The 10 Biggest Cities in North Carolina

North Carolina, with an area of 53,819 square miles, has a population of nearly 10.5 million people, according to the 2020 United States Census. It is the 28th largest state in area and ninth-most populous.

Here are the 10 municipalities in the state which are home to the most people, with details about each:

biggest cities nc charlotte


1. Charlotte

Incorporated: 1768
Population: 874,579
10-year growth: 20 percent
Land area: 297 square miles
Region: Piedmont
County: Mecklenburg
Named for: Princess Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, George III’s queen
Industries: Banking, finance, technology and research
Major employers: Amazon, Atrium Health, Bank of America, Duke Energy, Honeywell, Novant Health, Lending Tree, Nucor, Passport, Sonic Automotive, Truist, Walmart, Wells Fargo
Pro sports squads: Carolina Panthers (NFL), Charlotte Hornets (NBA)
College campuses: University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Central Piedmont Community College
Fast fact: Ranked as third-fastest-growing big city in U.S. by Forbes in 2019
Did you know? Lord Cornwallis occupied Charlotte during the American Revolution and received such hostile treatment, he dubbed it “the hornets’ nest of rebellion.”

biggest cities nc raleigh


2. Raleigh

Incorporated: 1792
Population: 467,665
10-year growth: 16 percent
Land area: 142 square miles
Region: Research Triangle
Counties: Wake (seat), Durham
Named for: Sir Walter Raleigh
Industries: Life sciences, advanced manufacturing, technology, health care
Major employers: Duke Health Systems, State of North Carolina, Wake County Public School System, Walmart, WakeMed Health and Hospitals, Food Lion, Target, IBM, UNC Rex Healthcare System, SAS Institute, Harris Teeter, Cisco, IQVIA, Wake County Government, Blue Cross and Blue Shield North Carolina, City of Raleigh
Pro sports squad: Carolina Hurricanes (NHL)
College campuses: North Carolina State University, Shaw University
Fast fact: Nickname is “City of Oaks.”
Did you know? The city was originally called Wake Courthouse.

RELATED READ: North Carolina’s 10 Major Industries:
Tradition, Evolution & Innovation

biggest cities nc  greensboro


3. Greensboro

Incorporated: 1808
Population: 299,035
10-year growth: 11 percent
Land area: 126 square miles
Region: Piedmont Triad
County: Guilford
Named for: Gen. Nathanael Greene, who led American forces in the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Guilford Courthouse in 1781. One of George Washington's most trusted generals, he was known as the "Savior of the South."
Industries: Health care, manufacturing, distribution, banking
Major employers: American Express, Bank of America, Moses H. Cone Health System & Affiliates, Qorvo, Volvo Trucks
Major sports event: The Greensboro Coliseum has hosted the ACC men’s basketball tournament more than any other venue.
College campuses: University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Greensboro College, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University, Guilford College, Bennett College
Fast fact: County commissioners paid $98 for 42 acres to start Greensborough, as it was originally spelled.
Did you know? The county commissioners dropped the general’s last letter in his name, but the city has a Greene Street, Greene Township, Gen. Greene School and Nathanael Greene School.

biggest cities nc durham


4. Durham

Incorporated: 1869
Population: 283,506
10-year growth: 24 percent
Land area: 107 square miles
Region: Research Triangle
Counties: Durham (seat), Wake, Orange
Named for: Bartlett S. Durham, a doctor and entrepreneur who donated the land that became the city
Industries: Medical, health care, research, technology, manufacturing
Major employers: Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC, Cree, Durham VA Health Care System, Fidelity Investments, Glaxosmithkline, IBM, IQVIA, RTI International
College campuses: Duke University, North Carolina Central University
Fast fact: Downtown Durham is less than 1 square mile in size.
Did you know? Durham is known as the City of Medicine, USA, with more than 300 medical and health-related companies.

biggest cities nc winston salem


5. Winston-Salem

Incorporated: 1913
Population: 249,545
10-year growth: 9 percent
Land area: 132 square miles
Region: Piedmont Triad
County: Forsyth
Named for: Colonel Joseph Winston, who fought at King’s Mountain and Guilford Courthouse during the Revolutionary War, and Salem, from the Hebrew shalom, meaning “peace.”
Industries: Health care, biomedical science, digital media, information technology
Major employers: BB&T, Hanesbrands, Lowe’s Foods, Novant Health Healthcare, Reynolds American, Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center Hospital. Wells Fargo
College campus: Wake Forest University
Fast fact: Salem was established in 1766 and Winston in 1849. The towns were connected to the North Carolina Railroad, and the U.S. Post Office started to refer to the two together as Winston-Salem.
Did you know? In 1920, Winston-Salem was the largest city in North Carolina.

RELATED READ: North Carolina Companies in the Fortune 500

biggest cities nc fayetteville


6. Fayetteville

Incorporated: 1783
Population: 208,501
10-year growth: 4 percent
Land area: 145 square miles
Region: Sandhills
County: Cumberland
Named for: Gilbert du Matier, Marquis de Lafayette, a French officer who commanded Americans at the siege of Yorktown
Industries: Defense, government, health care
Major employers: Cape Fear Valley Health Systems, Department of Defense, Goodyear Tire and Rubber, Walmart
College campuses: Fayetteville State University and Methodist University
Fast fact: The city is home to U.S. Army post Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base
Did you know? Babe Ruth hit his first home run as a professional baseball player with the Baltimore Orioles during spring training in in Fayetteville in 1914.

biggest cities nc cary


7. Cary

Incorporated: 1871
Population: 174,721
10-year growth: 29 percent
Land area: 60 square miles
Region: Piedmont
Counties: Wake, Chatham
Named for: Prohibitionist Samuel Cary
Industries: Health care, manufacturing, technology
Major employers: American Airlines, Global Knowledge, HCL America, MetLife, Precision Walls, SAS Institute, Siemens Medical Solutions, Verizon Precision Walls
College campus: Wake Technical Community College
Fast fact: Cary’s top employer is SAS Institute, the largest private software developer in the world.
Did you know? Cary is technically a town, not a city.

biggest cities nc wilmington


8. Wilmington

Incorporated: 1739
Population: 115,451
10-year growth: 8 percent
Land area: 53 square miles
Region: Cape Fear
County: New Hanover
Named for: Spencer Compton, Earl of Wilmington
Industries: Health care, manufacturing, construction, entertainment
Major employers: Cellco Partnership, Mastec Services, New Hanover Regional Medical Center, PPD Development, Walmart
College campus: University of North Carolina at Wilmington
Fast fact: The city features the home of EUE Screen Gems Studios, the largest domestic television and film production facility outside of California.
Did you know? More than 300 films and television shows have been produced in Wilmington.

biggest cities nc high point


9. High Point

Incorporated: 1859
Population: 114,059
10-year growth: 9 percent
Land area: 58 square miles
Region: Piedmont Triad
Counties: Guilford, Randolph, Davidson, Forsyth
Named for: Being the highest point along the North Carolina railroad
Industries: Furniture, textiles and health care
Major employers: Aetna, Alorica, Environmental Air Systems, Quest Diagnostics, Ralph Lauren, Volvo Group, Wake Forest Baptist Health, XPO Logistics Supply Chain
College campus: High Point University
Fast fact: The city is known as the “Home Furnishings Capital of the World.”
Did you know? The High Point Furniture Market brings 75,000 vendors and visitors from 100 countries to the city … twice per year.

RELATED READ: North Carolina Furniture -
Currituck Companies Lead a Casual Revolution

biggest cities nc concord


10. Concord

Incorporated: 1796
Population: 105,240
10-year growth: 33 percent
Land area: 64 square miles
Region: Piedmont Triad
County: Cabarrus
Named for: The meaning of the word “Concord,” which is “with harmony,” to reflect the spirit in which a dispute was settled over where the county seat should be.
Industries: Advanced manufacturing, aviation/aerospace, automotive/motorsports, food and beverage, and health care
Major employers: Atrium Health Cabarrus, Hydromer, Motor Racing Network, Nanotech, NASCAR, S&D Coffee and Tea, Shoe Show, Speedway Motorsports, Sysco
Pro sports site: Charlotte Motor Speedway
Fast fact: Beverage packaging company Ball Corporation announced in July 2021 it will invest $383.8 million to join Red Bull and Rauch’s beverage manufacturing hub in Concord.
Did you know? The first documented discovery of gold in the United States happened here in 1799.

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