What It's Like to Live in New Bern, N.C.

This historic town blends convenience with small-town charm.

Photo courtesy of the New Bern Convention & Visitors Bureau With its welcoming "Main Street, USA" feel, New Bern's downtown features numerous local shops and dining and is part of the 56-block historic district.

Braided between the Neuse and Trent Rivers, the lovely town of New Bern is much more than a pass-through or pit stop on the way to North Carolina's heralded beaches 30 miles away. For history buffs, it's a jackpot of "firsts" and fine 18th-century homes as well as the new, interactive North Carolina History Center. For families, it's a haven of affordable, livable neighborhoods and miles of waterfront playground. For retirees, New Bern boasts an ideal climate and a bevy of golf, arts and recreation opportunities. And for all residents — young and old, New Bern natives and newcomers alike — it is a friendly community, where life's pace takes a go-with-the-flow cue from the prominent rivers: fast enough to keep things moving, slow enough to savor all that the region has to offer.

"We love the combination of small-town charm with plenty of conveniences, including being only 20 minutes from the beach," says New Bern resident Sonja Babic, a European transplant who moved here 14 years ago. The Old World flavor of historic New Bern is part of what makes Babic feel right at home. Founded in 1710 by Baron von Graffenreid of New Berne, Switzerland (hence the name), this seaport town — once a cotton and tobacco export hub and later a lumber and shipbuilding center — is North Carolina's second-oldest and the original state capital. A rare four-faced Seth Thomas clock tower, a New Bern landmark, reigns over City Hall, a nod to the town's Swiss heritage. Whimsical bears ("Bern" derives from the German "bear") pop up in signs and on street corners, bearing tidbits of New Bern history.

But it's the pedestrian-friendly downtown, dotted with mom-and-pop restaurants, quaint storefronts and a popular river walk, that gives New Bern a welcoming all-American coziness. "It's a place where people do smile at each other. There's plenty to do but you don't get stuck in traffic," says Babic.

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