Motivated. Hip. Different. Eclectic. These are a few words that come to mind when we think of Raleigh. This lesser known destination had a variety of sights to offer even in early February, which is when we visited for a weekend getaway. It was a perfect winter weekend getaway if you prefer the milder winter weather of the southern states (which we do!)
It’s quite fitting that Raleigh is the capital of North Carolina –the ethnic variety of cuisine and preservation of the homes of the first free blacks and activists mingles tangibly and swings back and forth between the southern drawl and way of life. We were pleasantly surprised by the variety of cuisine that we came across – from authentic Thai to Vietnamese to Japanese to upscale pizza joints, the city had it all.
We had some of the best Lebanese dishes we’ve had in a while when we got into the city around lunch at 2pm. We loved the vibe of Sitti, from the laid-back (but attentive!) staff to the array of shishas set up in the corner. Check out their Cabernet-Shiraz mix of red wine by the glass. As a seasoned fan of red wine, this was a highlight of my meal there.
Stay in the outskirts of downtown. Raleigh is a sprawling city, with highways connecting east, north, south, and west Raleigh. Not all the different areas are equally developed or attractive to tourists. Downtown is a relatively small area of the city packed with restaurants, museums, and small parks (mostly on Glenwood Avenue and South Wilmington Street), definitely where you would spend most of your time. However, we recommend staying outside of downtown, since the prices for rooms in the heart of downtown were overpriced given the reviews of the quality of the hotels (as in most cities!) We got a fantastic last-minute deal with Hyatt Place in Midtown North Raleigh, which was just around 8 minutes from downtown.
Raleigh is probably best known for being a hub for beer breweries in the south. It has 25 (and counting) breweries strewn across its beer trail. Since we were traveling for a mix of work and play, we didn’t have time to hit the trail itself, but settled for visiting the Raleigh Beer Garden, which serves the most number of beers available in one restaurant in the world – 366 beers (and counting), to be exact. It fills up though, so we would recommend making a reservation in advance, no matter the day of the week. Those without American state IDs should definitely take their passport. The struggle is real. It also gets pretty busy on Friday and Saturday evenings, as you can imagine.
Museum-buffs have a number of locations to check out, from the North Carolina Museum of Art to the Museum of Natural Sciences. The Raleigh State Capitol is also worth a quick visit.
A must-see is the “Pope House Museum,” the restored home of Dr. M. T. Pope, a freed slave who went on to study medicine at Shaw University and lead a successful, middle-class life in the Third Ward on South Wilmington Street in Raleigh. Free tours are available – our guide was informative, friendly, and we loved the intimate discussions that the small group of five in the tour afforded. They were in the midst of moving some of the pieces in the house to the North Carolina History Museum but the house was still worth the visit. We always enjoy visiting the less-crowded, more authentic feels of museums away from major cities (while of course, they also do have their own pros!)
While Raleigh was significantly cooler than Wilmington in February, it is still a great place to visit to get away from the more frigid temperatures of the winter in the north-east coast of the US. Temperatures typically range between a high of 13oC to 1oC in February. We enjoyed a beautiful Saturday afternoon in the sun exploring a historical trail of homes of southern religious activists and missionaries, governors, and doctors (an eclectic mix of homes to be preserved!) and enjoyed some Vietnamese Pho at Pho Pho Pho Noodle Kitchen & Bar before heading back home.
We were also lucky enough to visit during a protest of immigration reform and reproductive rights. As a social psychologist, it was fascinating to see scores of people marching, advocating for reproductive rights and more open borders, passing the homes of known historical religious missionaries and confederate families.
Visiting in February, we of course missed out on the city of Oaks in full bloom, which is something to think about if you are considering visiting around spring.
Additional places to visit are Yates Mill and the Raleigh Brewing Company, the first female-owned brewery in North Carolina. Look up brewery tour dates before your visit, as most breweries only give tours during certain days of the month. Yates Mill is outside of the city, and is a great place for a picnic and some light hiking/walking in nature.
Do stay outside of downtown.
Do rent/bring a car.
Do check out their range of restaurants. Parking is usually free over the weekends, and parking lots are plentiful. Food is reasonably priced depending on where you choose to eat – restaurants like Sitti and Thaiphoon had excellent value for money.
If you visit Sitti and are a fan of red wine, check out their Shiraz-Cabernet selection!
Do look up brewery tour dates before your visit.
Been to Raleigh? Planning a trip there? We’d love to hear about your experiences! Share your stories with us below!