FREE Real Estate Livestream—Register Now

Skip to Main Content
Home Buying

Best Places to Live in North Carolina

Want vibrant cities, down-home vibes and super cool jobs? Head to North Carolina!

This state is hoppin’. It’s got old-fashioned southern charm and modern business sense. And with its sports teams, historic sites, art scene and foodie culture (mmm, barbecue), North Carolina’s got something for everyone.

Whether you want to live in a cutting-edge city or you’re looking for a small town to raise your family in, we’ll show you nine of the best places to live in North Carolina.

9 Best Places to Live in North Carolina

First, let’s clear something up: What makes a city the best place to live depends on what you’re looking for. So be sure to think about what you need and want in a new city.

The great thing is, North Carolina’s got three unique geographic areas: the mountains, coastal plains and Piedmont. So if you love the beach, enjoy fresh mountain air, or want the best of both worlds, you can narrow down your search pretty easily.

All of that sounding good? We know—it’s a tough choice! We’ll help you compare the top places to live in North Carolina so you can better decide what’s right for you.

north carolina geographic areas

1. Raleigh

The state capital is the place to be for professionals and people who want to change the world. It’s the second-highest paying city on our list and it’s part of The Triangle, three cities that are famous for scientific research. It’s a growing tech hub—even Apple is moving in.1 And the economy survived the pandemic in surprisingly good shape.2

house icon

Find expert agents to help you buy your home in North Carolina.

Raleigh has awesome food, art and music scenes. So you can get dinner with friends, hit up a local gallery, and then hop over to a music festival for some rock, bluegrass or even opera. You can also catch a pro hockey game or check out the local museums. (That’ll take a while—there are tons of them.) Or visit the Historic Oakwood neighborhood to take in Raleigh’s natural beauty and history.

Some of the best places to live in North Carolina for families are near Raleigh, like the suburbs of Morrisville and Cary. They’ll put you in commuting distance of downtown while giving you a smaller town feel. The downside to Raleigh? High housing prices! This city has the highest rent on our list (womp, womp). And home prices can be pretty steep too.

Region

Piedmont

Nicknames

City of Oaks

Smithsonian of the South

Metro Area Population*

1.4 million3

Median Annual Income

$67,2664

Median Home Price

$419,9005

Median Rent**

$1,4546

Average Annual Rainfall

46.1”7

Famous University

North Carolina State University

Features

Family-friendly suburbs, major employers, museums galore, and beautiful natural and historic sites

*Metro Area Populations include the city and surrounding urban and suburban areas.
**Median Monthly Rents refer to two-bedroom apartments.

2. Charlotte

The Queen City was named after a British queen consort who reigned back when Charlotte was built in 1768. And it’s just as classy as its namesake. Charlotte has stunning natural scenery, like Lake Norman, and vibrant neighborhoods. (Just don’t confuse Downtown and Uptown—it makes the locals mad.)  

With so many unique neighborhoods, you’re sure to find one that’s a great fit for you—and your family. Locals have rated Ballantyne East, Ballantyne West and Providence Crossing some of the best places to live in North Carolina for families.

And don’t let Charlotte’s old-world charm fool you! The biggest city on our list is home to 10 companies on the Fortune 1000 list.8 And it’s got a killer craft beer scene to go with its pro sports teams, the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte Hornets. Don’t like organized sports? The U.S. National Whitewater Center is in Charlotte—and it doesn’t get any less organized than zipping down a river in a rubber raft!

Region

Piedmont

Nickname

The Queen City

Metro Area Population

2.6 million9

Median Annual Income

$62,81710

Median Home Price

$395,00011

Median Rent

$1,27912

Average Annual Rainfall

43.3”13

Famous University

University of North Carolina Charlotte

Features

Diverse and vibrant neighborhoods, Fortune 1000 companies, pro sports teams, and lakes and rivers for water lovers

3. Chapel Hill

The second point in The Triangle, Chapel Hill is smaller than Raleigh or Charlotte. You might enjoy its small city vibes—and you can definitely enjoy the fact that it’s got the highest yearly income!

Chapel Hill is considered one of the best college towns in the country.14 And it’s a great place to raise a family. Author William Meade Prince called this town “The Southern Part of Heaven” because he loved growing up there.

One heavenly thing about Chapel Hill: It’s environmentally friendly! With so many public transit systems, bike paths and greenways, only about half of residents drive their own cars to work.15 Plus, you can enjoy breathtaking seasonal scenery thanks to the city’s many arboretums and gardens.

Region

Piedmont

Nickname

The Southern Part of Heaven

Metro Area Population

644,36716

Median Annual Income

$73,61417

Median Home Price

$465,99118

Median Rent

$1,36219

Average Annual Rainfall

44.7”20

Famous University

University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

Features

Smaller metro area, high yearly salaries, a strong educational community and eco-friendly transportation

4. Winston-Salem

Winston-Salem started as two towns that later became one. Both towns had a long history in the tobacco industry, but these days, Winston-Salem is known for healthier things.

The city is home to sites like the West End Historic District and Historic Bethabara Park, as well as museums—like its children’s museum, art museums and Winston Cup museum (we see you, NASCAR fans).

Another thing you may enjoy? Affordable housing! The median home price in Winston-Salem is $103,000 lower than the national median price.21 You’ll also see lower rents than in the big cities. And Winston-Salem is in the western Piedmont . . . close to those beautiful Carolina mountains.

Region

Piedmont

Nickname

The Camel City

Metro Area Population

676,00822

Median Annual Income

$45,75023

Median Home Price

$272,50024

Median Rent

$1,05025

Average Annual Rainfall

43.9”26

Famous University

Wake Forest University

Features

Relatively low housing prices, historic sites and museums, and near the mountains

5. Durham

Like Winston-Salem, Durham started in the tobacco industry. But now it’s better known as the third point of The Triangle, and its biggest employers are banks and medical companies. Much of Durham’s medical system belongs to Duke University. Duke also runs family-friendly nature centers like Duke Forest and Duke Lemur Center, which helps save endangered animals.

You can also enjoy all sorts of festivals in Durham—every year, it hosts the Bull City Food & Beer Experience, Bull City Rumble motorcycle rally, and several art, film and holiday festivals.

Now, you may notice Durham’s population and housing prices are the same as Chapel Hill’s. That’s because these cities are part of the same statistical area. But while the cost of housing is similar, salaries tend to be lower in Durham. That may affect whether you look for a job in the city or commute to a nearby town that pays better.  

Region

Piedmont

Nickname

The Bull City

The City of Medicine

Metro Area Population

644,36727

Median Annual Income

$58,90528

Median Home Price

$465,99129

Median Monthly Rent

$1,36230

Average Annual Rainfall

44.7”31

Biggest University

Duke University

Features

Excellent medical and research system, unique annual festivals, and fun nature and science centers for families

Any of these cities catching your eye? Before you pack your bags, get our free relocation guide so you can be prepared for your next big move.

6. Wilmington

Located in southeast North Carolina, Wilmington is right by the Atlantic Ocean and Outer Banks. (Visit these islands, and you just might see some wild horses!) It also boasts the Cape Fear Riverwalk, so you can enjoy the water while keeping dry land under your feet.

Like most North Carolinians, people in Wilmington value history. This city has several colonial sites, and World War II buffs can climb aboard the U.S.S. North Carolina battleship. Or for a modern take on the town, visit the aquarium, beach boardwalks and locally owned shops and restaurants. If you’re lucky, you may even stumble onto a movie set.

The downside to beachside living is you’ll pay beachside prices. Wilmington has the second most expensive homes on our list—and the third lowest income. If you’re moving here, figure out exactly how much house you can afford before you take the plunge. Oh, and pack a raincoat—Wilmington is the rainiest city in our countdown!

Region

Coastal Plains

Nickname

Port City

Hollywood East

Metro Area Population

297,53332

Median Annual Income

$47,58033

Median Home Price

$465,42434

Median Monthly Rent

$1,30335

Average Annual Rainfall

55.2”36

Famous University

University of North Carolina Wilmington

Features

Beachside living, mixed colonial and modern history, natural areas and water for outdoor enthusiasts, and great shopping and dining

7. Asheville

We already named Asheville one of our top cities to retire to, so it’s no wonder it’s also one of the best places to live in North Carolina!

Asheville sits high up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, so outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy waterfalls, hiking trails and wildlife. There’s a wild art scene too. You’ll find dozens of studios and galleries, especially in the River Arts District. You can also visit Asheville’s 100-plus craft breweries (just not all at once).

Of course, mountain towns are like beach towns: expensive! Asheville has the highest home prices on our list. But the median income is well below the national average.37 So you’ll want to check your budget carefully before moving here.

Region

Mountains

Nickname

Beer City USA

Land of the Sky

Metro Area Population

462,68038

Median Annual Income

$49,93039

Median Home Price

$479,98540

Median Monthly Rent

$1,17441

Average Annual Rainfall

45.6”42

Famous University

University of North Carolina Asheville

Features

Craft beer and art, relatively low rent, and stunning natural areas for wildlife lovers, skiers, and outdoor enthusiasts

8. Hickory

Hickory is one of the best places to live in North Carolina for families. It’s a three-time All-America City.43 And even though it’s next to the Blue Ridge Mountains, Hickory has some of the lowest housing prices on our countdown. 

It’s also one of the smallest towns on our list: The metro population covers three whole counties, so there’s still plenty of undeveloped land if you want space. It’s also pretty quiet . . . except on race night!

This river town is home to the famous Hickory Motor Speedway, where NASCAR legends like Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt learned how to race. (Bonus: Since NASCAR started with bootleggers running moonshine, you can sample the brew here.)

Region

Mountains

Nickname

The Birthplace of NASCAR Stars

Metro Area Population

369,71144

Median Annual Income

$47,65245

Median Home Price

$275,00046

Median Monthly Rent***

$73447

Average Annual Rainfall

45.2”48

Famous University

Lenoir-Rhyne University

Features

Low housing costs, small-town living with a down-home feel, and near the mountains

***This number comes from 2015–2019 census data, so it’s not as up-to-date as other rent prices in our list. Rents in Hickory have likely gone up since 2019. But based on current population and home price data, it’s still likely cheaper than renting in a bigger city.

9. High Point

High Point’s motto is “Make yourself at home” . . . which may be why the city has over 100 furniture stores! (Fun fact: It’s also home to the world’s largest chest of drawers.)49

Like most North Carolinians, the people of High Point love food and sports. You can enjoy local restaurants—including some dog-friendly ones—and catch a pro baseball game. Or tour the city’s museums to learn about its history in jazz and the Underground Railroad.

While High Point is in the Piedmont, it’s a smaller metro area with the lowest housing costs in our countdown. High Point is also smack in the middle of North Carolina—putting you in easy driving distance of the beach and mountains. So if you’re looking for a great location on a budget, High Point could be for you!

Region

Piedmont

Nickname

Home Furnishings Capital of the World™

Metro Area Population

771,85150

Median Annual Income

$47,23451

Median Home Price

$266,50052

Median Monthly Rent

$1,16853

Average Annual Rainfall

45.2”54

Famous University

High Point University

Features

Relatively low housing costs, central location near major metros, and tons of shopping

Ready to Move to North Carolina?

Awesome! North Carolina is a great place to live. Whether you’re coming from another state or you already call NC home and you’re just switching towns, you need an expert real estate agent to help you make the move.

We recommend partnering with an Endorsed Local Provider (ELP). These top-performing real estate agents can help you find the best place to live in North Carolina for you. From finding a great neighborhood for your family to picking the perfect house (or helping sell your old one), they’ll walk you through the whole process. And these guys and gals are RamseyTrusted—so they’ll put serving ahead of selling.

Ready to get started? Connect with a RamseyTrusted ELP today!

top places to live in north carolina

Ramsey Solutions

About the author

Ramsey Solutions

Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

Related Articles

A person using the Ramsey Cost of Living Calculator on their phone.
Home Buying

Where Should I Move?

Moving somewhere new is a big adventure! But where should you go? Make a confident decision by considering these 15 factors that will impact your life.

Ramsey Solutions Ramsey Solutions
How Much House Can I Afford?
Home Buying

How Much House Can I Afford?

A monthly mortgage payment should never be more than 25% of your monthly take-home pay. Use our home affordability calculator to find a home price you can actually afford without crushing your budget!

Ramsey Solutions Ramsey Solutions
Outlines of the best cities to retire.
Retirement

2021 Best Cities to Retire

Whether your retirement is years away or right around the corner, knowing the best cities to retire can help your hard-earned dollars go farther.

Ramsey Solutions Ramsey Solutions

Making a move to North Carolina?

Show Me Local Agents

North Carolina looks sunny from where we’re sitting.

Connect with some of the best real estate agents North Carolina has to offer and find your dream home.
Find a Local Agent

North Carolina looks sunny from where we’re sitting.

Connect with some of the best real estate agents North Carolina has to offer and find your dream home.
Show Me Local Agents