Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live in North Carolina? Are you considering moving but don’t know the best, most affordable, or family-oriented places to live in NC? You’re in the right spot! North Carolina has three main regions: the mountains, the Piedmont, and the coastal plain. Each one is vastly different, but North Carolina has amazing things to offer from the mountains to the coast. So, without further ado, here are the nine best places to live in North Carolina by region!
Looking for a welcoming, tight-knit community? Look no further! Banner Elk has that small-town feel, while still being close to some of the most popular places in the North Carolina mountains. It has a sort of retreat feeling, where the world stands still for a moment, and you want to sip hot chocolate in a cabin, or toast marshmallows around a fire.
It’s only ten minutes away from Beech and Sugar Mountains, the best places to ski in North Carolina. If you’re in the mood to hike, just half an hour away is Grandfather Mountain, which is home to the infamous Mile High Swinging Bridge.
The cost of living in Banner Elk is 11.6% lower than the national average, making it both a great and affordable place to live! While there aren’t any chain retail stores around, many small local businesses exist. Banner Elk is one of the best places for families to live in NC!
Asheville may be North Carolina’s biggest mountain town, but you will still find yourself welcomed by the wonderful people here. Home to the NC Arboretum, the famous Biltmore Estate, and four main entrances to the Blue Ridge Parkway, there’s plenty to do around Asheville! It is known for having some of the best breweries in the Western part of the state, including New Belgium Brewing Company, Highland Brewing Company, and One World Brewing.
Another great thing about Asheville is its proximity. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is about an hour away, and it is close to all three districts of the Pisgah National Forest.
The cost of living in Asheville is a little higher than the state and national average, but with all Asheville has to offer, it is worth it! This is definitely one of the best places to live in North Carolina.
Charlotte, also known as the Queen City, is one of the biggest cities in North Carolina, but it still has that feeling of southern hospitality. Even amid the bustling city, people will hold the door for you, smile, and make time for small talk at the grocery store.
With art museums, galleries, and murals on almost every corner, it is the perfect place for creative minds and art lovers. It has an amazing balance; everything is easily accessible, but it isn’t as overwhelming as a huge city.
It is home to the Carolina Panthers football team, as well as the NASCAR Hall of Fame. There are great places to eat and shop, as well as many concert venues and areas for entertainment. You’ll never run out of things to do in Charlotte!
If you’re looking for a great family-oriented place, Carowinds is the perfect choice. The Fury 325, which is the fifth tallest roller coaster in the world, is located there on the border of North and South Carolina. The park has a sign where you can take a picture with one foot on either side of the border, a perfect photo op!
The cost of living is a little high in Charlotte, resting at 3.5% above the national average. But, the education, environment, and vast range of job opportunities, make Charlotte worth the extra cost.
Chapel Hill is most known for UNC, the oldest college in the state. From the bustling nightlife to the college sports, there is always something to do.
One thing you should know before moving to North Carolina is the three main college rivalries: State, Duke, and Chapel Hill– specifically their basketball teams. Chapel Hill’s team, the Tar Heels, is one of the best basketball teams in the country.
Aside from the college, it has both an incredible job and housing market, but beware of the haunted Gimghoul Castle! Chapel Hill is known for being a foodie town, with many great local options. Just two hours from both the mountains and the beach, it is the ideal spot if you love day trips!
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Durham is home to the prestigious Duke University, one of the largest research universities in the state. With a 5.9% acceptance rate, it is almost as hard to get into as Harvard.
Their basketball team, the Blue Devils, is part of the state basketball rivalry. Choose your team wisely–this rivalry has been known to break up even the strongest of friendships.
Durham is also known for its minor league baseball team, the Durham Bulls. Their iconic mascot, Wool E. Bull, keeps the fans coming back. If you’re lucky, he may challenge you to a race between innings!
Additionally, if you’re into the arts, there is always something going on at the Durham Performing Arts Center. They host touring Broadway shows, as well as many kid-friendly events.
Durham also has a rich local history dating back to before European colonization. It is believed that Durham exists where the ancient Native American village, Adshusheer once stood. The Great Indian Trading Path goes through Durham, and Native Americans are largely responsible for shaping the city into what it is today.
There are so many great things about Raleigh. The downtown area is easily navigable by walking, but, if you prefer, there are rental scooters and bikes available on almost every corner. There are lots of great dining options, and with the ever-growing size of Wake County, there are lots of education and job opportunities, making it one of the best places to live in NC for families!
Even downtown has kid-friendly options, a few favorites being Moore’s Square, Marbles Kids Museum, and Pullen Park. If you’re a sports fan, you can enjoy the NC State games, (the superior team in the rivalry, go pack!), or a Carolina Hurricanes hockey game.
Another reason Raleigh is one of the best places to live in North Carolina is that you won’t have to leave town for concerts, since many artists come to the PNC Arena. And, since you’re saving on travel, go ahead and get the floor seats!
An article about the best places to live in North Carolina wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Wilmington! There are two beaches close to downtown: Wrightsville and Carolina Beach. If you want to ride the Ferris Wheel, shop on the boardwalk, or get a donut from the infamous Britt’s Donuts, Carolina Beach is for you. If you’re looking to spend most of your time in the ocean, the beautifully clear water at Wrightsville will be more your speed. And, if you’re looking to surf, the Crystal Pier at Wrightsville Beach is a popular spot among locals.
The Riverwalk in downtown Wilmington is one of the best attractions. There are restaurants and ice cream shops along it, and you can eat outside while having an amazing view of the Cape Fear River. Some companies do daily cruises on the river, and there are many opportunities to learn about Wilmington’s history. But be warned… some of it is haunted.
The best thing about Wilmington is the focus on nature. There are many certified green restaurants, walking trails, and two major bike paths. There are lots of places to get fresh produce, such as Bigger’s Market, or the pop-up farmer’s markets.
The weather is mostly always warm, with just a few cold months from January to March. In Wilmington, you can easily see a seventy-degree day on Christmas! With all that charm, it’s no wonder families consider this one of the best places to live in NC.
Not too far from Wilmington lies Southport, one of the best places to retire in NC. Located at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, it is a quieter port town that takes things at a slower rate. There are many shops in the area, including a Christmas shop that is open year-round.
If you ever get tired of the slower pace in Southport, Wilmington is only a ferry ride away. Many people choose to retire in Southport because it is close to Wilmington, while still having that small-town, quiet feel to it.
The Outer Banks
And last, but not least, the Outer Banks. The Outer Banks are a line of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina. They are known for the slower, quieter place of life, and their rich history.
A big piece of that history takes place in Kitty Hawk, where Wilbur and Orville Wright flew the first plane. You can visit the Wright Brothers Memorial, and see the exact distance their prototypes traveled through the air.
Another draw is Roanoke Island, famously named after the lost colony. But the history doesn’t stop there. Legend has it the famous pirate Blackbeard hid out on Ocracoke Island–and his treasure may still be buried somewhere on the island. Maybe you’ll see John B. and the Pogues looking for it too.
Aside from the history, one of the unique things about the Outer Banks is the herds of wild horses! The wild Spanish Mustang can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Every inch of the Outer Banks is covered in rich history, and there is nowhere else in North Carolina quite like it.
North Carolina is a great place for families, students, singles, and retirees to live! Each region is different, which means there’s something for everyone! Whether you’re looking for a booming job market, to live closer to nature, or to raise a family, NC is a great place for you!
Hannah Boland is an undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She is studying writing and criminology with plans to go into a Journalism career. In her free time she enjoys surfing, kayaking, and being out in nature.