Top Things to Do In Kinston, North Carolina

I was heading towards Eastern North Carolina and, filled with visions of farmland, quaint downtown shops, and farm-to-table cooking courtesy of PBS’s A Chef’s Life, thought Kinston would be a great place to visit. 

When visiting small towns in North Carolina like Kinston, research the area before you go, paying special attention to hours of operation for activities you’d like to experience. Many places are closed on Sundays and Mondays, and small museums may operate once a week with private tours available if you schedule in advance.  

Art and flowers along path in Tiffany Park

Be sure to check the venue’s site directly. Some update more frequently on their Facebook sites.  

With many places closed Sunday and Monday, is it still worth visiting? Yes! 

I love exploring North Carolina and small towns are a must on my list.

I found Kinston a great town with a lot to offer. You’ll just need to put effort into building an itinerary around what is open during your trip and be flexible.  

How to Visit Kinston, NC 

Visiting Kinston as a Day Trip 

Kinston is a great location for a day trip from the Raleigh-Durham area. It’s less than 2 hours with plenty of outdoor activities and good food.  

Drive out Saturday morning, visit downtown, and see the CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center and full-size CSS Neuse II replica. Hang out at Neuseway Park, enjoy a little fishing, or just sit on one of the swings by the water.  

If you’re a music lover the Kinston Music Park provides an outdoor experience that’s innovative, fun, and has great information about the musical history of the city.  

Be sure to stop by one of the restaurants in town for dinner before heading home.  

Mural of butterfly at Nature Exchange Center

Visiting Kinston as an Overnight Getaway 

If you’d like to get away from it all and go camping, you can head to Neuseway Nature Park and pay $20 for a site with electrical, or $10 for a tent site. The beautiful park is along the Neuse River where you can enjoy your morning coffee on a bench swing as you watch the peaceful river.  

Arrive on Friday in time for dinner and grab a spot. It’s first-come, first-serve. Tent campers should be fine, but with only 18 RV spots, it could fill if there’s an event happening. You can call ahead to see if there’s space.  

Saturday morning, explore the town before heading home.  You could even stop at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park 30 minutes away if you’d like to spend more time outdoors.  

Neuse River as it bends around Neuseway Nature Park

Kinston as a Stopover on Your Way Further East 

Kinston is ideally located between Raleigh and many beach destinations including, New Bern, Croatan National Forest, Morehead City, and Emerald Isle. It’s perfect for getting a jump start on your beach vacation.  

You could head out Thursday night and stay in Kinston. Enjoy breakfast in the morning, tour downtown, explore the art walk, maybe get some lunch to-go, then continue on your way to the beach.  

A nice, leisurely way to get out a bit faster, but without the rush.  

Incorporate Kinston as Part of a Larger Trip in the Area 

When I visited, I spent time in Kinston, then headed to Cliffs of the Neuse Park only 30 minutes away, then finished up in Wilson, NC.  

It seems like a lot, but it was easy to cover in a weekend and I wasn’t rushed.  

I spend Friday afternoon and Saturday morning in Kinston, spending the night at Neuseway Nature Park. Saturday Afternoon, I headed to Cliffs of the Neuse and hiked around before staying at their campground.  

Sunday morning, I finished up at the Whirligig Park in Wilson.  I saw a few more things in the city, then came home.  

Things to do in Kinston, North Carolina 

The Kinston Music Park 

Location: Intersection of Springhill and South Queen Streets 

Parking: Free parking on the street along S. Queen Street 

Hours: Dawn to dusk daily 

Cost: Free 

Main sculpture at Kinston Music Park

The Kinston Music Park is an outdoor park celebrating African American Musical Heritage. The Sugar Hill district of Kinston was once a hub for African American music, hosting musicians like Louis Armstrong, and The Duke.  

The park has beautiful sculptures to view and is interactive. There’s a section that looks like a field for racing, but it has stones with etched lyrics and quotes. It’s the most innovative and creative art park I’ve seen.  

While not large, it’s a great place to stretch your legs, appreciate the musical history of Kinston, learn a little, and let children run free.  

Overall, you can spend about 30 minutes here, possibly longer if you have little ones that are enjoying themselves.  

On a sunny day, it makes for great photos.  

Learn more about the Kinston Music Park here.  

Thomas Sayres Art Installation, “Flue” 

Location: Intersection of Mitchell and Blount Streets 

Parking: Free parking next to the installation or on street 

Hours: Always open 

Cost: Free 

Thomas Sayre's Flue Installation with shadows casting

Thomas Sayre is a world-famous artist living in Raleigh, NC.  While he works with different mediums, he’s most well-known for his unique process called Earth casting where the mold is created in the earth by digging out the shape in the dirt. It’s then filled with concrete and stabilizers and allowed to set.  

His Earth casting projects are described as construction sites where everyone involved with creating the cast and hoisting the final piece into place, has a role in its final shape. These installations are huge. You may be familiar with Gyre, the giant rings at the NC Museum of Art Park in Raleigh.  

Flue is an installation of several 28 feet tall tobacco barn shapes. The light casts shadows from one to the next, creating unique patterns and textures throughout the day. The design was built to capture the distinct proportions and shapes of tobacco barns that played a role in the south, many of which still stand in areas around Kinston.  

You can read more about Thomas Sayre and Flue here.  

Explore the Art Throughout Town 

Location: Throughout downtown 

Parking: Plenty of free on-street parking 

Hours: Always open 

Cost: Free 

Murals on a building in downtown Kinston, NC

As you walk through downtown Kinston, it’s hard not to notice the murals. They’re well done and celebrate the city. In 2019, the city received funding to commission seven original public murals. You can find a map with their locations here.  

Beyond the murals, there’s also an incredible piece of ironwork in Tiffany Park along Queen Street near the Neuse River.  It’s a painter next to an easel, but the frame is empty. The view you see through the frame is the photo.  It’s remarkably done.  

As you continue along the path in this area, you’ll walk through the Walk of Honor Memorial which pays tribute to the men and women who have served their country.  

The path from Tiffany Park, through the Walk of Honor, and into Pearson Park appears as one, seamless path. It runs along the Neuse River the entire way.  

The CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center 

Location: Intersection of W Caswell and Queen Streets 

Parking: Free parking on the street along S. Queen Street 

Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 9 am – 5 pm (closed most holidays) 

Cost: $5 per person 

The museum houses the remains of the CSS Neuse, an ironclad gunboat that served during the Civil War. The boat has an interesting history. Had construction been completed on time, it may have been able to support its sister ship, the Albermarle, in an offensive attack against Union troops in New Bern.  

Due to a slew of delays, then the water receding and the boat becoming stuck, its only action was being scuttled as a diversion to cover the evacuation of Confederate leaders from Kinston.

Click here to learn more about the CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center and confirm their hours.  

CSS Neuse II Replica 

Location: Intersection of W Gordon and S Herritage Streets 

Parking: Free parking on the street and a parking lot across N. Herritage Street 

Hours: Saturdays 10 am – 4 pm 

Cost: Donations accepted 

CSS Neuse Replica

This is an amazing, life-size replica of the CSS Neuse. It’s the only known full-size replica of a Confederate Ironclad.  

While you can’t tour the ship outside of working hours, you can see the exterior anytime. As you’re walking down N. Herritage Street, you’ll pass the Farmers Market, and then, well…. a giant ship appears. 

You can request a private tour, and they have fundraisers, including an annual breakfast on the ship.  If you’re a Civil War buff or know one, this could make a great gift.  

For details on operating hours and to learn about fundraising events for the CSS Neuse II Replica, click here.  

Have lunch at Sugar Hill Pizzaria 

Location: Intersection of N Herritage and W North Streets 

Parking: Free parking on the street 

Hours: Monday – Saturday 11 am – 9 pm, Sunday 12 pm – 8 pm (Closed most holidays) 

Piece of pizza from Sugar Hill Pizzeria

I’m originally from New York, so when I say they nailed NY pizza, I mean it. It’s not “close”, or “the closest I’ve seen”, it’s exactly like what I’ve had in Brooklyn.  

The crust is thin, and the end has a light cracker crispiness to it. The cheese and sauce blend into a single unit. Slices are large, wanting to fold on their own, and served one slice per paper plate with a piece of wax paper in between the plate and the pizza.  

Under the toppings, the crust is mellow and has little bubbles.  New Yorkers know what I mean.  

There’s even a little bit of grittiness from the cheese and sauce.  

You can get a whole pie or just a slice and it’s reasonably priced. They have indoor and outdoor seating, or you can get it to go.  

To find out more or order online, click here.  

Grab a drink at Mother Earth Brewery 

Location: Intersection of N Herritage and W North Streets 

Parking: Free parking on the street 

Hours: Monday – Thursday 3 pm – 10 pm, Friday – Saturday 12 pm – 10 pm, Sunday 1 pm – 8 pm 

Mother Earth Brewery is known for brewing its beer sustainably.  They’re the only brewery in the country that has been awarded a Gold certification in the LEED program, meaning they have effectively minimized their eco-footprint.  

While they’re not currently running tours, you can see the tanks through the windows in the manufacturing plant. Next door is their taproom where you can fill up your glass and enjoy some of their brews.  

There’s no food served in the taproom, so eat up before you drink up.  

Click here to check on tours and operating hours.  

The Chef and the Farmer (Reservations Required) 

Location: Intersection of S Herritage and W Gordon Streets (in the building across the street from the CSS Neuse II replica) 

Parking: Free parking lot on site 

Hours: Wednesday – Saturday 4 pm – 9 pm, reservations required 

The restaurant was made famous thanks to the PBS show A Chef’s Life. Chef Vivian Howard famously moved to New York to become a chef and learn the business.  Her parents lured her back with the promise of helping her start a restaurant in her hometown area.  

Serving fresh farm-to-table food, as locally sourced as they can, it’s known for fresh ingredients and a twist on elevating and delivering everyday foods in new ways.  

You will need a reservation and they book out quite a bit in advance.  

Walk Around Downtown Kinston 

It’s always fun to walk around downtown. The architecture is interesting, seeing the storefronts, and exploring the businesses. Finding little nooks and new favorite spots to come back and visit.  

There’s Mother Earth Hotel, an old motel that has been revitalized and decorated in unapologetic retro splendor.  

Check out the old Victorian homes on Mitchell Street.  Some are fixed up, and others are waiting for their turn, but it’s peaceful and beautiful.  While you’re there, walk down to Blount Street and visit Thomas Ayre’s Flue installation.  

To learn more about the restaurant or make a reservation, click here.  

Play at Neuseway Nature Park 

Location: 401 W Caswell Street 

Parking: Free lot 

Hours: Monday – Saturday 9:30 am – 5 pm, Sunday 1 pm – 5 pm (if you’re camping and it’s outside hours, just pull in and head to the camp host at site 18. There’s no gate to block you) 

Cost: The park is free. Camping is $20 per night for a site with electricity, $10 per night for a tent site 

Railroad crossing sign near old train at Neuseway Nature Park

Neuseway Nature Park is a great place to spend an afternoon, or camp out for the night.  You can walk along the river, go fishing, head to the playground, visit the old train, check out the planetarium, or visit the animal house.  

That’s a lot for one day! 

There are wide open spaces for the kids to run, and plenty of shade if you need to cool off from the sun.  

I found it serene and calming. It was easy to grab a swing and just sit and relax by the river. My campsite was under an old oak tree in the grassy area and the people camping nearby were friendly, polite, and quiet.  

The camp host, Ron, was the nicest camp host I’ve met. He does his job, but also serves as a bit of a guide to the area, letting you know where you should go.  

If you’re camping, there are 2 restrooms with showers. With 18 campsites, plus tents in the meadow, you would think it could be difficult to grab a shower, but I found it was pretty easy.  

You can walk downtown from the park. There’s a shortcut behind the train, but you’ll have to walk up a short, steep hill to the road.  

To learn more about Neuseway Nature Park, Ellis Planetarium, and the Exchange Nature Center, click here.  

Visit the Ellis Planetarium/Health and Science Museum 

Location: 401 W Caswell Street 

Parking: Free lot 

Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 9:30 am – 5 pm, Sunday 1 pm – 5 pm 

Cost: Entry is free. Planetarium shows are $1 per person 

Exterior of  Ellis Planetarium and Health and Science Museum

The building is inside Neuseway Nature Park, and viewable from the parking lot. Entry is free and children can enjoy the interactive Health and Science Museum.  

If you’d like to see one of the Planetarium shows, it’s $1 per person.   

The Health and Science Museum is aimed at children. The exhibits change, but there’s a small replica of the local hospital and an underground tunnel that represents a blood vessel. They can also learn how crops are grown and how to choose healthy foods.  

On a hot day, this is a great place to take the kids. They’ll have fun learning and you’ll stay cool.  

To learn more about Neuseway Nature Park, Ellis Planetarium, and the Exchange Nature Center, click here

Making the Most of Your Trip to Kinston, NC 

Kinston may be a small town, but there’s a lot to do and it’s full of friendly people.  

It’s the perfect place for a quick, out-of-town getaway when you just need to head somewhere.  

Be sure to time it so you’re there for most of your activities Friday afternoon or Saturday. Leave Sunday for the Art Walk, Music Park, and Neuseway Nature Park.  

If you’re looking for family or solo fun, this should be on your list.  

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