Aerial view of palm trees and buildings in Downtown Charleston, South Carolina

Do you want to retire in Charleston or Charlotte?

If you’ve considered retiring in the Carolinas then the cities of Charleston, South Carolina and Charlotte, North Carolina are surely on your radar. Both cities have many appealing characteristics that continuously draw active adults each year, but they also have completely different atmospheres, so it’s important to know which city will suit your lifestyle best.

Consistently ranked as one of the best cities in the world by renowned publications like "Travel and Leisure and Conde Nast," Charleston sets the bar high for places to live, but Charlotte won’t be outdone—in recent years, the Queen City has been named as one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S. with no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

It can be tough to choose between two exceptional cities, but there are the obvious factors that go into making such an important decision like location, cost of living, and climate, but there are also other considerations to take into account—like what type of lifestyle do you picture for your retirement? Do you enjoy a slower, more vacation-like pace or do you like the excitement that comes along with living in a bigger city? Think about how you want to spend your time. Do you see yourself spending most of your time outdoors or spending a night on the town seeing the latest Broadway performance?

Let's break down some of the differences between Charlotte and Charleston to help you decide which city is better suited for your retirement.

Climate

First Ward Park Fountain in Charlotte, North Carolina

Charlotte celebrates all four distinct seasons with moderate temperatures throughout the year.

Although the two cities are only three hours apart, they experience different climates because of their geographic locations. Situated on the Atlantic Coast in what’s known as the Lowcountry, Charleston has a subtropical climate that offers comfortable temps for most of the year, allowing residents to enjoy the local beaches year-round. However, July and August can be stifling hot and humid.

Hurricanes and tropical storms can also be a threat at the end of summer into September. The payoff for powering through the late summer heat and humidity is very mild winters. Though there are some days where Charleston temperatures drop below freezing, there's rarely any ice or snow.

Charlotte celebrates all four distinct seasons with moderate temperatures throughout the year. Winters are short and mild with the occasional snow or ice storm, while both spring and fall are full of pleasantly balmy days.

Similar to Charleston, Charlotte summers can get hot and humid, but because the Queen City is further inland from the coast, it typically doesn’t have to worry about hurricanes or tropical storms at the same intensity as Charleston.

Location

Tourists on a carriage ride in historical Downtown Charleston, South Carolina

Historic Downtown Charleston is within a short drive of some of the most popular beaches in the Southeast.

Historic Downtown Charleston is within a short drive of some of the most popular beaches in the Southeast, including Folly Beach, Isle of Palms, and Kiawah Island. It’s also close to other historic cities like Savannah, Georgia, giving residents east access to plenty of entertainment options.

While Charlotte doesn’t sit directly on the coast like Charleston, its landlocked location gives residents the best of both worlds: easy access to the sandy beaches of both NC and SC as well as access to the picturesque mountains of Western NC. For those who prefer to spend their time on the water, the Queen City is close to two major lakes: Lake Wylie and Lake Norman (NC’s largest man-made lake).

Cost of Living

Aerial view of the downtown skyline of Charlotte, North Carolina at night

Charlotte’s cost of living is 1.1% lower than the U.S. average.

According to BestPlaces, Charleston’s cost of living is 11.5% higher than the U.S. average, while Charlotte’s is 1.1% lower than the U.S. average. Charleston’s housing costs are 28.3% higher than that of Charlotte, and the average home price in Charleston is also higher, sitting around $386,600 compared to Charlotte’s median price of $301,300.

Health Care

Exterior view of the Medical University of South Carolina hospital in Charleston, SC

Charleston is home to the nationally ranked Medical University of South Carolina. (Image credited to James R Poston / Shutterstock.com)

Both cities provide residents with a number of health care options. Charleston is home to the nationally ranked Medical University of South Carolina, which consists of four distinct hospitals, the only organ transplant center in the Palmetto State, and the Level 1 Trauma Center.

Charlotte plays host to several top-notch health care systems. The two largest are Novant Health and Atrium Health. Between both systems, there are dozens of health care facilities throughout the city, including a number of major hospitals, urgent cares, imaging centers, and specialty doctors. 

Attractions and Entertainment

View of Crowders Mountain Summit near Charlotte, North Carolina

Crowders Mountain State Park provides Charlotte residents with plenty of outdoor activities.

Charleston’s coastal location provides plenty of water recreation options, ranging from fishing and boating to kayaking and stand-up paddle-boarding. Aside from Charleston’s desirable waterfront location and access to scenic beaches, the city is rich with history and Southern charm and has a lot to offer when it comes to cultural amenities and attractions.

From historic sites like Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter National Monument to the famous Charleston City Market and South Carolina Aquarium, there’s no shortage of things to do. The city also hosts several popular events throughout the year for residents to enjoy, including the Spoleto Festival USA, the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition, the Cooper River Bridge Run, and the Charleston Wine + Food Festival.

In stark contrast to Charleston and its historic sites, Charlotte is full of towering skyscrapers that house Fortune 500 Companies, and new construction is a constant reminder of the city’s rapid growth and expansion. When it comes to entertainment, options are seemingly endless in Charlotte.

The heart of Charlotte, Uptown, is filled with art galleries and museums as well as performing arts theaters. As far as sporting events go, Charlotte definitely has the edge over Charleston. The city is home to the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, and the city’s latest addition, MLS’s Charlotte FC.

While there’s plenty to do within city limits, residents do have to venture away from the city for outdoor recreation options. There are several popular hikes within a short drive, including Kings Mountain and Crowders Mountain State Park, and the U.S. National Whitewater Center also provides Charlotte residents with plenty of activities that range from whitewater rafting and kayaking to climbing walls and ropes courses.

Active Adult Communities

Palm trees lining the road to the entrance of Del Webb at Cane Bay in Summerville, South Carolina

Del Webb at Cane Bay has homes available between the mid $300s and the mid $400s.

Charlotte has a variety of active adult communities that accommodate a wide range of budgets. The Polo Club at Mountain Island Lake and Ridge Road Villas are the city’s most affordable active adult communities with prices ranging from the high $200s to the high $300s. The Meridians and Solena at The Vineyards are also relatively affordable with price points between the low $300s and the mid $400s.

Midrange communities include Cresswind Charlotte, which has models available from the high $300s to the low $600s, and the Regency at Palisades, which has price points between the low $400s and mid $700s. Homes at The Vineyards at Lake Wylie start in the mid $300s and increase to the mid $800s. Highcliff at Palisades - The Gardens is the city’s highest-priced active adult community with new construction options ranging from the low $400s to the low $900s.

As for Charleston, there’s only one active adult community that sits within Charleston city limits: The Elms of Charleston. The 55+ neighborhood features resale homes with prices between the low $200s and the low $300s.

There are several other active adult communities in the Charleston area to consider. The most affordable neighborhoods in the area are the Carillon at The Ponds and the Marrington at Cobblestone, which both offer resale homes with price points ranging from the mid $200s to the mid $400s. Enclave Park and The Pines at Gahagan have slightly higher prices, offering models that range from the low $300s to the high $300s. The Cottages at Carolina Park will have a total of 48 homes upon final completion. The community features new construction homes with prices ranging from the high $400s to the mid $500s.

There are two Del Webb communities in the Charleston area to consider—Del Webb at Cane Bay, which has homes available between the mid $300s and the mid $400s, and Del Webb Charleston at Nexton, which has options between the low $400s and the mid $600s. Cresswind Charleston and the Four Seasons at The Lakes of Cane Bay are two large, age-restricted communities with prices ranging from the low $300s to the high $500s.

Rounding out the list of Charleston area communities is Liberty Cottages at Park West. The small, gated, 55+ neighborhood consists of only 43 homes and has models available between the low $500s and low $700s.