In comparing Charlotte vs. Nashville, you will find two booming cities with unique identities. Sure, Nashville might be best known for country music and Charlotte for banking and NASCAR, but that’s just the start.
These dynamic cities have a lot to offer, and we are excited to highlight how they are similar and where they are different.
Charlotte vs. Nashville: Which Is Better?
Charlotte and Nashville are often compared because of their size and growth trajectories. And there are other similarities, too, such as professional sports, but you will quickly find that there are quite a few differences.
But which city is better? Some of the factors that might influence this decision include location and climate, the economy and job market, attractions and entertainment, and healthcare and education. Let’s dive in to compare the two cities.
1. Location and Climate – Divided by 400 Miles and Mountains
There are more than 400 miles separating these two cities, which is surprising since they are in neighboring states. Without glancing at a map, you might assume these two powerhouse southern cities are closer than they are.
And there are multiple reasons for this. They are the largest cities in neighboring states and often compete for job expansions, company relocations, and even the expansion of professional sports leagues.
These cities are frequently viewed as peer cities and are fiercely competitive for growth opportunities.
When you combine this with the fact the two cities have similar latitudes and weather, it’s easy to assume the cities are closer than they are. In reality, it’s not just 400 miles separating the cities but also the Great Smoky Mountains.
The Great Smoky Mountains make that 400 miles feel even further by car because even the interstate (I-40) feels like a winding mountain road. The mountains also create a slight weather divide.
Some weather systems start strongly on the western side of the mountains but dissipate to a certain extent as they travel across the mountains. Nashville usually sees about 7 inches of snow in a year. Comparatively, Charlotte sees only about 3 inches of snow each year, and that has been declining over the last few decades.
The common theme you will see here is that when comparing Charlotte vs. Nashville, they aren’t that far apart in the grander scheme of things. Still, to those who really know the cities, they aren’t all that close either.
2. Economy and Job Market – Is Charlotte or Nashville Better Positioned?
The one major similarity between Charlotte and Nashville is that the economies, job markets, and skylines are all booming. You don’t have to look even further than the skylines littered with cranes to see this.
In a post-COVID world where commercial construction has slowed down, new construction still rises into the sky in these two cities. And that is no small thing. Plenty of mid-sized cities across the country haven’t seen a new high rise in decades.
Fortune Sized Companies
Charlotte has a slight edge when it comes to Fortune 500 headquarters. There is an extent to which Charlotte is a business town and Nashville is an entertainment town. They don’t call it Nash-Vegas for nothing.
Major corporations like Bank of America, Truist Bank, Lowe’s, Honeywell, Nucor, and Duke Energy call the Charlotte area home. In total, there are nine Fortune 500 headquarters in the Charlotte region and 17 Fortune 1000 headquarters.
In contrast, only five companies headquartered in Nashville are large enough to hit the Fortune 500 list. Those companies include HCA Healthcare, Dollar General, Community Health Systems, Tractor Supply, and Delek US Holdings.
And both cities have other big employers that aren’t headquartered in the city. For example, Charlotte is home to more than 20,000 Wells Fargo employees. And Amazon has offices located in Nashville.
Still, the list of Fortune 500 companies is a good indicator pointing to the strength and diversity of the local economies.
Airports and Transportation
Airports are one of the big factors supporting a thriving economy. Big companies like to have direct flights between their major employment hubs, so a thriving airport is a major selling point for companies looking to expand or relocate.
In this regard, Charlotte is the clear winner. American Airlines’ second-largest hub is located at CLT Airport in Charlotte. As a result, the city is home to the sixth busiest airport in the entire country.
As a comparison, Nashville (BNA) is the 27th largest airport in the United States and therefore doesn’t have as many direct flights to end destinations.
Consider this: North Carolina has the 10th largest GDP for any state in the union, compared to Tennessee, which has the 16th largest GDP. Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) amounts to 5% of North Carolina’s GDP.
That’s crazy. And it speaks to how important CLT is to the local economy. Side note: The fact that CLT has so many flights makes the CLT Airport Overlook a cool place to hang out.
And while Charlotte doesn’t have a subway system, it does have a popular light rail line that runs for more than 10 miles through key neighborhoods. The LYNX Blue Line and Charlotte’s Rail Trail have transformed the city. At this point, Nashville doesn’t have anything comparable.
Who doesn’t love a good skyline? I know that I do, so it only makes sense when comparing Charlotte vs. Nashville that we should also compare the skylines.
Both cities are growing at a frantic pace, with cranes across the skyline, but this is one part of the comparison that might not be all that close.
As we noted when comparing Charlotte vs. Raleigh, seventeen of the twenty tallest buildings in North Carolina are in Uptown Charlotte. There are eight buildings near Uptown Charlotte that surpass 500 feet in height, compared to three in Nashville.
North Carolina borders Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, and South Carolina. There are only four buildings surpassing 500 feet in these four states combined. As noted, three of those four are in Nashville.
So when we say these booming cities are oft-compared, it’s for a good reason, but Charlotte’s dense skyline is hard to beat. Even when comparing Charlotte to Atlanta, Atlanta has more skyscrapers, but they are spread across the county.
Charlotte and Nashville have more dense urban cores than Atlanta, but adding Charlotte’s density and height creates a beautiful combination. This is especially true at night.
3. Attractions and Entertainment – Is Charlotte as Lively as Nashville?
While different, Charlotte and Nashville both offer great attractions and entertainment options. Let’s start with Nashville since it is known as an entertainment destination.
You all know about the honky tonks, but those honky tonks wouldn’t exist without country music. Nashville is home to the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Ryman Auditorium, and numerous music labels.
The Ryman Auditorium is one of the most famed music venues in the entire world. Country music artists know they’ve made it once they are invited to play at the Ryman.
While Charlotte doesn’t have the Country Music Hall of Fame, it does have the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Of course, if we were sharing a guide to Charlotte, we would recommend visiting the Whitewater Center or Carowinds (a theme park with roller coasters).
And both cities have plenty of museums. For instance, Charlotte offers the Mint Museum, the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture.
When comparing Nashville vs. Charlotte for entertainment and attractions, Nashville may have an edge because downtown Nashville is a destination unto itself. Still, it might also depend on whether you prefer country music and honkey tonks (Nashville) or an eclectic combination of modern art and whitewater rafting (Charlotte).
Charlotte and Nashville are fairly even when it comes to professional sports. Both cities are the proud home of an NFL team (Carolina Panthers and Tennessee Titans, respectively). And both cities landed MLS expansion teams in recent years (Charlotte FC and Nashville Sound, respectively).
Each city has a third professional sport, but different sports. The Charlotte Hornets (NBA) have gone through a few iterations in Charlotte. They left once for New Orleans, and the second expansion team was named the Bobcats before reclaiming the Charlotte Hornets name.
The Nashville Predators (NHL) are the ever-popular southern hockey team that plays in the Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville. None of these teams have won a championship in their current iteration. Both the Predators and the Panthers have appearances in championship games.
There are factions of both cities that would like an MLB expansion or relocation team. Of course, the potential need for more stadium funding makes this a tough sell at the same time. Nashville has a much more formalized effort to put together an ownership group and team.
4. Cost of Living and Demographics – Comparing the Numbers
Nashville and Charlotte offer very comparable costs of living. So much so it is hard to distinguish between the cities in this regard. Certainly, there are other areas where differences are more notable.
Charlotte has the country’s 22nd-largest metropolitan statistical area (MSA). There are approximately 2.7 million people living in the larger Charlotte area. In comparison, Nashville is the 35th largest MSA in the United States, with about 2 million people living in the larger Nashville area.
Both cities attract a younger workforce in comparison to the national average. 21 to 34-year-olds make up 24% of the population in Charlotte and 26% of the population in Nashville. This is compared to 19% of the population nationwide.
In Charlotte, 42% of the population is white, 35% of the population is African-American, and 14% of the population is Hispanic. Nashville is a little less diverse. In Nashville, 56% of the population is white, 28% of the population is African-American, and 10% of the population is Hispanic.
5. Healthcare and Education – Quality of Life
Nashville has an edge in healthcare and education, largely because Vanderbilt calls Nashville home. Vanderbilt University is a private research university whose alumni include Nobel Prize winners, congressmen, and governors.
The Vanderbilt University Medical Center ties together healthcare and education, further reinforcing Vanderbilt’s importance to the Middle Tennessee region. Of course, Vanderbilt isn’t the only institution of importance in Nashville.
Other universities in Nashville include Tennessee State University, Belmont University, and Lipscomb University. To give you a sense of the size of all of these universities, all four compete at the Division I athletics level.
In comparing Charlotte vs. Nashville for healthcare and education, this is one area in which Nashville is the clear winner. Charlotte also has multiple universities, including UNC Charlotte, Johnson C. Smith, and Queens University. And while great schools, they don’t have the history that the Nashville institutions offer.
The more renowned institutions in North Carolina are two hours away in the Raleigh-Durham area, where NC State, Duke, and UNC Chapel Hill form the Research Triangle.
One interesting note is that Atrium Health in Charlotte and Wake Forest University School of Medicine are building out Charlotte’s first full-scale medical school. It’s an interesting opportunity for the city because they are building a master-planned campus that will also serve as an innovation corridor for the broader medical industry.
Charlotte or Nashville: Which Should You Choose?
We prefer Charlotte because of its access to both beaches and mountains, as well as its diverse economy with a collection of Fortune 500 companies that create jobs. Still, we understand why some people may prefer Nashville for its fun downtown, great universities, and a climate that has a few more snow days.
And Nashville has a strong economy too. The cities often compete for the same expansions and relocations. Still, when we were deciding where to relocate, we chose Charlotte largely because of the number of professional opportunities that a city with nearly 10 Fortune 500 companies creates.
That’s proven to be a good move, as it offers opportunities to move around as needed to find the industry that best suits you.
Pros and Cons Of Charlotte
Charlotte is a growing city that offers a strong economy and job market, plenty of entertainment and attractions, a solid transportation network including light rail, and much more. Compared to Nashville, the larger airport and light rail system stand out as key differentiators.
Still, Nashville has a lot to offer. Charlotte gets less snow than Nashville if you want to see snow, and Nashville also has a better entertainment scene along Broadway.
Pros and Cons Of Nashville
In some ways, Nashville is a much more lively city than Charlotte, which has been accused of catering to the wine and cheese crowd. Nashville is full of fun neighborhoods and offers plenty in the way of job opportunities. And while Charlotte is home to the NBA (Hornets), Nashville is home to the NHL (Predators).
Still, Nashville voted down funding for mass transit, which could come back to haunt the traffic-snarled city in the future.
The Verdict: Charlotte vs. Nashville
While Charlotte and Nashville are very similar in many ways, there are definite nuanced differences. Charlotte might provide more diversified career growth options because it has more Fortune 1000 companies. Still, if you are interested in the music or entertainment business, Nashville is a far better choice than Charlotte.
Comparing Charlotte vs. Nashville might come down to preference, and we respect that. We chose to move to Charlotte over Nashville and now love to call Charlotte home. And even so, we have family and friends in Nashville, and it is an awesome city with a fun personality.
So, now that you have all of these facts and perspectives, what do you think?