The South's Best Cities 2023

Charleston SC
Photo: Peter Frank Edwards

Travelers know that when it’s time to experience all of the high-energy excitement the South has to offer, there’s only one answer: Head to a city. The South's many metros are destinations that do it all. They’re hubs of art, culture, and cuisine, not to mention athletics and yes, even outdoor adventure . Once again, we asked our readers to vote on their favorites, and they came through with a list of the best of the best. Some of this year’s winners will be no surprise to Southerners, but others have moved up the list to claim their spots in the coveted top few. Set your sights on these cities, and you’ll be in for a trip filled with the best museums, restaurants , shopping districts, and parks the region has to offer. Pack your bags and embark on a trip to one (or all!) of these treasured communities. You simply can’t go wrong with a trip to one of the South’s best cities.

20. Richmond, Virginia

Richmond, Virginia- River City
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It’s not hard to find a memorable meal in Richmond, which counts lauded eateries Alewife, Longoven, Sub Rosa Bakery, and Stella’s among the members of its culinary scene. Historic neighborhoods have appeal across the seasons, from blooming yards in spring to turning foliage in fall and the occasional blanket of snow in winter. Situated along the James River, the city is filled with urban and riverside park systems with opportunities for kayaking, whitewater rafting, and fishing, making it a prime place for exploring.

19. Bentonville, Arkansas

Bentonville, Arkansas
Art Meripol

Arkansas’ arts scene has a strong center in Bentonville, a city with a thriving creative community. Tucked in the Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas, Bentonville is also home to world-class museums like the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and The Momentary, a contemporary arts space in a reimagined downtown cheese factory. There’s also The Walmart Museum, a paean to the business that has its headquarters in the city and continues to power innovative developments across the city.

18. Huntsville, Alabama

Huntsville, Alabama, USA park and Downtown Cityscape
Sean Pavone/Getty Images

Huntsville’s legacy is manifold. Famous for its forays into the mysteries of space, this city continues to draw residents, visitors, and space campers thanks to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Beyond the celestial, Huntsville has thriving pockets of artistic and cultural experiences (like Lowe Mills ARTS & Entertainment, where a reimagined cotton gin houses artist studios), and burgeoning brewing businesses and coffee shops too.

17. Dallas, Texas

Night Skyline - Dallas, Texas
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Every Dallas neighborhood has something different to offer. Even if you think you know it well, from the Design District to the Art District to the Main Street District, there’s always a fresh spin to find on this classic city. Across its sprawling square mileage, museums, restaurants, and hotels keep reinventing themselves, making it impossible to have a dull day in Dallas.

16. Birmingham, Alabama

Sunset Over Birmingham, AL
Robbie Caponetto

They don’t call it the Magic City for nothing. Those in the know have been touting Birmingham’s appeal for years: Fantastic parks and hiking trails, a world-class symphony, charming neighborhoods, and an astonishingly good food scene are just a few of the draws that bring people to the city and keep them here. Don’t miss a meal at one of chef Frank Stitt’s restaurants, a Saturday morning at The Farmers Market at Pepper Place, or a hike at Oak Mountain State Park. You’ll find the magic in no time.

15. Orlando, Florida

orlando florida skyline
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Known to the world for its amusement and theme parks, you’d be forgiven for thinking this town is a one-trick locale peopled with costumed characters. In actuality, there’s more to enjoy beyond the park walls than ever before. The culinary sphere here is getting a strong dusting of recognition, with the 2023 James Beard Foundation Awards nominating several Orlando chefs for top prizes. Enjoy the merriment of the parks, then venture farther afield–you just might find a new Orlando experience waiting for you.

14. Franklin, Tennessee

Double Arch Bridge

As Nashville’s neighbor to the south, there used to be a tendency to overlook this city in favor of its glitzy cousin, but all of that has changed. Franklin has many charms in its own right, and people are noticing. In fact, it has regularly been one of the 15 fastest-growing cities in America, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Franklin’s historic downtown district, filled with many preserved and reinvigorated gems, will lure you in, and local shops and restaurants will convince you to stay awhile.

13. Fort Worth, Texas

Stockyard Stables in Fort Worth, TX
Scott Slusher

Fort Worth has a strong sense of its history. This cattle town recently reinvigorated one of its quintessential corners, the Stockyards National Historic District, where you can wander Exchange Avenue and explore shops, restaurants, and saloons. When you’re in Fort Worth, you’re in cowboy country, but you don’t need to know how to sling a lasso or ride a bronco to have a good time here.

12. Raleigh, North Carolina

Raleigh, NC
Getty/Walter Bibikow

Raleigh is in the midst of a revival. Consistently voted one of the best places to live in the country, it’s packed with passionate entrepreneurs, chefs, and creatives fashioning new experiences across the city. That’s evident in the community’s many lauded restaurants, places like Brewery Bhavana, Poole’s Diner, Boulted Bread, and Gallo Pelón. The free-admission North Carolina Museum of Art is another must-visit spot in the City of Oaks.

11. Charlotte, North Carolina

Charlotte, NC, Skyline at Dusk
Getty/Walter Bibikow

The Queen City is on everyone’s radar, and that’s where it belongs. Charlotte is a financial epicenter, sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in fun. Quite the opposite: Charlotte’s food scene has never been better. Spots like Greg and Subrina Collier’s Leah and Louise keep the city well fed (try to snag a reservation!), and sprawling parks, big-name concerts, and great museums keep everyone entertained.

10. Austin, Texas

Aerial View of Capitol Building Austin, TX
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There’s just something about Austin. It comes by its reputation honestly, and at any time of year, you can count on this city to swirl with all of the good stuff. Groove to live music, indulge in the best barbecue around, paddleboard on the water, and take a dip in local-favorite swimming holes. Add great shopping, world-class festivals, and a buzzing arts scene, and you have a one-of-a-kind city that’s always on the rise.

9. Alpharetta, Georgia

alpharetta city center georgia
Alpharetta Convention & Visitors Bureau

If you thought Alpharetta was just a suburb of metro Atlanta, think again. This city has become a destination in its own right and is a popular place to live as well as visit. With a newly redesigned downtown filled with indoor-outdoor restaurants, greenspaces for picnicking, and sidewalks for meandering with the family, it has become a must-experience place. (One you’ll likely want to relocate to once you get a taste of life here.)

8. Chattanooga, Tennessee

The Tennessee River in Chattanooga
Robbie Caponetto

Anyone would have high expectations for a city with a reputation for riverside charm, but Chattanooga always exceeds expectations. For one, it’s a lot of fun. Whether walking the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge over the Tennessee River, exploring trails and greenways, shopping your way through downtown, or tucking into something delicious at a locally-owned spot like Niedlov’s Bakery and Cafe, there’s no shortage of memorable experiences to find here.

7. Greenville, South Carolina

Greenville, SC: Falls Park
Laurey W. Glenn

Have you heard about Greenville? Their tagline these days is “Yeah, that Greenville,” and it’s easy to see why. Word is spreading quickly about this South Carolina city: The food scene is certainly something to write home about, with spots like Califas and The Anchorage making it onto many must-visit lists. (Topsoil Restaurant in nearby Travelers Rest is another stellar eatery.) Idyllic parks and trails round out the experience in a city whose appeal locals and visitors are shouting from all the rooftops.

6. New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans Cathedral with Sunset
Sean Pavone Photo/Getty Images

The Crescent City, the Big Easy, the Birthplace of Jazz – New Orleans goes by many names, which isn’t surprising, considering how legendary the place is. From Mardi Gras and Commander’s Palace to second lines and beignets, there’s a whole lot to love about this city, whose neighborhoods, cuisine, and music are forever celebrated and stewarded by devoted locals.

5. Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville Panoramic View of Skyline
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While it has always been a favorite spot for concert-going and honky-tonking, there’s more to Music City than just auditory delights (though you can certainly find those here too). Nashville’s star continues to rise, with storied venues like the Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Auditorium, and National Museum of African American Music drawing locals and visitors alike to celebrate the city’s history and write some new stories too.

4. Atlanta, Georgia

Piedmont Park, Atlanta, Georgia, America
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Because it’s a city that well and truly does it all, it’s difficult to nail down a typical Atlanta experience. Sprawling parks and bustling food halls, huge sports stadiums and the World of Coca-Cola–this city is a veritable choose-your-own adventure destination. With many neighborhood pockets, each possessing its own personality, you can be sure there’s something for everyone to find in Atlanta.

3. Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville, North Carolina
Sean Pavone Photo/Getty Images

Western North Carolina’s favorite city is Asheville, a place with many claims to fame, including the storied Biltmore Estate and the majestic Blue Ridge vistas that surround it. In addition to the city’s many breweries–you’d be hard pressed to find another region as richly steeped in the stuff–it’s a hub for hiking as well as arts and culture, with several arts districts offering gallery and studio space for the city’s creatives.

2. Savannah, Georgia

Forsyth Park in Savannah, GA
Peter Frank Edwards

Long a favorite city for weekend getaways, Savannah draws visitors with its beautiful squares, historic neighborhoods, and one-of-a-kind restaurants, many of which have become part of the fabric of the city and have garnered fans from far and wide. No visit to this river city is complete without a walk along the riverfront, a chew of saltwater taffy from a local candy shop, and a tranquil hour spent sitting on a bench in one of the many oak-shaded parks and squares.

1. Charleston, South Carolina

Strolling through downtown Charleston, South Carolina

Peter Frank Edwards

Almost everyone who visits Charleston these days is tempted to unpack their bags and move right in. That’s because of the wonderfully walkable downtown, picturesque sidewalks, and distinctive architecture studded with Charleston single houses. We could go on: the vibrant culinary scene, the fantastic shops and boutiques, the coastal breezes blowing in over the Battery–it’s no shock that The Holy City stays at the top of this list year after year.

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