18 Top Cities Near Raleigh To Visit (within 8 hours drive)

If you’re looking for a break from the City of Oaks, then you might be in the mood to visit some other cities near Raleigh that make for the perfect day trip or weekend getaway.

Mom and daughters in front of the Abraham Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.
Washington D.C. is one of our favorite getaways from Raleigh.

We love living in Raleigh and all it has to offer, but sometimes you just need to shake things up and experience something different.

Whether you’re looking for a city break with serene nature spots, relaxed urban living, or buzzing and vibrant nightlife, then these are the most exciting cities that are all within 8 hours’ drive of Raleigh, North Carolina.

I’ve organized these places into drive times from Raleigh, starting with the closest to furthest, with tips on the popular tours and hotels in each destination.

What Are The Cities Near Raleigh You Shouldn’t Miss?

Durham, North Carolina

Aerial photo of a city and a baseball stadium in Durham, North Carolina.
Durham Bulls baseball stadium
  • Distance from Raleigh: 24.6 miles
  • Drive time: 30 minutes

The closest city to Raleigh is Durham, which is also the fourth largest city in North Carolina. Being just a 30-minute drive up I-40 makes Durham one of the best day trips from Raleigh.

It’s known as The City of Medicine because it has more than 300 medical-related companies that operate here. It was also named the “tastiest Town in the South” by Southern Living Magazine because of its vibrant food scene, and you’ll find many of the top things to do in Durham involve sinking your teeth into some tasty eats.

Although Durham is best known for its industry and innovation, it’s also home to some beautiful nature spots. Sarah P. Duke Gardens is a beautiful 55-acre park that features a stunning array of flowers, plants, and sculptures. It’s the perfect place to relax and enjoy nature’s beauty.

People walking down a pathway in a garden.
Duke Gardens

Another top attraction in Durham is the Museum of Life and Science, where you can explore interactive exhibits, learn about wildlife, and even walk through a butterfly house.

Durham is also home to Duke University, one of the youngest research facilities in the U.S. It’s renowned for its stunning architecture and the magnificent Chapel, one of the city’s most prominent landmarks. And basketball fans should not miss the Duke Basketball Museum.

With its blend of history, culture, and natural beauty, Durham has something for everyone. Read our full guide on things to do in Durham on our travel website.

Places to Stay in Durham:

Wilmington, North Carolina

Lady walking along a riverfront boardwalk with a bridge in the distance.
Wilmington Riverfront
  • Distance from Raleigh: 131 miles
  • Drive time: 2 hours

For those who are looking for a beach getaway from Raleigh, the charming city of Wilmington is a coastal city that offers a plethora of attractions and activities to enjoy. 

Boasting picturesque scenery, Wilmington is a destination for anyone who loves the great outdoors, such as Wrightsville Beach, located just a short 10-minute drive outside the city center. This five-mile beach has pristine sandy shores and clean and clear waters, making it the perfect destination for beach lovers.

One of the must-see attractions in Wilmington is Airlie Gardens, a historic botanical garden known for its stunning landscapes and efforts to preserve the natural environment of Wilmington. 

Downtown street scene with shops, cars and people.
Downtown Wilmington

Wilmington is also all about history. Don’t miss a chance to explore the historic Battleship North Carolina. This iconic World War II battleship is a retired navy vessel that has been transformed into an interactive museum, offering nine decks of maritime history. You can explore exhibits such as the Crew’s Quarters, the Engine Room, and the Gun House. 

For a further step back in time, head to the vibrant Historic District, with its cobblestone streets, boutique shops, and historic architecture. Soak in the tranquil atmosphere as you stroll along the Riverwalk, lined with restaurants, cafes, and stunning views of the Cape Fear River.

Read our in-depth guide on things to do in Wilmington including what to see, eat, drink and where to stay.

Popular Tours in Wilmington:

Places to Stay in Wilmington:

Charlotte, North Carolina  

City skyline with buildings and trees.
Downtown Charlotte. Image by DepositPhotos.com
  • Distance from Raleigh: 167.5 miles
  • Drive time: 2 hours 35 minutes

Although Raleigh is the capital of North Carolina, Charlotte is the largest city and is the state’s banking hub. But Charlotte also offers plenty for visitors, from lively nightlife and entertainment to sporting events.

Adrenalin seekers can ride big roller coasters at the Carowinds theme park, and the U.S. Whitewater Center offers rafting, kayaking, paddle boarding, zip lines and more.

A top attraction is the NASCAR Hall of Fame, where racing car enthusiasts can revel in the history and excitement of the sport – see interactive exhibits, take selfies with historic cars, and learn about some of the greatest drivers of all time.

Art lovers don’t miss the Mint Museum, which has two campuses in the city: Randolph and Uptown. Each campus holds an extensive collection of American and European art, including works by renowned artists such as Pablo Picasso, Roy Halston Frowick, and Andy Warhol in the Uptown campus.

Rollercoaster at a theme park in Charlotte, NC.
Carowinds theme park

Nature lovers can explore the beautiful Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, with its stunning displays of flowers and plants, or take a stroll along the Little Sugar Creek Greenway, a picturesque urban trail.

Football fans can see a Carolina Panthers game at Bank of America Stadium, consider catching the Amtrak from Raleigh that stops in downtown Charlotte near the stadium.

NoDa (North of Davidson) is known as the vibrant arts district with cool cafes, breweries, restaurants and of course street art.

Popular Tours in Charlotte:

Places to Stay in Charlotte:

Richmond, Virginia

City skyline overlooking trees and a river.
Richmond. Image: DepositPhotos.com
  • Distance from Raleigh: 154.5 miles
  • Drive time: 2 hours 30 minutes

Another historic city near Raleigh that’s easily accessible is Richmond in Virginia. As the capital of Virginia, Richmond holds significant historical importance as it was once the capital of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War.

As such, many of the city’s top attractions revolve around its Civil War and political history, such as the American Civil War Museum and Hollywood Cemetery, the final resting place of notable figures such as Jefferson Davis and James Monroe. 

Other top attractions are the Virginia State Capitol and The White House of the Confederacy, which was the former residence of Jefferson Davis from 1861 to 1865.

Historic white building with grass and flowers out front.
Virginia Statehouse. Image by DepositPhotos.com

Art lovers should not miss a visit to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, renowned for its diverse collection of art, from ancient Egyptian artifacts to more contemporary masterpieces.

Richmond also has a vibrant food scene, with craft breweries and trendy eateries dotted all over the city.

Popular Tours in Richmond:

Places to Stay in Richmond:

Roanoke, Virginia


  • Distance from Raleigh: 155.3 miles
  • Drive time: 3 hours

Nestled in the heart of the Blue Mountains is the beautiful city of Roanoke, Virginia. Known for its railroad history and picturesque location surrounded by lush mountainous nature, it’s the perfect city to visit if you want a more relaxed vacation.

One of the top things to do in Roanoke is the Mill Mountain Star & Park, which gives Roanoke its nickname ‘The Magic City’ because it’s the second largest illuminated man-made star in the world. From here, you can enjoy breathtaking views of the city and explore the surrounding nature. 

The Virginia Museum of Transportation is another highlight of Roanoke, showcasing an impressive collection of vintage automobiles, trains, and aviation artifacts.

Mill Mountain Star & Park

For history enthusiasts, don’t miss the O. Winston Link Museum which is another opportunity to learn about the region’s railroad history through captivating works of photography. 

If you love museums, then be sure to visit The Center in the Square, a cultural hub housing multiple museums, including the Science Museum of Western Virginia and the Harrison Museum of African American Culture.

Of course, don’t miss out on a chance to hike the picturesque Blue Ridge Parkway, where you can hike to the famous McAfee Knob for stunning vistas, or stroll along the Roanoke Valley Greenways.

Places to Stay in Roanoke:

Williamsburg, Virginia

People watching a reenactment with soldiers in front of a brick building.
Colonial Williamsburg is a living history museum and a step back in time.
  • Distance from Raleigh: 199 miles
  • Drive time: 3 hours 10 minutes

Another city relatively close to Raleigh known for its Civil War history is Williamsburg in Virginia. In fact, the entire city of Williamsburg is a living museum of American history.

One of the top things to do in Williamsburg is a visit to Colonial Williamsburg. This open-air living history museum transports you back to the 18th century, where you can explore restored buildings, interact with costumed interpreters, and experience life as it was during the Revolutionary era.

Mom and daughter walking down a street with buildings and trees
Step back in time.

Another must-visit attraction is the Jamestown Settlement, another living history museum where you can glimpse into the first permanent English settlement in America and explore recreated ships, a Powhatan Indian village, and a replica fort.

Despite being known for its plethora of historical landmarks, it’s not all about history in Williamsburg. If you’re looking to visit a city near Raleigh with kids, here are fun attractions in Williamsburg with kids including Busch Gardens, which provides an action-packed day of roller coasters, live shows, and games.

With its historical significance, visiting Williamsburg is like stepping back in time, and promises to be an educational experience for all ages.

Popular Tours of Williamsburg:

Places to Stay in Williamsburg:

Columbia, South Carolina  

Palm tree in front of a big historic building.
State House. Image by depositphotos.com
  • Distance from Raleigh: 227.4 miles
  • Drive time: 3 hours 30 minutes

Columbia is the second largest city in South Carolina and is known for its excellent shopping and entertainment opportunities. 

Columbia’s Main Street District is the perfect place for shopping enthusiasts to stroll along and do some window shopping. The Soda City Market is another vibrant place where you can shop for boutique and artisan offerings, as well as dive into the tasty foodie scene. 

The biggest of the attractions in Columbia is the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, which is a huge 170-acre park and botanical garden that’s home to over 2,000 animals. The South Carolina State House is another notable landmark, showcasing stunning architecture and providing insight into the state’s history.

Pond with a building reflection and surrounded by trees.
Finlay Park. Image by depositphotos.com

For art enthusiasts, check out the Columbia Museum of Art, which offers a diverse collection of modern and contemporary art, while history buffs can explore the Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens.

Outdoor enthusiasts will love exploring the Saluda Riverwalk, an easy 7-mile trail next to the Saluda River.

Places to Stay in Columbia:

Asheville, North Carolina

Aerial photo of a city center with buildings and cars and mountains in the background.
Downtown Asheville
  • Distance from Raleigh: 247.4 miles
  • Drive time: 3 hours 50 minutes

Another beautiful city in the Blue Ridge Mountains is Asheville, North Carolina, which is possibly the most well-known gateway to the mountains. With its vibrant arts scene, breathtaking natural beauty, and rich history, Asheville is a city worth pinning on the map.

Visitors are attracted to it’s exceptional food and beverage scene, but also to use it as a base to explore the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest, where hiking, biking, and waterfall exploration abound. 

A top attraction in Asheville is the River Arts District, located in downtown Asheville. Here you’ll find an eclectic collection of galleries and studios, as well as an abundance of murals and street art.

Family in front of the mansion
Biltmore House

For history buffs, be sure to check out the iconic Biltmore Estate. This magnificent mansion, built by George Vanderbilt, is a marvel of architecture and offers immersive tours, stunning gardens, and wine tastings. We also loved our stay at the Biltmore Inn on the estate.

Asheville also has a thriving food and craft beer scene, with numerous farm-to-table restaurants and breweries showcasing local ingredients and flavors. See our full 48 hour guide to downtown Asheville.

Popular Tours in Asheville:

Places to Stay in Asheville:

Charleston, South Carolina   

Street scene with palm trees and colorful buildings.
Charleston. Image credit: depositphotos.com
  • Distance from Raleigh: 263.9 miles
  • Drive time: 4 hours

Although a little too far for a day trip from Raleigh, Charleston in South Carolina is brimming with picturesque streets, trendy restaurants, and a wide range of coastal attractions, which is why it’s most often associated with a romantic retreat. It’s famous for its charming architecture, year-round pleasant weather, and good ol’ Southern hospitality. 

One of the top things to see and do in Charleston is to explore the historic Battery and White Point Garden. This beautiful waterfront promenade offers stunning views of Fort Sumter and the Charleston Harbor.

Another landmark for history buffs is Fort Sumter National Monument. This iconic fort played a significant role in the American Civil War and offers a glimpse into the country’s past.

Path leading between magnificent oak trees.
Tree lined plantation entrance. Image: depositphotos.com

Charleston’s culinary scene, however, is one of its biggest draws. With a variety of restaurants serving up delicious Lowcountry cuisine, from fresh seafood to traditional Gullah dishes, anyone visiting Charleston can sample some of the best flavors of the region.

Don’t miss a chance to stroll down the historic district’s cobblestone streets, lined with colorful row houses, is like stepping back in time, particularly Rainbow Row, which is a series of perfectly preserved historic homes that make for the ultimate backdrop for photographers.

Popular Tours of Charleston:

Places to Stay in Charleston:

Greenville, South Carolina

River running through the center of a town with trees and buildings.
Downtown Greenville. Image: depositphotos.com
  • Distance from Raleigh: 263.9 miles
  • Drive time: 4 hours

Although not a big city, Greenville in South Carolina is somewhat of a hidden gem nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s known for its ‘Deep South’ heritage and picturesque landscapes, as well as the vibrant downtown area which has all its attractions within walkable distance.

No trip to Greenville would be complete without exploring Falls Park on the Reedy, which is considered the birthplace of Greenville. This lush, green oasis in the heart of the city is known for its cascading Reedy Falls waterfall and Liberty Bridge pedestrian bridge.

City skyline with green trees and grass.
Greenville. Image: depositphotos.com

Greenville is also home to many hiking and biking trails. The Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail offers miles of scenic biking and walking paths along the Reedy River, whereas Cleveland Park and Paris Mountain State Park are perfect for picnics, hiking, and relaxing in nature.

Greenville also has a thriving arts scene, which can be best seen at the Greenville County Museum of Art and the Upcountry History Museum. And The Peace Center is a hub for performing arts, offering world-class theater productions and concerts.

Popular tours in Greenville:

Places to Stay in Greenville:

Washington D.C.

Mom and daughters riding bikes with a pond and monument behind them.
Biking DC near the Washington Monument
  • Distance from Raleigh: 278 miles
  • Drive time: 4 hours, 30 minutes

Washington D.C. needs little introduction being the home of the U.S. Government including The White House and The Capitol Building. DC is also a city of fantastic museums and monuments and an international food scene to rival anywhere else in the country.

One of the best things to do in DC is explore the incredible National Mall area, a huge landscaped park near downtown that comprises monuments, museums, and parks. It connects many of the city’s top attractions and landmarks.

Some of the top museums include the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, National Archives Museum, International Spy Museum, National Gallery of Art, and the National Museum of African American History. See the full list here.

Mom and daughter walking down a street with colorful brick buildings and trees.
Georgetown is great to explore.

Doing a tour of the Capitol Building is fascinating and interesting, as is the Library of Congress and its incredible architecture. And one of the best things about visiting D.C. is many of its top attractions are free, and it’s a great city to walk around.

Read our complete 3 day itinerary to Washington DC that include what to see, do, eat and how to get around.

Popular Tours in D.C:

Places to Stay in D.C:

Savannah, Georgia

Cobblestone street and shopfronts with street lights in Savannah, Georgia.
River Street. Image by depositphotos.com
  • Distance from Raleigh: 323.8 miles
  • Drive time: 4 hours 50 minutes

Savannah is a city teeming with charm, history, and Southern hospitality. With its cobblestone streets, antebellum architecture, and enchanting squares, it’s the perfect vacation getaway from Raleigh.

One of Savannah’s most well-known attractions is the Historic Landmark District, a beautifully preserved area that’s home to stunning architecture, such as the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Forsyth Park, and River Street.

Dive into Savannah’s past by visiting sites like Bonaventure Cemetery and the Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters, as well as The First African Baptist Church and Pin Point Heritage Museum, where you can learn more about the city’s African American heritage.

A fountain in a city park with oak trees.
Forsyth Park. Image by depositphotos.com

If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, Savannah’s location on the coast provides ample opportunities for some peace and quiet. Head to Tybee Island for some amazing beaches or visit Skidaway Island State Park for 6 miles of walking trails through forest, marshes, and salt flats.

Popular Tours in Savannah:

Places to Stay in Savannah:

Knoxville, Tennessee

Bridge crossing a river with buildings in the background.

  • Distance from Raleigh: 360.3 miles
  • Drive time: 5 hours 40 minutes

Located on the Tennessee River, Knoxville is a buzzing city known for its art scene, lush nature, and former enterprise in marble production. Whether you’re looking for relaxation or entertainment, there are plenty of things to do in Knoxville.

The vibrant hub of Knoxville is Market Square, a bustling hub of shops, restaurants, and entertainment. Here, you can enjoy live music, browse local boutiques, and taste the local flavors of Tennessee.

Girl looking up at a monument shaped like a sphere.
Sunsphere in Knoxville

For nature enthusiasts, be sure to check out Ijams Nature Center, with its 12+ miles of hiking trails, scenic viewpoints, and stunning Mead’s Quarry Lake, made from the old quarry, it offers the perfect opportunity to connect with nature.

Art lovers will fall in love with Knoxville, which has an impressive collection of art in The Knoxville Museum of Art, while the Clarence Brown Theatre, part of the University of Tennessee, offers wonderful performances.

Places to Stay in Knoxville:

Atlanta, Georgia 

City skyline and cars driving down a freeway.
Downtown Atlanta. Image: depositphotos.com
  • Distance from Raleigh: 406.6 miles
  • Drive time: 6 hours 40 minutes

Although a solid drive from Raleigh, Atlanta can be worth the trek. It’s a dynamic city that has the perfect blend of historic and modern attractions. 

One of the top attractions in Atlanta is the Georgia Aquarium, which was the largest aquarium in the world until 2012 when it was overtaken by S.E.A. Aquarium in Singapore.

Still, the aquarium is one of the top reasons to visit Atlanta and has many mesmerizing underwater exhibits and interactive experiences to enjoy.

A large shark swimming in an aquarium and lots of people looking.
Georgia Aquarium. Image: depositphotos.com

Atlanta is most famous for being home to Martin Luther King Jr. You can pay your respects to this national hero at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, which is a significant landmark that preserves the legacy of the civil rights movement. 

The Atlanta History Center offers a deeper dive into the city’s past, showcasing artifacts and exhibits that tell the story of Atlanta’s evolution.

For those visiting with kids, don’t miss out on unique attractions such as the World of Coca-Cola and Centennial Olympic Park.

Popular Tours in Atlanta:

Places to Stay in Atlanta:

Jacksonville, Florida

Bridge across a river leading to a city skyline.
Jacksonville. Image by depositphotos.com
  • Distance from Raleigh: 454.5 miles
  • Drive time: 6 hours 40 minutes

You might not think Florida is within easy reach of Raleigh, but Jacksonville is less than an 8-hour drive and is the perfect city near Raleigh to visit if you want some sub-tropical sunshine.

Known for its beautiful beaches, urban parks, lively entertainment scene, and rich history, there is no shortage of things to see and do in this coastal city.

One of the top attractions in Jacksonville is the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, where you can both appreciate displays of stunning artwork and stroll through picturesque gardens. For those traveling with kids, don’t miss The Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens, offering an up-close encounter with exotic wildlife.

Beach town on the ocean with buildings and palm trees.
Jacksonville Beach. Image by depositphotos.com

For outdoor enthusiasts, Jacksonville’s beaches are a paradise. Whether it’s lounging on the sandy shores of Jacksonville Beach or exploring the pristine dunes of Amelia Island, there’s no shortage of pristine sandy shores to relax on.

History buffs will enjoy exploring the Kingsley Plantation, which tells the story of the area’s plantation history, located in the wetlands of Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve. 

Popular Tours in Jacksonville:

Places to Stay in Jacksonville:

Chattanooga, Tennessee   

Girl kayaking down a river with a bridge in the distance.
Outdoors galore!
  • Distance from Raleigh: 470.6 miles
  • Drive time: 7 hours 20 minutes

Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Chattanooga is a scenic city known as The Gateway to the South, due to its location on the southern border of Tennessee

Most people visit Chattanooga for its endless hiking opportunities, such as exploring Lookout Mountain. This majestic mountain is not only a hiker’s paradise, but it’s home to landmarks like Rock City, a collection of unique rock formations with breathtaking views of seven states. 

Waterfall into a pond in the mountains.
View from Lovers Leap, Rock City Garden on Lookout Mountain

For history enthusiasts, a visit to the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park is a must. This historic site played a significant role in the Civil War as the place where the Rebels broke through Union lines and besieged the Federals.

Another must-visit attraction for those thinking of visiting Chattanooga with kids is the Tennessee Aquarium, which underwent an expansion in 2005 and now includes an IMAX movie theater. 

Of course, Chattanooga’s downtown area is a bustling hub of activity. It’s the perfect place for leisurely strolls in the evening and for chances to try Tennessee’s southern cuisine. 

Popular Tours in Chattanooga:

Places to Stay in Chattanooga:

Lexington, Kentucky 

City skyline in the distance with green grass and a fence in the foreground.
Lexington. Image by designphotos.com
  • Distance from Raleigh: 493.7 miles
  • Drive time: 7 hours 50 minutes

Lexington is the second largest city in Kentucky and is brimming with history, southern hospitality, and scenic beauty. Known for its equestrian heritage that gave it the nickname “Horse Capital of the World” and its abundance of cultural attractions, Lexington has a lot to offer.

Of course, no trip to The Horse Capital of The World would be complete without visiting the Kentucky Horse Park, an equine-themed attraction that’s all about horses. From horse shows, interactive exhibits, and pony rides, this is the place to be if you have kids who are obsessed with horses.

Horses grazing on grass in a paddock.
Image by depositphotos.com

But it’s not all about horses in Lexington, for bourbon enthusiasts, don’t miss a chance to visit the James E. Pepper Distillery. This historic distillery offers tours where you can learn about the art of bourbon making and sample some of their award-winning spirits.

Another popular attraction in Lexington is Ashland: The Henry Clay Estate, which is the former home of one of America’s most influential statesmen. The Mary Todd Lincoln House is another significant landmark, providing insight into the life of the former First Lady of Abraham Lincoln.

Popular Tours in Lexington:

Places to Stay in Lexington:

Nashville, Tennessee 

People standing on a bridge having a photo taken with city buildings in the background.
Nashville is fun for all the family!
  • Distance from Raleigh: 538.6 miles
  • Drive time: 8 hours 30 minutes

Ok, so it’s not exactly a city near Raleigh, but Nashville in Tennessee is one of the most influential cities in the United States, so it has to make a spot on this list. 

Known as the “Music City,” Nashville is most famous for its live music scene and has more than 180 music venues in the city and is the birthplace of several musical legends.

If you want to get familiar with the musical heritage of the city, head to the Grand Ole Opry, a renowned country music venue that has hosted legendary artists for decades. 

Family standing in front of a giant guitar.
The Grand Ole Opry

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is another must-visit attraction in Nashville, as well as Broadway, a district where live music pours out from every honky-tonk bar. Explore the Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry, and catch a show at this iconic venue.

Aside from music, Nashville has plenty of things to do with kids and an awesome food scene. And it also has a rich history. Head over to the Belle Meade Plantation, a preserved mansion that offers a glimpse into the city’s past. 

Popular Tours in Nashville:

Places to Stay in Nashville:

One of things we love about living in Raleigh is the great central east coast location and that there are these awesome cities near Raleigh within driving distance. And there are excellent day trips from Raleigh too!

Which of these destinations are you heading too next? Any other places we should add to this list?

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