Cities Journal

Top 21 Small Cities In North Carolina

There is just something about North Carolina that makes people want to visit and live there all year round. What makes it so attracting to visitors? The small cities that dot the area with their rich historical history and appealing recreational activities.

Instead of fading away into ghost towns that are barely noticed as people drive past, these towns continued to thrive despite their small populations as they have built strong community ties, affordable housing, great schools, tons of recreational activities and tourist attractions.

Here we have created a spotlight of the top 21 cities in North Carolina. While we know there are tons more cities out there than just the 18 places we have listed, we simply don’t have the room to fit them all in this short article. So don’t feel left out if your small, charming city was not mentioned on the list.

The way North Carolina is attracting visitors from all over the country to come visit its southern country roots, coastal cities and mountain towns, your city will certainly get all the attention it richly deserves.

18-asheville-flickr-bodycoach2Photo credit: bodycoach2 / Flickr

1. Asheville, NC: A Small City With Many Accolades

While many people might not consider Asheville a small city with a population of 83,393 and the designation of if being one of the largest cities in North Carolina, it actually made the top ranking as one of the top 25 smallest cities in America according to American Style Magazine.

Perhaps it is because Asheville has maintained its quiet small city atmosphere with all its local shops, cultural museums, and historical attractions. Asheville started as a small outpost in 1797 where Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett would travel through leading out into the wild frontier, according to Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority. It wasn’t until the first railroad was built that Asheville gained a place on the map. The city was then considered a therapeutic center and resort.

Today, people visit Asheville due to its numerous Art Deco buildings, art galleries and cultural programs. The city has always supported pioneers, poets and artists for generations. The American novelist Thomas Wolfe who wrote the famous works of “Look Homeward, Angel” and “You Can’t Go Home Again” was born in Asheville as reported by the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority. Also, the famous art collector George W. Vanderbilt built his grand estate in the city of Asheville in 1880.

The city’s rich history is turning the downtown region into a renaissance district. If you aren’t into art and history, Asheville still sports plenty of outdoor activities from mountain hiking, white water rafting, and horseback riding along the Blue Ridge Mountains and the French Broad River, advises Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority.

If you are in the mood for some shopping, you’ll find tons of eclectic shops to choose from where you will find unusual and one-of-a-kind items to take home from your summer trip.

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  • Mtn Bill

    Surprised Boone or Blowing Rock aren’t on this list. Great towns in the mountains with very different vibes only a few miles from each other. Boone w/ App State is a great college town in an awesome setting and old money Blowing Rock is the gateway to the Blue Ridge Parkway and has great little inns and eateries. Big miss on this list if you ask me

    • Highlander-in-spirit

      I was born in Boone and still have property nearby there, but chose to retire somewhere else. When I visit Boone, I can’t help but notice there is no Boone any more . . .The town is over priced (relatively speaking) loud and indescreet, and isn’t (for me) a pleasant rhythm for day-to-day life. Boone is now all just ASU. I’ve nothing against ASU, but I havn’t wanted to live in a community culture determined mostly by 18- to 20-year-old appetites since I was in that age range. After 40-plus years living all over the US and overseas, I always planned to move home to Boone. But when facing retirement, I had to say “No, thanks,” when it came to deciding to livie near that town. The beautiful mountains have called me home for 60 years and I’ll visit as often as I can, but when I’m in that area, I do as little as possible in the town of Boone/ ASU campus. Breaks my heart, too.

    • Bagster

      i just moved from there but also lived in morehead city and beaufort which were high on the list. i was surprised boone didnt make it but blowing rock is too small to be called a small city and it is not the gateway to the parkway, sure it has access but so does a hundred other towns all thru the state

    • SharonAB200

      Boone was #17 on this list.

    • SharonAB200

      Also, Blowing Rock was #15

  • Nbcokeman

    Here is New Bern!

  • Meagan Johnson

    I’d love to know how Rocky Mount makes the top small cities, and the 4th most dangerous small city in the US! hahaha Maybe it’s because 20-40 years ago this town was actually SOMETHING to see!

    Time to update your info Cities Journal!

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  • mountain girl

    Who came up with this list? There is no way that Chapel Hill is better than Boone or Blowing Rock, which didn’t even make it. And Bryson City is a gem! And Dillsboro, too. Agree with a few of the coastal towns, but a little disappointed.

  • Jackson

    You must not have visited “Little” Washington, North Carolina. It’s the best small city in North Carolina in my opinion!

  • StephMarie8379

    I really happy Morehead City was in the top 10. Love this town!

  • JMHO

    Greenville!? Way too much crime! No thanks!

  • Jeffrey Green

    Except for Asheville your writer must have not made it to the mountains. Did he/she get lost and miss Boone, Blowing Rock and Waynesville?

  • Journo-Ed

    You call Kitty Hawk “seedy” but you include Rocky Mount on this list of the Top 16 Small Cities In North Carolina? Rocky Mount is #4 on the list of America’s 10 Most Dangerous Small Cities.

  • Doug in Boone, NC

    Boone didn’t make the list, but nearby Hickory did. Yesterday, Hickory was on the Most Miserable Towns in the US list. Go figure!

  • daydreamer

    The first Hardee”s was in Greenville, not Rocky Mount.

  • New Bern is a joke

    New Bern is a freaking Joke! Most boring town ever. Nothing but retirement people or thugs.. Just yesterday there was a bank robbery downtown. Last week 2 officers was shoot by a thug and one of the officers dies Monday. New Bern is riddled with crime. The town leaders do not know what they are doing. Nothing ever comes here. The olive garden was going to come and they backed out, same with Cracker Barrel . Very few jobs and low income. Don’t believe this hype!

  • David Mielke

    Where is Boone? What a delightful place!

  • Kels


  • Kels

    Not hating on Rocky Mount, but it was listed in another article I read just a few days ago as one of the top three most dangerous small cities in the country, contradictory isn’t it?!

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  • Michael Warren

    Kernersville is located in the heart of the triad between Winston Salem,Greensboro,and High Point. If you like a “small town” feel…but a nice City nearby at the same time…Kernersville offers you the Best of Both!!!!

  • Brandon Ham

    Hurricane Floyd? That was what you came up with? What about East Carolina University? It’s med school, Vidant Medical? Overtons? The fact it’s the second fastest growing metro area in the state? Nah, you went with Floyd from 15 years ago and no it did not flood most of the homes in Greenville, that would be Princeville your thinking of. Why is Greenville even on this list with a population over 90,000 and is the 10th largest city in the state now.

  • Fred W Dixon Jr

    Couple of glaring omissions: Salisbury, Hendersonville, and if you are to include Asheville as a small city, what about Winston-Salem

  • perturbedcarolinian

    I’m pretty sure that whoever was responsible for this article has NO clue about North Carolinas small cities, or much about the state. Period. Kitty Hawk isn’t “seedy” as you call it, the Wright Brothers flew in Kill Devil Hills NOT Kitty Hawk, and Manteo borders the sound, not the ocean, so you can’t enjoy the beaches there. There are a few cities that shouldn’t even be on this list either. I’m just curious, did you just look at some cities (or towns for that matter), think they might fit the bill, and just put this together piecemeal? Someone who is well versed in all things Carolina wouldn’t have gotten the basics so disastrously wrong. Next time, do some leg work and don’t insult the state.

  • Cody Zamora

    Yeah but they nailed it with HOT SPRINGS! Not really a ‘small city” more like a Tiny Town but–an AWESOME PLACE!! Lots of outdoor activities, friendly town folks and beautiful scenery–lol–except for the article’s bridge photo! What were they thinking?!

  • Mike

    Southport Should have been on here.

    • kathy


  • Hank Kaczmarek

    All the good small towns are East of I-85 except Hickory (#5 on the country’s Most Miserable Cities according to Gallup) and Asheville, which is NOT a small town. Another bullshit survey. Since when is Chapel Hill a small town? Every try to drive there?

  • G

    Greenville, NC should never be on a “best of list” of any sort.

    • kate

      hahaha! TRUTH! *Best city with absolutely nothing?

  • J55Buff

    pfffffft! Another example of tossing something onto the internet and claiming “Best” status. Mehhhh!

  • SharonAB200

    I am wondering if I read the same article as everyone else, because when I went through the slideshow, Boone, Blowing Rock, Morganton, Lenoir, and a number of “mountain” towns were included. Greenville and Asheville were not even mentioned.

    • Michelle

      I read the article when it was first posted last week. Boone and Blowing Rock were not on the list. I guess the publishers did respond to comments and feedback! Nice!

  • Stzz

    As someone who’s family has lived in Davidson since the late 19th century, and yet hates how yuppie the town has become, I’m still floored it didn’t make this list.

  • Randolph

    Greenville’s crime rate is actually significantly *lower than every comparable eastern North Carolina city per the SBI offical numbers and on par with Jacksonsville which does not report it’s military personnel crime numbers with their total number. Greenville gets the spot light because it has three TV stations and when anything happens– it is on TV across the east. Imagine if that was the case in Kinston, Rocky Mount, Washington Goldsboro, Elizabeth City, etc…

  • daddapop

    Southern Pines and Pinehurst are small in comparison to some of the cities that made the list but have more charm than most that did..

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  • Reader

    Boone is number 17. Blowing Rock is number 15.


    Dear Editor:

    Just FYI the picture you have for #16 Wake Forest is not from Wake Forest, NC. That is a picture of Tribble Hall at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. Nice campus though haha

  • LCM

    Boone and Blowing Rock are on the list.

  • Win Barber

    David – – Boone is in northwestern NC, and has a university, and many artists’ shops. But, it also has the coldest winters and most snow of anywhere in the southern states.

  • Fan of Morris the Tryon Horse

    Great to see Tryon NC on the list. Be sure to visit Morris the Tryon Horse who stands sentry duty in downtown Tryon as well as the Nina Simone Plaza featuring a statue of the music and civil rights icon, who was born in Tryon. Sit and chat with local residents at the downtown plaza or at the friendly cafes, coffee shops and galleries.
    Take a break at Tryon’s 47-acre park, Harmon Field, which has soccer fields, baseball fields, recreation and picnic areas as well as a historic equestrian show venue. The 1956 US Equestrian Team trained at Harmon Field! Horse shows continue at Harmon Field on most weekends except during the winter.
    There are now four wineries with tasting rooms in the Tryon area, Green Creek Winery, Overmountain Vineyards & Winery, Parker-Binns Winery, and the newest one, Mountain Brook Vineyards . Don’t miss the unique wine ice cream made by Green Creek Winery, a few miles from Tryon, and served at their tasting room or in some of Tryon’s downtown restaurants. Taste all their flavors and pick your favorite. My favorite is Chocolate Merlot!

  • HandmaidenofHippocrates

    Interesting article about lovely small cities in North Carolina, but the writing is horrific.

  • RealOnigokko

    That picture is the Biltmore house in Asheville, and while it may be 13 miles away, you really should use a photograph of Black Mountain when talking about Black Mountain

  • Abraham Lincoln


  • Ron Simmons

    The crew somehow is bias against coastal cities.

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