I grew up in North Carolina and can point you to the best places to live in North Carolina for every preference and budget.
I factored in the cost of living, schools, safety, and varying interests when selecting my top picks. Students, young professionals, families, and retirees are sure to find an ideal North Carolina home in this guide.
Table of Contents
- 11 Best Places to Live in North Carolina
- FAQs About Living in North Carolina
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11 Best Places to Live in North Carolina
North Carolina’s largest metropolis has a laid-back atmosphere with big city amenities and a central location.
Charlotte, also known as the “Queen City,” is one of the best places to live in North Carolina.
Charlotte is the biggest city in the state. It has a rich arts and culture scene, lively sports and entertainment (it’s home to the Carolina Panthers!), and great job opportunities. This makes Charlotte a popular choice for young professionals and young families.
The cost of living in Charlotte is lower than the national average and there are many amenities. There is a range of schools, several parks, and other things to do that make it a vibrant place to live. The weather in Charlotte is also moderate and there are different areas to choose from.
A Blue Ridge Mountains city known for its beautiful nature, outdoor recreation, and local character.
Asheville is nestled in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains and has easy access to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Hiking trails are aplenty and things like mountain biking, camping, and fishing are popular here. All of these things make Asheville one of the best places to live in North Carolina for outdoor enthusiasts.
The cost of living is slightly higher than the national average. However, nearby areas like Mills River, Hendersonville, and Black Mountain offer lower prices. Asheville’s school district is one of the best in the state.
📚Related Reading: Asheville vs Charlotte
A relaxed, family-friendly beach town with a historic downtown.
Wilmington has a small-town feel blended with a coastal lifestyle. It’s located in the southeastern corner of North Carolina, between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean.
The Outer Banks are about a 4.5 hour drive north, and many other beach towns surround Wilmington. Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach are two family-friendly beaches in the area.
Housing is reasonably affordable in Wilmington with a median home value of $300,000-$400,000. The University of Wilmington is also located here. Overall, Wilmington is a charming, laid-back town that’s great for beach lovers.
The state capital of North Carolina, best known for its proximity to major universities.
Raleigh is the state capital of North Carolina and has grown a lot in recent years. The area surrounding Raleigh (including Chapel Hill and Durham) are known as the “Research Triangle” because of the three major universities located here. These include North Carolina State University, UNC Chapel Hill, and Duke University.
Raleigh also has a thriving job market, a good healthcare system, and more affordable housing. It has an incredible food scene, shopping centers, walking trails, and some of the best things to do in North Carolina. Plus, Raleigh is near cities like Charlotte and beaches in the Outer Banks.
A charming Carolinian college town that’s home to the best school district in North Carolina.
Chapel Hill is your quintessential college town, located less than an hour from Raleigh. It’s best known for being the home of UNC Chapel Hill, which is the oldest public university in the United States. Chapel Hill’s public school district consistently ranks as the best school district in North Carolina.
The vibe of Chapel Hill is a bit college-y as you’d expect, but it’s also steeped in Southern charm. It has a buzzing main street, Franklin Street, and is next door to the cute town of Carrboro. Overall, Chapel Hill is a nice, family-oriented town with great education opportunities.
A small yet lively city that’s home to a thriving job market and the prestigious Duke University.
Durham is a small city less than an hour from Raleigh. It was once an industrial hub that produced tobacco. Today, Durham is reinventing itself. Its charming, walkable downtown features plenty of shops, restaurants, and entertainment.
Great job opportunities can be found in Durham, particularly in the fields of medicine and technology. This is due to the city’s prestigious Duke University and its proximity to Research Triangle Park.
Durham consistently ranks as a good place to live in North Carolina. It has a casual, yet lively energy and is popular among young professionals.
A classic American small town nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains that offers a lower cost of living.
The town of Hickory is about an hour from Asheville and Charlotte, offering access to their amenities at a lower cost. The Blue Ridge Mountains surround Hickory, providing year-round outdoor recreation. Its downtown area is walkable and has a relaxed pace.
Housing in Hickory is more affordable than in other places in North Carolina. The median home value is just over $275,000. These highlights make Hickory a great place to live for nature lovers, retirees, and families.
A family-friendly suburb that ranks as one of the safest North Carolina communities.
The town of Cary consistently ranks as one of the safest places to live in North Carolina. It’s a suburb of Raleigh and benefits from big city amenities like good education, healthcare, and lots of shopping and dining. However, Cary has a more quaint and quiet vibe to it.
The town is a popular choice for people relocating to North Carolina, especially families and retirees. Overall, Cary is an ideal place to live in North Carolina if safety, family-friendliness, and pleasant weather are your top priorities.
A quaint, community-oriented small town with easy access to Charlotte.
Davidson is a small town along the Lake Norman shoreline. It has a cozy atmosphere with quiet streets and a really walkable downtown. Here, you’ll find coffee shops, restaurants, and cute local stores, which all give Davidson a community-oriented feel. However, you get the best of both worlds with the bigger city of Charlotte just 30 minutes away.
Davidson College is a main draw for this town, and it’s actually where NBA star Steph Curry attended! The college makes Davidson a popular place for students, but it’s also a nice place for families and retirees.
A vibrant, walkable town outside of Asheville with lower prices and great access to nature.
Hendersonville is a vibrant town about a half-hour drive from Asheville. It has a walkable Main Street that buzzes with a range of local businesses. Enjoy small-town charm, plus easy access to bigger city amenities in Asheville.
Hendersonville is also a cheaper place to buy a home than Asheville. I personally worked in Hendersonville for a couple of years and can attest to how much families and retirees enjoy living here.
A small university city in the Northern Piedmont region with a lower cost of living.
Winston-Salem is a small city in the Northern Piedmont region. The lower cost of living makes it a good choice for young professionals and families. The median home value is about $240,000 which is lower than the national average.
Winston-Salem has a suburban feel but also a historic downtown with local businesses. It’s home to Wake Forest University and the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
Winston-Salem’s location also provides convenient access to the mountains. Outdoor attractions like Hanging Rock State Park and Pilot Mountain are close by.
FAQs About Living in North Carolina
What are some family-friendly places to live in North Carolina?
What are good places to live in North Carolina for young adults?
What are some affordable places to live in North Carolina?
Is North Carolina a good place to live in?
North Carolina is a good place to live in. The cost of living is lower than the national average and numerous cities and towns provide a community-oriented feel. There are also varied places to live ranging from the mountains to the Piedmont and beaches.
Which Carolina is best to live in?
The best Carolina to live in depends on your needs and preferences. North Carolina is bigger, has a greater range of cities and towns, and has higher taxes. South Carolina has more coastal communities and lower taxes, but higher rates of crime.
I hope you found this guide helpful in your search for the best places to live in North Carolina. But don’t end your search here! Next, read our guide on the best places in North Carolina to get a feel for other unique areas worth checking out.
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