From the sandy dunes and stunning ocean views of the Outer Banks to the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina's natural beauty is awe-inspiring. But there's more to the Tar Heel State than meets the eye.
In July 2022, North Carolina was ranked as America's top state for business. Add to the mix access to good education — the state is home to several top-rated universities — excellent job prospects, a high quality of life that comes at an affordable price, mild weather year-round, and it's no wonder North Carolina has attracted about 100,000 new out-of-state residents in 2022 alone.
And while many newcomers settle in the state's large metro areas such as Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina is also home to smaller communities that offer the perfect work-life balance.With that in mind, here are eight of the best places to live in North Carolina, according to real estate experts.
Charlotte's ideal location — about three hours from the lush Blue Ridge Mountains and less than four from the picture-perfect beaches of North and South Carolina — is certainly a draw for newcomers to this bustling urban area. As American Airlines' second-largest hub, the city's Douglas International Airport is an easy, direct flight from major domestic and international destinations.
Of course, Charlotte, which is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, has plenty more to offer those who settle in here — namely, a rich cultural scene with Broadway shows, ballet performances, musicals, museums, and art galleries; world-class sports facilities and teams; hundreds of parks and green spaces; and excellent public education.
"Job creation, a low cost of living, a great climate, and friendly people have created a strong housing market with low inventory," Catharine Pappas, VP of relocation at Dickens Mitchener, told Travel + Leisure. In fact, Zillow named Charlotte the hottest real estate market in 2023 for its home value growth and high number of homeowners.
"The calling card that makes life in western North Carolina so special is the way that natural adventures live side by side with a multifaceted, award-winning cultural scene," said Josh Smith, North Carolina native and broker at Walnut Cove Realty of Allen Tate/Beverly-Hanks. "You can hike, bike, or hunt for hidden waterfalls along the Blue Ridge Parkway and — on the very same day — check out a Grammy-winning musician or dine in one of the best restaurants in the country."
And Asheville, surrounded by spectacular mountain vistas, is the perfect option for those seeking the convenience of city amenities blended with a casual, laid-back lifestyle. The mild climate, thriving job market (especially for hospitality and health care professionals), renowned music scene, and easy access to outdoor recreation have transformed the city into a desirable option for newcomers.
Smith also explained that Asheville's real estate market tends to resist nationwide stock market volatility and instability because the city is surrounded by protected land, which restricts new developments, keeping real estate demand strong.
"Asheville's real estate market is very diverse, and we have homes that will fit almost everyone's budget. There are adorable cozy bungalows around $300,000 and magnificent $9 million estates all located within the city limits," said Leslie Young of Premier Sotheby's International Realty.
Wilmington, sandwiched between the Cape Fear River and Atlantic Ocean, is a dream home destination for water sports enthusiasts.
"After all, who doesn't mind living near the beach," said Lake Slacum, vice president at Intracoastal Realty, adding that among the many draws of Wilmington are also its temperate climate, coastal lifestyle, and "unmistakable Southern charm."
"From horse-drawn carriage tours in the quaint historic district to its proximity to golf courses and surrounding beach communities, the area has a lot to offer," he noted.
Newcomers also have a lot of choices when it comes to their home base. With a median home value of $376,635, marking a roughly 10 percent increase since last year, according to Zillow, the Wilmington real estate market remains fairly affordable.
Landfall, a large gated community near Wrightsville Beach with golf courses, tennis courts, and a country club, is popular with those seeking resort-style amenities. Wilmington's Midtown area, Slacum explained, offers new construction neighborhoods and districts with well-established colonial-style homes such as South Oleander and Forest Hills.
Durham, together with neighboring Raleigh and Chapel Hill, makes up the so-called Research Triangle in North Carolina, home to the state's most prestigious universities (Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University). This not only attracts tens of thousands of students to the area, but it also brings in highly skilled and educated employees. Excellent job prospects, a vibrant entertainment scene, and a seemingly endless list of outdoor pursuits make Durham one of the top spots to relocate to in North Carolina. And the city's real estate market is just as hot.
"In Durham, at the moment, we are finding that the average buyer is seeking a single-family detached home with at least a quarter acre lot, and they're often able to achieve this in the $400,000 to $700,000 range," brokers Giselle Feiger and Aileen Stapleton of Hodge & Kittrell Sotheby's International Realty said in an email, noting that potential homeowners on a tight budget can also find residences under $350,000."Downtown Durham will also have many more luxury condos and townhouses soon, as construction is underway on several developments. These will range from $500,000 to $1,000,000-plus."
And for those not necessarily looking to be at the center of the action, Julian Jahoo of Fonville Morisey at Long & Foster recommends southwest Durham, The Hills at Southpoint, Colvard Farms, and Hope Valley.
"Maida Vale, a luxury gated community with a Mediterranean-style design, is also in southwest Durham, and they're building on the last nine lots right now. In central Durham, the hot neighborhoods are Duke Forest and Forest Hills, and in northern Durham, Croasdaile," she added.
This popular vacation destination, which encompasses several small towns on a chain of barrier islands along the North Carolina coast, is also the perfect spot to raise a family and live year-round.
"The Outer Banks has a small-town feel, close-knit communities, and a mix of residents who were born and raised here, as well as those who wanted to escape city life and move their families to a quieter, safer environment, and those who retired here and are enjoying their next adventure," said Lynn Sherman, who moved to the area from Ohio 20 years ago and is currently a broker with Howard Hanna Outer Banks Realty. "Because we have a good mix of locals and 'new locals,' the [destination] is rich with restaurants and shops that embody classic Outer Banks with new ideas and flavors brought in from those outside the area."
Of course, with 100 miles of shoreline, the main draw here remains the beach and laid-back lifestyle it affords its residents.
Sherman said that as the COVID-19-led buying frenzy has subsided, now is a great time to buy property here. Luckily, new residents have a lot of options regarding their dream neighborhood.
"Oceanside in Kitty Hawk is hot right now," she explained. "This is an older section that's undergoing a lot of renovation. Homes range from classic, three-bedroom beach boxes to larger, eight-bedroom, three-level reverse floor plan homes."
Also popular is Duck, a quaint, dog-friendly town with charming shops and a great music scene.
Between 2015 and 2020, more than 60 people moved to North Carolina's capital each day, making it the second-fastest growing metro area in the country. So, what is life like in the City of Oaks? Its central location, which ensures easy access to North Carolina's mountains and beaches, plays a major role in its residents' lives.
"The business climate is superb; our economy is robust and resilient, diversified across health care, tech, banking, and education," said Van Fletcher, a broker with Allen Tate Realtors and a Raleigh resident, adding that the city's proximity to Duke University Hospital and UNC Medical Center contribute to its excellent health care system. Property taxes and cost of living also remain low in Raleigh, especially compared to other major metro areas along the East Coast.
Fletcher added, "The hottest neighborhoods tend to be located near work and retail centers, such as Raleigh's downtown and midtown areas, as well as communities in close proximity to the Triangle's nearly complete 'Outer Loop,' [a major 69-mile highway expansion] that encircles Raleigh's perimeter and neighboring towns."
This dynamic city attracts students and young professionals with its top colleges, including Wake Forest University and University of North Carolina School of the Arts; affordable cost of living; stable job market (unemployment was at 3.6 percent in January 2023); excellent health care facilities; and many recreational activities such as hiking, kayaking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. The city is also a 1.5-hour drive from scenic Yadkin Valley, home to dozens of wineries.
"Despite the growth, Winston-Salem has been able to maintain its Southern charm with quiet streets gently rolling through established neighborhoods with beautiful large trees that create a small-town feel," Pam Matthews, a broker with Allen Tate Realtors, told T+L. "Sherwood Forest, Buena Vista, and Ardmore are some of the premier urban areas located near the heart of downtown, offering convenience and peaceful, scenic streets."
Nicknamed the "Southern Part of Heaven," Chapel Hill is the smallest of the three major destinations in North Carolina’s Research Triangle. However, this college town of a little more than 60,000 is bustling with creative energy. It offers top-notch cultural experiences, excellent health care, fantastic weather, and world-class education, thanks to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Or, as Fonville Morisey broker Amy Guskiewicz summed it up for T+L: "You have everything at your fingertips, but none of the big-city traffic."
Options abound when it comes to real estate, too. According to Guskiewicz, Chapel Hill’s market is performing exceptionally well, with the current median home value at $577,881, which marks a roughly five percent appreciation since last year.
“Raleigh again tops our list of best places to live in North Carolina — and our list of the best places to live anywhere in the U.S., as well,” says Bankrate.What is the nicest town to live in North Carolina? ›
“Raleigh again tops our list of best places to live in North Carolina — and our list of the best places to live anywhere in the U.S., as well,” says Bankrate.What are the best cities to live in on coast in North Carolina? ›
- Kitty Hawk.
- Carolina Beach.
- Wrightsville Beach.
- Oak Island.
The Tarheel State offers a coastal lifestyle in the east and more temperate mountain climates. With excellent hospitals, universities and a competitive cost of living, there are many places to live in North Carolina for families, retirees and those looking to make a fresh start.Is Asheville or Charlotte better? ›
Recap of the differences between Asheville and Charlotte
In a nutshell, Asheville is smaller, more expensive, has a higher cost of living, and offers fewer amenities than Charlotte.
The overall chance of becoming the victim of any crime is 1 in 182, and the violent crime rate is 53% lower than the national average, making Rolesville the safest place to live in North Carolina. The median home price in Rolesville is $299,000, making it relatively affordable.
- Roanoke Rapids.
- Mount Airy.
We are talking about Morehead City, which just ranked among the most affordable beach towns in the country to buy a vacation home, according to a survey by Realtor.com.Where to live in North Carolina to avoid hurricanes? ›
While North Carolina often gets hit by hurricanes, Charlotte is located far enough inland to avoid the worst of it. The area is also considered low risk for other dangerous natural disasters, including earthquakes, fires, and tornadoes.
Raleigh ranked the healthiest city in North Carolina and 38th healthiest in the U.S.
All parts of North Carolina have been hit by tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, lightning strikes, snow and ice storms. These natural disasters can cause power outages, property damage and disruption to food and water supplies. Dangerous materials events also may cause you problems.How much money do you need to live comfortably in North Carolina? ›
Average Cost of Living in North Carolina: $43,959 per year.
|Category||Average Annual Per-Capita Cost in North Carolina|
|Housing and Utilities||$7,350|
|Food and Beverages (non-restaurant)||$3,630|
|Gas and Energy Goods||$1,139|
One city in North Carolina snagged a spot on the list. According to the site, Asheville is among the most beautiful cities in America. Full of eclectic charm, this small town is one of the most popular places in the state to visit and is even a great place to explore for those who have called it home for years.Is Asheville NC good for seniors? ›
Asheville, North Carolina has been on the best places to live list as well as best places to retire in the United States. Asheville has good weather, rich culture, education offerings, and ample opportunities to stay physically active. Here are a few reasons why we love Asheville & think it's the #1 place to Retire!Should I move to Charlotte or Raleigh? ›
Raleigh offers a more suburban lifestyle, while Charlotte has more of a city feel. But, whichever city fits your needs, it is essential to remember that no city is perfect. These North Carolina cities' overall growth and development will continue to lure people to North Carolina for years to come.Is Charlotte a good place for seniors? ›
The mild climate of Charlotte is a draw for many seniors. Residents of Charlotte experience four seasons, with cool winters and warm summers. Nestled in the middle of North Carolina's Piedmont region, Charlotte is centrally located between the coast and the Blue Ridge Mountains.What is the poorest town in NC? ›
Of the 405 towns in the state with available data, Scotland Neck ranks as the poorest. The typical Scotland Neck household earns just $15,985 a year, 73.6% less than the statewide median household income. Given the low incomes, it is not surprising that a larger than average share of residents live in poverty.What area in NC has the lowest crime? ›
Even so, North Carolina's overall crime rate of 26.87 sits roughly 20% below South Carolina's, making it the safer option.
Multiple communities in western North Carolina were recently ranked among the 10 most affordable places in the Tar Heel State by SmartAsset. Sawmills, a community in southern Caldwell County just north of Rhodhiss Lake, was named the most affordable place to live in all of North Carolina.
Cost of Living.
|Median Property Value||$320,291||$305,613|
|Median Household Income||$56,642||$54,665|
North Carolina is an attractive state for retirees and its low taxes allow you to stretch your savings. Undiscovered beaches let you enjoy a leisurely coastal retirement without a massive Florida or California price tag. Plus, vibrant cities give you an exciting place to spend your time.Is it cheap to retire in North Carolina? ›
The cost of living in North Carolina is relatively low compared to other US states. This can be attributed to several factors, including a lower-than-average cost of housing. Based on Sperling's Best Places Index, North Carolina is 9% cheaper than the overall national median.Where is the cheapest place to live near the beach? ›
- Deerfield Beach, Florida. For more content like this follow. ...
- Daytona Beach, Florida. Population: 74,437. ...
- Jacksonville, North Carolina. Population: 72,896. ...
- Gulfport, Mississippi. ...
- Port Arthur, Texas. ...
- Pensacola, Florida. ...
- Biloxi, Mississippi. ...
- Atlantic City, New Jersey.
The priciest city in North Carolina is Chapel Hill, where the cost of living is 9% higher compared to the state average and 5% higher than in the rest of the U.S. The cheapest major city in North Carolina is Thomasville, with a cost of living 12% lower below the state average and 15% lower than the national average.Where is tornado Alley in NC? ›
The new-ish Carolina Alley extends from northern Georgia, on a narrow path across South Carolina, and then follows along the path of the I-95 corridor into North Carolina.What part of North Carolina doesn't get tornadoes? ›
The mountainous regions like Piedmont are usually protected. The storm system is usually broken up and weakened. In the eastern part of the state, tornados following thunderstorms are a risk. Tornados injure about 38 North Carolina residents a year.What areas of North Carolina are most likely to be affected by hurricanes? ›
The towns and cities on the Atlantic coastline of North Carolina are most at risk. That means places like the Outer Banks, Cape Hatteras, and other coastal areas are at heightened risk for storm damage. Hurricane Florence, for example, caused devastating destruction in Wrightsville Beach in 2018.Where do most seniors live in NC? ›
Asheville has the highest senior population of any city on this list — 30% of Asheville residents are 60+ years old.
PropertyShark then factored in the number of days a year with clear skies, rainy days, windy days and days with extreme weather, which is temperatures higher than 90º or lower than 32º. Charlotte ranked number one, and Raleigh followed closely behind in second place.
Climate Risks for Cities in North Carolina
The city with the lowest overall risk is Greenville. For heat, Asheville has the lowest risk and Charlotte has the highest risk.
- Basketball is a big deal. ...
- So is barbecue. ...
- The Biltmore Estate is worth a visit. ...
- North Carolina is a tech hub. ...
- The Blue Ridge Parkway will blow you away. ...
- If you like waterfalls you'll like North Carolina. ...
- Higher education plays a big role in the state's economy.
|NC Leading Causes of Death, 2015||Deaths||Rate***|
|2. Heart Disease||18,474||162.4|
|3. Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease||5,221||45.5|
Monthly electric bills are a product of how much electricity you use per month and your electric rate. In North Carolina, the average monthly electric bill for residential customers is $145/month, which is calculated by multiplying the average monthly consumption by the average electric rate: 1,112 kWh * 13 ¢/kWh.Is it cheaper to live in PA or NC? ›
Not only does North Carolina have more affordable homes, but it also has lower tax rates compared to other states, lower rent prices, and cheaper food, groceries, and utilities. In fact, the overall cost of living in North Carolina is about 6% lower than in Pennsylvania.Is car insurance expensive in North Carolina? ›
The average cost of car insurance in North Carolina is significantly lower than the national average. Full coverage insurance — which includes comprehensive, collision and liability coverage — averages $1,275 per year, approximately 23% less than the national average.What is the coolest summer town in North Carolina? ›
Beech Mountain, North Carolina
At 5,506 feet, Beech Mountain tops the list as the coolest town in North Carolina and the highest resort area in eastern North America. While it is a popular destination in the summertime, the town is small and doesn't offer the breadth of things to see as in Highlands and Blowing Rock.
Welcome to America's Favorite Town
With world-class fishing, North Carolina's Crystal Coast is famous for its local seafood. Beaufort is no exception. But the sea is not the only place where our cuisine starts in our historic seaport.
Money Magazine named Cary, North Carolina, the hottest town in the East and one of six Hottest Towns in America.Where do most retirees live in Asheville NC? ›
Walk-to-Town Areas like Black Mountain, Weaverville, and Biltmore Park have become incredibly popular in recent years, especially when the home is within walking distance to a town center. Amenity-filled communities like Biltmore Lake.
In the United States it is generally considered that a senior citizen is anyone of retirement age, or a person that has reached age 62 or older.What is the nicest city to live in North Carolina? ›
“Raleigh again tops our list of best places to live in North Carolina — and our list of the best places to live anywhere in the U.S., as well,” says Bankrate.What are the top states people are moving to NC from? ›
Among the top-sending states, in-migrants from neighboring South Carolina were the most likely to be NC-born (24%) while in-migrants from New York (6%) were the least likely to be NC-born. Among the top-sending countries in 2019, in-migrants from Mexico (25%) and South Korea (24%) were the most likely to be NC-born.Where do elderly prefer to live? ›
Many older adults, of course, do move to planned senior housing—communities for “active seniors, ” independent living, assisted living, nursing homes, or continuing care communities that combine all of the above. Some sit behind walls and guardhouses.Where is the cheapest place for seniors to live? ›
- Tulsa, Oklahoma. ...
- Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. ...
- Sioux Falls, South Dakota. ...
- Chattanooga, Tennessee. ...
- Sherman, Texas. Cost of living for retirees: 13.0% below U.S. average. ...
- St. George, Utah. ...
- Roanoke, Virginia. Cost of living for retirees: 8.7% below U.S. average. ...
- Spokane, Washington.
- Sarasota, Florida.
- Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
- San Antonio, Texas.
- Grand Rapids, Michigan.
- El Paso, Texas.
- McAllen, Texas.
- Daytona Beach, Florida.
- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Cost of Living
This is slightly below the national average and makes both states highly affordable. However, with home prices middling close to $181k, South Carolina's housing market is marginally cheaper than North Carolina's. This gives South Carolina a hairline win in terms of affordability.
Climate & Weather
They are both mild, comfortable places to live. Since South Carolina is closer to the equator, it has a bit warmer temperatures than North Carolina and is likely more ideal for going to the beach year-round. However, North Carolina has a more seasonal climate.
Where Is the Best Place to Retire in North Carolina? Asheville ranks #1 as the best place to retire in North Carolina for the size of its retirement community, its excellent health care, and its relatively low tax burden.Does NC tax Social Security? ›
Social Security income in North Carolina is not taxed. However, withdrawals from retirement accounts are fully taxed. Additionally, pension incomes are fully taxed.
North Carolina is an attractive state for retirees and its low taxes allow you to stretch your savings. Undiscovered beaches let you enjoy a leisurely coastal retirement without a massive Florida or California price tag. Plus, vibrant cities give you an exciting place to spend your time.Is North Carolina tax-friendly for retirees? ›
North Carolina is a moderately tax-friendly state for retirees. If you receive social security benefits, you won't pay income taxes on this income. However, other retirement incomes such as pension and retirement plan distributions are taxed at a flat income tax rate of 5.25%. The state does not levy estate taxes.What is not taxed in NC? ›
Electricity, Fuel and Natural Gas, Sales and Use Tax Exemption. Retail sales, as well as the use, storage or consumption of electricity, fuel and piped natural gas sold to a manufacturer are exempt from sales and use tax for use in a manufacturing operation.Are North Carolina taxes high? ›
North Carolina has a 4.75 percent state sales tax rate, a max local sales tax rate of 2.75 percent, and an average combined state and local sales tax rate of 6.99 percent. North Carolina's tax system ranks 10th overall on our 2023 State Business Tax Climate Index.