Raleigh, North Carolina, offers big-city energy with a small-town vibe, Southern hospitality mixed with mouthwatering brews, cutting-edge Southern cuisine, history, culture, and the great outdoors—all at a price that's easy on the pocketbook.
The Museum of Natural Sciences, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, is the largest natural science museum in the Southeast. Among its offerings is the chance to come face-to-face with live animals. There's a Veterinary Services unit and Window on Animal Health (WOAH), which offers a unique experience to interact with staff performing real medical procedures. In the research center the Mammal Unit studies a diverse array of animals in North Carolina.
Five minutes from downtown is William B. Umstead State Park, a 6,000-acre urban recreational area with 22 miles of hiking trails, 13 miles of horseback and mountain bike trails, and the opportunity to camp, fish, and canoe. It's a habitat for beavers, raccoons, deer, and unique bird species. Don't miss the chainsaw art—a fallen red oak tree that's been transformed by artists using chainsaws.
The North Carolina Museum of Art was the first major museum in the U.S. to be funded by the state. It features permanent and temporary collections spanning 5,000 years from around the world as well as the nation’s largest Museum Park—164 acres of recreational trails and parkland designed for walking, jogging, cycling, and picnicking while deeply experiencing art installations and nature. Admission is free.
Best Day Trip
Wilmington is a port city on the Cape Fear River, just under a two-hour drive from Raleigh, featuring a historic downtown with brick-paved streets and a vibrant riverwalk lined with restaurants, galleries, and shops. Ride in a horse-drawn carriage, explore a battleship, tour famous gardens or a historic fort, and surf, swim, or fish at nearby Wrightsville Beach (named one of the world’s best surf towns).
Off the Beaten Path
Drive 20 minutes east of downtown Raleigh to step back in time at the Robertson Millpond Preserve, a blackwater cypress-gum swamp and 85-acre refuge for nature lovers. Paddle a canoe or kayak and fish from the bank or from a boat with a trolling motor. The area is significant for its rich cultural and environmental history, and the cypress swamp provides habitat for beavers, muskrats, turtles, and wood ducks. Open on weekends and some holidays.
Most Iconic Place
Raleigh is no stranger to mouthwatering brews, and the food scene continues to evolve, too, but who knew that the recipe for being named a Top 10 Best New Restaurant in the country by Bon Appétit magazine was to mix a brewery, bookstore, floral shop, and dim sum restaurant? This unique four-in-one concept by Brewery Bhavana in the heart of downtown has become a communal gathering place. If you only go for one thing, the craft beers, poured from taps along a marble wall, get rave reviews.
Looking to stay up until 2 a.m. and eat, drink, and be merry? The Glenwood South District is where you'll find the largest concentration of hip nightlife spots and bars, plus trendy restaurants, unique shops—even art galleries and studios. This walkable district has been transformed from a quiet row of commercial buildings to the place to be after dark. Local favorites include The Hibernian, Raleigh Beer Garden, The Rockford, Clockwork, and Carolina Ale House.
Historic Oakwood is a lovely downtown neighborhood filled with beautifully restored 19th-century homes listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Drive around or grab a self-guided walking tour brochure from the Raleigh Visitor Information Center to explore this 30-block area. Also of historical significance is the Oakwood Cemetery, which originated as the Confederate Cemetery and holds the remains of nearly 1,500 Confederate soldiers.
Love doughnuts? How about running? Raleigh is home to one of America's most unique running events, the original Krispy Kreme Challenge. Started in 2004 by NC State University students, this fun challenge requires competitors to run five miles from the NC State campus to Krispy Kreme, consume a dozen doughnuts at the halfway point, and hit the finish line in under one hour. The annual event draws in 8,000 runners decked out in colorful costumes. Come join the fun.
Best Watering Hole
The craft beer scene in Raleigh just gets bigger and better. Speaking of big, the Raleigh Beer Garden has 350 beers on tap, making it the world's largest draft beer selection—made official by Guinness World Records. Located in Raleigh's trendy Glenwood South District, this multi-level beer garden features a tree in the front bar, a rooftop "garden" with views, and ample indoor and outdoor space to sip on one of their beers, play a game of corn hole, sit around a fire pit, or enjoy a meal from their full dining menu.