21 Charming Small Towns in North Carolina You Need to Visit (2024)

There’s something for everybody in North Carolina.

Whether your ideal trip involves time relaxing at the beach, or you dream of hiking through pristine forest, or you’re looking to soak up some culture at a local festival, the small towns in North Carolina are the perfect bases to really see the true heart of the state. 

Here, we’ll run through some of the best towns to visit, from the ski slopes to the sandy shores, discovering the attractions and allure of this great state!  

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1. Hendersonville: best small towns in North Carolina to visit

High Falls
Image: High Falls. Daniel Grogan. [CC BY-ND 2.0] via Flickr

Hendersonville is nestled deep in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is the perfect gateway to some of the state’s best nature.

The area is decked with lush forests, rugged mountains, and waterfalls that cascade pure white down the slopes.

If you’re looking to hike, fish, or camp, there are few better cute towns in North Carolina to choose from. 

On top of all that, the town itself is a charming mix of shops, galleries, and independent restaurants and it’s only a short drive to Asheville if you want to mix your small-town experience with some slick city living. 

2. Saluda: cute towns in North Carolina

Saluda downtown
Photo credit: Saluda Facebook Page

Saluda is tiny, home to only 600 people, and offers the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in some quiet mountain life.

Of course, the landscape is stunning, a feast of wild slopes and trails that wind through beauty spot after beauty spot. 

For a truly adrenaline-fuelled mountain experience, swing by The Gorge Zipline.

It’s an activity for the thrill seekers and Is amazing in fall, gliding through the canopy as it is turning to every shade of orange and red. 

For the best views and hospitality in town, get yourself a bed at the Saluda Mountain Lodge.

Located just outside of town, it offers panoramic vistas of Saluda and the Blue Ridge Mountains, the perfect place to kick back and breathe in that clean North Carolina air. 

3. Hillsborough

Hillsborough North Carolina
Image: Hillsborough, North Carolina. Doug Kerr. [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr

North Carolina isn’t all mountains peaks and gushing rivers, the little town of Hillsborough is a perfect example of the state’s artsy side.

There are numerous galleries scattered throughout the town.

Check out the Hillsborough Gallery of Arts to see the work of some of the best artists who live locally, and regular cultural events pop up throughout the year. 

The creative migration to the area has helped fuel some of the best restaurants in the state, offering everything from traditional fare to more modern takes, the vibrant flavor that keeps this artsy little town thriving. 

4. Hot Springs

You probably won’t be surprised to learn what the main attraction of this little town is.

The hot springs of the area are the only ones in the state and make the perfect destination for a bit of rest and recuperation. 

Head over to the Hot Springs Resort and Spa to mix your small-town stay (fewer than 700 people live here) with some world-class relaxation, taking advantage of the thermal waters that have brought people to this charming part of the world for centuries. 

5. Manteo

Image: Manteo, Roanoke Island, North Carolina. Ken Lund. [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr

And now, to the water.

Manteo is perched on Roanoke Island but is sheltered from the rough waters of the Atlantic so you get all the open space of the ocean, but with the smooth tranquillity that you’re looking for in a seaside town. 

Life is calm here, and visitors can explore the history and present of the region at some of the beautiful parks, such as the Roanoke Island Festival Park of the Elizabethan Gardens, soaking in some green-lunged calm. 

And if you want to explore further, book yourself one of the many boat tours that offer everything from dolphin spotting to sunset cruises, taking you out over the water as the sky blazes orange. 

6. Pilot Mountain: charming towns in North Carolina

Pilot Mountain
Image: North Carolina. GPA Archive. [CC by 2.0] via Flickr

North Carolina is covered with beautiful scenery, but very little of it is quite as distinct as Pilot Mountain.

It’s a circular, tree-covered outcrop that towers over the town that it has given its name to, making everything feel that little more dramatic, that little more special, and the State Park that surrounds it is famous for its hiking and rock climbing. 

The town itself has a charming downtown area, populated with historic buildings (including a courthouse that is always worth a visit) and some great independent restaurants and accommodation.

If you’re feeling peckish, drop in to the farmers market that is held every Saturday to get a hold of some of the region’s finest fresh produce, meandering through the stalls and soaking in that small-town mountain atmosphere. 

7. Beaufort

Image: Front Street. Gerry Dincher. [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr

Of all the quaint towns in North Carolina, very few can match the charms of Beaufort.

You can find it in the Outer Banks region and the sea is everything here.

Try your hand at fishing the crystal waters, or head out on a boat tour to take in the sights of the beautiful coastline. 

If all that feels like a bit too much, the town itself is a charming mix of old-world style and warm hospitality.

For the best views and food in town, head over to City Kitchen and grab a seat looking out over the marina, the perfect spot for a sunset meal. 

8. Black Mountain

Black Mountain NC
Image: Black Mountain, NC. Sakura Sunagawa. [CC by 2.0] via Flickr

During the middle of the last century, artists and creatives flocked to Black Mountain, and it’s easy to see why.

While the name might sound ominous (named for the mountain range that rises to the skies over the town) it’s a genuinely delightful place. 

Head over to the Center for the Arts to see some of the beautiful work of local artists or take advantage of the regular classes and events they put on.

After that, take your pick of the great restaurants, or head out into the wild, driving or hiking past waterfalls and mountain sides, eyes peeled and watching out for the wildlife that flourishes here. 

9. Brevard

Sliding Rock
Image: Brevard – Sliding Rock (3). Jared. [CC by 2.0] via Flickr

Brevard’s known as ‘North Carolina’s Land of Waterfalls’ and it’s as delightful as that sounds.

While the town itself is a charming little slice of rural life, if you’re here, you want to be out exploring. 

The area’s famous for its hiking and biking trails.

If you’re feeling hardcore enough, check in for the five-day endurance Pisgah State Race, but if not (and that’s entirely understandable) you can meander along mile after mile of well-maintained routes that show you the genuinely awe-inspiring nature of the area. 

In just a short hike, you can take in everything from towering forests to plummeting gorges, see high mountain peaks and watch waterfall after waterfall fill the forest with water and sound. Get out there. 

10. Carthage

water tower in Carthage
Image: Carthage Watertower Donald Lee Pardue. [CC by 2.0] via Flickr

Carthage might not be quite as old as its ill-fated namesake, but it’s been standing here since at least 1776, and you can see examples of this long history everywhere.

It’s evident even just ambling past the historic buildings, but to get a real insight visitors should head to the Old Carthage Museum to get the inside story on how the town has flourished here over the years, before settling back at one of the independent restaurants that serve up delicious food using ingredients sourced and grown locally in the area. 

11. Spruce Pine: quaint towns in North Carolina

The name itself evokes the heady greenery of the area, but it’s what lies below the ground that made this town famous.

The region is rich in minerals and gems that helped fuel the rise of the area.

But, don’t worry, this isn’t some mining zone. 

Instead, it’s a lush landscape with beautiful hiking trails and some of the best fishing in the state.

The Sprue Pine Historical Society Museum is the place to find out more about the area or head a little bit further south to the Museum of North Carolina Minerals to get your geological fix on what has helped this area thrive for so long. 

12. Edenton

Edenton waterfront
Image: Edenton waterfront. ted. [CC by 2.0] via Flickr

The history of Edenton goes back a long way.

It was a major port during the Colonial era, and its architecture has survived throughout the years and wars to offer up a beautifully preserved image of what the area looked like when it was first developing. 

Life moves slowly here, and walking by the riverfront you feel immersed in an almost lost time, meandering by antebellum mansions and the striking white-red of the Roanoke River Lighthouse.

Of all the best little towns in North Carolina, none quite match the beautiful tranquillity of waterfront Edenton. 

13. Washington

Known as ‘Original Washington’ to distinguish it from the other, slightly more hectic one, this is known as one of best small towns in North Carolina to live in, a place of independently owned restaurants, mom-and-pop stores, and a historic downtown that looks out over a charming waterfront.

It’s a sedate pace of life, but with enough gorgeous scenery and cultural activity to keep the whole family entertained. 

14. Pinehurst 

Pinehurst Resort
Photo credit: Pinehurst Resort Facebook Page

If you’re a golf fan, you’ll probably recognize the name of Pinehurst.

It’s home to some of the best courses in the world, pristine green spaces with all of the amenities a professional or amateur could dream of. 

If golf isn’t your style, it’s worth the trip anyway for the historic downtown and premium spa resorts that are dotted around.

If you’re looking to combine a small-town experience with some high-end glamour, Pinehurst is the perfect place to be. 

15. Zebulon 

Zebulon sunset
Image: Zebulon, North Carolina. Diane Gregg. [CC by 2.0] via Flickr

The exotically named Zebulon is a small, growing town that combines that neighborly feel that you’re looking for with a real sense of potential.

It’s located in North Carolina’s research Triangle, meaning it’s close to other amenities and there’s a real buzz around the place. 

The steady, easy weather means that people spend a lot of time outdoors here, whether that’s just drifting around downtown or taking in some of the charming landscapes that sprawl out around the town.

If you’re looking to move to a town that’s on the up, Zebulon’s a pretty safe bet. 

16. Boiling Spring Lakes

People enjoying the Boiling Springs lake
Photo credit: Boiling Spring Parks & Recreation Facebook Page

Unsurprisingly, it’s the lakes that are the main draw of this little town.

But don’t worry, nobody’s getting boiled. Instead, whether you’re in the greenway or the Nature Preserve, you’ll get access to some of the state’s best wild water swimming, with charming waterfront parks and a town that always has something going on.

There are events throughout the year and whether you’re looking for a great farmers market, art festival, or one of the many small cultural events that are hosted, this small, neighborly town will always have something to offer. 

17. Tryon : small towns or cities in North Carolina

Tryon Palace
Image: Mary Kistler Stoney Flower Garden, Tryon Palace Historic Site, New Bern, North Carolina. Ken Lund. [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr

Known as ‘The Friendliest Town in the South’, Tyron will always stand out as one of the best small towns in North Carolina.

Be ready for regular friendly hellos, some of the best hospitality in the state, and a genuine feeling of a together, neighborly community. 

It’s a fairly well off area and this affluence is reflected in the thriving culture of outdoor activity and the arts that you can find everywhere here.

Combine the two in the Tryon Art Walk, or time your trip to coincide with the Tryon Blues and BBQ Festival for one of the best weekends you’ll find in the state. 

18. Reidsville 

Image: Jeff Jackson in Rockingham County (2021 Jun). Anthony Crider. [CC by 2.0] via Flickr

If you’re on the lookout for water sports, you want to be coming down to Reidsville.

Its lake is a haven for kayaking and other aquatic adventures, offering thrill seekers everything they could be looking for. 

If that all sounds a bit much, the slightly calmer pace of life of the Reidsville Sweet Potato Festival offers what can only be described as a unique experience.

It’s a small town, but there’s a lot to discover here!

19. Southern Shores: North Carolina small towns

Southern Shores
Image: the beach, near sunset ~ Southern Outer Banks. j van cise photos. [CC by 2.0] via Flickr

To put it simply, Southern Shores is beautiful.

It’s located on a thin spit of land on the Outer Banks but is dense with attractions.

There’s the beautiful beachfront that spans the entire length of the town but also the thick woodlands of pine and oak that are instantly accessible and make you feel a world away from the sea. 

Throw in a charming town and some great seafood, and you’ve got a recipe for a genuinely delightful small town. 

20. Hampstead

Hampstead lays claim to being the ‘Seafood Capital of the Carolinas’ and this is where you want to head down to taste the best offerings of the Atlantic.

Any of the restaurants that line the waterfront will offer up something delicious but, after you’ve meandered around downtown and explored the marina, head over to the Carolina Seafood Market to get your hands on the freshest catches in the state.

21. Lewisville 

Lewisville water tower
Photo credit: Lewisville North Carolina Facebook Page

Lewisville is pure, rural small town North Carolina.

The surrounding area has its charms (Lewisville Park is lovely) but it’s the small-town charm that makes the place special.

It hosts a scattering of events throughout the year, from its Concert Under the Star Series to the thriving Lewisville Street party and Food Truck Festival, but is equally as good if you’re just looking from that quiet corner of the world to get away from it all, put your feet up, and relax!

Hey! Want more ideas on the best small towns in the USA? Check these out!

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