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80+ Great Small Towns in North Carolina (+ Our Top 10 Picks)

Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on June 12, 2024.

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We’ve discovered these amazing small towns in North Carolina during various road trips and while casually driving between our amazing cities.

In many cases, these places have overshadowed the bigger spots that surround them.

Typically, these cute towns in North Carolina will grab our attention with amazing history, hospitality, great people, and beautiful outdoor surroundings (including great state parks!). Then, there’s typically a charming main street or similarly named road that’s lined with shops and popular attractions.

If you have a chance to visit any of them, trust us. You’re going to be in for a huge treat. These quaint towns are scattered throughout the state, from the Blue Ridge Mountains through the foothills, piedmont, sandhills, and our awesome coast.

That’s why we’ve organized these NC small towns alphabetically and sorted them by region. Here’s how they’re broken down:

  • Western NC Small Towns
  • Central NC Small Towns
  • Eastern NC Small Towns
  • The 10 Best Small Towns in North Carolina (NC Tripping’s Picks)

You can scroll ahead to a specific collection of small towns in North Carolina or continue reading and head out west with us.

Whether you’re a new resident, a frequent visitor, or a local, we’re leaving no detail behind. If you live in North Carolina and are wondering, “What are the best small towns near me?” we think this NC travel guide will help you out!

Read More: The North Carolina Bucket List Book

Western NC Small Towns List

You might think that all of these small towns in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains are near Asheville, but more than a few of them are at least a couple of hours away. Those mountain towns that are within two hours were included in our guide to day trips from Asheville.

This section (and all others) will start with a list of small towns in each NC region.

  • Banner Elk
  • Black Mountain
  • Blowing Rock
  • Boiling Springs
  • Boone
  • Brevard
  • Bryson City
  • Burnsville
  • Cashiers
  • Cherokee
  • Connelly Springs
  • Danbury
  • Dillsboro
  • Elkin
  • Franklin
  • Hendersonville
  • Highlands
  • Kings Mountain
  • Lake Lure
  • Little Switzerland
  • Maggie Valley
  • Marion
  • Morganton
  • Murphy
  • Shelby
  • Sylva
  • Waynesville
  • Valdese
  • West Jefferson
  • Wilkesboro

Read More: The Coolest Airbnbs in North Carolina

A small alley in downtown Banner Elk

Our first walk through small towns in North Carolina takes us to Banner Elk. The downtown sits in a valley between two ski resorts, which bring in quite a few people from all around.

We love coming to Banner Elk for its restaurants, walkable downtown, and beautiful surroundings. The awesome and exhilarating Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster is also in Banner Elk! You can’t miss it.

Don’t forget to check out Apple Hill Farm when you’re there. This awesome agritourism business is run by owner Lee Rankin.

Read More: Otter Falls Trail and Beacon Heights

Black Mountain

Black Mountain Brewing Company

When heading west on I-40, Black Mountain is the last town in North Carolina you can stop in before Asheville. You’ll at least want to stop and grab a meal at one of the many great Black Mountain restaurants.

Lake Tomahawk Park is great for outdoor days, and White Horse is a must-visit music venue.

We also love Black Mountain for its proximity to Catawba Falls, which is just under 10 miles away! Oh, and don’t forget about Oak and Grist, which is one of our favorite distilleries in North Carolina!

Read More: The Best Breweries in Asheville

Blowing Rock

Chetola Resort in Blowing Rock, North Carolina

Banner Elk, Blowing Rock, and neighbor Boone are a few of the best small towns in NC, and all are within a short drive of each other. We love visiting Blowing Rock for its downtown and the amazing scenery (including hikes and waterfalls) that surrounds it.

This is an amazing place throughout the year, and of course, Blowing Rock is included among our favorite winter getaways in North Carolina.

You can come for The Blowing Rock, shopping, their awesome restaurants, and walks around Moses H Cone Memorial Park or the Glen Burney Trail. Or you can use Blowing Rock as your base for exploring the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway, the ubiquitous Grandfather Mountain, and more.

Whether you stay at Chetola Resort, the historic Green Park Inn, or elsewhere, we hope you enjoy your time in Blowing Rock!

Read More: Day Trips from Boone

Boiling Springs

Gardner Webb University calls Boiling Springs home, and students and parents have a beautiful campus to explore. In fact, the town gets its name from the natural spring that feeds into GW’s campus.

While driving into Boiling Springs, all the throwback-era general stores and rolling green farmland offer homey vibes that take over long before you park in town.

The nearby Broad River Greenway is another great way to get outside and enjoy yourself while in Boiling Springs.


Doc Watson Stature in Boone NC

Many folks who attended Appalachian State University (or App) will quickly share fond memories of their time living in Boone. But even if you’re not a Mountaineer, there’s plenty to see and do here, inside and outside.

There are amazing restaurants in Boone that you will surely love when spending a weekend there. Don’t forget about the town’s breweries, either!

Not far from both Boone and Blowing Rock is one of our favorite sunrise hikes, Rough Ridge Trail. It’s one of many awesome hikes in the area. Many include some beautiful waterfalls, too!

You can enjoy a stay at the Horton Hotel downtown or at one of these cool Airbnbs in Boone and in nearby towns.

Read More: Winter in Boone (20 Great Activities, Snow Tubing, and More!)


Looking Glass Falls from a lookout near Brevard NC
Looking Glass Falls near Brevard is one of the area’s best-known waterfalls.

Brevard is, first and foremost, known as the Land of Waterfalls. Some of our favorites include Looking Glass Falls and Sliding Rock. Between the two is the Moore Cove Falls Trailhead, which is a rewarding 1.5-mile roundtrip hike!

There’s also a really cool downtown filled with shops and great places to eat. Of course, you’ll want to head over to Brevard College for a “chance” at seeing one of those famed white squirrels.

Stay at the Pines Country Inn in nearby Pisgah Forest for lovely views and delicious breakfasts to start your day!

Read More: Drive the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway

Bryson City

The view from a train overlooking a river near Bryson City.

You can start your Blue Ridge Parkway adventure in Bryson City, hop on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, or do both. Some of North Carolina’s best beers are produced at Nantahala Brewing downtown.

You can also explore the beautiful natural surroundings at Deep Creek Trail inside Great Smoky Mountain National Park, just outside Bryson City. That trail leads to three beautiful waterfalls and is one of a few amazing hikes inside our state’s (and nation’s) most popular national park.

Of course, we can’t talk about Bryson City without mentioning the Nantahala Outdoor Center. This place is great for paddling, ziplining, or just chilling by the river with a cold beer and some food.

Read More: Winter in North Carolina


Downtown Burnsville in North Carolina

Town Square in Burnsville is a great place to start in one of our favorite quaint small towns in North Carolina. You’ll find great restaurants and places to shop, and you can also learn about the area’s artists by visiting Toe River Arts.

We interviewed TRA’s Executive Director and learned more about the organization during this NC Travel Chat!

Of course, you’ll want to get outside while in Yancey County. Explore Mount Mitchell but don’t forget that other Black Mountains hikes await. They include:

Read More: Hiking Roan Mountain from Carvers Gap (and Beautiful Appalachian Trail Views)


Silver Run Falls near Cashiers NC
Silver Run Falls.

One of our favorite things to do in Cashiers is to walk around The Village Green, which hosts events throughout the year. It’s a really wonderful place for a walk any time you stop by.

Silver Run Falls and Rainbow Falls are just a couple of reasons to visit Cashiers, with the epic Upper Whitewater Falls just a short drive away, too.

Schoolhouse Falls in Panthertown Valley might not stand as tall as these other waterfalls, but it’s certainly worth a visit.

We loved staying at Bear Lake Reserve, about 30 minutes away from Cashiers.

Read More: 25 of the Most Amazing Winter Hikes in North Carolina


Mingo Falls during the spring in Cherokee, North Carolina
Mingo Falls.

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort is a popular destination in Cherokee. We do recommend you stay and play there, but we also think there’s more to this special small town.

Learn about Native American heritage in Cherokee at the Oconaluftee Indian Village or the Museum of the Cherokee People.

The town is also surrounded by plenty of natural beauty, with Soco Falls being one of our favorite waterfalls in North Carolina. There’s also Mingo Falls near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (NC side) entrance.

Those two are among our favorite waterfalls near Cherokee!

Read More: Clingmans Dome Observation Tower

Connelly Springs

pulled pork BBQ with fries and baked beans from JD's Smokehouse

Connelly Springs is the newest of small towns in North Carolina if you want to be technical about it. They only re-incorporated in 1989, but the buildings and people have been here for much longer.

South Mountain Distilling Company, one of our favorite spirit-makers, calls Connelly Springs “home.”

JD’s Smokehouse makes some of the tastiest barbecues we’ve enjoyed in North Carolina, even if it doesn’t style itself as Eastern or Western.

Read More: 50+ Great Things to Do With Kids in Asheville (and Nearby!)


Priddy's General Store in Danbury, NC

If you’re headed to Hanging Rock State Park, you’ll most likely pass through Danbury. Many folks come here specifically for Moratock Park, especially during hot summer days when the Dan River is luring tubers from all over to come and float!

In this fun small town, you’ll also find local shops, including the bakery known as Artists Way Creations.

We also love heading down Sheppard Mill Rd to JE Priddy’s General Store, a place that lives up to its name. You’d really be hard-pressed NOT to find what you need here.

Read More: Hiking the Hanging Rock Trail (from Start to Finish)


Dillsboro Haywood Smokehouse platter with all the fixins'

When in Dillsboro, stop by Haywood Smokehouse for some gifts or a delicious helping of barbecue and sides. Dogwood Crafters shares the work of local artisans, and then there’s the Dillsboro Chocolate Factory, who’d love to share their fine creations with you.

Take a stroll around Dillsboro, and you’ll agree that it’s a quaint town in NC worth stopping for.

Read More: The 11 Best Places to Go Snow Tubing in North Carolina


charcuterie board with wine from Grassy Creek Winery
Grassy Creek Vineyard.

You’ll run into Elkin either on I-77 or after exploring Stone Mountain State Park nearby. We highly recommend hikes along the latter’s Stone Mountain Loop to Stone Mountain Falls and also a drive and short walk to Widow’s Creek Falls.

Thanks to some impressive wineries (even kid-friendly ones like Elkin Creek and Grassy Creek), Elkin gets quite a few visitors. The Surry County Wine Trail features more than a few of the area’s best.

While we come here often to sip and savor, we enjoy adventures beyond wine in this wonderful small town.

Skull Camp is a cool spot to enjoy some wine but also some NC beer and yummy smoked food.

And for a place to walk it all off, check out Downtown Elkin (home to the Reeves Theater), the Elkin & Alleghany Rail Trail, or Carter Falls (0.4 miles round trip).

Read More: 14 Delicious Restaurants in Elkin (+1 Great Cocktail Bar)


A beautiful section of Wayah Bald Appalacian Trail near Franklin, NC
Wayah Bald.

Franklin is one of two cute small towns in North Carolina’s Macon County that we’ll mention. Beer at Lazy Hiker Brewing, gear at Outdoor 76, and books from Books Unlimited are a few of the fun things you can explore in downtown Franklin.

The town is perfect if you love the outdoors, as it sits near the center of Nantahala National Forest and is a popular Appalachian Trail rest stop. Wayah Bald Tower and Wesser Bald Fire Tower are two well-known AT landmarks that you can hike or drive to from Franklin.

The town is also near quite a few waterfalls, including Rufus Morgan Falls to the east. Drive between Franklin and Highlands on US-64, and you’ll be on the Waterfall Byway.

Here are a few waterfalls that you’ll pass along the way:

Read More: 20+ Kid-Friendly Waterfalls In NC (Easy Hikes And Swimming Holes!)


Jump Off rock Lookout near Hendersonville, NC
Jump Off Rock.

Some of the best small towns in North Carolina include Hendersonville, the Henderson County seat. We love stopping downtown and grabbing a bite at a local restaurant before doing some browsing and shopping.

The town and its surroundings are home to some of the best NC wine, including the wonderful Burnt Shirt Vineyards.

Of course, fall visitors should head to an area orchard for some of the best apple picking in North Carolina.

Folks seeking some nature should head to nearby Jump Off Rock and the Carl Sandburg Home in Flat Rock.

Speaking of hiking in the Hendersonville area, we think you’ll absolutely love Bearwallow Mountain, about a 30-minute drive from town. It’s a short (yet steep) mile hike that leads to a beautiful grassy meadow and views of famous peaks like Mount Mitchell and Mount Pisgah.

Read More: Hikes near Asheville


Sequoyah Lake in Highlands, NC
You’ll see Sequoyah Lake just as you enter or right before leaving Highlands.

You could easily spend all your time in the Highlands, exploring the shops of this cute town in NC’s mountains.

Theater-goers should keep an eye out for showtimes at the Highlands Playhouse. At the Museum of American Cut and Engraved Glass, you’ll learn about pieces from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Of course, you should venture out around Highlands, as it’s not too far from Dry Falls, Bridal Veil Falls (not the one inside DuPont State Forest), and Cullasaja Falls.

Read More: Colorful Fall Hikes in North Carolina (+ 20 Beautiful Places to Explore!)

Kings Mountain

We first stopped in Kings Mountain when spending our first weekend in Cleveland County and really dug the vibes there. It’s the first of many small towns in this post that we included in our guide to day trips from Charlotte.

When you’re in this awesome Cleveland County town, you should spend time learning about the area at the Kings Mountain Historical Museum. Of course, you should get outside at the Gateway Trail, part of the Carolina Thread Trail.

You can also check out Crowders Mountain State Park nearby.

Read More: Outdoor Things to Do in Charlotte

Lake Lure

Lake Lure shoreline and surrounding mountains

We won’t avoid the movie references here because, in Lake Lure, you can have the time of your life. Any Dirty Dancing fans will know exactly what I’m talking about.

But beyond Lake Lure serving as a backdrop for much of that iconic movie, a visit will get you close to the water via a boat tour. Of course, you can relax on the beach.

And if there’s any time of year to visit, pick September when the Dirty Dancing Festival is going on. You bet there’ll be dancing, music, and arts and attempts at that famous lake lift.

Read More: The Lake Lure Flowering Bridge

Little Switzerland

Hop off the Blue Ridge Parkway and spend some time in Little Switzerland, which we refer to as our next mountain getaway. Don’t forget to stop by the Switzerland Cafe and General Store, where you can shop, eat, peruse, and more.

Read More: Blue Ridge Parkway Hikes

Maggie Valley

Wheels Through Time motorcyles
BearWaters Brewing.

Many folks know Maggie Valley either for Cataloochee Ski Area or as a motorcyclist mecca. The Wheels Through Time Motorcycle Museum will introduce you to some beautifully restored bikes and informative displays.

Those are two fun reasons to spend time in this Haywood County town, but even more awaits.

For starters, the food here is really good, with breakfasts at Joey’s Pancake House, lunch or dinner at Brickhouse Burgers and Pizza, and beers (plus food!) at BearWaters Brewing‘s Maggie Valley location first coming to mind.

Purchase Knob and Black Balsam Knob aren’t too far away, either, and still in the county!

Read More: The North Carolina Mountain Towns Book


The main street in downtown Morganton NC

Morganton is the Burke County seat and is surrounded by tons of natural beauty. The Linville Gorge Wilderness Area is here, filled with awesome spots that include Linville Falls and Wiseman’s View.

The amazing Table Rock Mountain can be seen from downtown, which is a wonderful hint for you to get outside when here.

There’s also the Catawba River Greenway just outside of downtown Morganton, as well as the Fonta Flora Trail.

Speaking of downtown, we think you should spend some time here perusing shops, digging into the town’s great food scene, and tasting some of NC’s finest breweries (including Hillman, Fonta Flora, and Sidetracked).

Read More: High Shoals Falls in South Mountains State Park


Historic street in Murphy North Carolina

Murphy sits on the absolute western edge of North Carolina and is where you’ll come into the state if you’re driving US-64. That’s where the saying, “From Murphy to Manteo,” comes from if you’ve ever wondered.

But speaking of the former, Murphy is close to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and home to some outdoor fun on its own. The Fields of the Wood is a Bible-themed park with a massive prayer mountain to explore.

Read More: Waterfalls near Asheville

Old Fort

Things to Do in Old Fort NC

Old Fort is another of our North Carolina small towns off I-40, best known for gold and Catawba Falls.

We’re also huge fans of Hillman Beer and the Mountain Gateway Museum in Old Fort. Just do yourself a favor and stop by the next time you’re in Western NC!

Read More: 4 National Forests in NC (Things to Do + Why We Love Them!)


Shelby Earl Scruggs Center

Of all the small towns in North Carolina, the Cleveland County seat might have the biggest musical claim to fame. And many folks do come to Shelby for a look at Bluegrass pioneer Earl Scruggs, who grew up in the area.

What has us wanting to come back is the homey atmosphere, Hunger Games-inspired pizzas at Pleasant City Wood Fired Grille, and more that we shared here.

Read More: Day Trips from Charlotte


Sylva street art

Visitors to Sylva will love the natural surroundings, including spots like Pinnacle Park and Whiteside Mountain. Stick around for fun at the American Museum of the House Cat.

And if you’re into beautiful historic buildings, check out the Jackson County Public Library. A nice view of downtown awaits from up there.

Read More: 25+ Great Lakes in North Carolina (+ Our Top 5 Picks)


popular street in Waynesville NC

Waynesville is the largest town west of Asheville, home to fun on Main Street and around Frog Level. Great restaurants await in and around downtown Waynesville, the perfect complement to this lovely small town.

You’ll also find the Museum of North Carolina Handicrafts in Waynesville, typically open from May to October.

And if you’re into big events, check out October’s Apple Harvest Festival and Folkmoot, with the latter celebrating both Cherokee and Appalachian cultures.

If you’re looking for a place to stay in an NC small town, check out The Swag. It’s one of the state’s most luxurious hotels.

Read More: How to Find 20+ Haywood County Artists on Blue Ridge Craft Trails


street art in Valdese NC

Valdese is the last Burke County town that we’ll mention and definitely one of the most interesting.

We love its downtown and recommend you stop by Myra’s on Main Street for a tasty burger and some ice cream.

McGalliard Falls is another reason you should visit Valdese. It’s on the outskirts of town but where you’ll find a 40-foot waterfall joining a recreated grist mill. It’s just a short walk from the parking lot, too.

Read More: 10 Beautiful Roadside Waterfalls in North Carolina for Everyone!

West Jefferson

west Jefferson NC

West Jefferson is a lovely Ashe County town, sitting in the shadows of Mount Jefferson and Paddy Mountain.

There’s a lovely arts district here, West Jefferson Park to stroll around, and a farmer’s market that sells locally produced food that includes Ashe County cheese!

New River State Park is also nearby in Ashe County. Don’t pay attention to the name, as this is one of the oldest rivers in the US. Folks love it for all the canoeing, paddling, hiking, and fishing opportunities.

Read More: Christmas Tree Farms in North Carolina


beautiful street art in Wilkesboro NC

Wilkesboro has long been known as the Moonshine Capital of the World. And if you don’t know your NASCAR history, nearby North Wilkesboro is the site of the first-ever NASCAR track.

Folks who love music know Wilkesboro as the site of MerleFest, which typically happens each April.

The Wilkes County town gets into festival mode each year to prepare for the huge acts and crowds who come to enjoy this family-friendly series of shows around Wilkesboro Community College.

Read More: Delicious Restaurants in Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro

Central NC Small Towns List

Many of these small towns in Central North Carolina are within quick reach of a day trip, especially from Raleigh and Durham. Some are near Charlotte and even considered part of its metropolitan region.

  • Aberdeen
  • Apex
  • Asheboro
  • Burlington
  • Carrboro
  • Davidson
  • Gastonia
  • Hillsborough
  • Kannapolis
  • Lexington
  • Lincolnton
  • Mebane
  • Mooresville
  • Mount Airy
  • Mount Pleasant
  • Pinehurst
  • Pittsboro
  • Salisbury
  • Saxapahaw
  • Seagrove
  • Southern Pines
  • Statesville
  • Wake Forest


Downtown Aberdeen NC

You’ll see a lot of cool small towns in North Carolina as you pass through on US 1, and Aberdeen might be the first to stand out. It’s fun for shopping or perusing at spots like Seagrove Pottery of the Sandhills.

Plus, you can get some holes in at Legacy Golf Links.

Read More: Things to Do in Moore County (Annual Events and Year-Round Attractions)


Anna's Pizzeria in the historic downtown. of Apex, NC

Apex follows its motto, “The Peak of Good Living” with a fun Historic District that’s filled with boutique shops and restaurants. Peak Town is also close to Jordan Lake, solidifying its spot among our favorite small towns in the Research Triangle.


An elephant at the Asheboro Zoo

Asheboro brings in tons of people for the North Carolina Zoo, but there’s even more to this town that sits in the heart of our state. The NC Aviation Museum and the American Classic Motorcycle Museum are two mainstays to visit. Oh, and there’s also the NC Potters Conference in March.

Read More: Kid-friendly Events in North Carolina


chili down from Zach's hot dogs in Burlington, North Carolina

Even if you don’t go to Elon University, you should come to hang out in Burlington. The downtown is nice for a walk after you dig into a hot dog (or two) at Zack’s.

There are also a few lakes nearby that are perfect if you’re into kayaking or canoeing. Burlington’s Animal Park at the Conservators Center hosts events throughout the year, which are great for the kids and the whole family!

Head over to Graham next door and grab a bite at the Soda Shop. If you have a little one, take them to the Children’s Museum of Alamance County.

Read More: Day Trips from Greensboro


a small farmer's market in Carrboro NC

Carrboro is where a lot of UNC-Chapel Hill students live. It’s also home to folks who discovered that this is one of the most chill small towns in North Carolina.

We long felt that way and even learned about the ties between many Carrboro restaurants during the Taste food tour we joined there. You’ll also figure out how special this place is during one of the weekly Carrboro Farmers’ Markets.

Read More: Things to Do in Chapel Hill and Orange County


A quaint street with shops at sunset in Davidson, NC

Davidson is one of the most adorable small towns in North Carolina. This is the Southern town you’d see in a Hallmark movie.

Home to Davidson College, the town has boutique shops, 12 miles of greenways, and is proudly walkable. There are also great restaurants here, including Kindred and two Summit Coffee locations.

Read More: 25+ Great Things to Do in Lake Norman (Nearby Towns and Parks)


The beautiful views from Crowders Mountain State Park

Gastonia shares Gaston County with Crowders Mountain State Park. Its 5,210 acres and 16 hiking trails are waiting for you to come and explore.

Head into Gastonia, and you’ll find quaint antique stores and the Carolina Speedway, which happens to be one of the oldest dirt racetracks in the South.

George Poston Park is also in the area and has some awesome biking trails that are perfect for riders of all levels.

Read More: Christmas Town USA (How to See the Wonderful McAdenville Christmas Lights)


Ayr Mount in Hillsborough NC
Ayr Mount.

Hillsborough was one of the first small towns of North Carolina that we visited, and we immediately fell in love with it. You can easily enjoy this place, and you should start with a walk on Churton Street before stopping at Wooden Nickel Pub.

You can also stroll along the Riverwalk and grab some grub at Hillsborough BBQ Company on Nash Street. Additional awesome spots for walks include the Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail, the awesome Ayr Mount, and of course, the underrated Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area.

Read More: Things to Do in Durham


A statue of Dale Earnhardt in Kannapolis NC

NASCAR fans will know Kannapolis as the home of the late Intimidator Dale Earnhardt Sr, and you can find a statue dedicated to him along the Dale Trail.

The North Carolina Music Hall of Fame is in Kannapolis, and you can learn more about our state’s musical heritage and hall inductees when visiting.

We think you should also walk around downtown Kannapolis and grab some food at a local restaurant like Chophouse 101. You’ll also find Old Armor Beer, one of the area’s best breweries.

Don’t forget about Douglas Vineyards if you’re interested in a tasting.

Read More: Things to Do in Concord and Cabarrus County


Lexington Barbecue Center

Lexington‘s Barbecue Center was my first experience with red slaw, and after the first spoonful, I was hooked. Sure, this town is known for its signature style of ‘cue and holds an annual festival to commemorate that.

But you should also come here to check out the other great restaurants in Lexington, sip some red or white at Childress Vineyards and other great Lexington wineries, and enjoy the waters of High Rock Lake.

Read More: Lexington NC Map of 20+ Attractions (+ 7 Surrounding Counties!)


You’ll enjoy yourself any time of year in Lincolnton and its surroundings in Lincoln County. Of course, we can’t talk about this place without discussing the annual Apple Festival in October.

That’s hands-down the most popular time to be here. On a good year, more than 80,000 visitors come to town for music, a farmer’s market, tons of apple-focused food, and much more! 


Mebane easily lives up to its “Positively Charming” motto and remains one of our favorite places to visit in Alamance County. Clay is a great shopping street where you can find all sorts of things.


a small waterfall near Mebane NC at Carrigan Farms
Carrigan Farms.

Mooresville is a great gateway to Lake Norman. The town also has plenty of family-friendly attractions around the lake.

One of them is Carrigan Farms, a family-owned farm that hosts U-pick fruits and vegetables. There, you’ll also find a natural rock quarry swimming hole, especially welcome on hot days.

Being a racing hub, many of the top NASCAR team shops are located in Mooresville, too. JR Motorsports, Team Penske, and Kyle Busch Motorsports are based here. In their shops, you’ll find cars, trophies, memorabilia, and plenty of swag to take home.

Finally, we know you’ll get hungry while exploring the town, and we’ve vouched for these delicious restaurants to enjoy!

Read More: How to See Speedway Christmas in Concord

Mount Airy

outdoor dining area at Round Park Vineyard
Round Peak Vineyard.

Many folks know the Surry County town of Mount Airy as “Mayberry,” and after checking out Downtown and the Andy Griffith Museum, you’ll see why.

Mayberry Spirits Distillery and Round Peak Vineyard are fun Mount Airy spots, too. Oh, and there’s also the amazing Pilot Mountain State Park nearby, too.

Read More: North Carolina State Parks

Mount Pleasant

NC Highway 73 runs through Mount Pleasant in Eastern Cabarrus County. This place is special in our hearts for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it’s the hometown of NC Hall of Fame inductees, The Avett Brothers.

There are also some yummy restaurants here, including 73 and Main. This restaurant sits inside a former hosiery mill and produces some amazing food. Hopefully, they’ll keep the PB & J Burger on the menu!

And finally, Mount Pleasant is the home of Southern Grace Distilleries. Seeing the Whiskey Prison in person and learning about the story of this locally owned business (and tasting their award-winning spirits) was such a treat.

Read More: 20 Awesome Wineries near Charlotte (Vineyards Within 2 Hours)


Pinehurst Golf Course

Spend some time exploring Pinehurst, one of the most interesting small towns in North Carolina.

The acclaimed Pinehurst Resort is worth a visit (or stay) during your trip to this Moore County town. Walk around the village itself, perusing the locally-owned shops, before grabbing some food nearby.

We highly recommend a visit to Pinehurst Brewing for some tasty food that pairs nicely with some great NC beer!

Don’t forget about the Sandhills Horticultural Gardens before you leave. It’s a wonderful garden curated by the students at Sandhills Community College.


Day Trips from Durham Carolina Tiger Rescue Pittsboro

We love this Chatham County town for its walkable downtown.

Pittsboro is also known for Carolina Tiger Rescue, which is doing its part in the fight against the exotic animal trade. Extend your stay at the Fearrington House Inn & Restaurant, one of our favorite resorts in NC!

You should also head to nearby Siler City and visit Celebrity Dairy, especially when the baby goats come out in spring.


historic home in Salisbury NC

Salisbury is growing, thanks to that massive city of Charlotte that we hear has a lot of things to do. It’s known as the home of Cheerwine and Food Lion.

However, we also think you should check out their five historic districts and venture a couple of miles away to the NC Transportation Museum in Spencer.

Read More: Children’s Museums in North Carolina


Saxaco General Store

When talking about the small towns of North Carolina, Saxapahaw is our favorite one to say out loud. It’s also home to some awesome shops, including a five-star general store that serves some delicious food.

Haw River Farmhouse Ales is here, too, and produces some of our favorite beers. And then there’s the Haw River Ballroom, which hosts bands and musicians from all over.


North Carolina Pottery center in Seagrove

Visit Seagrove and you’ll be smack dab in the middle of the handmade pottery capital of the United States. You can visit potters in their studios, and if you don’t know where to start, visit the NC Pottery Center for all the info you’ll need.

Be sure to spend time driving around the NC Pottery Highway (NC 705). That way, you can stop in towns like Star, Whynot, Robbins, and more along the way.

Southern Pines

Sunrise Theatre in Southern Pines, NC

After hitting up Pinehurst and Aberdeen in the “Home of Golf,” don’t forget about Southern Pines. We love walking around downtown’s amazing shops before grabbing some food at great restaurants like Chapman’s, followed by a scoop or two at the Ice Cream Parlor.

Weymouth Woods is also in Southern Pines and a wonderful way to enjoy the outdoors.


a hot air balloon flying over Statesville, NC

Many folks come to Statesville for Carolina Balloonfest in October, but you can come any time of year to see Fort Dobbs and Bigleaf Slopes Park. Beer and spirits connoisseurs will enjoy Red Buffalo Brewing and Southern Distilling Company, too.

These are just a few of our favorite things to do in Statesville. Visit this awesome small town in North Carolina’s center and you’ll find even more!

Read More: Lake Norman State Park (8 Great Things to Do!)

Wake Forest

We first visited Wake Forest for a now-defunct barbecue competition that we hope will return but fell in love with the community centered around White Street.

For beer lovers, White Street Brewing is a must, and if you want to check out some nature, E. Carroll Joyner Park and nearby Falls Lake State Recreation Area should get a visit from you.

Eastern NC Small Towns List

Eastern North Carolina is where you’ll find the highest concentration of historic small towns, mainly because Europeans first permanently settled down in this part of the state.

Not only is there a rich heritage in this area, but there are also some of the quaintest and friendliest coastal towns right by the beach.

  • Atlantic Beach
  • Avon
  • Bald Head Island
  • Beaufort
  • Calabash
  • Carolina Beach
  • Corolla
  • Duck
  • Edenton
  • Elizabeth City
  • Emerald Isle
  • Goldsboro
  • Holden Beach
  • Hope Mills
  • Kill Devil Hills
  • Kinston
  • Kure Beach
  • Leland
  • Manteo
  • Morehead City
  • Mount Olive
  • Nags Head
  • New Bern
  • Oak Island
  • Ocracoke
  • Oriental
  • Smithfield
  • Southport
  • Spring Lake
  • Surf City
  • Swansboro
  • Washington
  • Wilson
  • Wrightsville Beach

Atlantic Beach

A boy fishing at Atlantic Beach

Atlantic Beach is the first Bogue Banks town you’ll encounter after crossing over the bridge from Morehead City. This is one of the best beaches in North Carolina and one of our favorites to enjoy a vacation.

Fort Macon State Park is also here, at the eastern end of Bogue Banks. Here, you’ll find a Civil War-era fort, beach access, trails, and an incredible coastal education center.

There are also some great restaurants here, including the Shark Shack (great fried seafood), as well as tasty breweries like Crystal Coast Brewing.

Between Atlantic Beach and Emerald Isle (keep reading for more on EI) is the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. It’s the largest of the NC Aquarium system and a great fixture on the Bogue Banks.

Read More: Atlantis Lodge


Avon, historically known as Kinnakeet, is the first Outer Banks town that we’ll cover. It’s the largest and most populated Hatteras Island town but not too big for our list.

You’ll run into Avon via the Outer Banks Scenic Highway and should be on the lookout for a place to park. Here, you’ll find plenty of shops, art galleries, and outdoor sporting retailers.

Windsurfing and kiteboarding are popular in Avon, especially at a spot known as The Haulover, also known as Canadian Hole.

Read More: Outer Banks Towns

Bald Head Island

Bald Head Island lighthouse and boardwalk

You could easily spend a weekend, a week, or the rest of your life on Bald Head Island. It’s one of the best small towns in North Carolina for all travelers.

When you get tired of lazying around the house, grab your golf cart and check out Old Baldy, North Carolina’s oldest standing lighthouse.

Or you can explore one of the many nature trails, including Kent Mitchell, on the island.


a couple of horses grazing at Rachel Carson Reserve in Beaufort, NC

The wild horses of the Rachel Carson Reserve were the main reason we first stopped by Beaufort, and we were hooked on the town. You can also come here for the North Carolina Maritime Museum or just stare at the boats and water after parking on Front Street.

Also, don’t forget to grab some grub at Beaufort Grocery CO and Moonrakers.

Read More: Cape Lookout Lighthouse (How to Reach and Enjoy This Iconic Place!)


fish and chips in Calabash, NC

Right at the southeast edge of the state is Calabash, which you may know for its signature style of preparing seafood. When you’re not eating all the fresh fish and other sea creatures they offer, head to nearby Sunset Beach or Bird Island for more coastal fun.

Read More: 50+ Easy Day Trips from Fayetteville (Great Getaways!)

Carolina Beach

A lifeguard station overlooking Carolina Beach, NC

Of all the small towns in North Carolina, Carolina Beach might be the most popular. It’s certainly one of the most popular beaches in North Carolina, especially of those near Wilmington.

The Boardwalk is home to some great restaurants, including the North Carolina institution known as Britt’s Donuts.

Outdoor adventures await at Carolina Beach, whether you’re out on a boat, a kayak, biking along the Greenway, or hiking at Carolina Beach State Park.

Read More: Things to Do in Wilmington


Corolla lighthouse and courtyard in the Outer Banks

Corolla is one of the newer players on the Outer Banks vacation rental scene. Because of this, it’s viewed as a bit more upscale. You’ll find more oceanfront mansions, gated communities, and wide-open beaches here.

Corolla is also home to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and the Whalehead Historic House Museum.

Many folks come here to hang out near the Corolla wild horses. These natural beauties are protected by the Corolla Wild Horse Fund and are only accessible via four-wheel drive.


a swampy marsh in Duck, NC

Many folks look to Duck when picking towns in The Outer Banks. Its beach and boardwalk are perfect for families, couples, and solo travelers alike.

You’ll see folks out enjoying walks along the sidewalks or by the water, giving this place a more residential feel than others.

We also included the Roadside and Cravings in our guide to Outer Banks restaurants if you’re coming hungry.

Read More: Sanderling Resort in Duck (+ 7 Things We Love About It!)


The atlantic ocean with a large estate in Edenton NC

Edenton was the first permanent European settlement of North Carolina and its second permanent capital. The Chowan County seat is filled with history and some of our favorite places to learn about it include the Roanoke River Lighthouse and the Penelope Barker House.

You should also come to Edenton for views of Albemarle Sound and at least a weekend at one of their many relaxing places to stay, which includes the Inner Banks Inn.

Elizabeth City

Further toward the coast from Edenton, you’ll find Elizabeth City, a beautiful town that sits on the Pasquotank River.

Among the many things to do here, you should check out the Museum of the Albemarle. This is the northeastern branch of the NC Museum of History.

Emerald Isle

rows of beach vacation houses along Emerald Isle

Emerald Isle sits at the western end of Bogue Banks, opposite Atlantic Beach and adjacent to Indian Beach. Since this is one of the most popular beaches in North Carolina, EI can get very busy in the summer.

Of course, its shops and restaurants are ready to handle the traffic. Cap’n Willis Seafood Market has all you need if you want to cook at home, too.

And while you’re in Emerald Isle, head to The Point for some of the best beach views in all of North Carolina.

Read More: Cape Lookout National Seashore (How to Get There + the 10 Best Things to Do!)


Spirit of Goldsboro airplane from the Wings over Wayne event
Wings Over Wayne is a huge event that happens every other April. You should visit Goldsboro way more often than that. Just saying!

Come to Wayne County and you’ll discover the four Ps that run the show in Goldsboro and its surroundings. You really have to come and walk around Downtown, eat at some area restaurants, and check out Heritage Farms General Store nearby.

Thank me later, but don’t forget to stop by Grady’s Barbecue in Dudley. It’s so good that we mentioned it in our guide to North Carolina barbecue!

Holden Beach

sunset at Holden Beach North Caroilna

Holden Beach is one of the best small towns in North Carolina, and it’s also known as North Carolina’s “Family Beach.” You can kick back and relax at your rental or venture out to the nearby beach or to the Intracoastal Waterway.

We love riding bikes along Ocean Blvd and around many of the sights found on the “Olden” Holden Trail. If you haven’t yet visited this wonderful Brunswick County town, please do yourself a favor and book a visit!

Read More: 8 Beautiful Brunswick County Beaches to Explore

Hope Mills

beer flight at a Hope Mills brewery

We first think of Hope Mills as the home of Dirtbag Ales, but the Cumberland County town offers more beyond those delicious brews and the on-site restaurant Napkins.

Elsewhere in Hope Mills, be on the lookout for fun events throughout the year. You’ll be impressed by their Memorial Day and 4th of July festivities, but also the Gallberry Corn Maze (September to November) and various Christmas celebrations in December.

Read More: Christmas in North Carolina

Kill Devil Hills

delicious plate of food from Kill Devil Grill
Seriously, eat at Kill Devil Grill, or else you’ll really miss out!

Kill Devil Hills has been our go-to place to stay in The Outer Banks. When not at the beach or eating at Kill Devil Grill, we love visiting the Wright Brothers National Memorial and Nags Head Woods, which the town co-manages with Nags Head.

Read More: Jockey’s Ridge State Park


a fun drink from Kinston's Mother Earth Brewing

Kinston is worth exploring at least for a meal at Vivian Howard’s famed Chef & the Farmer, but don’t forget about the other restaurants in and around town.

Mother Earth Brewing also pumps out some of Eastern NC’s finest beers from Kinston, and if you’re into Civil War history, check out the CSS Neuse II that’s on display.

Kure Beach

The pier going out over the ocean at Kure Beach

The vibe of Kure Beach is chill compared to its neighbor Carolina Beach. Don’t sleep on Kure, though, because there are a lot of fun things to do here.

Along with its relatively less crowded beaches and fishing pier, there’s the Civil War-era Fort Fisher State Historic Site, the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, and the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area.

We think you and your family will love this place, no matter who’s tagging along.

Read More: Things to Do with Kids in Wilmington


Leland is one of many Brunswick County spots(also near Wilmington) that you might recognize from the many movies filmed here. You’ll understand why very quickly. Cape Fear National at Brunswick Forest is a nice spot for admiring the beauty here and for a day on the links.


Kill Devil Rum bottle in Manteo, NC

Manteo is the only incorporated town on Roanoke Island, which it shares with Wanchese. The latter is known for fresh seafood, and Manteo is the Dare County.

This small town offers a quieter feel than its Outer Banks surroundings. A visitor can expect Bed and Breakfasts, quaint shops, and a beautiful waterfront boardwalk.

Oh, and please stop by Outer Banks Distilling and pick up a bottle of their delicious Kill Devil Rum! This is definitely one of our favorite North Carolina distilleries!

Kids can enjoy Manteo, too, thanks to the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island, the beautiful Island Farm, and more!

Morehead City

Big Rock Landing Pier in Morehead City

The Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament brings people from all over to Morehead City every summer. It’s also popular for scuba diving and many folks, including us, enjoy hanging out on Atlantic Beach just across the Bogue Sound.

Read More: Summer Things to Do in North Carolina

Mount Olive

We’ve mentioned a few times that Mount Olive is a pretty big dill, thanks to the massive pickle company that calls it home. You can learn more about this in April during the NC Pickle Festival.

Beyond that spring extravaganza, stop by the town and patronize some of the local businesses, including R&R Brewing, and tell them we said “Hi!”

Nags Head

Jennettes Pier Nags Head OBX Small Towns

Nags Head is known for Jockeys Ridge State Park, the iconic Jennette’s Pier, and nearby Bodie Island Lighthouse. Some of our favorite places to eat in Nags Head include Grits Grill and Tortugas Lie, and there are tons more places to dig into.

Read More: How to See Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (+ Climbing Info!)

New Bern

Things to do in New Bern NC Tryon Palace

We quickly learned that New Bern is one of the tightest-knit small towns in North Carolina. You can learn about it while touring Tryon Palace or when visiting the birthplace of Pepsi-Cola.

New Bern’s African-American Heritage Tour is another great way to learn about this small town. You’ll follow the tour from the Convention Center to more than 10 landmarks.

Speaking of landmarks, you can also hunt for all the bear statues in New Bern. There’s also the waterfront and tons of local restaurants like Persimmons, Baker’s Kitchen, and more worth exploring for at least a weekend!

Read More: 15+ Awesome Things to Do in New Bern

Oak Island

Things to Do in Oak Island NC The Point Sunset
The Point.

Oak Island is the perfect spot to have a beach getaway, especially if you’re seeking beautiful sunsets from the Point.

If you feel the need for more seclusion, head over to Caswell Beach next door. On the other side of the island, Oak Island Lighthouse and its surroundings offer views of the water, Bald Head Island, and Old Baldy Lighthouse across the way.


Things to do on Ocracoke Lighthouse

Ocracoke is the last of the Outer Banks small towns in North Carolina that we’ll feature. The only way to reach it is by boat, either your own, someone else’s, or via the free ferry.

The relative seclusion makes Ocracoke’s pristine beaches and untouched maritime forests even more special.

Springer’s Point Nature Preserve is one particular spot that brings together both beaches and forests. It also leads you to the beach that overlooks the waters where Blackbeard was killed.

You can explore by grabbing a bike and riding around the village. Of course, you’ll want to visit Ocracoke Lighthouse, the Pony Pen, and the numerous hiking trails.

Before and after you head out to explore, grab a bite at one of Ocracoke Island’s great restaurants!

Read More: Portsmouth Island (How to See this Beautiful Uninhabited Place)


When looking up “Outdoor Fun” in the dictionary, a picture of Oriental should come along with the definition. You can paddle, bike, boat, and do just about anything else an outdoor enthusiast can do here.

You can also grab a beer at New Village Brewery and soak up some backstory at Oriental’s History Museum.


southern cooking from White Swan Bar-B-Que
White Swan Bar-B-Que & Fried Chicken.

Smithfield is just a short drive from Raleigh and sits above the I-40/I-95 split. The Ava Gardner Museum is one great reason to stop in Smithfield, and you’ll agree when visiting this interesting tribute to the iconic Johnston County native.

Smithfield is also known as the home of Carolina Packers, which makes the red Bright Leaf Hot Dog a very famous North Carolina food.

Pop over to Benson for a visit to Broadslab Distilling and if you like barbecue, make a special trip to McGee’s Crossroads and dig into the wonder that is Redneck BBQ Lab.

Read More: 20+ Great Things to Do in Johnston County (JoCo’s Best Places!)


The pier at Southport

Home to the North Carolina Fourth of July Festival, Southport is worthy of all the TV shows and films that have used it as a backdrop. You can hang out by the waterfront all day long and visit one of the North Carolina Maritime Museum locations here.

Southport is also where you go to reach Bald Head Island via ferry.

Read More: July in North Carolina

Spring Lake

A marsh at Carver's Creek State Park

Carvers Creek State Park sits near the town of Spring Lake and is one of our favorite places to walk in the woods. The Cumberland County town also hosts the annual Sandhills Sankofa Festival in April and September’s Renaissance Faire.

Both are a couple of awesome reasons to visit this town, though we think you’ll find something here throughout the year.

Surf City

a small sea turtle rescued on Topsail Island

When on Topsail Island and exploring the beaches there, you’ll want some time to explore Surf City. It’s got a cool fishing pier that you can walk on and watch folks as they reel in something big.

Then there’s the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, a truly fun and educational place that is open on Thursday and Saturday afternoons.

Read More: 15 of the Best Topsail Island Restaurants (Great Food for All!)


A large ship on the water at sunset in Swansboro

Swansboro sits between Jacksonville and Cedar Point and is largely known for its wonderful waterfront. We love walking around Front St, where you can shop and eat all day long.

You can take a boat from Swansboro or Hammocks Beach State Park to reach Bear Island, one of the best places to go shelling and enjoy some isolation along North Carolina’s coast.

You’re also close to Cedar Point’s Salty Air Open Market and Emerald Isle if you feel like getting away from this nice little town.


The boardwalk in Washington, NC

Washington (also known as “Little Washington”) sits on the Pamlico River’s northern bank, with a cozy historic waterfront for walks or picnics. Goose Creek State Park is another nice way to enjoy the outdoors here.

And if you’d like to see North Carolina’s oldest town, you can drive for about 20 minutes and reach Bath.

Read More: Important Places to Visit and Learn Black History in NC


Lake Wilson's Whirligigs

If you haven’t gotten to visit the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park in Wilson, then we know what you’re next thing to do in North Carolina should be. Lake Wilson Reservoir is another fun way to get outside in the area.

And by the way, Parker’s and Marty’s both have some of the best Eastern NC barbecue you’ll find.

Wrightsville Beach

Johnnie Mercer's Pier at Wrightsville Beach
Johnnie Mercer’s Pier.

Wrightsville Beach is home to pretty water, great surf, and five miles of wide, sandy beach. Surfing, paddleboarding, and fishing are some of the most popular activities here.

Even if you’re not casting a reel from Johnnie Mercer’s Pier, you’ll enjoy a stroll on the only concrete fishing pier in North Carolina.

From Wrightsville Beach, you can take a day trip to Masonboro Island Reserve, an isolated and protected beach. It’s one of the most beautiful places in North Carolina, in case you were asking.

The 10 Best Small Towns in North Carolina (NC Tripping’s Picks)

We made some tough decisions when picking the 10 best North Carolina small towns. After considering a variety of factors, here’s what we think are the best of the best:

  1. Boone
  2. Davidson
  3. Brevard
  4. Duck
  5. Burnsville
  6. Swansboro
  7. Black Mountain
  8. Surf City
  9. Saxapahaw
  10. Elkin

What are the Best Small Towns in North Carolina?

So now that we’ve laid out the best NC small towns, we’d love to know what you have down as your favorites.

Which is the first one you want to visit when getting out and about in our state? Got any you’d like to add to the mix?

Let us know in the comments section, or send us an email. Don’t forget to share your adventures in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group.

Beyond Small Towns in North Carolina (Travel Guides)

We’ve created many more NC travel guides that cover these wonderful small towns and beyond. Here are a few of them.

4 thoughts on “80+ Great Small Towns in North Carolina (+ Our Top 10 Picks)”

  1. I agree with basically all of the places you’ve mentioned, but I can’t believe that Davidson didn’t make your list! It’s a wonderful quaint college town with friendly people and proximity to Lake Norman, state parks, Lake Norman State Park, Duke Energy Visitor Center, and numerous other attractions. It is also the home of Christmas in Davidson an annual event that takes place on the first weekend of December, April is For Arts celebration, etc. It’s a wonderful place to live and to visit!

  2. Didn’t see chimney rock on your trip !!
    I enjoyed your tours around my home town
    Of Asheville witch I grew up visiting and enjoying the
    Beauty’s the mountains have .i left them in the 50s to come
    North to live I wanted go back to live there after my husband
    Pass but my family all was settle here didn’t want to go so I
    Didnt go back i always went back each year until my health wouldn’t et me go I am now a92 year old widow and miss my home town thanks for my tour witch I miss in person very much .

    • We can work on that! We will be turning this into our next book too- so we’ll be sure to include a map there too. Thanks for the suggestion!


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