The city of Winston-Salem is centrally located in North Carolina’s Piedmont region, between the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and the NC low country.
Salem has been a settlement since the mid-1700s, before the state of North Carolina even existed. Much of the early Moravian village still remains, both as a living neighborhood and as a living history museum.
The town of Winston, a non-Moravian community, was established about 100 years later. In the next half-century, Winston became a hub for the tobacco industry, and home to entrepreneurs like Pleasant Hanes and R.J. Reynolds.
By 1913 Winston-Salem had become one city, and it’s now the 5th most populous city in the state, with around 256,000 residents.
There are tons of interesting and fun things to do in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Many of our favorite Winston-Salem attractions are connected to its history, which is culturally rich and riddled with wealth.
Consequently, there’s an endless array of cool things to see in Winston-Salem— 250-year-old architecture, stately mansions built in the early 1900s, and beautiful parks and gardens— seemingly around every corner.
So the question isn’t what to do in Winston-Salem NC, but how many Winston-Salem activities you can squeeze into a weekend getaway. In our experience, quite a lot of experiences can be packed into such a trip!
Best Things to Do in Winston Salem NC Guide
- Check Out Exhibits at SECCA
- Eat Well at Winston-Salem Restaurants
- Explore the Downtown Winston-Salem Arts District
- Go on a Winston-Salem Brewery Crawl
- Spend a Day at Reynolda
- Stroll around Salem Lake
- Take an eBike Tour of the Greenway
- Tour Old Salem
- Venture to Tanglewood Park
- Visit Historic Bethabara
1. Check Out Exhibits at SECCA
750 Marguerite Dr, Winston-Salem NC • 336-725-1904
The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) is hidden in the depths of a semi-swanky urban neighborhood known as Reynolda Mile.
However, this fascinating Winston-Salem museum has impressive digs on the former estate of James G. Hanes (of Hanes hosiery fame), with impressive venues inside and out.
SECCA was established in 1956 to showcase contemporary local artists, and it served that purpose for decades. It has since expanded into the national and international art scene, too.
This is actually one of our favorite weird things to do in Winston-Salem NC.
The museum is cutting-edge, offering up new approaches to art in a setting that was built to be art in and of itself.
2. Eat Well at Winston-Salem Restaurants
There’s a wonderful collection of quality Winston-Salem restaurants, varying from caffeine-packed cafes for breakfast and fusion cuisine for brunch/lunch to sauce-slinging BBQ shops for dinner.
We had awesome cauliflower tacos at East of Texas, a Tex-Mex joint with an awesome outdoor setting and a great menu. We had real Italian fare at DiLisio’s Italian Restaurant, which was voted the best restaurant in Forsyth County NC.
Reynolda Village has a collection of great places to eat in Winston-Salem. Sandwiches from Theodore’s are a classy winner, donuts and coffee at Dough-Joe’s are amazing, and the dumplings at May Way’s are an unexpected pleasure.
Possibly our best Winston-Salem dining experience was at Mozelle’s Fresh Southern Bistro, a playful restaurant that feels totally local and also totally special.
3. Explore the Downtown Winston-Salem Arts District
Located about 33 miles southwest of Mount Airy NC, the immensely walkable Downtown Winston-Salem offers something quaint for those from bigger cities, as well as easy navigability for those from rural places.
The heart of Downtown Winston-Salem is its Arts District, which is replete with galleries, funky restaurants, kitschy shops, and street art galore!
This arts district is the way we personally prefer Downtown areas to be. It has good places to eat, interesting places to shop, and just enough crazy energy to make it feel like a walk on the wild side.
This is definitely one of our favorite fun things to do in Winston-Salem for adults. It’s got great nightlife, and a few places that are not entirely suitable for children.
4. Go on a Winston-Salem Brewery Crawl
Craft beers are all the rage in the USA these days, and North Carolina is a mega-market for finding the best brews.
While many beer enthusiasts from afar know about Asheville’s breweries, folks from NC are also clued into the extensive Winston-Salem breweries scene. There are 10 craft breweries, all within walking distance of one another!
Finding good beer in Winston-Salem NC is easy. Deciding on which brewery to visit is a bit more of a challenge.
5. Spend a Day at Reynolda
2201 Reynolda Road, Winston-Salem NC • 336-758-5584
In terms of history, tobacco is what Winston-Salem is best known for (even if it’s no longer celebrated these days). And Reynolda— the former country bungalow of tobacco magnate J. R. Reynolds— is an absolute highlight.
It includes three major attractions. Reynolda Village is a magical collection of shops and restaurants in converted barns, milking rooms, and worker homes from the planned community.
Magnificent Reynolda Gardens have always been open to the public, and walking through them is arguably one of the best free things to do in Winston-Salem NC.
The Reynolda House Museum of American Art blew Emma away with its eclectic art collection, including showstoppers from legends like Georgia O’Keefe, John James Audubon, John Singer Sargent, and Edward Hicks.
Much like the Biltmore Estate in Asheville (but not nearly as painful the pocketbook), this simply has to make it on your list of the most-do stuff to do in Winston-Salem.
6. Stroll Around Salem Lake
815 Salem Lake Road, Winston-Salem NC • 336-650-7677
We got a chance to visit Salem Lake on a bit of lark. It wasn’t actually on our planned itinerary, but our eBike tour guide took us there for fun.
Our friends who used to live in Winston-Salem NC had a house nearby, and they used to use the park frequently for exercise.
It’s a very pretty area, connected to the city and Quarry Park via the Greenway. There’s also a great network of trails on this side of town.
7. Take an eBike Tour of the Greenway (w/Triad ECO Adventures)
176 YWCA Way, Winston-Salem NC • 336-722-7777
Emma and I don’t have a lot of experience with eBikes or Segways, but we’re always up for an adventure.
So we were stoked when Triad ECO Adventures offered to take us out for any eBike tour of the Greenway, which offers a thick swath of wilderness right in the middle of the city.
We were a little worried by the weather when we showed up in the morning, but the staff seemed unconcerned. They gave us quick instructions and a practice session on how to ride the bikes, and then we were off!
Our guide was patient with any ineptness we had with the eBikes (which are surprisingly easy to ride), and the ride along the Greenway was awesome.
Triad ECO Adventures also has other tours, including paddle boarding and trolley tours. They take visitors on the Greenway as well as all around Downtown Winston-Salem.
READ MORE: The 20 Best North Carolina Hiking Trails
8. Tour Old Salem Museums & Gardens
900 Old Salem Road, Winston-Salem NC • 336-721-7350
The one thing we’d done in Winston-Salem prior to this visit was a quick ride around the Old Salem Museums & Gardens.
This attraction was impressive enough the first time that we knew we needed to visit it again!
Old Salem is only a couple of blocks, but it truly makes a lasting impression. It is still largely composed of original buildings from the late 1700s, and many are used as part of a living history museum.
The Old Salem Visitor Center does a lot to explain the history of the place. However, taking a guided tour of the neighborhood buildings and period demonstrations is well worth the investment and time.
A quality bonus of the tour, the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts has a massive collection of antique home items, including fine furniture, pottery, and more.
9. Venture to Tanglewood Park
4061 Clemmons Road, Clemmons NC • 336-703-6400
Tanglewood Park is located slightly outside of Winston-Salem proper, but it is definitely a great place to visit while you’re in town.
It’s essentially a massive playground for kids and adults alike to enjoy.
For adults, Tanglewood has tennis courts and two golf courses, including a Championship Course designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr.
Other highlights when visiting Tanglewood Park include the Manor House, as well as the renowned Tanglewood Park Arboretum and Rose Garden.
10. Visit Historic Bethabara
2147 Bethabara Road, Winston-Salem NC • 336-924-8191
Before there was Old Salem (and long before there was Winston), Bethabara was the first settlement in what became Winston-Salem. BRMTG co-founder Bret Love’s ancestors defended the settlement during the Revolutionary War.
Dating back to the mid-1700s, the historic site still has some of its original structures. And what isn’t original has been recreated very accurately by using carefully documented layouts and architectural plans.
This was the very first stop on our trip, and it really set the stage for understanding who the Moravians were and how the city evolved.
We thoroughly enjoyed a guided walk through the grounds and an extensive tour of the gardens, which are now farmed to supply food for local charities.
I highly recommend visiting Historic Bethabara as a jumping-off point for any Winston-Salem trip. –by Jonathon Engels, all photos by Emma Gallagher