Our research is editorially independent but we may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

The 9 Coolest Cities in North Carolina

North Carolina is home to a number of cool cities, from small-town charms to coastal getaways. The cool cities on this list are truly one-of-a-kind. Killer food scenes, unique art spaces, and pride for local business make these North Carolina cities totally cool. You won’t regret visiting these top cities in North Carolina.

Asheville The quaint downtown district of Asheville features a variety of shops, restaurants and attractions.
Credit: The quaint downtown district of Asheville features a variety of shops, restaurants and attractions. by bigstockphoto.com


This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Asheville, the most popular “cool” city in North Carolina. Asheville is known for its outdoor recreation, craft beer scene, and overall artsy vibe. Not only is Asheville one of the coolest cities in the state, but it’s also one of the most beautiful since it’s in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Enjoy a brew at Wedge Brewing, partake in the weekly drum circle and snap a few pictures of the cool Art Deco buildings found in downtown when you visit the cool city of Asheville.

Durham Brightleaf Square complex near downtown Durham.
Credit: Brightleaf Square complex near downtown Durham. by © Zimmytws | Dreamstime.com


With a historic downtown and a well-rounded food scene, Durham is definitely considered a cool city among locals and tourists alike. Since Durham is home to Duke University, the city has a youthful vibe. During your visit to Durham, you’ll want to stay downtown at The Durham Hotel, a boutique hotel with a midcentury modern flair. With a number of music venues, local eateries, family-friendly attractions and outdoor recreation opportunities, a visit to Durham will not disappoint.

Raleigh Raleigh


North Carolina’s capital offers a cool vibe for travelers wanting a big city experience. The one thing you’ll want to do in Raleigh is eat the local barbecue since the city is home to some of the best barbecue joints in the nation that serve Carolina-style BBQ. Come hungry when you arrive at one of Raleigh’s top barbecue spots, like Ole Time Barbecue or The Pit Barbecue. After a filling barbecue plate, you’re ready to explore the town’s attractions. Browse the art museum, bike along Raleigh’s scenic trails, experience live music at one of the city’s music venues or hit up the number of bars that make up Raleigh nightlife.

Wilmington Wilmington, North Carolina riverfront
Credit: Wilmington, North Carolina riverfront by Wikimedia Commons


North Carolina’s coast is a great place to visit, especially if you stay in the cool city of Wilmington. Popular during the summer months, many tourists choose to stay here since its close to Cape Fear beaches. Beach lovers will adore staying in Wilmington. However, you do not have to be a fan of the beach to enjoy a visit here. A lively part of the city is Wilmington’s historic district, which is home to the Riverwalk where a number of art galleries, restaurants and boutiques are located.

Hickory The Downtown Hickory Farmers Market features a variety of fresh products including produce, meat, cheese and eggs.
Credit: The Downtown Hickory Farmers Market features a variety of fresh products including produce, meat, cheese and eggs. by hickoryfarmersmarket.com/


Hickory, North Carolina offers plenty to travelers seeking a unique town to explore. The town is home to a few great museums, such as the Catawba Science Center, Hickory Aviation Museum and the Hickory Museum of Art. When you aren’t experiencing Hickory’s culture through a museum visit, you’ll want to taste the town’s locally brewed beer at Olde Hickory Brewery. The beer from this brewery will be easy to find, as there are four Olde Hickory locations in the town. Olde Hickory Tap Room is actually a great place to spend a weekend night with live music and a topnotch beer selection.

Charlotte Charlotte, North Carolina
Credit: Charlotte, North Carolina by bigstock.com


Charlotte is North Carolina’s biggest city, and uncool is not a word you would use to describe it. There is so much to do in this bustling city that you may just want to visit Charlotte more than once. Home to the Carolina Panthers football team and the Charlotte Hornets basketball team, Charlotte is a go-to city for sports fans. However what really makes Charlotte a cool place to be are the museums, breweries, and outdoor recreation found here. No matter what brings you to Charlotte, you’ll want to visit the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, which is one of the most iconic museums in the state.

Chapel Hill NC Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill
Credit: NC Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill by NC Botanical Garden

Chapel Hill

Found near Raleigh, the college town of Chapel Hill deserves a spot on this list due to its outdoor recreation options and stellar music scene. This cool North Carolina city is home to one of the oldest public universities in the country, the University of North Carolina. When you’re hungry in Chapel Hill, you’ll want to visit Franklin Street, which is where the town’s best eateries are found. Chapel Hill is a great day trip option for travelers staying in the other “cool” cities of Durham and Raleigh.

Boone Boone, NC has plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation, no matter what time of year you visit.
Credit: Boone, NC has plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation, no matter what time of year you visit. by bigstockphoto.com


This North Carolina mountain town, found at the border of Tennessee, is the smallest town on this list, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t any less cool. Boone, named after Daniel Boone, is home to Appalachian State University. Since the town is in the middle of the mountains, many people head here to take advantage of the outdoor recreation options. For those wanting to explore Boone’s beauty, Elk Knob State Park is a great place to visit. When you aren’t enjoying the outdoors here, Boone is home to cool spots like the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts.

New Bern New Bern
Credit: New Bern by KAD Photo/shutterstock.com

New Bern

History buffs looking for a cool North Carolina city to visit will love staying in New Bern. New Bern isn’t home to just one historic district but a number of them. Visiting all the New Bern historic buildings found on the state historic register is a great bucket list activity. Even if you aren’t into history, some of the historical buildings are cool enough to be Instagram-worthy, especially Tyron Palace. When you aren’t soaking in the history here, there are a number of art galleries worth your time. One place that gives New Bern the cool factor is the Pepsi Store. New Bern was actually the birthplace of Pepsi Cola, and therefore the Pepsi Store is a must-visit while you’re here.

Travel Deals

Save $200 | Air & 8-Day Costa Rica Adventure w/ Car


Air & 8-Day Peru Escorted Small Group Tour


Discounted R/T Domestic U.S. Airfare on Top Airlines


11-Day Ireland by Train w/ Titantic & Wild Atlantic Way


45% Off | Air & 9-Day Ischia, Amalfi Coast & Pompeii


Hyatt Ziva Cap Cana All-Incl. Resort | Dominican Republic

$442+ pp/pn

Ireland | 8-Day Custom Golf Trip - Play the Best Courses


9-Day Southern Spain Tour w/ 3 Excursions Options


Create the Ultimate Trip to Anchorage this Year


Custom Ireland Tour | 7 to 10-Nt B&Bs + Rental Car


Riggs Washington DC w/ Picnic Basket Lunch


Air & 9-Day Super South Africa Small Group Tour


Stanford Court Hotel, San Francisco


7-Day Italy Guided Tour: Rome, Spoleto & Florence


9-Day Spain & Portugal Tour | Save $200 Per Couple