Since first moving to Raleigh, NC, in 2004 and starting this website in April 2020, we’ve received a lot of questions about living in Raleigh and what is there to do in Raleigh for those who visit? This post is for you!
Down below I’m going to share some interesting facts about Raleigh, NC, plus answer some of the most frequently asked questions we get about Raleigh, North Carolina.
Like many cities across the USA, we find Raleigh’s history fascinating and even after living here for a total of 9 years now we are still discovering so much!
We had never heard of the city of Raleigh until 2003 when Caroline joined a cultural teaching program based in Chapel Hill that recruited her to teach elementary school in Raleigh.
Prior to moving to Raleigh in 2004, we had previously lived in Dublin-Ireland, London-England, Bangkok-Thailand, and of course our home country of Australia (near Sydney). You can learn more about us here.
I have broken this post down into three categories; About Raleigh, Living in Raleigh, and Visiting Raleigh.
So if you’re ready to learn about some cool history, interesting things to do here, foods the locals love, fun events, best neighborhoods to live in, and so much more, read on!
How did Raleigh get its name?
Raleigh in the capital of North Carolina and was officially named after the English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh who attempted to establish the first English colony on the shores of the new world in the 1580s.
Born in 1552, he grew up in the house of Hayes Barton in South Devon. He became a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I because of his efforts at increasing the Protestant Church in Ireland. In 1585, Raleigh was knighted.
But when the Queen died in 1603, Raleigh was arrested and charged with treason for his involvement in the Main Plot against Elizabeth’s successor, James I, and imprisoned in the Tower of London.
Raleigh was beheaded in the Old Palace Yard at the Palace of Westminster in 1618. His head was embalmed and presented to his wife. His body was laid to rest in St. Margaret’s, Westminster, where his tomb may still be visited today.
When was Raleigh founded?
Raleigh was founded in 1792 but wasn’t always the capital city of NC. When North Carolina was a colony, the capital was in New Bern and Edenton at different times.
But because these coastal locations were easy to attack, it was decided the capital needed to be moved. Initially, the legislature used a rotation system, meeting in six different towns, including Raleigh and Fayetteville.
The site was selected in 1788, and the city was laid off from a tract of forest in 1792, soon after the American Revolution, when North Carolina moved its capital westward from the seaboard.
Raleigh was established as the county seat in 1771 under the name Wake County Courthouse; the name was changed to Raleigh, in honor of Sir Walter Raleigh, when the city became the capital in 1792.
Where is Raleigh located?
Raleigh is located on the East Coast of the USA about halfway between New York City and Florida, in the northeast central region of North Carolina, where the Piedmont and Atlantic Coastal Plain regions meet.
Interstate 40 (I-40) runs past the outskirts of downtown, and Interstate 95 (I-95) is also close by and the main interstate on the East Coast that will take you to Florida or New England
For directions from your starting point, click on the above Google map.
What cities are near Raleigh?
One of the great things about living in Raleigh is its central location on the East Coast and within driving distance to these other cities:
- Durham: 24 miles
- Charlotte: 167 miles
- Asheville: 241 miles
- Washington D.C: 278 miles
- Atlanta: 407 miles
- Philadelphia: 417 miles
- NYC: 487 miles
- Nashville: 539 miles
- Orlando: 594 miles
Fun fact: More than half of the US population lives within a day’s drive from Raleigh.
What County is Raleigh in?
Most of Raleigh is located within Wake County, with a very small portion extending into Durham County.
Wake County was named for Margaret Wake Tryon, the wife of royal governor William Tryon. All up there are 12 municipalities within Wake County:
- Holly Springs
- Wake Forest
What is the Population of Raleigh?
According to the 2019 U.S. Census, the population of Raleigh is 474,069. It is the 2nd most populous city in North Carolina (behind Charlotte) and the 41st most populous city in the USA.
Wake County has an estimated population of 1,111,761 (2019) and is now the largest county in North Carolina.
The racial makeup of Raleigh in 2019 was:
- 52.5% non-Hispanic white
- 28.3% Black or African American
- 12.5% Hispanic or Latin American of any race
- 4.0% Asian American
- 0.4% American Indian or Alaska Native
- 0.1% from some other race
The predominant religion in Raleigh is Christianity, with the largest numbers of adherents being:
- Baptist (14.1%)
- Methodist (5.6%)
- Roman Catholic (4.2%)
- Presbyterianism (2.8%)
- Pentecostalism (1.7%)
- Anglican/Episcopalianism (1.2%)
- Lutheranism (0.6%)
- the Latter-Day Saints (0.7%)
- other Christian denominations (10.2%).
Does Raleigh have a nickname?
Raleigh is nicknamed the “City of Oaks” for its sheer number of majestic oak trees which line the streets.
The area is also nicknamed “The Triangle”.
Raleigh is part of the Research Triangle area, together with Durham and Chapel Hill. The “Triangle” nickname began after the 1959 plan and construction of the Research Triangle Park, in Durham and Wake Counties.
If you draw a line between Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, the shape is a Triangle.
Other nicknames include:
- Oak City
- Raleighites (locals)
How Big is Raleigh?
The city of Raleigh occupies a total area of 144.0 square miles, of which 142 square miles is land and 0.97 square miles (or 0.76%) is covered by water – the Neuse River flows through the northeast end of the city.
Raleigh is 434 feet above sea level.
Why do they say Y’ALL?
The word y’all is ubiquitous among native Southerners. Y’all is a subject pronoun that addresses two or more people. It’s the contraction of “you” and “all.” And all y’all is the plural of y’all, at least in some areas of the south.
You may have driven past the Welcome to Raleigh Y’all mural? If not, it was created to promote equality, inclusion, and tolerance and “Welcome to Raleigh Y’all” is depicted in 17 different languages.
It’s still funny to me how much Southerners love hearing our Aussie accent and often say “ya’ll talk real pretty”.
So there you have it. You’re welcome, ya’ll.
What food is Raleigh known for?
While the restaurant scene is thriving with endless places to eat in Raleigh and an exciting mix of traditional southern food and global flavors, below are the classic Raleigh food experiences to try.
- Barbecue – NC is a bbq state and they take their barbecue seriously. Places for good bbq include; The Pit and Clyde Cooper’s in downtown, Old Time BBQ, Aviator SmokeHouse in Fuquay-Varina, Prime Barbecue in Knightdale.
- Fried chicken – they’re always frying things in the South, and Southern-fried chicken is a locals favorite. Popular places include; Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, The Mecca, and Clyde Cooper’s.
- Grits – corn-based dish that is best associated with Southern breakfasts. Get some at Big Ed’s City Market Restaurant or Angie’s Restaurant in Garner where they’re serving up Southern-style breakfasts all day.
- Biscuits – Southern comfort food and the bread of the South. Popular places include Real Biscuits at the State Farmers Market, Big Ed’s, and Jubala Coffee does amazing biscuits.
- Hush Puppies – another Southern specialty, and common with bbq or seafood. Local favorites are; N.C. Seafood Restaurant at the Farmer’s Market, Captain Stanley’s Seafood, Old Time BBQ and Clyde Cooper’s.
- Country Ham – a classic, Southern tradition that is aged, smoked, dried and cured to perfection. Try it for breakfast at Big Ed’s or The Mecca.
- Collard Greens – don’t forget to eat your greens as they say. Try 42nd St. Oyster Bar & Seafood Grill in Raleigh, Lucky 32 in Cary, Joyce and Family Restaurant in Fuquay-Varina.
- Mac & Cheese – popular side with a barbecue dinner or as a full entrée. Try at Clyde Cooper’s BBQ, the famous macaroni au gratin at Poole’s Diner, or at Relish Craft Kitchen & Bourbon Bar, a local mecca of mac & cheese.
- Fried Green Tomatoes – trendy Southern side dish featuring unripe tomatoes washed in egg and buttermilk, coated in cornmeal and fried. Try at The Pit, Tobacco Road Sports Café, Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing, Relish, Tupelo Honey.
- Sweet Potato Pie – N.C. is the leading producer of sweet potatoes, so try sweet potato pie at Slice Pie Company
180 Miles of Greenway Trails
If you love walking or biking on trails, you’ll love the fact that the Raleigh area has 180 miles of greenway trails to explore.
Popular trails include:
- American Tobacco Trail (23-mile trail running along an abandoned railroad bed)
- Nause River Greenway (27-mile paved trail stretching from Falls Lake in North Raleigh to the Wake County border line in southeast Raleigh)
- Art to Heart Trail (6 mile trail connecting the NC Museum of Art to Downtown Raleigh)
- Lake Johnson Park (paved three-mile greenway loop)
- Umstead State Park
First shopping center between Washington D.C. and Atlanta
When it opened in 1949 with three stores and one restaurant, Cameron Village Shopping Center became the first shopping center between Washington D.C. and Atlanta., and a Raleigh Tradition was born.
Raleigh is often referred to as the “Smithsonian of the South”.
Raleigh is well known for its quality and quantity of free museums in Raleigh, and has often been referred to as the “Smithsonian of the South”. Three major state museums call the city home:
- North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences – with 1.2 million visitors annually it is North Carolina’s most visited museum and the Southeast’s largest natural history museum.
- North Carolina Museum of Art – became the first state art museum in the country in 1947.
- North Carolina Museum of History – founded in 1902, on display is more than 14,000 years and 150,000 artifacts of North Carolina history.
First public park in North Carolina
Pullen Park and its 66 acres of land was the first public park in North Carolina and the 5th oldest operating amusement park in the U.S.
It’s located on Ashe Avenue and adjacent to the Main and Centennial campuses of North Carolina State University.
Home to the first historically black university in the South
Shaw University is the first historically Black institution of higher education in the South and among the oldest in the nation. The University was founded in 1865 by Henry Martin Tupper, a native of Monson, Massachusetts, a soldier in the Union Army during the Civil War, and a graduate of Amherst College and Newton Theological Seminary.
The Capitol building was originally designed as a tomb
The NC State Capitol Building was originally designed as a tomb for the wife of Governor Montfort Stokes. When it was discovered that the architect had built it using the wrong scale, it was decided the building would be better employed as a legislative meeting place.
Built of local stone in 1840, the Capitol building replaced the previous stuccoed-brick State House destroyed by fire in 1831. It is now National Historic Landmark and one of the best-preserved examples of Greek Revival-style architecture.
There’s a statue of George Washington dressed as a Roman general in its rotunda.
5th largest cathedral in the US
The Roman Catholic Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral — located at 715 Nazareth St.cost $46 million to build in 2015 and is the fifth-largest cathedral in the US. The cathedral accommodates more than 2,000 worshippers.
What is the tallest building in Raleigh?
The tallest building in Raleigh is the 32 story PNC Plaza on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh which rises 538 feet and was completed in 2008. It’s also the tallest building in NC outside of Charlotte.
Second tallest is the Two Hannover Square (BB&T building) which rises 431 feet and built in 1991.
Third tallest is the Wells Fargo Capitol Center building, also in downtown, and rises 400 feet.
The City of Raleigh Flag is Double Sided
Raleigh is perhaps the only American city flag to feature different designs on the obverse and reverse.
Both sides feature a similar red-white-red vertical triband that represents Sir Walter Raleigh, the English for whom the city is named.
Symbols: The front side represents the City of Oaks with an oak tree + acorns, and the crest on the back is Sir Walter Raleigh’s coat of arms. The deer is used in the coat of arms because the Anglo-Saxon meaning of the word Raleigh is “meadow of the deer.”
Largest selection of beers on tap
In case you don’t know, Raleigh Beer Garden offers the world’s largest selection of beers on tap, 350+ beers, even made official by the folks from the Guinness Book of Records.
This massive 8,500 square foot venue over 3 levels has tons of outdoor space, a back garden patio and a rooftop bar and an ever changing selection of beers!
What are the Raleigh Sister Cities?
Raleigh became associated with the Sister Cities program in 1986 and now has partnerships with five cities:
- Kingston Upon Hull, England
- Compiegne, France
- Rostock, Germany
- Xiangyang, China
- and Nairobi, Kenya.
Living in Raleigh
What is the Cost of living in Raleigh NC?
The cost of living, in particular real estate, has risen in the past 5 years due to low inventory and high demand!
More and more people are moving to Raleigh from out of state due to the quality of life and how affordable it is.
On the website Payscale.com, the cost of living in Raleigh is 5% lower than the national average, and 58.7% lower than NYC, and housing is 85.2% lower than NYC!
And Realtor.com named Raleigh the most affordable alternative “kindred city” to San Francisco.
- What is the median income in Raleigh? The median household income in Raleigh (2018) is $69,333
- How much do houses cost in Raleigh? The medium home value is $311,826
- How much are rents in Raleigh? Average apartment rent ranges $1,001-$1,500 p/m
- What are the taxes in Raleigh? Income tax is a flat rate of 5.25%. Sale tax is currently 4.75%
Does Raleigh Have Public Transport?
Raleigh is predominantly a driving city. You won’t find a train system here like in New York City or Chicago, but otherwise getting around Raleigh is easy.
The GoRaleigh bus service currently serves local and regional buses and is headquartered downtown at the GoRaleigh bus station in Moore Square (214 S Blount St, Raleigh, NC 27601). For fares and passes info go here.
RLine buses, the free downtown circulator run approximately every 15-minutes, with the full route taking about 30-minutes to complete and whether you’re a visitor or resident it’s a handy way to get around downtown.
The Wolfline bus service, NC State University’s bus service not only serves the students but also the general public fare-free (no sudent id required). Wolfline buses operate every day classes are in session.
Getting around Raleigh
Interstate 440 (I-440) is also known as the Raleigh Beltline, the Cliff Benson Beltline, or simply The Beltline encircles downtown Raleigh with numerous exits to all parts of the city.
It travels in both directions, clockwise and anti-clockwise (or east/west).
Related Post: Getting around Raleigh (by car, bus, bike, or walking)
What are the best neighborhoods in Raleigh for living?
Looking for houses for sale in Raleigh? All up, Raleigh is home to seven different areas, plus 12 charming towns to explore. I hope this short-list gives you a helpful overview.
Inside the Beltline (ITB)
One of Raleigh’s first planned suburbs from 1907, and added to the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district in 1985. Craftsman bungalows sit along with transitional Queen Anne/Colonial Revivals and Dutch Colonials.
Raleigh’s oldest neighborhood dating back to the late 18th century. Quaint and charming homes, tree-lined streets, quiet roads, and a rich history. 5 minute drive to downtown Raleigh.
Quirky area named for where five historic neighborhoods converge at the five-point street intersection. Tree lined streets, bungalows, Colonial Revival style homes, one to two story single family homes, estate homes, patio homes and townhomes. 2 miles to downtown Raleigh.
A historic district that dates all the way back to the 1800’s that rose after the Civil War. Home to magnificent oak trees and a combination of restored Grand Victorians built in the 1800s, modest bungalows of the 1920s, and new construction. 1 mile north east of downtown Raleigh.
One of the Five Points neighborhoods, and one of the premier Raleigh neighborhoods and most popular places to live in Raleigh inside the beltline. Georgian, Colonial, Tudor, Craftsman, Bungalow and contemporary designs.
Bordered by Hillsborough Street and the Cameron Village Shopping Center, an historic neighborhood that occupies a key location near NC State University (north campus) and St Mary’s School. One of Raleigh’s most attractive family neighborhoods.
Little less historic than Cameron Park, but a little more affordable. In fact, Cameron Village could be considered the best bargain in downtown Raleigh. Ranch-style homes, apartments, condos, single family homes and student rentals.
Related post: 10 best neighborhoods in Raleigh (inside the beltline)
Southwest of Raleigh
Even though Cary is home to 160,000 people, it retains the status of a town for its focus on a community atmosphere. Check out our downtown Cary guide. 10 miles to downtown Raleigh.
Equal distance from Raleigh and Durham. Known to have good schools and for its proximity to Research Triangle Park and the Raleigh-Durham area to name a few.
A tight knit community and charming main street. Convenient to downtown Raleigh and Research Triangle Park. 15 miles to downtown Raleigh.
Growing town that has been well planned and has kept its small-town vibe. Natural beauty, plenty of new homes in new communities. 19 miles to downtown Raleigh.
South of Raleigh
Just a stone’s throw from Raleigh. Small historic downtown with a suburban feel. A community packed with parks, fun events, shopping centers and cultural venues. 6 miles to downtown Raleigh.
Irresistible charming southern town center. Feels like your away from the hustle and bustle, but within easy reach of Raleigh. Older neighborhoods or new construction. 18 miles to downtown Raleigh. See our post on 19 things to do in Johnston County
Convenient to Raleigh yet maintains it’s small-town charm. Numerous historic sites, two downtown districts, locally owned restaurants. Old and new construction. 18 miles to downtown Raleigh.
Midtown Raleigh, or North Hills as locals know it, is a shopping and dining area named after a large 1950s-era neighborhood of the same name. Many of the communities nearby are closely knit, offer luxurious homes, and conveniently located near major thoroughfares.
A gorgeous Triangle area town with a rich history and a highly developed downtown community–full of unique shops and restaurants. 18 miles to downtown Raleigh.
Distinct, intimate neighborhoods, boasting century-old trees, sidewalks, playgrounds, clubhouse activities, tennis, swimming and golf.
Features large homes that are competitively priced in a well-established community and perfect for those seeking single-family homes.
One of the fastest-growing areas in Raleigh thanks in part to its location. Brier Creek touches Morrisville, and is a short drive to Durham, Chapel Hill, Cary, Downtown Raleigh, and Raleigh Airport.
Known for its beautifully landscaped streets, access to the Raleigh greenway system and the pocket parks and greenspaces located throughout the neighborhood.
Charming rural atmosphere with local attractions and access to major roads US-64, I-87, and I-540. Rich in beautiful homes of varying shapes, sizes, ages, and styles. 15 miles to downtown Raleigh.
Small community with a historic downtown with brick storefronts and cafes. New master-planned communities are turning this small town into a live-work-play destination. 20 miles to downtown Raleigh.
What are the top colleges in Raleigh?
A major draw to the Raleigh area are the world-class educational institutions including 11 principal universities. Money Magazine ranked NC State as the #1 best public college in North Carolina for your money, and #4 veterinary medicine program nationally!
Public universities in Raleigh:
- North Carolina State University – a powerhouse in engineering, math, technology and science.
- Wake Tech – the largest community college in the state
Private universities in Raleigh:
- Meredith College – a women’s liberal arts college and coeducational graduate school.
- William Peace University – a private college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church.
- St. Augustine’s University – a private historically black college.
- Shaw University is the first historically Black institution
- Campbell University Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law
- Skema Business School, the first French Business School to open a campus in the USA
Private, for profit:
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill) is the nation’s first public university and one of the best universities in the world, is 40 minutes away.
Duke University, a private research university and often referred to as the “Harvard of the South”, is 30 minutes away.
How are schools in Raleigh?
Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) is now the largest school system in the state and the 15th largest school system in the nation, with more than 160,000 students and 19,000 employees.
Wake County Public Schools operate on both traditional and year-round calendars. Traditional schools begin after a 3-month summer break and take a short break between semesters in December.
At year-round schools, four “tracks” rotate between 9-week periods of classes and 3-week periods of breaks, so there are three “tracks” are always in school at any given time of year.
In Wake County, students are assigned to a base elementary, middle, and high school for their home address. Find your base school using their address look-up tool.
Your base school may have an enrollment cap. You will still register for your base school. Learn more about how an enrollment cap might affect you.
- Total number of schools: 191
- Elementary: 116
- Middle: 37
- High: 29
Are schools good in Raleigh?
We can’t personally comment on the current state of the elementary, middle and high schools here in Wake County as our kids currently attend an online school (read more about that here).
The schools in Raleigh have always seemed highly rated, but as of the last few years the school system is in the news a lot.
It seems to have become a bit messy with the growth of the area and the system adjusting its districts regularly. But way back in 2010, GreatSchools.Org ranked Raleigh as the number 1 city for schools in the US.
We are considering putting our kids back into traditional school next calendar school year, so we’ll do more research then!
Who are the top employers in Raleigh area?
Looking for jobs in Raleigh? Wake County has become a center for banking, health care, education and a booming tech scene!
The major employers list below provides a snapshot of both public and private companies in Wake County and Research Triangle Park that employ 2,000 or more people.
- Duke University and Duke Health Systems: 41,206
- State of North Carolina: 24,083
- Wake County Public Schools: 17,000
- Wal-Mart: 16,200
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: 12,204
- WakeMed Health & Hospitals: 9,773
- NC State University: 9,019
- Food Lion: 8,600
- Target: 8,000
- IBM: 8,000
- UNC Rex Healthcare: 6,900
- SAS Institute, Inc: 5,567
- Harris Teeter: 5,346
- Cisco Systems: 5,000
- IQVIA: 4,570
- Wake County Government: 4,389
- Blue Cross & Blue Shield: 4,200
Get the full list here.
What other major companies are based in Raleigh?
Raleigh is just not about government and healthcare. Some of the flagship tech companies based here include:
- SAS Institute began as a project at NC State University and has 5,000+ employees at its world headquarters here in Cary.
- Red Hat, the world’s leading provider of enterprise open source solutions has its corporate headquarters in Downtown Raleigh.
- Cisco Systems is one of the Triangle’s largest tech employers with 4,000.
- IBM was one of the first tenants of RTP and their base here is the second largest operation only to India, employing over 14,000 people.
- Lenovo’s operational headquarters are here in Morrisville.
- Epic Games was originally founded in Maryland but moved to Cary in 1999.
- Bandwidth, who provide cloud-ready voice, messaging, and emergency service connectivity, is headquartered in Raleigh.
- Lulu, an online self-publishing company founded by Red Hat co-founder Bob Young.
- Citrix ShareFile, a cloud-based file sharing and storage service.
- Pendo, the analytics software company, was founded in Raleigh NC.
- And FreshBooks, accounting software for small businesses that we personally use, has one of its three offices here.
Raleigh is home to the largest Research Park in the USA
Raleigh-Durham is home to Research Triangle Park (RTP), one of the greatest technological research parks in the world with more than 200 companies and over 50,000 people with expertise in fields such as biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, microelectronics, chemicals, and environmental sciences.
Top employers include: IBM, Cisco, GlaxoSmithCline, Nortel Networks, Sony Ericsson, and Lenovo just to name a few.
RTP is centrally located between Raleigh (18 miles) and Durham (12 miles).
Raleigh is an educated city
According to the U.S. Census, in the Raleigh area over 50% of persons aged 25+ have a Bachelor’s Degree and 20% a doctorate.
Raleigh has been ranked 3rd on a list by Forbes for best places for business and careers. The future is exciting.
What grocery stores are in Raleigh?
Coming from Australia which has a much smaller population than the US, we aren’t used to having so many options. I know each state has their favorite grocery stores, but to me we are spoiled for choice here and have all the big name national stores, plus local favorites:
- CostCo (2 Raleigh locations + in Durham)
- Whole Foods (3 locations)
- Trader Joe’s (2 locations)
- Harris Teeter (endless)
- Publix (1 location)
- Wegmans (2 locations)
- Wal-Mart (endless)
- Lowes Foods (several)
- Food Lion (several)
- Aldi (7 locations)
- Lidl (2 locations)
- World Market (2 locations)
- Grand Asia Market (1 location)
What Sports Teams are based in Raleigh?
As for Pro Sports, in 1997 the National Hockey League’s Hartford Whalers announced their intention to move to Raleigh as the Carolina Hurricanes, becoming the city’s first and only major league professional sports franchise.
Teams in the Raleigh area:
- Carolina Hurricanes: National Hockey League (NHL)
- NC State University Wolfpack: ACC Conference
- North Carolina FC: United Soccer League
- North Carolina Courage: National Women’s Soccer League
- Carolina Mudcats: Single-A baseball
- Carolina Rollergirls: Women’s Flat Track Derby Association
- Raleigh Flyers: American Ultimate Disc League
What is the closest beach to Raleigh?
As Aussies who grew up on the beach, being within an easy drive to the Carolina coast was important to us.
We love that Interstate 40 runs past the outskirts of downtown and we can be at Wrightsville Beach (near Wilmington) in two hours – a straight shot down I-40.
Other beaches close to Raleigh are Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Top Sail Beach, Surf City, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and Myrtle Beach, SC.
- 1 day itinerary for Wrightsville Beach
- 8 fun day trips from Raleigh
- 20 best things to do in the Outer Banks
- Top things to do in Myrtle Beach, SC
What is the weather like in Raleigh?
Coming from Australia where we basically have two seasons, summer and winter, we really enjoy experiencing all four seasons, although Fall seems to be getting shorter each year!
Like much of the Southeast, Raleigh has a humid subtropical climate.
Winters are generally cool, with a normal January daily mean temperature of 41.0 °F. On average, there are 69 nights per year that drop to or below freezing, and only 2.7 days that fail to rise above freezing. Raleigh receives an average of 6.0 inches (15.2 cm) of snow in winter. Freezing rain and sleet also occur most winters, and occasionally the area experiences a major damaging ice storm.
Raleigh receives an average annual rainfall of 43.34 inches.
April is the driest month, with an average of 2.92 inches (74.2 mm) of precipitation.
July is the wettest month, owing to generally frequent, sometimes heavy, showers and thunderstorms.
Summers are hot and humid, with a normal July daily mean temperature of 80.0 °F. There are 48 days per year with highs at or above 90 °F (32 °C).
Autumn is similar to spring overall but has fewer days of rainfall, but greater potential for extremely heavy rainfall in a one/two day period, owing to occasional threat from tropical weather systems (hurricanes and tropical storms) packing torrential rainfall.
What is the traffic like in Raleigh?
We lived in Bangkok for 6 months, and if you know anything about Bangkok the traffic is chaotic. In fact, catching the public bus to my job in the center of the city it was quicker for me to get off 20-minutes out and walk the rest.
And we have also spent plenty of time driving in big US cities like NYC, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Atlanta, and spent plenty of time parked on a freeway in Los Angeles, so for us the traffic in Raleigh isn’t too bad.
But the area is growing and peak hour is the most congested time, especially on the I-440 beltline (which loops around downtown) and the I-40 corridor between Raleigh and Durham (and the Research Triangle Park).
The average commute time is about 26 minutes. About 78.4% of Wake County residents drove alone to work in 2019, which is similar to state and national averages. But it just depends upon where you live in Raleigh and where you have to commute to!
Of course 2020 has been a unique year with many people now working from home reducing the amount of cars on the road, and moving forward who knows how this will play out.
Raleigh shuts down when it snows!
It still makes me laugh how much Raleigh shuts down over a few inches of snow. As an Australian who grew up without snow in the winter, I thought ya’ll would have figured this out by now, I mean, winter comes around every year, lol.
Whilst Raleighites (locals) may be used to a little snow in winter, with so many people from the Northeast moving here I always wondered why everyone panics so much like we are going to be bunkered down for a month and hoards bread and milk (maybe you can add TP to the list in 2020).
But I guess they don’t have the equipment to clear the roads like they do in the Northeast.
And people from the Northeast tell me they don’t have the black-ice like we do here, which scares me way more than driving in snow!
I only just heard this the other day which made me laugh, but “milk sandwiches” are the thing around here in snow storms!
How to become like a Raleigh local, a Raleighite?
More and more people are moving to Raleigh from all over the USA, and from around the world, hello y’all.
And whether we visit a destination or become a resident we always like to do as the locals do, because the locals know best!
So how do you become like a true Raleigh local, a Raleighite?
Eat a burger at Char-Grill and The Players Retreat (PR)
It doesn’t get more old school Raleigh than Char-Grill, a local fast-food chain that’s been serving charcoal-grilled burgers fresh off the grill since 1959. Start with their famous ½ Hamburger Steak Sandwich.
The Players Retreat (PR to the locals) is a storied sports bar in Raleigh and a true landmark. Established in 1951, it’s the oldest continuously operating tavern between Atlanta and Washington D.C.
Popular burgers at the PR include the Bernie and Wolfpack Burger.
Attend the North Carolina State Fair
For rides, music, animals, and all the greasy fair food you can imagine, Raleigh locals flock to the annual State Fair each October, the largest annual event in the state which draws one million visitors over 11 days.
Eat BBQ (Eastern Style)
As mentioned, this is a BBQ state, but Raleigh is Eastern BBQ territory (vinegar based), not tomato based.
See a Wolfpack football game at Carter-Finley Stadium
Wolfpack fans and Raleigh locals have been cheering on the NC State football team at their home, the 60,0000 seat Carter Finley Stadium since 1966.
If you can’t get tickets to the game, at least join in on the pre-game tailgating fun – we’ve done both, but we are big UNC Tar Heels fans, shhh!
Eat a Krispy Kreme Doughnut
Krispy Kreme was founded in North Carolina, just a few hours up the road from Raleigh in Winston-Salem. But the second original store is in Raleigh, located at 549 N Person St. They love their Krispy Kreme doughnuts here, as you can see from the Krispy Kreme fun run. Watch our video here:
Dine at the Angus Barn
One of the most famous restaurants in Raleigh is the Angus Barn, and it’s definitely the most famous steak house. Great for all occasions, but especially for celebrating a birthday, an anniversary, or family get togethor.
Don’t miss their Chocolate Chess Pie!
See the acorn drop on New Years Eve
First Night Raleigh is the city’s big New Years Eve party in downtown Raleigh, culminating with the acorn drop as a nod to the city’s nickname “City of Oaks”.
Raleigh drops the acorn twice each December 31st – once at 7 pm for the children, and a second time at midnight to bring in the New Year!
Produced by Carolina Beverage Corporation of Salisbury, NC, this cherry-flavored soft drink is super popular with Raleighites.
Eat a Hot Dog from Snoopy’s and The Roast Grill
Snoopy’s has been a Raleigh icon since 1978. Eastern North Carolina hot dogs and burgers are served with mustard, onion, and chili in a steamed bun.
The Roast Grill has been serving just hot dogs and glass bottle cokes since 1940.
Shop at the State Farmer’s Market
Boasting 75 acres of indoor and outdoor vendor space, the State Farmers Market is where Raleigh locals shop for fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and gift products from farmers across the state.
Treat yourself with Howling Cow Ice Cream
For over 50 years, North Carolinians savored the premium ice cream from Howling Cow Ice Cream on NC State’s campus or at the North Carolina State Fair.
Now Howling Cow brand is available packaged, so you can enjoy it at home, tailgating or at the beach.
Getting to Raleigh
Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) serves the Triangle region which consists of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. RDU is approximately 20-minutes from Downtown Raleigh and roughly halfway between Raleigh and Durham.
RDU consists of two main terminals (1 and 2) and in “normal times” operates more than 400 daily flights with 50+ non-stop destinations.
Some of the domestic non-stop flights to Raleigh include:
- New York City
- Washington D.C.
- Salt Lake City
- San Francisco
- Los Angeles
Internationally we can fly non-stop to:
- London (American Airlines)
- Paris (Delta)
Related Post: 10 best hotels near Raleigh Airport
What are the top attractions in Raleigh?
One of the other things we love about living in Raleigh is that it’s NOT a big tourist destination. We don’t have the big ticket tourist attractions here, it’s more of a place to live, which I like.
However, there are plenty of fun things to do in Raleigh to keep us happy and for people of all ages.
Top Raleigh attractions:
- North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
- North Carolina Museum of Art
- Pullen Park
- North Carolina Museum of History
- Umstead State Park
- Historic Yates Mill County Park
- JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State
- State Farmers Market
- Neuse River Trail
- The 180 miles of Greenway Trails
Plus, the Raleigh food scene has exploded and one of the top reasons people visit Raleigh is the culinary scene.
USA TODAY named Raleigh one of five underrated food cities on the East Coast, and named Herons at the Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary one of America’s 30 best restaurants. And Forbes named Raleigh one of 12 global destinations to travel to thanks to our culinary prowess.
And, there are endless breweries to discover. With over 30 local Raleigh breweries, the craft beer scene is unlike any other in the Southeast and you can visit many of them on the Raleigh Beer Trail – download the map here.
- 50+ best places to eat in Raleigh
- 34 reasons we love living in Raleigh
- Locals guide to downtown Raleigh
- Best things to do in downtown Cary
What are the best things to do with kids in Raleigh?
- Marbles Kids Museum
- Pullen Park
- North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
- Frankie’s Fun Park
- Go Ape Tree Tops Adventure Course
- Videri Chocolate Factory
- Defy Raleigh Trampoline Park
- Triangle Indoor Rock Climbing
- Umstead State Park
- Lake Johnson
- Daniel Dhers Action Sports Complex
- Go to a basketball, football, baseball, soccer or ice hockey game!
What are the top festivals and events in Raleigh?
There are tons of festivals and fun Raleigh events each year (in a non-2020 year) to keep anyone entertained through all seasons.
- Wide Open Bluegrass Festival – two-day event and the largest FREE urban bluegrass festival in the world.
- Hopscotch Music Festival – three-day music festival in downtown with more than 120 bands.
- Triangle Restaurant Week – week-long celebration of culinary excellence.
- St. Patrick’s Day Parade – a day of fun with a full line-up of live music
- Art in Bloom – four-day festival of art and flowers.
- Brewgaloo – N.C.’s largest craft beer festival-featuring 100 breweries, 50 food trucks.
- Artsplosure – Raleigh Arts Festival that attracts 80,000 people to downtown.
- Food Truck Rodeo – 50+ food trucks in the city center spanning 11 city blocks.
- Krispy Kreme Challenge – started by NC State students, this fun run starts at the campus then you run 2.5 miles to Krispy Kreme, then attempt to consume 12 doughnuts, then run 2.5 miles back.
- GalaxyCon – 3day festival for fans of pop culture, superheroes, science fiction, and more.
- Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival – 2 days of beer sipping, bourbon tasting, and music.
- Packapalooza – all-day block party with more than 80,000 attendees that caps off NC State’s Wolfpack Welcome Week.
- Dreamville Festival – 1 day multi-stage festival celebrating local culture, food, art and featuring some of music’s biggest national acts.
- NC State Fair – largest annual event in the state draws one million visitors over 11 days.
- SAS Championship – see golf’s best at this PGA Tour Championships event.
- Raleigh Christmas Parade – a tradition for more than 75 years.
- New Years Eve, First Night Raleigh – downtown Raleigh New Year’s Eve celebration.
Major Historic Sites in Raleigh
- Mordecai Historical Park – the Mordecai Historic House is the oldest residence in Raleigh still on its original foundation, and it’s the birthplace of Andrew Johnson, the 17th President.
- Historic Oakwood – a neighborhood of 19th-century Victorian homes listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
- North Carolina State Capitol, a National Historic Landmark.
- The North Carolina Executive Mansion – home to more than 25 governors and their families since 1891.
- Historic Oakwood Cemetery – for more than 140 years it has been the final resting place of over 22,000 of the area’s citizens including prominent city, state and national leaders.
Where can I get the best view of downtown Raleigh?
- Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing – what’s better than great beer and food? How about great beer and food with the best view of downtown Raleigh thrown in. Go for great brews, and stay for fantastic views of the downtown Raleigh skyline!
- Top of The Dillon Building – located in the heart of the Warehouse District, anyone can jump in the elevator, go up to level 9, head out onto their rooftop patio and take in the amazing views of downtown!
What is the best area to stay in Raleigh?
For staying in hotels in Raleigh, your main choices are going to be in downtown Raleigh, the North Hills area, out near the Raleigh Airport and RTP., and in Cary.
Check out these two posts:
In Cary consider the boutique Mayton Inn.
If you don’t want to stay in a hotel and prefer Airbnb vacation rentals, check out this post: 11 cool Airbnb properties in Raleigh
I hope this post helped you discover some interesting things about Raleigh, NC, and answered some of your questions about living in Raleigh? If you have any more questions, let me know in the comments below!