9 Best Places to Live In North Carolina

Home to both mountains and a coastline, it is no surprise that the arts and cultural hub of the US State of North Carolina quickly turns tourists into residents. These nine cities and towns are known for their prestigious educational institutions, the great outdoors, and vibrant centers as the best places to live in the state.

Asheville

Aerial view of the skyline of downtown Asheville, North Carolina. 

Asheville is known as one of the most attractive places in the state, with some of the best natural scenery North Carolina offers. Despite the population boom to over 360,000 inhabitants, the city retains a small-town atmosphere with big-city amenities and envious access to the unspoiled outdoors. Known for the vastly expanding job market, people move there for a change in the daily scenery, a new life, or work. There is a real hype around arts and culture that also turns many creative types, explorers, foodies, and musicians into long-time residents. The thriving and historic downtown is full of fun entertainment options as well as a thriving beer culture with excellent draft beers. Despite higher housing prices in Asheville than in other major cities such as Charlotte, many find waking up to the spectacular sight of the Blue Ridge Mountains each morning worth it.

Chapel Hill

Kenan Memorial Stadium is located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and is the home field of the North Carolina Tar Heels
Kenan Memorial Stadium is located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and is the home field of the North Carolina Tar Heels. Editorial credit: Grindstone Media Group / Shutterstock.com

Part of the Research Triangle, this quintessential college town is home to the pristine campus of the University of North Carolina, plenty of wonderful schools, and easily accessible high-quality healthcare. The town comprises a perfect place to settle for families with kids and those who enjoy a change in pace throughout the year. The youthful vibe resonates throughout the town with school in session and turns quaint once again with more room to explore during summer. There are also numerous beaches to cool off and soak up the rays in a crowd-less environment, while the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains offer excellent hiking opportunities. The varied entertainment and recreational options include the University’s widely famed basketball team, the area’s lively performing arts, and the town’s music scene. Attested by the 58,000-some residents, the quality of life and proximity to the great outdoors makes the higher housing market and cost of living worth the price.

Charlotte

A view of downtown Charlotte, North Carolina from First Ward Park
A view of downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, from First Ward Park. 

Home to over 850,000 people, the Queen City is a place of opportunities for business owners and those starting new ventures with plenty of office space and a massive pool of employers to choose from. The big-city energy includes large firms like the Bank of America, Lowe’s, Atrium Health, and Honeywell, with operations based in Charlotte. Aside from boasting a competitive job market, the town comes with a relatively affordable housing market and a low cost of living compared to other major centers. Off work, one can catch the Hornets and Panthers games, visit an extensive list of museums, or peruse the largest metropolis in North Carolina with excellent arts, culture, and nearby nature. The major city also comes with a vibrant hospitality scene and an extensive range of colleges that make for a diversified population to make friends with. Retaining its southern roots, the well-developed tourism includes a local food scene that attracts many visitors from around the nation.

Durham

Aerial view of downtown Durham, North Carolina
Aerial view of downtown Durham, North Carolina.

With monikers like the City of Medicine and Bull City, Durham is a central hub of activity and attractions with a booming population thanks to the hyped-up Duke University. With a history of tobacco production in the 20th century, the town is now known for a strong local workforce in medicine, technology, and innovation. The hip town with a lively social vibe comes with college basketball and football sporting events, live entertainment, performing arts, great music, and unbelievable food options. Unmatched in the rest of North Carolina, art offerings include off-Broadway shows at the Durham Performing Arts Center, locally referred to as “DPAC,” along with live music performances in bars throughout the city. Part of the research triangle together with Chapel Hill and Raleigh, Durham is also only a few hours away from the gorgeous North Carolina coastline for walks along with the pier and summertime beach fun. The town acts as a magnet for the career-driven people from steel and smoke into a smaller-city feel with fantastic opportunities and a great environment.

Greensboro

Aerial view of downtown Greensboro, North Carolina
Aerial view of downtown Greensboro, North Carolina. 

Part of the “Triad” region, Greensboro is the third-largest city in the state, with a population of some 300,000 inhabitants. Home to well-known colleges and a vibrant art scene, its north-central location is 2.5 hours away from the Blue Ridge Mountains and 3 hours from the coast. Residents adore living in the city that is consistently recognized as one of the “Greenest Cities in America” with green initiatives like the Community Sustainability Council and “Prioritizing Sustainability” in its 2040 Comprehensive Plan. Those looking for an active lifestyle will find their fill-in over 90 miles of trails and greenways in the city for hiking, biking, or just enjoying the outdoors. With the cheaper cost of living than in many other cities in the state, Greensboro comes with an excellent level of amenities, employment, and social opportunities to choose between living there, an obvious one.

Hickory

Aerial view of Hickory, North Carolina
Aerial view of Hickory, North Carolina. 

A former furniture-making capital of the world, Hickory is known for a unique combination of a highly robust job market and a quiet rural lifestyle. Set picturesquely in the beautiful Catawba, the town’s some 40,000 residents and many tourists enjoy a vast range of recreational opportunities. The quality local school where kids get to stay active in the outdoors during breaks attracts many families to move. The vibrant downtown with a colorful facade comprising boutique shops, farm-to-table restaurants, and many craft breweries is just an hour away from both Charlotte and Asheville. The good bang for a buck, a desirable location for work, and good quality of life make Hickory a real seller’s market, where real estate quickly “flies off the shelves,” and business has taken off with the draw of the town. The simple and slower pace reminiscent of the past intermixed with modern comforts also makes it a great place to live. Although the envious location and the demand ups the housing prices, the town remains one of the most affordable places in the state, with a much lower cost of living than in other prominent locales.

Raleigh

A view of downtown Raleigh, North Carolina
A view of downtown Raleigh, North Carolina. 

Raleigh – the capital of the state, is seen as desirable across all fronts and suitable for all types of people, with the innovative Apple company bringing leading engineering minds into the area. The tech hub also proved resilient throughout the pandemic, when most of the jobs easily turned remote. The Carolina Hurricanes games and the blossoming food scene with new places always popping up comprise the most popular past-times in town. A city full of museums, performing arts, sports, concerts, parks, and trails, its many annual events include the yearly Hopscotch music festival and the state’s largest craft beer festival. Part of the prestige Wake County Public School District, along with ten college and university campuses, including North Carolina State University, Raleigh offers wonderful educational opportunities for families with kids. The hot job market and affordable cost of living make it easy to frequently contribute to one’s savings account.

Wilmington

Riverwalk at Wilmington, North Carolina
Riverwalk at Wilmington, North Carolina. 

Set on the Atlantic coast, the historic Colonial port city of Wilmington comprises a real paradise for those who enjoy the ability to work remotely, with a real boost in the population occurring in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. Moreover, the area, including the neighboring beach towns, is poised to grow by 90 percent by 2040. With a vacation-feel year-round, one gets to wake up to the sun rising over the blue waters every day and spend the weekends lounging at the beach or running the 15-mile Gary Shell Cross-City Trail. Set along the Cape Fear River offers its residents double the water fun and sports options. The UNC-Wilmington and Cape Fear Community College emanate a youthful vibe into the wonderful and quaint downtown area. Set among the beautiful natural scenery, the town will make one want to stick around for the rest of their lives, while for more adventures, the Wrightsville Beach and the renowned Figure 8 Island are just a short drive away. The town also comes with a varied estate market, from starter homes in a popular neighborhood to a condo at the beach to a Colonial-era house in the city’s historic district.

Winston-Salem

Aerial view of downtown Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Aerial view of downtown Winston-Salem, North Carolina. 

Part of the “Triad” and home to Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem comprises a thriving economy hub of college students, professionals, and families. It is known as a progressive close-bounded community with plenty of cultures, natural beauty, and a vibrant downtown with lots of family-owned restaurants and multiple museums. The suburban feel, family-friendly vibe, and dedication to arts and culture turn many visitors into residents. The fifth-largest city and centrally set in the state, Winston-Salem offers easy access to Charlotte and Greensboro, while the trips to the mountains can be made in a breeze for a weekend getaway. With a rich history dating back to the 1700s as a tobacco and furniture-making town, it is now widely known for its wines, with almost 40 wineries in the vicinity. One can also access the great outdoors from the doorstep with several hiking trails, parks, golf courses, and the scenic Piedmont Quarry. According to U.S. News & World Reports, the town’s great liveability is due to accessibility, quality, and quantity of services at a fair price, while the low cost of living and affordable housing ensure a worry-free residency where one can spend money on the desired things.

Experiencing a boom in population, these locales are brimful with local culture and natural opportunities at a fair cost of living. By continuing to evolve, they comprise a perfect new home for anyone at a milestone in life or looking to start a new one, from young professionals, to first-time home buyers, to families and retirees.

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