The pretty mountain town of Black Mountain in North Carolina.

10 Prettiest Towns In North Carolina

Is your idea of a pretty little town a hamlet with mountain vistas? A beach town with ocean views? Or a village with a quaint downtown and a timeless feel? No matter your preference, North Carolina has all kinds of adorable towns for you! From the Blue Ridge section of the Appalachian Mountains in the west to the barrier islands called the Outer Banks fronting the Atlantic Ocean to the east, small towns add to the lovely surroundings with their own beauty and charm. North Carolina's prettiest towns will get you started on your next journey to the "Tarheel State."  

Mount Airy

A group of tourist stroll down Main Street in Mount Airy, North Carolina.
A group of tourist stroll down Main Street in Mount Airy, North Carolina. Editorial credit: LisaCarter /

Mount Airy, set among the Blue Ridge foothills near the Virginia border, is the true-life version of the fictional town of Mayberry from the 1960s "Andy Griffith Show." Actor Andy Griffith was born in Mount Airy and used his recollections of his hometown to help create Mayberry, and Mount Airy, in turn, now uses its Mayberry ties as a tourist draw. But this real-world town of 10,500 has more going for it than just its Mayberry connection. Mount Airy, for example, is considered one of the birthplaces of bluegrass music and maintains a lively music scene at great venues like the classic Earl Theatre and state-of-the-art Blackmon Amphitheatre. 


Wild horses along the beach in Corolla, North Carolina.
Wild horses along the beach in Corolla, North Carolina.

Corolla is the final Outer Banks town to the north along the paved section of Highway 12, meaning that northbound travelers have to let some air out of the tires of their 4-wheel drive vehicles and drive right on the beach. Because of this "end of the road" role, Corolla has numerous retailers in the TimBuck II shopping center and beyond and many beautiful beach houses. Corolla is famous for its wild horses, likely descended from escaped horses of early Spanish explorers, and wild horse tours are very popular. Additionally, a short drive south from Corolla leads to the famous Currituck Lighthouse, built in 1875. Climbing its 220 spiral steps leads visitors to spectacular 360-degree views.

Black Mountain

 summer day in the small town of Black Mountain, North Carolina.
A summer day in the small town of Black Mountain, North Carolina. Editorial credit: Derek Olson Photography /

While Asheville is its bigger and more famous neighbor in Buncombe County, the town of Black Mountain is just as lovely a place to visit for spectacular views and great hospitality. Black Mountain's main street corridor contains an eclectic mix of shops, such as Europa, Bramblewood, and Mountain Nest that draw in both tourists and locals alike. The community is also known for its arts and culture scene, including the Black Mountain Center for the Arts and the annual Lake Eden Arts Festival. The downtown area includes multiple historic districts, including the site of the former Black Mountain College, along with several bed and breakfasts for the seasonal tourist population.


Aerial View of Historic Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse in Manteo, North Carolina
Aerial View of Historic Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse in Manteo, North Carolina

While Dare County covers most of the Outer Banks, its county seat, Manteo, is not a beachfront town. Instead, Maneto is a soundfront community located on Roanoke Island, between Roanoke Sound and Croatan Sound. Along with its picturesque soundfront setting, Manteo has a pretty little downtown area with a public marina, waterfront park, and a small lighthouse. Additionally, two of the area's most popular attractions are located a short drive from town. One of these attractions is "The Lost Colony," a long-running outdoor show that dramatizes the mysterious fate of the first attempt at an English settlement in North America in 1587 on Roanoke Island. Another popular family attraction is the exceptional North Carolina Aquarium.

Banner Elk

The beautiful mountain town of Banner Elk in North Carolina. Editorial credit: Kristi Blokhin /

While it has only about 1,000 residents and just a single stoplight, the little town of Banner Elk is one of the favorite tourist destinations in North Carolina's High Country region. Set in the Blue Ridge Mountains at an elevation of 3,701 feet, Banner Elk's compact downtown is loaded with great entertainment, dining, and shopping options. As fun as it is to shop at Carlton Gallery and Apple Hill Farm, however, Banner Elk's main appeal is the beauty of the surrounding landscape. The Banner Elk area is great for hiking, fishing, whitewater rafting, skiing, and more, and is one of the best spots for autumn leaf viewing in the eastern U.S. 


Palmer-Marsh House, one of the oldest dwelling residences in North Carolina n Bath.
Palmer-Marsh House, one of the oldest dwelling residences in North Carolina in Bath. Editorial credit: LEE SNIDER PHOTO IMAGES /

For a village of only about 250 residents, Bath has done a fantastic job preserving its eighteenth-century architecture and historic ambiance. Set along the Pamlico River near where it empties into Pamlico Sound, Bath is the oldest existing town in North Carolina. Since its founding in 1705, Bath has spent time as a state capital, a hideout for the pirate Blackbeard, and now a charming tourist destination. A state historic site called Historic Bath operates within the town and offers guided tours of structures restored to their colonial-era appearance. Visitors to Bath can also charter a boat trip out into the Pamlico Sound or take a short ferry ride to the marshlands of Goose Creek State Park.


Aerial View of Businesses on Broad Street in Edenton North Carolina
Aerial view of businesses on Broad Street in Edenton, North Carolina. Editorial credit: Kyle J Little /

The lovely town of Edenton, set along Albemarle Sound, has numerous historical connections. Edenton was the site of the first successful English settlement in what is now North Carolina in 1658, although the town was not founded for another 50-plus years. The town was also the site of the Edenton Tea Party protest in 1774, a companion to the much more famous Boston Tea Party. Edenton has done excellent work maintaining its historic ambiance, showcasing structures like its 1767 downtown courthouse and 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse in Edenton Bay. Tourists stream into Edenton to take walking and trolley tours of the historic downtown area and soak in the stunning views and cooling breezes provided by Albemarle Sound. 

Emerald Isle

An aerial view of Emerald Isle, North Carolina.
An aerial view of Emerald Isle, North Carolina. 

The town of Emerald Isle is part of the Bogue Banks, a grouping of coastal barrier islands located south of the more famous Outer Banks. Emerald Isle has 12 miles of beachfront that are oriented southward, which results in unique sunrise and sunset views compared to the east-facing beaches found elsewhere. The town has been a favorite for family vacations for decades and maintains a fun atmosphere with scores of tourist-friendly shops, restaurants, and activities, including the Salty Pirate Water Park and Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier. Visitors seeking beautiful views in a more natural and quiet setting can head to Emerald Isle Woods Park, which contains several walking and biking trails.


The small town of Bethania, home to about 350 residents, looks and feels much like it must have when it was founded as a farming village by German Moravian settlers in 1759. Bethania is unique to North Carolina in having a Germanic linear village layout, with large lots laid out in a single straight line. Another unique aspect of Bethania is that, unlike many historic villages, many of the well-preserved homes are still privately owned by families that continue to engage in agriculture. Visitors who wish to experience a taste of Bethania's farming heritage should start at the Bethania Visitors Center, which can direct them to guided walking tours of this lovely and timeless community.


Ocracoke Lighthouse on Ocracoke, North Carolina, at sunset.
Ocracoke Lighthouse on Ocracoke, North Carolina, at sunset.

The town of Ocracoke is situated on Ocracoke Island at the opening to Pamlico Sound, making it the southernmost section of the Outer Banks. Visitors looking for a bridge to Ocracoke are out of luck and must rely on the ferries that run from both the north and south. This isolation might be considered an inconvenience, but it has allowed Ocracoke to remain more undeveloped and naturally beautiful than many other parts of the Outer Banks. Travelers who make the trek to Ocracoke will find fewer big beach homes and, instead, a beachfront campground run by the National Park Service. While not overrun with shops and restaurants, Ocracoke has options such as the Ocracoke Island Trading Company for tourists and locals alike.

North Carolina might be a fast-growing state with bustling cities, but it is still full of pretty little towns. Over the course of a single long weekend, travelers to the Tarheel State can visit a quaint seaside fishing village, a German-inspired farming town, and a community with mountain views that feel lifted straight from a 1960s TV show. And that is just a partial collection of the many lovely towns waiting to greet you in North Carolina!

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