard, turnip, mustard or kale, slow-cooked in a large pot with ham, and sometimes served with cider vinegar; the leftover liquid, or pot liquor, makes a side dish in itself), cabbage (boiled, or fried in bacon grease), green beans (slow-cooked with ham), okra (most often sliced thickly, dipped in cornmeal batter and deep-fried), tomatoes (sliced fresh if ripe, or deep-fried in cornmeal if green), potatoes (boiled if new, or made into potato salad with mayonnaise and seasonings), field peas (boiled with ham) and black-eyed peas (simmered with salt pork and hot pepper). Sweet potatoes are also a major North Carolina crop; although they don't figure hugely into local cuisine, you'll find them baked, served in casseroles, occasionally raw on salads, or as a delectable pumpkin-like pie filling.
One of the most prominent vegetables in North Carolina cuisine, and Southern cuisine in general, is corn. Aside from boiled or grilled corn-on-the-cob, cornmeal is frequently used to make local favorites:
- Grits is made of coarsely-ground corn kernels. It's almost invariably boiled slowly like porridge, and served with salt, black pepper and butter as part of a Southern breakfast. Some people like to make cheese grits by mixing in Cheddar cheese, and in the coastal region, cheese grits are often garnished with fresh shrimp.
- Cornbread is a crumbly bread made of stone-ground cornmeal and buttermilk, baked in a cast-iron skillet. It's usually eaten hot with butter, or crumbled into something soupy, like more buttermilk, pot liquor from cooked greens, or pinto beans.
- Hush puppies are deep-fried cornmeal dumplings, either round or elongated, sometimes flavored with chopped onion and served alongside barbecue or fried seafood. Restaurants usually serve them with butter, as if you need to make them any oilier. They can be quite addictive, as well as heavy, so don't overdo it! Legend has it that they were named when a cook tossed some to a barking dog who was begging for food.
Also in the bread category are biscuits, which are round leavened breads usually made from buttermilk, and are often used as the litmus test for any good Southern cook. They're usually split down the middle and spread with butter and possibly some kind of jam, or used for making breakfast sandwiches.
Because of its large coastal area, seafood is also a popular item on North Carolina menus: fresh fish, shrimp, scallops, clams, oysters and crabs can be found across the state, particularly in the eastern half. Preparation tends to be simple rather than elaborate, emphasizing the fresh taste of the ingredients. Calabash-style seafood, named for the town it originated in, is popular throughout the state; this is dipped in evaporated milk, then a dry breading mixture, and deep-fried. There's also catfish, found in rivers throughout the state, usually served dredged in cornmeal and deep-fried.
Around the Winston-Salem area, there's a large Moravian settlement which specializes in local delicacies that aren't found elsewhere in the state. Moravian sugar cookies are paper-thin and extremely labor-intensive to make (recipes can be found online, for those of curious natures and muscular arms), and available in a wide variety of flavors including ginger, spice, lemon, Key lime, butterscotch, chocolate and black walnut, as well as regular sugar. Moravian sugar cake is a leavened cake topped with melted butter and cinnamon sugar. Lovefeast buns are tasty potato rolls flavored with mace and citrus peel, a favorite during the holiday season.
A snack which may have originated in North Carolina, and is certainly popular throughout the state, is cheese straws, crispy baked strips of extruded dough flavored with copious amounts of Cheddar cheese and hot sauce.
Popular throughout the South is pimiento cheese (often spelled "pimento") — at its simplest, a spreadable mixture of grated sharp cheddar cheese, pimiento strips and mayonnaise. It's usually made into sandwiches, often toasted so that it melts, and topped with lettuce and tomato; but you may also find it as a spread for crackers or celery sticks. It can be found in tubs at the grocery store or in convenience-store sandwiches, but the flavor tends to pale in comparison to homemade.
Perhaps North Carolina's most celebrated food is the addictive yeast-raised Krispy Kreme doughnut, a tradition in Winston-Salem since 1937. These light, fluffy, heavenly-tasting fried confections are now available all over the US and internationally; connoisseurs claim that they're the best doughnuts on the planet. If you're lucky enough to visit a town that has a Krispy Kreme store, you can stop by when the red light is on to watch the fresh, hot doughnuts go through the glazing machine, and buy one or a whole dozen of them before the glaze has even fully set.
Many areas of North Carolina are increasingly known for their microbreweries. Asheville has more microbreweries per capita than any other city in the nation, with 11 in total. Major Colorado breweries New Belgium and Oskar Blues have chosen Western North Carolina as their second locations. In addition to the Western part of the state, the Triangle area of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill is home to several craft breweries.
North Carolina is an up-and-coming area for winemaking. The Yadkin Valley American Viticultural Area is a relatively new wine-growing region in the northwestern part of the state. One particular specialty of the state is wine made from Scuppernong grapes, a fragrant variety of Muscadine, which gives it a remarkable flavor.
Not a wine, but named as if it were (owing to its burgundy color), is local cherry-flavored soft drink Cheerwine. It's been a North Carolina favorite since 1917, originating in the town of Salisbury. Originally a local product, its popularity has caught on and it's beginning to expand throughout the US.
Another drink native to North Carolina is Pepsi Cola. It was made by a pharmacist in New Bern named Caleb Bradham who sold it in his pharmacy in the early 1890s. It was first called Brad's Drink but was changed to Pepsi in 1903.
And, of course, there's always the ubiquitous Southern sweet iced tea. As in practically all of the South, sweet tea is the beverage of choice for a lot of people; the stronger and sweeter, the better. "Iced" is always assumed (ask for "hot tea" if you want it steaming) and "sweet" is the default, although people still tend to specify "sweet tea" when ordering. Most places do offer "unsweet" tea, but remember to ask for it if you want it.
The alcohol laws of North Carolina prohibit the sale of alcohol after 2AM Monday through Saturday, and from 2AM until noon on Sundays. Beer and wine are available for purchase at most markets, grocery stores and gas stations, but liquors are only sold at state-run ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Commission) stores, rather than at a traditional liquor store.
North Carolina isn't known for violence and most areas of the state have relatively low crime rates. As with any state, it is best to use common sense whenever visiting an unfamiliar place. In most areas, the greatest safety threats are bad drivers on the highway. Surprisingly, most major cities in North Carolina are very safe compared to other Southern cities and other parts of the country. The only city with a noticeable crime rate is Charlotte, but it remains much lower than places like Atlanta or Washington, DC.
Outside of the major metro areas, North Carolina is generally rural and undeveloped. This makes for dangerous wildlife and plants. If hiking, avoid straying from the marked trail. There are many venomous animals in North Carolina. Also, during the summer months, thunderstorms increase and the potential for dangerous lightning should be acknowledged.
Most snakes in North Carolina are harmless, but the state does have a few species of venomous snakes: copperheads, rattlesnakes, and (in the east) cottonmouths. They're not generally aggressive, but keep an eye out for them when hiking. Give snakes a wide berth, and if you're bitten seek medical attention.
Near the ocean, shark attacks have been on the rise. Always take precautions while enjoying the beautiful Atlantic ocean.
The Southern drawl in language is generally charming to most outsiders. In most cases, mutual respect is expected and southern hospitality is a staple of the area. This is expressed in a number of ways: holding doors open for strangers, not honking a car horn unless necessary, and keeping one's voice down when in a crowded room. It is typical to reply to questions with "Yes, ma'am" or "No, sir", and people will not think anything is strange if you adopt this style of respectful reply.
As is common in other parts of the South, North Carolinians typically take offense at being stereotyped as "hicks" or "rednecks". While some rural residents might apply such labels to themselves as a matter of humor, it is not expected that outsiders will follow suit. It is very strongly advised that visitors treat the locals with the same respect that you'd afford to any other group of people, and not attempt to make a joke out of age-old class discrimination.
One in five residents are African-American. The state has a long and ugly history of race-based slavery and institutional racism. Legal discrimination was ended decades ago, but informal racism – such as drivers locking their car doors when a black man walks past, or assuming that a black woman is the maid instead of a hotel guest – is an ongoing problem. Race relations can be tense on occasion. Do not refer to any black man or even a teenager as a "boy", as this was used as a term of disrespect for decades. (Instead, they are "men" and "young men", or perhaps "teenagers".) If someone says that what you are saying or doing is racist, then stop it, apologize, and move on, even if you don't understand why your question/music/souvenir/whatever bothers anyone.
LGBT visitors may feel discouraged by North Carolina's reputation for intolerance, with the 2016 "bathroom law" controversy and a low Spartacus Index. But it's important to understand that tolerance varies tremendously by where in the state you are. Liberal cities like Asheville, Chapel Hill, Charlotte, and Durham are very welcoming of LGBT travellers. In rural areas, though, even just an hour's drive outside of one of these cities, you may want to keep your identity to yourself.
- Virginia - North Carolina's neighbor to the north is home to Shenandoah National Park, which offers great scenery along the top of the Appalachian Mountains. Nearby is Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, America's third president.
- Tennessee - To the west, this state shares the Great Smoky Mountains with North Carolina. Shopping and attractions abound in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Chattanooga is the home of Lookout Mountain.
- Georgia - Bordering North Carolina to the southwest, Georgia is famous for its peaches. It is also home to the popular Alpine village of Helen and the historic riverside city of Savannah, with its deep-South ambience. Atlanta, the capital, has Stone Mountain Park and Georgia Aquarium, the world's largest.
- South Carolina - The state's southern neighbor is a haven for beach lovers. Myrtle Beach has a large number of hotels and restaurants. Charleston is rich in history, with historic homes and Fort Sumter, the site that dawned the Civil War.