It can be difficult for New Bern newcomers to figure out what to do first.
In a community that’s teaming with history, a vibrant arts scene, and a chic downtown area, new visitors will soon discover that he town is brimming with all sorts of attractions and destinations for vacationers to explore.
With that being said, however, there are a few “must see” destinations that any vacationer will want to visit to enjoy the full New Bern experience.
From stunning waterfront parks that offer spectacular sunsets, to charming museums and historic homes, these are the top New Bern attractions that every visitor should include on their Inner Banks vacation agenda.
New Bern’s most popular attraction, Tryon Palace, is also its most distinctive. This intricate complex of late 18th century structures and perfectly replicated buildings is the former home of the Governor of North Carolina, back when New Bern held the brief title as the state capital from the 1770s to the 1790s. Today, history comes alive at the sprawling indoor and outdoor complex, as guests can meet and chat with costumed interpreters, explore the stunning mansion that’s outfitted with period antiques, watch live demonstrations of period crafts and domestic skills, and tour the picturesque array of nearby historic homes and buildings. Visitors will also be enchanted by Tryon Palace’s famed 16 acres of gardens, which feature examples of traditional Colonial and Victorian-era formal gardens, as well as more practical kitchen gardens. With a beautiful atmosphere throughout, and a collection of special tours and events, Tryon Palace is an enthralling attraction that visitors will want to explore again and again.
The North Carolina History Center is New Bern’s “newest” attraction, and comprises of a 60,000’ square foot complex where a world of exhibits and unique activities can be found. Divided into varying components which includes the Pepsi Family Center, the Regional History Museum, and the Duffy Exhibit Gallery, visitors of all ages will find something to grab their attention within the sprawling, $65 million dollar site. Kids can try their hand at sailing a ship, piece together an “electronic” quilt, and even go back in time via a virtual time machine at the Pepsi Family Center, while patrons of all ages can discover the cultural traditions and lifestyles of centuries past at the Regional History Museum. The Duffy Exhibit Gallery serves as a local art space where regional talents shine, while the on-site waterfront café and gift shop will temp patrons of all tastes. With so much to explore, the North Carolina History Center is truly an all-encompassing, one-stop destination to discover everything that New Bern is renowned for, both past and present.
Take a trip to one of New Bern’s oldest and most distinctive museums, and discover a unique chapter in this community’s storied history. The New Bern Fire Department is famed as the oldest fire department in the state, and at this museum, visitors can see first-hand the legendary stories, figures, and events that helped shape this essential facet of the community. Housed within an original two-story fire house, this museum is stocked with exhibits and artifacts, including original fire trucks and equipment, photographs and relics from the Great Fire of 1922, and unusual exhibits including a local icon, “Fred” the stuffed fire horse. The sheer diversity of exhibits and hands-on displays will impress museum patrons of all ages, and with a wide array of special programs and events throughout the year – like charity dinners or Junior Firefighter programs – everyone can have a blast while learning something new at this wholly fascinating New Bern attraction.
New Bern holds a unique title as the birthplace of one of the world’s most famous beverages – Pepsi Cola – and visitors can see where it all began with a visit to the original drug store where the soft drink was first concocted. Developed by a local pharmacist in 1893, Caleb Davis Bradham, the beverage was first called “Brad Drink’s” until it was renamed “Pepsi Cola” in 1898, and just decades later, the sugary soda had taken the country by storm. At the Birthplace of Pepsi in the heart of downtown New Bern, visitors can peruse artifacts, photographs, and memorabilia that track Pepsi’s rise to fame, and can even enjoy a frothy Pepsi from the store’s on-site soda fountain. The establishment is also stocked with Pepsi gifts and merchandise of all varieties – from postcards to T-shirts – which will entice shoppers on the hunt for something a little different. Fascinating inside and out, this historic spot is an attraction that will appeal to any New Bern visitor with a sweet tooth.
No visit to New Bern is complete without a trip to one of its most scenic destinations – the stunning Union Point Park. Located on a six acre site at the intersection of the Neuse and Trent Rivers, this breathtaking public park is easy to reach for all downtown explorers, and boasts miles of waterfront views in every direction. The park also features a boat launch for vessels and kayaks / stand-up paddleboards, a small playground area, a fishing pier, and a beautiful gazebo where live events, including a summertime concert series, are held. The waterfront border of the park is especially inviting, and features a brick-lined wide pathway that circles the park, as well as plenty of shaded and sunny benches where visitors can relax and enjoy the view. From launching on a waterfront adventure, to just sitting back and admiring the scene, Union Point Park is a fine spot to take in all the scenic beauty that New Bern has to offer.
New Bern Historic Districts
New Bern features a wealth of unique historic districts, which includes the downtown region, Riverside, and Ghent, and as of 2003, the entirety of the New Bern Historic District included nearly 500 different residences and structures. It’s an impressive tally to be sure, but considering that New Bern was founded in 1710, and is North Carolina’s second oldest town, it’s not that surprising that so many iconic structures are found within the area. Visitors can explore these homes and properties by taking a stroll along the downtown area, stopping by famed museums and sites that are open to the public like the John Wright Stanly House and the Attmore-Oliver House, or can also pick up an area map that outlines points of interest at the New Bern Visitors Centers and / or the New Bern Historical Society. In addition, a wide array of tours are available that highlight these homes – including trolley tours, walking tours, and even boat tours and cruises – which makes exploring the famed historic district an all-together fun, educational, and engaging affair.
The New Bern Academy Museum is a unique structure and museum that will charm visitors from the inside out. This 1809 brick structure served as an esteemed schoolhouse for most of its lifespan, but became a hospital during the Civil War years while New Bern was occupied by Union forces. This history is outlined in detail within the New Bern Academy Museum through a series of four exhibits that focus on different chapters of the building’s, as well as the region’s history. With displays and artifacts that are scattered throughout four original classrooms, visitors can admire artifacts from the Civil War years, hear about the stories from this tumultuous period, and even learn all about the history of the town’s stunning architecture and centuries-old education system. From the impressive façade to the fascinating exhibits that are found within the former schoolhouse, the New Bern Academy Museum is a surprising and engaging attraction in the heart of the downtown area.
The 30 acre New Bern Battlefield Park is found just a few miles from the heart of the downtown area, but is worth a visit for Civil War history buffs and nature lovers alike. The vast site has remained almost completely unchanged since it served as the field of battle for the historic 1862 Battle of New Bern, and even has the original trenches to prove it. At the site, visitors can follow the story of New Bern’s role in the Civil War via a well-tended trail complete with wide paths and boardwalks that is dotted with 35 interpretive panels. With an on-site massive granite monument as well as a Visitors Center where more info is found, this otherwise quiet and desolate destination features a wealth of history that’s just waiting to be uncovered. As a result, visitors of all varieties will have a fine time exploring this attraction from the inside out, while enjoying a picturesque and undeveloped slice of the local Inner Banks landscape.
The Bank of the Arts is a cool downtown attraction that will attract all kinds of visitors, from history buffs to art lovers, as the stately structure always boasts a unique new reason to come inside and explore. Serving as the home base of the esteemed the Craven Arts Council and Gallery, this former 1913 bank has been transformed to be a fantastic showplace where local and regional talents shine. The Bank of the Arts features regularly changing exhibits in a wide array of mediums, including painting, sculpture, photography, pottery, and fiber art, which are crafted by artists from all across the Southeastern United States. As a result, visitors will be treated to a new array of exceptional works and pieces with every visit, and will even have an opportunity to peruse and purchase locally made crafts and artworks at the on-site store. With special events throughout the year, including live jazz concerts and charity fundraisers, the Bank of the Arts is a community-oriented attraction that will make any visitor fall in love with the vibrant local arts scene.
From historic palaces to modern artworks, New Bern has a lot to offer when it comes to cool and unique attractions.
Spend a day uncovering the hidden gems of the Historic District, or spend lazy evenings catching a sunset over the Neuse and / or Trent Rivers - In New Bern, the sheer variety and diversity of the local attractions ensures that there’s always something fun and fantastic to do.