With its 9000-plus acres of parkland, a diverse and unique arts scene, and deep-seated connections to history, Raleigh, North Carolina, is the perfect getaway destination. There is an endless number of sites to see and intriguing things to do in Raleigh for vacationers and residents alike. Winters are mild, and although the summers can be quite hot and humid, there are plenty of ways to escape the heat in this vibrant city. Whether the goal is relaxation or exploration, Raleigh offers something for everyone.
Self-guided tours are free at this local bean-to-bar chocolate factory. Visitors not only experience the chocolate-making process but can sample the delectables afterward. The Videri Chocolate Factory coffee bar offers an array of espresso coffee drinks and chocolate pairings, including sipping chocolate and frozen hot chocolate. Visitors can savor their beverage on the outdoor patio or in the comfort of the air-conditioned cafe. Stop by the chocolate counter and purchase some signature chocolate bars or bonbons to enjoy later.
Those seeking a walkable Raleigh experience should head downtown and explore the galleries, art studios, restaurants, and innovative shops in the Raleigh Warehouse District. The area is quickly becoming one of the city's top entertainment and nightlife spots. Catch a view of the city skyline on the Dillion Sky Terrace, a ninth-floor BYOB rooftop where birds-eye-view of the city abound. Visit the Morgan Street Food Hall, which features 20 unique culinary concepts, craft beers, and tasty libations—tired of walking? Grab one of the bright yellow rickshaws for a driver-narrated tour of the area.
Whether visitors are seeking a day excursion or a complete nature-lovers experience, William B. Umstead State Park, located 10 miles northwest of Raleigh, offers 5600 acres of the great outdoors to explore. Its 20 miles of hiking trails are perfect for short strolls or long hikes through the unique flora and fauna. Anglers enjoy the three manmade lakes. Rent a canoe from the visitors center and explore the 55-acre Big Lake, the largest of the three. From March to December, guests who don't want the fun to end can camp on the site, as well.
In Raleigh, traditional Southern dishes and eclectic edible fare share the spotlight. Local restaurants offer cuisines ranging from down-home comforts and farm-to-table meals to international gourmet delights. Connoisseurs and casual foodies can explore the local menus and architecture by joining a walking food tour. Arrange a customized food experience according to your budget and preferred cuisine. For those hoping for a romantic gourmet experience, the elegant, historical surroundings and extensive wine list at Second Empire Restaurant and Tavern can't be beaten. Feast under the crystal chandeliers in the main dining room, or enjoy a meal in the atrium or tavern.
The oldest public graveyard in Raleigh, established in 1798, City Cemetery, is the burial place of many citizens, city founders, and legislators. Builders created separate burial areas for visitors, enslaved people, and free black citizens. City Cemetery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008 and is a respected resource for genealogy searches. An online GIS map lets you plan out walking tours to locate specific graves throughout the cemetery grounds.
Children love hands-on experiences, and the Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh is full of interactive, educational exhibits and special events to trigger their imaginations. Parents will enjoy the toddlers' area that allows for safe exploration and discovery. See a blockbuster movie in 3-D in the Marbles IMAX theater. Visit the museum's store, which offers a variety of books, puzzles, and gifts.
North Carolina State University manages this 10-acre botanical garden in West Raleigh. The stunning site is a favorite locale for horticulturists and serves as a live laboratory for students. Visitors will not only enjoy the relaxing, eye-catching surroundings but also the free admission. The diverse collection of 6500 plants is popular with amateur and professional photographers, selfie artists, and Instagrammers alike. Start at the Bobby G. Wilder Visitor Center to pick up a map and event calendar, along with tips for self-guided tours.
One of the most Instagrammable sites in Raleigh is the Fayetteville Street District. Not only is this area home to a variety of parades and celebrations throughout the year, but boutiques, restaurants, and a wide variety of businesses line the streets as well. Check out the City of Raleigh Museum and the Mahler Fine Art Gallery. Grab an espresso while you upload the best pics on the district-wide free wi-fi. Winter visitors will enjoy the two-month-long Ipreo Raleigh Winterfest along the 400 Block of Fayetteville Street. The event hosts live music, a skating rink, carnival rides, and a tree-lighting ceremony.
Plane spotters, aviation enthusiasts, and children choose the RDU Observation Park as one of the most popular sites in Raleigh to visit. The observation deck is located near the air traffic control tower at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Open from sunrise to sunset, visitors can not only watch planes taking off and landing on the 10,000-foot runway but also listen in on the pilot-tower communications. A picnic and play area is nearby.
Traditional North Carolina barbecue is one of the top cultural experiences for all visitors to Raleigh. Most locals agree that there are two distinct types of barbecue available here. The Eastern style starts with an entire hog cooked over wood coals. The shredded meat is seasoned with vinegar and pepper flakes and served with or without a bun. Lexington-style barbecue uses only the shoulder of the hog, cooked over hickory or oak. The sauce is a vinegar base sweetened with brown sugar or tomato paste. In Raleigh, visitors will find an array of popular restaurants offering either type of barbecue or a combination of the two.
The North Carolina Museum of Art had its beginnings in 1924 with the formation of the North Carolina State Art Society. The museum's collection includes artifacts that span over 5,000 years. Visitors can participate in classes, concerts, dance performances, family activities, films, and lectures. The activities and changing exhibitions provide diverse and rich cultural experiences for visitors of all ages. Numerous galleries offer exhibits including American art, works from Ancient Greece and Rome, African art, Egyptian art, Judaic art, European art, and videos. The 164-acre museum park features gardens, outdoor theaters, trails, and works of art.
The Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve near Raleigh is a collaborative effort of the Town of Cary and the North Carolina State Park System. The preserve covers 140 acres in the Research Triangle Park. Hemlock Bluffs is known for its Eastern Hemlock trees and scenic overlooks. Three miles of trails make the preserve the perfect place for biking, hiking, or taking a leisurely shady stroll on a warm summer day. Visitors can expect to spot various species of birds and wildlife. The preserve is home to the Stevens Nature Center, where visitors participate in interactive nature programs.
For over 200 years, the water-powered Yates Mill ground corn and wheat into meal and flour for Wake County residents. The historic mill was one of 70 in the County but is the only one that still operates. The mill, complete with a waterwheel, sits on a scenic pond. Just as it was in times past, the mill pond is a popular gathering spot. Visitors can tour the operation and learn how the mill influenced the culture during the early days of Wake County. Stone-ground cornmeal and other items are available for purchase at the visitor center.
The Juniper Level Botanic Garden, established in 1988, is a 28-acre educational, display, and research garden. Home to the Center of Mindfulness and Nonduality, the park is an American Public Gardens Association institutional member. The center offers retreats and classes led by experts in medication and mindfulness. The garden's horticultural classes provide research-based, scientific information related to gardening practices. Visitors may interact with the plants by feeling, touching, and smelling the plants. They can stroll through the meandering paths, take photos, or sit and relax.
The Mountains-to-Sea Trail spans over 1100 miles from the North Carolina Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean with over 700 miles of finished trails. Along the route, hikers can see farms, forests, sand dunes, swamps, tobacco barns, wildlife, and all the natural beauty of North Carolina offers. Stretches of the Yadkin and Neuse rivers feature paddle trail options. Segment 11 of the trail includes Raleigh and Neuse River greenways and trails. Hiking the trail from start to finish takes 3-4 months. Spring and fall are the best times to hike the trail. Volunteers known as "Trail Angels" provide information about lodging, foods, and other long-distance hiker resources.
The State Capitol, constructed in 1840, is a National Historic Landmark. Featuring the Greek revival style of architecture. As an active state capitol, the building formerly housed several state offices, including the Governor's office, the State Supreme Court, and the General Assembly chambers. Visitors can take self-guided tours through the building.
The Pope House Museum in downtown Raleigh sits a few blocks from the Capitol. With over 3000 artifacts, the museum offers a glimpse into the life of a prominent African American family that lived in the Raleigh area during the early 1900s. The interesting artifacts include Dr. W.T. Pope's father's freedman papers, voter registration card, and physician's bag from the Spanish-American War. Educational programs at the museum focus on local history, with many based on current exhibits.
The 66.4-acre Pullen Park, established in 1887, was the first public park in North Carolina and is the fifth oldest amusement park in the country and one of the oldest in the world. The park features a carousel, kiddie boats, pedal boats, and a train. A competitive aquatic center, arts center, children's playgrounds, tennis courts, athletics, café, theater, and other amenities make Pullen Park a destination where individuals and families can explore and enjoy over several days.
Anthophiles will find bliss at the Raleigh Rose Garden at 301 Pogue Street. With over 60 different varieties and 1200 roses, the garden features blooms from late spring until fall. In addition to roses, visitors will find annuals, bulbs, shrubs, and trees. The Rose Garden features an amphitheater that hosts concerts and other productions and is open from sunrise to sunset.
Those wanting to experience the thrill of competitive racing will find Rush Hour Karting the venue for trying their go-cart racing skills in an indoor setting. Drivers can race up to 40 mph on a track featuring twists and turns. Rush Hour Karting, located in Garner just outside Raleigh, offers fun for all ages. Rush Hour Karting offers kids' go-cart racing classes and leagues and hosts birthday parties. Individuals interested in ax throwing will find it available here as well.