Study: Best Cities to Live in North Carolina

Whether you prefer the sandy beaches on the East Coast, the blue-green mountains of the Piedmont region or the big city flavor of Charlotte, North Carolina offers something for everyone. And newcomers have realized this: the state population grew almost 100,000 in 2013 alone. A relatively low cost of living combined with a moderate climate and a booming job market make the Tarheel State an ideal choice for professionals, families, and retirees alike.

Picking the right spot to settle down is no easy decision. Living near a major metropolitan area such as Raleigh-Durham offers a broader range of options when it comes to jobs, schools and homes but it also means a higher cost of living. Smaller towns, on the other hand, offer the southern hospitality you're looking for at an affordable price. We've put together a list of cities that offer the best of both worlds when it comes to work and play. If a move to North Carolina is in your future but you're not sure exactly where you want to put down roots, let the CreditDonkey team's rankings be your guide.

Study Methodology

In compiling our rankings, we zeroed in on five key factors:

  1. Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime
  2. Commute Time
  3. Income
  4. Residents Who Attended Some College
  5. Restaurants Per Capita

Knowing that you'll be safe wherever you decide to call home is a top priority, so we paid close attention to crime rates when compiling our rankings. For each city on our list, we broke down the odds of becoming the victim of a violent crime.

No one likes being stuck in traffic; before you plan a move, it's helpful to know what kind of commute you're likely to have. All of the cities included in our study have an average commute time of less than 25 minutes.

And if you're on the hunt for a new job in a new place, it helps to know where to find the best-paying positions. When deciding which cities to include in our study, we considered how each one stacks up in terms of average income. We also took into account what percentage of residents attended some college, since this can directly impact wages.

Finally, we factored in the number of restaurants and bars in each location. From good old-fashioned southern cooking to high-end cuisine, the cities on our list appeal to every taste.

10 Best Cities to Live in North Carolina

10. Reidsville

A 30-minute drive from Greensboro, Reidsville is one of the smaller cities on our list, with a population of just over 14,000. Nestled in the heart of Rockingham County, this small rural town still packs a big punch in terms of its rich history and unique attractions. Walking tours are one of the most popular ways to experience everything the city has to offer, and a relatively low crime rate means you'll be safe when you're out and about.

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 276
  • Commute Time: 21.6 minutes
  • Income: $34,700
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No Degree: 25%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 287 inhabitants

Did You Know: Williamsburg School, considered the first public school in North Carolina, was established just outside Reidsville in 1840.

9. Hickory

If you're shopping around for some new furniture to go with your new home, Hickory has all you need to outfit your digs in style. At the Hickory Furniture Mart, you'll find everything from handcrafted Amish dining tables to the latest in contemporary designs. When the winter weather sets in, you can hit the slopes at nearby Sugar Mountain, and during the summer, tour the Catawba River by canoe. Commute times here are among the shortest, and residents have more than 200 dining options to choose from in their off hours.

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 152
  • Commute Time: 18.4 minutes
  • Income: $38,750
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No Degree: 20.3%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 184 inhabitants

Did You Know: In June 1944, Hickory experienced a polio outbreak so large that residents banded together to build a hospital in 54 hours just to accommodate the sick patients.

8. Fayetteville

The largest city on our list in terms of population, Fayetteville sits squarely between Charlotte, Raleigh, and Wilmington, three of North Carolina's busiest cities. Home to Ft. Bragg, the town is known for its strong military history and rich cultural diversity. You can expect to earn more here, since approximately one-third of the residents attended some college and on average, they spend just under 20 minutes traveling to work.

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 174
  • Commute Time: 19.9 minutes
  • Income: $44,756
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No Degree: 30.4%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 498 inhabitants

Did You Know: The University of North Carolina, America's oldest state university, was chartered in Fayetteville in 1789.

7. New Bern

Resting at the junction of the Trent and Neuse rivers, New Bern's waterfront is one of the biggest attractions to both residents and visitors alike. You can hike a trail through the nearby Croatan National Forest or pop downtown to visit the site where pharmacist Caleb David Bradham invented the drink that would later become Pepsi-Cola. One of the most popular tourist destinations is Tryon Palace, a modern reconstruction of the original royal governors' palace that served as the provincial capital in the late 18th century.

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 185
  • Commute Time: 19.4 minutes
  • Income: $37,180
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No Degree: 24.1%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 333 inhabitants

Did You Know: Local resident Nicholas Sparks featured New Bern as the setting for his best-selling 1996 novel The Notebook.

6. Goldsboro

The official seat of Wayne County, Goldsboro traces its roots to the westward expansion of the railroad system that began picking up steam in the mid-1800s. Goldsboro was the setting for Foster's Raid in 1862, and the town was later occupied by Union soldiers lead by General Sherman as he conducted his infamous march across Confederate territory. Today, this town of more than 37,000 enjoys a booming agri-tourism trade.

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 119
  • Commute Time: 17.5 minutes
  • Income: $35,338
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No Degree: 27.7%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 272 inhabitants

Did You Know: The annual North Carolina Pickle Festival is held every April in nearby Mt. Olive.

5. Kernersville

Nicknamed the “Heart of the Piedmont Triad,” Kernersville is just a short drive from the Winston-Salem, High Point, and Greensboro metro areas. Commute times stand at just over 20 minutes, and incomes here are significantly higher, averaging close to $50,000 annually. Kernersville's close proximity to more than 20 colleges and universities, including Wake Forest University and Guilford College, makes it a hotspot for academics and professionals alike.

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 217
  • Commute Time: 20.8 minutes
  • Income: $48,425
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No Degree: 23.8%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 313 inhabitants

Did You Know: Kernersville is home to Körner’s Folly, the former home of artist and designer Jule Gilmer Körner. Today, Körner’s Folly is open to the public as a museum commemorating his unique design vision.

4. Asheville

If you're looking to take in the breathtaking mountain views, look no further than the rapidly growing city of Asheville. Convenient to both the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville combines historic charm with a vibrant arts scene. If you love the nightlife, you can book a spot on the "Brews Cruise," a guided tour of the city's nine breweries. If you're feeling more adventurous, you can try your hand at zip-lining or tackle the rapids on the French Broad River.

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 202
  • Commute Time: 18.4 minutes
  • Income: $42,333
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No Degree: 21.1%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 214 inhabitants

Did You Know: The 250-room Biltmore Estate is one of the most popular tourist attractions in North Carolina. George W. Vanderbilt completed construction of the renowned mansion in Asheville in 1895.

3. Belmont

Belmont holds the honor of being the smallest city on our list, boasting just over 10,000 residents. Crime here is almost nonexistent, and the average income of $56,030 is the highest of the cities in this study. Commute times here are slightly longer, but you're still within a 20-minute drive to the Charlotte metro area. Once a thriving textile town, Belmont is now considered a mecca for professionals who are seeking a quiet place to call home.

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 319
  • Commute Time: 22.3 minutes
  • Income: $56,030
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No Degree: 26%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 355 inhabitants

Did You Know: The monastery at Belmont Abbey features one of 64 basilicas in the U.S. to be officially recognized by the Vatican.

2. Hendersonville

Thirty minutes south of Asheville, Hendersonville serves up small-town charm and southern hospitality in healthy doses. At just over 13,000 residents, Hendersonville features a cozier feel, but there's still plenty to see and do despite its size. Chimney Rock Park, Mount Pisgah National Forest, and the North Carolina Apple Festival are just a few of the attractions you'll want to put on your list. Even better, the average commute time clocks in at 17 minutes flat, which means you won't have to worry about getting stuck in traffic on the way to work.

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 170
  • Commute Time: 17 minutes
  • Income: $38,849
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No Degree: 21.4%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 120 inhabitants

Did You Know: Literary enthusiasts can tour the former homes of novelist Thomas Wolfe and Pulitzer-prize winning poet Carl Sandburg, both just a short drive from Hendersonville.

1. Mooresville

Situated in western North Carolina, Mooresville is less than an hour's drive from both Charlotte and Hickory. Incomes in the area are over the $50,000 mark, and major employers include the NASCAR Technical Institute and Lowe's Home Improvement, whose corporate headquarters are located in Mooresville. The low crime rate combined with the moderate commute time puts Mooresville at the top of our list.

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 344
  • Commute Time: 22.6 minutes
  • Income: $53,066
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No Degree: 27%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 242 inhabitants

Did You Know: Nicknamed "Race City USA," Mooresville is home to several racing-themed attractions, including Dale Earnhardt Inc., Kyle Busch Motorsports, and the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame.

Choosing a new place to live can be overwhelming, especially if you're not familiar with the area. Our rankings are meant to show you how some of North Carolina's top spots compare to each other. The cities on our list all have something unique to offer, and by highlighting the best features, we hope to make your final choice that much easier.

Data Sources:

  • U.S. Census Bureau, Population Estimates
  • FBI, Uniform Crime Reports
  • U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey
  • U.S. Census Bureau, Economic Census

Rebecca Lake is a journalist at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and reviews website. Write to Rebecca Lake at Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

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Comments about Study: Best Cities to Live in North Carolina
  • Jayne from North Carolina
    on July 2015 said:

    Fayetteville and Goldsboro!! Sure you didn't slip in part of the worst cities in that list. Every single night just about Fayetteville is on the news because of one or more violent crimes.
    Goldsboro isn't looking much better some weeks.

  • Herman in NC from North Carolina
    on November 2015 said:

    How can anyone take this study seriously? Reidsville is still fighting the confederate war and it should be in South Carolina instead of NC. Goldsboro and Fayetteville have some of the highest violent crime rates in the nation. And I wouldn't take a jog in New Bern without a police escort either. But this is just my opinion based on what I thought I knew.

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