Beaufort, North Carolina: Beautiful summer day on the waterfront boardwalk.

7 Breathtaking Towns to Visit in North Carolina

An important component of the Southeastern region of the United States, the “Old North State” of North Carolina is a place of great historical, cultural, and geographic beauty. Admitted to the Union in 1789 and with a modern population of some 10.5 million inhabitants, North Carolina is indeed a wonderful destination to discover some of the very best of America. Though such major cities like Raleigh and Charlotte remain the most well-known, the State also has a number of equally beautiful and inviting smaller towns worthy of a visit. From historic districts to splendid Atlantic Ocean vistas and loads of unique small-town charm, these places are awesome ways to get acquainted with another side of North Carolina. So come and see the “Old North State”, though an exploration of these breathtaking small towns and discover what makes North Carolina such a special place to be.

Mount Airy

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

Near the border with Virginia, the welcoming community of Mount Airy is home to a population of just under 11,000 residents. First settled in the 1750s, Mount Airy is a most charming historic place where guests can also enjoy being outdoors. Indeed, boasting hot summer and mild winter temperatures, visiting and appreciating Mount Airy is a delight no matter what time of year. Explore such historic landmarks as the William Carter House (1834) and the Renfro Mill (1893), amongst several others listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Meanwhile, TV lovers will not want to miss out on a stop at the Andy Griffith Museum, and its impressive collection of memorabilia is dedicated to the comedy icon. Indeed, Griffith was born in Mount Airy in 1926, and the town was a model for Mayberry's fictional community in his famed television show. Add in fun for the whole family events like the Autumn Leaves Festival and a cute assortment of local shops, restaurants, and other businesses, and Mount Airy truly leaves a most positive impression on anyone traveling into North Carolina.


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

The seat of Watauga County, the town of Boone (named for the famed American folk hero Daniel Boone) can trace its foundational history to the 1870s. Scenically situated within the Blue Ridge Mountains, this charming community of just over 19,000 inhabitants is indeed a most breathtaking and welcoming place to discover. Enjoy hot summers and mild winters here, where a number of beautiful parks, green spaces, and other natural surroundings are never in short supply. These include the Watauga River, the Daniel Boone Native Gardens, Elk Knob State Park, and portions of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Meanwhile for a very special scenic cultural experience, take the whole family on a ride of the Tweetsie Heritage Railroad. Connecting to the nearby town of Blowing Rock, ride along a vintage steam locomotive and then spend the day enjoying a variety of amusement park rides, food vendors, and live entertainment.


Horse and carriage in downtown Beaufort, North Carolina.
Horse and carriage in downtown Beaufort, North Carolina.

The oldest colonial town in North Carolina, Beaufort, was formally established back in 1713, where today, nearly 4,500 people reside. Seat of Carteret County, Beaufort, is indeed a most charming and scenic place where natural beauty and history come together nicely. Located in the “Inner Banks” region of the State, guests can savor splendid views of the Newport River and Beaufort Inlet, which eventually leads to the Atlantic Ocean. And with hot summers and warm winters, there is never really a bad time to take in the outdoors when in Beaufort. Enjoy the range of waterfront restaurants and biking and walking trails in a most serene ambiance. In addition, history lovers will not want to miss the Beaufort Historic District, which one can even explore by horse-drawn carriage! Other historic and cultural attractions of note include the North Carolina Maritime Museum and such events as the Beaufort Wine and Food Festival and the Beaufort Music Festival.


Enloe House in Dillsboro, North Carolina
Enloe House in Dillsboro, North Carolina. Image credit Warren LeMay, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Established in the 1880s, the very humble town of Dillsboro maintains a modern population of just over 200 permanent residents. Still, this charming and picturesque community remains a most welcoming slice of Americana that any traveler in the western portion of North Carolina should not pass by. Situated along the banks of the Tuckasegee River, Dillsboro was founded as a rail town, and it continues to maintain a special old-fashioned ambiance. Hop on to the heritage Great Smoky Mountains Railroad for awesome panoramas of the Great Smoky Mountains, enjoy a calm afternoon near the river banks, or simply explore some of Dillsboro’s historic landmarks; there is indeed never a shortage of charm here. Add in a special array of local restaurants and stores, and a genuine feeling of small-town USA can be deeply felt in this most scenic and warm-hearted North Carolina locale.


King Street in Hillsborough, North Carolina.
King Street in Hillsborough, North Carolina. Editorial credit: Nolichuckyjake /

Hillsborough was founded in the 1780s, and today, just under 10,000 inhabitants reside. The seat of Orange County, in addition to its historical significance, Hillsborough is also known as an artist's colony, and it has attracted artists, writers, and all those creatively inclined for decades. Full of galleries, studios, libraries, restaurants, and welcoming public spaces, the welcoming charm of Hillsborough is difficult to deny. And with its scenic location along the Eno River, guests can always enjoy a peaceful outing in a quaint atmosphere. Meanwhile, history lovers will not want to miss Hillsborough’s assortment of important landmarks, including the Nash Law Office (1801), St. Mary’s Chapel (1858), and the Commandant’s House (1860), amongst others that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Indeed, whether it is exploring some of America’s past, browsing through small shops, or enjoying a quiet afternoon on the river, Hillsborough is a wonderful snapshot of the small-town USA with a North Carolina flavor.


Davidson Town Hall with the American flag in Davidson, North Carolina.
Davidson Town Hall with the American flag in Davidson, North Carolina. Editorial credit: Nolichuckyjake /

A part of the Charlotte metropolitan area, the town of Davidson is an inviting college town that was founded in the 1830s. With a modest population of just over 15,000 residents, this charming community is the home of Davidson College (1837), and visitors can find a vibrant place full of young professionals and students around town. With a nice variety of local bookshops, restaurants, cafes, and other stores, Davidson is simply a nice little slice of a smaller town within the vicinity of a major urban center. Amongst the other points of interest include the nearby Lake Norman, where fun opportunities for fishing, sailing, swimming, and sunbathing are always popular, and the Davidson College Arboretum, where a beautiful collection of exotic and local flora can be appreciated by all ages.

Banner Elk

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

A beautiful mountain community, the town of Banner Elk was formally established in the 1840s, and today, it boasts a humble population of just over 1,000 inhabitants. A picturesque place situated at the base of Beech Mountain, guests and residents alike can enjoy loads of fun outdoor activities that are perfect for the entire family. In the winter, take to the slopes of the Sugar Mountain Resort, where awesome ski and snowboard slopes await challenge both the professional and amateur alpinists. Meanwhile, in the summer months, chances to go sailing, swimming, fishing, hiking, and even white water rafting cannot be missed at the welcoming Watauga Lake. Finally, Banner Elk also has historical intrigue, and visitors can explore such landmarks as the Elk Hotel (1856) and the stone facades of the Chester and Lowe House, amongst others included on the National Register of Historic Places. And finish off one’s day by strolling through Banner Elk’s charming downtown and enjoying a local restaurant and novelty shop. Indeed, Banner Elk is a nice way to enjoy small-town North Carolina at its very finest.

North Carolina is a beautiful State that combines geographic splendor with unique cultural and historic allure; this makes the “Old North State” a wonderful place to discover Americana, and a trip through its welcoming smaller towns is a great way to get better acquainted with its character outside of the major cities. From the colonial roots of Beaufort to the college ambiance of Davidson, these and other awesome scenic North Carolina communities are ideal locales to spend a road trip where the young and old can find something to get excited about. So hit the road and come explore North Carolina, where scenic beauty and an abundance of charm await all those who experience these small towns firsthand!

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