George Washington once stayed here. Pepsi was created here. Cute bear statues can be found all over town.
That’s all I needed to know to commit to a visit to New Bern, North Carolina, which has a combination of old-time, small-town charm and quirky sights.
The list of interesting things to do in New Bern, NC ranges from historic buildings and museums to unique shops and stores.
New Bern, NC is a city of roughly 30,000 people in Craven County, North Carolina. It’s at the meeting point of the Trent and Neuse Rivers, not far from the Atlantic Coast.
Let’s go over some of the coolest things to do in New Bern!
Quick Summary: The Top Three Things To Do in New Bern, NC
1 Visit the Bear Statues
2 Explore the birthplace of Pepsi
3 Tour Tryon Place and its museums
The Top Three Things To Do in New Bern, NC
1 Visit the Bear Statues
New Bern was settled in 1710, making it one of the oldest settlements in the state. In 2010, to celebrate its 300th anniversary, New Bern went all-in on the bear theme by displaying artistic bears everywhere.
More than 50 painted fiberglass bears were placed around the city, each one with a different name and design.
Today, more than 80 such statues can be found around the city. That makes perfect sense — “bern” is a Germanic word for bear, after all!
To read more about these glorious statues, see our article on the New Bern bear statues.
2 See the birthplace of Pepsi
One of New Bern’s biggest claims to fame is as the birthplace of Pepsi. There’s a general store museum on the site where Caleb Bradham created Brad’s Drink, which became Pepsi in 1898.
The pharmacy has been turned into a gift shop that now sells Pepsi and every kind of Pepsi-related souvenir you can imagine.
I’ve always been more of a Pepsi guy than a Coke person, so I appreciate the Pepsi memorabilia.
3 Take a tour of Tryon Place
New Bern was the capitol of North Carolina back when it was still a British colony. So there’s a lot of history in New Bern, more than you’d expect from a typical city in this part of the country.
Tourists will want to check out Tryon Palace, the location of the State Capitol and Governor’s Residence in the 1790s. Guests can now take tours of the building.
The original Tryon Palace building was burned to the ground in 1798, only a few years after its creation.
It was rebuilt in the 1950s, using some of the existing brick, and was made to look just like the original. A one-day pass is $20 for adults and $10 for kids.
Other Fun New Bern Activities
4 Visit the John Wright Stanly House
I’m rarely in awe of historic sites, but whenever I hear the name “George Washington,” I immediately get excited.
Like, “Wow! George Washington once slept here! The first president! That’s amazing!” Washington stayed for two nights at the John Wright Stanly House.
Unfortunately, the Stanly House itself is closed to guests as of this writing, but you can still explore the garden as part of a ticket to Tryon Place.
5 Join a guided tour
New Bern has several guided tour options. The New Bern Trolley Tour is a fun way to see the city. The 90-minute excursion tells stories of the city’s history as it rolls through downtown.
Foodie Tours NC runs a food walking tour in New Bern that covers five venues in three hours.
Haunted New Bern offers a 90-minute Ghosts of New Bern Tour that delves into the places in the area that supposedly have some sort of haunted connection, from local homes to burial grounds.
6 Go shopping downtown
One of the main tourist hotspots is the walkable downtown area near the river, on Middle Street, Craven Street, and South Front Street.
Among the cute and fun businesses worth checking out downtown:
–Bear City Fudge Company, which offers fudge, taffy, pralines, and ice cream
–MJ’s Raw Bar and Grille, which, contrary to its name, offers plenty of cooked food items
–One World Shoppe, a clothing and gift store
–The Next Chapter, an independent book store
-Poor Charlie’s Antiques, an old-school flea market-style antique shop
Or just walk around the business district to find local shops that sell fudge, coffee, burgers, and more.
7 Walk around the piers and waterfront
New Bern is not right on the ocean, but it’s pretty close. The town sits on the Neuse River, which empties into Pamlico Sound and then the Atlantic Ocean.
The local folks make use of the piers to keep their boats, which they no doubt take out on the water often.
You can walk around the piers by the DoubleTree hotel and explore nearby Union Point Park to get a glimpse of the #boatinglife.
8 Get out on the water
Why settle for looking at the water from shore when you can hop aboard a vessel? The Tour the Trent boat ride takes up to six passengers on a journey on the Trent River.
Meanwhile, 2 River Cruises offers pontoon cruises on its boats. They have regular 90-minute day cruises, plsu sunset cruises for something more scenic and/or romantic.
9 See Civil War Battlefield Park
Regular readers know I love old Civil War sites, from Fort Jefferson in the Florida Keys to Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi to Chickimagua and Chattanooga National Military Park in Tennessee.
Civil War Battlefield Park is where the Battle of New Bern took place in 1862. Both sides had significant losses, but Union forces ultimately prevailed over the Confederate militia.
This site contains more than 30 acres, making it one of the best-preserved battlefields around.
10 Enter the New Bern Firemen’s Museum
It’s called the New Bern Firemen’s Museum (yes, they’re still going with the gendered term).
The museum is affordable, and it presents kid-friendly exhibits about the history of firefighting and the great fire of 1922, which destroyed 1000 homes in the city.
11 See the North Carolina History Center
Learn all about the state’s history at the North Carolina History Center. You’ll be educated about the geography of the state and its coastline, as well as the early explorers and other notable folks who made significant contributions to North Carolina.
The center is located at Tryon Place, so you can bundle it with your visit there. In fact, it is suggested that guests begin their Tryon Place experience by stopping in to this center first.
12 Ride in a horse carriage
For the old-time New Bern feel, take a ride in a horse carriage.
Carriage rides are most common during special holiday events, such as the Lights by Night holiday spectacular or the Beary Merry Valentine’s Carriage.
13 See the New Bern Academy Museum
The New Bern Academy Museum sounds like an educational institution, and in fact, it was built in 1809 as a children’s school.
It turned into a hospital during the Civil War, then became a school again for another 70 years, before morphing into a museum.
Located a few blocks north of Tryon Place, this museum goes into great detail about the history of the city’s architecture and how New Bern fared during the Civil War.
Admission is free, and it’s only open from Friday through Sunday.
14 Walk through New Bern National Cemetery
The New Bern National Cemetery is truly a fascinating gravesite. It was established just after the Civil War ended and contains the graves of thousands of soldiers, many of known are still unknown.
Open from sunrise to sunset, the cemetery is a good place to feel to gravity of history and you walk around and view the graves.
15 Find outdoor activities outside the city
Interested in hiking, camping, or swimming in the ocean? In New Bern, you’re less than an hour from a plethora of outdoor adventure options.
I like Croatan National Forest for camping. With more than 20 miles of hiking trails and multiple campgrounds, it’s an excellent spot for recharging in the wilderness. It’s about 35 minutes south of New Bern.
Closer to the city, Latham-Whitehurst Nature Park offers walking paths, and kayaking and fishing opportunities.
And thenm of course, there are the beaches. New Bern is less than an hour from the Atlantic Ocean. I suggest Atlantic Beach as a great place to swim and soak up some rays.
I had to leave a message in the sand the last time I visited Atlantic Beach.
Where to Stay: Hotels in New Bern, NC
New Bern has lots of bed and breakfast style lodging, such as Hanna House and the Jarvis, as well as national chains like Holiday Inn Express and Hampton Inn.
Here are a few options for all budgets for folks visiting the area.
Hanna House Bed & Breakfast: Hanna House is great because it’s affordable but feels luxurious. This restored Victorian home gets the best reviews of any hotel in New Bern. Check pricing and availability.
Courtyard by Marriott New Bern: For a familiar national chain, try the Courtyard by Marriott New Bern. It’s in the perfect spot, right on the water, near Union Point Park and within walking distance of downtown and numerous business and bear statues. Check pricing and availability.
Do you have any additional suggestions for things to do in New Bern, NC?