15 Best Places to Live in North Carolina

Written by Darren Griffiths
Updated on
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With a population of slightly more than 10 million, North Carolina is the 9th largest state in the U.S. by population. This is the birthplace of Pepsi, Krispy Kreme and Cheerwine, and as far as living goes, it is as good a state as it gets.

The weather is mild and the residents enjoy all four distinct seasons in their full splendour. The state has a diverse range of geographical features that make it a feast for the outdoor lover. To the west lies its spectacular mountains, with the Piedmont occupying the middle, and the east covered by the coastal plains.

NC is incredibly diverse, ethnically and economically speaking, which makes it a great place to call home. And that’s before you consider the high quality of life prevalent across the state, with job opportunities aplenty.

The famous Research Triangle Park, an area traversing Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill, is a big contributor of many jobs. More than 200 companies are based here, including the likes of RTI International, IBM, Cisco, Johnson & Johnson, Syngenta and GlaxoSmithKline.

The Old North State also has some of the best colleges in America, with Duke ranking among the top five schools in the country. Other notable options include the University of North Carolina (the oldest university in the United States) and Elon University.

Throw in a booming art and culture scene, an incredibly pleasant people, and a warm and hospitable southern charm, and it’s easy to see why North Carolina lives up to its motto which means “to be rather than to seem”.

If you are looking for a nice place to settle down, here are the 15 best places to live in North Carolina you definitely need to think about.

1. Morrisville

Morrisville, North CarolinaSource: ying / shutterstock

The Niche 2017 Best Places to Live in North Carolina named Morrisville the best place to live in the Tar Heel State, and fifth best in the country.

The town of almost 22,000 residents ranked favourably in the areas of public schools, job availability and ethnic and economic diversity, all of which were given an A+ score.

You might be curious to know the local income levels given such a strong rating in the jobs category.

Median household income stands at $91,206, and it is not surprising the residents are so well catered for in terms of restaurant and shopping options. The high spending power has seen everyone from McDonalds to Walmart pitch tent in this Raleigh suburb based in Wake County.

2. Cary

Cary, North CarolinaSource: AlexLinck / shutterstock

Cary is another suburb of Raleigh located just outside the capital and the Research Triangle. It regularly features on many best places to live in America lists, among them best place to raise a family and the best place to retire.

In 2017, the town of 151,200 residents was named the second best place to live in North Carolina by Niche.

The favourable ranking was as a result of high scores in categories such as public schools, jobs, diversity, commute time, outdoor activities and nightlife, all ranked A and above.

Cary maintains a small-town vibe with all the amenities of a large city. Its economy is as healthy as it can get, with families taking home an average $91,579.

What will strike you about Cary is that it is a town that places high value in cleanliness and green living. There are 36 greenway trails in the area, ideal for all kinds of recreation activities.

3. Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill, North CarolinaSource: LEE SNIDER PHOTO IMAGES / shutterstock
Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill is a town located in Orange County near Raleigh. The town of 58,800 residents is also part of the famed Research Triangle, and if education is one of your priorities when choosing a place to settle in North Carolina, this should be one of the top places to consider.

The public education system is stellar, scoring A+ on Niche which ranked Chapel Hill the third best place to live in the Tar Heel State. It is here that you will also find the oldest university in America, the University of North Carolina, home of the Carolina Tar Heels.

Chapel Hill has it all going for it, but with homes averaging $385,100, this is an indicator that the cost of living is higher compared to other nice places – Morrisville and Cary, for example.

Outdoor recreation activities comprising multiple beaches and the renowned Blue Ridge Mountains are some of Chapel Hill’s attractions, with others including performing arts and a great music scene.

4. Wake Forest

Wake Forest, North CarolinaSource: maxi_kore / shutterstock
Wake Forest

Wake Forest is a suburb in Wake County located just north of the state capital. The town of 34,786 residents was the original home of Wake Forest University prior to the university’s relocation to Winston-Salem.

As with most places on this list, the median annual income for a family in Wake Forest is considerably high, amounting to $80,978.

The average price of a single-family home is $267,300, which falls on the high end of the spectrum in a state where the going price for a four-bedroom mansion is $273,000, according to figures from Zillow.

That’s right, Wake Forest is even more expensive than the capital itself.

Nonetheless, most are happy to trade the cost for the perks, and more so families looking for excellent schools, a safe and beautifully diverse neighbourhood and friendly people known for their Southern charm.

5. Raleigh

RaleighSource: John_T / shutterstock

The City of Oaks is a good place to stay for anyone who can’t thrive without the endless bustle of a big city.

The capital of North Carolina is generally considered a nice place to live, and families and young professionals will particularly take to it.

The big city is part of the Research Triangle, a trio of cities that also include Chapel Hill and Durham, where you will find some of the best universities in the country. A good number of the locals ply their trade in the local school system and nearby colleges due to the presence of many nice schools around these parts.

The 432,500 residents of the capital enjoy a low cost of living, going by big city standards, as the median home value of $208,800 can get you a nice three- or four-bedroom single-family home depending on the neighbourhood.

Entertainment options will have you spoilt for choice, with a thriving nightlife and plenty of outdoor attractions to keep the diverse peoples of this very welcoming town happy.

6. Waxhaw

Waxhaw, North CarolinaSource: WashuOtaku / Flickr

Waxhaw is a suburb of Charlotte and one of the fastest growing places in the state. With a population of 11,600 people, the little town located in Union County is just a few miles from the state’s border with South Carolina.

Waxhaw ranks highly when it comes to education and family friendliness, although cost of living is a tad high compared to the rest of the state, with median home value sitting at $259,500.

Then again, you cannot have your cake and eat it at the same time. There is always a price to pay for living in an area widely considered among the best places to stay in the state. On the flipside, households earn quite a lot, taking home an impressive $84,294 on average.

Waxhaw has a historic downtown featuring an assortment of restored brick buildings, some of which have been standing in the area since the late 1800s. The old district is included on the National Register of Historic Places.

7. Apex

Apex, North CarolinaSource: LEE SNIDER PHOTO IMAGES / shutterstock

Named No.4 best place to live in NC by Niche, you will often find Apex jostling for the Number 1 spot.

Indeed, TIME’s Money Magazine named it the best place to live in America in 2015, and the Raleigh suburb has everything you would expect from a town of such esteemed ranking.

The young families making up part of the 42,200 population are served by top-notch schools in the area, a charming downtown and enjoy a fantastic community spirit.

Apex has a quality of life that is second to none, and this is largely due to the high-paying jobs in the tech industry. Median household income is $90,654, and this is one of those places where unemployment isn’t much of an issue.

The cost of living in Apex is a bit high compared to the state average, and a three-bedroom home will cost you $265,000 on average. But that is nothing when you consider a similar house in Silicon Valley would set you back more than $1 million.

Admirably, Apex has managed to maintain a close-knit vibe even with many of its residents being out-of-towners. The community always comes together for events such as a weekly farmers market and an annual jazz festival.

8. Harrisburg

Harrisburg, North CarolinaSource: James Willamor / Wikimedia

Harrisburg is a community in Charlotte situated on the I-485 Outer Loop. 14,000 people call it home, 34% of whom moved here between 2000 and 2015, technically making it one of the fastest growing areas in the Tar Heel State.

Like all suburbs on this list, Harrisburg ranks highly on education, crime rate, income prosperity and family friendliness – a perfect mix that easily makes it one of the most desirable areas in North Carolina.

The cost of living is extremely sustainable on the high income levels of $82,628 per household per annum, with rent prices averaging $1,274. Median home value sits at $228,400.

As far as entertainment goes, the nightlife is just about okay, although it is in the outdoor activities category that this beautiful town in Cabarrus County really shines.

9. Stallings

Stallings, North CarolinaSource: Charlotte Pro Roofing / Flickr

Stallings is a town located just outside of Charlotte, with an old-school Southern charm despite the fact that it’s close enough to big city attractions.

There is a lot to do here, including performing arts centres, museums and a pulsating food scene, with numerous other options in the nearby towns.

This makes the town of 15,000 people the perfect spot for those who want to be close to the action while also maintaining their own space.

Stallings is the kind of place you can expect outdoor movies on summer weekend nights, and the annual Stallings Fest has something for both the young and old to enjoy. For free.

Homes average $215,700, and the area boasts some quality schools and low unemployment rate.

A strong contender for one of the safest towns in the state, it is not surprising that Stallings was ranked position 46 on the 2015 best places to live in America by TIME.

10. Winston-Salem

Winston-Salem, North CarolinaSource: Sean Pavone / shutterstock

Winston-Salem is the fourth biggest city in the Old North State, with 236,642 people calling the city home.

Located in Forsyth County, Winston-Salem is a town with a rich history that stretches back to the 1750s. It has strong ties with two industries in particular: furniture making and the tobacco industry.

But Winston-Salem also remains a favourite destination for wine lovers, given the abundance of wineries in the town and its surrounding areas, which number more than 35.

But perhaps what will impress you most about Winston-Salem as a potential dweller is its low cost of living. Homes fetch at an average $141,100 (that’s enough to get you a three-bedroom single-family home) while rent prices are at an affordable $724.

The crime rate in Winston-Salem is wanting, but overall, it is a nice neighbourhood for families, with 12 golf courses and 75 parks that guarantee recreation options.

11. Asheville

Asheville, North CarolinaSource: Derek Olson Photography / shutterstock

Asheville is one of the most breathtaking places in the state of North Carolina. With a population of 86,800, the Buncombe County town is a hotspot for nature lovers who flock here for its scenic vistas.

It sits in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and if a Bohemian vibe sounds like your kind of thing, you can’t do better than Asheville.

This one-of-a-kind city is famous for its breweries and beer (it won the Beer City, USA title for four years running, from 2009), and the mountain waters are credited for the excellent beers.

Asheville also boasts the enviable title of only city to repay the federal debt from the Great Depression. This stability has seen its focus shift not on putting up new, glamorous constructions, but rather on preserving its historic downtown area.

It really is a beautiful place, Asheville, and a home here will cost you $199,800 on average.

12. Marvin

Marvin, North CarolinaSource: mojo3120 / Flickr

Marvin is a small suburb of Charlotte located in Union County. It has a population of only 6,000 people, a small clique of people who put up with the highest cost of living in the entire state.

To put this another way, Marvin is the least affordable town in North Carolina.

The median home value is $571,000, and rent prices would give New York City a run for its money, sitting at $3,029 on average. On the upside, though, that’s not the price of an apartment but a three-bedroom single-family home.

The small town may sound costly, but given households bring in a whopping $181,452 annually on average (more than triple the national average), that’s nothing.

If you can afford it, you might as well revel in the knowledge that you cannot find a better place to raise a family in North Carolina.

13. Holly Springs

Holly Springs, North Carolina on MapSource: sevenMaps7 / shutterstock
Holly Springs

Crossing back to Wake County in Raleigh, Holly Springs makes an entry into our list of best places to live in North Carolina for several reasons.

The town of 28,640 residents has burgeoned in recent years, with the population tripling between the years 2000 and 2015.

Holly Springs is part of the Triangle which explains the massive growth, as many flock to the area in search of high-paying jobs. Well-paying indeed – the median household income is pretty high ($94,452), one of the highest for a municipality in the state.

But what makes the deal sweeter is that the cost of living in Holly Springs remains desirably low. What’s also noticeably low is the rate of crime, so low it’s almost non-existent.

It is just the perfect place to call home, with a small town feel that doesn’t sacrifice the city.

14. Wesley Chapel

Wesley Chapel, North CarolinaSource: www.carolinasmalltownliving.com
Wesley Chapel

Wesley Chapel is located in Union County, less than 10 miles from Waxhaw.

It is a fairly new neighbourhood that was incorporated as recently as 1998, fuelled by the rapid growth happening in what was originally a rural area.

Today, 8,000 people call Wesley Chapel home, and this small community is one of those places you know a good deal of the faces by name. But don’t let that fool you into thinking Wesley Chapel is some slow, rural community, because it is anything but.

The area has everything you could find in a big city, not so much as the nightlife options, but the restaurant and shopping scenes.

Starbucks, Harris Teeter, Hickory Tavern and Target have all set up camp here, just to mention but a few examples. This is a straight giveaway that there are some well-heeled folks around this neck of the woods.

There are.

Families take home fat pay checks around the range of $106,406 per annum, high salaries which help cover the high cost of living in the area. But that high cost of living comes with a guarantee of some excellent public schools and a crime that is almost unheard of.

15. Mills River

Mills River, North CarolinaSource: www.beverly-hanks.com
Mills River

Rounding off our list of best places to live in North Carolina is Mills River, a small community of 7,000 people located in Henderson County.

This is a quintessential rural community, about 20 minutes from downtown Asheville. Mills River is a long established farming community, a productive one at that, which has led to the area being christened the “fertile crescent”.

It has since grown from the small rural community it once was, but the picturesque area has managed to remain affordable while maintaining a strong sense of community.

Rent averages $688 and the median home value is $216,200. The area is served by a strong education system and crime rate is as low as you could ever wish it to be: there are barely any reported incidences.

It’s a great place to call home.


15 Best Places to Live in North Carolina:

  • Morrisville
  • Cary
  • Chapel Hill
  • Wake Forest
  • Raleigh
  • Waxhaw
  • Apex
  • Harrisburg
  • Stallings
  • Winston-Salem
  • Asheville
  • Marvin
  • Holly Springs
  • Wesley Chapel
  • Mills River