Ultimate Guide to Visiting Winston-Salem: Exploring the Piedmont Triad Region

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North Carolina is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States, and it’s not hard to see why. From the diverse peaks and valleys of the Smokies to the wild horses of Corolla, visitors flock to the Tar Heel State in droves every year. In fact, nearly 50 million people visit the state annually to enjoy the sun, sweet potatoes, and serenity.
We’re enthusiastic about highlighting the nation’s most diverse and engaging historical areas, so today we’re taking you on a tour of Winston-Salem. As the fifth most-populous city in North Carolina, Winston-Salem brings a unique fusion of past, present, and future. The Forsyth County seat sits in the northwest corner of the state in the heart of the Piedmont Triad Region. It forms the top, westernmost point of the triangular region of Piedmont Triad, with High Point and Greensboro acting as the other points.
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It’s a City So Nice They Named It Twice… Sort Of

Some locals call Winston-Salem “the dash” because of the dash that separates its two names, but its more common nickname is the Twin City. But even though the Southern town is unique for its two-name moniker — it got its name when the two neighboring towns of Winston and Salem merged in 1913 — there’s an undeniably unified feel about this Southern town.
Even though the Winston-Salem we know and love today only traces its roots back about 100 years, the earliest settlers of the region arrived long before. In fact, it was in 1753 that leaders from the Moravian Church — one of the earliest Protestant denominations in the world — selected the region for its agricultural appeal; it promised agrarian splendor due to its temperate climate and fertile soil. The Moravians chose to settle on a plot of land that later became Salem.

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The Moravians developed what’s now Old Salem, one of the most popular attractions for history-seekers in Winston-Salem. They designed their town around a central square (now Salem Square) and built a church and housing for congregants. Winston, on the other hand, is a bit younger. The town traces its roots back to 1849, when residents of Salem parceled off some land north of the town to create room for the seat of Forsyth County. Residents named the new municipality after Joseph Winston, a Revolutionary War hero and legislator born nearby, and officially established the town in 1851.
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The Tobacco Industry and the Union of Two Towns

After the Civil War, Americans traveled in droves to the region to take advantage of an industrial revolution set forth by entrepreneurial tycoons R.J. Reynolds (importer of Turkish tobacco for Camel cigarettes) and Pleasant Henderson Hanes (the founder of the company that later became the Hanes Corporation), who built factories at the center of Winston. At the same time, Salem thrived by producing pottery, iron works, and furniture.
The two towns operated as one in many ways, even before the official merge. For example, the United States Post Office merged the two cities into one for mailing purposes in the late 1800s. Leaders believed that a merger made sense in order to pool resources and streamline city services, and the towns officially incorporated as Winston-Salem in 1913.
Now that you know the hands that built Winston-Salem were some of the significant businessmen in Southern history, you can probably guess that there’s a whole lot of fascinating, historical tourism attractions within the region. But Winston-Salem today isn’t all about the past; it also brings major appeal in the form of modern-day art galleries, grandiose gardens, and incredible architecture.

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Top Attractions for History Buffs and Ghost-Hunters

Southern scholars will find no shortage of historical sites at the center of Winston-Salem, from perfectly preserved historical homes that are quintessentially Southern to museums and cultural institutions that leave you feeling totally fulfilled. We recommend setting aside an afternoon or two to meander through the historic districts with no agenda, but there are plenty of guided tours and presentations that you can try, too.
  • Old Salem Historic District — If history’s what you’re after, make Old Salem stop No. 1 on your visit! This National Historic Landmark promises a sneak-peek into life as a Moravian with many original buildings, shops, and houses. There’s also a living history museum that captures the spirit of the early South. Old Salem Museums and Gardens operates the Historic Town of Salem Museum, the Gardens at Old Salem, and the Museum of Early Southerners Decorative Arts (MESDA).
  • Salem Cemetery — The historic Salem Cemetery offers a glimpse into some of the state’s early leaders with several famous burials, including former North Carolina Governor Robert Broadnax Glenn, Confederate Army General William Robertson Boggs, watercolor artist Margaret Nowell Graham, and businessman John Wesley Hanes. It’s definitely a bucket list attraction for ghost-hunters looking for Winston-Salem ghosts.
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  • New Winston Museum — The New Winston Museum is a must-visit landmark for the historian who wants to learn about the town’s heritage, from the Moravians to the Industrial Revolution and everything in between. The primary focus of the museum, however, is to cover important contributions to the New South in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Locals realized that Winston-Salem was the only major North Carolina metropolitan area without a community museum, so a group of dedicated community members proposed the effort and created the museum in 2008.
  • Bethabara Historic District — Many of the surviving buildings from the Moravian community lie within the Bethabara Historic District. The National Historic Landmark features charming 17th century log homes, the Bethabara Moravian Church, and excavated foundations from many of the settlement’s original structures. The area is also a popular location for bird-watchers, hikers, and general outdoor enthusiasts.
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Top Attractions for Artists, Musicians, and Architecture-Lovers

Winston-Salem earned the nickname “The City of Arts and Innovation” based on its rich history of supporting the arts and offering cultural opportunities to its citizens. In fact, residents created the first local arts council in the United States in Winston-Salem in 1949. Its universities — including the University of North Carolina School of the Arts — helped solidify the town’s artistic provenance. 

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  • Reynolda House Museum of American Art — If hobnobbing in a well-preserved Southern estate is your idea of a good time — and if you love American art — then you can’t miss Reynolda House. Tobacco magnate R.J. Reynolds and his wife Katharine built the luxurious country home dubbed Reynolda between the years of 1906 and 1924. Its sprawling formal garden, walking trails, and a cluster of landmark buildings make it a worthwhile visit on its own, but Reynolda is now home to a public institution dedicated to American art. It holds one of the country’s most significant collections of American paintings.  
  • The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art —  The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) offers plenty of artistic exploration for modern art-seekers from around the globe. Community members created the multimedia art gallery in 1956. One of the most enticing draws of SECCA is the building itself. Industrialist James G. Hanes willed his 32-acre estate to the gallery in 1972, complete with a boxwood garden, an expansive lawn and lake, and a 300-seat auditorium. The Norman Revival home acts as a unique backdrop for many envelope-pushing, controversial works of contemporary art.
  • The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts — Located within the Old Salem Historic District, MESDA’s mission is to research, collect, and exhibit decorative arts made and used by settlers of the early South. The museum’s permanent collection includes many significant decorative objects from the region, including ceramics, furniture, bedcoverings, musical instruments, needlework, paintings, and sculptures. It also offers an important reminder of the contributions from the African-American community in Winston-Salem, featuring a large collection of work by African-American furniture maker Thomas Day.
  • Wake Forest University — We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Wake Forest University in our list of architectural wonders of Winston-Salem. Wake Forest’s Reynolda Campus provides plenty of sight-seeing opportunity for architecture fanatics. New York Architect Jens Frederick Larson designed the campus in the 1950s, but the university traces its roots back to 1834. Take a walk through the lush, green campus to see notable buildings, such as Wake Chapel, the Benson University Center, and the Z. Smith Reynolds Library.
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Top Attractions for Kids, Families, and Fun

Not every outing in Winston-Salem has to be totally cerebral. Make sure to leave some room on your visit for a little bit of fun. The town has no shortage of it! Expansive shopping centers, children’s museums, and more help ensure that every member of the family enjoys a memorable visit to Winston-Salem.
  • Hanes Mall Boulevard — Looking for the best place to shop in The Dash? It’s got to be Hanes Mall Boulevard. The street gets its namesake from the Hanes Mall — a 1.5-million-square-foot mall with over 200 shops — which was the state’s largest enclosed mall until 2004. The area around the mall is one of the town’s most popular and largest shopping districts, offering a variety of stores for every shopper.
  • Kaleideum — A few years ago, two of Winston-Salem’s most beloved children’s centers — the Children’s Museum of Winston-Salem and SciWorks — merged to become Kaleideum. Kids get a chance to learn and play with exhibitions covering science, music, the arts, history, and more. Kaleideum has two locations, one in downtown Winston-Salem and one on Hanes Mill Road.
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  • Winston-Salem Ghost Tours — The old, historic buildings and weird, wild, wacky, and depraved legends of Winston-Salem leave much to discover for the dedicated spirit-seeker. Organizations throughout the city offer ghost hunts and tours covering all of Winston-Salem’s most haunted buildings and sites.
  • Winston-Salem Food Tours — Who doesn’t love a good food tour? Winston-Salem is home to Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and the company that makes world-famous hot sauce Texas Pete. Eat your way through Winston-Salem by stopping at old-school bakeries, coffeehouses, and restaurants that make some of the most famous Twin City delicacies.
Winston-Salem offers a unique balance between its rich southern history and a contemporary culture that is constantly changing and innovating with the times. Whether you want to explore the historical districts or the bustling arts community, you’ll find a rewarding experience in this charming Piedmont Triad town.