The lighter side of real estate

These are the 10 Most Exciting Places In North Carolina

North Cackalacky certainly isn’t lacking when it comes to excitement—especially in these 10 most exciting places in the state.

Natalie Grigson

Staff Writer

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North Carolina is no doubt one of the most exciting states in the U.S. You want festivals? North Carolina has you covered. Bars and parties? Absolutely. And don’t even get me started on the restaurant options NC has for all the foodies out there (especially the barbecue lovers).

The point is, this state pretty much has it going on—well, depending on where you are. In the latest analysis here at the Movoto Real Estate Blog, we discovered that not all North Carolina cities are created equally exciting; not by a longshot. Even among the top 50, there were 10 that stood out from the rest:

1. City of Chapel Hill
2. City of Wilmington
3. City of Raleigh
4. City of Asheville
5. City of Charlotte
6. Town of Matthews
7. Town of Huntersville
8. City of Durham
9. City of New Bern
10. City of Hickory

Not only did Chapel Hill take the No. 1 spot, but it took it like the Tar Heels beat the Blue Devils in February. That is, where most of the other cities differed by only a point or maybe two, Chapel Hill won by an overwhelming four points! Keep reading to find out why, and how we came up with this list in the first place.

How We Created This Ranking

For North Carolina’s Most Exciting Places, we used the U.S. Census (2010) to create a list of all of the places in the state with populations of 25,000 or more, which left us with a total of 34 places. Then, we used the U.S. Census and  business listing to find relevant data for the following eight criteria:

  • Nightlife per capita (bars, clubs, comedy, etc.)
  • Live music venues per capita
  • Active life options per capita (parks, outdoor activities, etc.)
  • Arts and Entertainment per capita (movie theaters, festivals, galleries, theaters, etc.)
  • Fast Food restaurants per capita (the fewer the better)
  • Percentage of restaurants that are not fast food (the higher the better)
  • Percentage of young residents ages 18 to 34 (the higher the better)

We then ranked each place from one to 34 according to each criterion, with one being the best possible score. From there, we averaged the rankings for each place into one overall Big Deal Score, with the lowest number being our winner, the most exciting place in the state, hands down, Chapel Hill.

So if you think you can handle the excitement, keep reading to find out just what makes each of our top 10 more thrilling than the rest. Otherwise, feel free to head down to the bottom of the post for a look at how all 34 places in the state ranked.

1. Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill, NC

Source: Wikimedia user Carolina Culler

Ah, Chapel Hill. Home to some of the most beautiful botanical gardens you’ve ever seen, museums, galleries, tons of Locally Grown movies and music. And of course, there’s Allan & Son Bar-B-Que, where the hush puppies are pretty much the most exciting thing your mouth has ever met.

All that aside, where Chapel Hill really gained some excitement points in our analysis was for the whopping 45 percent of its population that is between the age of 18 and 34; by far the most out of any place in our top 10. Obviously that’s because Chapel Hill is home to UNC, which means it also ranked highly in basically all of our other criteria.

The place is packed with restaurants, and it came in second in both number of music venues and arts and entertainment per capita. Chapel Hill even ranked well for its lack of fast food restaurants—which is pretty impressive considering how many students live here.

2. Wilmington

Wilmington, NC

Source: City of Wilmington

Chapel Hill may have won heartily for its number of young people, but Wilmington took the cake for its nightlife and active life options per capita (well, considering the active lifestyle here, perhaps it didn’t take the cake, but more like the gluten-free vegan slice of organic cake…).

Wilmington also ranked well in most of our other criteria, with museums like the Louise Wells Cameron Art Museum, music venues like Satellite Bar and Lounge, the delicious Indochine Restaurant, and of course, with UNCW, a fairly high percentage of young folks (32 percent between the ages of 18 and 34).

3. Raleigh

Raleigh, NC

Source: Lincoln Theatre Facebook Page

The capital city of NC is known as the home to North Carolina State University (hence the 32 percent of people between 18 and 34), being a part of the Research Triangle, and, of course, a whole lot more exciting things. Things like the Lincoln Theater, the Pour House, and the Red Hat Amphitheater.

In fact, it was for music venues in particular that Raleigh ranked so well in our analysis, with some of the most per capita. Live music not your thing? Don’t worry, Raleigh has tons of other nightlife options, from the more clubby like Solas to straight up dive bars like The Goat.

4. Asheville

Asheville, NC

Source: Flickr user Alexandra Roberts

This city seems to be on the list (along with Austin, Boulder, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, etc) of places that people just have to visit. And once they visit, they promptly fall in love with the city and move there. What’s so exciting about Asheville? Well, for starters, it is beautiful. One hike through the Blue Ridge Parkway and you’ll know what I mean.

Not coincidentally, it also ranked third overall for its active life options; but where it really shone was for its nightlife, music venues, and arts and entertainment per capita, ranking first place in all three categories. There’s the Thirsty Monk, the Bywater, Grey Eagle Tavern & Music Hall, and so many festivals and entertainment options, I don’t even know where to start.

No wonder so many people are flocking to Asheville; this place is a postcard for excitement.

5. Charlotte

Charlotte, NC

Source: Wikimedia user Digidreamgrafix

With a population of over 730,000, Charlotte is easily the largest city in the state; but a big population doesn’t necessarily mean bigger excitement. Well, in this case it kind of did. Charlotte impressed (and surprised) us with its low number of fast food restaurants, ranking No. 4 in this category.

Of course, to make up for a lack of fast food, you’d better hope that it has a variety of non-gross (non-fast food) restaurants, and it certainly does. Places like Good Food, Barrington’s, and the Fig Tree are just a few reasons Charlotte came in high in the restaurants per capita category.

It also ranked well for its number of music venues per capita, and for an exciting 28 percent of its population being between the ages of 18 and 34, due to a number of colleges and universities in the area.

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6. Matthews

Matthews, NC

Source: Flickr user Kenzie Saunders

This town may be a suburb of Charlotte, but as our analysis showed, it has all the excitement it needs on its own, thank you very much—especially when it comes to active life.

Matthews ranked first in this category, for a number of sporting goods stores, gyms, and outdoor activities. And even though Matthews didn’t exactly win any points for its lack of fast food (there is no lack of fast food in this town), it more than made up for this with its variety of restaurants without a drive-thru per capita, like Taste of Europe, Sante, Soma Grill, and on and on.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, Matthews ranked among the best for its arts and entertainment and nightlife venues per capita. “You need to have a young population to be an exciting city”—said no one in Matthews ever, which had the lowest percent of people from 18 to 34 in our analysis.

7. Huntersville

Huntersville, NC

Source: Flickr user Adam Sowers

Take away the fast food restaurants, replace them with delicious eateries like Dressler’s and La Unica, and add a heavy dose of live music venues per capita, like the Green Room, and what have you got? Huntersville, our No. 7 most exciting place.

This town also scored well in our analysis for its high number of active life options per capita. This may not come as such a surprise, though, considering Huntersville’s proximity to the beautiful Lake Norman, plus several golf courses located in the area. And golf is… sort of active, right?

8. Durham

Durham, NC

Source: Flickr user twbuckner

Oftentimes Raleigh and Durham are lumped together like a package deal; but as our analysis shows, clearly one is not the other. Don’t worry, Durham; you’re still plenty exciting though.

In fact, Durham ranked even better than Raleigh did when it came to a high percent of young people. With help from Duke University, 32.41 percent of Durham’s population is between 18 and 34, where Raleigh has just 32.33. Not a big difference, sure, but in this study, even the smallest bit counts.

This college town also ranked well for its number of music venues and non-fast food restaurants per capita; venues like Motorco Music Hall, the Pinhook, and of course, DPAC. Plus amazing restaurants like Nana’s  are kind of reason enough to move to Durham.

9. New Bern

New Bern, NC

Source: MJ’s Raw Bar and Grille Facebook Page

This city, once referred to as “the Athens of the South” (mostly due to its Athens Theater… oh, and all those Masonic Temples), is not only one of the most exciting places in the state, but also probably the most likely to be the location for a Dan Brown novel.

Joking aside, New Bern ranked well in our analysis for its high number of arts and entertainment options per capita, including many galleries and DIY art shops (personal favorite: the Accidental Artist!). This city was also one of the healthier in our rankings, with tons of active life options and non-fast food restaurants per capita.

10. Hickory

Hickory, NC

Source:Flickr user allison

Interestingly, the final place on our list is better known as a great place for families; but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s dull. In fact, quite the opposite.

Hickory ranked well for its number of non-fast food restaurants, arts and entertainment, and a variety of active life options per capita—all wonderful family-friendly amenities.

It also ranked well for its nightlife venues per capita; the fifth best in the state. One local favorite, the Olde Hickory Tap Room, has live music during the weekends, plus such a beer selection that you probably won’t even need to go anywhere else.

North Cackalacky Sure Ain’t Lacking Excitement

From festivals, bars, and parties, to restaurants and a healthy lifestyle, North Carolina is truly one of the most exciting states in the country—in these 10 places in particular. You want the best nightlife? Go to Asheville. The most restaurants per capita? Matthews. And if you want it all, well, head to Chapel Hill.

Most Exciting Cities in North Carolina

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posted on: June 24, 2014
[views], 2 comments


  1. K

    Plus you can go to UNC without even attending class! Just one paper and you can even get someone to write that for you. Or if you like class, don’t plan on less than a C because of the rampant grade unflation. Definetly can have more fun in Chapel Hill!

  2. Terri

    I’d bet anything that your Chapel Hill ranking included the more exciting town of Carrboro.


Leave a Reply for Terri