- Suburb or city, there are dozens of amazing North Carolina areas to call home
- Whether you want to live near the beach, mountains or tons of greenery, North Carolina has it all
- North Carolina has a diverse community of international residents to its credit
The Wright Brothers really set the standard for the southern state of North Carolina. They basically invented modern flight there, and since then, the Tar Heel State has totally taken off, if in a slightly different way.
North Carolina is a “best of all worlds" sort of scenario. Within its borders are the Coastal Plain, the Appalachian Mountains and the Piedmont regions. Longing for unspoiled tidepools? North Carolina has 'em. Majestic mountains, perfect for hiking, cycling or just good old-fashioned staring? There are plenty of those to enjoy, too. No matter what you're looking for, North Carolina has a city to fit the bill. The icing on the cake is that it's still pretty affordable, compared with some other parts of the country.
Let's start learning about the Old North State, already!
- Population: 59,300
- 1-BR median rent: $1,289
- 2-BR median rent: $1,329
- Median home price: $553,255
- Median household income: $111,435
- Walk Score: 20/100
Just north of Holly Springs is the suburb of Apex, which has changed a ton since its 1850s-era days as a small railroad hub. Pretty much since that time, the people of Apex have been hell-bent on preserving the town's charm and historic significance. It must have worked, as it was named the No. 1 Best Places to Live in America by Money magazine in 2016.
Apex offers people local to Research Triangle all the access they need to the employers, universities and such, but with quieter home life. Apex's newly renovated downtown features the Halle Cultural Arts Center, located in the historic Town Hall. In fact, the downtown area as a whole is on the National Register of Historic Places as a prime example of a lovingly maintained railroad town.
Although Apex is experiencing something of a surge in population, the community is determined to maintain its small-town feel. They put on a full slate of events to bring community members together, including Juneteenth, Apex Latino Arts Festival, Apex Music Festival and the Apex Christmas Parade, among others.
- Population: 92,870
- 1-BR median rent: $1,435
- 2-BR median rent: $1,810
- Median home price: $420,000
- Median household income: $49,930
- Walk Score: 39/100
No write-up would be complete without a mention of Asheville as one of the best places to live in North Carolina. Don't let the city's smaller population and low walk score confuse you, however. Asheville is as vibrant as cities come, with a delightfully walkable and enjoyable downtown area to its credit. Artists and one-of-a-kind boutiques liberally pepper this mountain town, so it's not surprising it's a draw for creative types, in particular. In fact, it features not one, but two arts districts — the Downtown Art District and the River Arts District.
Asheville is also renowned for its foodie scene, lovingly referred to by locals as “Foodtopia." With a special emphasis on breweries, Asheville has more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the U.S. Local restaurants range from walk-up to fine dining, many with authentic Appalachian cuisine on the menu.
Located in the western part of the state in the Blue Ridge Mountains, people who visit or dwell in Asheville no doubt appreciate access to world-class architectural gems like the incredible Biltmore estate and the Basilica of Saint Lawrence.
- Population: 885,708
- 1-BR median rent: $1,382
- 2-BR median rent: $1,642
- Median home price: $353,000
- Median household income: $62,817
- Walk Score: 31/100
Just over the state line from South Carolina is North Carolina's largest city, population-wise. Known as the “Queen City," people flock from all over to live in Charlotte. The affordable cost of living, delightfully mild climate and diverse workplace options are generally among the main reasons people want to call this city home. However, once they arrive and get used to the amenities, it's tough to go anywhere else, which is probably why it's listed at or near the top of the country's fastest-growing cities year after year.
Among its selling points, Charlotte is about as green as a city gets, with 174 miles worth of bike and pedestrian-friendly paths to enjoy. In fact, American Forests has named it a top 10 city for urban forests. This family-friendly city is also home to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, as well as the U.S. National Whitewater Center, where people can enjoy everything from guided whitewater tours to kayaking lessons. A melting pot city in its own right, Charlotte's foodie scene includes cuisine of all kinds, especially Indian, Greek and Asian options. The breweries in Charlotte are also top-notch.
- Population: 296,710
- 1-BR median rent: $793
- 2-BR median rent: $912
- Median home price: $230,000
- Median household income: $48,964
- Walk Score: 34/100
It's hard to find a more beautiful area than Greensboro, which has the Smoky Mountains to the West and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east. Indeed, many people choose to call Greensboro home because of its quiet, country way of life. The affordability factor doesn't hurt, either, as a one-bedroom unit in Greensboro is only $782 per month!
Part of the “Piedmont Triad" (along with High Point and Winston-Salem), Greensboro is likely one of the next big spots in North Carolina. It has so much going for it, including a low cost of living, as well as distinct seasons (but with nice, mild winters).
Although Greensboro is less developed than some of the other cities on this list of the best places to live in North Carolina, it still has plenty to do and see. Among the sights are the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, the Greensboro Science Center and the Greensboro History Museum. The downtown area is also a hotspot for people looking to enjoy good food and a good time.
- Population: 93,400
- 1-BR median rent: $700
- 2-BR median rent: $1,195
- Median home price: $260,000
- Median household income: $40,875
- Walk Score: 36/100
Next on our list of the best cities to live in North Carolina is the Inner Banks community of Greenville. Home to East Carolina University, it's no surprise that apartments in Greenville are more affordable than in many larger, more professionally-focused cities. Still, there's plenty for people of all ages and persuasions to do in Greenville.
For example, proximity to eastern North Carolina's waterways make boating, fishing and water-skiing beloved pastimes. It's also a bird-watching mecca, especially at the local Goose Creek State Park.
In terms of nightlife, the Uptown District, located right on the banks of the Tar River, has dozens of unique, locally-owned and operated eateries, breweries and so on. The Greenville Town Common is also ultra-popular, thanks to its full schedule of concerts, festivals and events that happen all throughout the year.
- Population: 112,791
- 1-BR median rent: $976
- 2-BR median rent: $1,134
- Median home price: $225,000
- Median household income: $47,234
- Walk Score: 25/100
The centrally located city of High Point is one of the healthcare and banking hotspots of North Carolina, even though it started out as a critical railroad hub. Today, it's beloved for its many furniture stores, earning it the nickname, the "Home Furnishings Capital of the World." In fact, people come from all over to get great deals on high-quality pieces for the home. The world's largest home furnishings trade show, High Point Market, is not surprisingly held there.
Families love to live in High Point thanks in large part to its active outdoorsy community and excellent school system. Anyone can easily continue their educational path in High Point or elsewhere in the Piedmont Triad, thanks to the 16 local colleges and universities. There are dozens of public parks, stacked with walking, biking and pet-friendly trails, not to mention a huge sporting community for kiddos and adults alike.
- Population: 37,812
- 1-BR median rent: $1,372
- 2-BR median rent: $1,667
- Median home price: $534,000
- Median household income: $112,029
- Walk Score: 24/100
Not too far south of the Research Triangle is the comparatively small suburb of Holly Springs. The upside to this area is that it's quiet, charming and beautiful. However, home prices and income levels are higher in Holly Springs than in many other parts of North Carolina.
The area really revs up in a family-friendly way once a year during HollyFest, a festival held in the fall every year and attended by people from all over. It includes a cornhole tournament, a pig race, pumpkin carving contest and many other seasonal favorite activities.
Holly Springs is growing by leaps and bounds, which is something that the state clearly expects to continue. In recent years, the city has put a hundred million dollars or so into the parks and infrastructure in preparation for an impending population boom.
- Population: 474,069
- 1-BR median rent: $1,360
- 2-BR median rent: $1,607
- Median home price: $376,000
- Median household income: $67,266
- Walk Score: 33/100
Raleigh is one-third of the state's prized jewel, the Research Triangle. In concert with the nearby cities of Chapel Hill and Durham, the area is a hub of all things research, thanks to the presence of three major universities (Duke, North Carolina State and the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill). As a result, Raleigh is a popular home to academics of all persuasions, and, of course, students.
No matter your occupation, Raleigh and its surrounding areas are likely to have opportunities galore. The Triangle in total boasts more than 7,000 companies across a variety of industries like technology, manufacturing, ag-tech, life sciences and many more.
But life in Raleigh is about more than just work and study. It's also a pretty nice place to hang your hat at night and boasts a thriving, diverse cultural scene and almost too many breweries to count. Smack in the middle of the state, Raleigh residents also enjoy easy, scenery-rich drives to both the coast and the mountainous regions.
- Population: 123,744
- 1-BR median rent: $1,409
- 2-BR median rent: $1,567
- Median home price: N/A
- Median household income: $47,580
- Walk Score: 37/100
Coastal access is one of the main reasons that people love this mild-weathered North Carolina community. As an added bonus, considering the location, apartments in Wilmington are downright affordable! Indeed, it's the ideal place for people who appreciate the water and all of the fishing, boating and other recreational opportunities it provides.
It's not just the vast Atlantic Ocean, either. The Cape Fear River is hugely popular among locals and vacationers alike, and its café, boutique and nightlife-rich Riverwalk is a must-see, as it was voted America's Best Riverfront.
Wilmington is also steeped in historic significance, which is probably why so many movies and television shows film there. It's tough to recreate the natural beauty and authenticity that Wilmington offers! The 230-block National Register Historic District features lovingly preserved live oak trees and architectural gems that harken back to the area's earlier days. Picturesque doesn't even begin to describe it.
- Population: 247,945
- 1-BR median rent: $925
- 2-BR median rent: $1,110
- Median home price: $239,450
- Median household income: $45,750
- Walk Score: 28/100
Winston-Salem, more commonly known as Winston, is growing more slowly than some other North Carolina cities. As a result, it's one of the more affordable cities in the state on our list of the best places to live in North Carolina.
Winston's thoughtful, intentional growth includes lots of international residents, particularly those of Indian and Greek descent. So, it's not surprising that a number of festivals celebrating those cultures are held every year in the area. There are plenty of other festivals to enjoy, as well, from the Gears & Guitars event to the Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors.
Apartments in Winston-Salem range from standard to fully unique. In fact, it's not unusual to find a space that's been renovated from a tobacco factory into gorgeous lofts. Some of the crown jewels of the area are Wake Forest University, Salem Lake and Quarry Park, which is 228 acres of sheer outdoor beauty.
Take your pick
It's just about impossible to pick the wrong place to live in North Carolina. Fortunately, for even the choosiest renter, there are plenty of apartments for rent in North Carolina. So, pick a city (or two) and start looking around for a place in the state that's equal parts Southern gentility and diverse progressiveness.