The South’s Best Cities 2019
When we asked readers to name their very favorite cities in the South, their choices ran the gamut from a sprawling metropolis with nearly 6 million people to smaller cities in the 60,000 population range. We love our Music City and the capital of Texas, which we want to “keep weird.” Readers picked a mountain gem beloved by the Vanderbilts and a waterfront city in North Carolina loaded with historic charm. But the top three? You won’t be surprised. They’re perennial favorites—and not just because of their legendary food and historic architecture. All three are garden-loving cities with gorgeous parks and overflowing window boxes and lacy ferns swaying in the breeze. All three are aging well. And all three have what can only be described as Southern mystique. Blame it on the live oaks and Spanish moss, the wrought iron balconies and hidden courtyards, the fountains splashing and music drifting and gas lights flickering. These cities have stories to tell.
1. Charleston, South Carolina
Even people who have never set foot in this dreamy Lowcountry city have romantic notions about it. They might not know why they think Charleston is wonderful—they just know they want to go there someday. From its historic rowhouses and hidden gardens to more good food than any single city should be allowed, Charleston lives up to the hype. Read more.
2. Savannah, Georgia
Famous for its iconic squares, Savannah is a Southern beauty with a mischievous streak. She’s that drop-dead gorgeous belle of the ball who just might spike the punch on her way to the dance floor. The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) fuels the city’s artsy vibe, while local boutiques, restaurants, and bars make it great for long weekends and girlfriends’ getaways.
3. New Orleans, Louisiana
NOLA turned 300 last year, and she’s aging gracefully. No matter how many times you’ve visited the French Quarter, you’ll still be wowed by all the old brick and wrought iron, the shuttered windows and tucked-away courtyards. There’s still jazz in the air. And the food—have mercy, the food.
4. Nashville, Tennessee
Maybe Music City still makes you think of country music and the kind of bars that offer line-dancing lessons. But Nashville has become a sophisticated food city, with chefs like Maneet Chauhan and Tandy Wilson making their mark and attracting a whole new crew of visitors to town—those looking for inventive menus and craft cocktails. All that and live music in every direction.
5. Asheville, North Carolina
When you find a city that’s just the right size and has all the right stuff, make it a GPS favorite. The population of Asheville is under 100,000. The setting is the Blue Ridge Mountains. The food scene is so vibrant that its nickname is Foodtopia. There’s an authentic Appalachian farm-to-table vibe here, influencing everything from restaurants and bars to local farms and wineries. Bonus: Biltmore.
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6. Atlanta, Georgia
As of 2017, U.S. Census Bureau stats positioned Atlanta as the third fastest growing metro area in the country, behind Dallas and Houston. And it’s easy to see why. Interesting neighborhoods like art-centric Midtown and “Beverly Hills of the South” Buckhead offer tremendous variety. Add major sports events year-round, more restaurants and nightlife than you could ever take in, and such world-class attractions as the High Museum of Art, and it’s no surprise that Atlanta is one of the top cities in America, not just the South.
7. Greenville, South Carolina
Pedestrian friendly with a beautiful Main Street, Greenville has just over 68,000 people, making it big enough to have plenty to do but small enough to relax and enjoy without freeway entanglements. Downtown Falls Park, with its cantilevered Liberty Bridge over the Reedy River, provides the urban greenspace of your dreams. And the city has a thriving restaurant and bar scene, from farm-to-table cuisine to area taprooms and wineries.
8. Wilmington, North Carolina
A beautiful waterfront city, Wilmington has a two-mile Riverwalk—loaded with boutiques, galleries, markets, and dining—along the Cape Fear River. The 230-block National Register Historic District features gorgeous Victorian and Antebellum architecture. And Wilmington is a short hop from three beaches: Carolina, Kure, and Wrightsville.
9. Tallahassee, Florida
Home of the Florida State Seminoles and capital of the Sunshine State, Tallahassee is less than an hour from Apalachee Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The city has a number of dining districts, from CollegeTown to the Market District, and an incredible variety of restaurants, as well as the nightlife you’d expect in a sizable college town. The area is also laced with rivers and lakes, ideal for paddling and outdoor adventure.
10. Austin, Texas
One of the South’s most interesting state capitals, Austin is home to the UT Longhorns and to the outlaw music made famous by Waylon and Willie and the boys. It’s still turning out incredible music at legendary venues and hole-in-the-wall bars. Besides storied thoroughfares like Sixth Street and South Congress, this eclectic city in the Texas Hill Country also offers some amazing outdoor recreation areas, including Lake Travis and Lady Bird Lake on the Colorado River, the Barton Springs Pool, Hamilton Pool Preserve, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, and a network of hiking and biking trails.