Raleigh, N.C.

Best Things to Do in Raleigh

BY Fifty Grande Editors | August 19, 2020

Welcome to Fifty Grande’s Best of the U.S. Bucket List series. This is your one-stop travel guide to the best, most unique and quintessential experiences of a city, state or event. Want to know how to “do” Raleigh? We’ve got you covered. Curated by experts, vetted by in-the-know locals, this is all you need to have the best trip ever. If we’ve written a Bucket List, we recommend you go. If it’s on this list, it’s the best the city has to offer right now. Consider this your one-stop answer to “What are the best things to do in Raleigh?”

Dare you to find where the most diehard fanbases of Clay Aiken, Corrosion of Conformity and Ryan Adams intersect. There’s only one possible place: their shared hometown, Raleigh. You never know quite what to expect from this city. It’s eclectic — multifaceted in the best possible way. Is it traditional or trendy? Chill or energetic? A food town or an art town? All of the above. And despite an 18% population boom in the last decade, Raleigh hasn’t lost its small-town charm, that “come on in” attitude. No wonder you want to visit. And to help you make the most of it, here’s a to-do list of places that locals savor and visitors envy. 

 

You’re here for: a crash course in tangy Carolina BBQ

Carolina BBQ is the oldest style of American smoked meats. It’s pork and pork alone (sometimes a whole hog), slathered in vinegar- or mustard-based sauce.

Clyde Cooper's Barbeque, Raleigh
#1
Clyde Cooper's Barbeque, Raleigh

Clyde Cooper’s BBQ

327 S Wilmington St, Raleigh, NC, USA

A Raleigh culinary mainstay for more than 80 years, they’re known for their pulled pork, but they won’t judge you for ordering chicken either. 

The Pit, Raleigh
#2
The Pit, Raleigh

The Pit

328 W Davie St, Raleigh, NC, USA

This downtown Raleigh spot feels more modern than its counterparts, but they take the traditional route when it comes to pork: whole-hog and pit-cooked. 

Ole Time Barbecue, Raleigh
#3
Ole Time Barbecue, Raleigh

Ole Time Barbeque

6309 Hillsborough St #1148, Raleigh, NC

Good old-fashioned, down-home cooking. A throwback to the BBQ joints of yore, roadside stands with wafting smoke. They make a mean biscuits and gravy breakfast.

Drown in craft beer

Each of Raleigh’s nearly 30 craft breweries has created a unique experience, like beer plus plants, beer plus art or the never-out-of-style beer plus pizza.

Brewery Bhavana, Raleigh
#4
Brewery Bhavana, Raleigh

Brewery Bhavana

218 S Blount St, Raleigh, NC, USA

Their airy, peaceful tasting room is lined with bookcases and plants. Customers can buy books and local flowers, chow down on dim sum and order from 40 taps of year-round and provisional beers.

Trophy Brewing Co., Raleigh
#5
Trophy Brewing Co., Raleigh

Trophy Brewing Co. (Morgan St. location)

827 W Morgan St, Raleigh, NC, USA

They take the classic pizza-beer partnership and knock it out of the park, and they like to experiment. Get a pizza with chicken andouille sausage, local mushrooms or (for the daring) ghost pepper salami. 

Raleigh Beer Garden, Raleigh
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Raleigh Beer Garden, Raleigh

Raleigh Beer Garden

614 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh, NC, USA

The sheer number of taps on their wall might floor you — 350 of them, which is reportedly more than any other beer garden in the world.

Roam the Warehouse District

After manufacturing companies stopped using these industrial, redbrick buildings in the ’50s, they sat vacant until artists and performers in the ’80s gave them new life as studios and reading spaces. Today, the district maintains that scrappy, underground spirit, but complemented with stylish restaurants, bars and entertainment.

Poole's Diner, Raleigh
#7
Poole's Diner, Raleigh

Poole’s Diner

426 S McDowell St, Raleigh, NC, USA

Technically right next to the district, this is star chef Ashley Christensen’s take on a classic ’40s- and ’50s-style diner, one with an ever-changing menu of comfort foods like mac and cheese and potato casserole. Christensen has stacked her trophy case with James Beard awards for Best Chef: Southeast in 2014 and 2017 and Outstanding Chef in 2019.

Raleigh Denim Workshop
#8
Raleigh Denim Workshop

Raleigh Denim Workshop

319 W Martin St #100, Raleigh, NC

Everything here is handmade on-site and subjected to field tests like ping-pong, tree climbing, etc. Their “Curatory” contains finely crafted goods and a ceiling full of 5,000 paper airplanes.

The Fiction Kitchen, Raleigh
#9
The Fiction Kitchen, Raleigh

The Fiction Kitchen

428 S Dawson St, Raleigh, NC, USA

Vegans rejoice: You don’t have to miss out on Raleigh’s fantastic BBQ. Extensive experimentation has yielded smoked soy and cornmeal-fried oyster mushrooms that capture the essence of Carolina-style BBQ.

See art in action

No offense to the North Carolina Museum of Art (which is worth a visit for art lovers), but the most engaging art experiences in town are the ones that take you inside the creative process. The Contemporary Art Museum has no permanent exhibits and encourages nontraditional artist exhibitions. And small galleries throughout the city like Artspace, 311 Gallery and Gallery C offer a more intimate look at the local art scene. 

Artspace, Raleigh
#10
Artspace, Raleigh

Artspace

201 E Davie St, Raleigh, NC, USA

This place is inspiration in motion, a studio space that’s open to the public where you can meet artists and watch them work.

Visual Art Exchange, Raleigh
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Visual Art Exchange, Raleigh

Visual Art Exchange

309 W Martin St, Raleigh, NC, USA

A collaborative space that supports and showcases local artists while engaging the community through exhibits, critique nights and artist groups.

Push up against the stage at King’s or Slim’s

It’s not all banjos and fiddles on the Raleigh music circuit. Sure, bluegrass is big here, but if string quintets and finger-picking isn’t your style, Raleigh’s venues still have something for you.

King's, Raleigh
#12
King's, Raleigh

King’s

14 W Martin St, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA

This iconic venue keeps you guessing. It brings in musicians of all genres intermixed with stand-up comedy, movie screenings and game show nights. And down below, they’ve got a craft cocktail hideaway called Neptunes. 

Slim's Downtown, Raleigh
#13
Slim's Downtown, Raleigh

Slim’s Downtown

227 S Wilmington St, Raleigh, NC, USA

Slim’s has a loyal local following. Maybe it’s the strong drinks, or the nightly live music, or the unpretentious attitude, but probably all three. It’s a classic dive bar that showcases local bands from every genre. 

Enjoy the greenery

Raleigh gets 46 inches of rain per year, but you know what they say about April showers. The Triangle isn’t as hilly as Appalachia, but it offers a variety of foliage and plant life, perhaps nowhere more impressively than William B. Umstead State Park.

William B. Umstead State Park
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William B. Umstead State Park. Shutterstock

William B. Umstead State Park

8801 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh, NC, USA

With 20 miles of hiking trails, this park between Raleigh and Durham can satisfy serious hikers, casual walkers, mountain bikers and horseback riders. And it’s lush with North Carolina’s native flora and fauna. 

Stumble upon street art

The Raleigh Murals Project, a venture from local artists, has really upped the city’s street art game. They connect artists to local businesses and building owners to commission murals. These giant paintings are popping up all around the city. 

Abstracted Motion mural, Raleigh
#15
Abstracted Motion mural, Raleigh

Abstracted Motion

410 S Salisbury St, Raleigh, NC, USA

The artist, Taylor White, partnered with Google Fiber, so this painting comes to life via the Abstracted Motion app and augmented reality. 

Morgan Street Jazz Monsters, Raleigh
#16
Morgan Street Jazz Monsters mural, Raleigh

Morgan Street Jazz Monsters: A Tribute to the Jazz Giants of North Carolina

827 W Morgan St, Raleigh, NC, USA

A whimsical piece that reimagines North Carolina’s jazz giants as cartoonish “monsters.” It’s on the Trophy Brewing Co. building, so stop in for a pint while you’re there.

How about Durham? Raleigh’s tandem city is worth a visit too.

North Carolina’s Research Triangle (or just “the Triangle”) includes Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. Durham, the second largest of the trio, is roughly 25 miles away and has some must-see spots of its own.

 

Visit Duke University

You might only know them from March Madness, but this 182-year-old university also has an architecturally stunning chapel, peaceful gardens, a marine lab and a lemur center. 

Duke Chapel at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
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Duke Chapel at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Shutterstock

Duke University Chapel

401 Chapel Dr, Durham, NC 27708, USA
Sifaka lemur at the Duke Lemur center
#18
Sifaka lemur at the Duke Lemur center. Durham, N.C. Shutterstock.

Duke Lemur Center

3705 Erwin Rd, Durham, NC, USA

These wide-eyed primates are the most endangered mammals on the planet and rarely found outside their native Madagascar. Duke has more than 200 of them across 14 species.

Reimagine the tobacco industry

Tobacco once drove Durham’s economy. Now, the city has repurposed its decommissioned factories and warehouses for residents, creative offices and entertainment.

The American Tobacco Historic District. Once the headquarters of the American Tobacco Company, the site is now part of a downtown urban renewal project. Durham, North Carolina.
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The American Tobacco Historic District. Once the headquarters of the American Tobacco Company, the site is now part of a downtown urban renewal project. Durham, North Carolina. Shutterstock

American Tobacco Campus

300 Blackwell St #104, Durham, NC

Once the Lucky Strike factory complex, this district now contains athletic parks, event spaces, restaurants and shopping. 

Crash at cool digs

Late night in Durham and you need a place to stay? 

21c Museum Hotel, Durham
#20
21c Museum Hotel, Durham

21c Museum Hotel

111 Corcoran Street, Durham, North Carolina, USA

This is modern art meets art deco elegance meets minimalist comfort. A former bank that’s been transformed into an evocative contemporary art gallery and a vault into a lounge. Terrazzo floors and arched windows set the tone for drinking and dining at Counting House, and a quick trip back to your favorite painting before retiring for the night. 

Day trip to the Outer Banks

These are 100+ miles of thin barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina. They’re popular vacation spots but offer enough quaint beach towns and rugged nature to keep from being too touristy. 

Kitty Hawk
#21
Kitty Hawk

Kitty Hawk

Kitty Hawk, NC, USA

Yep, the same town where the Wright Brothers took their first flight is an accessible patch of wind-swept coastline.

Sunrise silhouette of the famous wild horses of Carova Beach, N.C., on the 4 Wheel Drive Beach, with an SUV passing in the background.
#22
Sunrise silhouette of the famous wild horses of Carova Beach, N.C., on the 4 Wheel Drive Beach, with an SUV passing in the background. Shutterstock

Carova Beach

Carova Beach, NC, USA

If you don’t mind driving farther, Carova Beach is a little more tranquil, plus you can spot wild horses roaming around.

Explore Raleigh’s history

Here are your portals into Raleigh past, your chance to see what life was like for 18th- and 19th-century residents. 

Yates Mill County Park, Raleigh. Shutterstock
#23
Yates Mill County Park, Raleigh. Shutterstock

Yates Mill County Park

4620 Lake Wheeler Rd, Raleigh, NC, USA

The centerpiece of this 174-acre park is the Yates Mill, a historic gristmill where you can take guided tours and see corn-grinding demonstrations. 

Mordecai Historic Park, Raleigh. Shutterstock
#24
Mordecai Historic Park, Raleigh. Shutterstock

Mordecai Historic Park

Mordecai Historical Park, Mimosa Street, Raleigh, NC, USA

Smack dab in downtown Raleigh, the Mordecai House is the city’s oldest house in its original location. The park was once the site of Wake County’s largest plantation and contains Andrew Johnson’s birthplace.