Make the most of the chill in the air and wind your way from one of the highest points in North Carolina – with 360-degree views made all the more beautiful with blankets of snow during winter months – to staring across the seemingly endless expanse of peaceful shoreline, where more than a hundred wild horses scamper across the sand year-round.
Start planning your picturesque trip to hit a few of these gorgeous spots, and don’t forget to use #visitnc when you post so we can join in on your adventures!
Note: Due to COVID-19, please check each location's or attraction's website for the most up-to-date visitor information.
1 The Polar Express
1 The Polar ExpressBryson CitySee on map
Make your kids’ dreams come true with a visit to the North Pole via the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. This picturesque journey through western North Carolina is set to the famous story’s soundtrack, and upon arrival, Santa himself greets every pajama-wearing child with their very own sleigh bell, just like in the movie. Talk about picture-perfect!
Insider tips: Be sure to split a pizza at the popular Nate and Nick’s Pizza or Anthony's Restaurant beforehand as only cookies and hot cocoa are provided on board. And arrive at least 1 hour before your departure.
2 GarlandRaleighSee on map
Expect to find imagination and rebellion in each of the dishes at Garland – where Cheetie Kumar’s use of Indian, Asian and Southern flavors has earned her multiple nominations for the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Chef: Southeast” award. Located in a comfortable and funky space, Garland’s menu rotates seasonally and sports new cocktails regularly. Frame your dishes or drinks in front of the colorful wall art, or grab the ever-beautiful overhead shot of a table full of sharable plates.
What to order: watermelon chaat. Chef Vivian Howard (of the PBS series A Chef's Life) called it a "perfect dish."
3 Shackleford Wild Horse & Shelling Safari
3 Shackleford Wild Horse & Shelling SafariShackleford BanksSee on map
This tour combines some of the best shelling in North Carolina and the majestic beauty of the barrier islands’ stars – the wild horses – to create an eye-catching backdrop for your Insta feed. Plus, visiting during the winter months means enjoying temperatures in the 60s and 50s (with most days not dropping below 40).
What to know: This tour is considered strenuous and requires walking more than 2 miles in thick sand and muddy salt marshes. In addition, arrival to this remote Crystal Coast destination requires a paid – yet very scenic – ferry ride.
4 5506' Skybar
4 5506' SkybarBeech MountainSee on map
For the ultimate winter Instagram shot, get your head above the clouds and visit 5506’ Skybar, the highest bar in North Carolina, at Beech Mountain Resort. Kick off your skis, pull up an Adirondack chair and take in the views that span three states on clear days. You’ll also find the resort’s own brews on tap along with some snacks and coffee to warm up between runs.
What to know: Only skiers and snowboarders can access the bar during winter, and you’ll want to book your lodging far in advance for holiday weekends and the mountain’s popular annual Retro ’80s Weekend in February.
5 Old Salem Heritage Bridge
5 Old Salem Heritage BridgeOld SalemSee on map
This stunning bridge harkens back to America circa the 19th century and makes for a magical backdrop during holiday months when it comes alive with twinkling Moravian stars. Plan your visit for a winter weekend, when you can take a stroll through Old Salem's historic grounds.
When to go: Learn about the meaningful Christmas traditions of the 18th and 19th centuries during Salem Saturdays at Christmas (Nov. 27; Dec. 4, 11 and 18, 2021).
6 Topsail Beach
6 Topsail BeachTopsailSee on map
Want to bring your furry friend on your winter getaway and snap them frolicking across the sand or through the waves? Our resident Dog Travel Agent, Mo, recommends an offseason visit to Topsail Beach since leashes aren’t required Oct. 1 through May 14.
When to go: Feeling adventurous? Visit Surf City on Jan. 1 and join the annual Dolphin Dip.
7 Hot chocolate at Omni Grove Park Inn
7 Hot chocolate at Omni Grove Park InnAshevilleSee on map
The Omni Grove Park Inn takes its hot chocolate as seriously as its legendary National Gingerbread House Competition. Order your hot cocoa, snap a photo, then stroll through the various confectionary creations.
Pro tip: Check the website to schedule your visit when public viewing to non-resort guests is welcome.
8 Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse
8 Roanoke Marshes LighthouseManteoSee on map
Picture-perfect during both jaw-dropping sunsets and moody evenings, you might be surprised to find out the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse is one of the Outer Banks’ most overlooked lighthouses as it’s a bit off the beaten path. Yet its position 40 yards from the shore, homey exterior and downtown Manteo backdrop make for some exceptionally charming photos.
Things to note: The lighthouse’s museum is closed during the winter months, but never fear: The nearby North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island makes for a fun excursion, especially when paired with a caffeine stop at Front Porch Cafe to warm up.