The 7 Best Places to Retire in North Carolina

Danny Newman
Danny Newman is a nationally syndicated freelance writer with a focus on travel. MSN feed and Associated Press bylines. Danny is a digital nomad from the UK who’s been traveling full-time since 2018.

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Why do people choose North Carolina to retire? Let’s discover the best places to retire in North Carolina and learn what makes the Tar Heel State stand out.

Did you know North Carolina welcomes around 40 million tourists every year? It just goes to show how popular the Tar Heel State has become! People just can’t get enough of its gorgeous coastline, incredible barbecue, stunning state parks, and rich cultural opportunities.

Its high quality of life and endless attractions also explains why so many retirees are settling in North Carolina. Heck, there’s even a name for northerners who originally moved south to places like Florida before landing in NC. They’re called “halfbacks” (because they only made it halfway back home!).

Do you feel drawn to North Carolina as you approach retirement too? Would you like some help deciding where to live? This post is for you. Today, we’re going to highlight 7 of the best places to retire in North Carolina.

1. Durham

As a mid-sized city of around 275,000 residents, Durham has all the excitement of a modern metropolis but less of the stress. It strikes a beautiful balance, where small-town vibes meet big-city bustle. Home of Duke University and the Durham Bulls minor league baseball team, it’s bike-friendly, walkable, and packed with parks, bars, restaurants, museums, and entertainment venues.

Specific reasons to retire here include its affordable housing and renowned university medical center. Durham also has an incredible lifelong learning program that’s available courtesy of Duke University, and golfers will appreciate the slew of courses that are dotted around town. For all of these reasons and more, Durham warrants its place on any list of the best places to retire in North Carolina.

Charlotte, North Carolina, USA skyline.
Image credit: Depositphotos.

2. Hendersonville

Hendersonville is a small, picturesque city in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Henderson County. A vibrant town that oozes southern charm, it’d be a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and retirees seeking a slower pace of life.

With its wide, tree-lined streets, this is another pedestrian-friendly place with an abundance of hiking and biking trails nearby. Among them, you have the DuPont State Recreation Forest and the aptly-named “Cheers! Trail”, which connects 25 different craft beverage-tasting experiences in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

For those seeking easy access to Asheville with a quieter way of life, Tim Uihlein, Partner and Managing Director of Vincere Wealth, suggests Black Mountain as another nearby alternative: 

“Black Mountain is a fantastic town, especially for retirees. It offers convenience to a nearby big city (Asheville) with the allure of a quaint and sleepy mountain town.”

Other incentives to retire to Hendersonville include its historic downtown area that’s lined with boutique stores, museums, restaurants, and cafes. The city also vaunts a high ratio of physician’s offices to residents and is a mere 22 miles from the excitement of Asheville.

3. Asheville

Do you like the sound of Hendersonville but prefer life in the city? Consider Asheville instead. Not only is it close to Hendersonville’s many attractions, but it also shares a lot of them! For example, Asheville, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, has another National Park on its doorstep (this time, it’s the Great Smoky Mountains NP). But according to David Berns of Truadvice Wealth Management, it has much more to offer than that:

“Asheville, NC, is a wonderful place to retire, with its mountain views and food scene. The area is home to many artists, writers, and musicians who love to create their art. Winters are also tame, allowing retirees to enjoy the mix of seasons.”

The main difference is that Asheville has 92,000 residents instead of 14,000, which blesses it with the extra buzz and amenities you might be seeking. Sure, Asheville’s median home price is higher than other places, but the cost of living is relatively low overall. The quality of life is sky-high, too, and continued education is available thanks to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of North Carolina (UNC). The many retirement communities in the area are the cherry on top.

4. New Bern

Located in Craven County, New Bern is part of the Inner Banks region on the coast of North Carolina. It’s also the state’s second-oldest town! Founded in 1710, this historic place is teeming with age-old architecture and places of historical importance, including the remarkable Tryon Palace.

Jay W. Rishel, Certified Financial Planner (CFP) with Overman Capital Management, highlights some of New Bern’s biggest draws:

“It offers a historic and vibrant downtown and affordable location/cost of living on the confluence of the Trent and Neuse Rivers. A quick 45-minute drive to the beach, 2 hours from Raleigh-Durham, 1.5 hours from Wilmington. The demographics are quite diverse, and the area has something for everyone – young and old. Lower taxes than the Northeast, less congestion, better weather, and very welcoming people.” 

The living experience in New Bern is second to none. Among other perks, it has a prime riverside location, amazing restaurants and shopping opportunities, renowned golf courses, and interesting cultural activities. Head to the waterfront at Union Point Park for a sunset walk, explore the lively downtown area with its local businesses, and enjoy a warm welcome from friendly locals.

Surprisingly, the crime rate in some parts of New Bern is above average. But with its strong quality of life, easy access to some of the state’s best beaches, and a below-average cost of living, it’s still one of the best places to retire in North Carolina.

5. Beaufort

The county seat of Carteret County, Beaufort, is another coastal town with a long and colorful history. Indeed, this was where the infamous pirate Blackbeard called home for a while in the 1700s!

Swashbuckling backgrounds aside, Beaufort’s best-known nowadays for its old-world charm, world-class fishing opportunities, and beautiful beaches on nearby barrier islands. Historic buildings abound, too, as do fantastic restaurants and friendly locals. It’s quaint, walkable, and picturesque and would be ideal for anyone looking for a quiet waterside retirement.

6. Hickory

Head west to Catawba County, and you’ll find this thriving city of 41,000 people. Named after the first building constructed there, the Hickory Tavern, Hickory’s a regular feature on lists of the best places to retire in North Carolina. It’s also U.S. News’ third pick for the best place to live in the state.

Move to Hickory, and you’ll fall in love with its mountain views, moderate climate, thriving arts scene, and affordable housing. Its proximity to the Appalachian Mountains is another major perk, as is the stunning Lake Hickory – not to mention the city’s burgeoning economy, 2 medical centers, and easy access to Charlotte.

The one downside is Hickory’s high crime rate. However, you’ll struggle to find a budget-friendlier place to retire that’s so close to both the mountains and the big city!

7. Charlotte

Charlotte is the largest and most populous city in North Carolina. And for good reason! Known as the Queen City, it benefits from temperate weather, sterling outdoor opportunities (such as Little Sugar Creek Greenway and Lake Norman), and endless sporting events. Indeed, not only is Charlotte home to the Hornets, Checkers, and Panthers, but it’s also the birthplace of NASCAR. An abundance of bars, restaurants, cafes, museums, and galleries are available as well.

Although the cost of living in Charlotte is more expensive than in other parts of North Carolina, it’s still reasonably affordable – especially if (like many “halfbackers”) you’re relocating from places like Florida. Furthermore, Charlotte has numerous Magnet-status healthcare facilities to call upon, meaning your medical needs would be in safe hands.

Don’t Forget the Best Places to Retire in North Carolina

Do you want a tangible sense of North Carolina’s newfound popularity as a retirement destination? Consider the fact that more people aged 55+ moved from Florida to North Carolina than the other way around in all but a single year between 2005 and 2015!

That’s why we prepared this article about the best places to retire in North Carolina to help you begin thinking about the cities and towns which may be right for you.

Of course, making the transition from earning a paycheck to living off your savings and resources like Social Security can be a major adjustment impacting your budget and quality of life. Hiring a financial advisor can help you navigate the journey so you can enjoy decades in retirement in North Carolina with less money stress.

You’ll find financial advisors featured on Wealthtender based in North Carolina and others who can meet with you online no matter where you live today or tomorrow. Be sure to ask the right questions and understand the costs of hiring a financial advisor before deciding on the right financial advisor for you.

About the Author

Danny Newman

I’m a digital nomad from England who loves traveling and has a passion for writing.

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This article originally appeared on Wealthtender. To make Wealthtender free for our readers, we earn money from advertisers, including financial professionals and firms that pay to be featured. This creates a natural conflict of interest when we favor their promotion over others. Wealthtender is not a client of these financial services providers.

Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be considered financial advice. You should consult a financial professional before making any major financial decisions.

To make Wealthtender free for readers, we earn money from advertisers, including financial professionals and firms that pay to be featured. This creates a conflict of interest when we favor their promotion over others. Learn more. Wealthtender is not a client of these financial services providers.
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