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The 10 Best Cities in North Carolina

Thinking about moving to The Tar Heel State? Here are the 10 best cities in North Carolina.

Natalie Grigson

Staff Writer

128 articles, 0 comments

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As a part of Movoto Real Estate’s ongoing goal to uncover our nation’s finest cities, from the best places to buy a home or simply watch a movie, to the best cities in our country in general, we are going state by state and giving it to you honestly.

Which is fitting for today’s state, North Carolina, whose state motto, “Esse quam viederi” means “to be rather than to seem.” North Carolina is nothing if not real, down to earth, and honest to goodness great place to live. So without further ado, here are the 10 best cities in North Carolina:

1. Apex
2. Wake Forest
3. Matthews
4. Morrisville
5. Garner
6. Clemmons
7. Cary
8. Chapel Hill
8. Huntersville
10. Mint Hill

How did we come up with these 10? Did we simply pick Apex for the top because that seemed fitting? Did we “Garner” the names from a list of popular places? Of course not. Keep reading to find out just how we came up with our list and why each city made it to the top.

And pardon the puns—but there are sure to be “Morrisville” where they came from.

Here’s How We Did It

If you’ve been reading our blog, you know the drill. In order to come up with our Top 10 Lists, we rely on certain criteria to objectively rank each city in order from best to worst. But more on that in a moment—here are the six criteria we used for NC.

  • Cost of living (percent above or below state’s average)
  • Crime rate
  • Education
  • Median household income
  • Home value
  • Amenities (including BBQ restaurants & churches)

We started with a list of the 50 most populous municipalities (cities, towns, villages, and Census Designated Places) in North Carolina and ranked them from one to 50 in each of the criteria above, with one being the best. Then we averaged the numbers for each criteria and gave them an overall Big Deal Score—the lower the number, the higher it ranked.

So how did these 10 cities make out list?

1. Apex

The Best Cities in North Carolina

Source: Town of Apex


Perhaps fittingly, the word “apex” means “the top or highest point of something.” But that’s not why it came in at No. 1 on our list; it’s simply because Apex scored well in almost all of our criteria—an average median income 90 percent higher than the rest of the state; a crime rate 68 percent lower; and a high school degree attainment rate 25 percent higher.

As Town Manager, Bruce Radford put it, “now the [Movoto] readers will find out what we already know about Apex—wonderful weather, proximity to the famed Research Triangle Park, world class universities, great schools, low crime, healthy financial position, plenty of recreational opportunities, and ACC collegiate and professional sports all combine to create an award-winning quality of life for residents of ‘Apex, The Peak of Good Living’.”

No wonder this city is at the top!

2. Wake Forest

The Best Cities in North Carolina

Source: Town of Wake Forest


Not only did Wake Forest tie with Apex for some of the best weather in North Carolina, but they’ve got the parks and outdoor activities to really take advantage of that sunshine—hence their high rank in amenities. Falls Lake State Recreation Area, for example, stretches across 26,000 acres of woodlands and is home to the 12,000-acre Falls Lake.

If the outdoors aren’t your thing, though, don’t worry—Wake Forest also ranked well in their number of barbecue restaurants and churches per capita, which was a portion of its amenities score.. Because like any good southerner knows, Sunday is made for two things: church and barbecue. Okay, three, if you add football.

3. Matthews

Source: Matthews Chamber of Commerce

Source: Matthews Chamber of Commerce


This suburban town just outside of Charlotte came in at No. 3 on our list for getting an A Plus when it comes to education. Here in Matthews, the high school degree attainment rate is 22 percent higher than that of the rest of the state.

Matthews also has a beautiful historic downtown, a magnificent farmers market, and the Matthews Playhouse for theater. The Matthews Public Library is also one of the best in the state, complete with a historical mural of the town. A great place to study—perhaps why their public schools rank so well?

4. Morrisville

The 10 Best Cities in North Carolina

Source: Town of Morrisville


Morrisville is one of the two smallest towns on our list with a population of just over 20,000; but in this case, small certainly doesn’t mean a lack of things going on. In fact, the “small town feel, friendly neighborhoods, and parks and greenways appeal to generational residents and newcomers alike,” said Mayor Jackie Holcombe.

Morrisville made the No. 4 spot largely because of its crime rate 60 percent below the state average, its high school degree attainment rate, 23 percent above the state average, and its high home values, 67 percent higher than North Carolina’s average!

Residents of this town won’t be surprised to find it on our list, though; especially not Holcombe who knows full well of Morrisville’s charm. “Our quality schools, low cost of living, strong sense of community and low crime rate all combine to make Morrisville a highly desirable location to live and do business… We are proud to be ranked as the No. 4 town in the state.”

5. Garner

The 10 Best Cities in North Carolina

Source: Town of Garner


After garnering the information about this town just outside of Raleigh, we realized just how big of a difference a lower cost of living can make—in choosing a place to live and in making our list. Garner’s cost of living is 5 percent lower than North Carolina’s average, making it the least expensive spot on our Top 10.

Garner also scored well on its number of churches per capita—a whopping 32 for its small population of 26,732 people. And if you’re not at church on Sunday? Head over to Angie’s Restaurant for some brunch. (Both a factor in Garner’s amenities’ score.) Residents can certainly afford to treat themselves with a median household income 37 percent higher than the rest of the state!

To sum up in the words of Mayor Ronnie Williams: “It’s no surprise that Garner has won this latest accolade, which comes on the heels of being named an All-America City. With our great parks and cultural arts scene, and our nationally recognized schools, Garner is truly a great place to live and raise a family. We have a low crime rate and impressive range of housing options at various price points. Plus, we’re only 10 minutes from downtown Raleigh, which has great restaurants, performing arts venues and special events throughout the year. You just can’t beat Garner.”

6. Clemmons

The 10 Best Cities in North Carolina

Source: Flickr user ColleenCook


Smaller even than Morrisville, Clemmons, with a population of just over 19,000 comes in at No. 6 on our list. How did Clemmons climb onto our Top 10? Well mostly because they ranked high in… pretty much everything.

But here are some of the key characteristics that makes this town shine. Clemmons is safe, with a crime rate 37 percent lower than the state average; smart, with a high school degree attainment rate 16 percent higher; and doing pretty well economically, with a median household income 46 percent higher than the NC average.

What do they do with all that money? Some of it probably goes to their churches, as this little southern city has an unholy amount of churches—21 for their small population– which boosted their amenities score overall.

7. Cary

The 10 Best Cities in North Carolina

Source: Town of Cary


This town certainly carries its weight when it comes to qualities for raising a family. Cary tied with Apex for the 2nd safest city on our list, with a crime rate 68 percent lower than the state average. Not only can parents feel safe sending their kids off to school here; they can also feel pretty proud of the education they’re receiving. Folks in Cary, NC have a high school degree attainment rate 24 percent higher than the rest of the state.

And for those who still prefer private schools? Well, they can certainly afford it. Cary blows the rest of this list out of the water when it comes to median household income. Residents here make an average of 103 percent more than the rest of the state—that’s over $89,000 per year.

8. Chapel Hill

The 10 Best Cities in North Carolina

Source: Flickr user yeungb


The first of two cities that took the No. 8 spot is Chapel Hill. This city of just over 58,4000 residents joins our ranks for its extremely impressive home values—124 percent higher than the state average; its high school degree attainment rate, 23 percent above average; and its low crime rate, 45 percent below.

It is also home to the beautiful campus of the University of North Carolina and a booming creative scene, with the Ackland Art Museum, the Paul Green Theater, and the Kidzu Children’s Museum. For those looking for something beyond all that? Check out the Morehead Planetarium, by far one of the best in the state.

8. Huntersville

Source: Wikipedia


With a population of more than 46,000, Huntersville tied for the No. 8 spot on our list of the best places to live in North Carolina. The town, located near Charlotte, placed well because of its high income and low crime rates. City residents have a median income that is 84 percent higher than the rest of the state, while its crime index is 55 percent lower. If you’re in the hunt for a home in North Carolina, this is one place to start.

10. Mint Hill

The 10 Best Cities in North Carolina

Source: www.minthill.com


Rounding out our list at the No. 10 spot is Mint Hill, a town located near Charlotte. Mint Hill placed particularly well in our crime rating. The town of more than 23,000 has a crime rate that is 59 percent lower than the state average. Adding to the charm of the town is its emphasis on education. When compared to the state, Mint Hill’s high school degree attainment rate is 17 percent higher. All this makes Mint Hill a refreshing place to live.

Esse Quam Viederi

North Carolina certainly takes its motto to heart, being one of the most beautiful, welcoming, and let’s face it, real southern states in the U.S.; not just seeming like it. So, NC, thanks for being you—especially everyone in these Apex. You’re certainly at the topmost point of this list.

(click to enlarge)

The 10 Best Cities in North Carolina

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Looking for a new home? Movoto’s got you covered. With millions of listings, plenty of property information, and established agents all over the country, we make finding your future home simple. And when you’re ready to take a break from browsing homes, you can always come back here to learn more about your favorite cities.

posted on: November 21, 2013
203,938 views, 15 comments

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15 Comments

  1. Edna

    Thanks for putting Garner at the #5 place (although selfishly and loyally, I think we’re #1), but I have one small correction.

    Angie’s is NOT OPEN on Sundays!!!

  2. Cathy Gouge

    Awesome on Wake Forest! The town just opened a new cultural arts center last weekend. It’s called the Wake Forest Renaissance Centre. the plan is for plays, concerts, dances and arts workshops!

  3. Jon M

    You didn’t even list my town of Lewisville..which hands down rates as one of the best suburban towns in the state. We didn’t make your cut because our population did not meet the 19,000 requirement. We moved here from somewhere else year sago and have seen loads of cities and places in the US that have made great mistakes in regards to land planning and unrelenting commercial growth. Lewisville, NC under the
    direction of a hands-on town Council has not and will not make such mistakes.
    - Jon M

    • Laura in response to Jon M

      So basically you are saying that the local government there will not allow you to use your own land as you see fit. Stripping you of valuable property rights.

  4. Lisa Bowen

    Kernersville should be #1! Cutest little town in the State, like Mayberry! We have botanical gardens, historical beauty, shops & larger city conveniences like Walmart, Target & outdoor malls are coming soon. Not to mention, location, location, location. We’re right in the middle of W-S, Greensboro & High Point. We have our own Festivals, movies in the park, etc. The BEST place to raise a family! Plus, have you seen this town at Christmastime with all the “blinkies” everywhere? It’s a must see!

    • Becky in response to Lisa Bowen

      Hello Lisa, I am female, recently divorced and want to move somewhere warmer as NW IN is bringing me down. This town you are speaking of sounds perfect for me to start my new chapter in my life. One question though, do they have a Walgreens? Thx!

  5. Leigh Anne

    I was kind of following along until I read that Sanford ranks 3 on the list for amenities. … ?!?

  6. Jackie

    Help! Thinking abt moving to NC. If this list is inadequate, then please make recommendations. Employment and education are my top 2 priorities. Thx!

  7. Roseann

    Thank you all I need to know the “who what where” for employment and education as well. Do not want to end up on LI,NY again..no offense. My husband and I are in our mid 50-60 and want to live where is lot’s to do,see and be apart of.

  8. tina

    Family moving this year. Husband works in Wake Forest. We’re from small midwest town of NO crime & population of 10,000 people. Looking for something comparable within driving distance to Wake Forest. Any suggestions anyone?

  9. tina

    Low crime is our #1 priority. We homeschool so education isn’t a big issue. Family friendly & safe with affordability (one income family) is our biggest draws. Anyone?

  10. Jenny Copeland

    I live in Fayetteville NC, I am a military spouse of 27 years. I have lived in Fayetteville NC on and off since 1998 and it is really nicer than most people give us credit for. The downtown area is great has a great diversity of entertainment and restaurants. Cape Fear Regional puts on plays that will come close to what you might see on Broadway minus the fancy sets and expensive ticket price. The Special Operations Museum, Festival Park, The Cameo Art House Theater are just some of the things to do downtown. 4th Friday is a great introduction to Fayetteville NC downtown if you want to see what Fayetteville is all about instead of just reading negative reviews of people that just look at crime rates. Look at our population compared to some of the smaller cities and do the math. There are many smaller areas around Fayetteville that are not incorporated to live that are nice as well. Just my two cents from someone who actually lives here.

  11. Mari Beth

    My husband and I are seriously considering North Carolina, we are in our mid 50s no children I am in medicine Have worked for Health South Rehab Hospital and can transfer there, my husband works at DFW Airport, we are looking for a beautiful community lots of things to do be close to the beach and good employment opportunities for us.We would Rent a apartment first before ever buying where is the best opportunity for a married Catholic couple, that we can meet good people we are very young at heart but seeking options, any advice especially with good hospitals, we don’t want a really small town we live in a suburb 20 minutes outside Dallas.Thank you for any suggestions and I am from California, we want our Beach back….:)

  12. Ms. Rz Sverio

    Just finished an MBA in Sustainability, looking to move East from Iowa – lived in CA prior. Possibly need a teaching job. Refining plans for my own nonprofit. I’m well traveled, vegetarian, meditate & do yoga, mature female, enjoy organic-gourmet food, growing own food, open to co-housing, have Permaculture Certif, speak Portuguese, have 2 daughters, 1 son, all grown & independent, love to read & write, dance, travel, drumming…Do you know where I’d fit in, in NC, hopefully not near nuclear sites?

  13. barbara

    Myself and husband with our two small boys are looking to relocate to NC from miami fl. We want the small home town feeling. Please any suggestions are welcome.

 

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