Wilmington Street in Downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, USA
Travel Guide

Raleigh, North Carolina: know before you go

Raleigh, the capital city of North Carolina, is known as the "City of Oaks" for the many oak trees lining the streets in the city centre. If you plan to visit North Carolina, there’s a pretty good chance you will be flying into Raleigh-Durham

Celebrated for its educational institutions, tech-driven economy, and vibrant cultural scene, Raleigh has become an increasingly popular city to both visit and relocate to. Because of this, Raleigh is known as one of the fastest-growing cities in North Carolina.

There's a reasonable amount to see and do in the area, so you should easily be able to spend a few days in the city. Or, if you're short on time, try a pedicab tour through downtown Raleigh.

Raleigh, North Carolina, USA State Capitol Building.

Useful information

Travel writer Sam Opp is based in Raleigh and has shared some things you should know about the city before you visit:

Raleigh is known as a transplant city: With affordable living and a strong job market, Raleigh has attracted people from all over the USA. With so many people from New York and the Northeast, you might find it pretty rare to run into someone who is actually from Raleigh. If you do happen to meet a local, they are very proud to let you know they are a native and very friendly!

It's a food hub: Raleigh takes their food seriously - especially their BBQ - which of course is the best! Raleigh has two very popular dining halls, food trucks, and an emphasis on small businesses. You will also find bagels and pizza from all those NY’ers making their way down to the area. Because of Raleigh’s close proximity to three major college campuses, there are many bars and breweries, speakeasies, and lounges in the city.

Snow equals city shutdown: It snows maybe once a year in Raleigh. If snow is in the forecast, the city is basically on a halt. So if you happen to be visiting Raleigh in the winter, don’t be surprised to see people going crazy getting gas for their cars and cleaning out the grocery shelves if snow is coming.

Raleigh is an outdoorsy city: You will often find people getting outside and enjoying nature in Raleigh. With dozens of greenways and parks, there are plenty of options to get outside. Some of the best places in Raleigh to take a stroll include Umstead State Park, Shelley Lake, and the Historic Yates Mill Country Park.

It's part of the Triangle: While in Raleigh, you will likely hear people referring to the Triangle at some point or time. The Triangle is an imaginary line connecting the 3 colleges, NC State (Raleigh), Duke (Durham), and UNC (Chapel Hill). There is also the Research Triangle (RTP) where you'll find where a handful of major corporations such as IBM and CISCO. This is one of the reasons so many people have moved to the Raleigh area.

Raleigh is a dog-friendly city: If you have a furry friend, you will feel very welcome in Raleigh. Most (if not all) parks allow dogs and even have little baggie stations making it easy for you to clean up after them. Additionally, many restaurants have outdoor seating that allows your dog to join!

College basketball is a big deal: Being surrounded by three major colleges, college sports are kind of a big deal, especially basketball! Duke University and Chapel Hill have one of the most intense rivalries. Both schools are known for a handful of famous basketball players, including Kyrie Irving, Grant Hill, Michael Jordan and Vince Carter.

Fayetteville Street in Raleigh NC

Things to do in Raleigh

  • Fayetteville Street: Wander down the main thoroughfare in downtown Raleigh lined with restaurants, shops, and bars.

  • North Carolina Museum of Art: Engage with a vast collection of artworks spanning from ancient to contemporary times.

  • North Carolina State Capitol: Tour this historic building which is a National Historic Landmark

  • North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences: Dive into North Carolina’s natural history with interactive exhibits and a look at local ecosystems.

  • William B. Umstead State Park: Ideal for hiking, biking, and horseback riding through its extensive network of trails.

  • Pullen Park: Perfect for families, this park offers playgrounds, a historic carousel, and pedal boats.

  • Cameron Village: Shop at local boutiques and national retailers in one of Raleigh's oldest shopping areas.

  • Red Hat Amphitheater: Catch a live concert or event at this downtown open-air venue.

If you have the time, there are a couple of good day trips you can do from Raleigh:

  • Durham, NC: Just a 30-minute drive away, visit Duke University’s stunning campus and the renowned Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

  • Chapel Hill, NC: Home to the University of North Carolina, explore the college town charm, botanical gardens, and local eateries.

Food and drinks in Raleigh

Raleigh has a vibrant food scene with a focus on Southern cuisine and farm-to-table dining. If you aren't sure where to go, try wandering through the Warehouse District or Moore Square. Otherwise, some popular restaurants are:

  • Brewery Bhavana: Known for its unique combination of brewery, bookstore, flower shop, and dim sum restaurant.

  • Poole’s Diner: Offers a modern take on comfort food, famous for its macaroni and cheese. A local favourite.

  • The Pit: Ideal for trying authentic North Carolina barbecue.

  • Bida Manda: A beautifully adorned Laotian restaurant known for its unique flavors and cocktails.

For nightlife, head to Glenwood South, a hub of bars, nightclubs, and live music venues popular with college students. There are also several good bars, pubs and speakeasies in downtown Raleigh.

Lake Johnson in Raleigh, NC during fall season

Travel logistics

When to Visit

Spring and fall are ideal for visiting Raleigh, with mild temperatures and beautiful foliage. These seasons also host numerous festivals and outdoor events, making it a lively time to explore the city.

Where to Stay

There are several good hotels and a couple of apartments in downtown Raleigh. Here are a couple of our favourites.

Getting around

Renting a car is easiest for convenience, although Raleigh also has a bus system (GoRaleigh) that covers most of the city and a free downtown circulator called the R-Line.

Parking in Raleigh is relatively straightforward compared to larger cities, but it can vary depending on the area and time of day.

There are plenty of metered parking spots throughout downtown. These typically require payment Monday through Friday during business hours (8 AM to 5 PM), but are free on weekends and public holidays.

Several public and private parking decks and lots are available. Parking is generally free in areas outside of downtown, such as shopping centers and malls. Some residential areas might have restrictions or require permits, so it’s good to pay attention to any posted signs.

You may want to consider downloading a parking app like ParkMobile, which is used in Raleigh to pay for metered parking via your phone. This can also help you locate available parking spots.

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Roxanne de Bruyn

Author - Roxanne de Bruyn

Roxanne is the founder and editor of Faraway Worlds. She is a freelance writer and guidebook author and has written for several travel publications, including Lonely Planet, TripAdvisor and The Culture Trip. With a background in communications, she has studied ancient history, comparative religion and international development, and has a particular interest in sustainable tourism.

Originally from South Africa, Roxanne has travelled widely and loves learning the stories of the places she visits. She enjoys cooking, dance and yoga, and usually travels with her husband and young son. She is based in New Zealand.

Last Updated 29 April 2024

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