Best known as the “Tar Heel State,” North Carolina is home to wonderful universities, great beaches, and stunning mountain ranges. With nearly 10 million residents, there are many reasons why people choose to call this state home. If you want to move to North Carolina but don’t know what cities to consider, keep reading. We put together a list of the 10 fastest-growing cities in North Carolina that saw the greatest population increase over a 5-year span from 2017 to 2021. From Chapel Hill, NC, home of the North Carolina Tar Heels, to Durham, NC, home of the Duke Blue Devils, see what cities made the list.
#1: Apex, NC
Coming in first on our list is Apex, NC, which has a charming downtown area. Apex currently has a population of around 63,000, which is an increase of 25% from 2017.
If you decide to move to Apex, there are plenty of activities to keep you occupied. Here are some ideas: visit the Halle Cultural Arts Center, check out a show at the Holly Springs Cultural Center, take a walk or bike ride on the American Tobacco Trail, visit the Harris Lake County Park, explore the historic downtown area, visit the Apex Nature Park, play a round of golf at one of the many local golf courses, or enjoy a meal at one of the many local restaurants.
#2: Concord, NC
Home to many NASCAR racing events and the Charlotte Motor Speedway, Concord, NC, is the second fastest-growing city in North Carolina. Concord saw a 17% increase in population to its current population of nearly 107,700.
There are plenty of things to do for those living in Concord, NC. For starters, you can check out some of the city’s most popular attractions like the Charlotte Motor Speedway, the Concord Mills Mall, and the Home of the 90s Museum. If you’re looking for something a little more active, you can go hiking or biking in one of the many parks in the area, take a walk, or run along the beautiful Cabarrus County Courthouse grounds. And, of course, no experience in Concord would be complete without enjoying a delicious meal at one of the many local restaurants.
#3: Kannapolis, NC
Kannapolis, NC, has a population of around 54,500, a 12% increase since 2017.
This vibrant city is best known for being a center of education and science, as eight universities are located here. There are a lot of activities to check out in the city that is sure to excite. If you want to try a local restaurant, check out El Amigo Mexican Restaurant, Vell’s-Soul Food with a Twist, and Flying Buffalo. Be sure to also take a walk through one of the countless parks like Village Park, Baker’s Creek Park, and Veterans Park. Lastly, catch a show at Kannapolis Performing Arts Center.
#4: Burlington, NC
Burlington, NC clocks in at number four and is best known for its nature reserves, historical attractions, and parks that feature many outdoor recreational opportunities. Burlington’s population is at around 58,800, accounting for an 11% increase since 2017.
There are many fun activities in Burlington. You can visit the Alamance Battleground State Historic Site, the Children’s Museum of Alamance County, the Haw River State Park, or the Alamance County HistoricMuseum. Take a walk or bike ride on the Burlington-Alamance Rail Trail, go fishing or kayaking on the Haw River, or play a round of golf at one of the many local golf courses. There are also several restaurants, cafes, and shops in downtown Burlington.
#5: Huntersville, NC
If you’re looking for a new city to call home, consider moving to Huntersville, NC. The city is well known for Lake Norman, a 50-square-mile body of water that offers beautiful beaches and opportunities for boating, fishing, camping, and hiking. It is the fifth fastest growing city in North- Carolina, with a population of nearly 61,900, which is a 10% increase.
You may be wondering, what is there to do in Huntersville? You can watch the sunrise at North Mecklenburg Park, Huntersville Athletic Park, and Holbrook Park, spend a day at the Discovery Place Kids or eat delicious food at Antico Italian Restaurant, Midwood Smokehouse, or the Metro Diner.
#6: Cary, NC
Sixth on our list is Cary, NC, which is known for being in the heart of the Triangle area of North Carolina, between Raleigh and renowned Research Triangle Park. You’ll find a lot of unique activities living in Cary, such as trying delicious food at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen, Bosphorus Restaurant, and Doherty’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, visiting a museum like the Page-Walker Arts & History Center, playing sports at Fred G. Bond Metro Park, Downtown Cary Park, and North Cary Park, or catching an event at Cary Arts Center, The Cary Theater, and Koka Booth Amphitheatre.
Cary currently has a population of about 177,000, a 7% increase since 2017.
#7: Gastonia, NC
Median sale price: $275,000
Average rent for a 2-bedroom apartment: $1,372
Gastonia, NC homes for sale
Want to move to Gastonia, NC? Known for being home to Crowders Mountain State Park and one of the world’s most beautiful and scenic mountains, the city has a population of nearly 81,150, which is a 6% increase since 2017.
There are many things to do for residents living in Gastonia, NC. For starters, you can visit the Schiele Museum of Natural History, which features many exhibits on the area’s natural history. You can also visit the Gaston County Museum, which chronicles the county’s history. There are also several parks and recreation areas in Gastonia, NC, like Martha Rivers Park, Lineberger Park, and Rankin Lake Park, which offer a variety of activities for residents to enjoy.
#8. Durham, NC
Durham, NC, comes in eighth on our list and is best known for being home to Research Triangle Park, Duke University, North Carolina Central University, and many City of Medicine health centers. It saw an increase of 6% to its current population of about 285,550.
Living in Durham, you can explore the city’s history and culture at the Durham Museum of Life and Science, the Duke Homestead and Gardens, or the Nasher Museum of Art. You can also enjoy the great outdoors at the Eno River State Park or the American Tobacco Trail. Make sure to visit local favorite restaurants such as Harvest 18 Restaurant, The Refectory Cafe, and Vin Rouge to taste what the city offers.
#9: Chapel Hill, NC
Known for the University of North Carolina, the oldest public university in the U.S., Chapel Hill, NC, comes in ninth on our list. The city is home to about 61,100 residents, which is a 3.75% increase.
There are many things to do if you decide to move to Chapel Hill, NC. You can explore the UNC campus, visit the Carolina Basketball Museum, take a walk through the Ackland Art Museum, or hike through one of the many trails in the area. If you’re looking for a night out, there are plenty of bars and restaurants to choose from.
#10: Asheville, NC
At number ten on our list of fastest-growing cities in North Carolina is Asheville, NC. Asheville is known for its the Blue Ridge Mountains and craft beer scene. The city saw a 2.53% to its current population of about 94,100.
You’ll never get bored living in Asheville with parks like Carrier Park, French Broad River Park, and Pack Square Park and museums like Asheville Pinball Museum, Biltmore Estate, and Asheville Museum of Science. If you want to grab a bite to eat, make sure you visit Tupelo Honey, Posana Restaurant, and Nine Mile. Later on, you can watch a show at The Orange Peel, Asheville Music Hall, and Salvage Station.
Methodology: Population growth was calculated over a 5-year span (2017 vs. 2021). Only cities with a population of over 50,000 were used, as anything smaller is considered a town. Population data sourced from the United States Census Bureau. Median home sale price data from the Redfin Data Center during July 2022. Average rental data from Rent.com during July 2022.