Visitors will find that New Bern is so much more than just a picturesque waterfront, and a collection of chic downtown shops. The area has a wide range of “claims to fame” that will engage visitors of all ages, and will make every stay a surprising and fascinating tour of local history, culture, and incredible things to do.
One of North Carolina’s most significant sites for government isn’t in Charlotte, or Roanoke Island, or even in Raleigh – it’s Tryon Palace, and it’s found right here in the heart of New Bern. Established as the first capital of the “new” colony of North Carolina, Tryon Palace is where the oaths of office were taken by the first state governor, Richard Caswell, and is where George Washington visited during his 1791 Southern Tour. Today, the brick mansion has been painstakingly resorted with a collection of corresponding historic buildings that are open to the public, as well as 22 acres of lush gardens that feature nearly three centuries of regional gardening history. From enchanting rooms outfitted with period antiques, to a host of costumed interpreters who explain the site’s significance in detail, a trip to Tryon Palace is a step back in time that will truly enchant visitors of all ages.
Explore the “Newest” Destination for Local History
The 60,000’ square foot North Carolina History Center is one of New Bern’s “newest” destinations for fun and education, and is a $64 million dollar project that has already made waves with locals and visitors alike. Opened in the summer of 2010 to coincide with the town of New Bern’s 300-year anniversary, the History Center features a sprawling series of exhibits that are designed for visitors of all ages, and of all interests. Kids will love exploring the Pepsi Family Center, which has a ton of hands-on exhibits and interactive displays, while history buffs can peruse the artifacts and memorabilia within the Regional History Museum, which explores all the significant cultural, economic, and natural events that shaped the coastal landscape, as well as the state of North Carolina. Perched on the edge of the Trent River, the impressive North Carolina History Center is a perfect first stop for new visitors who want a full introduction to the region, without missing a thing.
New Bern has a local claim to fame as the Birthplace of Pepsi, as it’s in this small town that local drug store owner Caleb Bradham created a new carbonated and sugary beverage that was originally coined “Brad’s Drink.” Today, vacationers can pay a visit to the exact spot where this now globally beloved beverage was created, simply by taking a stroll through the downtown area. The original drug store where Pepsi was created still stands, and now serves as a museum / gift shop / soda fountain, where visitors can peruse publications, photographs, and memorabilia from Pepsi’s initial creation, purchase a collection of souvenirs that pay homage to this world famous drink, and even enjoy an old-fashioned Pepsi at the drug store counter. With a historic on-site soda fountain, and a classic interior that feels like it was plucked from the late 19th century, a visit to the “Birthplace of Pepsi” is a must for any visitor who loves to satisfy a sugar craving every once in a while, while experiencing the highlights of local history.
New Bern is renowned as the second oldest town in North Carolina, and because of this distinction, the community has one of the largest collections of historic homes and residences in the Coastal NC area. With more than 160 homes and buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a downtown stroll can easily be transformed into a historic expedition just by admiring the surrounding Colonial or Victorian structures that are found around every corner. Stand-out residences include the 1780 John Wright Stanly House, which was built by an American Revolution patriot and hero, the 1805 Robert Hay House, the 1830 George W. Dixon House, and the New Bern Academy school house, which was rebuilt in 1809, but which started in 1766 as one of the first schools in the state. Maps of local homes of interest and significance are available at the local downtown Visitors Center, and explorers can also take a walking, trolley, or even a riverfront tour for expert commentary on the area’s significance and role in virtually every American event – from the American Revolution, to the World Wars of the 20th Century.
One of New Bern’s most unique and distinctive attractions is the Firemens Museum, which boasts a collection of cool and memorable exhibits that will fascinate visitors of all ages. Located in the downtown area, and celebrating its 60th year, this museum boasts a collection of unexpected stories that highlight the oldest fire company in the state of North Carolina. Visitors will learn all about the Great Fire of 1922, which destroyed roughly 1,000 buildings in the New Bern downtown area, will be able to admire ancient fire equipment, which includes the various fire trucks used throughout the decades, and can even meet the on-site greeter “Fred,” who was the beloved and heroic fire horse for the station for many years. With all sorts of cool exhibits, displays, and memorabilia that spans several centuries – and lots of kid-friendly features that will keep the youngest patrons grinning – the Firemens Museum is a sprawling and fascinating example of New Bern community spirit at its best.
Enjoy the Waterfront Lifestyle
Because New Bern borders two major North Carolina Rivers – the Trent River and the Neuse River – visitors will find that waterfront views and activities abound in this coastal community. Newcomers can start their exploration at the 6-acre Union Point Park, which is found in the heart of the downtown area, and which borders the intersection of both rivers, providing miles upon miles of views. Recently revitalized, the park features plenty of benches and seating, (as well as picnic tables and grills for an easy family meal), playground facilities for kids, on-site restrooms, and a boardwalk that follows the water’s edge, making it an easy venture to take in the panoramic vistas. In addition, the site also boasts a two public boat launches, a fishing pier, and a launching area for kayaks, canoes, and even stand-up paddle boards, so visitors can take their on-the-water adventures to the next level. With multiple other options for waterfront recreation in the area that can range from the sunny shorelines of nearby Minnesott Beach to the rustic paddling trails of the Croatan National Forest, enjoying the water is a breeze in this incredible riverfront community.
Shop till you Drop
Many visitors come to New Bern for the eclectic collection of shopping options, and new vacationers who are strolling through the downtown area won’t be disappointed by the selection. New Bern is famed for its array of antique stores, which offer distinctive furnishings, glassware, décor, porcelain, artworks, and much more, and all – seemingly - with a decidedly coastal theme. Don’t be surprised to find hundreds of different ancient Pepsi bottles or maritime artifacts when exploring, as these unique treasures are in abundance at the local antique shops and vintage stores. In addition, New Bern also has an array of chic boutiques, gift stores, and galleries, where local and regional talents are celebrated with style. Peruse the works of coastal North Carolina’s most talented up and coming artists, or sign up for an art class and let your own creative talents shine. With such a unique collection of shops that are stocked with local treasures, shopping is a true delight in this town that celebrates its distinctive artful and historic culture.
Feast on the Local Eats
Downtown New Bern is home to more than a dozen local restaurants and eateries that are sure to entice any visitor to bring along their appetite while exploring the area. Because of the town’s proximity to major rivers, as well as regional farms, visitors will find that a number of establishments specialize in fresh fare that can range from locally caught shrimp and seafood to fresh greens from a local garden. In addition, many of the local restaurants are housed within historic downtown buildings or structures, adding an air of historic elegance to an already local and friendly ambiance that’s filled with southern hospitality. The fresh fare and cool environment alone is enough to make any visitor’s mouth water, but New Bern also impresses foodies with the sheer array of options available. The downtown area is home to fine dining restaurants, classic pubs, tempting bakeries, cool coffee shops, and beloved ice cream parlors, ensuring that every visitor can enjoy exactly what they’re craving. From southern staples like barbecue and shrimp and grits, to a frozen treat on a hot and sunny day, the New Bern dining scene deserves to be sampled with gusto.
Enjoy a Show or an Event
New Bern is unique in the coastal North Carolina region in that the town has not one, but two local theater troupes who regularly put on highly acclaimed productions throughout the year. The New Bern Civic Theatre has been presenting world-class productions for more than 40 years, while the RiverTowne Players allow local musicians, performers, and artists a space to highlight their talents. With many shows staged in the Historic Masonic Theater, and a number of productions throughout the year that can range from Broadway hits to musical showcases, virtually any time of the year is a great time to catch an incredible show in an intimate, historic, and culturally rich environment. In addition, New Bern is famed for its local and annual festivals, that are held throughout the year and which attract visitors from all over the country. The annual Mumfest is recognized as one of the best and most award-winning festivals in the state, and lures in 80,000 visitors every year for its entertaining a roster of activities, food, and fun. 4th of July Visitors will be equally impressed by the annual fireworks display over the water, and seasonal visitors will find a line-up of special events that are regularly available, such as weekly outdoor concerts or the weekly farmer’s market. From grand productions to intimate events, every vacation is a celebration in this town that’s overflowing with community spirit.
Tour the Area in Style
Considering that New Bern is stocked with history and culture around every corner, most new visitors find that the best way to get a taste of the local flavor is to book a tour, and luckily, there are plenty of options to choose from. Water lovers will find roughly a half dozen tour businesses that take to the Neuse and Trent Rivers for unparalleled vistas of the local landscape, and an unforgettable ride in the process. With sailing tours, tugboat tours, pontoon tours, and even yacht tours, virtually every mariner will find the vessel of their dreams to tour the cityscape in style. In addition, New Bern has a number of on-land tour options that include walking tours, bike tours, and / or trolley tours. For a cool tour of the city, hop onboard a downtown trolley, and discover more than three centuries of fascinating stories, all while riding in a classic and comfortable historic vehicle. From decadent tours of the local historic homes and residences, to incredible rides that patrol the streets and waterways, virtually any adventure can be accomplished – all while garnering a New Bern education – via an area tour. For more information on options, vacationers can pop into the New Bern’s Visitor Center in the heart of the downtown area to peruse the array of tours available, just steps away.
From incredible shopping and dining to the state’s grandest historic sites and museums, New Bern is truly a town for all tastes. Discover everything there is to love about this historic community, and plan an adventure that’s truly tailor made to your idea of a dream vacation.