Charlotte, NC vs. Atlanta, GA: Which Is Better?

In comparing Charlotte, NC, vs. Atlanta, GA, which city is better? In reality, the answer largely depends on your preferences. Still, there are distinct differences between the two cities that are worth exploring.

While the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons have a fierce rivalry, the two cities compete for much more than football and basketball games. These two southern cities often compete for company relocations, expansions, and the hearts of young professionals looking to relocate to a new city.

Let’s explore what sets these cities apart from each other.

Comparing Charlotte, NC vs. Atlanta, GA

In comparing Charlotte, NC, vs. Atlanta, GA, both cities have booming economies and the traffic to match. There are many similarities, including major airports, rival sports teams, and close cost of living. Still, there are significant differences, like the size of the two cities. Atlanta is much bigger than Charlotte.

Driving between the two cities takes about 4 hours. Since I-85 runs through both cities, you may hear residents refer to the friendly competition between the two cities as the “I-85 Rivalry.”

In a geographical sense, the cities are fairly close, but the populations start to highlight the differences between the two cities.

View of Uptown Charlotte

View of Uptown Charlotte

Is Charlotte Bigger Than Atlanta?

Did you know that Atlanta is the center of the country’s 8th largest metropolitan statistical area (MSA)? When people think of big cities, they often think of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Atlanta might not have the history and the dense urban fabric, but it is bigger than Miami, Boston, or San Francisco.

Interestingly, Charlotte’s center city (Uptown and South End) offers a more dense and walkable urban fabric than Atlanta’s downtown. But Charlotte is still relatively small compared to Atlanta. The Charlotte metropolitan area is home to about 2.7 million residents, compared to the more than 6 million people living near Atlanta.

The other fact that confuses this conversation is that Charlotte covers a much larger land area than Atlanta. As a result, the population of Charlotte proper is larger than that of Atlanta. So, in a technical sense, Charlotte is larger than Atlanta, but the Atlanta metropolitan area is still twice as large.

Job Prospects & Economy: Comparing Charlotte vs. Raleigh

While Charlotte’s metropolitan area is less than half the size of Atlanta, it punches above its weight regarding the economy. There are nine Fortune 500 companies in the Charlotte region and 16 Fortune 1000 companies. The Fortune 500 companies in the Charlotte region include well-known companies, such as:

  • Lowe’s
  • Bank of America
  • Nucor
  • Honeywell
  • Duke Energy
  • Truist
  • Sonic Automotive
  • CommScope Holding
  • Brighthouse Financial

Charlotte does pretty well for a city sitting outside of a Tier 1 population. Charlotte is known as a banking and financial center. In addition to Bank of America and Truist headquarters, Charlotte is home to more than 20,000 Wells Fargo employees.

Downtown Atlanta

Still, while Charlotte has the advantage when it comes to financial and banking companies, Atlanta has a larger number of Fortune 500 companies. Seventeen Fortune 500 companies call the Atlanta region home. Those companies include:

  • The Home Depot
  • United Parcel Service (UPS)
  • The Coca-Cola Company
  • Delta Air Lines Inc.
  • The Southern Company
  • Genuine Parts Company
  • WestRock
  • Pulte Group Inc.
  • Norfolk Southern
  • AGCO Corporation
  • Newell Brands
  • Asbury Automotive Group
  • Intercontinental Exchange (ICE)
  • Global Payments Inc.
  • Graphic Packaging Holding
  • NCR Corporation
  • Veritiv

You may not recognize all of these companies, but they are all big-time employers. And while the truth is that small businesses are the lifeline of any community. Still, a certain trickle-down effect makes these major businesses important.

Big companies need lawyers, and lawyers need dry cleaning, and everyone in that chain needs groceries, and so forth.

Plus, a certain name recognition comes with serving as home to multiple Fortune 500 companies. It also helps with professional sports sponsorships and community programming.

So, in comparing the economy in Charlotte, NC, vs. Atlanta, GA, which is better? Both economies are strong and growing. Charlotte is where you want to be if you are in financial services or banking, but Atlanta has more overall opportunities.

A Rivalry of Sports & Culture

While it may not be as big as Atlanta, Charlotte is still a big city, and it is the biggest city between Atlanta and Washington, D.C. The skyline is evidence of this. Charlotte has multiple buildings taller than any building in the neighboring states of South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

You can thank the Fortune 500 companies, especially banks, for the prominent skyline. These same companies are ideal sponsors for professional sports too.

The five major professional sports in the United States are the National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), National Hockey League (NHL), and Major League Soccer (MLS). Three of these leagues call Charlotte home.

On any given day, you can catch games for:

  • Carolina Panthers (NFL)
  • Charlotte Hornets (NBA)
  • Charlotte FC (MLS)

The Charlotte Knights of Minor League Baseball also have an Uptown stadium, a popular place to visit with friends and family. These venues are also important outside of sports because they host concerts and other events.

Of course, Atlanta is a much bigger city with even more sports prestige. The biggest difference between the two cities is that Atlanta is home to one of the most prominent baseball teams in the country. They ruled my heart in the 90s when they were on TBS and had more recent World Series success, too.

Atlanta is home to the following professional sports teams:

  • Atlanta Falcons (NFL)
  • Atlanta Braves (MLB)
  • Atlanta Hawks (NBA)
  • Atlanta United FC (MLS)

The city was once home to the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers also, but they left in 2011. That team is now known as the Winnipeg Jets.

Interestingly, one other note when comparing Atlanta vs. Charlotte is that Atlanta is home to the NCAA’s Southeastern Conference (SEC), and Charlotte is home to the NCAA’s Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).

Culturally, the Georgia Aquarium is the crown jewel that sets Atlanta apart from Charlotte. The Georgia Aquarium is massive and filled with more than 11 million gallons of water.

The World of Coca-Cola is a major-drawing attraction that sits next door to the Georgia Aquarium. This is much more than just a company museum. It is a multi-exhibition destination that is fitting of one of the most iconic brands in the world.

Atlanta is culturally very diverse. You can watch a Broadway play, check out the nightlife, attend professional sporting events, and much more.

Charlotte doesn’t have any Uptown attractions to the scale of Georgia Aquarium, but there is still plenty to do. The closest thing to the World of Coca-Cola is the NASCAR Hall of Fame. They are similar in size and scale, though the World of Coca-Cola definitely benefits from being next door to another major attraction.

Beyond the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Charlotte also offers the Belk Theater (for Broadway and more), Mint Museum, Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Harvey B Gantt Center For African-American Arts + Culture, and much more.

There are many things to do in Charlotte and Atlanta alike.

If you are interested in reading more about similar peer cities to Charlotte and Atlanta, you might also consider reading our article comparing Charlotte vs. Nashville.

Cost of Living & Demographics

Atlanta and Charlotte are both heralded for their comparatively low cost of living. It’s one of the main reasons that both cities do so well with companies looking to expand or relocate. CNBC lists the top states for business each year, and North Carolina and Georgia are both routinely in the top 10.

While both cities offer a comparatively low cost of living, Charlotte is slightly more affordable. According to NerdWallet, the cost of living in Charlotte is about 5% lower than that of Atlanta. Charlotte, which is also known as the Queen City, is compelling as a big city that is still very livable.

Both cities are diverse, but Atlanta has a more diverse racial composition. In Atlanta, about 50% of the population is black, and about 40% of the population is white, with other minority populations representing about 10% of the population.

Comparatively, about 47% of the population in Charlotte is white, and 35% is black, with other minority populations representing about 18% of the population.

Atlanta’s median age is 33, which is comparable to Charlotte’s median age of 34.

In comparing Atlanta vs. Charlotte, you will find there are as many ways the cities are similar as they are different. Still, Atlanta is much more populated, so the most noticeable difference will likely not be demographics or cost of living. You will first notice that Atlanta’s traffic congestion rivals the biggest cities in the country.

Major Airports: CLT vs. ATL

As Atlanta and Charlotte continue to grow in status, one of the major reasons is that both cities have important airports. Atlanta is home to Delta, and the airline keeps a major hub in the city.

Charlotte Douglas International Airport is the second largest hub for American Airlines.

Charlotte Skyline From Airport

Skyline View from CLT

This is convenient for residents because they have direct flights to nearly anywhere they want to go. Still, the economic benefits for the respective regions transcend flights for local residents.

Just how big of an impact? Charlotte Douglas contributed more than $30 billion to the state’s economy in recent years, which amounted to 5% of the entire state’s gross state product. And keep in mind that Hartsfield-Jackson (ATL) is even bigger.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the busiest airport in the United States. In recent years, ATL served more than 50 million passengers.

Charlotte Douglas International Airport is the sixth busiest airport in the United States and has served more than 20 million passengers annually.

Serving as a hub location for a major airline is a big deal for both airports and helps both Atlanta and Charlotte punch above their weight. The airports are so prominent that the city of Atlanta is frequently referred to as ATL, and Charlotte is known as CLT.

Is Charlotte or Atlanta Better?

In comparison to Charlotte, Atlanta is a bigger city with more headquarters and big-time employment opportunities. Atlanta also offers more professional sports and cultural opportunities. On the other hand, traffic in Atlanta is among the worst in the country.

Charlotte offers many of the same amenities as Atlanta, is home to multiple Fortune 500 companies, and still offers access to professional sports and cultural activities. Plus, Charlotte still has neighborhoods and ring cities that offer a small-town feel with southern hospitality.

These are some of the reasons we chose to move to Charlotte instead of Atlanta.

One other thing that we love about Charlotte is that you can live in Charlotte without a car. To be clear, we have a car, but Charlotte’s walkable neighborhoods have a very special vibe. There is something both exciting and homey about taking our family to walk along the Rail Trail before grabbing some dinner and ice cream.

Why is Charlotte so popular? The reasons are endless. Some people love Atlanta just as much, but Charlotte is much more livable, based on our experience.

It’s an interesting contrast that Charlotte’s downtown area is arguably denser than Atlanta’s, yet Charlotte’s suburban ring still has small-town neighborhoods.

Is Charlotte Similar To Atlanta? Charlotte vs. Atlanta Decided

People often like to compare Charlotte vs. Atlanta, but the more reasonable comparison is Charlotte vs. Raleigh. Charlotte and Raleigh are much more similar in size, but Charlotte has professional sports teams, Fortune 500 headquarters, and a skyline that often draws comparisons to Atlanta.

Charlotte is similar to Atlanta because it is a southern city with Fortune 500 companies and professional sports teams. Still, Atlanta is a much bigger city that is often recognized on the international stage. In our view, Charlotte is a much more livable city, but it is undeniable that Atlanta is better known.

Jeremiah moved to the Charlotte area with his wife, Erin, back in 2013. The family has grown over the years, and they now call the Carolinas home. They enjoy hiking and adventures, road trips, backyard fire pits, and pizza night. Jeremiah loves to explore, and looks forward to sharing tips, tricks, and resources for your next trip.