Originally settled by a group of German Moravians, Winston and Salem were two separate towns that merged to form the cultural hub of Camel City. This nickname stems from its past as an industry titan for textiles and tobacco. Since then, it’s progressed into a mecca for arts, nature, cuisines, museums and more.
With the charm of a quaint Southern hamlet and the amenities and activities available of a bigger bustling metropolis, Winston-Salem is the best of both worlds. It’s one of the best cities in North Carolina to visit, and you could easily spend a few days here seeing all the attractions. Here are the top things to do in Winston Salem.
Best Things to do in Winston Salem
Old Salem Museums and Gardens
Experience the life of a Moravian community in the 1800s with an immersive visit to Old Salem. There are 20 historical buildings to explore along with interpreters engaging in the daily life activities of that time. Visiting here is easily one of the best things to do in Winston Salem.
A living museum, you can watch cobblers crafting shoes and potters shaping clay. The gardens are gorgeous for a wander around the greenery. Old Salem Bakery is an especially delightful stop with freshly baked breads being made and sold.
walk around the West End Historic District
Thie West End area of town is chock full of architectural gems. Styles range from Classic Revival to Queen Anne to Colonial Revival to American Craftsman. Dating back to the 19th century, there are about 500 historically significant structures in this one part of Winston-Salem. Each structure is well preserved.
The Zevely House is a favorite of architecture aficionados and once belonged to a founder of the city, see if you can spot which one it is.
North Carolina BBQ Trail
It’s a North Carolina fact that one of the best things to do in North Carolina is eat BBQ. As a state, North Carolina is heralded for its top-notch cooking of classic Southern barbecue. Smoked in the traditional techniques passed down for over hundreds of years, this succulent pork and beef melt in your mouth and melt your heart.
The North Carolina BBQ trail boasts the best of the best, with strict criteria for cooking methods, flavor profiles and styles of serving. Real Q is the stuff of local pit roasting legends, with Bib’s running a close second.
Reynolda House is a unique Museum of American Art. It offers the chance to explore an expansive glamorous estate which reflects the cultural lifestyle of the wealthy in the 1960s. It was originally owned and inhabited by tobacco bigwig R.J Reynolds who helped to found the town. It’s 1,067 acres and boasts the foremost collection of art from American eras over the course of 300 years.
Rooms throughout the grandiose home are decked out with dazzling decor featuring a bowling alley, an indoor pool and a life-sized doll house. There are elaborate and ornate gardens, perfectly manicured for an idyllic mosey as well.
shop on Trade Street
The dream street in Winston-Salem to shop until you drop. Chock full of charming boutiques and specialty storefronts. Pop into The Snob Shop and Kindred Spirits for artisan and vintage gems. There are also several cafes and snack shops for a quick refuel for browsing such as the delightful destination Lavender and Honey. It’s the downtown heart and soul of the city.
Historic Bethabara Park
Bethabara Park is a Moravian settlement that started in 1753, before the community ultimately moved over to Old Salem. It’s 183 acres and is a modern-day wildlife preserve. Many buildings have been restored to their former glory and charm, such as the Bethabara Moravian Church. It also happens to be a hotspot for bird watching, so keep your eyes peeled for beautiful native species. The trails that traverse the grounds make for a wonderful day of wandering.
step into the past at Mast General Store
Another fantastic thing to do in Winston Salem that doesn’t take too long is to visit this gem. This 19th century general store is a one-of-a-kind attraction in Camel City. It maintains its original charm and is truly a must visit for that good old Southern spirit. As is traditional, they still sell just a little bit of everything, from outdoor gear to local gourmet grits to handcrafted creams and lotions.
It’s famous for its diverse selection of old-time candy choices which are sure to bring a childlike joy to your heart and your mouth. Get your fill of local flavor at Mast General Store.
relax at Quarry Park
A nature filled respite from the city, this park offers some of the best panoramas overlooking the skyline. The old quarry after which it’s named is now a rocky pool full of sparkling clear blue waters. It was functional from the 1920s to the 1970s. You can walk out on the pier which extends above it for a spectacular view and serene experience. There are plenty of well-kept paths for a relaxing, scenic walk as well.
walk the Art Trail
Winston-Salem is home to one of the most kitschy and cool art-based inventions called the Art-o-mat. It uses old cigarette machines and turns them into art vending machines. The art is priced accessibly and is always a fun surprise of local talent. There are only 100 machines in the world, and there are several to discover around town.
Check out Artivity on the Green in the downtown Arts District for fun and modern outdoor sculptural works. There are masterful and whimsical murals adorning many of the walls in the area creating a bright and vibrant city landscape. Find as many as you can and choose your favorite.
snap a photo of the Shell Station
This is the last standing Shell Oil clamshell in the country. A quirky relic from the 1930s, it serves a monument to its own era filled with fun and funky memorabilia. There were once seven around town as part of an art deco advertisement attempt. It’s a phenomenally preserved piece of Camel City culture, and the perfect Insta-worthy photo op for your feed. This is one of the best secret things to do in Winston-Salem.
check out The Coffee Pot
A beloved landmark in Winston-Salem, no trip is complete without a stop at the Coffee Pot. Built in 1858, it’s one of the oldest sights to see in the city. It’s over seven feet tall, making it hard to miss and very mysterious. It’s become a recognizable symbol of the area.
It was initially created as an attention-grabbing campaign for a local tin shop. It can hold up to 740 gallons of heavenly java. It’s been the subject of many local folklores and legends. Ask around to hear all the current cult classic theories.
Hit Up the Many Breweries
One of the best things to do in Winston Salem is enjoy a beer a two! There is a mecca of microbreweries being churned out of Camel City. Foothills Brewing is a favorite of locals and visitors alike and one of the best breweries in North Carolina. They’ve made a name for themselves in the Carolinas by making high quality craft beverages fermented and brewed to perfection.
They produce large volumes in their main facility, including their flagship Hoppyum IPA. Incendiary Brewing is a unique industrial haven set in an old power plant. They have a variety of drafts for every desire, from Vienna Amber Lager to Milkshake New England IPA to Honey Blonde Ale.
Enjoy All the Delicious Restaurants
Sweet Potatoes is a soul food sanctuary that is a staple of the culinary scene in the city. A stop into this quaint country space is a highly recommended meal. Start with the Fried Green Tomato and Okra Basket and chow down on the Slap Yo Mama Ribs. Mozelle’s offers a more upscale take on similar Southern comforts. They put up refined plates such as Gourmet Meatloaf and Tomato Pie in a bright and airy setting.
Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art
The SECCA gallery features multimedia works from all over the world. With no permanent collections, they are constantly rotating in the newest and most exciting pieces for your enjoyment. An immersive surprise always awaits at SECCA. They feature dance, music, visuals, and education for a diverse set of perspectives. They serve as a cultural hub of the community connecting the area with the most cutting edge contemporary works.
hike in Hanging Rock State Park
Hanging Rock State Park is one of the best state parks in North Carolina! Right nearby the city there are 9,000 acres of natural wonderland full of diverse terrains. It’s definitely one of the most fun things to do in Winston Salem (though it’s a 40 minute drive from the city).
There are 20 miles of trails traversing steep climbs to stunning views, flowing streams and waterfalls, Dan River for paddling, and a sparkling lake for swimming and canoeing. There are opportunities to rock climb or mountain bike within the grounds as well. This is one of the best things to do in Winston-Salem for outdoor activity enthusiasts.
Black Mountain Chocolate Factory Tour
As close to a trip to Willy Wonka’s as you might ever get, this chocolate factory tour is sweet as can be. It’s open to the public for a self-guided tour that tastes as good as it smells. If you take a guided tour, you are sure to learn a lot about chocolate and the intensive process behind creating it.
You can buy all the treats you want to try at the end, they have everything from hot chocolate to gelato to pastries. They even offer classes where you can learn to make cocktails or pair chocolates with wines.
have a drink at Broad Branch Distillery
Set in a former tobacco warehouse in the Arts District, a visit to Broad Branch is a fun and indulgent experience. The distillery is grain to glass with a focus on old world artisanal techniques of the area. You can sneak a peek at their technical and thoughtful process behind the scenes and treat yourself to a tasting as well.
They create a variety of delectable whiskeys and rums using fresh and local ingredients. The Sungazer Tropical Transcendence Rum is a revelation, along with the Smashing Violet NC Infusion Whiskey.
enjoy a getaway at Graylyn Estate
Gravlyn is one of the largest private homes in the whole state. Visitors can enjoy a romantic weekend in North Carolina in this private estate. It was previously constructed by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in the 1930s. It’s currently an opulent hotel offering the finest luxury in town. They host many events which include a tour of the estate and tastings of their house wines.
It’s in a Normal Revival style on 85 acres of vast and verdant grounds. Each room is special with its own unique decor for the ultimate individualized experience.
drink wine at Yadkin Valley Wineries
Just west of Winston-Salem lives a valley rich in varietals is this fantastic NC winery. There are over 40 verdant vineyards within this rich million-acre land area. Yadkin Wineries is an idyllic day trip from the city as many are very close by. There are wineries serving up everything from the classic Carolina muscadine wines to the traditional Vitis viniferas of Europe. There are small batch producers and expansive enterprises with charming country tasting rooms and sweeping views overlooking the fields of vineyards.
Day Trip to Mount Airy
Mount Airy has all of the Southern small-town charm and hospitality imaginable. Known as the home of Andy Griffith, it inspired the fictional town of Mayberry on his hit 1960s TV series. It feels like a step back in time and a step into the show in many ways, celebrating their claim to fame through museums, tours, and storefronts. It’s a kitschy experience that is one-of-a-kind.
Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts
Known more formally as the Frank L. Horton Museum Center, this space celebrates and educates on the decorative arts of the area. The building was once a grocery store and has since been renovated to house their exciting exhibits and collections. It’s home to one of the foremost research centers on the subject. It focuses on the preservation and interpretation of materials across cultures within the heritage of the American South spanning seven states and four centuries.
Relax on Salem Lake
Often called the hidden diamond of Winston-Salem, you’d never know this oasis was tucked away right in the heart of the city. Salem Lake Trail circumnavigates the sparling body of water for a delightful seven-mile hike with a constant view.
This is an awesome lake in North Carolina to visit. Pier fishing is a popular pastime here, try your hand at angling or simply watch for the catch of the day. The paths are easy to walk and there are plenty of boating opportunities out on the water as well.
Take the kids to Kaleideum
This is a family-friendly place with plenty of fun for everyone. The downtown branch was previously the Children’s Museum of Winston-Salem and the north branch was previously SciWorks. They both host many interactive STEM-based exhibits perfect for science enthusiasts and explorers of any age. Enjoy the planetarium or the famous Krispy Kreme Doughnut Factory.
explore Korner’s Folly
Korner’s Folly is an impressive 22-room brick mansion that is open to the public for tours. The inside is vastly more exciting than the outside. It was built by an interior designer to showcase home decor options to his clients. This results in a kooky and unexpected array of features such as 15 different fireplaces, eight kinds of brick, trap doors, decorative murals and ceiling heights which vary greatly. They also host events such as scavenger hunts around the home.
pick up a book at Bookmarks
More than just a bookstore, this literary arts nonprofit is a unique community purveyor. Bookmarks believe in books with a purpose, actively engaging patrons in reading to educate, challenge and inspire. Find any book you can think of here, and feel great about supporting a worthy cause. They feature many events that focus on spotlighting authors in different formats, such as Moveable Feast or Parapalooza. It also hosts the largest annual book fair in the Carolinas.