One of the many reasons we love living in Raleigh is the abundance of green spaces and tree lined streets. And Moore Square in the heart of downtown Raleigh is one of the spaces that holds fond memories for us since relocating here from Australia in 2004.
Wherever I travel I seek out green spaces, squares and city parks such as Jackson Square in New Orleans, Washington Square Park in Manhattan, all the gorgeous squares in Savannah, and Hyde Park in my hometown of Sydney, Australia.
Moore Square is not quite as well-known as some of the aforementioned, but it does have plenty of history. Since 1792, Moore Square has been a place of gathering, entertainment, and recreation for the locals and its current surroundings are a charming mix of old and new.
I have fond memories of the old square and going to beer festivals here, attending markets, listening to live music, or having a picnic under the canopy of the magnificent oak trees.
What Is The History of Moore Square?
The Moore Square District is one of the six districts of downtown Raleigh, with the four-acre urban green space being the central focus point.
Over two centuries ago, Moore Square was originally conceived as one of five public green spaces for the City of Raleigh, and after playing a significant role throughout Raleigh’s 225+ year history, the square was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
In 1792, the year Raleigh was founded as North Carolina’s capital city, the General Assembly chose Senator William Christmas, a surveyor, to envision the new capital. He laid out 400 acres of city fabric through 1,000 acres of woodland, in a geometric grid which emulated the plan of Philadelphia.
Along with Nash Square and Capitol Square, Moore is one of three remaining squares originally planned and is a significant example of early American town planning.
This 4-acre park is bounded by E. Hargett Street to the north, East Martin Street to the south, S. Blount Street to the west, and S. Person Street to the east.
It has undergone lots of change over the years, including a recent $12 million renovation in 2019 in which the area was off limits for 18 months during construction.
Today you will find two open lawn areas occupying the center with numerous benches, 30-foot-wide sidewalks on the south edge, a small splash pad for children, a pavilion building and restrooms, and oak trees lining the perimeter.
Thinking back to how Moore Square was pre-renovation, I actually prefer the “old” Moore Square and feel it was a missed opportunity to create something really special.
I loved how the old square was more densely covered in oak trees (similar to Nash Square). Not only did they provide shade in the warmer months but also a more inviting atmosphere and somewhat spiritual presence. Now it just feels and looks quite bland, almost soulless.
Yes, there is more open space now for events and they have movie nights and pop-up big screens like they did for the recent World Cup soccer, and markets of course, but unless there is an event happening, I’m just not drawn to go there anymore!
Progress and growth are inevitable, but just because you spend a lot of money and create something new, doesn’t mean it is a better product. I feel they missed the mark and wasted so much potential to create a true gathering space.
The burger place in the square that opened after the renovation has recently announced its closing, and to be honest I’m not surprised. The burgers were sub-par and the outside seating area not an inviting space.
I would have loved if the burger place was instead a local cafe (or restaurant) with an inviting patio area suitable to all four seasons and a place to linger with family or friends among the canopy of the oak trees. Maybe with a cool water feature or fountain, or even a monument or statue centered in the square? Raleigh is of course the “City of Oaks”, and I feel we should preserve the trees as much as possible.
I’m no landscape architect of course, but I’ve visited many places as a traveler and feel I have a decent eye for community spaces and what draws people to return. I remember saying (along with many others) when the big reveal of the new square happened, “is that it, is this the finished product, is this what took18-months?”.
While I don’t feel the space is utilized to its full potential, the location is still prime real estate in the heart of the city and some of my favorite places to eat and drink in downtown surround its perimeter (see more below).
You can learn more about Moore Square on one of the free history tours every Sunday.
In the immediate district there’s Historic City Market, restaurants, cafes, bars, art galleries, a kids museum, the GoRaleigh transit station, and high-density residential.
Things to Do in Moore Square District
Eat & Drink
Big Ed’s City Market Restaurant
My favorite place to go for a Southern breakfast in Raleigh is Big Ed’s in City Market which borders Moore Square. You don’t get more Raleigh, and a taste of Southern comfort food and hospitality, than at Big E’ds.
On the menu is food like what grandma used to make, and a laid-back cafe with funky antiques hanging from the old rafters and memorabilia scattered around.
Popular items include HUGE hot cakes, country ham, aged ribeye steak, sliced pork loin, fried catfish, freshly made hot biscuits, French toast, and double-brewed sweet tea. Read our full review of Big Eds Raleigh here and why I think it’s the best breakfast in Raleigh.
We spent two weeks traveling through Laos (and lived in Bangkok for six months) and can confidently say that Bida Manda, located on one of Moore Square’s border streets (Blount Street) is hands down our favorite spot for Asian food in Raleigh.
Well renowned for showcasing the culinary traditions of Laos, Bida Manda serves a variety of authentic Lao dishes in a beautiful space with Lao-inspired decor that always takes us back to our time exploring this wonderful Southeast Asian country.
My recommendations are the Crispy Rice Lettuce Wraps, Crispy Chicken Wings, and the Manda Amphone’s Curry with chicken. Plenty of vegetarian and gluten free options!
Vic’s Italian Cafe & Pizzeria
One of my favorite downtown Raleigh restaurants for authentic Italian cuisine and New York style pizza, plus they serve a wide variety of delicious pastas and entrees in healthy portions at reasonable prices.
Vic’s is steps away from Big Ed’s in City Market and popular dishes include their specialty pizzas (gluten free bases available), Penne Alla Vodka, Calzones, and the complimentary garlic knots. Grab a seat on the sidewalk in the warmer weather months!
Walk across the street from Moore Square and you’ll arrive at the most unique of the Raleigh breweries, a four-in-one concept of Beer + Dim Sum + Flowers + Bookstore.
This place has an amazingly stylish interior with great modern lighting and decor, an interesting bookstore and flower shop, and a great marble bar. All this backed up with award-winning beer and amazing food (especially their dim sum).
Watts & Ward
Watts & Ward is probably my favorite of the bars in Raleigh downtown. This craft cocktail bar was founded upon the underground spirit of 1920s America and the perfect spot for a late night drink.
The 6,000-square-feet space of seemingly endless cavern, with room after room of leather seating, rustic tables, dim lighting and bookshelves full of history. An inventive cocktail menu and low-key jazz events.
42 & Lawrence (coffee)
One of the top coffee shops in Raleigh is on the corner of Moore Square. 42 & Lawrence is an espresso bar and coffee lab serving specialty espressos, cold-brew coffees, draft lattes, and tasty experiments. Modern and industrial vibe and lots of natural light and glass windows for people watching.
City Market Sushi
The ambiance is on point with decorative art adorning the walls, black and white decor, and modern wooden tables and chairs creating an intimate space perfect for a date night or dinner with friends.
Woody’s at City Market
It’s your classic locals’ corner bar with a good selection of craft beer and great lunch specials – many people say they have the best wings in the Triangle – plus signature burgers, subs, salads and other typical bar food.
Events at Moore Square
Moore Square Market
The Moore Square Market is from May 14th – October 29th (2023 dates). It is held on Sundays from 11am – 3pm. At this market you can shop from local vendors selling fresh, seasonal goods such as fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood, dairy, and pastries, as well as original, high-quality crafts.
There’s live music, and the Market has theme days with children’s activities, weekly non-profit guests, and more. View the full Moore Square program and events calendar here.
Marbles Kids Museum
Got young kids? What makes this district popular for families is Marbles, a premier kids’ museum and one of the best things to do in Raleigh with kids. There are two levels of kid-focused museum activities with dozens of hands-on exhibits and the state’s only 3D-capable IMAX theater.
Artspace is a non-profit visual arts center in City Market that has more than 35 artists working in their studios. They hold frequent events, exhibitions, and classes and it plays a pivotal role in Raleigh’s First Friday event each month!
The Pour House Music Hall & Record Store
Located across the street from Moore Square on Blount St, at The Pour House you can see a band at one of Raleigh’s favorite live music venues since 1997. Or drop in and buy a record from their upstairs record store and one of the best record stores in Raleigh!
Historic City Market
Browse the historic cobblestone-streets with galleries, restaurants, bars and specialty shops of historic city market. Here you’ll find the above-mentioned Big Ed’s, Vic’s and City Market Sushi. If you’re a pet owner, we use Unleashed, the dog and cat store for all our kitties’ needs.
Moore Square Visitor Center
Pop in at the visitor center and learn more about the history of Moore Square and the surrounding area. The gift shop showcases local artists and goods.
The public restrooms at the square are officially open from 10 a.m.–8 p.m. They are not kept in the best condition to be honest.
There are no gates, but the Square is officially open to the public daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. with extended hours during special events.