Last Updated on: 6th February 2023, 03:15 pm
There are so many great places to visit in North Carolina that it might be tough to decide on where to plan your next NC trip.
While I started my love affair with North Carolina over a decade ago by going on an annual pilgrimage to cute Outer Banks towns and beaches, over the past few years I’ve spent a lot of time exploring North Carolina’s cities.
And it was during our most recent North Carolina trip that Winston-Salem stole my heart.
It’s a great city for travelers looking for culture, art, unique cuisine, and some time outdoors!
Winston-Salem has it all, while at the same time it’s still somewhat of a hidden gem compared to other NC cities like Asheville, Charlotte, and Raleigh.
If you need some convincing (or need help convincing someone to come with you!), here are my favorite reasons to visit Winston-Salem asap!
Can’t read now? Pin for later!
Good to Know: We were guests of Visit Winston-Salem during our Big Southern USA Road Trip. As always, all opinions are my own.
If you want to pick up some Winston Salem info during your trip, you can visit the Winston Salem Visitor Center located at 200 Brookstown Avenue, Winston-Salem, NC 27101.
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.
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.
If you would like to stay out near Reynolda, the Graylyn Estate is located nearby in a beautiful green setting.
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.
About Winston-Salem NC
One of the oldest cities in North Carolina, the town of Salem was founded in 1766 by Moravian Settlers, and then later its twin city, Winston, was founded in 1849.
The two towns were incorporated into a single city, with a push by the postal service, in 1913.
Where is Winston-Salem
Winston-Salem is located in the northern center of North Carolina, but the geography of the state has some terms you should familiarize yourself with.
(And to be fair, it’s further east than dead center, but the state’s shape makes it difficult to describe accurately).
The city is located in the region of North Carolina known as the Piedmont, which is a fertile region between the coastal regions of North Carolina’s east and the Appalachian Mountains in the state’s west.
Within the Piedmont, Winston-Salem is part of the Triad, along with Greensboro and High Point.
How far is Winston Salem from…
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
A Few Fun Facts about Winston-Salem NC
Winston-Salem has two nicknames, the “Twin City” because of its founding as two separate cities, and “Camel City” because of its long historic ties to R.J. Reynolds and the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.
The first Fourth of July Celebration was held in Salem on July 4, 1783.
Krispy Kreme donuts were invented and first served in Winston-Salem. The original grocery store where Krispy Kreme was founded is now gone, but you can visit a plaque in its honor.
Hanes, the famous women’s hosiery brand, was also founded in Winston-Salem. Today the family’s home has been turned into a fabulous art museum, the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Arts (SECCA).
The Best Reasons to Visit Winston-Salem, North Carolina
If you’re on the fence about whether or not to visit Winston-Salem, here are my favorite reasons to visit, from the food to the art to the gardens.
You Can Learn about the Moravians, a Unique Slice of American Colonial History
The Protestant settlers known as the Moravians left their mark all over Winston-Salem.
From their first settlement in the area at Bethabara along with Bethania, Salem, Friedberg, and Friedland, Forsythe County is dotted with Moravian communities.
The most popular thing to do in Winston-Salem is to enjoy the living history museum of Old Salem Museums and Gardens, where you can learn about the Moravians.
You can pre-arrange to on a guided tour with an interpreter of the historic buildings (though you can walk around the streets on your own).
At Old Salem, you’ll also find the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA).
Start in the Visitor’s Center at the Frank L.Horton Museum Center.
For those who want to see even more, make sure to set aside time to visit Bethabara Historic Park.
At Bethabara, you can see the earliest buildings the Moravians built along with an early medicinal garden and an intact Moravian Church (Gemeinhaus) complete with living quarters as well as a French and Indian War-era fort.
There are many chapters in Old Winston-Salem’s history, but the Moravian influence makes the city unique.
You Can Enjoy the Distinctive (and Delicious!) Local Cuisine
One of the most famous treats to sample (or gorge on, depending on your preference) are Moravian Cookies. These thin ginger-snap-like wafers are ubiquitous in the city, but I found the ones at Bethabara to be priced the best.
They also have versions that are sugar cookies and lemon-flavored. You might as well try all of them!
Other Moravian treats to pick up at Winkler Bakery in Old Salem include cheese stars, sugar cake, and Lovefeast Buns.
If you want a French Bistro atmosphere complete with art deco interiors, reserve a table at Katharine Brasserie, which is located in the Reynolds building downtown.
If you are looking for something sweet-yet-modern to sample, Black Mountain Chocolate is a great place to shop for yourself or gifts for loved ones back home.
They also have a chocolate “bar” with a cocktail menu!
And finally, if you can squeeze in a Krispy Kreme, it’s a great way to pay homage to the company’s first glazed donuts which were sold in Winston-Salem beginning in 1937 by Vernon Rudolph
You Can Play All Day in Reynolda
One of the most Winston-Salem attractions is Reynolda, the former estate of R.J. Reynolds and his wife Katharine Reynolds.
However, R.J. only lived there briefly before he passed away, so most of what you see are Katharine’s vision as well as that of her daughters and her granddaughter Barbara Babcock Millhouse.
There are lots of things to do here, so set aside a lot of time to explore!
At the Reynolda House Museum of American Art, you can see the grand home as well as the magnificence Reynolds family art collection that includes works by Georgia O’Keeffe, Alexander Calder, and John Singer Sargent.
The house includes a beautiful indoor pool, original furniture, and even a fabulous wet bar.
In Reynolda Gardens, you can see the original 1913 Lord and Burnham Greenhouse, along with enjoying walking among the fountains and rose gardens.
The rest of the estate is known as Reynolda Village and includes the buildings used by the employees of the estate, including the old barn, smokehouse, and carriage shop.
Today these buildings are occupied by local businesses, including shops, bakeries, and restaurants.
One of my favorite Winston Salem activities is also in Reynolda Village: the Reynolda Village trail, from which you can enjoy secluded forest paths, a surprise waterfall, and the estate’s original boathouse.
You Can Root For the Demon Deacons at a Wake Forest Game
I love visiting great college towns to root for the local team (or against if my alma matter is in town). And Winston-Salem is a great college town (well, city).
Wake Forest University is home to a solid NCAA basketball team that has been coached by famous talents like Danny Manning and Skip Prosser and the school’s most famous basketball alum is Tim Duncan, considered by some to be the greatest power forward of all time.
They’ve been to the NCAA tournament over twenty times and even have one Final Four appearance.
You can attend a home game, just make sure to purchase your tickets ahead of time.
Other popular sports teams at Wake Forest include the nationally ranked football team along with soccer and tennis.
You Can Sample Local Wineries, Distilleries, & Craft Breweries
One of my favorite things to do during my travels is visiting local breweries, wineries, and distilleries, and Winston-Salem has some great options for beer, wine, and spirits tourism.
There are five breweries in the city, including the popular Foothills Brewing, along with a few more in the greater Winston-Salem area.
There are over four dozen wineries in the Yadkin Valley, including the Childress Vineyards, owned by a former NASCAR driver, and the whimsical Divine Llama Vineyards.
Broad Branch Distillery has a cocktail room and offers tours and tastings. Check out their “Big Winston” which was the first legally distilled bourbon in the city since the end of prohibition over one hundred years ago.
You Can Dig into Winston-Salem’s Art Scene
Many of the best activities in Winston-Salem include exploring the area’s art scene.
There are great art galleries with affordable art in the Downtown Arts District – or DADA.
Centered around Trade Street and Liberty Street, the area is one of the best art districts in the US.
The area also has ARTivity on the Green, an art-themed park, along with great murals and local street art.
I’ve already mentioned the Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Reynolda and the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA), but there’s one more big art museum you should make time for during your weekend getaway.
The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) is located in the former home of the Hanes family.
However, rather than artwork owned by the family, the museum brings in contemporary artists from all over the Southeast, adding a new dimension to your art tourism in the city.
If you want to see a little more historic art and architecture, you can add a stop at Körner’s Folly, which is located just fifteen minutes outside of the city.
This 22-room Victorian House Museum focuses on art that was popular from the 1880s through the 1910s.
You Can Explore Downtown Winston-Salem
I’ve already covered the Downtown Arts District, but that’s not all there is to do in Downtown Winston-Salem.
You can shop at Mast General Store, hang out in Bailey Park and the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, and see a performance in the Theater District.
You Can Bring the Kids since Winston-Salem is a Family-Friendly Vacation Spot
If you’re wondering what to do in Winston Salem with kids, there are many great options for having a family-friendly vacation.
My son loved visiting Old Salem and Bethabara because he loved running around the gardens. He also had a blast at ARTivity on the Green (more on this in the next section).
Attractions in Winston-Salem for kids include the Children’s Museum of Winston-Salem, the planetarium at Kaleideum North (formerly SciWorks), along with spending time in any of the parks mentioned below.
You Can Enjoy the City’s Green Spaces
The City of Winston-Salem is blessed with many gardens, parks, and green spaces. I’ve mentioned many of the most popular already, including Reynolda Gardens and the gardens in Bethabara and in Old Salem.
There are also parks downtown, like ARTivity and Bailey Park.
Nearby is the lovely Tanglewood Park in the small town of Clemmons, home to the holiday Festival of Lights each December.
Other opportunities to spend time outside include shopping in the Farmer’s Markets, visiting the campus of Wake Forest University, and the impressive Quarry Park.
You Can Learn about Haunted Winston-Salem
Beyond the traditional historic sites and popular history museums in the city, you can learn a bit about the darker (spookier) history of Winston-Salem!
The West End Historic District is home to many of these city’s less corporeal inhabitants.
You can even learn these ghost stories while on a Winston-Salem Historical Ghost Tour led by candlelight!
You Can See the City’s Unique Photo Spots
My personal favorite? The hidden waterfall at Reynolda Village!
You Can Learn about the History of Nascar
Charlotte isn’t the only place in North Carolina to learn about the history of Nascar.
You can visit the Winston Cup Museum and Special Events Center to learn about the legendary Winston Cup Series, one of the most important chapters in stock car racing history.
You Can Use It as a Base to Explore the Piedmont and the Triad
While you won’t run out of fun things to do in Winston-Salem on a weekend, you can use the city to explore the larger region if you want to see more of the Piedmont.
Pilot Mountain State Park is just twenty minutes outside of Winston-Salem, but there’s even more than this.
There are four state parks in the Piedmont. You can’t run out of hiking trails, spots to kayak, and even places to go rock climbing in one Winston-Salem vacation!
If you want to see the other cities in the region, the Triad includes Winston-Salem and the two cities of Greensboro and High Point.
FAQ for Visiting Winston-Salem NC
Here are a few more odds and ends that many travelers want to know before they start planning a Winston-Salem getaway.
Is Winston-Salem expensive?
Winston-Salem is an economical city to travel in the US because so many of the best things to do in Winston-Salem are free or very inexpensive.
What you choose to spend in Winston-Salem is dependent on what you choose to do, where you stay, and where you eat.
You can splurge on luxury hotels or you can find budget accommodations. Compare all your options on hotel aggregators like Booking.com.
For free entertainment, you can enjoy time in Old Salem, Bethabara Park, and even Reynolda Village without spending a penny if you choose.
Is Winston-Salem a walkable city?
Most areas of Winston-Salem are walkable, but getting between them isn’t practical. For example, it’s about five miles between Old Salem and Reynolda.
Is downtown Winston-Salem Safe?
You should use the same common-sense safety tips that you would use when traveling in any city.
While I never felt unsafe, things can happen in cities. It’s just the nature of being a tourist.
What are some of the most popular tourist attractions in Winston-Salem?
What is the weather like in Winston-Salem?
In Winston-Salem, the summers are warm (but muggy), the winters are cold and potentially snowy.
Over the course of the year, the temperature varies from 32°F to 87°F and is rarely below 19°F or above 94°F.
The best time to visit Winston-Salem if you want to enjoy mild temperatures is April, May, September, or October.
What is the main mode of transportation in Winston-Salem?
The easiest way to get around Winston-Salem is by car. While there is public transportation and ride-sharing, having your own car to drive will make your trip much easier.
If you don’t have your own, you can rent one before your trip to drive to Winston-Salem or to pick it up at the airport.
When I travel, I use Discover Cars for renting cars.
5 Things to Pack for Your Trip to North Carolina
You know to bring sunscreen and sunglasses, but here are five items you do not want to forget!
First, get a guidebook like the Lonely Planet Georgia & the Carolinas. It’s not easy to find traditional guidebooks once you land.
If you will be going on a road trip around North Carolina or nearby Georgia and South Carolina, I love Lonely Planet’s Florida & the South’s Best Road Trips.
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 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.
Next, bring a waterproof bag (also knowns as a dry bag) so that you can safely bring your electronics to the beach or kayaking. (If you’ll be going to the beach, obviously!).
You don’t want to ruin your trip with a drowned cell phone or wet camera, but you also don’t want to miss out on capturing all those great beach moments with your loved ones!
Finally, 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.
Guidebooks I Used to Plan My Trip Around the South
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.
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!
North Carolina State-Wide Guides
North Carolina City + Regional Guides
The Outer Banks
North Carolina is Included in these Round-Ups
Before You Leave for North Carolina – Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!
Before you leave for your North Carolina vacation, make sure you have a valid Travel Insurance Policy because accidents happen on the road.
I like to use World Nomads when I travel, and I happily recommend them.
It’s especially important to get travel insurance whenever you are more than one hundred miles from home, hanging out in large cities, or doing outdoor activities like going to the beach or kayaking.
So basically everything fun about visiting North Carolina.