Summer is here and I’m frantically trying to create my summer bucket list and plan about 4 trips while saving room in hopes that the trip I really want to take materializes. It’s stressful. And with rising costs of literally everything these days, it can be hard to decide the trips that are the easiest, and most cost-effective, all while being fun! Because the last you want to do is spend money on a trip that disappoints. Our friends over at WalletHub recently ranked the best 2023 summer travel destinations. These are the places that offer you the most “bang for your buck” as they say. They looked at 100 of the largest metro areas in the country and ranked them using several metrics. These include the cost of travel, the number of attractions, and the price of meals. So what are the best places to travel if you are staying in or traveling from North Carolina?

Of course that depends if you want to drive or fly. For the purpose of this list, I pulled the driving distance destinations. Because chances are if you are planning a larger trip that includes flying, you already have a destination in mind. So consider these spots, many of which are in North or South Carolina, and all within about a 6-hour (my max limit) drive. Some may have already been on your radar, but others may give you a new idea for your perfect getaway. Keep in mind these are metro areas, not small towns, and ranked mainly on affordability and offerings, not beauty as many of our other lists are.

Keep reading to see 14 of the best place to travel in and around North Carolina this summer. Want to see the full WalletHub list and metrics? You can find that here.

 

  • 1. Atlanta, GA

    Atlanta Georgia GA Downtown Skyline Aerial Panorama.

    Kruck20

    Total Score: 66.63

    Travel Costs & Hassles: 9

    Local Costs: 20

    Attractions: 16

    Weather: 15

    About a 4 hour drive from Charlotte down I-85 Atlanta, is an easy and affordable weekend getaway. You can park your car at your downtown hotel and never move it. Attractions include the Georgia Aquarium, Coca-Cola Museum, Skywheel, and College Football Hall of Fame. There is also incredible shopping and dining, plus if you have the chance to catch an event at Mercedes Benz Stadium you won’t want to pass that up!

  • 3. Washington, DC

    Washington, D.C. skyline with highways and monuments.

    SeanPavonePhoto

    Total Score: 64.07

    Travel Costs & Hassles: 21

    Local Costs: 78

    Attractions: 15

    Weather: 19

    DC is always a great vacation destination, whether you want to take advantage of all the free museums and rich history, or my personal favorite activity shopping and dining in Georgetown.

  • 13. Greenville, SC

    Drone Aerial of the Downtown Greenville, South Carolina SC Skyline

    Total Score: 59.07

    Travel Costs & Hassles: 13

    Local Costs: 17

    Attractions: 59

    Weather: n/a

    One of the trendiest cities in the Carolinas is the top ranked destination actually in either Carolina on this list. I still need to check out all there is do in Greenville, but at just about a 2 hour drive from Charlotte it’s an easy enough trip even for the day!

  • 23. Raleigh, NC

    A perfect colorful downtown skyline of Raleigh North Carolina.

    Mark Howard

    Total Score: 56.76

    Travel Costs & Hassles: 42

    Local Costs: 50

    Attractions: 41

    Weather: 22

    Take into the history museum or Marbles Kids Museum, or enjoy a picnic and paddleboat at Pullen Park. Or perhaps visit the North Carolina Farmer’s Market. Or do what I do and attend any NC State sporting event. Go pack!

  • 28. Virginia Beach, VA

    Aerial view of the Virginia Beach oceanfront looking south at sunset. vacationers on the beach and the boardwalk. ocean waves beaking

    Kyle Little

    Total Score: 55.81

    Travel Costs & Hassles: 16

    Local Costs: 82

    Attractions: 57

    Weather: 26

    A visit to Virginia Beach of course includes the beach and the boardwalk. Other fun activities include the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center and First Landing State Park.

  • 31. Knoxville, TN

    Knoxville, Tennessee, TN Downtown Drone Skyline Aerial.

    Kruck20

    Total Score: 55.27

    Travel Costs & Hassles: 66

    Local Costs: 7

    Attractions: 80

    Weather: 36

    Knoxville isn’t too far from North Carolina, and this college town offers a gorgeous location on the Tennesee River as well as affordability. It’s my stopping point on drives to Nashville and I’d love to spend more time here and even attend a Tennesee game. Though to quote Sandra Bullock’s character in The Blind Side, “I will not wear that gaudy orange”.

  • 32. Jacksonville, FL

    A gorgeous aerial view of Ponte Vedra Beach in Jacksonville, Florida

    TraceRouda

    Total Score: 54.54

    Travel Costs & Hassles: 59

    Local Costs: 15

    Attractions: 27

    Weather: 61

    At just 5 hours from Charlotte Jacksonville and the area beaches are closer than some North Carolina beaches. I spent my January birthday in Jacksonville a few years ago and loved it. From the warm enough weather to walk on the beach in shorts in January, to the zoo, and some fabulous restaurants I’m just waiting for an excuse to go back!

  • 33. Charleston, SC

    South Carolina city has made the best staycation in the country list

    Sean Pavone

    Total Score: 54.34

    Travel Costs & Hassles: 81

    Local Costs: 51

    Attractions: 60

    Weather: 3

    I’m shocked it took this long to get to Charleston. This city full of southern historic charm is an extremely popular vacation destination. From the nearby beaches to gorgeous scenery and incredible restaurants it’s the city that keeps visitors coming back for more.

  • 35. Augusta, GA

    Savannah River and Augusta, Georgia, USA Aerial.

    Kruck20

    Total Score: 54.17

    Travel Costs & Hassles: 64

    Local Costs: 2

    Attractions: 63

    Weather: 29

    If you’re a golfer Augusta is a must-visit, and even if you’re not there are still plenty of things to enjoy such as the Augusta Riverwalk and Meadow Gardens. Take an adventure scavenger hunt or hike at the phinizy nature park.

  • 47. Charlotte, NC

    Drone Aerial of Downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, NC, USA Skyline.

    Kruck20

    Total Score: 52.53

    Travel Costs & Hassles: 71

    Local Costs: 27

    Attractions: 26

    Weather: 23

    I’m desensitized to Charlotte spending most of my life here but there really is a ton to do especially if you’re not used to city life. From endless restaurants, bars, breweries, and shopping to the Whitewater Center, Carowinds, and NASCAR Hall of Fame.

  • 48. Columbia, SC

    Columbia, South Carolina, USA

    f11photo

    Total Score: 52.08

    Travel Costs & Hassles: 55

    Local Costs: 13

    Attractions: 69

    Weather: 28

    Whether you are making the 90 minute drive down I-77 for the day or the weekend there is plenty to do. Visitors love the Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens or take in the history at the SC State Museum. Spend the day walking around the University of South Carolina campus or take a boat out on Lake Murray.

  • 49. Nashville, TN

    Nashvile TN skyline with red sunset and birds

    Jonathan Ross

    Total Score: 51.56

    Travel Costs & Hassles: 80

    Local Costs: 53

    Attractions: 22

    Weather: 6

    One of my favorite cities is about a 6 hour road trip from Charlotte. Even if you don’t love country music you’ll love exploring downtown, visiting Opryland Resort, shopping, and taking in the diverse music scene of Music City.

  • 51. Chattanooga, TN

    Drone Aerial View of Downtown Chattanooga Tennessee TN and Tennessee River

    Kruck20

    Total Score: 50.29

    Travel Costs & Hassles: 74

    Local Costs: 40

    Attractions: 56

    Weather: 14

    Just under 6 hours away is the underrated destination of Chattanooga. Take a ghost hour, visit the Tennessee Railroad Museum, The Tennesee Aquarium, or Racoon Mountain Caverns.

  • 59. Greensboro, NC

    Greensboro, North Carolina, USA downtown skyline.

    SeanPavonePhoto

    Total Score: 49.14

    Travel Costs & Hassles: 65

    Local Costs: 18

    Attractions: 82

    Weather: 35

    Another underrated fun spot is Greensboro. A lot of fun restaurants and bars have opened up lately. Kids and adults love Wet & Wild Emerald Park, relax at the Grandover Spa, and the Greensboro Science Center offers fun for all ages.

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