The city of Kinston in North Carolina is the proud county seat of Lenoir County, and it has held that title for as long as Lenoir County ever existed.
Kinston was one of the oldest cities in North Carolina when it was founded in 1762, almost 300 years ago.
Because of its long history, Kinston has witnessed a lot of wars that are now memorialized across different monuments and historical sites in the city.
Kinston enjoys a reputation for civic engagement, and a testament to this is the fact that it’s been awarded the All-America City Award twice—in 1988 and 2009.
Thanks to its combination of rich history and warm community, Kinston is a popular place to visit.
Here are the 15 best things to do in Kinston, North Carolina, to make the most out of your stay:
Learn about History with the CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center
Kinston is also a site of some important moments in the history of the country.
To learn more about this, visit the CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center to get to know the CSS Neuse, a steam-powered warship that sailed during the Civil War.
The center holds multiple exhibits detailing the CSS Neuse, such as its development and role during the Civil War.
You’ll find a replica of the ship’s gundeck, as well as an exhibit covering the ship’s weapons, power, and steering.
Near the end of the trip, you’ll also learn about the destruction of CSS Neuse.
The center is a popular destination for school field trips, so you can expect to see schoolchildren during your visit.
Make sure to drop by their gift shop to buy some memorabilia.
Shop Local Produce at the Lenoir County Farmers Market
If you’re walking down North Herritage Street, you might notice an open-air pavilion-style building on the side of the road.
This houses the Lenoir County Farmers Market, a location for local growers and producers to sell their products directly to consumers.
The Lenoir County Farmers Market was established not only to promote sales of local produce but also to educate everyone on local farm practices and the importance of buying locally.
With vendors sourcing food grown from family-owned farms around Kinston, you’re sure to find the vegetables, fruits, nuts, poultry, dairy, and many more products that you need.
Do note that the products change every season, so be sure to visit regularly.
Camp Out at the Neuseway Nature Park
At this close to the city, you probably won’t expect to see a nature park that you can camp out in.
But the Neuseway Nature Park is one of the popular destinations in Kinston thanks to its proximity to the city and nature.
Visit West Caswell Street by the Neuse River’s banks, and you’ll be greeted by 55 acres of campgrounds that are perfect for camping, hiking, fishing, and canoeing.
Pitch your tent however way you want to because the camp offers both full hook-up and non-hook-up tent sites.
Aside from being beside the river, the park also has hot showers and fire rings.
For get-togethers around mealtime, you can check out their picnic shelter, complete with grills, a fireplace, and tables.
As a bonus, a planetarium and playground are very close to the campgrounds.
Spark Your Love for Science with the Ellis Planetarium, Health & Science Museum
While its brick-and-mortar appearance might not be that appealing, the Ellis Planetarium, Health & Science Museum offers so much more inside.
This building along West Caswell Road is known for its hands-on exhibits and programs that kids and adults would love.
Some of its exhibits include a replica of the UNC Lenoir Hospital that children can play in.
There are also some human anatomy exhibits, such as an underground tunnel for blood vessels and intestine tubes that children can crawl into.
Meanwhile, the planetarium can seat up to 60 people and let them gaze up the 24-foot giant dome to see a projection of the sky.
If you’re visiting with your family, there are also private planetarium shows available.
Attend the Lenoir County Agricultural Fair
One of the must-see events during your stay in Kinston is the annual Lenoir County Agricultural Fair.
This fun-filled celebration traces its roots all the way back to 1955, and it’s now held along Fairgrounds Road just south of downtown Kinston.
The event is held every fall and features a number of competitions for you to watch or participate in, such as demolition derby and casserole cook-off competitions.
You can also watch some of the shows and demonstrations like professional wrestling, cheerleading competition game shows, dances, bands, and races.
Of course, the main highlight of the fair is the agricultural exhibits and shows where farmers get to showcase their field crops and horticultural products.
For an experience that’s truly at home in Kinston, attend the Lenoir County Agricultural Fair!
Splash and Have Fun at the Lions Water Adventure Park
One of the most popular destination sites in Kinston is the Lions Water Adventure Park.
This facility in the middle of the city has nothing to do with lions.
Its name comes from the Lions Industries for the Blind of Kinston, which made sure that the park was accessible to visually-impaired guests.
Head to West Vernon Avenue with your family for some splashing fun.
Here, you will find the Kiddie Lagoon, a wide play area with shallow water for kids that features fountains, slides, and sprayers.
If you just want to float and not swim, the Lazy River is where you should be.
Other than these, the park also offers three water slides that let you splash through the lion's mouth or slide down on a tube.
If you get hungry, grab a bite from the park’s Swimba’s, which sells hot food, pizza, and ice cream.
Have a Luxurious Dining Experience with Chef and the Farmer
A trip to any good location isn’t complete if you won’t get to taste its proud culinary offerings.
You’ll find one of the best dining experiences in Kinston with Chef and the Farmer, a restaurant that opened in 2006 to help displaced farmers.
The restaurant can be found along West Gordon Street and has been featured in the PBS Series “A Chef’s Life.”
Inside, you’ll be treated to a luxurious space that perfectly complements its high-quality menu.
Start your meal with any of the small plates and then transition to a beef or chicken entree, along with other options.
If you prefer a lighter meal, try one of its burgers and pasta.
End the experience on a sweet note with one of Chef and the Farmer’s desserts, such as a carrot cake or a chocolate torte.
Learn How to Make Art with the Community Council for the Arts
Art is an important part of a city’s identity, and for Kinston, the task of cultivating the arts falls to the Community Council for the Arts.
This open-to-the-public institution offers growth and development in the arts; it also funds local artists and hosts workshops.
Go to North Queen Street to attend one of their multiple art classes, such as stained glass art and fluid art.
There’s also a summer camp for children which involves skills in pottery, performance, printmaking, and photography.
Aside from these, the institution also hosts various other events such as outdoor painting and reverse drawing.
Taste Alcoholic Beverages at Mother Earth Brewing
With its emphasis on wanting to brew beer close to nature and bring the goodness of Mother Earth to every cup, Mother Earth Brewing is one of the more unique places in Kinston.
The brewery opened in 2008 along North Herritage Street.
Inside its spacious building are the parts that make up the brewing process, from the brewing facility and bottling and canning rooms to their barrel aging room.
If you have the time, book a tour around the building to get to know more about the process!
For their drink options, Mother Earth Brewing has a selection of canned ales and lagers year-round, as well as some of their more special brews.
Visit their taproom to taste their handcrafted drinks as well as get an exclusive taste of some of their experimental brews.
Experience Art at Art 105 Studios
Travel along West Blount Street, and you’ll reach the Art 105 Studios, a building that houses many of Kinston’s budding and established local artists.
The studio is always lively, with the sight of art being created right before your very eyes, an experience that’s a sight to behold.
To help other new artists, the resident artists hold art classes each month, typically in the studio’s main gallery.
Speaking of their main gallery, feast your eyes with art across different media such as clay pieces and sculptures, jewelry, and paintings.
If you’d like to bring one of the artists’ works home, be alert for Art 105 Studios’ auctions.
Practice Your Aim at the Neuse Sport Shop Indoor Training Range
Along East Bern Road, you’d find the Neuse Sport Shop, a one-stop facility for your sport and hunting needs with their assortment of apparel, archery, and insect repellents, as well as marine accessories and fishing tools.
But other than shopping, you can also practice your aim with their indoor training range.
The range comes in two areas, with the first being an indoor firearm training range.
This range features eight lanes with fixed position shooting stalls and a granulated backdrop, and you can rent a gun from the shop’s stash.
Other than this, it also has an indoor archery range with five lanes featuring a fixed-position firing line and a target distance of up to 20 yards.
Celebrate Music at the Kinston Music Park
Music is one of the things that must be celebrated because of how it adds color to your life.
And there’s no better tribute to music than the Kinston Music Park located along South Queen Street, which features the contributions of African American icons.
The highlight of the park is the 12-foot high and 23-foot wide sculpture named “Intersections,” which contains images of some of the important musicians across different genres like jazz and gospel.
As you tour the park, you will also find quotes and lyrics of some of the most important African Americans etched into the concrete.
You will also be greeted with mosaic artworks featuring musicians such as Nathaniel “Nat” Jones, Dick Knight, and the band Uptighters.
If you’d love to pay homage to music, visit the Kinston Music Park.
Have a Good Time with Ironclad Axe Throwing
Axe throwing as a form of entertainment?
You’re reading it correctly.
One of the interesting things you can do in Kinston is to try out this fun and stress-relieving activity with Ironclad Axe Throwing, located along West North Street.
Featuring seven different lanes and wooden targets, axe throwing is a sure way to bond with friends, especially when paired with Ironclad Axe Throwing’s microbrew options and domestic beers, canned wines, and seltzers.
Each session begins with a safety briefing and training, and throughout the time, you will also be continually coached.
For some souvenirs, you can buy some merch items from the establishment’s gift shop.
Eat Meat, Meat, and More Meat at Whiskey Pig Craft Butchery and Deli
North Herritage Street also hosts one unique restaurant that also doubles as a butchery—the Whiskey Pig Craft Butchery and Deli.
This is a whole animal butcher shop that invites everyone to “Eat Great Meat,” an appropriate tagline considering their menu.
The restaurant actually has a rotating menu that depends on the season and availability, but you can treat yourself to their barbecue platters and sandwich combos.
For a balanced meal experience, they also have soups and desserts that go perfectly with their tangy and flavorful meat dishes.
Whiskey Pig Craft Butchery and Deli also offers butchery options for any cut of meat, and it prides itself in its relationship with farmers who raise antibiotic-free animals outdoors.
Have a Barbecue Night at Kings BBQ Restaurant
A heaping plate of tasty barbecue pairs well with Kinston’s bustling atmosphere, and Kings BBQ Restaurant is here to offer you its impressive barbecue options.
When choosing what to eat, you can never go wrong with Kings BBQ Restaurant’s BBQ Plate, which is full of their signature pork barbecue.
There are also combo dishes that pair barbecue with chicken or shrimp, for example.
And of course, to mix things up now and then, Kings BBQ Restaurant also offers daily specials that are competitive in pricing and taste.
If you’re looking for something unique, try the oyster burger, which substitutes meat patties for something more exotic.
Kings BBQ Restaurant is also open for catering and banquets if that’s something you’re looking into.
Other Things to Do Nearby
Visit the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences - Contentnea Creek
Located almost 20 miles north of Kinston in the neighboring town of Grifton stands the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences - Contentnea Creek.
The museum offers astronomy and environmental education, as well as outdoor recreation—a perfect bonding experience for friends and family alike.
Thanks to the four distinct habitats surrounding the area, there’s a variety of wildlife that would keep nature lovers and photographers interested.
Come nightfall, head out to the dark sky above the museum, making it a great place for stargazing and watching meteor showers.
You can also take the time to enjoy picnics or kayak down the creek and just spend some time out in nature.
Kinston’s wide area and the blend of history and art make it a city that you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to visit.
Whatever you intend to do, Kinston is sure to offer something for you.
Experience Kinston today!