Downtown Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Image credit Dee Browning via Shutterstock

12 of the Most Hospitable Small Towns in North Carolina

A constituent US state of the Carolinas region of the Atlantic Seaboard, North Carolina, situated halfway between Florida and New York and stretching from the misty Blue Ridge Mountains to the incredible beaches of the Outer Banks, packs abundant natural wonders within its boundaries. Also, being one of the original Thirteen Colonies, the Old North State is distinguished for its rich history, pristine scenery, lively culture, and top-notch recreation. Although the state capital, Raleigh, and other populated metropolises like Charlotte, Greensboro, and Durham are high on the travel lists of vacationers, the ‘hospitable’ small towns in the Tarheel State offer something unique for every visitor.


Main Street Boone, North Carolina.
Main Street Boone, North Carolina. Image credit Nolichuckyjake via Shutterstock.

Watauga County’s seat of government, Boone named in honor of the distinguished American pioneer Daniel Boone, sits at an elevation of 3,333 ft ringed by the Blue Ridge Mountains. Nicknamed “The Heart of the High Country,” Boone is the biggest community and economic center of western North Carolina’s seven-county region. Apart from housing the Appalachian State University’s main campus and the global headquarters of Samaritan’s Purse, Boone’s impressive location has made it the most sought-after destination for outdoor recreation. Holidayers must not forget to tour the Daniel Boone Native Gardens, Blue Ridge Parkway, Hickory Ridge Living History Museum, Kidd-Brewer Stadium, Jones House Community Center, Grandfather Mountain, and the nearby Elk Knob State Park. Cultural enthusiasts can watch a performance of the oldest Revolutionary War drama at the Daniel Boone Amphitheater every summer.


Downtown Sylva, North Carolina.
Downtown Sylva, North Carolina. Image credit Kristi Blokhin via Shutterstock

Home to 2,578 inhabitants as per the latest US Census, Sylva is located in the Plott Balsam Mountains in central Jackson County, near two favorite vacation spots: the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the Cherokee Indian Reservation of the Eastern band of Cherokee Indians. The alpine town’s Main Street anchored by the most photographed Jackson County Court House (currently Jackson County Public Library) is packed with multiple shops, bookstores, art galleries, craft breweries, boutiques, cafes, and farm-to-table restaurants. Adventurers should hike to the top of The Pinnacle to observe unparalleled views of the entire town and the Scotts Creek Valley. The American Museum of the House Cat, the Museum of the Cherokee Indians, and the Appalachian Women’s Museum are must-visits for history lovers, while revelers look forward to participating in the town’s yearly celebrations like Concerts on the Creek, Greening Up The Mountains Festival, and Hook, Line & Drinker Festival.

Bryson City

Downtown Bryson City, North Carolina
Downtown Bryson City, North Carolina. Image credit: GreatSmokies via Wikimedia Commons.

The administrative center of Swain County, this tranquil all-season Great Smoky Mountain town is situated around 65 miles from Asheville, just west of the meeting point of the Deep Creek and Tuckasegee River. Bryson City’s location immediately west of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s entrance has helped it to evolve into a much-loved holiday retreat. One of the well-liked tourist railroads of the country, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad allures more than 200,000 passengers yearly providing exceptional views of the Nantahala Valley. With adequate guide services offered by the Nantahala Outdoor Center, travelers can participate in outdoor recreation at the Nantahala National Forest, along the Fontana Lake and the Nantahala River. Heritage lovers should not miss the Smoky Mountain Trains Museum, Storytelling Center of the Southern Appalachians, and the Swain County Visitor Center & Heritage Museum. The Bistro at the Everett Hotel provides the perfect ambiance for a romantic date night.


The Old Edwards Inn Spa in Highlands, North Carolina. Editorial credit: Cheri Alguire / Old Edwards Inn Spa in Highlands, North Carolina.
The Old Edwards Inn Spa in Highlands, North Carolina. Editorial credit: Cheri Alguire /

Covering the southeastern part of Macon County and the southwestern portion of Jackson County, Highlands is located in the southern Appalachian Mountains atop the Western North Carolina plateau within the boundaries of the Nantahala National Forest. Called such due to its high elevation, the town is an ideal summer haven for most Southerners wishing to escape from the severe heat and humidity of the region during the warmer months. When in town, browse the numerous National Register-listed landmark properties, vintage stores, eateries, inns, and performing art venues like the Highlands Playhouse, the Highlands Community Prayers, Martin-Lipscomb Performing Arts Center, and Instant Theatre Company. Backpackers are especially captivated by the mountainous hiking trails leading to scenic waterfalls such as Bridal Veil Falls, Quarry Falls, Dry Falls, and Cullasaja Falls; whereas the adjacent Cliffside Lake Recreation Area and Harris Lake are popular with fly fishing enthusiasts.

Blowing Rock

Tourists pass The Sunset Tee's & Hattery shop on Main St. in Blowing Rock, NC, USA
Tourists pass The Sunset Tee's & Hattery shop on Main St. in Blowing Rock, NC, USA. Editorial credit: Nolichuckyjake /

Blowing Rock is a mesmerizing alpine town spread across the Watauga and Caldwell counties on the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The town’s namesake protruding rock formation at over 1,500 feet which overlooks the Johns River Gorge and offers incredible views of the abutting region is Blowing Rock’s most famed site of interest. Holidayers can also tour the various spectacular waterfalls as well as the Tweetsie Railroad theme park, Doc’s Rocks Gem Mine, Julian Price Memorial Park, Blowing Rock Art & History Museum, and Moses H. Cone Memorial Park next to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Every year, the town hosts “Art in the Park,” the Fourth of July festival & parade, Blowing Rock Winterfest, Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show, Blue Ridge Wine & Food Festival, Symphony by the Lake, and Christmas in the Park & Lighting of the Town.


The historic Osbunn Theater in Hillsborough, North Carolina.
The historic Osbunn Theater in Hillsborough, North Carolina. Editorial credit: Nolichuckyjake /

Initially mapped by William Churton, Hillsborough, the seat of Orange County, is located along the Eno River in north-central North Carolina, approx. 10 miles northwest of Durham. The National Register-listed Downtown Hillsborough Historic District features more than 100 carefully restored late 18th and 19th-century structures including the Alexander Dickson House, Ayr Mount, the Inn at Teardrops, Poplar Hill, Old Orange County Courthouse, the historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail, Green Hill, and Margaret Lane Cemetery. For spending quality time amidst the greens head to Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area, Eno River State Park, and the Riverwalk. Partake in the town’s yearly festivals like the ‘Art in the Heart of Hillsborough,’ the Hog Day BBQ Festival, and the Solstice Celebration Lantern Walk.

Mount Airy

Main Street, Mount Airy, NC
Main Street, Mount Airy, NC

Nicknamed “The Granite City,” for being the home to the world’s most expansive open-face granite quarry, this appealing Surry County community along the Ararat River forms a part of the Piedmont Triad metropolitan region at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. As the hometown of American actor Andy Samuel Griffith, this thriving town inspired the fictional Mayberry town in the “Andy Griffith Show.” The central business district and the surrounding residential and industrial parts of the town contain many old buildings that are included within the Mount Airy Historic District. Annually, Mount Airy hosts the Autumn Leaves Festival, Mayberry Days, and Mount Airy Fiddlers Convention.


Street view in Southport, North Carolina
Street view in Southport, North Carolina, via /

Southport is an inviting waterfront town in Brunswick County on the Cape Fear River’s northwestern shores, around 2 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean. Initially founded as Smithville and later renamed Southport, the town is noted for its seaside charm, maritime heritage, salubrious breezes, eye-catching sceneries, and a relaxed atmosphere. Stroll through the Downtown and browse the multiple boutique shops, art galleries, antique stores, and eateries. The North Carolina Maritime Museum, Old Brunswick County Jail Museum, and Fort Johnston Museum & Visitors Center should not be missed by history lovers, while a tour of the locales where movies and television shows like “Dawson’s Creek,” “Safe Haven,” etc., were shot are must for film enthusiasts. Yearly over 50,000 visitors flock to Southport to attend the North Carolina Fourth of July Festival.

Banner Elk

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

Having only 1,049 inhabitants, this quaint alpine town in Avery County fewer than 20 miles from Boone is a mecca for Blue Ridge adventurists. During the cold season, skiing and snowboarding activities can be availed at the Sugar Mountain and Beech Mountain ski resorts, whereas in summer, the areas around Watauga Lake are perfect for water-based recreation, aside from hiking, blueberry-picking, and relaxed dining at any of the town’s wineries. With countless award-winning restaurants such as the Artisanal Restaurant, the Pedalin’ Pig BBQ, and Sorrento’s Bistro, the town is reputed for its culinary scene. Banner Elk celebrates the woolly worm’s assumed weather-predicting abilities regarding the coming winter season with the Woolly Worm Festival every third weekend of October.


The Main Street Historic District of Hendersonville, North Carolina.
The Main Street Historic District of Hendersonville, North Carolina. Image credit: Mx. Granger, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Henderson County’s seat of government, Hendersonville, labeled in honor of esteemed American jurist Leonard Henderson, is situated close to the Eastern Escarpment in western North Carolina’s southern mountains, around 22 miles south of Asheville. Often called “The City of Four Seasons,” this town’s unsullied Main Street and adjoining Downtown area is chock-a-full of vintage stores, art galleries, museums, boutiques, breweries, theaters, and fine dining establishments. The Henderson County Courthouse, Mineral & Lapidary Museum, Hands-On Children’s Museum, Hendersonville Little Theatre, Western North Carolina Air Museum, Henderson County Heritage Museum, and Oakdale Cemetery are some interesting attractions. Located 5 miles west of Hendersonville, the Jump Off Rock overlook in Laurel Park provides sweeping views of the Pisgah and Blue Ridge Mountains.


Pinehurst, North Carolina.
Pinehurst, North Carolina.

Affectionately called “Home of American Golf” by the United States Golf Association, this adorable New England-style community in Moore County is named after its setting in an area full of tall long-leaf pines at the state’s center. A major portion of the central village has been designated a National Historic Landmark District for its distinctive landscape design and noteworthiness in the country's golf history. The historic Pinehurst Resort, Rassie Wicker Park, Pinehurst Harness Track, Carolina Hotel, Sandhills Horticultural Gardens, Camelot Playground, Mystic Cottage, Tufts Archives, and the Country Club of North Carolina are notable sites of interest. All year round, Pinehurst hosts several equestrian events, street festivals, theatrical performances, concerts, and antique fairs.


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

An idyllic coastal community, Manteo, called after a Croatan Native American, sits along the protected Shallowbag Bay on Roanoke Island’s north-central portion. Well-known for its closeness to the Outer Banks, this Dare County seat has enticed vacationers for years. Uncountable souvenir shops, coffee shops, seafood restaurants, bookstores, and cozy bed & breakfasts fill Manteo’s downtown along the waterfront. When touring the town, the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, Elizabethan Gardens, Theodore S. Meekins House, John T. Daniels House, Washington Creef House, and Roanoke Island Festival Park are must-visits, aside from catching a performance of the outdoor drama “The Lost Colony” in a Waterside Theatre. Annual events like the Dare Day celebrations, New World Festival of the Arts, and the Pirate’s Cove Billfish Tournament also lure a lot of merrymakers.

From high-elevation towns like Boone and Highlands to the stunning waterfront towns of Manteo and Southport, the picture-perfect small towns in the nation’s 28th-largest and 9th-most populous state are worth visiting at any time of the year. With awe-inspiring surroundings, fascinating attractions, colorful festivals, friendly locals, and warm hospitality, the teeny Tarheel State towns extend an all-inclusive experience for everyone visiting these communities for their weekend trips or long vacations.

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