Aerial View of downtown Washington NC

15+ Great Things to Do in Washington NC & Nearby

Looking for Things to Do in Washington NC?

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I’ve wanted to visit Washington, NC, for quite some time now, and while I was exploring the coastal area, I finally stopped to make a visit.  I instantly fell in love with it! 

Washington, North Carolina, affectionately known as “Little Washington” to distinguish it from the nation’s capital, has a rich history, picturesque waterfront, and warm southern charm. 

As you set your sights on exploring this hidden gem, you’re in for a delightful journey through its quaint streets, stunning natural landscapes, and vibrant community life. 

Nestled on the northern bank of the Pamlico River, Washington presents a perfect blend of historical treasures and natural beauty. This guide aims to uncover the best activities and attractions this charming town has to offer, ensuring your visit is both memorable and enriching. 

So, let’s embark on this journey together and discover the heart and soul of Washington, NC.

Things to Do in Washington NC

Now let’s dive into all the great things to do in Washington NC.

1. North Carolina Estuarium 

Address: 223 E Water St, Washington, NC 27889

Discover the marvels of nature at the North Carolina Estuarium, renowned as the world’s first estuarium and one of the state’s premier environmental centers. Open from Tuesday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with the last entry at 3:30 p.m., this innovative center invites you to explore the vital ecosystems of estuaries and coastal rivers that define the region.

They have over 200 exhibits that bring the beauty and complexity of estuarine life into focus. With hands-on, interactive displays, you’re encouraged to dive deeper into the environmental narrative, connecting with the natural world in an educational and utterly captivating way.

Art lovers and history enthusiasts will find themselves enchanted by the fun and fascinating artworks and artifacts that tell the story of life along the Pamlico River. These pieces decorate the estuarium and serve as gateways to understanding the cultural heritage that has flourished alongside these waters.

The Estuarium doesn’t shy away from our planet’s challenges, offering explorations into hurricanes and rising sea levels. These exhibits provide critical insights into the impacts of climate change on coastal communities and ecosystems, inviting you to reflect on the role each of us plays in preserving our planet.

For those eager to experience the beauty of the Pamlico River firsthand, the Estuarium offers boat tours that promise an adventure like no other. The “Estuarium River Roving” tours, available from April 3 through November 2, are a highlight, offering free river boat tours that allow you to get up close to nature. Please note these tours require advance reservation, and children must be six and older to participate.

The Estuarium from the outside

2. Goose Creek State Park

Address: 2190 Camp Leach Rd, Washington, NC 27889

Goose Creek State Park offers a unique blend of coastal experiences, from the serene wetlands along the Pamlico River to the cypress swamp, accessible via an extensive boardwalk.

It’s a place where nature’s tranquility meets the whispers of the past, with remnants of boat piers, a trackless railroad bed, and the charred remains of tar kilns painting a picture of the bustling lumber industry that once thrived here.

Sign at Goose Creek State Park for Hiking for Tar Kiln, Huckleberry and Mallard Creek Traila

The park’s estuarine habitats are ripe for discovery, whether on foot or by paddling through the gentle waters of the Pamlico River. It’s a sanctuary where you can immerse yourself in the natural world.

Camping and Accommodations

Goose Creek State Park understands that one day is hardly enough to soak in its beauty. That’s why it offers a variety of camping options to suit every preference:

✅ Camper cabins for a comfortable retreat in the heart of nature.
✅ Tent sites for those who love to sleep under the stars.
✅ Trailer and RV sites equipped with electric, water, and sewer hookups, ensuring your stay is both adventurous and convenient.
✅ Group tent sites perfect for larger gatherings or family outings.

Activities for Everyone

Goose Creek State Park is a playground for nature enthusiasts, offering a wide range of activities:

✅ Hiking: With 8.5 miles of trails, hikers can traverse diverse landscapes, from forested paths to waterfront vistas.
✅ Paddling: The Pamlico River offers calm waters ideal for kayaking or canoeing, offering a unique perspective of the park’s natural beauty.
✅ Swimming: Cool off with a dip in the river, where designated beach access provides a safe and scenic swimming spot.
✅ Fishing: Anglers can cast a line in hopes of catching the big one, enjoying a peaceful day by the water.
✅ Picnicking: With picnic shelters available, you can enjoy a meal surrounded by the serene beauty of the park.

Park Information Sign for Goose Creek State Park

Amenities and Facilities

✅ Boat ramp: Launch your kayak or canoe for a day on the Pamlico River, exploring the vast waterways at your leisure (Dinah’s Landing Rd, Washington, NC 27889)
✅ Amphitheater and Auditorium: These facilities host educational programs and events, enriching your visit with knowledge about the park’s natural and cultural heritage.
✅ Outdoor Classroom: A perfect spot for learning about the park’s environment and unique ecosystems.
✅ Visitor Center and Exhibits: Dive deeper into the history and ecology of Goose Creek State Park through engaging exhibits.
✅ Bathhouse: Ensuring your comfort during beach outings and swimming activities.

3. Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad

Address: Corner Of Main and Gladden St, Washington, NC 27889

The Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum offers a unique window into the history of slavery and the quest for freedom in Washington, NC, and Beaufort County. This distinctive museum is housed in a railroad caboose, symbolizing the journey to freedom and a poignant reminder of the past. The caboose provides a fitting home for the museum’s collection, emphasizing the fragile history it aims to protect and share.

As a recognized site within the National Park Service’s “Underground Railroad Network to Freedom,” the museum holds a special place in the national narrative of resistance and liberation. It offers a pictorial history that delves into the experiences of enslaved individuals seeking freedom in the region, highlighting their courage and resilience.

Operated by dedicated volunteers, the museum’s hours may vary, so visitors are encouraged to call ahead to confirm their visit. This volunteer-led effort underscores the community’s commitment to preserving and sharing this significant aspect of American history.

Through its unique setting, valuable exhibits, and status as a Network to Freedom site, the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum provides a powerful educational experience. It stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of those who sought freedom and those who supported them along the way.

Mural and train caboose for the Underground Railroad Museum

4. River Walk Gallery

Address: 139 W Main St, Washington, NC 27889

This gallery is not just a space to view art; it’s a cooperative venture that champions the work of local artists, fostering an environment of mutual support and encouragement.

The gallery is staffed daily by one of the working artists, offering visitors a chance to explore a stunning variety of fine art and high-quality crafts and gain insights directly from the creators themselves. 

Throughout the year, the River Walk Gallery opens its doors to the public with receptions, workshops, and other community activities both in the gallery and around Washington. 

The gallery showcases the diverse talents of the region’s artists, featuring an impressive array of artworks ranging from paintings and sculptures to handcrafted jewelry and textiles. 

River Walk Gallery entrance and building in Washington NC

5. Stroll Along the Washington Waterfront Docks

Address: 301 W Stewart Pkwy, Washington, NC 27889

The Washington Waterfront Docks offer a serene and picturesque retreat that blends the area’s rich heritage with the natural beauty of its surroundings. As you stroll along the heritage dockside, you’re greeted with a vista of old industrial buildings that tell the story of Washington’s bustling past. Once the heartbeat of the town’s industry, these historic structures now stand as silent sentinels watching over the peaceful waters.

Aerial View of Washington NC

The waterside promenade is a highlight, offering a paved path inviting visitors to wander, relax, and enjoy the scenic views. 

Adjacent to the promenade is a well-maintained lawned festival park that offers a verdant space for picnics, leisure, and family fun. The greenery complements the waterfront’s blue hues, creating a picturesque setting ideal for photography, relaxation, or simply enjoying a moment of quiet reflection.

Riverfront walk with boats in the background

6. Festival Park

Address: Waterfront near Docks

Enjoy this beautiful waterfront oasis in Washington, NC, which is a tribute to Mac “Bear” Hodges, whose legacy is celebrated through the park’s vibrant atmosphere and community-focused amenities. 

Aerial View of downtown Washington NC

As you enter Festival Park, the expansive playground immediately catches your eye, promising hours of fun and adventure for children. The park is designed with convenience in mind, featuring clean and accessible restrooms to ensure that your visit is comfortable. This attention to detail extends to the entire park, making it a welcoming space for all visitors.

Fenced in playground in festival park

7. The Lemonade Art Gallery

Address: 201 W Main St, Washington, NC 27889

The Lemonade Art Gallery is a vibrant showcase of local talent and creativity, offering a diverse array of handmade art and crafts that reflect the rich cultural tapestry of the area.

Situated in the heart of the community, this gallery is a treasure trove for art lovers, featuring exquisite pieces ranging from jewelry and watercolors to woodwork, pottery, wall art, photography, and even custom pens. Each piece tells a story, capturing the essence of the artist’s vision and the beauty of the natural surroundings.

Entrance to Lemonade Art in Washington NC

8. Inner Banks Outfitters

Address: 1050 E Main St, Washington, NC 27889

Exploring Washington’s serene and picturesque waterways becomes an adventure of its own with Inner Banks Outfitters at your side. This local gem is more than just a shop; it’s your gateway to experiencing the beauty and tranquility of the Inner Banks through kayaking, paddle boarding, and biking. 

Inner Banks Outfitters is equipped with everything you need to embark on your next outdoor adventure. Whether you’re a seasoned kayaker, an avid paddleboarder, or someone looking to explore the area on two wheels, they’ve got you covered. With a wide selection of rentals and gear, you can easily find the right equipment to suit your adventure style and skill level.

Entrance to Inner Banks in Washington NC

9. Rent Bikes or Paddles from River Vibes 

Address: 108 S Market St, Washington, NC 27889

River Vibes invites you to ride, relax, and refresh by the waterfront. With a selection of beach cruiser bikes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and paddleboats, they make exploring the scenic Pamlico River and historical Castle Island a breeze.

Their easy check-in and private dock access ensure a smooth start to your adventure. After a day of discovery, unwind at their smoothie, juice, and coffee bar, offering a variety of refreshing beverages.

Whether you’re biking through the historic district or enjoying the waterways, River Vibes enhances your experience with stress-free rental processes, including transportation and off-site rental options, making every moment by the river truly memorable.

Entrance to River Vibes in downtown Washington NC

10. Walking History Tour

Address: Various locations

Washington offers self-guided audio tours that bring the rich history and haunting tales of the area to life. Explore the East Side Historic District, marvel at the grand homes of the West Side, uncover African American history, or delve into the eerie stories of the Washington Haunts Ghost Walk. 

Each tour provides a deep dive into the town’s past, accessible directly from your phone, allowing you to learn about Harbor District treasures at your own pace. This innovative approach offers a personal, immersive experience of Washington’s historical and cultural significance.

Downtown Street in Washington NC

11. Beaufort County Arts Council & Turnage Theatre

Address: 150 W Main St, Washington, NC 27889

At the forefront of the local arts scene, the Beaufort County Arts Council champions the power of creativity to connect and inspire. Here, you can dive into an array of art exhibitions, workshops, and events that celebrate the talents of local artists. 

Their commitment to fostering a sense of community makes the Beaufort County Arts Council & Turnage Theatre stand out. They’re not just about showcasing art or entertainment; they’re about bringing people together creating shared experiences that enrich lives. 

Turnage Theatre is a gem that stands as a testament to the town’s historical and cultural heritage. With its roots stretching back to the early 20th century, this theater has been a gathering place for generations. As you walk through its doors, you’re greeted by the charm of yesteryear, with beautifully restored interiors that echo the laughter and applause of decades past. 

The theater hosts a diverse lineup of performances, from live music and theater productions to film screenings and community events.

Turnage Theatre in downtown Washington NC

12. Diversion Escape Rooms

Address: 930 W 15th St, Washington, NC 27889

This immersive experience thrusts participants into meticulously crafted storylines, challenging them with puzzles and riddles that demand teamwork, creativity, and quick thinking to solve. It’s more than just a game; it’s an opportunity to step into another world where every clue, every code, and every discovered secret brings you closer to achieving your mission.

Designed for groups of friends, family, or even colleagues, Diversion Escape Rooms creates an environment where cooperation and collective brainpower are the keys to success. Whether cracking codes, solving puzzles, or uncovering hidden objects, each room is a test of wit and resolve, offering a satisfying blend of challenge and excitement.

entrance to Diversion Escape Room

Drinks and Restaurants in Washington NC

Some places you can add to your list for some great food or drinks.

✅ Pitt Street Brewing Company On the Pamlico
Address: 307 W Main St, Washington, NC 27889

Pitt Street Brewing Co in an old warehouse along the river

✅ Main Street Scoops
Address: 217 W Main St, Washington, NC 27889

✅ Wine & Words…& Gourmet
Address: 220 W Main St, Washington, NC 27889

✅ The Hackney
Address: 192 W Main St Suite A, Washington, NC 27889

Old bank building where The Hackney is located

✅ Two Rivers Alehouse
Address: 186 W Main St, Washington, NC 27889

Two Rivers Alehouse in downtown Washington NC

✅ Angi’s Mexican Kitchen
Address: 126 W Main St, Washington, NC 27889

✅ 1906 Bistro & Bourbon Bar
Address: 100 W Main St, Washington, NC 27889

Entrance to 1906 Bar in Washington NC

✅ La Potosina Taco Express
Address: 516 N Market St, Washington, NC 27889

✅ Bill’s Hot Dog Stand
Address: 109 Gladden St, Washington, NC 27889

✅ Main Cup at Little Inn Internet Cafe
Address: 210 W Main St, Washington, NC 27889

Inside The Main Cup with chairs and decor in the background

Things to Do near Washington NC

Here are some more things to do nearby.

✅ Aurora Fossil Museum
Address: 400 Main St, Aurora, NC 27806

About 40 minutes from Washington, the Aurora Fossil Museum captivates visitors with its extensive collection of prehistoric fossils from local phosphate mines. It’s a treasure trove of ancient marine creatures, where everyone gets to be a paleontologist, thanks to the hands-on fossil digging area. 

Beyond unearthing your own fossilized keepsakes, the museum educates on geological history and the significance of fossils in understanding our planet’s past. An excursion to this unique museum promises a blend of education, exploration, and excitement, making it an essential visit for anyone exploring the area around Washington, NC.

✅ Explore Bath, NC

A short journey to the historic town of Bath awaits; as North Carolina’s first town, established in 1705, Bath offers a tranquil escape into the past. 

Historic Bath Welcome Sign to the town.

Wander through the charming streets where pirates once roamed and explore the state’s oldest church, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, built in 1734. The town’s picturesque waterfront invites leisurely strolls, while the Bath Visitor Center provides insights into its rich history and the legends of the infamous pirate Blackbeard.

Historic Sign in Bath NC that says Edward Teach, Notorious pirate called "Blackbeard." Lived in Bath while Charles Eden was govenor.  Killed at Ocracoke 1718

✅ New Bern, NC, and explore Tryon Palace
Address: 529 S Front St, New Bern, NC 28562

Tryon Palace in New Bern is a replica of the state’s first capitol and governor’s residence. It offers visitors a deep dive into colonial and early American history through its opulent rooms, costumed interpreters, and guided tours. 

Tryon Palace entrance gates

The palace is surrounded by stunning gardens in various historical styles, from formal English gardens to kitchen gardens. It also hosts events and educational programs, making it a dynamic site for exploring America’s past and enjoying the beauty of its reconstructed gardens and architecture.

Tryon Palace Garden

​​Where To Stay in Washington NC

📍Little Inn at Washington – The River Cottage at Little Inn combines Southern charm with coastal elegance. This cozy apartment features two queen-bed bedrooms, a full kitchen, and a living room designed for relaxation. Decorated with serene coastal themes, it offers a peaceful retreat and a luxurious, spa-like bathroom, making it an ideal base for exploring the area or simply enjoying a tranquil stay by the waterfront.

📍Downtown with River View – Walk to Restaurants & Shops – Stay in style at this mid-century modern home in Historic Downtown Washington, NC. Featuring two bedrooms, an outdoor cedar shower, and an EV charger, it combines modern amenities with convenience. Enjoy serene water views, a spacious porch, and easy access to downtown’s shops, restaurants, and outdoor activities. This home offers a perfect blend of comfort and location for exploring Washington’s charm.

Washington NC: FAQs

📌 Is Little Washington the same as Washington, NC?
Yes, “Little Washington” is an affectionate nickname for Washington, NC. This name distinguishes it from Washington, D.C., highlighting its unique charm and historical significance as the first city named after George Washington.

📌 Is Washington, NC, worth visiting?
Washington, NC, is a gem worth visiting. With its rich history, scenic waterfront, diverse outdoor activities like kayaking and cycling, unique local shops, and vibrant arts scene, it offers a charming and enriching experience for all visitors.

Final Thoughts

Washington, NC, offers a delightful mix of natural beauty, historical depth, and cultural vibrancy, making it a must-visit destination. Whether you’re paddling on the Pamlico River, exploring the historic downtown, or engaging with the local arts scene, there’s something for everyone. 

This charming town, known affectionately as “Little Washington,” invites visitors to create lasting memories through its array of activities and welcoming community spirit.

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