Home of the Wright Brothers' first motorized glider, North Carolina is often recognized by its nickname, “First in Flight”—but that isn’t all! From world-renowned vineyards to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, North Carolina’s true claims to fame are more grounded than you’d think.
There’s a lot to see and do in North Carolina—a state bustling with metropolitan hotspots, expansive agriculture, and rich southern history. Still, everywhere you go in North Carolina will have a unique vibe. Between the “keep it weird” lifestyle of Asheville, Charlotte’s mix of trendy breweries, and Raleigh's abundance of Carolina-style BBQ, Tar Heel State tourists have enough to keep their plates full year-round.
What is North Carolina famous for?
Being “First in Flight”
We get it—you've read it on nearly every license plate in the state. But, just for some background, North Carolina was the first region to host a motor-powered glider flight.
On December 17th, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright touched North Carolina's blue skies for the first time in
Kitty Hawk. For the aviation pioneers, the small town on the outer banks was an easy choice thanks to its consistent winds and vast sandy terrain.
While North Carolina residents (and tourists) should try to avoid century-old gliders whenever possible, you can relive the Wright Brothers' unforgettable flight through
Kitty Hawk Kites. This attraction lets visitors soar over Kitty Hawk on a modernized, lightweight glider. Prices start at $110 per flight.
Looking for something a bit more grounded? Check out the following aviation museums:
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Home to the Outer Banks
There’s something special about the Outer Banks—a strip of barrier islands outlining North Carolina’s coast. These expansive strips of land are reachable using human-made bridges. And they host a variety of quaint towns, surf spots, and even wild horses.
Notable Outer Banks cities and villages include:
Though Netflix's hit mystery drama “The Outer Banks” depicts life on the 100-mile long chain of barrier islands, no filming took place in North Carolina! Instead, vast amounts of production took place in
Birthplace of Pepsi, Krispy Kreme, and Texas-hot Sauce?
When you think of North Carolina, you’ll likely ponder the delicacy of southern cooking—and for a good reason! North Carolina is famous for its two types of BBQ, made with either tomato or vinegar-based sauce. A variety of southern (and national) staples started here.
North Carolina’s best BBQ joints include:
In 1978, Richard Thomas (former president of KFC) and Jack Fulk (Hardee's manager) started the first
Charlotte’s West Boulevard. Their Cajun-spiced crispy chicken and scratch-made biscuits were an immediate hit leading to Bojangles’ first franchise a year later.
Pepsi, the popular cola brand, was started in
New Bern, North Carolina, by pharmacist Caleb Bradham. You can learn more about Pepsi's rich (and bubbly) history at the original
Pepsi store. Funny enough,
Cheerwine, the south’s most popular cherry cola, began in
Salisbury, North Carolina, and is now owned by the
A few additional nationally-recognized brands were born in North Carolina. They include:
Sure—Texas Pete sauce literally says
Texas on its label. But, neither the Lone Star State nor anyone named Pete took part in the flavorful brand’s inception. Instead, Texas Pete began as a hobby for three Winston-Salem Brothers cooking hot sauce on their family’s stove.
The Basketball Basket and other Sports
You don’t have to love sports to live in North Carolina—but it’s a nice interest to have. From the
Carolina Panthers to the
Carolina Hurricanes, all your favorite bases are covered. Expect, sadly, a major league baseball team.
Basketball fans, especially, have a lot to look forward to in North Carolina. The
Charlotte Hornets, owned by
Micheal Jordan, is a consistently fun team. The college ball scene—thanks to teams like
NC State—creates the heart of Carolina fandom.
Sports teams do a lot for their community, too, from uniting viewers from across the state (and the world) and creating income for the state, to giving back through drives and community service events.
Sticky Feet (During the 18th and 19th)
You might be wondering: How did North Carolina earn the nickname the Tarheel State? Apparently, it dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries, when North Carolina was a lead producer of turpentine—a sticky sap-derived substance used in the naval industry.
To call someone a Tar Heel was an old-timey insult—basically implying they worked a low-wage job. However, Tar Heel became an expression of state pride during the Civil War.
Ready to learn interesting tidbits about North Carolina's coolest cities? Let’s get started.
What is Charlotte famous for?
The first US gold rush: 1977
The first Belk Department store: 1890
One of the top 10 US cities for: Quality of life and breweries!
A southern financial hub
Charlotte, the Queen City, is foremost a banking city—though it's starting to branch out!
There is a long history of banks, financial institutions, and lenders calling Charlotte their home, all the way back to the early 1900s (beginning with a gold rush). Both the
Bank of America and
Wells Fargo have their headquarters here—giving extra oomph to the nickname queen of finance.
Charlotte's business-first mentality also lends well to travel. Thanks, in part, to large companies,
Charlotte Douglas International is one of the world’s top-10 busiest airports on any given day. Don’t forget to grab a barbeque plate when you’re in town.
Museums and motorways
Looking to learn? Charlotte has many museums, galleries, and motorways—from the
NASCAR Hall of Fame to the nationally-recognized
Discovery Place. Although technically more for amusement than education, Charlotte also houses half of
Carowinds, the south’s largest theme park.
Here are a few more popular museums and attractions around Charlotte:
What is Raleigh famous for?
First shopping center between Atlanta and DC: Cameron Village, 1949
First Historically Black University in the south: Shaw University, 1865
Largest selection of beer on tap: Raleigh Beer garden, 350+
One of the top 10 US cities for: Research, tech jobs, college sports
Tip of the research triangle
When Sir Walter Raleigh stepped off the boat in 1587, he called
Raleigh the “City of Gold.” He didn’t know that Raleigh would transform into a city of world-class education, research, and student debt—to which, some of that gold could’ve come in handy.
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Raleigh, home of
NC State, is just the tip of the research triangle—which includes
UNC. These schools host some of the best labs in the country, with students and professors on the cutting-edge of tech, medical, and construction research.
Hotspot for Tech companies
Sure—schools do a lot for the economy, but what about actual businesses? Raleigh is also home to some of the world’s most influential tech companies like
Citrix. Nearby city,
Cary is equally tech-filled—home to Fortnite’s
Epic Games and the planned-east coast
What is Asheville famous for?
Largest privately-owned residence in the United States: Biltmore estate
Highest peaks east of the Mississippi: Grandfather mountain (Tanawha)
One of the top 10 US cities for: Travel, local shopping
Asheville may not be the largest (or most populated) city in North Carolina, but its “keep it weird” attitude puts it on the map.
There really are mountain-loads of fun, unique, and affordable experiences in Asheville. Downtown streets are littered with shops, art studios, and bespoke breweries—giving the city a delightful hippy-meets-hipster culture.
Famous shops, restaurants, and regions in Asheville include:
Blue Ridge Parkway
Let’s be honest—you’re not going to the mountains to spend all your time wining and dining. Or, maybe you are, and that’s okay too! For the true outdoor adventurer, you can’t miss Asheville’s famous
Blue Ridge Parkway—America’s favorite drive.
The parkway is a 469-mile scenic drive running through 29 North Carolina and
Virginia cities, including the Asheville hub! It’s a slow, vast, thought-calming drive along America’s most beautiful mountain ranges.
The driving part is optional, though, as many locals and tourists prefer to pack a bag, park someplace tall, and embark on one of the area’s several hundred uniquely beautiful trails.
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