3 easy family holiday itineraries in North Carolina

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North Carolina offers more than coast and countryside. Here are three fantastic family itineraries you can do in less than two weeks. The state has legendary National Parks, historic cities and cinematic towns, splendid road trips, a dozen islands and countless annual festivals. It’s also well connected, just fractionally bigger than England, and direct UK flights to Charlotte and Raleigh take less than nine hours. We asked the experts at Visit North Carolina to put together three family-friendly itineraries that fit easily into two weeks.

Itinerary 1 

10-day activity holiday: from the Outer Banks to High Country

Days 1-4 on the Outer Banks

A long string of barrier islands and dramatic beaches stretching from south to north, the Outer Banks (OBX) extend along more than half North Carolina’s Atlantic coast. Stay right at their heart in historic Kitty Hawk, just minutes from where the Wright Brothers first took flight in 1903.

What kids love about the Outer Banks

  • Standing on the take-off point at the Wright Brothers National Monument.
  • Learning to hang-glide at Kitty Hawk Kites: the world’s largest hang-gliding school.
  • Jockey Ridge State Park’s sand dunes: they’re the tallest in the eastern US.
  • The Lost Colony mystery on Roanoke Island.
  • Discovering marine wonders at North Carolina Aquarium in Manteo.
  • Climbing 200 steps to the top of Bodie Island Lighthouse.
  • Fishing off historic Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head.
  • Driving south along the coast on spectacular Highway 12.
  • Views from Cape Hatteras Lighthouse: the tallest brick-built beacon in the US.

Days 5-7 in historic Raleigh

Swap coastal thrills for three days of urban adventure in Raleigh: the family-friendly capital of North Carolina.

What kids love about Raleigh

  • Fun, interactive experiences at Marbles Kids Museum.
  • The outside, and inside, of innovative North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
  • Over 100 hip food trucks dotted around the city.
  • Exploring 30,000ft² Raleigh Downtown Farmers Market and its fun restaurants.
  • The astonishing working 18th-century gristmill at Yates Mill Country Park.
  • Biking the trails around William B Umstead State Park.
  • Swimming at Falls Lake – Raleigh summer temps can hit 30C.
  • Riding the restored Dentzel Carousel in Pullen Park, North Carolina’s first ever public park.

Days 8-10 in the High Country

High Country is North Carolina’s modest description of the Appalachians, and if kids thought Jockey Ridge dunes were impressive, wait till they see the Blue Ridge Mountains.

What kids love about the High Country

  • Fun Boone, the outdoorsy town in the thick of High Country adventure.
  • Cruising along the Blue Ridge Highway: one of the Great American Road Trips.
  • The quaint village of Blowing Rock, and Doc’s Rocks Gem Mine.
  • Testing the breeze at Blowing Rock outcrop – the state’s first visitor attraction.
  • Daring to cross the Mile-High Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain.
  • Vintage steam train journeys, classic amusement rides, and Wild West fantasy at Tweetsie Railroad theme park.
  • Tubing, kayaking and white-water rafting on the New River.
  • Soaring over the forests near Boone on some of the state’s highest ziplines.

Outer Banks to High Country

How to get there

Direct UK flights to Raleigh take eight hours, 45 minutes.

Where to stay

Outer Banks: Hilton Garden Inn, Kitty Hawk. Family room, sleeps four, from £187 per night.

Raleigh: Sheraton Raleigh Hotel. Family room, sleeps four, from £111 per night.

High Country: Chetola Resort, Blowing Rock. Family room, sleeps five, from £121 per night.

Drive times

Raleigh to Kitty Hawk: three hours, 20 minutes.

Raleigh to Boone: three hours.

Find out more about easy-going family holidays all over North Carolina

Itinerary 2

10-day family adventure: Crystal Coast to Great Smoky Mountains

Days 1-4 on the cool Crystal Coast

Find America’s coolest small town and finest seafood; a 12-storey lighthouse and 1,000ft-long fishing piers; beaches next to a historic state park; and a maritime museum packed with pirate relics: all on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast.

What kids love about the Crystal Coast

  • Water sports and classic boardwalks at Atlantic Beach.
  • Ghost stories and artillery displays at Fort Macon State Park.
  • Rare white sea turtles at North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores.
  • BBQ and shrimp burgers from Big Oak Drive-In.
  • Pretty Beaufort: Budget Travel’s Coolest Small Town in America
  • Collecting seashells and glimpsing the wild Banker horses on Shackleford Banks.
  • Cape Lookout Lighthouse.

Days 5-7 in Charlotte

North Carolina’s biggest city is famous for big, bold street art, giant rollercoasters; the world’s largest manmade white-water river, and a bigger passion than anywhere in the US for racing fast cars.

What kids love about Charlotte

  • A night at thrilling, and very family-friendly, Charlotte Motor Speedway.
  • Carowinds Amusement Park: home of Fury 325, the world’s tallest giga-coaster.
  • Rafting, rock-climbing and ziplining at the US National Whitewater Center.
  • An overnight stay at Great Wolf Lodge and playtime in it’s waterpark.
  • Southern style home-cooked BBQ, and doughnuts all-ways.
  • Instagram-ready street art in NoDa, South End and Uptown neighbourhoods.
  • Over 30 interactive junior-racer activities at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Days 8-10 in Bryson City

A three-hour drive west of Charlotte brings you to Bryson City. More of a friendly mountain town than a major city, it’s plenty fun for families, and best of all: gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

What kids love about Bryson City

  • Classic treats at Soda Pop’s Ice Cream Parlor.
  • The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad: one of the world’s most scenic short rail journeys.
  • BBQ and bluegrass at Nantahala Outdoor Center.
  • Family-friendly hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
  • Biking 11 miles of Fire Mountain Trails round historic Cherokee.
  • Whitewater rafting on the thrilling Nantahala River.
  • Fun family cruises on peaceful Lake Fontana.

Crystal Coast to Great Smoky Mountains

How to get there

Direct UK flights to Raleigh take eight hours, 45 minutes.

Where to stay

Atlantic Beach: Double Tree by Hilton Hotel Atlantic Beach Oceanfront. Family suite, sleeps four, from £140 per night.

Charlotte: Double Tree by Hilton Charlotte. Family room, sleeps four, from £137 per night.

Bryson City: Watershed Resort. One-bedroom family cabin, sleeps four, from £135 per night.

Drive times

Raleigh to Atlantic Beach: two hours, 40 minutes.

Atlantic Beach to Charlotte: five hours, 20 minutes.

Charlotte to Bryson City: three hours.

Find out more about easy-going family holidays all over North Carolina

Itinerary 3

12-day beach holiday: The North Carolina Coast

Days 1-6 on the Outer Banks

Spend six days in the northerly reaches of the state’s long coast, and let Currituck’s beaches astonish kids, again and again. Wild Spanish mustangs, known as Bankers horses, still roam this area: amazingly, they’re descended from the same horses that crossed the Atlantic with Spanish explorers five centuries ago.

What kids will love

  • Wild Horses 4×4 tours on Carova Beach
  • Wild-horse safaris round Currituck Banks Reserve
  • Ghost-crab spotting on Carolla Beach: after dark, with illuminets
  • Tours of Whalehead, the grandest Art Nouveau mansion in Corolla
  • Views from the top of enormous brick-built Currituck Beach Lighthouse
  • Mackay Island Wildlife Refuge on Knotts Island
  • H2OBX Waterpark: one of the biggest in the US

Days 6-12 in historic Wilmington and the Brunswick Islands

History lovers can’t miss Wilmington. Even the beaches are historic, and the town of Wilmington itself is so heritage-rich, you should definitely take a tour. Then drive an hour north to the Brunswick Islands, where 45 miles of south-facing sands, and 30-plus golf courses, are just a few reasons this laidback area is a holiday favourite with North Carolina families.

What kids will love

  • The atmospheric and great fun along Cape Fear Riverwalk.
  • Surfing lessons on Wrightsville Beach – recently voted North Carolina’s Best Beach.
  • Carolina Beach for its vintage boardwalk, dazzling funfairs, and fantastic seafood.
  • Legendary Britt’s Donut Shop on Carolina Beach Boardwalk.
  • Kure Beach for North Carolina’s oldest fishing pier, and colourful oceanfront park.
  • Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park, battleship USS North Carolina, and Cape Fear Museum.
  • The Brunswick Islands’ Sunset Beach: National Geographic No5 Best Beach in the World.
  • Walking from Sunset Beach to Bird Island, and leaving a note in the Kindred Spirit Mailbox.
  • Cycling round Bald Head Island and climbing Old Baldy Lighthouse.

The North Carolina Coast

How to get there
Direct UK flights to Raleigh take eight hours, 45 minutes

Where to stay
Corolla: Hampton Inn & Suites – Family room, sleeps four, from £203 per night
Wilmington: Staybridge Suites – Family suite, sleeps four, from £110 per night

Drive times
Raleigh to Corolla: 4 hours
Corolla to Wilmington: 5 hours
Wilmington to Raleigh: 2 hours

Find out more about easy-going family holidays all over North Carolina

Surprised by how much fits into a family holiday in North Carolina? Let Visit North Carolina tell you a few more great state secrets.  

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