North Carolina is one of the American Southeast's most scenic and diversely landscaped states, home to the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains along its western edge and a stunning stretch of Atlantic Ocean coastline on its eastern side. Couples can get away from it all to a number of beautiful resort towns throughout the state's mountain region, including lovely Gilded Age city Asheville and unique Highlands, which is home to the only temperate rainforest climate in the United States. Historic attractions abound, including period dramas connected to the region's pioneer history performed annually in cities like Boone and Valdese. Romantic inns, cabins, and seaside hotels offer cozy rooms and luxurious amenities, including some of the region's top-rated full-service spas. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.
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Brevard is a lovely Transylvania County town nestled within the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains, known for its excellent outdoor recreational opportunities and small-town charm. The city has received many accolades from international publications, including listings on Budget Travel's Coolest Small Towns and National Geographic's Top 50 of the World's Last Great Places lists. Couples can explore the city's quaint downtown district, which is home to delightful shops, boutiques, and restaurants. Nearby, Pisgah National Forest offers opportunities for mountain biking, rock climbing, ziplining, hiking, and kayaking along the waters of the French Broad River. Each year, the city's White Squirrel Festival honors the region's large populations of albino squirrels with live music, arts and crafts booths, and local food vendors.
Charlotte is the most populous city in North Carolina, home to more than two million residents and growing. The vibrantly cultural city is known for its world-class major league sports teams, including the Carolina Panthers NFL team and the Charlotte Hornets NBA team. Couples can explore attractions such as the NASCAR Hall of Fame or enjoy lovely performances by cultural institutions like the Charlotte Ballet. Nearby, Carowinds theme park is home to rides like Fury 325, the world's tallest giga roller coaster. The city's dining scene is known for its delicious Southern-influenced dining options, which incorporate the bounty of the Piedmont region into unique fusion fare. Nationally-renowned musicians frequent hip venues such as the Fillmore Charlotte, located within the vibrant AvidXChange Music Factory entertainment and nightlife complex.
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Asheville is one of North Carolina's most picturesque cities, known throughout the Southeast for its vibrant arts and cultural scenes. The gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains city is best known as the home of the stunning Biltmore estate, originally constructed for George Washington Vanderbilt II and renowned today as one of the world's most beautiful Gilded Age architectural sites. Couples can tour the massive estate as part of regular guided tours throughout the year or dine at the lovely Estate Dining Room, which serves up full elegant afternoon tea service. The city's beautiful downtown historic district is renowned for its high-quality culinary scene, home to acclaimed restaurants like French bistro Bouchon and Indian street food joint Chai Pani, helmed by award-winning chef Meherwan Irani. Couples can also stroll through the city's beautiful North Carolina Arboretum, home to 434 acres of landscaped gardens and nature trails, or explore the expanses of the immense Pisgah National Forest, a popular spot for hiking and camping.
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4.Bald Head Island
Bald Head Island is the southernmost settlement in North Carolina, located along the tip of beautiful Cape Fear. The island, which was featured prominently as a main setting in the feature film Weekend at Bernie's, is the home of three gorgeous lighthouses, including the 1817 Old Baldy Lighthouse, which is open to the public today for guided tours by docents of the Smith Island Museum. 14 miles of stunning pristine beachfront beckon visitors, creating a perfect backdrop for romantic sunset strolling or lively water sports. Couples can rent beautiful villas, cottages, and guest houses throughout the island for secluded romantic getaways throughout the year. Many rentals offer complimentary admission to the amenities of the island's Shoals Club and Bald Head Island Club, which are home to luxurious spas, spacious marinas, and upscale restaurants.
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Blowing Rock is a lovely western North Carolina village, named in honor of its unique rock formation of the same name, which juts out 1,500 feet over the Johns River gorge. Visitors can scale the rock for unparalleled views of the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains, which are also accessible via the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway drive. Regional artwork is on display at the lovely Blowing Rock Art and History Museum, while Tweetsie Railroad is home to North Carolina's only fully-functional steam engine train, along with a variety of family-friendly amusement park rides and attractions. Beautiful Moses H. Cone Memorial Park is home to a preserved 1901 mansion and country estate, while Annie Cannon Gardens serves as a trailhead for exploring the nearby Glen Burney and Glen Marie waterfalls. Annual special events include the summertime Art in the Park Festival and the city's Lighting of the Town event, which showcases a holiday parade and a Christmas in the Park celebration.
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Boone is a charming Blue Ridge Mountains town named in honor of famed American pioneer Daniel Boone, known for its historic attractions connected to the American Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Spacious Daniel Boone Park is home to the Hickory Ridge Living History Museum, which recreates pioneer homestead life during the 18th century. Couples can take in performances of the acclaimed Horn in the West seasonal drama, which brings the region's Revolutionary War history to life and explores the pioneer struggles of historical figures like Boone. The region is also known as a hub for bluegrass musicians and Appalachian storytelling, associated with 20th-century performers like Doc Watson and Michael Houser. The lovely Blue Ridge Parkway passes through the city's limits, offering unparalleled views of the nearby mountain range.
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Bryson City is a lovely North Carolina town that serves as a gateway to the stunning Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The charming town offers a less-touristy alternative to Smoky Mountains resort areas like Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, home to a quaint downtown district that highlights art galleries, chocolatiers, and craft breweries. It has been named as one of America's top 20 small towns to visit by the Smithsonian, acclaimed for its excellent outdoor recreational opportunities within the Gorge and Nantahala National Forest. Couples can whitewater raft on the Tuckasegee River, hike along the famed Appalachian Trail, or enjoy prime opportunities for kayaking, paddle boarding, and fly fishing. Area attractions include the Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians, the Smoky Mountains Trains Museum, and the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, which offers scenic rides throughout the park during the year.
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Cape Hatteras has been named as one of America's top 10 beaches by Forbes, CNN, and the Travel Channel, known for its expansive stretches of sand dune, marsh, and maritime forest beach environments. The cape extends along a chain of islands off the North Carolina coastline into the Atlantic Ocean, adjacent to the state's Outer Banks region. It is home to the beautiful Cape Hatteras National Seashore, which protects the barrier islands of Hatteras Island, Bodie Island, and Ocracoke Island. Couples can explore the park's lovely visitor beachfronts, nature trails, and historic lighthouses throughout the year or camp overnight at several designated campgrounds. More than 70 miles of beachfront stretch along the cape throughout its islands, offering multiple boating access ramps and boardwalks. On Hatteras Island, visitors can explore the community of Hatteras Village, which is home to locally-owned restaurants and quaint rental condos.
1401 National Park Drive, Manteo, NC 27954, Phone: 252-473-2111
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Cashiers is a lovely Jackson County vacation destination located within the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, located just an hour from Asheville via scenic Highway 64. The city, which sits at an elevation of more than 3,500 feet within the gorgeous Nantahala National Forest, is known as a top spot for outdoor recreational activities within western North Carolina, including excellent opportunities for hiking at picturesque Whiteside and Yellow Mountains. Nantahala National Forest and Gorges State Park opportunities for hiking to waterfalls, including Schoolhouse Falls, Silver Run Falls, and Rainbow Falls. Nearby, Lake Glenville offers amazing opportunities for boating, while the Horsepasture and Chattooga National Wild and Scenic Rivers are prime spots for fly fishing. In town, couples can stroll through the beautiful 12-acre outdoor sculpture park at Cashiers NC Park, explore historic sites such as the 1852 Zachary-Tolbert House, or hang out and sample Bavarian-style beers at hip craft brewery Whiteside Brewing, a part of the Jackson County Ale Trail.
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10.The Crystal Coast
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The Crystal Coast stretches for 85 beautiful miles along North Carolina's Atlantic Ocean coastline, extending from the gorgeous Cape Lookout National Seashore to the banks of the New River. The popular tourist area, which is named for its lovely crystal-clear waters, is home to pristine beachfront stretches like the Circle, home to amusement rides and souvenir shops near the causeway to Morehead City. Excellent opportunities for diving and fishing line the region's coastline, which has been acclaimed for its near-perfect diving conditions by Scuba Diving Magazine. Historic Beaufort, located on Harkers Island, is home to the North Carolina Maritime Museum, which houses artifacts from the Queen Anne's Revenge shipwreck, and the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum, which preserves local decoy carvings. More than 100 restaurants line the region's tourist areas, along with full-service hotels such as the Doubletree Atlantic Beach.
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Dillsboro is a lovely Jackson County town located at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains, known as one of western North Carolina's most charming small towns. The city's downtown district stretches for five blocks, home to 19th-century buildings housing mom-and-pop stores, restaurants, art galleries, and romantic bed and breakfast inns. Couples can stroll throughout the downtown district and peruse the works of local mountain artisans, who showcase lovely glassblowing and pottery works at their working studios. Delicious coffee shops and confectionaries sample handcrafted chocolates and sell excellent espresso-based lattes and mochas, while homestyle eateries serve up traditional Southern-style cooking. The city's historic General Store is also home to a renowned old-fashioned soda fountain that serves up classic malt shop beverages.
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Duck is a lovely seaside town in North Carolina's Outer Banks, named as one of America's best beaches by the Travel Channel. The charming town is home to more than seven miles of expansive, uncrowded beachfront, flanked by a lovely soundfront boardwalk lined with quaint shops and restaurants. Couples can explore the town on foot and enjoy excellent opportunities for kayaking, sailing, and paddle boarding along the banks of the Currituck Sound. Beautiful Duck Town Park is home to a kayak launch and an amphitheater that hosts the annual Duck Jazz Festival each October. Resort areas like the AQUA Spa and Sanderling Resort offer luxurious full-service spa amenities, perfect for couples looking for relaxing, rejuvenating getaways.
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Flat Rock is a delightful historic village located approximately half an hour south of Asheville, best known as the home of the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, which preserves the author's beloved home estate Connemara. The lovely village, which was established in the early 19th century, has become known as the "Little Charleston of the Mountains" and has become a popular summer home site for Southeast residents to escape the coastal heat during the summer months. Couples can peruse the village's charming downtown district, which is home to local businesses like the Wrinkled Egg folk art gallery and boutique and the Gallery at Flat Rock. Flat Rock Playhouse, North Carolina's state theater, presents a full season of Broadway musicals, comedies, and dramas throughout the year. Other attractions include the Western North Carolina Air Museum, which showcases award-winning restored and vintage airplanes.
Hot Springs is a charming western North Carolina town that is best known for its natural mineral hot springs, which have been revered for their purported healing properties since indigenous times. The hot springs were a popular resort area throughout the early 20th century and served as a Catholic retreat throughout the mid-20th century. Though all of the hotels that once populated the town have been demolished or destroyed by fire, the hot springs tubs remain a popular tourist attraction today, located along a volcanic fault line that keeps waters approximately 100 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Couples can book private covered tubs along several pools near the French Broad River for romantic, rejuvenating soaks throughout the year. Evening tub time is available with advance reservations. Spa treatments are also available, along with an overnight campground and park area hosting annual events such as the French Broad River Festival.
315 Bridge St, Hot Springs, NC 28743, Phone: 828-622-7676
Lake Lure is one of North Carolina's most beautiful manmade lakes, located within the foothills of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains approximately half an hour from Asheville. The Hickory Nut Gorge lake has been featured in a number of major motion pictures, including the hit films Dirty Dancing, Thunder Road, and The Last of the Mohicans. Couples can stroll along the lake's beautiful boardwalk or enjoy swimming at its public beachfront, which is home to a water slide and water park offering thrills for visitors of all ages. Hiking trails abound, including the 1.5-mile Rumbling Bald Trail loop at Chimney Rock State Park. Nearby, lovely shops and restaurants populate the village of Chimney Rock, which is also home to a town marina, public park, and the nine-hole Lake Lure Golf Club.
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Little Switzerland is a lovely community within the Blue Ridge Mountains, located approximately an hour north of Asheville along the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway. The popular parkway stop is known as a perennial summer colony for the state's wealthy residents, showcasing gorgeous Swiss-style architecture and unique small businesses. Couples can peruse favorite stores like Little Switzerland Books and Beans, which is home to an upstairs art gallery highlighting the works of local artists. Popular scenic drives include the Diamondback, a renowned mountain vista spot along NC Highway 226A offering views at 3,500 feet above sea level. Unique attractions include the Emerald Village NC Mining Museum, which offers underground mine tours, and the century-old Orchard at Altapass, which presents live music concerts and offers opportunities for seasonal apple picking. The delightful Switzerland Inn, which dates back to 1910, offers mountain view suites, romantic cottage rentals, and a luxurious full-service spa.
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Manteo is a lovely coastal North Carolina town that is home to the preserved Fort Raleigh National Historic SIte, which preserves an historic earthen fort that is connected to the 1587 first English settlement in North America. The lovely North Carolina Aquarium, located on nearby Roanoke Island, showcases exhibits related to the marine life of the Outer Banks and the Gulf Stream. The historic Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse is the only preserved in-shore lighthouse in the Outer Banks, open to the public for guided tours and photo opportunities. Couples can stroll through the gorgeous 10-acre Elizabethan Gardens as part of self-guided tours or enjoy performances of the renowned Lost Colony Outdoor Drama, America's longest-running outdoor symphonic drama. The city's downtown district offers several blocks of charming independent boutiques, gift shops, and delicious upscale restaurants.
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Marshall is a lovely historic town in Madison County, located just 20 minutes north of Asheville along the banks of the gorgeous scenic French Broad River. The charming town, which is home to a population of less than a thousand restaurants, is known for its mile-long Main Street, lined with lovely art studios, galleries, live music venues, and independent shops and boutiques. Couples can peruse unique locations like the century-old Penland and Sons department store or the Marshall Container Company, which serves as a pub and working artist workshop. Mad Company Brew House serves up delicious small-batch craft beers, while popular coffee shop Zuma is known for its health-conscious fare, homemade desserts, and live music nights. Nearby on Blannahassett Island, Marshall High Studios converts a former high school building into an artist complex. Annual special events include the Mermaid Parade and Festival, which is known for its delicious seafood cook-off and whimsical costumed parade.
Morganton is a charming Burke County town located approximately an hour east of Asheville within the gorgeous foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The town is the site of the United States' oldest inland European settlement, established in 1567. Today, its quaint downtown district is anchored around its historic courthouse and is home to a plethora of delightful shopping, dining, and performing arts destinations. Couples can explore the History Museum of Burke County, which offers two floors of historic exhibits, or take in Broadway musicals and dramas at the City of Morganton Municipal Auditorium. Delicious craft breweries line the city's downtown area, including Fonta Flora Brewery, Catawba Brewing, and Sidetracked Brewery. Pisgah National Forest offers ample opportunities for hiking, biking, fishing, and camping, including trails to hike to picturesque waterfalls. Lake James State Park offers a seasonal swimming beach and opportunities for mountain biking.
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Raleigh-Durham is North Carolina's beautiful capital city, named in honor of Sir Walter Raleigh and located on the site of an English settlement from the 1580s. Today, the "City of Oaks" is best known as the home of North Carolina State University, which forms a foundational part of the region's Research Triangle higher educational community and is home to architectural landmarks such as a 1937 Art Deco bell tower. The beautiful 19th-century North Carolina State Capitol showcases Greek Revival-style architecture and is open for public tours, including tours as part of the city's historic Trolley Tour. Historic neighborhood Oakwood is line with stunning 19th-century homes, while sites such as the Pope House Museum preserve the city's African American heritage. Cultural institutions abound, including renowned museums like the North Carolina Museum of Art, which houses one of the nation's only permanent collections of Jewish artwork.
Highlands is one of North Carolina's most beautiful hidden gems, located just two hours north of Atlanta within the gorgeous Nantahala National Forest. The mountain getaway is one of the highest-elevation towns east of the Mississippi River, sitting at a height of over 4,100 feet above sea level within a unique temperate rainforest ecosystem. Couples can enjoy excellent opportunities for hiking and outdoor sports throughout the surrounding national forest, including drive-through opportunities to view stunning Bridal Veil Falls. Whitewater Falls, the tallest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains, stands at an impressive height of 411 feet. Cultural experiences abound in town, including the Highlands Playhouse, which presents professional theater performances, and the Highland-Cashiers Chamber Music concert series. Romantic restaurants line the city's downtown district, including five restaurants that have earned the prestigious Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.
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Valdese is a lovely 19th-century mountain town located just 10 minutes east of Morganton, originally founded as a Waldensian religious colony of Italian immigrants. Today, the charming town is home to delightful cultural attractions such as the Old Rock School Auditorium, which hosts an annual Bluegrass at the Rock concert series and performances by the Old Colony Players community theater. Each summer, the town presents the "From This Day Forward" theatrical journey, one of the state's longest-running outdoor dramas. Waldensian cultural history is on display at the Waldensian Heritage Museum, the preserved historic Waldensian Presbyterian Church, and the lovely Trail of Faith, which can be explored as part of self-guided tours. Couples can also enjoy delicious dinners at restaurants such as Myra's or sample boutique wines at the lovely Waldensian Heritage Winery, which utilizes winemaking practices perfected for more than 250 years.
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Wilmington is a beautiful North Carolina port city that serves as a gateway to the stunning Cape Fear Coast, known for its gorgeous beaches at areas like Wrightsville and Carolina. The city is best known as the home of EUE Screen Gem Studios, the United States' largest domestic film and television studio outside of California, which has produced iconic series like Dawson's Creek and One Tree Hill. Couples can stroll through its lovely historic downtown district, which is home to a 1.75-mile Riverwalk lined with shops, art galleries, and delicious restaurants. The Battleship North Carolina is docked within the waters of the city's Cape Fear River, housing artifacts related to World War II naval combat history. Couples can also tour historic homes throughout the city such as the 1770 Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens or explore museums like the Wilmington Railroad Museum, which details the history of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad.
Winston-Salem has been named as one of the United States' 10 best places to retire by CBS, known for its highly-livable downtown district and growing small business community. The city is commonly known as the "City of the Arts," home to cultural attractions like the lovely Piedmont Opera Theater, the Stevens Center for the Performing Arts, the Winston-Salem Symphony, and the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art. Couples can explore the restored Moravian settlement Old Salem, originally founded in 1766 and home today to preserved living history museum sites that recreate traditional 18th-century businesses. Four-acre Reynolda Gardens is set on the grounds of the former R.J. Reynolds country estate, located within a lush woodland setting. Couples can also catch minor league baseball games at BB&T Ballpark or enjoy performances at the annual Heavy Rebel Weekender music festival, which takes place over three days and showcases rockabilly, honky tonk, and punk bands.
25 Best Small Towns in North Carolina USA
- Brevard, Photo: Michael Shake/stock.adobe.com
- Charlotte, Photo: jonbilous/stock.adobe.com
- Asheville, Photo: Jesse Kunerth/stock.adobe.com
- Bald Head Island, Photo: researchdiva/stock.adobe.com
- Blowing Rock, Photo: Margaret/stock.adobe.com
- Boone, Photo: Olga Labusova/stock.adobe.com
- Bryson City, Photo: Jill Lang/stock.adobe.com
- Cape Hatteras, Photo: jiawangkun/stock.adobe.com
- Cashiers, Photo: Matt Pedigo/stock.adobe.com
- The Crystal Coast, Photo: Sean Board/stock.adobe.com
- Dillsboro, Photo: Paul Rushton/stock.adobe.com
- Duck, Photo: Evgenia/stock.adobe.com
- Flat Rock, Photo: Jill Lang/stock.adobe.com
- Hot Springs, Photo: Kurhan/stock.adobe.com
- Lake Lure, Photo: jonbilous/stock.adobe.com
- Little Switzerland, Photo: bryanpollard/stock.adobe.com
- Manteo, Photo: Zack Frank/stock.adobe.com
- Marshall, Photo: Syda Productions/stock.adobe.com
- Morganton, Photo: Marina/stock.adobe.com
- Raleigh-Durham, Photo: Craig Zerbe/stock.adobe.com
- Highlands, Photo: Carol/stock.adobe.com
- Valdese, Photo: New Africa/stock.adobe.com
- Wilmington, Photo: fcxphotography.com/stock.adobe.com
- Winston-Salem, Photo: bryanpollard/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: Margaret/stock.adobe.com
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