Raleigh, North Carolina: What to do, where to eat & where to stay
Planning a trip to Raleigh, North Carolina? We know the ins and outs of this city and we’re giving you suggestions of where to go, what to see, where to stay & what to do in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Not only do we love Raleigh, it also used to be our home. It’s where we were living when we got engaged and so many of our early memories together involve cycling around the streets of downtown, eating BBQ at The Pit, and attending concerts at Red Hat.
We’ve put together a list of all of our favorite eats, free activities, as well as some paid activities that we’d recommend for anyone visiting the city. Whether you’re in town for one or one month, we’ve got plenty of food and fun for you to pick from to keep you busy your whole trip! We’ve also rounded up Airbnb and hotel options in the best areas of town to make your trip comfortable and seamless.
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Population: ~470,000 Nickname: “City of Oaks” Time Zone: Eastern Standard Time Famous for: Raleigh is the capital city of North Carolina. It’s also one of the fastest growing cities in the United States
GETTING TO RALEIGH
Interstate 40, 85, 87, and 95 all run close to Raleigh making it very accessible most places in the southeast.
Wilmington, NC = 1 hour, 55 minutes / 129 miles Charlotte, NC = 2 hours, 41 minutes / 167 miles Charleston, SC = 4 hours, 6 minutes / 280 miles Washington D.C. = 4 hours 9 minutes / 278 miles Asheville, NC = 4 hours / 251 miles Atlanta, GA = 6 hours, 4 minutes / 405 miles
Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) is located 18 minutes from downtown Raleigh. The airport is a relatively inexpensive airport to fly into and has nonstop flights to 57 destinations. The airport host 10 major airlines with Southwest Airlines being the most popular choice. Delta, American, United, and Air Canada are just a few of the other major airlines with regular flights into the city.
If you’re flying into Raleigh rather than driving I’d recommend just snagging a rental car at the airport. Taking an Uber or Lyft from the airport downtown will cost you at least $17 each way. To get to the rental car counter, take “the green Rental Car shuttle stops outside bag claim at Zone 5 in Terminal 1 and Zone 18 in Terminal 2” (source).
GETTING AROUND RALEIGH
DO YOU NEED TO RENT A CAR IN RALEIGH?
If you’re visiting Raleigh and planning on staying in the immediate downtown area you really don’t need a car. However, if you do decide to want to move across town quicker than by foot rideshares including Uber and Lyft are probably your best options. If you want to be a bit more adventurous, hop on one of the Gotcha electric scooters around town or use the Citrix Cycle bike share program.
Car Rentals in Raleigh, NC
Renting a car is the best option if you plan to venture further outside of the downtown Raleigh area. The North Carolina Museum of Art, Durham, and Chapel Hill are all fun places to checkout that are not within walking distance of the main Raleigh area.
Chances are if you’re renting a car it’s because you’re flying into Raleigh. If that’s the case, go ahead and rent a car from the airport car rental companies. Eleven different car rental companies operate out of the airport including Enterprise, Hertz, and Alamo.
USE OUR GOOGLE PINS
We've saved our favorite places all around the world in Google Maps for you to use! Checkout our Raleigh pins below and use the Maps feature to help you easily navigate between our favorite places while you're out and about in Raleigh.
WHAT TO PACK
Raleigh is a pretty easy city to pack for. We’re including lots of food recommendations on this list so perhaps bring a good pair of stretchy pants. ;)
WHERE TO EAT
Raleigh is home to some of our favorite food in the country (seriously). While all the options on this list are awesome choices, we’ll be sure to note which ones rank high on our all time favorites list and even mention which dishes to try.
To make things a little easier for you, we’re dividing up food and drink into a few different categories to help you more quickly find what you’re looking for.
Poole’s/ $$ (Note: GET THE MACARONI! Also, they make some wonderful craft cocktails. This place is small and intimate and not well suited for bringing children or groups. Seating is first come first serve and you might have to wait a little while.) 426 S McDowell St, Raleigh, NC 27601
Videri Chocolate Factory/ $ (Note: I (Sara) actually worked two jobs while living in Raleigh: one for a nonprofit and the other here at Videri. Highly recommend any of the drinks form the coffee bar combined with a few bonbons from the chocolate counter.) 327 W Davie St, Raleigh, NC 27601
By now you know that food is a huge part of the culture in Raleigh. If you like southern cooking then you’re definitely going to love your time in the City of Oaks. If southern dishes aren’t your thing, no worries. There are still plenty of quality options in the area. We recommend creating your own food tour of sorts using the suggested restaurants above.
Raleigh is home to the NHL team Carolina Hurricanes, and this city loves their “‘Canes” (as they like to call them). If you happen to be visiting during hockey season, we recommend grabbing tickets and heading over to PNC arena to catch a game.
Raleigh is one of three cities in the Research Triangle. Each city in “the triangle” is home to a different university: University of North Carolina (UNC), Duke, and North Carolina State University (NC State) all call this region home. NC State is located in the heart of Raleigh which gives the city a younger feel for being a capital city. It also presents a regular schedule of sporting events, too. In the fall it’s football and in the winter/spring it’s basketball.
If baseball is more your speed, just up the road in Durham you’ll find the areas minor league team: The Durham Bulls. Even though the Bulls are technically from Durham, everyone in the Triangle area loves attending the games. I can vouch and say they are a lot of fun and a great way to spend a summer night!
If you visit the North Carolina Museum of Art (which is our personal favorite) don’t bypass walking around the culture gardens outside. Part of the Capital Area Greenway runs through the museum property making it the perfect place to take a walk and enjoy a quiet afternoon outdoors.
Raleigh regularly hosts bands, broadway shows, speakers, and more at their various venues around town. The Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts is home to four theaters, each with a different style, size, and feel. Red Hat Amphitheater is where most big name bands and artists perform during the warmer months. PNC Arena (which is also home to the Carolina Hurricanes) also hosts major events as well.
To see which events are taking place during your visit, be sure to visit each of the venue’s specific sites for the most up to date information and ticket sales.
If you’re looking for a way to stay fit while visiting Raleigh, or you’re just wanting to get out and enjoy nature for a bit, we recommend hopping on one of Raleigh’s greenway trails. These well maintained trail routes that run through and around the city are both cyclists and pedestrians.
Not too far from downtown (in fact it’s over closer to the airport) is William B. Umstead Park. This 5,579 acre park is full of trails, three man made fishing lakes, and even a campground. It’s the perfect place to do a little hiking, trail running, or even just take an afternoon stroll with the family. Entrance into the park is free, but activities such as boating and events require permits and/or fees.
WHERE TO STAY IN RALEIGH
Because Raleigh is a very business oriented city, you’re going to have most of your major hotel chains available. For location sake we’re suggesting the Marriott, and for quaintness we’re recommending Guest House Raleigh.
Option #1: Guest House Raleigh // This adult only boutique hotel set in a historic home in downtown Raleigh is the perfect place for a romantic getaway. Option #2: Raleigh Marriott City Center // Modern and clean Marriott centrally located in the heart of downtown Raleigh.
For Airbnb’s I’m dividing up the options in two categories: walking distance to downtown and not walking distance to downtown. To me walking distance would be .5 mile or less from restaurants and entertainment in downtown.
Sometimes Raleigh gets overlooked in North Carolina: Asheville has the mountains, Wilmington has the beach, and Charlotte is a larger city than Raleigh. This city has so much to offer and it’ll always hold a large part of our hearts.
If you find yourself in Raleigh, we’re sure you won’t be disappointed by the little taste of southern culture this place has to offer. If you’ve already been to Raleigh before we want to hear from you in the comments below. Tell us your favorite places we should try next time we’re in town! If you have any questions while planning your own trip to the City of Oaks, drop those in the comments as well. Happy exploring, y’all!
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We're Chris and Sara
A creative husband and wife duo from a small-town in Tennessee with passion for all things travel. Checkout the links below to join us on our past, present, and future adventures!