Best places to live in North Carolina in 2020

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Raleigh ranks the highest on Bankrate’s list of the best places to live in North Carolina in 2020, so much so that we drew a blank trying to identify the city’s biggest limitation.

Our list spans the entire geographically diverse state—from the coast to the mountains—on the basis of traits like high affordability, desirable culture and a solid job market.

Raleigh takes the top spot because it’s a booming city, doing well in six key areas of measurement.

If you’re looking for a place to settle down in North Carolina, start your search with this list.

What to consider in a best place to live

There are a number of subjective factors to consider when deciding on a place to live. Things like proximity to family and whether you prefer to be closer to the beach or the mountains can help narrow down your options in North Carolina.

But there are also some common objective themes to take into consideration.

To compile our list of the best places to move to in North Carolina, we measured six different factors in some of the most populous cities in the state. First, we looked at housing affordability and overall cost of living. Then we ranked each city by its culture, job market, safety and educational attainment.

Finally, we looked at how fast each city is growing, with faster-growing cities earning higher scores for desirability.

Here’s how we measured each factor based on a one to 10 scale, with 10 being the best:

Affordability: Looking at costs for housing, food, childcare, transportation, health care and other necessities, we gave each city an affordability score relative to its median income per worker.

Culture: We considered the well-being of each city using Gallup’s research and also looked at things like nightlife, events and activities.

Job market: The job market of each city was measured using Census Bureau data for unemployment rates and average commute times. We also considered the number of major employers in an area.

Safety: Using data from the FBI, we looked at violent and property crime rates.

Educational attainment: To get the sense of the education level of a city, we used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Keep in mind that there may be smaller areas around these large metros that are more desirable places to live. But at the very least, this list can serve as a jumping off point for your search.

Here are the top places to live in North Carolina in 2020

1. Raleigh

  • Affordability: 9 out of 10
  • Culture: 9 out of 10
  • Safety: 9 out of 10
  • Job Market: 9 out of 10
  • Education: 10 out of 10

Biggest advantage: Affordability
Biggest limitation: None

There are few disadvantages to living in Raleigh. This young and educated city has a low cost of living. There’s a flourishing culture with high well-being among residents. And as part of The Research Triangle, there are nearby institutions like Duke University, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that keep the job market strong and educational attainment high. It’s even a relatively safe city. Nightlife, a thriving foodie scene and plenty of opportunity for outdoor recreation keep locals happy as well.

2. Charlotte

  • Affordability: 10 out of 10
  • Culture: 8 out of 10
  • Safety: 4 out of 10
  • Job Market: 6 out of 10
  • Education: 7 out of 10

Biggest advantage: Affordability
Biggest limitation: Safety

It’s easy to cite Charlotte’s high affordability as the reason for its rapid growth. But the city’s first-rate culture shouldn’t be ruled out as a factor either. Charlotte is the home of the U.S. National Whitewater Center and plays host to a number of sporting events, concerts, exhibits, and more. The University of North Carolina attracts a heavily educated population. And several large employers reside in the area, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Amazon.

3. Durham

  • Affordability: 8 out of 10
  • Culture: 9 out of 10
  • Safety: 3 out of 10
  • Job Market: 8 out of 10
  • Education: 9 out of 10

Biggest advantage: Culture/Education
Biggest limitation: Safety

Though often closely tied with Raleigh, Durham boasts a thriving culture of its own. The city has a renowned food and drink scene that makes it a culinary destination. Plus, it offers annual events like the Bull City Food & Beer Experience. It’s not just culture that makes Durham one of the best places to move in North Carolina. The city’s population is well educated and it has a bustling job market, likely since it’s part of The Research Triangle and the location of Duke University. Despite its growth, it still maintains low costs for housing, transportation and other necessities.

4. Asheville

  • Affordability: 5 out of 10
  • Culture: 10 out of 10
  • Safety: 5 out of 10
  • Job Market: 9 out of 10
  • Education: 8 out of 10

Biggest advantage: Culture
Biggest limitation: Safety

Asheville’s well-established culture gives it an edge over other cities in North Carolina. This smaller community situated near the mountains is a natural haven for outdoor enthusiasts, offering everything from hiking and watersports to golf and tennis. There are also a number of events, many of which are beer festivals. Residents enjoy some of the highest well-being in the state, high educational attainment and a low unemployment rate. Its downside is that it’s one of the most expensive cities on the list, with higher-than-average housing prices and a steeper cost of living overall.

5. Greensboro

  • Affordability: 7 out of 10
  • Culture: 6 out of 10
  • Safety: 6 out of 10
  • Job Market: 8 out of 10
  • Education: 5 out of 10

Biggest advantage: Job market
Biggest limitation: Education

Greensboro’s solid job market and high affordability make it a worthwhile spot for job seekers. It’s the location of companies including United Health Care, BB&T and Ralph Lauren Corp. Even though it’s one of the largest cities in the state, it boasts some of the lowest housing prices among North Carolina’s major metro areas. It’s just a couple hours’ drive from both the mountains and the coast. But you prefer to stay in town, there’s enough to keep you busy. It has more than 500 restaurants, 135 attractions and a number of events throughout the year.

6. Wilmington

  • Affordability: 6 out of 10
  • Culture: 4 out of 10
  • Safety: 5 out of 10
  • Job Market: 5 out of 10
  • Education: 6 out of 10

Biggest advantage: Education/Affordability
Biggest limitation: Culture

Nestled on the coast of North Carolina, Wilmington is undoubtedly a town for beach lovers and those who enjoy being outside. That might be why residents of the area rank their physical well-being so high. As a vacation spot, there are also a number of attractions and activities, including a vibrant riverfront and music culture. Since it’s the home of the University of North Carolina Wilmington, the population has high educational attainment scores. And job seekers can find large companies in the area, including Dell Laboratories, Verizon and Time Warner Cable.

Next steps

This list is just a starting point for finding your best place to live. There’s a host of other factors to consider, including taxes, climate and other quality of life issues. Once you’ve made your choice and explored the area that interests you, it may be time to think about buying a home. Bankrate has a host of resources for homebuyers, including mortgage rates and news, tools and information about real estate and more.