Last Updated on: 8th March 2023, 10:56 am
Are you planning a trip to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and worried you’re forgetting something?
Use this Winston-Salem trip planner to make sure you are prepared for your visit, especially if this is going to be your first time in Winston-Salem!
Here are my best Winston-Salem travel tips to help your North Carolina getaway go off without a hitch!
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Good to Know: We were guests of Visit Winston-Salem during our Big Southern USA Road Trip. As always, all opinions are my own.
My Favorite Travel Booking Sites for 2023
These are my favorite companies that I use on my own travels.
Protect Your Trip via Safety Wing
Find the best deals on hotels & vacation rentals on Booking.com.
For English-speaking private airport transfers, book through Welcome Pickups.
For road trips and independent travel, rent a car through Discover Cars.
Find information and cruise reviews on Cruise Critic.
For packing and travel essentials order via Amazon.
The Top 5 Most Popular Winston-Salem Tours & Attractions
Before you dig into all the city has to offer, you should know that these are the most popular guided tour and attractions in Winston-Salem.
Winston-Salem Travel Tips: Things to Know Before Visiting Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Ready to start planning? Here are my best tips for planning a trip to Winston-Salem, NC!
Get to Know a Little Bit about Winston-Salem
Winston-Salem is most famous for being the home of Wake Forest University, the headquarters of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (hence its nickname as Camel City), and for the architecture left behind by the Moravian settlers who founded it.
Each of these three major players in Winston-Salem’s history has left an indelible mark on the city, and the way these three legacies intertwine has created a uniquely American city.
Simply put, Winston-Salem is a place that could not exist anywhere else, because nowhere else could the legacies of education, capitalism, and theocracy coexist with so little tension.
Viewpoints and philosophies that are at odds with each other, that other people have gone to war over, have somehow managed to create a beautiful, peaceful city.
During your time in Winston-Salem, you can get to know all three parts of the city’s history.
You’ll see what makes it unique and yet still distinctly North Carolinian.
While it wasn’t until my fifth trip to North Carolina that I got to visit Winston-Salem, I have to say this is a corner of North Carolina that stole my heart.
Decide How Long to Spend in Winston-Salem
There are tons of fun things to do in the greater Winston-Salem area, so don’t think that you can cover everything you’ll want to see on a day trip.
There are three separate historic districts in Winston-Salem, two of which need to be on your itinerary – Old Salem and Bethabara.
There’s also downtown, which has blocks of cafes, galleries, and shops to explore.
You can spend an entire morning or even full-day sightseeing in Reynolda.
Several fantastic independent museums are worth visiting that aren’t part of any of these districts mentioned already.
Plus there’s Winston-Salem nightlife to experience.
If you only have one day to see the city, you can accomplish a lot, but you won’t come close to seeing everything that makes this city so wonderful.
Ideally, give yourself a weekend, or better, a long weekend, to scratch the surface.
Winston-Salem makes a great weekend getaway, but a three or four (or five) day weekend gives you enough time to see the city’s wonderful sites.
Where to Stay in Winston-Salem
If you’re looking to stay in one of the best hotels in Winston-Salem, then check into the three-star Historic Brookstown Inn.
This is where we stayed while we were here, and it was lovely.
Our room was spacious, with a separate living area (great for traveling with a toddler!), the included breakfast and evening cookies were delicious and a great way to start and end our days, and the location was great for seeing the city’s historic sites.
The inn touts itself as “A living museum of History, Art & Treasure in Winston-Salem, NC,” and it feels that way.
The building itself is an old mill that has been preserved, and the architecture of the building and grounds is unlike any place I’ve stayed before.
Historic objects are lining the halls, the furniture and decor of the rooms lean historic with modern comforts, and the large center courtyard reminds you that this isn’t your typical hotel.
From check-in to check-out, I felt peaceful and easy whenever we were at the Inn, which is exactly how you want to feel on a weekend retreat from your typical busy life.
Located in downtown Winston-Salem in the historic R.J. Reynolds building, this is a luxury hotel complete with a spa, a French restaurant, and a bowling alley on-site.
Good to Know: Book your Winston-Salem accommodations early!
Because this is a university city, you never know when a game or graduation will make your preferred dates sell out.
A good rule of thumb is to always book your room early if you will be going to an American college town or city for your trip.
We encountered room shortages on our road trip in both Winston-Salem (Wake Forest University) and in Knoxville (where the University of Tennesee is located).
When I travel in the US, I use Booking.com since I can easily find rooms with free cancellation.
This means I can book hotels early and cancel if we move the trip dates or decide not to go.
How to Get to Winston-Salem, North Carolina
There are several ways to get to Winston-Salem from various parts of the US.
Flying to Winston-Salem
When I fly to North Carolina, I usually fly into Charlotte Douglas International Airport, which is an international hub and easily accessed from most of North America.
However, the closest airport to Winston-Salem is the Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro.
There’s also the Smith Reynolds Airport, which is just a few minutes outside of the city, but that’s mostly for people flying private.
If you’re flying to Winston-Salem, I would check flights at both Charlotte and Piedmont airports and compare the prices.
If you fly into Piedmont International, the drive to Winston-Salem is about thirty minutes, while it’s about an hour and fifteen minutes for Charlotte Douglas.
If you need your ground transportation and want to rent a car, you can reserve one in advance for pickup at either airport.
I use Discover Cars when I travel to help save money on car rentals, which have gotten quite pricey lately!
Driving to Winston-Salem
We drove to North Carolina from Oklahoma City as part of a big road trip around the south, with stops in Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville on the way.
However, you probably won’t have to drive that far!
Located on I-40, Winston-Salem is easy to drive to from many major cities in the Southeast. Here are the drive times from various American cities:
Charlotte, NC: 1.25 hrs
Raleigh-Durham, NC: 1.5 hrs
Roanoke, VA: 2 hrs
Asheville, NC: 2.25 hrs
Wilmington, NC: 3.5 hrs
Richmond, VA: 6.5 hrs
Gatlinburg, TN: 4 hrs
Knoxville, TN: 4 hrs
Charleston, SC: 4.5 hrs
Savannah, GA: 5 hrs
Morgantown, WV: 5.25 hrs
Atlanta, GA: 5.5 hrs
Washington, DC: 6 hrs
Lexington, KY: 6hrs
Cincinnati, OH: 6.75 hrs
Nashville, TN: 7 hrs
Louisville, KY: 7 hrs
Taking the Bus to Winston-Salem
You can use Greyhound to take a bus to Winston-Salem. I have taken Greyhound on multiple trips in the US (but not to Winston-Salem).
Greyhound is reliable up to a point. I’ve found the actual travel times can vary tremendously from what was listed on my ticket.
I only use Greyhound when I have no other option because they usually take longer than driving and it usually costs the same or more than I would spend on gas anyways.
Unlike Europe or Asia where taking the bus is usually the most cost-effective way to get around, in the US it’s usually more expensive than driving while taking longer.
Taking the Train to Winston-Salem
Theoretically, it’s possible to take the train to Winston-Salem via Amtrak, though the city is not on a major route.
To see if your route is available on Amtrak for your Winston-Salem getaway, check the Amtrak website.
How to Get Around Winston-Salem
If you want to see most of the best sites in the city, you will want to have a car during your visit to Winston-Salem.
This is because some of the best sites, like Old Salem and Reynolda, aren’t within walking distance of downtown.
However, there are rideshare options and city buses available for those who prefer not to have a car available and still want to see the sites on the outskirts of town.
Both Uber and Lyft operate in Winston-Salem if you want to use a rideshare company.
Check out the Winston-Salem Transit Authority’s website for bus routes.
You can also ask your accommodations for reliable taxi recommendations.
Otherwise, if you aren’t driving to the city on a road trip, you can rent a car for your trip.
Winston-Salem Safety Tips
US News and World Report rank Winston-Salem as the 46th best place to live in the US (and 16th safest place to live), so don’t freak out if you find yourself wanting to stay when your trip is over.
However, this doesn’t mean you should let your guard down when traveling here.
Travelers are always more likely to be targets of petty crime when hanging out in major tourist spots. It’s no fun to have your pocket picked (or almost picked), so keep your wits about you.
Lock your doors, don’t flash cash, and follow common-sense safety practices that you would use in any US city.
If you plan on doing any outdoor activities, read up on outdoor safety for your specific activity and destination.
When is the Best Time to Visit Winston-Salem
The great thing is you can plan a weekend getaway to Winston-Salem any time of year. So many of the best things to do in Winston-Salem are cultural experiences that can be enjoyed year-round.
However, with highs in the 40s in winter and 80s in summer, North Carolina weather is more moderate than states further south or cities in the northeast.
Of course, the weather isn’t the only reason you might want to visit the city during a particular time of year.
There are special events in Winston-Salem that happen throughout the year. You can see a calendar of annual events on the Visit Winston-Salem website.
Some of the most popular Winston-Salem annual events:
Riverrun International Film Festival (April)
Winston-Salem Pride Festival & Parade (June)
Juneteenth Festival (June)
National Black Theater Festival (August)
Bookmarks Festival of Books (September)
Carolina Classic Fair (October)
Piedmont’s Classic Fair (November)
Festival of Lights at Tanglewood (November-December)
Other events you can look at our schedule for Wake Forrest University Athletics and the
Winston-Salem Dash baseball team.
There are also special events at Old Salem including special holiday events in December.
You can also check the Benton Convention Center events calendar.
What to Eat in Winston-Salem
Even if you’re familiar with North Carolina cuisine, there are a few dishes that you absolutely must try when in Winston-Salem.
Moravian Chicken Pie
While most dishes on this list are sweet, this is the thing to order if you’re looking for a savory meal.
You might think you know Moravian chicken pie, but you don’t. This is not a pot pie, rather it’s a double-crusted flaky slice of chicken perfection and does not have any vegetables.
It is typically served with gravy and mashed potatoes.
This is served in restaurants in town, or you can buy one at Mrs. Pumpkin’s Bakery to take home with you (provided you’re not flying…).
Moravian Ginger Cookies
Imagine the tastiest ginger snap you’ve ever had, then make it almost as thin as a Pringle. This is the genius behind Moravian ginger cookies.
You’ll find them all over town, and you know I left with about twelve containers of them to take home to friends and family (though I kept most of them for myself, to be honest).
You can find them all over town in red tins. Several companies make them, so buy a few different varieties if you’re curious.
Moravian Sugar Cake
Cinnamon, butter, brown sugar, and dough – what else do you need to have a delicious dish?
This recipe dates back to when Moravian settlers came over from Moravia in Europe (in the modern-day Czech Republic).
Sold at Winkler Bakery in Old Salem, Moravian Sugar Cake makes a great snack to take home, though be prepared for sticky fingers if you’re eating it on the road (a lesson I learned the hard way…).
You can buy them at Dewey’s Bakery and Winkler Bakery.
Moravian Lovefeast Buns
These sweet rolls are served with coffee during special services in the Moravian Church.
But you don’t have to attend worship or be a part of the Moravian faith to enjoy a Moravian Love Feast Bun.
You can buy them at Dewey’s Bakery and Winkler Bakery.
Krispy Kreme Glazed Donut
Okay, yes, you have probably had Krispy Kreme donuts before. But did you know the first Krispy Kreme donuts were sold in a grocery store right here in Winston-Salem?
And while I prefer the strawberry glazed with sprinkles, in Winston-Salem you should try the glazed donut, which was the company’s original offering.
So grab a Krispy Kreme and visit the plaque which commemorates where the original Krispy Kreme on Main Street in Old Salem, which was opened in the 1930s.
Address: 534 South Main St. Winston-Salem, NC 27101
Don’t Skip the Top 10 Winston-Salem Sites
A culture and history traveler’s dream, there are so many historic sites to dig into, plus art museums, gardens, shopping, and more.
But these are the top 10 things to do in Winston-Salem for your bucket list.
Old Salem Museums & Garden
One of the most beautiful living history museums in the US, Old Salem was not the first Moravian settlement in the area (see below), but it became the most important.
You can visit the St. Philip’s Moravian Church Complex, Winkler Bakery, the Single Brothers’ House, Salem Tavern, and more.
You can arrange a tour ahead of time, or come and walk around on your own and follow the Salem Pathways to learn more during your visit.
And you can shop until you drop. Check for current openings here.
Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA)
Located on the grounds of Old Salem, the museum showcases Old Salem’s Moravian Decorative Arts Collections.
The museum hosts the most comprehensive collection of southern decorative arts in the US.
Reynolda House, Gardens, & Village
Reynolda is the former estate of the R. J. Reynolds family. Today it has been turned into three distinct experiences, though together they make a great full-day in Winston-Salem.
Reynolda Villiage is the grounds and buildings of the estate (excluding the house). Today access to the grounds is free, and the buildings have been converted into shops, restaurants, and even event space.
There are pathways and a hiking trail to use as well.
Reynolda Gardens are also free to visit. Today the gardens are maintained by Wake Forest University.
Reynolda House is the great house where the family lived. Today it has been turned into the Reynolda House Museum of American Art.
Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA)
Just a few minutes from Reynola is another one of Winston-Salem’s great art museums.
SECCA is located in the former home of the Hanes family of hosiery fame.
Rather than highlighting the works of artists from as far away as New York and San Francisco, this museum focuses on raising the profile of artists from the southeast.
Historic Bethabara Park
The first European settlement in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, Moravians began living here in 1753.
Today the park is a historic park dedicated to educating about what life was like here during its colonial era.
You can tour the historic buildings and gardens along with visiting the excellent gift shop.
Encompassing multiple blocks of cafes, restaurants, bars, and art galleries, downtown Winston-Salem is a great place to come to play.
Spend time in DADA, the Downtown Arts District, where you’ll find galleries as well as the ARTivity art park.
West End Historic District
This streetcar suburb dates back to the 1880s and 1890s, this beautiful residential neighborhood is now part of the city of Winston-Salem proper.
This is one of Winston-Salem’s three historic districts, and you can come to a myriad of restaurants and bars to enjoy yourself while experiencing the area’s beautiful architecture.
Wake Forest University
If you like college athletics, you probably know Wake Forest has famously good basketball and football programs.
Check the university events page for campus happenings and games during your visit.
Pilot Mountain State Park
Located twenty miles outside of Winston-Salem, this is one of the city’s favorite places to come and play.
There are hiking and biking trails, rock climbing, paddling opportunities, and it’s the best place for horseback riding near the city.
Located outside of Winston-Salem, Tanglewood Park is a place for recreation year-round and hosts the Festival of Lights every winter.
Decide How Many Beautiful Historic Gardens You Want to Visit
I’ve never been to so many historic gardens back to back in my life. I have to tell you – it’s kind of a fabulous way to spend a weekend!
You’re outside in beautiful settings getting sunshine and the peace that comes with all that greenery.
But at the same time, you’re learning about different eras of Winston-Salem and American history.
The three most famous are the Old Salem Gardens, the gardens at Bethabara Park, and Reynolda Gardens.
Here’s my plea – don’t skip any of them! They’re all special for different reasons, and seeing them all during a weekend in Winston-Salem has a cumulative effect on you where a calm washes over your entire body.
I can’t explain it. I just know I love it.
What to Do in Winston-Salem at Night
While you can spend your evenings enjoying the comforts of your hotel, you can also extend your sightseeing into the evening (or wee hours of the morning, if you prefer).
You can go on a Winston-Salem Historical Ghost Tour if you happen to be in town on a Tuesday or Saturday night.
If you want to enjoy dinner and drinks, come to downtown Winston-Salem.
While there are many great choices in this neck of the woods, one can’t-miss is Foothills Brewpub.
Open until midnight seven days a week, you can come and try locally brewed craft beer and seriously good pub fare. Don’t skip the beer cheese!
5 Day Trips from Winston-Salem
There are many unique places to explore in the Piedmont Triad and beyond that make great day trips from Winston-Salem.
The city of Charlotte is just a little over an hour away. If you won’t be visiting as part of a larger North Carolina road trip, you can see a lot of the city’s best sites in a day.
Chimney Rock State Park is about two and a half hours away. This is the perfect day trip for anyone looking to enjoy outdoor activities like hiking and rock climbing.
Just thirty minutes from Winston-Salem, the city of Greensboro has attractions like the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, one of the national parks in North Carolina, and the International Civil Rights Center & Museum.
If you want to get a taste of the Blue Ridge Mountains while in North Carolina, you can take a day trip to drive a bit of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
But on a nice day trip, you can drive up from Winston-Salem to Mount Airy, then drive the parkway as long as you want before turning back to Winston-Salem.
If you make it to Asheville, it’s about two hours to drive back.
If you want something really special and want to drive for it, you can head to Hot Springs, North Carolina.
This three-hour drive (each way) might just be worth it since you’ll get to unwind at the Hot Springs Resort & Spa once you arrive.
What to Do in Winston-Salem with Kids
If you are traveling to Winston-Salem as a family vacation, you’ll be glad to know that we found it one of the best places for traveling with young kids during our Big Southern Road Trip.
Our toddler loved digging in the dirt in the gardens, so I got to enjoy a living museum experience but he got to feel like we were playing at the park.
There aren’t many experiences at cultural and historic sites that are truly great for the whole family, wild toddlers included, so it was a refreshing change of pace.
Here are a couple more ideas for things to do in Winston-Salem with kids of different ages.
Formerly known as the Children’s Museum of Winston-Salem, the Kaleideum Downtown has hands-on science exhibits that let kids learn through imaginative play.
The Kaleideum North (formerly SciWorks) has a planetarium that’s great for kids old enough to enjoy the show (or nap through it).
Downtown Winston-Salem has two great parks where kids can let out some energy.
Bailey Park is located in the Innovation Quarter, and ARTivity on the Green is an art-themed park near in DADA – the Downtown Arts District.
Winston Waterworks is a great water park for kids if you are in town during a heatwave and need a fun way to cool down.
What to Bring with You to Winston-Salem
While I’m sure you plan on doing some shopping while you’re here, there are a few items that you do not want to leave home without!
First, bring a guidebook. This is especially important if you will be going on a long road trip around North Carolina or you will be exploring the area for more than a quick weekend getaway.
For road trips, I like Lonely Planet’s Lonely Planet Georgia & the Carolinas. I have a few more recommendations for guide books below.
Second, make sure to bring your cell phone. You will want to stay connected during your trip, plus it will serve as a navigation system should you rent a car and a go-to camera.
Third, grab a camera. While it’s great to have a cell phone with you for quick pics, if you want to do more serious photography or take more videos, I find it nice to travel with a separate dedicated camera as well.
If I will be wrestling with my toddler on the trip, I’ll grab my Sony ZV-1, which is a powerful compact camera with great video capabilities as well.
Fourth, bring a backup charging bank for your phone.
Even though my new phone has an awesome battery life, I would not want to be out on a boat or a tour for the day and end up with a dead phone. It’s a safety issue as well as an inconvenience.
Finally, bring a great day bag so you can carry what you need with you (like your camera, snacks, water, sunscreen, cash, etc).
My current favorite is the Pacsafe Citysafe, which is especially great for tourist destinations because it has many anti-theft features designed to deter pickpockets plus RFID technology to keep your credit card digits safe.
It also transitions to a night bag more easily and won’t embarrass you if you go to dinner directly after sightseeing all day.
See prices and reviews for the Pacsafe Citysafe.
What to Buy in Winston-Salem
There’s really great shopping all over the city, from Trade Street to Main Street to Bethabara Park. Heck, you can even find great gifts at the farmer’s market.
Here are some suggestions for Winston-Salem souvenirs and gifts.
Moravian Cookies – these make the perfect gift to take back to friends, family, or coworkers. They aren’t expensive, they travel well, and they’re intrinsically tied to the history of the city.
As I stated above, I left with twelve rolls of cookies. It wasn’t enough.
Moravian Advent Stars – if you want something from Winston-Salem that you can’t eat, you can find beautiful Moravian stars for sale in many gift shops as well as Bethabara and Old Salem.
These can serve as Christmas ornaments or year-round decor.
If you don’t find a star that you can easily transport back home, you can find artwork decorated with the designs of Moravian stars instead.
I chose a tile with a Moravian Star motif as a gift for my mother from our trip.
Local Artwork – Winston-Salem is full of fabulous art galleries, but many of them have lots of affordable pieces.
If you love displaying art from your travels in your home, then spend time exploring the art galleries downtown looking for that perfect piece.
I found mine at Red Dog Gallery on Liberty Street.
Wake Forest University Gear – I love buying local college gear, even if I never attended the school. (I think I rocked my Nashville souvenir Vanderbilt hoodie for about a decade).
You can get something fun on campus. For college gear, I love sweatshirts and t-shirts, but I found an amazing University of Georiga racerback tank top a few years ago that I wish was available at every campus.
Invest in a Guidebook or Two
I listed the Lonely Planet Georgia & the Carolinas above since it covers North Carolina more in-depth, but if you want more context or have a bigger trip planned, these are the travel guidebooks that I used to plan my entire 5-week Southern USA road trip.
I highly recommend each of them!
Lonely Planet Florida & the South’s Best Trips – this book was essential for me when I was trying to plan our road trip and understanding what was near each other and what absolutely not to miss.
Moon U.S. Civil Rights Trail: A Traveler’s Guide to the People, Places, and Events that Made the Movement – we did a lot of Civil Rights and Civil War historic sites on our trip, and if you’ll be doing any of this kind of travel, make sure to get this.
It was invaluable for finding off-the-beaten-path sites and can’t miss Black-owned historic businesses.
While it doesn’t have Winston-Salem sites, nearby Greensboro and Raleigh-Durham are covered.
Before You Get to North Carolina – Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance
It’s especially important to get travel insurance whenever you are more than one hundred miles from home and visiting big cities or having outdoor adventures.
More North Carolina Travel Resources
We just love North Carolina! I’ve been five times, and I already can’t wait to go back!
Here are all the North Carolina travel blog posts that I have to help you plan your trip around this wonderful state!