Thinking of taking your kids to North Carolina on your next family vacation? Not sure what the (interestingly-nicknamed) Tar Heel State has within its borders to keep the younger ones entertained? There’s no need to worry!
There’s no shortage of fun things to do in North Carolina with kids, and we’ve narrowed down the choices for you so you can have the best trip possible.
We’ve also included some FAQs about holidaying in North Carolina with your kids to help you plan the vacation of a lifetime.
- The 5 best museums for kids in North Carolina
- The 5 best outdoor spaces and activities for kids in North Carolina
- The 5 best amusement attractions and water parks in North Carolina
- Now you’re ready to go!
The 5 best museums for kids in North Carolina
North Carolina has some of the best museums in America when it comes to sparking children’s interest and natural curiosity while making sure they have fun! There’s something for kids of all ages, whether they’re interested in American history, extinct animals, or art.
1. Battleship North Carolina, Wilmington
For a one-of-a-kind museum experience, head to Battleship North Carolina and be a part of the crew for a day. Climb aboard the most highly decorated American battleship of World War II and explore all 9 decks at your own pace. You’ll experience the ship as sailors did during the war, seeing where they ate on the mess deck and followed the captain’s orders on the bridge.
Make sure you wear comfy shoes and tell the kids to be on the lookout for Battleship’s resident alligator, Charlie, from the bow!
2. North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences offers free general admission every day. It’s also considered one of the best museums in NC, so it’s definitely worth taking the kids along to explore various exhibits and artifacts spanning centuries.
In the Discovery Room, kids can engage all their senses by touching fossils and birds’ wings, watching a beehive, identifying tropical scents, and more. In the Prehistoric Carolina experience, you can come face-to-face with long-extinct predators. To see over 40 species of live predators, head to the Snakes of North Carolina exhibition.
3. Marbles Kids Museum, Raleigh
The people behind the Marbles Kids Museum know that play is how little ones learn best. That’s why all of their exhibits are both fun and educational, and always hands-on!
There are two floors full of things to get stuck into, whether your kids want to dress up as a forest creature, tend to a real garden, create a messy masterpiece, or board a pirate ship. There are countless opportunities for immersive play, all encouraging their intellectual and social development without them even realizing they’re learning!
4. Discovery Place Science, Charlotte
The Discovery Place Science Museum in Uptown Charlotte encourages scientific exploration through hands-on learning and immersive exhibitions. Kids can learn about the underwater world of deep-sea creatures, step into a magical indoor rainforest, and learn new skills using basic woodworking, sewing, and soldering in state-of-the-art labs. It’s sure to spark the imaginations of children of all ages!
5. Biltmore Estate, Asheville
Set against the beautiful great smoky mountains is America’s largest home, the Biltmore Estate. This 250-room, 8,000-acre historical property attracts nearly 2 million visitors a year, and it’s no wonder why.
The breathtaking French Renaissance castle gives you and the family the chance to step back in time as you explore its 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces. Outside, you can follow the forest trails, smell the azaleas that make up America’s most complete collection of the flower, and wander the opulent gardens.
The 5 best outdoor spaces and activities for kids in North Carolina
NC has everything from mountains to beaches. The state has sprawling green spaces and lush forests, so it’s the perfect place if you’re a family that loves the great outdoors. To help your holiday planning, we’ve narrowed down the choices to include destinations that have kid-oriented events or activities in breathtaking spaces.
1. North Carolina Zoo, Asheboro
One of the most well-known North Carolina attractions for families is, of course, the zoo! Kids can discover more than 1,800 animals from all over the world – they can head to an African savannah before traversing North America’s forests or braving the sparse desert.
Your kids are sure to run into their favorite animals, whether they love hearing a lion’s roar, seeing a brightly-colored flamingo stand on one leg, or watching an owl’s head turn 180 degrees with ease. There are also a variety of food and drink options at North Carolina Zoo, with restaurants, cafes, and concessions carts dotted all over the place.
2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cherokee
The Great Smokey Mountains National Park is situated on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee and is known for its picturesque landscapes and abundance of wildflowers. It’s the kind of place that everyone falls in love with!
The park is free to enter and is loaded with kid-friendly activities, beyond just walking in the great outdoors. You and your kids can go horseback riding in Smokemont, fish for trout along the Little River, or take part in a junior ranger program where they will earn an honorary badge for completing educational activities.
3. Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Durham
Exploring the beautiful and diverse Duke Gardens is fun for the whole family. The park boasts a 55-acre urban oasis with over 2,500 colorful plant species. You can spot koi fish and water lilies in the fish pool, enjoy a picnic in one of the Historic Gardens’ sprawling green spaces, and explore the arboretum trails to find Japanese maples, irises, peonies, cherries, and more.
4. Pullen Park, Raleigh
Pullen Park is NC’s oldest designated public park. As well as having a traditional (and huge) playground where kids can skip, swing, slide, and jump, the park also contains some amusement attractions!
Attractions include a carousel, a miniature train to take you on a trip through the park, and kids’ boat rides. If all that exploring and playing has made them hungry, you can head down to the park’s cafe for some refreshing drinks and treats.
5. Bodie Island Lighthouse, Outer Banks
Why not take a trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina – made famous by the Netflix show – and take the time to visit the Bodie Island Lighthouse while you’re there?
Bodie Island is a piece of history that will give you and the family a unique view of OBX. You can actually climb the 150-foot lighthouse and take in the beautiful natural surroundings of Bodie Island, Pamlico Sound, and the Atlantic Ocean.
The 5 best amusement attractions and water parks in North Carolina
North Carolina is the perfect destination for the amusement park lovers in your family, whether you’re thrill seekers, water slide lovers, or just enjoy the classic rides and sweet treats you can find on every corner.
1. Wet ‘n Wild Emerald Pointe, Greensboro
The Wet n’ Wild water park is a great place for some NC family fun. With more than 40 rides and attractions ranging from “mild to wild”, there’s something for everyone!
The half-acre Soak Zone features over 35 exciting water elements for the entire family to enjoy! After, why not walk the plank at Shipwreck Cove, or relax on the Lazee River, before heading for some food at one of the park’s dining spots and drying off on one of the many poolside chairs?
2. Frankie’s Fun Park, Raleigh
For an entertaining day full of classic games and attractions, head to Frankie’s of Raleigh. Any budding Babe Ruths can head to the batting cages or you could see which member of your family can get the most holes-in-one over at the mini golf course! There’s fun to be had by little kids, big kids, and kids at heart.
3. Tweetsie Railroad, Blowing Rock
Tweetsie Railroad isn’t your average amusement park. It’s Wild West-themed and the centerpiece of the park is a historic steam train that takes you on a 3-mile ride to see the sights. Hop off to try the classic rides or visit the Deer Park Zoo area to see a range of friendly animals.
They have plenty of events throughout the year, so keep an eye out for things like their July 4th Firework Extravaganza and the Ghost Train Halloween Festival.
4. Carolina Beach Boardwalk, Carolina Beach
The Carolina Beach Boardwalk has tons of amusement rides for children big and small, as well as colorful shops for beach gear, souvenirs, and sweet treats. You can ride the carousel with the kids, beat the heat by heading to the Carolina Beach Arcade, or grab some delicious street food.
If you’re going on vacation with older kids, renting bikes, and going on a self-guided bike tour through Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, and Fort Fisher is a great way to see all the sights in a day. If you’re a musical family, you can immerse yourselves in the sounds of the season with Fireworks by the Sea & Boardwalk Blast (every Thursday evening throughout summer) or the Carolina Beach Music Festival, which takes place every June.
If it’s a sea-and-sun-filled holiday you’re after, check out our guide on 12 of the best North Carolina beaches for families.
5. Carowinds, Charlotte
Carowinds straddles the North-South Carolina border. Part of the theme park is in Charlotte NC and some of it sits in the town of Fort Mill SC – so you can get two states’ worth of fun for the price of one!
You’ll find more than 60 incredible rides at Carowinds, as well as a 26-acre water park, live entertainment, and true Carolina cuisine – there’s no way anyone’s getting bored. If you want to turn the day trip into a fun getaway, why not stay at the on-site hotel or campground? You’ll never be too far from the excitement!
For the hardcore adrenaline junkies among you, check out our complete guide to all Carowinds rollercoasters here.
Now you’re ready to go!
You’re definitely making the right choice by taking the kids to North Carolina on your family vacation – there’s so much to see and do! Using this guide, you can plan the trip of a lifetime to North Caroline for you and your family, all you need to do now is pick which clothes you’ll pack and who’ll be the designated driver.
Have a great time with the kids!
Is North Carolina a good place for kids?
North Carolina is a great place to take the kids. There’s no shortage of family-friendly attractions in The Old North State. It’s (literally) a breath of fresh air, with incredible green spaces and protected areas of natural beauty. It has incredible amusement parks and state-of-the-art museums/learning centers. There are so many things to do in North Carolina with kids, you won’t be able to fit them into one vacation!
If you’re definitely heading to NC, but aren’t sure what city to stay in, have a look at our best places to vacation in North Carolina with kids guide, which is handily categorized by the cities within the state.
Is Outer Banks NC good for kids?
Yes! OBX makes for a great family vacation – there’s something for everyone to do, no matter their age. There’s plenty of sand and surf for an excellent beach day, but there’s also much more to do than build sandcastles – Outer Banks is also rich in history.
The group of islands boasts attractions like Island Farm, where you can experience daily life on Roanoke Island as it would’ve been in the 1800s, and the Wright Brothers National Memorial, which explores the lives of the pilots who invented and flew the world’s first successful motor-operated airplane!
What is there to do in Kitty Hawk NC for kids?
Kitty Hawk is in the heart of the Outer Banks. It’s a sunny beach town with lots to do for kids who love adventure and learning, whether they want to take watersports lessons or explore hands-on exhibits at museums and aquariums.
Is Raleigh kid friendly?
North Carolina’s capital city is a great place to explore with kids. Raleigh is known for its culture, history, and entertainment, so there’s definitely enough going on to keep little (or not-so-little) ones happy!
You can spark their curiosity at one of the many family-oriented museums, satisfy their love of sports at the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, and let them run off their excess excitement at Pullen Park.
Where are the best family-friendly hotels in North Carolina?
- For beautiful resorts with all the amenities you and the kids need, check out our guide on the 16 best family-friendly hotels in North Carolina here.
- If you’ve narrowed your search down to a Charlotte vacation, we have a list of the best hotels in the city of Charlotte here.
- If you’re heading to Greensboro, have a look at our guide to the best kid-friendly Greensboro hotels here.
- We recommend these 6 Outer Banks hotels if you’re staying there with the family.
After a more outdoorsy vacation? These are the best resorts in the North Carolina mountains.