Aerial view of yachts docked at a marina near downtown New Bern, North Carolina.

9 Most Scenic Small Towns in North Carolina

Slicing into the interior of the upper East Coast is the 15th state of America. North Carolina is surrounded by South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia, and the vast expanse that is the Atlantic Ocean. The state is called home by approximately 10,439,388 people and has some large metropolitan areas such as Charlotte, Raleigh, and Wilmington. But, despite being in the top ten most populated states, North Carolina still has hidden opportunities to escape the crowded areas and discover the state's roots. Whether it be a coastal retreat or a peaceful visit to the quiet mountains, there is something for all types of travelers in the Tar Heel state.


Main Square in downtown Hickory, North Carolina.
Main Square in downtown Hickory, North Carolina. Image credit Nolichuckyjake via Shutterstock.

Sitting at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the town is the perfect retreat for those looking to escape the big city atmosphere. Step out into the historic downtown that has managed to hold its historic ambiance while adding new and exciting local businesses.

Explore the rotating exhibits at the Hickory Art Museum, the museum is the perfect place to submerse yourself in the town’s lively art scene, visitors can explore pieces ranging from local to international artists. If you want to continue exploring the town's museums, learn all about the American Military’s quest for flight at the Hickory Aviation Museum.

Listen to the roar of the engines and watch some of the fastest cars in the world race against one another at the Hickory Motor Speedway. The speedway is the perfect place to add some excitement to your trip.


 The Paramount Theater in Downtown Goldsboro is a Performing Arts Venue.
The Paramount Theater in Downtown Goldsboro is a Performing Arts Venue. Image credit Wileydoc via Shutterstock.

If you are searching for that small-town feel within the state of North Carolina, then Goldsboro should sit atop your list of must-visit destinations. The town seamlessly blends exciting activities with its laid-back vibe.

Walk through the historic downtown and witness the variety of masterpieces that seem to sit around each corner. Plan a stop at the Wayne County Museum. This grand building houses everything from old relics to new exhibitions showcasing the town's heritage and surrounding area. After, learn about the greatest battle to occur on American soil. Head over to the Goldsborough Bridge Battlefield historic site and walk the grounds where American patriots fought for freedom.

For a new experience, visit the Waynesborough Historical Village interactive museum. This village operates today as it did in the late 1800s; visitors can walk through the dirt roads lined with blacksmith shops, bakeries, and even a schoolhouse. The village is also surrounded by a large park area and hiking trails that weave through the nearby forests.

New Bern

View of downtown New Bern, North Carolina, looking north from the marina, via Kyle Little /
View of downtown New Bern, North Carolina, looking north from the marina. Image credit Kyle Little via iStock.

Now, don’t let the name fool you. New Bern is anything but new. The town was once North Carolina’s state capital in the late 1700s, meaning it has over 200 years of heritage awaiting your exploration.

It’s hard to think of New Bern without thinking of one of the World’s Most recognizable drinks. The town is the birthplace of PepsiCo; uncover the origins of Pepsi-Cola at the Birthplace of Pepsi, where you can learn about the history of this iconic soft drink and even quench your thirst with a Pepsi at the soda fountain! Following that, travel even further back in time and head to the Tryon Palace. Book a tour of the palace, which will escort you through the ornately decorated interior, the lush gardens, and the history of the former state capitol.

Lastly, get outdoors and take a walk through the well-kept grounds of Union Point Park and take in the beautiful scenery as you sit along the river's edge.

Mint Hill

Mint Hill Town Hall, building with water feature in front. Sunny, blue sky day.
Mint Hill Town Hall. Image credit Nolichuckyjake via Shutterstock.

Escape the hustle and bustle of downtown Charlotte without the hassle of lengthy travel. Mint Hill offers the perfect escape, so pack a bag and head towards North Carolina’s countryside.

Start your visit to Mint Hill by getting outdoors! Make your first stop at the Toby Park Greenway. This scenic trail is the perfect place to hike, bike, or run through the vibrant green forested area.

After, dive into the local history of the region. Venture into the Carl J. McEwen Historic Village, which allows guests to explore the history and culture of Mint Hill firsthand and provides an entirely immersive experience. The town is also known for its renowned Farmer’s Market, with local vendors selling everything from fresh produce to homemade baked goods. Be sure to check out local calendars before arrival, as the farmer’s market runs twice a week from May to October.


View of Asheville and surrounding landscape.
View of Asheville and surrounding landscape.

Mixed into the vast expanse of Blue Ridge Mountains is a town that has managed to preserve its historic legacy while continuing to keep up with the times. Asheville is the perfect place to explore the great outdoors or relax in the small-town charm.

Start your visit by hitting the trails from one of the many local hiking trails. Many have varying difficulties, ranging from easy to difficult. A popular route is the Biltmore Estate Trail around the grand mansion centered on the estate’s property. There are roughly 22 miles of trails that explore meadows, the French Broad River, and stunning views. You can also explore the largest mansion in America, which was built by one of America’s wealthiest individuals, George Vanderbilt.

If hiking isn’t your forte, you can still appreciate the region's scenic views without the sore muscles. Take a tour down one of America’s most scenic roads when you tour down the Blue Ridge Parkway. End your visit by enjoying a nice meal in historic downtown Asheville. Enjoy some renowned North Carolina Barbeque at Luella’s Bar-B-Que or the Mellow Mushroom Restaurant.

Banner Elk

Man on hiking trip relaxing and looking at beautiful autumn mountain scenery. Grandfather Mountain State Park, Banner Elk, North Carolina.
Man on a hiking trip relaxing and looking at beautiful autumn mountain scenery. Grandfather Mountain State Park, Banner Elk, North Carolina.

With one of the more unique names of all the North Carolina towns, Banner Elk's diverse list of attractions stays on point with the town’s uniqueness. Whether by getting outdoors or enjoying the welcoming community, Banner Elk offers a perfect retreat for visitors of all ages.

The town’s proximity to the Blue Ridge Mountain range offers unique opportunities quite rare along America's east coast. During the winter, the mountains become a haven for skiers and snowboarders alike, so warm up in Banner Elk between trips to nearby ski resorts such as Sugar Mountain Resort and Beech Mountain Resort. In the summer, the mountains provide awesome hiking opportunities with rewarding views as you summit the top. Now whether you want the difficulty of trails at Grandfather Mountain State Park or the relaxing views of Elk Knob State Park, both are great opportunities to get outdoors.

If you prefer the comfort of the town, then visit hot attractions such as the Banner House Museum, which portrays the town's vast history. You can even admire prominent works of Art at the Art Cellar Gallery.


Sailboats sit quietly in calm waters in historic Beaufort, NC.
Sailboats sit quietly in calm waters in historic Beaufort, NC.

You’ll want to check the local calendar before you visit, as this town always has something going on. Hosting special events is not a rare occurrence, as it seems every weekend is filled with some form of local tradition, holiday, or just outright celebration. The events range from culinary events such as the Beaufort Shrimp Festival to specialized events like the Home Water Festival.

If you visit during an off weekend, you need not worry as there are plenty of other ways to spend your time in the coastal oasis. These coastal waters have contributed to the town’s seafaring heritage, so visit the North Carolina Maritime Museum, which brings the town’s history to life through various exhibits. Continue your journey to the past at the Beaufort Historic Site, which not only takes you to the origins of the town but also allows you to explore at your own pace.

Get out on the ocean and explore as you board a scenic ferry tour that takes you along the miles of shoreline and eventually to Cape Lookout National lighthouse.

Sea Breeze

The marshy shores of the Cape Fear River. Fort Fisher Air Force Recreation Area, North Carolina.
The marshy shores of the Cape Fear River. Fort Fisher Air Force Recreation Area, North Carolina.

If you’re looking for an ocean-side getaway without the hassle of tourist traps or crowded beaches, Sea Breeze is the spot for you. Serving as a land barrier between Cape Fear and the vast Atlantic Ocean, this town is home to some exclusive attractions.

A visit to Sea Breeze wouldn’t be complete without putting your toes in the sand; Sea Breeze offers miles of uncrowded shoreline, hosting beaches such as Freeman Park or Carolina Beach State Park. Afterward, get your sea legs underneath you by booking a fishing excursion with one of the many local chartering services. Let’s Roll Chartering services come highly recommended by those who have visited the town.

If you long to explore the great outdoors but don’t know where to start, plan a visit to the National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education. This center can teach you everything from basic survival skills to species in the wild.

End your day by the ocean as the sun retreats, and take a nighttime walk along the Carolina Beach Pier as the wind howls off the Atlantic Ocean.

Sunset Beach

Sunset Beach Pier, North Carolina
Sunset Beach Pier, North Carolina.

It should be a surprise that this town, technically a designated place, is home to some of the prettiest skies as the sun begins its nightly descent. Local experts state that the best spot to watch the renowned sunset is the island's west end or the iconic Sunset Beach Pier.

Luckily, the town has numerous activities to keep you busy from sunup to sundown. Start your day by walking along the sandy shores and making your way toward the Kindred Spirit Mailbox. This local landmark has long been sharing kind words amongst those who visit, so bring a pen and paper and leave your message in the mailbox for the next visitor to discover. If the weather isn’t cooperating, head indoors to the Ingram Planetarium, which offers educational films, star shows, and laser presentations that help visitors better understand the excitement within the cosmos.

Rarely do visitors stumble upon an unknown destination and leave with pleasant memories, tales of adventure, and a revitalized energy, but these nine scenic small towns provide just that. So, if you’re looking for your next place to spend your holidays or just simply looking for a day retreat into the unknown, consider hitting the glorious mountains in Banner Elk or relaxing at the seaside in Sunset Beach. You will never truly know what awaits you unless you explore these scenic towns in North Carolina!

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