The Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce and Visitors' Center sets on Main Street. Editorial credit: Nolichuckyjake /

12 Best Small Towns to Retire in North Carolina in 2024

North Carolina's moderate tax policies, stunning natural scenery, and cozy mild climate make it an exceptionally appealing retirement destination. While big cities get the most hype for their urban conveniences, smaller towns allow residents to truly unwind and enjoy the natural beauty of the Tar Heel State. Their slow pace of life, green rural atmosphere, and close-knit communities present a suitable mix of aspects that favor senior living, unlike the chaos in the large metro areas. 

Fortunately, the state has plenty of small-town charm, beckoning fresh retirees to make them their forever home. Between the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, these small towns to retire in North Carolina promise pensioners a high quality of life in their golden years. Set the stage for a fresh start as you search for a permanent home in any of the following North Carolina destinations.


Boone, North Carolina, USA campus and town skyline at twilight.
Boone, North Carolina, USA campus and town skyline at twilight.

Retirees who dream of returning to school can realize their aspirations in Boone, which houses the Appalachian State University. Besides lifelong learning opportunities, this laidback college town offers a small-town feel perfectly balanced with big-city amenities. Seniors have ample opportunities to stay active outdoors by hiking, biking, and camping in the nearby Elk Knob State Park. The presence of the college has contributed to an elevated arts and culture scene, with the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts treating residents to entertaining theatrical productions.

Bone is relatively safe, with a crime rate that is lower than the national average, and with an average monthly rent of about $1,000, pensioners can stretch their retirement savings. The availability of multiple healthcare providers, such as Watauga Medical Center, and retirement homes like Appalachian Brian Estate assures seniors of reliable support at their most vulnerable moments. 


A row of historic buildings with various small businesses in Franklin, North Carolina. Editorial credit: JNix /
A row of historic buildings with various small businesses in Franklin, North Carolina. Editorial credit: JNix /

For a small community of about 4,500, Franklin maintains an aura of excitement throughout the year, thanks to many events and festivals and an impressive mix of attractions. The town hosts some of the most exciting festivals in the state, including the annual PumpkinFest downtown, an excellent time for incoming retirees to interact and establish connections. Surrounded by the Nantahala National Forest, Franklin boasts beautiful natural scenery with recreational opportunities along the scenic Little Tennessee River Greenway. 

The bustling local arts scene entertains residents with constant live performances at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts. The cost of living is below the national average, and the median home price is under $300K, giving pensioners an affordable path to their sunset years. Grandview Manor Care Center is one of the many assisted living facilities that Franklin seniors can access when no longer self-dependent. 

Wake Forest

White Street in Historic Downtown Wake Forest, North Carolina.
White Street in Historic Downtown Wake Forest, North Carolina.

With a population of just under 50,000, Wake Forest provides a delightful rural environment with access to big-city amenities in nearby Raleigh. There is always something to keep pensioners engaged and on their toes, with plenty of recreational opportunities inside the sprawling Falls Lake State Recreation Area. Those who prefer indoor pursuits can tour the Wake Forest Historical Museum to explore local heritage. Wake Forest maintains close community ties through a range of social events. Pensioners can experience these strong bonds during the Wake Forest Farmers Market, which impresses with a buzzing and family-friendly atmosphere. 

The town’s proximity to Raleigh ensures quick access to superior amenities backed by a well-developed transport network. Locally, seniors can look to centers like Duke Health Heritage for their healthcare needs. The crime rate is way below the national average, while the cost of living is the same as in most American cities. 

Mount Airy

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

Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Mount Airy is a charming small town of around 10,000 residents that consistently attracts new families, retirees, and businesses. It boasts a peaceful rural setting yet is still close to larger cities, with scenic natural beauty and a tight-knit community that appeals to those seeking small-town living without isolation. Outdoor opportunities abound at Riverside Park, while the historic downtown is filled with local shops, restaurants, and historical markers like the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History.

Families appreciate the excellent schools and safe, family-friendly neighborhoods. Residents enjoy amenities like well-appointed medical facilities and recreational opportunities without the higher costs that bigger cities demand. Young professionals starting careers and businesses are drawn to its welcoming, collaborative atmosphere.


Dry Falls near Highlands, North Carolina.
Dry Falls near Highlands, North Carolina.

If you didn’t already pick it from the town’s name, Highlands boasts a stunning natural landscape, lying at the base of the Appalachian Mountains and surrounded by the dense Nantahala National Forest. Outdoor recreations abound, and seniors can slip into their trainers to embark on a picturesque hiking adventure to Dry Falls or Whiteside Mountain. Highlands is also famous for its gastronomic vibes, presenting various fine dining options throughout the lively downtown, including the popular Ristorante Paoletti. 

Living in Highlands costs about the same as most North Carolina and the United States cities. However, homes don’t come cheap, and you will have to part with at least $900k to land a decent abode. The upside is that you can access valuable medical and social amenities, such as Chestnut Hill of Highlands Senior Care Center. 

New Bern

Boardwalk in New Bern, North Carolina on a beautiful spring day.
Boardwalk in New Bern, North Carolina, on a beautiful spring day.

The second-oldest town in North Carolina is a destination bustling with a rich heritage, evidenced by an eclectic mix of cultural and historical markers. Seniors can look forward to an immersive journey back in time at landmarks like Tyron Palace and the North Carolina History Center. The local community assembles at the New Bern Civic Theater to support the arts and enjoy diverse live performances, from musicals and plays to concerts. Stepping outside, retirees can embrace an active and healthy lifestyle by making the most of hiking adventures at Lawson Creek Park. 

Meanwhile, one of the best ways to experience a strong sense of community is to attend the New Bern Farmers Market, which always features a family-friendly atmosphere. Homes sell for an average of $265K, and the crime rate is slightly above the national average. If you plan to pay rent, expect to spend around $900 at the end of the month. 

Tabor City

 Tabor City Car Wash, North Carolina, USA. Editorial credit: refrina /
Tabor City Car Wash, North Carolina, USA. Editorial credit: refrina /

Nicknamed “Yam Capitol of the World,” this agricultural village in Columbus County delights with a relaxed rural flair. Every year in October, the tight-knit community celebrates the North Carolina Yam Festival with parades, live performances, art exhibitions, food, children’s games, and other family-friendly events. Tabor City’s green surroundings present the ideal setting to be outside, with plenty of opportunities to stay active at the Tabor City Recreation Department. When the grandkids visit, you can head to Stateline Movie Time and Events for a family-friendly flick in an outdoor theater. 

The median home price in Tabor City is under $200K, but retirees can find even cheaper accommodations at senior living centers like Tabor Commons Assisted Living. 


Downtown Manteo Early in the Morning. Editorial credit: Wileydoc /
Downtown Manteo Early in the Morning. Editorial credit: Wileydoc /

If your plan to retire in North Carolina involves spending time by the beach, it doesn't get better than this adorable coastal community on Roanoke Island. It gets even better when the grandkids visit, thanks to the rich mix of family-friendly attractions on the island. Highlights include the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, which features a massive 285,000-gallon shark tank. The promenade leading to the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse presents a serene environment with divine views of the Atlantic, perfect for self-introspection and meditation. At the Manteo Waterfront Marina, seniors can enjoy hanging out and interacting with community members in a family-friendly environment. With a small population of less than 2,000 residents, crime is barely a concern in Manteo, and the rate is below the national average. However, home prices are pretty steep, costing an average of $570K. 


Public Library open to all in Davidson, North Carolina. Editorial credit: Rex K. Williams /
Public Library open to all in Davidson, North Carolina. Editorial credit: Rex K. Williams /

Home to Davidson College, senior citizens in Davidson can access lifelong learning opportunities at the prestigious learning institution. The youthful college population injects a hint of vibrancy into the small community of around 12,000. You’ll find a bustling cluster of shops, restaurants, and art galleries downtown, with the Armour Street Theater treating residents to engaging stage performances. Culinary connoisseurs have many options to sample the local cuisine, with sumptuous dishes served at the popular Pickled Peach. 

For the outdoorsy adventurer, you can find exciting opportunities at the Fisher Farm. While the home median price is quite costly in Davidson, hovering around $600k, residents are rewarded with a crime rate below the national average. Seniors struggling with mental health can also get invaluable help at the Atrium Health Behavioral Health Psychiatry & Counseling.

Blowing Rock

Autumn view of Broyhill Park and Mayview Lake in downtown Blowing Rock, North Carolina.
Autumn view of Broyhill Park and Mayview Lake in downtown Blowing Rock, North Carolina.

This pleasant community in western North Carolina features one of the best natural sceneries in the region, which harmoniously complements its small-town vibe. The outdoors beckon retirees in Blowing Rock with scenic alpine views and forested surroundings harboring endless recreation opportunities. But if you are not getting lost in the open spaces, you can explore local heritage at the Blowing Rock Art & History Museum. The town is also a recognized winter destination, and during the snow season, skiers, snowtubers, and snowboarders converge at the Appalachian Ski Mountain for unadulterated downhill entertainment. 

Blowing Rock assures retirees of a safe environment in which to live their sunset years. The crime rate is a far cry from the national average, and homes sell for an average of at least $670K. While a tad expensive, those who can afford it will quickly realize the return on their investment.  

Banner Elk

Downtown Banner Elk road street in North Carolina. Editorial credit: Kristi Blokhin /
Downtown Banner Elk in North Carolina. Editorial credit: Kristi Blokhin /

Banner Elk offers enough recreation opportunities to last the four seasons. This picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains town has charming winter attractions, and when it starts to snow, enthusiasts from near and far flock to the Beech Mountain and Sugar Mountain Resorts for fun in the snow. When the weather gets too chilly for comfort, pensioners can visit Kettell Beerworks to shake off the cold with a pint of craft beer. 

During summer, Grandfather Mountain State Park gives seniors all the reasons to explore the outdoors, thanks to recreation opportunities like camping, hiking, and sightseeing. Crime is almost unheard of in Banner Elk, with rates lower than the national average. While the median home price is costly at around $530k, senior citizens can find cheaper accommodation and health support at the Life Care Center of Banner Elk. 


 Main square in downtown Hickory, a small southern city. Editorial credit: Nolichuckyjake /
 Main square in downtown Hickory, North Carolina. Editorial credit: Nolichuckyjake /

Hickory is strategically located between Asheville and Charlotte, presenting a laidback rural atmosphere with access to all the superior amenities in the big cities. Named after an 1850s inn, the town’s location near the beautiful Catawba Valley presents pleasant play opportunities at the Glenn C. Hilton Junior Memorial Park. Hickory’s rich heritage is well preserved and showcased at several attractions, highlighted by the Hickory Aviation Museum and the Hickory Museum of Art. 

The tight-knit community often converges at the L.P. Frans Stadium to cheer on the local Minor League Baseball team in a family-friendly atmosphere, perfect for socializing and networking. Homes in Hickory cost around $340K on average, and the living cost is just below the state and national averages. 

With their diverse natural scenery, moderate living costs, cultural activities, and high-quality healthcare, these towns represent the best places to retire in North Carolina in 2024 for well-rounded lifestyles. Whether settling near the coast in a walkable village or nestling into a scenic mountain town, residents can readily embrace leisurely retirements. These locations maintain traditional Southern hospitality while providing modern comforts. Their friendly communities also make it easy to establish new social connections and feel at home. 

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