The capital city of Raleigh, North Carolina may not be the first city to come to mind when you’re thinking about where to go on vacation, but I’m here to put some ideas into your mind, plant some seeds if you will. You may not even know where Raleigh, North Carolina is. Raleigh is in central North Carolina in what’s referred to as the piedmont area. Thanks to Research Triangle Park (roughly 30 minutes from downtown Raleigh), the largest planned research center in the United States, and all of the biotech jobs that come along with it, Raleigh has been booming for the last few decades so many people have moved here for the prospect of jobs, which is precisely what brought me to Raleigh way back in 1997.
I’m going to focus primarily on downtown Raleigh here, but there are also many things to do in nearby Durham, Cary, and Apex, all within a roughly 30 minute drive from Raleigh. For instance, you can see a Durham Bulls baseball game, a minor league team that is an extremely affordable way to spend a few hours with family or friends, even if you’re not that big of a baseball fan; plus there’s DPAC, Durham Performing Arts Center. Cary has been ranked by Money magazine as one of the best places to live in the US and has several breweries, amazing restaurants, and Koka Booth Amphitheater with year-round events. Apex has a quaint downtown with unique shops and restaurants and events at the Halle Cultural Arts Center.
Things to Do in Raleigh
If you like museums, Raleigh has one for everyone. The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is one of the best in the southeast, https://naturalsciences.org/ and has exhibits that span over four floors. If you have young children, they will love Marbles Kids Museum, https://www.marbleskidsmuseum.org/. I’ve spent many days at this hands-on children’s museum and my daughter even spent the night here with her Girl Scout troop once. For history lovers, there’s the North Carolina Museum of History, https://www.ncmuseumofhistory.org/, the Pope House Museum, https://raleighnc.gov/pope-house, and Mordecai Historic Park, https://raleighnc.gov/places/mordecai-historic-park. If you like contemporary art, there’s CAM Raleigh, http://camraleigh.org/ and for art lovers of all genres, there’s the much bigger North Carolina Museum of Art, https://www.ncartmuseum.org/.
There’s a great stand-up comedy club, Goodnights Comedy Club, https://www.goodnightscomedy.com/ that has shows on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings most weeks. Duke Energy Center for the Arts has a wide range of shows from opera and classical music, lectures and talks, comedians, and musicians from many genres, https://www.ticketmaster.com/duke-energy-center-for-the-performing-tickets-raleigh/venue/369155. Red Hat Amphitheater has some great shows year-round, and you can choose from traditional lawn seating, elevated lawn seating, and premium box seats, https://www.redhatamphitheater.com/. Finally, there’s the Raleigh Convention Center that largely has symphony shows but also other musicians and other events like local graduations and shows like boat and car shows, https://www.raleighconvention.com/.
You can run, walk, or bike along two scenic greenways, the Neuse River Trail and Capital Area Greenway. Pullen Park and Umstead State Park are some of the best parks in the area and you can spend several hours at each. Annie Louise Wilkerson, MD Nature Preserve has activities for children at the park office and three trails ranging from around a half mile to a mile each. If you like ziplines and outdoor obstacle courses, there’s TreeRunner Adventure Park, https://www.treerunnerraleigh.com/ and Go Ape Zipline and Adventure Park, https://www.goape.com/location/north-carolina-raleigh-durham/. Dead Broke Farm offers horseback riding, https://deadbrokefarm.com/. Citrix Cycle is a bikeshare program where you can rent a bike from 30 stations around the city. About two-thirds of the bikes are electric assist and can be rented for $2 for a single pass or $6 for a day pass. https://www.citrixcycle.com/
Where to Eat and Drink
Downtown Raleigh has so many restaurants with truly amazing food. Some of my favorites, which are also consistently top-ranked include:
Beasley’s Chicken + Honey (American)
Bida Manda (Laotian, Asian Fusion, Thai)
Morgan Street Food Hall (many different restaurants)
The Pit (Barbecue)
Brewery Bhavana (Asian Fusion)
Caffe Luna (Italian)
Hayes Barton Cafe and Dessertery (American; their desserts are to die for)
Most of those are primarily only open for lunch and/or dinner. For breakfast, I really like:
The Morning Times
Flying Biscuit Cafe
There are also dozens of breweries, the Raleigh Beer Garden, Pinetop Distillery where they make gin and moonshine, Raleigh Rum Company, Seventy Eight C Spirits where they make limoncello in three different flavors, plus other distilleries in Durham and other nearby cities.
Where to Stay
If you want to splurge, The Umstead Hotel and Spa, https://www.theumstead.com/?gclid=CjwKCAiArbv_BRA8EiwAYGs23CbjD0x_7pyDNZDEVqQE8uoY4IuIeCc9VSLjcXPmVXWWaqYMY6Pe9BoCXeIQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds is one of the best hotels in the area, although it is in Cary, only a short drive from downtown Raleigh. You can go to the spa without staying at the hotel and I hear the restaurant, Heron’s is also fabulous.
Raleigh Marriott City Center, Sheraton Raleigh Hotel, and Residence Inn by Marriott are all nice hotels in a good location in downtown Raleigh. If you have a rental car or don’t mind taking Uber or Lyft, Carolina Inn and The Siena Hotel both in Chapel Hill are super nice, as are JB Duke Hotel and Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club, both in Durham. Washington Duke Inn is my daughter’s favorite place to indulge on her birthday for afternoon tea, which we’ve done every year since she turned thirteen.
For each of the sections above, especially the things to do and places to eat, I had to stop myself from including more than I did because there’s just so much to see and do in downtown Raleigh and the surrounding area. I tried to limit each section to some of the tried-and-true standards of Raleigh (although some are newcomers). As you can see, I’m a huge fan of this area, and feel like it’s a hidden gem.
Have you been to Raleigh? If so, what did you do? Did you have zero interest in traveling to Raleigh before but now you’re intrigued? If anyone has specific questions about Raleigh, I would be happy to answer them.