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Legends of North Carolina

Movie stars, ministers, millionaires and military: To travel through North Carolina is to walk in the footsteps of giants.

The Tar Heel State has been shaped by extraordinary men and women whose legacies still resonate in its cities and towns today. From the mountains in the west to the beaches of the east, this state holds fascinating stories of people whose impact has gone far beyond North Carolina’s borders.

This tour highlights the big personalities and big dreams that took root in North Carolina. It begins in Asheville and continues to Charlotte, Fayetteville, Wilmington and the Outer Banks, although it could just as easily run in reverse. Plan a minimum of five days to make the trip, or a week if you want to dive deeper into the destinations or spend more time in certain cities.


An Amazing Estate in Asheville

In the western reaches of North Carolina, Asheville has become one of the state’s most popular tourist destinations. Some people come to enjoy the artsy ethos, and others seek out the scenic beauty of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. But nearly everyone who visits Asheville makes a point of seeing the Biltmore Estate.

Built by George Washington Vanderbilt III and completed in 1895, Biltmore is one of the most striking historic mansions in the country. Among the home’s 250 rooms are 34 bedrooms, 42 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, three kitchens, an indoor swimming pool and a bowling alley. After 35 years as a private home, the Biltmore House opened to the public in 1930.

Today there are a variety of tours of the massive estate, including overview tours, tours of the servants quarters and tours that offer behind-the-scenes views of areas of the house not often seen by the public. Groups that visit the estate can also enjoy 250 acres of gardens, shop or dine at Antler Hill Village, and take a tour and do a tasting at the Biltmore Winery.

While you’re there: Downtown Asheville is packed full of great local restaurants that reflect the city’s progressive and experimental attitude. Asheville Food Tours offers a great walking tour showcasing local restaurants, chefs and food purveyors.


A  Legend of Faith in Charlotte

In the central part of the state, Charlotte has become one of the foremost metropolises of the South and is a national leader in the banking and technology industries. But for faith-based groups, the largest draw in the area lies on the outskirts of town at the Billy Graham Library.

Built and administered by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, the Billy Graham Library tells the life story of America’s most famous preacher. Visitors learn about Billy Graham’s childhood and family life, his early years in ministry and the series of evangelistic crusades for which he became famous. Along the way, exhibits display artifacts from his career and many of the gifts he received from dignitaries worldwide.

The library isn’t just a tribute to the Graham family, though; at Graham’s insistence, each tour of the library includes a presentation of the gospel and an opportunity for visitors to respond to the message.

While you’re there: NASCAR got its start in North Carolina, and today the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte gives visitors a detailed look at the sport that has become one of the most beloved in the country. Visitors see numerous historic race cars and hear stories of the teams that raced them to victory.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.