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 and mountain climbing, 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, 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.
As North Carolina lies in the center of the eastern seaboard of United States, nearly half of the country lives within a 500-mile 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” are comprised of both North Carolina and South Carolina immediately to the south.
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.
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’ colonial foundlings. 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 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.
During the summer, high humidity combined with summer temperatures above 90°F 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. It should be noted that 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. The area, also, stays, on average, much cooler year round than other parts of the state.
English, the state’s official language, is almost universally spoken.
The vast majority of North Carolinians in urban and suburban areas speak with “standard” American English accents. However, the Southern dialect is commonly found 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 Northern Piedmont and Northeastern 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 a number of 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. Seven major interstate highways intersect North Carolina: I-26, I-40, I-73, I-74, I-77, I-85 and I-95.
North Carolina is served by several bus companies including Greyhound, MegaBus, and smaller carries primarily out of New York’s Chinatown. Charlotte. Fayetteville, Durham, and Greensboro are the most common cities with national bus service. See more detailed information in the Getting Around section.
North Carolina has four international airports:
North Carolina also has other passenger airports such as:
North Carolina’s ferry system on the Outer Banks/Coast is 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 1-800-BY FERRY
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 thrice 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 as, except in parts of Charlotte and the Triangle, public transportation is limited. Additionally, visitors should note that mountain roads in the states 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 is served by several Amtrak routes. The Crescent with service between New York and New Orleans stops in Gastonia, Charlotte, Salisbury, High Point, and Greensboro. The Carolinian and Piedmont operates between Charlotte, Kannapolis, Salisbury, High Point, Greensboro, Burlington, Durham, Cary, Raleigh, Selma, Wilson, and Rocky Mount with continuing service to New York. The Silver Meteor and Silver Star with service between New York and Miami stops in Rocky Mount, Wilson, Selma, Raleigh, Fayetteville, Southern Pines, and Hamlet.
There are several bus lines throughout the state.
Greyhound bus has several bus lines.
Every large city in North Carolina is served by public transportation. This is overwhelmingly by bus except for the light rail line serving Charlotte.
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, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Wake Forest) are located 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-North Carolina rivalry the most famous in college basketball, though all four schools share a rivalry to some extent. Collectively, these four basketball programs and the schools they represent are called the Tobacco Road. Carolina, NC State and Duke all have historic basketball arenas: Carmichael Auditorium (North Carolina) and Reynolds Coliseum (NC State) both host women’s basketball games and other athletic events, but North Carolina men’s basketball is played at the Dean E. Smith Center and NC State men’s basketball is played at the RBC Center. 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). In Raleigh, the 2005-2006 Stanley Cup Champion Carolina Hurricanes 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.”
Gambling: Feel free to also visit Harrah’s Cherokee Casino located on the Cherokee Indian Reservation.
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. There are also a number of outdoor zipline courses including one of the “Countries 10 Greatest Ziplines” (as voted by USA today)and a NASCAR Driving Experience for those looking for a fast-paced adventure.
Solas Club in Raleigh, 419 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh, NC 27603, ☎ (919) 755-0755. Mon-Wed:5:00 pm – 10:00 pm. Award winning club and bar. New York City style with cabanas, private dining, patio, roof top bar and patio. They host private events and not only do they have alcohol, but have food as well. Valet parking and upscale dress code requires.
Much of this section focuses on traditional Southern foods that can be found throughout the state, in both urban and rural areas. Of course, in the larger cities, a greater variety of food can be found in both restaurants and supermarkets. Many small towns will offer a few ethnic restaurant options, commonly Mexican, Italian or Chinese food. In larger urban areas, particularly the Research Triangle and greater Charlotte, it is possible to find a greater variety of more authentic global cuisine, from Ethiopian wat to Vietnamese pho to Spanish tapas. Those with dietary restrictions, such as vegetarians and vegans, will find plenty of options in the major cities, as well as smaller college towns such as Chapel Hill, but will have a more difficult time in other parts of the state.
Hog farms are North Carolina’s number-one commodity and as such, 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:
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:
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 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. It’s a treat not to be missed, if you’re in the state.
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. Until recently, it was difficult to find outside of the area, but 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 1890’s. 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 and before 7AM 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 keep in mind liquors are only sold at state-run ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Commission) stores, rather than at a traditional liquor store.
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