15 Best Places to Live in North Carolina

Written by Darren Griffiths
Updated on
Our travel recommendations are based on our personal experiences and research, written by locals and travel experts with deep familiarity with the destination. When you book a hotel or tour that we link to, we may earn a commission.

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; as far as living goes, it is as good a state as it gets.

The weather is mild, and the residents enjoy all four seasons in full splendor. 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 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, significantly contributes to many jobs. More than 200 companies are based here, including 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, incredibly pleasant people, and a warm and hospitable southern charm, and it’s easy to see why North Carolina lives up to its motto, “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 need to think about.

1. Morrisville

Morrisville, North CarolinaSource: ying / shutterstock

Coming in first on our list as one of the best places to live in North Carolina is the town of Morrisville. Situated in Wake County, Morrisville is known for having low crime rates, excellent schools, affordable cost of living, and many job opportunities for its residents.

Being a suburb of Raleigh, Morrisville residents are conveniently close to its state capital and have a more laid-back lifestyle when compared to other larger cities. As you stroll around the community, you’ll notice the quiet streets and the abundance of family-friendly amenities.

Also known for being a diverse town and having a well-educated population, Morrisville remains one of the best places to live in North Carolina and is a great place to call home.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Morrisville are:

  • Lake Crabtree County Park
  • Triangle Rockclub Morrisville
  • Park West Village
  • Western Wake Farmers Market
  • Carpenter Wine Cellar
  • North Carolina Museum of Art

2. Cary

Cary, North CarolinaSource: AlexLinck / shutterstock

Cary is known as one of the fastest-growing cities in the state and is one of the best places to live in North Carolina. Cary has plenty of restaurants., some of the best shopping centers, great job opportunities, and plenty of entertainment opportunities for its residents.

Money magazine even named it one of the best places to live in the country! Cary is known for being a top soccer town, hosting the North Carolina Football Club and North Carolina Courage soccer teams.

If you’re a foodie, don’t worry, Cary has well over two hundred dining options for its residents. From bakeries to Neopolitan-style pizza shops, there’s no type of food you won’t find in Cary. With its small-town atmosphere and close distance to Raleigh, Cary provides its residents with plenty of recreational opportunities, sports, and programs. If you’ve been looking for a town with abundant natural beauty, Cary is a great place to call home.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Cary are:

  • Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve
  • Koka Booth Amphitheater
  • Bond Brothers Beer Company
  • Apex Community Park
  • Phillips Farm
  • Downtown Cary Park

3. Chapel Hill

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

If you’ve been considering moving to Chapel Hill, you know why it remains one of the best places to live in North Carolina. Chapel Hill offers its residents a suburban feel and is a great place to live, filled with plenty of restaurants, coffee shops, and nature parks.

Chapel Hill is known as the home of the University of North Carolina, a college that hosts the state’s basketball team. The University of North Carolina is known for being the first public university in the country and has the oldest athletic collegiate team in North Carolina. You won’t be disappointed if you’re moving to North Carolina for its education!

In addition, Chapel Hill also has plenty of job opportunities, technical firms, and startup agencies.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best places to live in Chapel Hill are:

  • North Carolina Botanical Garden
  • Ackland Art Museum
  • Morehead Planetarium and Science Center
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Carolina Basketball Museum
  • Coker Arboretum
  • Chapel Hill Public Library

4. Wake Forest

Wake Forest, North CarolinaSource: maxi_kore / shutterstock
Wake Forest

Situated in Wake County, Wake Forest offers its residents a great suburban feel, high quality of life, and quiet neighborhoods, perfect for families and those wishing to retire. Wake Forest is considered one of the best places to live in North Carolina and is known for having a thriving art environment, endless dining options, and many green nature parks.

Wake Forest has the small-town charm that families are looking for when trying to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city. In addition, Wake Forest has a variety of amenities, a vibrant culture, excellent schools, and a very desirable place to call home.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Wake Forest are:

  • White Street Brewing Company
  • Strike & Barrel Bowling Alley
  • Falls Lake State Recreation Area
  • Wake Forest Farmers Market
  • The Cotton Company Art Gallery
  • Wake Forest Downtown
  • Wake Forest Historical Museum

5. Raleigh

RaleighSource: John_T / shutterstock

If you’ve been contemplating a move to Raleigh, you’ll be happy to hear that it ranks among the top as one of the best places to live in North Carolina. Raleigh is known as the City of Oaks for its large amount of Oak Trees and remains one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States.

Raleigh is home to many technical corporations and high-ranking educational institutions and is one of the most unique cities that pleases its residents with modern living.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Raleigh are:

  • North Carolina Museum of Art
  • Marbles Kids Museum
  • Pullen Park
  • North Carolina State Farmers Public Market
  • North Carolina Museum of History
  • Neuse River Trail
  • Morgan Street Food Hall

6. Waxhaw

Waxhaw, North CarolinaSource: WashuOtaku / Flickr

Waxhaw is conveniently located south of Charlotte and is one of the best places to live in North Carolina. It has some of the best golf courses and many nearby attractions, such as amusement parks and walking trails among its city’s parks.

Waxhaw is known for its diverse economy, well-educated population, and abundance of entertainment options. The unemployment rate in Waxhaw sits a little below four percent, sitting below the national average. Its cost of living is also nineteen percent higher than the national average, but considering what’s here, it’s well worth it!

With a population of around twenty thousand and its small-town atmosphere, Waxhaw is desirable, especially among professionals relocating for job opportunities.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Waxhaw are:

  • Waxhaw Escape
  • Museum of the Waxhaws
  • The Dreamchaser’s Brewery
  • Cane Creek Park
  • Museum of the Alphabet
  • Waxhaw Antique Art
  • Waxhaw Farmers Market
  • Waxhaw Park

7. Apex

Apex, North CarolinaSource: LEE SNIDER PHOTO IMAGES / shutterstock

Situated in Wake County, the town of Apex continues to grow and is competing with Raleigh as one of the best places to live in North Carolina. Annually, Apex has a growth rate of around seven percent and is home to around seventy thousand residents, a big jump from its five thousand residents in 1990.

Located in southern Wake County, Apex is close to Cary and Holly Springs and is the center of great job opportunities, shopping centers, and trade. Money Magazine continues to name Apex as one of the best places to live in the country due to its cost of living, job opportunities, excellent schools, festivals, low crime rates, and rich history.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Apex are:

  • North Carolina Museum of Art
  • Apex Community Park
  • Whole Brain Escape
  • Apex Farmers Market
  • Lake Johnson Park
  • Halle Cultural Arts Center
  • Sky Zone Trampoline Park
  • New Hope Valley Railway

8. Harrisburg

Harrisburg, North CarolinaSource: James Willamor / Wikimedia

Known as a small town in Cabarrus County, Harrisburg has a population of around nineteen thousand residents and is one of the best places to live in North Carolina. The town has many amenities, such as excellent schools, nature parks, and public libraries.

Harrisburg has many small businesses, which continue to help its economy thrive. Known for its diverse economy, well-educated population, and entertainment options, Harrisburg continues to stand out among its competing towns.

If you’re relocating to Harrisburg due to its job opportunities, you’ll be happy to know that the average commute time in Harrisburg is only twenty-nine minutes. Not bad if you’re comparing other commute times when traveling to large cities.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Harrisburg are:

  • Pharr Mill Road Park
  • Discovery Place Kids Huntersville
  • Concord Mills
  • Charlotte Motor Speedway
  • Percent Tap House
  • Great Wolf Lodge Water Park
  • Harrisburg Park

9. Stallings

Stallings, North CarolinaSource: Charlotte Pro Roofing / Flickr

Situated in Union County and with a population of around ten thousand residents, Stallings is known for being a community with many activities, amenities, and local parks. Stallins is ranked as one of the best places to live in North Carolina.

One of its top nearby entertainment venues is Charlotte Motor Speedway, perfect for residents who need speed. In addition, Stallings is filled with plenty of shopping centers and restaurants for its residents, so they won’t need to travel far to find what they need.

The unemployment rate in Stallings is around three percent, well below the national average. In addition, the median cost of a home in Stallings is around $410,000, but well worth the cost considering the amenities and land you’ll receive.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Stallings are:

  • Stallings Municipal Park
  • Extreme Ice Center
  • Discovery Place Science
  • Stevens Creek Nature Preserve
  • Chestnut Square Park

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.

In Forsyth County, Winston-Salem has a rich history dating back to the 1750s. It has strong ties with furniture making and the tobacco industry.

But Winston-Salem also remains a favorite 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 an average of $141,100 (enough to get you a three-bedroom single-family home) while rent prices are affordable at $724.

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

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Winston-Salem are:

  • Reynolda House Museum of American Art
  • Old Salem Museums & Gardens
  • Kaleideum North
  • Truist Stadium
  • The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art
  • Salem Lake
  • Hanes Mall
  • Bailey Park

11. Asheville

Asheville, North CarolinaSource: Derek Olson Photography / shutterstock

Asheville is one of the most breathtaking places in North Carolina. With a population of 86,800, Buncombe County 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 the 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 is a beautiful place, Asheville, and a home here will cost you $199,800 on average.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Asheville are:

  • Biltmore Museum
  • Western North Carolina Nature Center
  • Asheville Pinball Museum
  • The North Carolina Arboretum
  • Grovewood Gallery
  • Woolworth Walk

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 (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.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Marvin:

  • Sports Connection Amusement Park
  • Hunter Farm
  • Marvin Efird Park
  • Big Rock Nature Preserve
  • Carolina Thread Trail
  • Elon Recreation Center
  • Stone Crest at Piper Glen

13. Holly Springs

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

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

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

Holly Springs is part of the Triangle, which explains the massive growth, as many flock to the area for 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. The crime rate’s also noticeably low, so low it’s almost non-existent.

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

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Holly Springs are:

  • Bass Lake Park
  • My Way Tavern
  • Pullen Park
  • Holly Springs Farmers Market
  • North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
  • Veterans Park
  • Holly Springs Cultural Center

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 relatively new neighborhood 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, to mention 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 paychecks 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 an almost unheard-of crime.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in or near Wesley Chapel are:

  • NASCAR Hall of Fame
  • Greco Fresh Grille
  • Dogwood Park
  • The Village Common Shopping Center
  • Old Barn Farm

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 remained 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 robust education system, and the 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.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Mills River:

  • Wagon Wheel Antiques
  • Bold Rock Mills River Cidery
  • Saddle Up Trail Rides
  • Burning Blush Brewery
  • Jump Off Rock
  • Looking Glass Falls
  • Mills River Brewing Company
  • Mills River Dog Park


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