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5 North Carolina Towns That Will Take You Back in Time

Sure, big cities are full of lights, action, and excitement. But sometimes it’s nice to slow down and visit a small town that almost seems to take you back in time. The state of North Carolina has lots of these charming towns scattered throughout it – from the mountains of the west to the coast on the east. With quaint Main Streets, old-fashioned soda fountains, and general stores, these North Carolina towns will make you feel as if you’ve slipped back in time – in the very best kind of way.

Beaufort Beaufort - Businesses on Front Street in downtown
Credit: Beaufort - Businesses on Front Street in downtown by bigstock.com


The small town of Beaufort (2.7 miles in total size) is the third oldest town in the state of North Carolina. With its waterfront views and historic charm that goes all the way back to the times of the Native Americans, you’ll immediately feel like you’ve slipped into a slower and more peaceful way of life when you visit here. Several of the town’s homes date all the way back to the 1700s, with the Mattie King Davis Art Gallery being housed in the Russell House from 1732 and the local courthouse, Carteret County Courthouse, dating all the way back to 1796, making it the oldest wood-framed courthouse in the state. The Old Jail, which was built in 1829 is also a popular tourist attraction, particularly for visitors who love to hear a good ghost story. In addition to the historic homes, Beaufort also has a charming Front Street area that has been preserved by the Beaufort Historical Association.

Edenton Edenton Light House, North Carolina
Credit: Edenton Light House, North Carolina by © Joseph Morelli | Dreamstime.com


Located on the not-often-talked-about Inner Banks, the town of Edenton was the first colonial capital of North Carolina and is the second oldest town in the state. Today, it is still home to three landmarks on the National Historic Register, including the state’s oldest courthouse, which was built in 1767. Several of the oldest homes and churches in the state are also located here, as well as a historic baseball field. Everywhere you look, there are stories to be told and beauty to be taken in. In fact, it was named one of America’s Prettiest Towns by Forbes.com. Plus, in addition to the many historic sites, Edenton also has a charming downtown district with quaint restaurants, a variety of shops and an old-fashioned cinema.

Old Salem (Winston-Salem) Old Salem, NC: Historic Moravian Buildings
Credit: Old Salem, NC: Historic Moravian Buildings by © Lei Xu | Dreamstime.com

Old Salem (Winston-Salem)

Although Winston-Salem is a modern, populous city, the area known as Old Salem, located right outside of downtown Winston-Salem, is a snapshot of an older time. With cobblestone streets and buildings that date back to the 18th century, you’ll feel as if you’ve traveled back a few centuries as you dine at the local tavern, sample traditional Moravian cookies at the bakery, learn how to make authentic wax candles, and even take a relaxing, horse-drawn carriage ride.

Tarboro Tarboro
Credit: Tarboro by wikimedia.org


Located along the Tar River in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, Tarboro is the state’s ninth oldest town. Although it did take a hard hit from Hurricane Floyd in 1999, the town still has a historic district that stretches for 45 blocks and includes over 300 structures including residential homes, historic churches, and 19th Century storefronts that line the town’s Main Street. At the center of the district, you’ll also find the 15-acre Town Common, the second oldest legislated town common in the country and the only remaining original common on the East Coast.

Statesville Statesville's historic downtown area is home to restaurants, shops and many special events.
Credit: Statesville's historic downtown area is home to restaurants, shops and many special events. by Statesville


The town of Statesville, located about 45 minutes north of Charlotte, was founded in 1789. It experienced rapid growth in the mid-1800s and became both a major distribution center for herbs and root plants and a leader in the production of tobacco products and the manufacturing and blending of whiskey. Now, a trip to downtown Statesville will give you a glimpse into those earlier days as you visit Congregation Emmanuel – a 19th Century synagogue building, the East Broad Street-Davie Avenue and Academy Hill Historic Districts, and a multitude of other buildings that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the town’s post office and courthouse. A wide variety of eclectic restaurants and quaint shops are also located in historic buildings that feature beautiful architecture and old-fashioned storefronts.

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