North and South Carolina share many of the same features, including beautiful beaches, delicious food, and a rich history. But when it comes to choosing which Carolina is better, there is much more to consider.
Each state has its unique qualities and top attractions that separate the states from each other. We will take a deeper look at both North and South Carolina to help you decide which state is the better fit for you.
Which Carolina Is Better? 5 Things To Consider
In comparing North Carolina vs. South Carolina, there are some major differences in the size of the biggest cities, the economies, the cultures, and even the landscapes. But which Carolina is better?
North Carolina has bigger cities, extensive mountain ranges, and professional sports. Still, while we love North Carolina, we recognize that some people may prefer the popular beach cities along the South Carolina coast.
1. Major Cities
The first stark contrast between North and South Carolina is that the biggest cities in North Carolina are much bigger than the large cities in the southern state.
Charlotte is the largest city in the Carolinas. And while Charlotte is in North Carolina, it is located near the state border and serves as a major economic driver for both states. In fact, the metropolitan statistical area for Charlotte includes three counties in South Carolina.
You will find the sixth busiest airport in the country in Charlotte, and a light rail transit system connecting the city’s major neighborhoods. There are nearly 1 million people living in Charlotte.
In contrast, the largest city in South Carolina is Charleston, which has around 150,000 residents. Even when combining Charleston and North Charleston (~120,000 residents), the combined cities are less populated than the four largest cities in North Carolina.
The Raleigh-Durham area in North Carolina is home to the Research Triangle, which is a powerful education, business, and innovation district. Duke, UNC Chapel Hill, and NC State are all located within 30 miles of each other. This creates intense sports rivalries and a powerful economic and educational engine.
Still, cities like Charleston and Columbia in South Carolina are very important regional anchors, but they offer a stark contrast in style and impact to major North Carolina cities.
2. Economy and Job Opportunities
The city of Charlotte is very important to the Carolinas region because it is home to multiple Fortune 500 companies, large hospital systems, and other major employers.
When you combine the cluster of Fortune 500 companies with the top technical talent available in the Research Triangle, it probably comes as no surprise that North Carolina has broader economic and job opportunities.
In comparing Charlotte vs. Raleigh, the former is a heavy-hitter in business, while the latter is big in government services and education. And both cities offer some combination of all of those things. Combined, Charlotte and Raleigh make North Carolina a national powerhouse.
Top Fortune 500 companies in North Carolina include the following:
- Lowe’s Corporation
- Bank of America
- Duke Energy
- Truist Financial
- IQVIA Holdings
- Sonic Automotive
- Advance Auto Parts
- And More
In contrast, South Carolina has only had a few companies bounce in and out of the Fortune 500 over the years. Even so, it is a nice place to live and offers strong economic opportunities if you know where to look.
Boeing operates a major assembly and delivery line in North Charleston. Plus, BMW builds all its SUVs at a plant between Greenville and Spartanburg, South Carolina. You will also find companies like Michelin, TD Bank, and others with major corporate presence.
So, which Carolina is better? Suffice it to say the two states are very different. North Carolina has more jobs and more diverse opportunities, but there are still great opportunities in South Carolina.
3. Climate and Outdoor Activities
There are many similarities between the climate and available outdoor activities in North and South Carolina. After all, the two states do share a long border that is more than 300 miles long.
Still, the two states are very different. For instance, the mountain ranges in North Carolina are much more prominent and well-known. And while the Outer Banks are unique, you might make the argument that South Carolina’s beach towns (Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head, Charleston) are better known.
The climate varies too. Sure, three seasons are most mild across the Carolinas (the summers are hot and humid). Still, generally speaking, South Carolina is hotter and more humid, while the northern parts of North Carolina see colder temperatures during the winter.
Mountain towns like Boone and Asheville are often much cooler than even Charlotte down in the Piedmont of North Carolina.
The differences are subtle at times and more pronounced at others, but one thing is for sure. Both states offer fantastic outdoor activities.
For those who love a good hike, we recommend you check out Moses Cone Manor or Grandfather Mountain in the mountains.
The mountains also offer skiing, snowboarding, and even snow tubing at places like Hawksnest Snow Tubing.
And we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the whitewater rafting opportunities at places like the Whitewater Center, which has a manmade river. You can consider the Nantahala Outdoor Center along the Chattooga River in South Carolina for the real deal.
And, of course, we already mentioned the beaches. Our favorites in North Carolina include the Outer Banks and Wrightsville Beach. We like Folly Beach (near Charleston) and Hilton Head in South Carolina. Before your next road, compare Charleston vs. Hilton Head to consider these coastal Carolina cities as your next destination.
So which Carolina is better? A slew of the outdoor activities we mentioned are in North Carolina. And it does offer more diversity in terms of geography and climate. Still, there are some great spots in South Carolina as well.
4. Major Attractions
Let’s start with Carowinds because it is on the state line, right outside of Charlotte. Carowinds is a theme park that includes roller coasters, other rides, and a water park. In many ways, it is similar to Six Flags and is by far the largest and most popular amusement park in the Carolinas.
One of the reasons that Charlotte is so popular is that it serves as the center of gravity for the Carolinas, and there are so many things to do in Charlotte. A solid guide to Charlotte, NC, will keep you busy for days. For instance, we mentioned the Whitewater Center in passing, but let us tell you more.
The Whitewater Center is used as an Olympic training facility for canoe slalom, and whitewater rafting is the main attraction. The outdoor center also offers rock climbing, ziplining, mountain biking, trail running, hiking, flatwater kayaking, and more.
Up in the North Carolina mountains, we recommend that you visit the Biltmore Estate or the Omni Grove Park Inn near Asheville. You can then drive over to Brevard to see prominent waterfalls that were featured in The Hunger Games and Last of the Mohicans.
Further up near Boone, we recommend visiting Tweetsie Railroad, a small amusement park built around a steam locomotive. And for more of a thrill, you might consider the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster.
While the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro is worthwhile, many people prefer the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden down in South Carolina. The South Carolina Aquarium is also a popular destination.
Beyond the zoo, aquarium, and the historic old south (like Rainbow Row and The Battery), South Carolina is largely known for its outdoor recreation. Congaree National Park is a popular place to visit.
Again, North Carolina has more options, but South Carolina has a few gems too.
5. Culture and Lifestyle
Naturally, there are differences in culture and lifestyle too.
In North Carolina, both Charlotte and Raleigh have numerous museums and cultural attractions. The Mint Museum, the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, and the Harvey B. Gantt Center For African-American Arts + Culture are in Charlotte.
You will also find everything from Broadway musicals to Opera Carolina to the Charlotte Symphony at the Belk Theater.
We recommend visiting the Museum of Life and Science, NC Museum of Natural Sciences, or Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh.
Professional sports are another thing that clearly sets North Carolina apart from South Carolina. Charlotte also serves as the home for the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, Charlotte FC, and a few minor league teams. The Carolina Hurricanes of the NHL are located in Raleigh.
Plus, larger cities offer a certain lifestyle that you won’t find in South Carolina. North Carolina offers several walkable urban corridors, such as the South End community in Charlotte, which is located on a light rail and Charlotte’s Rail Trail.
We recommend checking out the Peace Center in Greenville, South Carolina. That is the best place to catch Broadway and concerts. Charleston and Columbia are good cities to visit if you want to check out a few museums. For instance, the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston is a popular spot.
Deciding Which Carolina Is Better
While deciding which Carolina is better is likely a matter of preference, there are distinct differences between North and South Carolina. North Carolina has bigger cities, more attractions, and famous mountain destinations, while South Carolina has trendy beach destinations.
The Carolinas are famous for beautiful beaches, mountain adventures, both BBQ and delicious seafood cuisine, vibrant cities, a rich history, and much more.
Still not sure? We compiled a list of 25 quotes for South Carolina to help tell the story. Of course, all you have to do is read above to see how much we love North Carolina. We also have an article listing North Carolina facts and stats.
Pros and Cons of North Carolina
North Carolina is popular because of its mild temperatures, big cities, mountain and beach destinations, and many attractions. Still, the summers are hot and humid, and the Piedmont area doesn’t see as much snow as you might hope. Even so, the diverse economy and presence of major research corridors make it an attractive place to live.
Pros and Cons of South Carolina
South Carolina is home to beautiful beaches, historic homes and plantations, and delicious seafood and southern cuisine. Still, neighboring states have a more robust economy, larger cities with walkable urban corridors, and more notable destinations and attractions.
There are a lot of fun facts about South Carolina that might be surprising to you and worth checking out.
Final Verdict: Which Carolina Is Better
North and South Carolina are both great states and wonderful places to live or visit. Even so, we prefer North Carolina to South Carolina because North Carolina has larger cities, a more diverse economy, a larger concentration of well-recognized universities, professional sports, and much more.
We also recognize that there are people that prefer South Carolina over North Carolina, and we respect that as well. If you are still having trouble deciding, maybe consider the Charlotte metro area, where you can live in one state and work in the other. 😎