Piedmont "Must-See" List
20 Things You Gotta Do In The Piedmont
Geographically speaking, North Carolina’s Piedmont is the largest area of the state, and it contains most of our largest cities. That means there’s a vast array of things to see and do here, so many that it may be difficult to decide what to explore first.
So, we’ve put together a list of twenty Piedmont places, events, and sights that should be on your ‘must see in NC’ list. Twenty things that you’ve gotta do before you can say you’ve truly experienced North Carolina’s Piedmont.
- Feel like a kid again at the NC State Fair, Raleigh
With more than 150 years of history, the North Carolina State Fair has become an October tradition enjoyed by generations of residents and visitors alike. The fair has a massive midway with rides and games, a vast array of entertainment and exhibits, and, of course, food ranging from barbecue to funnel cakes to fried candy! To make getting there half the fun, take the Amtrak Carolinian, which stops directly across from the State Fairgrounds.
- Catch a thrill at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, Charlotte
North Carolina’s outdoor enthusiasts got a brand new place to play in 2006, when this 307-acre adventure sport facility opened on the banks of the Catawba River. Besides the world’s largest artificial whitewater river (used by the US Olympic Team for training and trials), the center features mountain biking and hiking trails, a climbing center, a zipline, a ropes course, and the River’s Edge Bar & Grill, which overlooks the rapids. In warmer months, there’s music and entertainment on selected weeknights.
- Spin the potter’s wheel in Seagrove
NC’s famous red clay is the raw material for an entire cottage industry in Seagrove, where Native Americans and European settlers alike learned to turn the soil into pottery that was both functional and artistic. Today, the Seagrove area is home to dozens of artisans who create beautiful works of art in their studios, many of which can be found along NC Highway 705, known as “The Pottery Highway”.
- Travel back in time to Mayberry, Mount Airy
Actor Andy Griffith grew up in this little Surry County town, so it’s no wonder that visitors to Mount Airy’s Main Street feel immediately transported to the idyllic “Mayberry” of television’s golden era. Stop in at Floyd’s Barber Shop, have a pork chop sandwich at the Snappy Lunch, and take a picture with the TV Land statue of Andy and Opie. For a complete Mayberry experience, stop in during the last weekend in September when the Surry Arts Council puts on its “Mayberry Days” festival.
- Declare your independence in Halifax
We all know about July 4, 1776, but on April 12th of that same year, the North Carolina Provincial Congress passed the Halifax Resolves, the first official call by a colony to break away from England. That date is commemorated on our state flag, and Historic Halifax is a State Historic Site. In addition to commemorating Halifax Day every April 12, the site has tours of several beautifully restored colonial-era buildings from the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
- Embrace history at the Town Creek Indian Mound, Mount Gilead
Back in 1936, Montgomery County farmer Lloyd Frutchey almost tore the mound apart to fill a low spot in his fields, but luckily, archaeologists managed to talk him out of it. Thanks to that, we have the Town Creek Indian Mound, which is a world-class prehistoric site that is nearly 800 years old. The mound is the only one of its type in North Carolina, and it tells the story of one of our earliest native cultures… and the only State Historic Site dedicated exclusively to Indian history. It’s open daily and features a museum and reconstructed village.
- Get High on the Hog in Lexington
Lexington is the self-proclaimed Barbecue Capital of the World, in a state that has an abundance of great barbecue. So, whether you like it vinegar-based or tomato-based, whole hog or pork shoulders, chopped or sliced, you can’t miss out on barbecue in Lexington, accompanied by hushpuppies, cole slaw, and super-sweet sweet tea. They even have a festival dedicated to barbecue every October, and a hometown winery (Childress) that makes a Fine Swine Wine to go perfectly with Lexington’s signature culinary contribution.
- Marvel at the Duke Chapel, Durham
Every gothic cathedral is a big undertaking, and most take decades to complete. The Duke University Chapel is gothic from top-to-bottom, and with 73-foot ceilings, it’s certainly colossal. But builders here were relatively speedy, getting from cornerstone to dedication in only five years. It is one of the largest and most actively used university chapels in the US, and it is amazing. The wood and stone carvings are truly one of a kind, and there are more than a million pieces of stained glass depicting both the Old and New Testaments. The chapel is located on the Duke University campus, and Sunday services start at 11 a.m.
- Satisfy your need for speed in Concord
NASCAR’s heart is located in North Carolina, and the hallowed pavement at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord is where that heart beats the fastest. With Sprint Cup Races in May and October, the Speedway plays a big part in the Race For The Cup. Even when there’s not a NASCAR race here, the Speedway hosts a brand new dragway and a great behind-the-scenes tour. For the super-adventurous, there are driving schools at the speedway that will let you pilot a real race car around the track. With that, and several race shops in the neighborhood, you’ll find a lot here to keep your motor runnin’.
- Let your spirit soar at the Carolina Balloonfest, Statesville
There’s nothing quite like the sight of dozens of hot air balloons ascending into the sky at dawn or dusk, and every October in Statesville, the Carolina Balloonfest brings that incredible and rare sight to thousands of visitors at the Statesville Regional Airport. There’s also entertainment, food, and a kids fun zone, but the main attraction here are the balloons of all shapes and sizes that you see glowing and rising during a mass ascension.
NC Zoo Giraffes
You won’t find one of those depressing collections of steel and concrete cages here! In fact, the NC Zoo was among the first zoos to incorporate natural habitat enclosures for its animals. Today, it is still one of the largest walk-through zoos in the US, incorporating more than a thousand animals into natural settings on approximately 500 acres. The bird house is worth the trip alone, but here you can also walk from the African grasslands to the Arctic coast in a matter of minutes. The NC Zoo is a world of fun for the whole family!
- Scream your lungs out at an ACC Basketball game
Wolfpack, Heels, Deacons and Devils… oh, my! If you’re looking for a great game of college basketball and a fired-up crowd, there’s no place better than NC’s Tobacco Road campuses. NC State, Duke, and the University of North Carolina are all within a few miles of each other in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill respectively, while Wake Forest is a mere hour to the west in Winston-Salem. Wherever you get your tickets, you’re bound to find top-notch college hoops and some of the fiercest rivalries in the world of sports.
- Catch the holiday spirit in Christmas Town, McAdenville
If you need some light to brighten your dark winter nights and get you into the holiday mood, look no further then the tiny Gaston County town of McAdenville, which becomes the nationally-renowned Christmas Town, USA each December. The tradition started in 1956 with nine trees, but at last count, the display was up to nearly 400 trees with 450,000 lights. You can drive through the town’s display or walk, but keep in mind that the weeknight displays end at 9:30 p.m. so that local textile workers can get to their shift change on time.
- Explore a major Civil War battleground at Bentonville
North Carolina gave more soldiers to the Confederacy than any other state, and Bentonville was the Civil War’s last major battle and final full-scale offensive mounted by the South. If you’re a history buff, this should be on your list. From March 19-21, 1865, nearly 20,000 Confederates went up against 60,000 Union soldiers in a last-ditch effort to stop Sherman’s march north from Atlanta through the Carolinas. Today, the battlefield is a State Historic Site and is open daily to visitors.
- Step into the past at Old Salem
Old Salem is more than just a collection of historic buildings. When you come here, you are walking into the past, complete with costumed townspeople who will share their craftmaking expertise with you, whether it’s pottery, sewing, or an intricate paper cutting art called ‘scherenschnitte’. You can also soak up the sun in the town square that was laid out in 1768, or get a treat at the Winkler Bakery, where they’re still using the original ovens built in 1800. There’s also gardens, a toy museum, and the renowned Museum Of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA). For a special treat, attend the outdoor Easter Sunrise Service on God’s Acre.
- See the stars at the Morehead Planetarium, Chapel Hill
Whether you’ve always been fascinated by the night sky or you can’t tell a comet from a meteor, the Morehead Planetarium serves up entertaining and educational fun for stargazers of all ages. With a 68-foot diameter dome the Morehead is one of only five planetariums in North Carolina, one of the country’s largest and most modern, and one of the few that are completely automated. The Morehead Planetarium has been thrilling visitors since 1949, and the cutting-edge technology can project nearly 9,000 stars onto the dome. Indoor shows run Wednesday through Saturday evenings, live sky shows are featured on Fridays, and there’s a delightfully diverse schedule of programs throughout the year.
- Salute heroes at the Airborne & Special Operations Museum, Fayetteville
The American paratrooper has been a vital part of our nation’s defense since Lieutenant Bill Ryder became the first soldier to jump from an airplane on August 16th, 1940. The Army has come a long way in developing the airborne military unit, and this museum in downtown Fayetteville has detailed exhibits on the units and the brave men and women who have served in them. Be sure and check out the Pitch, Roll, and Yaw Vista Dome Motion Simulator, which makes a larger-than-life film on airborne and special operations seem almost real. It will give you an extreme taste of what the Army’s finest are trained to do!
- Catch a thrill at Carowinds, Charlotte
It is the largest theme park in the Carolinas, and has much to offer in the way of thrill rides and family entertainment. Located just south of Charlotte, Carowinds straddles the state line and offers both adrenaline-pumping roller coasters and more sedate family rides. Included in the price of admission is Boomerang Bay, a water park featuring 20 acres of slides, pools and beaches. New for 2009 is the thrilling Carolina Cobra, a 125-foot twisting, towering serpent that sends you speeding through three inversions… forward and backward!
- Shop for fine furniture in High Point & Hickory
North Carolina is the center of the American furniture industry, and we’re fortunate to have two places in the Piedmont to find great deals on everything from beds to end tables. High Point is the location of the world famous High Point Market (celebrating 100 years in 2009), and the area is home to more than sixty retail outlets where you can find just about anything for your home. Further west, Hickory boasts the Hickory Furniture Mart, where you’ll find more than 100 factory outlets, stores, shops and galleries offering home furnishings, accessories, lighting, art, rugs, fabrics and more. If you’re in the market for great furniture, these two NC cities will have just what you’re looking for!
- Stay in America’s Greenest Hotel, Greensboro
Going green” has never been as luxurious as it is at the Greensboro’s Proximity Hotel, a locally owned four diamond hotel that has also achieved a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum Award for its construction and operating practices. Among the 70+ features that make this the Greenest Hotel in America are 100 solar panels on the roof to heat water, a regenerative drive that captures energy from the elevators and feeds it back into the electrical grid, and oversized windows that provide abundant natural light and fresh air into each guestroom. Meanwhile, the hotel’s restaurant, the Print Works Bistro, uses fresh, local food to create traditional and modern version of classic European Bistro dishes.
added: April 13, 2009
updated: February 22, 2012
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