Abstract Background Macrophages and their precursors monocytes play a key role in inflammation and chronic inflammatory disorders. Monocyte-to-macrophage differentiation and activation programs are accompanied by significant epigenetic remodeling where DNA methylation associates with cell identity. Here we show that DNA methylation changes characteristic for monocyte-to-macrophage differentiation occur at transcription factor binding sites, and, in contrast to what was previously described, are generally highly localized and encompass both losses and gains of DNA methylation. Results We compared genome-wide DNA methylation across 440,292 CpG sites between human monocytes, naïve macrophages and macrophages further activated toward a pro-inflammatory state (using LPS/IFNγ), an anti-inflammatory state (IL-4) or foam cells (oxLDL and acLDL). Moreover, we integrated these data with public whole-genome sequencing data on monocytes and macrophages to demarcate differentially methylated regions. Our analysis showed that differential DNA methylation was most pronounced during monocyte-to-macrophage differentiation, was typically restricted to single CpGs or very short regions, and co-localized with lineage-specific enhancers irrespective of whether it concerns gain or loss of methylation. Furthermore, differentially methylated CpGs were located at sites characterized by increased binding of transcription factors known to be involved in monocyte-to-macrophage differentiation including C/EBP and ETS for gain and AP-1 for loss of methylation. Conclusion Our study highlights the involvement of subtle, yet highly localized remodeling of DNA methylation at regulatory regions in cell differentiation.