North Carolina consists of 48,843 square miles of land and 3,826 square miles of inland water. The total area of 52,669 square miles ranks North Carolina twenty-ninth in area among the states. The Old North State lies on the Eastern Seaboard with half of the population of the United States living within a 500-mile radius of the state. 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 64.5 million visitors traveled to North Carolina in 2005, ranking the state eighth behind California, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and Michigan. Eighty-nine percent of all travelers traveled to North Carolina by auto, truck or camper/RV.
North Carolina has the Blue Ridge Mountains in the west, the Outer Banks (a chain of islands) in the east, and everything in between. Murphy is the westernmost town of significance and Manteo is the easternmost town of significance; "From Murphy to Manteo" is a popular saying.
Together with South Carolina it forms Carolina, sometimes called The Carolinas.
- North Carolina Mountains: The western region of the state, the main cities include Asheville and Boone
- Piedmont: The central, flat area of the state. This is where most of the population is, including the Piedmont Triad (aka "the Triad") of Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point; the Research Triangle (aka "the Triangle") of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill; as well as Charlotte, the largest city in the state. This region also includes the Sandhills.
- Coastal Plain: The coastal region, home to the Outer Banks, Wilmington, Kitty Hawk and the Crystal Coast. This area as well houses military installations such as Seymour Johnson AFB in Goldsboro and Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville.
The ten largest cities in North Carolina, by population, are as follows.
- Charlotte - North Carolina's largest city, known for banking and professional sports.
- Raleigh - North Carolina's capital city and the location of many of the state's cultural institutions.
- Greensboro - Located near the northern center, home to six colleges and universities, historic neighborhoods, and seasonal sports venues.
- Durham - Famous for Duke University and tobacco connections.
- Winston-Salem - Mid-sized city, home of a famous Moravian settlement, RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, and Krispy Kreme.
- Fayetteville - Home to Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base.
- Cary - A suburb of both Raleigh and Durham.
- High Point - The "Furniture Capital of the World" and North Carolina's Shakespeare Festival.
- Wilmington - Colonial Port City, home of EUE Screen Gem studios. The main coastal city, a great destination for the beach lover.
- Asheville - Scenic mountain city, known for its cultural establishments and liberal culture.
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park - The most visited National Park in the entire country.
- Appalachian National Scenic Trail
- Blue Ridge Parkway - One of the most visited units of the National Park System.
- Cape Hatteras National Seashore
- Cape Lookout National Seashore
- Outer Banks - Known for its famous lighthouses and wild horses.
- Pinehurst - Famous golf courses.
When to come
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 degrees Fahrenheit (32°C). In the mountains of Asheville, the average July high is only 84 degrees Fahrenheit (29°C), and highs below 90 degrees Fahrenheit 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 degrees Fahrenheit 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. It should be noted that construction on Highway 321 may involve delays. Please check your local traffic reports.
In the winter, the mountains of northwestern North Carolina offer skiing and other winter sports.
North Carolina is a very old and traditional state. According to some, North Carolina can claim to be the first state. In 1775, the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence was drafted and signed, even though North Carolina wasn't the first to ratify the Constitution.
Travelers familiar with the American South will find that North Carolina is typical of the area in terms of culture. To some degree, it is a "transition state" between the Deep South and the Mid-Atlantic area.
Standard English is the major language, and spoken in all of the large cities. The local dialect in the Western regions can seem impenetrable, but not impossible. Spanish is a popular second language used by a sizable minority population in some areas.
Also in Western North Carolina, the Cherokee language is spoken by 15,000 to 20,000 people.
In the City of Charlotte you will also find a wide amount of languages spoken due to the city's high immigrant population.
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 has four international airports:
- Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)  in Charlotte
- Piedmont Triad International Airport (GSO)  in Greensboro
- Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU)  between Raleigh and Durham
- Wilmington International Airport (ILM)  in Wilmington
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 daily, round-trip passenger rail service between Charlotte and Raleigh. The Carolinian continues service to the Northeast.
Compared to other American states, North Carolina has decent roads. Larger cities such as Charlotte and Raleigh tend to have lower-quality roads due to heavy traffic; still, they are tolerably well-kept. Some mountain areas still have unpaved roads, and some of the Outer Banks are inaccessible by automobile.
- The Biltmore Estate, . George Vanderbilt's 250-room Biltmore House, extensive gardens, and winery located in Asheville.
- Andy Griffith, . Located 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.
- 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 though 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 located in the extreme west of the state.
- North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher and adjacent Fort Fisher museum and recreation area, located 20 minutes south of Wilmington in Kure Beach.
- Blandwood Mansion, . Greensboro's National Historic Landmark that includes nineteenth-century Tuscan additions designed by New York archiect A. J. Davis. The home of two-term governor John Motley Morehead, significant for being the "Father of Modern North Carolina".
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.
Visit top universities and take in a college basketball game. Four top universities--Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Wake Forest--are located in central-eastern NC. 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. 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.
Down home Southern cooking style. North Carolina prides itself on its vast farming community, which produces a plethora of fresh produce and livestock. As the slogan says, "Goodness grows in North Carolina."
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:
- 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 furter west of 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.
- 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 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. It was made by a pharmacist, who sold it in his pharmacy, named Caleb Bradham 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 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.
North Carolina isn't known for its violence. 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. Most cities in North Carolina are very safe compared to cities in other southern states.
Outside of the major metro areas, North Carolina is very rural and undeveloped. You should be aware that this makes for dangerous wildlife and plants. If hiking, avoid straying from the marked trail. There are numerous poisonous animals located in North Carolina. Please use common sense. Also, during the summer months, thunder storms increase and the potential for dangerous lightning should be acknowledged.
Near the ocean, shark attacks have been on the rise in recent times. 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.
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 (this is similar to the double-standard common in American race relations, where a word may be taken as a complement or a slur depending upon the social status of the speaker). 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.
Bordering North Carolina on the north, Virginia offers many things to see and do. Shenandoah National Park offers great scenery along the top of the Appalachian Mountains. Nearby is Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, our third president.
South Carolina, to the south, 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.
Georgia, which borders the southwestern corner of North Carolina, is famous for its peaches; there's also the popular Alpine village of Helen and the historic riverside city of Savannah, with its deep-South ambience. Atlanta, the capitol, has Stone Mountain Park and Georgia Aquarium, the world's largest.