Tryon Palace, built in 1770 by Royal Governor William Tryon, was known at the time as one of the most beautiful buildings in America. After its use as both a Colonial and a state capitol, the palace fell into disrepair. The main building burned in 1798 and the kitchen office was...more about Tryon Palace
History, performing arts and an abundance of waterfront views are three of New Bern, NC's most popular attractions. As North Carolina's first capitol, history buffs are drawn to downtown New Bern's vast assortment of historical homes and landmarks such as Tryon Palace and the recently added North Carolina History Center. Other popular attractions include performances by the New Bern Civic Theater, the Firemen's Museum and historical cemeteries with towering markers that date back to the early 1700s. Many of these attractions are also stops along trolley and walking tours, so be sure to look at some of our favorite spots below before planning your trip.
Probably the most compelling attraction for New Bern is her history. Three hundred years as a political entity in a changing political scene are recorded in the historic district, parks, cemeteries, re-enactments, historical societies and themes of several live entertainments. As prosperity ebbed and flowed over the course of that history, New Bern endured the pangs of growth and change, remembering to value its heritage. To that end, a great number of old homes and churches have been restored, and, in cases of potential loss, relocated, thanks to groups such as the New Bern Preservation Foundation. Salvaged structures now number more than 150, and restoration efforts are continuous.
New Bern’s Fireman’s Museum offers an interesting look at New Bern’s firefighting history, which includes the great fire of 1922 that burned down 1/3 of the city. Not only does this affordable museum have an exhibit of the very engines used in that fire, it’s a testament to the bravery and sense of community that New Bern displayed during one of the city’s greatest tragedies.
The Pepsi Sore is also a must-see attraction in downtown New Bern. Not only will you find Pepsi-Cola and Mountain Dew coming right out of the soda fountain, you’ll also have a chance to relax and shop for Pepsi collectibles in the place where Caleb Bradham invented one of the world’s most popular beverages … Pepsi.
Of course, the crown jewel of New Bern’s long list of attractions is Tryon Palace. Home to a striking reproduction of North Carolina’s first capitol building, Tryon Palace is named after Governor William Tryon, the state’s first governor. This two story Georgian mansion, complete with 15 acres of 18th century gardens, a Kitchen Office and Stable Office, is one of the most photographed and visited sites in all of New Bern. Tryon Palace extended even further in 2010 with the North Carolina History Center. A modern look at history museums for the young and young at heart, the North Carolina History Center is home to the Pepsi Family Center, Cullman Performance Hall and the North Carolina Regional History Museum. Each of these exhibits is a destination unto its own as countless visitors and students on field trips make their way to the NC History Center for an interactive approach to learning that blends history with today’s technologies.
While historical sites, homes and buildings are focal points of New Bern, art and cultural events of the town are constantly evolving. Many reputable visual artists grace New Bern with their work, often exhibiting at the Bank of the Arts, the public library and commercial art galleries. Performing arts events and festivals occur year round. Not listed in many guidebooks are the town's churches, each distinctive and worthy of a sightseeing visit. Christ Episcopal Church on Pollock Street may provide the most interesting lore, including stories around the royal gift of a silver communion service donated by King George II. The service survived two fires and reconstruction. According to local history, the communion service was stolen in the 1960s or '70s. The thief, so goes the tale, fenced his take with a man who recognized it for what it was and returned it to the church.
Walking tours of the historic district are one of the easiest and most pleasant ways to experience this history. Many of the historic homes are private residences with gardens, landscaping and architecture in keeping with the Colonial heritage of the city. Some of the more popular tours to be on the lookout for are Civil War history, African American Heritage Tours and Ghost Tours.