6 Best Small Towns in North Carolina

North Carolina offers something special for every season, making it a no-brainer for easy getaways and planned vacations year-round. This Southern gem is brimming with gorgeous scenery, adventure trails, wineries, popular ski slopes, peaceful lakes, tasty cuisine, and more. Spots like Asheville, Linville, Chapel Hill, Wilmington, and Smoky Mountains National Park are bigger destination hits for both first-time visitors and Carolina converts alike, but we'd like to try and tempt you with the state's smaller side. Whether it's a peaceful vibe, easy access to nature, adorable main streets, or just a cozy, Southern vibe, these six small towns in North Carolina prove that you don't have to go big or go home. 

1. Wrightsville Beach

Silver Gull Motel, Wrightsville Beach/Oyster

Back in 2014, Wrightsville Beach made National Geographic's list of the world's top 20 surf towns, finally cementing what locals already knew -- this small town is a laid-back and lively coastal haven. Surfing started on these shores back in 1909 and has remained a popular pastime ever since, thanks to year-round good weather and beach breaks. There are plenty of other ways to get into the water, too, from kayaking to stand-up paddleboarding to sailing. Land highlights include fresh seafood and farm-to-table fare, relaxing views over the Intracoastal Waterway, and several bike trails. Plus, the artsy city of Wilmington is just a 20-minute drive away, giving visitors access to great museums, the Cape Fear River, and Airlie Gardens' gorgeous grounds. 

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2. Banner Elk

Barn Venue at Banner Elk Winery & Villa, Banner Elk/Oyster

With just one single stoplight and a population of just over 1,000, there's no question that Banner Elk is small -- but that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice entertainment. In fact, this quaint spot in the Blue Ridge Mountains is perfect for cozy ski trips, getting-back-to-nature hikes, and sipping your way through nearby wineries. Expect a surprisingly rich culinary and culture scene loaded with boutiques, theater shows, and tasty menus. Skiers take note: Banner Elk is just 15 minutes from the slopes of Sugar Bear, home to the state's only double-black-diamond run. For those looking to ration out the adrenaline, there's also great antiquing, snow tubing, cocktails at North Carolina's only mountaintop bar, and fishing or sunbathing off Wildcat Lake.

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3. Little Washington


Founded in 1776, Little Washington packs a ton of history within its boundaries. Its historic buildings may date back to the 1700s, 1800s, and 1900s, but this small town doesn't lock itself into the past. In 1998, Little Washington became the site of the world's first estuarium, a must-see interactive and educational space that celebrates the state's estuaries and waterways. Kayaking and river tours get folks out on the water, while those staying on land have their choice of history tours, watching boat races, art galleries, and scenic bike and walking trails. 

4. Bath


Bath is North Carolina's oldest town and, with a population of under 300 and area of less than a square mile, one of its smallest. Though she has over three centuries under her belt, this tiny town has hardly changed. Life here is quiet, quaint, and beautiful -- just what you need when you're looking for a break. History buffs will fit right in, thanks to spots like the oldest church in North Carolina, the Historic Bath Historic Site, and a plethora of preserved historic homes. There's not much entertainment outside of nature and peaceful water vistas, making it easy for visitors to revel in Bath's serene seclusion. 

5. Sylva

Keith Allison/Flickr

Sylva may only have around 2,500 residents, but this small town has a big heart. Located in the western area of the state where the Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Mountains meet, this town has a true bluegrass feel. Visitors can also expect spectacular views, rumbling waterfalls, and excellent trout fishing. Hikers here should be more advanced as the area has some of the state's more challenging trails. Two craft breweries make up the town's beer scene, while simple Southern favorites like baby back ribs and delicious grilled trout top menus. If you think the town looks familiar, it may be because it was used as the setting for the 2018 Best Picture winner, "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri."

6. Hillsborough

The Alliance for Historic Hillsborough/Flickr

This small North Carolinian town just might be the Brooklyn of the Tar Heel State. While its literary game is on point (several authors have homes here and all taps at Mystery Brewing pull beers with lit-inspired names), this town is full of activities for outdoor enthusiasts, foodies, and art lovers as well. From beers at brew pubs and wine tastings to live jazz, art galleries, and family-friendly hikes with picnics, Hillsborough offers just the right amount of things to do without all the city noise. 

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