The South's Best Cities on the Rise 2022

Greenville, SC: Falls Park
Photo: Laurey W. Glenn

As Southerners, we often crave the lesser known. We're humble about our hidden gems, be it the roadside stand only we know how to find or a secluded beach we intend to keep secret. But just because we're not boastful doesn't mean our region isn't teeming with treasures worth bragging about.

Many of these riches reside in smaller urban spots often overlooked. In these corners of the South, the classic trappings of a small town blend with the innovation of a bustling metropolis in a way that'll make anyone want to put down roots. These cities have long flown under the radar, filed away as some of our region's favorite cultural hideaways, but not for much longer. From flourishing downtowns to burgeoning food scenes, these up-and-comers are rising in the ranks as destinations in their own right. Here are the South's Cities on the Rise as declared by our readers.

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These Up-And-Comers Are Worth a Visit

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15. Metairie, Louisiana

Metairie, Louisiana
Louisiana Travel

For those looking for a detour from a default New Orleans experience, Metairie is the spirited neighborhood visitors may not know to seek out. Take a drive through the oak tree-lined streets of Old Metairie to behold the beauty of New Orleans's first suburb or spend the day on Metairie Road where a bustling corridor of shops and restaurants await. Here you'll find some of the best takes on regional dishes, including crawfish gumbo. With the Mississippi River to the South and Lake Pontchartrain to the north, plus plenty of green space, you just might forget the French Quarter is only 20 minutes away.

Plan your trip.

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14. Lynchburg, Virginia

Lynchburg, Virginia Skyline
Getty Images

The beauty of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains is just one of Lynchburg's many wonders. Its landscape impresses any time of year, from snow-capped winters to vibrant, leaf-filled falls. Head into town where this quaint metropolis dazzles with historic districts, local eateries, and a lively arts scene too. Paddle the James River before refueling at local favorite Texas Inn, the city's oldest diner.

Plan your trip.

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13. Sandy Springs, Georgia

sandy springs georgia performing arts center
Visit Sandy Springs

Thanks to recreational gems and winding residential streets, it's easy to feel removed from the hustle and bustle in this Atlanta suburb. But urban influences (not to mention traffic on its main thoroughfare, Roswell Road) make themselves known in the city's standout medley of dining, shopping, and mixed-use developments. To really escape, spend time at the Chattahoochee River National Recreational Area or visit Morgan Falls Overlook Park.

Plan your trip.

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12. Bowling Green, Kentucky

Fountain Square in downtown Bowling Green, Kentucky
Getty Images

Even in the aftermath of a historic weather system that devastated the Bowling Green area at the end of 2021, this Kentucky city is still rising. Here, neighbors and businesses have stepped up to help one another in the months since the tornado splintered life as they knew it, showcasing the Southern spirit and generosity that has always been at the core of this community. Together, they have not only renewed a sense of hope, but they've also instilled a new season of life into the city's charming streets.

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11. Frisco, Texas

Frisco, Texas
Roger Robinson/

It's hard to keep up with the play-by-play in this booming, sports-centric city just 30 minutes north of Dallas. Home to The Star, the Dallas Cowboy's practice field, it's also swinging easy into even more accelerated growth as PGA of America debuts its new headquarters there this year. Now a hub for sports, technology, and innovation, the city is turning progress into an opportunity for culture and family fun. Don't miss the National Videogame Museum or the Texas Sculpture Garden.

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10. Bentonville, Arkansas

Bentonville, Arkansas
Art Meripol

Bentonville may be known as the birthplace of Walmart, but the opening of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art more than a decade ago launched the city into the limelight. The arts scene has been booming ever since, turning this once quiet, rural community into a cultural mecca. Though still connected to its roots, this artistic influx inspired a revitalized downtown fit with hotels, bar, and restaurants. Once you've enjoyed the urban scene, slip away to the surrounding Ozarks and enjoy the bounty of Bentonville's outdoor beauty.

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9. Alpharetta, Georgia

alpharetta city center georgia
Alpharetta Convention & Visitors Bureau

Alpharetta is more than just a suburb of Atlanta. Thanks to a prospering, pedestrian-friendly downtown, this once sleepy neighborhood north of the city is now a haven for families and fun. Its City Center is a thriving mix of original downtown establishments and chic retail shops and restaurants that draw locals and visitors alike. Get away from the action and enjoy the outdoors on the Big Creek Greenway, a nine-mile wooded path, or keep on shopping at the ever-popular Avalon.

Plan your trip.

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8. Fort Myers, Florida

Usa, Florida, Fort Myers Beach.
Getty Images

While it may be best known for its laid-back beaches and picturesque views, Fort Myers is buzzing. The city is one of the fastest growing in the state, and its River District is reveling in the energy. Bright shops, bars, and restaurants entice vacationers to spend a few hours away from the beach, but it's the arts community that keeps them coming back. With nearly a dozen galleries featuring everything from coastal paintings to locally-crafted jewelry, the city offers endless ways to be inspired on and off the beach.

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7. Fort Worth, Texas

Fort Worth TX Cowboy Mural
Scott Slusher

Anchored in old Texas spirit, Fort Worth has a firm grip on its roots even in the face of exploding growth. Its cowboy heritage shines through the arrival of a younger generation and recent revitalization. The Stockyards National Historic District is home to both classic honky-tonks and brand-new watering holes. The centuries-old area will show you where the West began while thrilling with a new entertainment district, Mule Alley.

Plan your trip.

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6. Alexandria, Virginia

Row of Early 1800s Townhouses
Getty Images

It may be just a half-hour Metro ride from the National Mall, but Alexandria's old-world allure makes it feel worlds away. Simultaneously packed with preservation and buzzing with novel, locally-owned shops and restaurants, this vibrant small city is more than just a convenient hub for D.C. commuters. Walk along cobblestone streets to soak in the city's outstanding architecture and take a stroll down King Street to delight in a treasure trove of independent eateries and boutiques.

Plan your trip.

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5. Huntsville, Alabama

Huntsville, AL
Robbie Caponetto; Mural: Kim Radford

While the Saturn V replica rocket stands as the towering gatekeeper to this city long identified by its contribution to the country's space program, Huntsville is blasting off in more directions than one these days. The fastest growing city in the state, Huntsville's influx of engineers and scientists are making an impact beyond aerospace, sowing seeds in arts, culture, craft brewing, and more. While the U.S. Space and Rocket Center is a must, be sure to spend time at Lowe Mills ARTS & Entertainment too, where a revitalized 1901 cotton gin houses more than 130 working artist studios.

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4. Franklin, Tennessee

Main Street in Franklin, Tennessee 06
Matthew Maxey (Visit Franklin)

Franklin is increasingly finding its way onto travelers' itineraries beyond day trips from neighboring Nashville. But just because this historic city has blossomed beyond its small-town roots doesn't mean it's outgrown its iconic Southern charm. Though Franklin's future is full of potential, you can still rely on Main Street's excellent eateries, endless shopping, and porches galore.

Plan your trip.

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3. Chattanooga, Tennessee

The Tennessee River in Chattanooga
Robbie Caponetto

Memphis and Nashville might get all the buzz when it comes to country, blues, and barbecue, but Chattanooga is the fast-growing Tennessee gem that deserves a second look. Set along the curves of the Tennessee River, Chattanooga is as rich in natural wonders and outdoor adventure as it is in exciting new hotels and innovative dinning. Don't miss the Tennessee Aquarium, Warehouse Row, or an afternoon kayaking the river.

Plan your trip.

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2. Raleigh, North Carolina

Raleigh, NC
Getty/Walter Bibikow

Raleigh may be known for groundbreaking research and fine collegiate institutions, but this bright corner of the state's Research Triangle is more than just brains. The city is situated midway between the Outer Banks and the Appalachian Mountains, but its lively arts scene, breweries, and food halls beg you to stay put. The Raleigh Beer Garden boasts of being the largest in the world, while culinary delights, from Crawford and Son's elevated fare to The Pit's authentic Eastern North Carolina barbecue, guarantee a meal for every kind of craving.

Plan your trip.

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1. Greenville, South Carolina

Greenville, SC: Falls Park
Laurey W. Glenn

While Greenville's charm and natural beauty is undeniable, its food scene is really putting the city on the map. A culinary gold mine, Greenville's 100-plus selection of downtown restaurants serve locally inspired and culturally diverse dishes that are racking up accolades. When you're not eating, be sure to enjoy Falls Park on the Reedy, a beautiful, 26-acre green space that runs through the city.

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