New Bern is the second-oldest European-American colonial town in North Carolina (after Bath). It served as the capital of the North Carolina colonial government, then briefly as the state capital. After the American Revolution, New Bern became wealthy and quickly developed a rich cultural life. At one time New Bern was called "the Athens of the South," renowned for its Masonic Temple and Athens Theater. These are both still very active today.
New Bern has four historic districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places; their numerous contributing buildings include residences, stores and churches dating back to the early eighteenth century. Within easy walking distance of the waterfront are more than 164 homes and buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Also nearby are several bed and breakfasts, hotels, restaurants, banks, antiques stores and specialty shops. The historic districts contain many of the city's 2,000 crape myrtles — its official flower — and developed gardens. New Bern has two "Local Historic Districts," a municipal zoning overlay that affords legal protection from alteration to the exteriors of New Bern's irreplaceable historic structures. These areas provide much of New Bern's unique charm, appeal to retirees and heritage tourism, and contribute to the city's economic success. The Local Historic Districts, while vitally important to New Bern,