If you are planning to visit Raleigh over a 48 hour period, we are excited to show you around. We have called this city our home for 10+ years now, and the below two-day itinerary is our personal guide on the best things to do in Raleigh including where to eat, drink, play and stay!
As one of the South’s most vibrant and eclectic cities, we have a fun two days planned for you in the capital city of North Carolina in Wake County.
This 48 hours in Raleigh guide is a follow up to our 24 hours in Raleigh itinerary, and we’ve broken it down into suggestions for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus where to have pre-dinner and after-dinner drinks, morning and afternoon activities to do, and suggested hotels in Raleigh.
We’ll help you explore Raleigh from personal experience, and down below is what we suggest for first time visitors to get a reel feel for the downtown Raleigh area and beyond – the culture, the history, the food and drink scene, and the Southern community feel.
We are sharing the places we frequent and take visiting friends, and are some of the most “Raleigh things to do” for locals and visitors.
When you visit Raleigh, getting around downtown is easy by foot, using the bicycle renting service Cardinal Bikeshare, riding an electric scooter, or using the free R-LINE circulator bus to navigate the 12 block downtown radius – you barely even have to move your car. See parking in Raleigh options here. But you will need a rental car for day two activities!
Of course, we suggest your Raleigh trip is longer than two days as there are plenty of fun things to do in Raleigh and we have other specific itinerary posts coming soon for couples, families, and the hip party people – join our free VIP email tribe so you don’t miss those.
We absolutely love living in Raleigh, and we hope this guide helps your trip to Raleigh be stress free and full of awesome memories. Now, let us show you around…
- Day 1
- Day 2
On day one we are going to focus on the downtown Raleigh area, with day two incorporating a few activities within a 15-minute drive of the city center.
Big Ed’s Restaurant City Market
You’re now in The South, and there’s no better introduction to Raleigh and its welcoming community than Big Ed’s Restaurant in historic City Market, the best Southern style breakfast in Raleigh since 1958.
This is the local experience you’re looking for. Here you can expect generous portions of Southern comfort food, a laid-back vibe with a collection of funky antiques hanging from the ceiling, warm Southern hospitality, and food like what grandma used to make.
Especially popular for their GIANT pancakes, local country ham, fried chicken, aged ribeye steak and eggs, sliced pork loin, fried catfish, fluffy biscuits, and double-brewed sweet tea.
Alternate breakfast option:
- A Place at the Table – Raleigh’s pay-what-you-can-afford café in the heart of the Warehouse District. Amazing concept and staff. Casual café menu.
Watch our Video of Big Ed’s:
Coffee (and morning stroll)
Leave Big Ed’s restaurant via the cobblestone streets of City Market and head towards nearby Moore Square to stretch your legs and take in the city skyline.
Moore Square is a four-acre urban green space and the square and surrounds is a charming mix of old and new in the heart of downtown Raleigh.
You’ll find a large open lawn area, magnificent oak trees, a shaded “tree house” area for kids, 30-foot-wide sidewalks on the edge of the park, and a small splash pad for kids during the warmer months.
From Moore Square, head west up Hargett Street towards our suggested coffee stop at The Morning Times!
Coffee at The Morning Times
This is one of our favorite coffee shops in downtown Raleigh and popular with the locals. We love their lattes (our kids love their cookies and baked goods) and we like to either sit in the cozy upstairs, or on the sidewalk in the warmer months.
Alternative coffee shops:
- Sir Walter Coffee – cool barista bar with a focus on unique coffee creations, tea lattes, tea cocktails, kombucha, and alcohol (you might feel like you’re in NYC).
- 42 & Lawrence – on the edge of Moore Square. Serves up really good organic coffee and nitro cold brews at their mod bar setup.
Fayetteville Street is the central thoroughfare of downtown Raleigh and is bookended by the State Capitol Building to the north, and the Performing Arts Center to the south.
After coffee at the Morning Times, turn left onto Fayetteville St from Hargett St and head south towards the Duke Energy Center for Performing Arts, then turn around and head north back up Fayetteville towards the NC State Capitol Building (distance: 0.7 miles, about 15 minutes).
As you stroll up and down Fayetteville St you’ll pass several restaurants and bars, hotels, the Court House, and through City Plaza.
The North Carolina State Capitol Building
Built in 1840, the NC State Capitol building is a National Historic Landmark and one of the best-preserved examples of Greek Revival-style architecture.
Tours of the building are self-guided and admission is free. And don’t miss explore the monuments and statues on display outside in the grounds among magnificent oak trees – Raleigh is nicknamed “city of oaks” for a reason!
Museum of Natural Sciences, OR, the Museum of History
Raleigh has a lot of excellent museums, and because of the quality and the amount of free museums it has often been referred to as the “Smithsonian of the South”.
Below are two excellent museums in Raleigh just across the street from the Capitol Building. Because this is a short two-day trip to visit Raleigh, we suggest you pick one or the other. Yes, they both deserve more time but they are FREE and you can always come back!
Or, if you really love museums, do both of them instead of one of the other suggested activities on day two!
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
The Museum of Natural Sciences is North Carolina’s most visited museum and one of the best things to do in Raleigh. There’s 4 floors of exhibits including live animals and 3D movies. We love their permanent collection of dinosaur skeletons and whale skeletons. And don’t forget your photo with the giant globe out front..
Video: Museum of Natural Sciences
North Carolina Museum of History
The Museum of History was founded in 1902 and welcomes more than 400,000+ visitors a year. On display are more than 14,000 years and 150,000 artifacts of history.
Related Post – 8 best Raleigh museums
The downtown Raleigh food scene has thrived in recent years (minus the pandemic setbacks) and is one of our favorite areas to eat and drink in the city.
Below we have listed some local Raleigh restaurants all centrally located downtown, and based on a few select categories to help you get a taste of Raleigh and what it is popular with the locals.
- The Pit Authentic BBQ – one of the most popular (and upscale) BBQ spots in Raleigh.
- Clyde Cooper’s BBQ – a downtown institution since 1938 and one of the classic and oldest Raleigh restaurants.
Video: Check out Clyde Cooper’s BBQ:
Southern American comfort food:
- The Raleigh Times – a timeless watering hole in a 100 year old building serving up quality American pub grub. Nice inside seating, or on the sidewalk or cool rooftop!
- Beasley’s Chicken + Honey – popular Raleigh restaurant by famed chef Ashley Christensen. Specializing in Fried chicken and sandwiches. Brunch on the weekend.
- Morgan Street Food Hall – 20 different food concepts showcasing local eateries. Perfect for families or groups of friends with different food tastes.
- Transfer Co. Food Hall – 12+ vendors in the historic Carolina Coach Garage. Again, something for everyone here!
- Cafe Luna – Tuscan-accented Italian fare in an airy, art-filled space since 1996. Very reasonable prices.
- Taverna Agora – authentic Greek food with an amazing rooftop dining experience we keep going back for, and is fantastic for brunch on the weekends!
- Centro – modern Mexican food in the heart of downtown Raleigh.
Explore the Warehouse District
The six-block Warehouse District is one of our favorite neighborhoods in Raleigh. This area was transformed from its former red-brick industrial buildings into a vibrant mix of restaurants, cafes, bars, a brewery, a food hall, boutique shopping, art museums, studios and technology firms.
Located an easy 10-minute walk west of downtown, en route be sure to walk through Nash Square – a public parkland with lush lawn, a variety of perennials, a short loop walk around the square, and many native shade trees, including beautiful oaks and magnolias.
What to do in the Warehouse District:
- Need another coffee? Go to Heirloom Brewshop, a specialty coffee shop, premium tea house, and sake bar.
- Videri Chocolate Factory – sample yummy chocolates, and get soft serve ice cream!
- Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) – displays new and emerging work by local and national living artists. Free admission.
- The Flourish Market – a unique women’s gift and boutique clothing store.
- 311 Gallery – home to 12 artist studios, an exhibition gallery and a gift shop.
- Father & Son Antiques – modern furnishings, vintage clothing and accessories, records and books.
- Raleigh Denim Workshop – exclusive well-crafted jeans!
- Morgan Street Food Hall – Raleigh Rolls offers unique rolled ice cream with delicious toppings!
Alternate afternoon activities:
- Got young kids? Pullen Park is a 5-minute drive from downtown Raleigh and one of the most fun things to do in Raleigh with kids and is the fifth oldest operating amusement park in the USA. Ride the historic carousel and iconic miniature train, take paddle boats out on the lake, or play in the playgrounds.
- Marbles Kids Museum – two levels of kid-focused museum activities with dozens of hands-on exhibits. Perfect for toddlers and up to 10 years.
There are plenty of great Raleigh bars and Raleigh breweries downtown that are perfect for all occasions. Below are a select few of our favorites that are also popular with other locals.
- Crank Arm Brewing – the guys at Cram Arm are passionate about beer and bikes. My pick: Road Hazard Hazy IPA.
- The Raleigh Times Bar – a timeless watering hole and probably the most famous bar in Raleigh – even Obama had a campaign beer here. Extensive Belgian beer selection, multiple levels and an awesome open rooftop.
- Vita Vite Art Gallery + Wine Bar – premier wine bar that doubles as an art gallery. Great selection of wine and a classy and relaxed atmosphere.
Whiskey & Cocktail bars:
- Whiskey Kitchen – beautiful open space and hip venue with a repurposed industrial feel. Over 300 whiskies plus craft cocktails, beer and wine options you can’t go wrong.
- Killjoy – cool and colorful decor plus signature cocktails. One of our favorite Raleigh bars!
- 10th & Terrace – awesome rooftop bar at the top of the Residence Inn Marriott hotel with sweeping views over the Performing Arts Center and southern downtown Raleigh.
Video: Residence Inn Downtown Raleigh
Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing
If there’s one place in Raleigh we take first time visitors for that wow moment, it’s Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing. The best view of the Raleigh skyline from their outstanding outdoor patio is paired with excellent food, craft beer and unique cocktails.
There’s a fun casual atmosphere that’s perfect for a group of friends, a date, or a family like ours (they have a kids menu).
Don’t come here expecting your typical pub grub or brewery food – this is more innovative, up-scale food with an emphasis placed on North Carolina ingredients and unique twists on familiar dishes.
Other dinner suggestions:
- Oak Steakhouse – contemporary establishment offering quality steaks cooked right plus seafood, pasta, and desserts. Relaxed atmosphere, excellent service.
- Vic’s Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria – casual, affordable and family-friendly. Really good pizza and pasta.
- Mulino Italian Kitchen & Bar – elevated Italian plates & wines served in a stylish reclaimed mill and patio with a nice water feature.
Vegetarian & vegan:
- Fiction Kitchen – if you’re looking for vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Raleigh, go here!
- Second Empire Restaurant & Tavern – an exquisite fine dining experience inside a Second Empire Victorian that incorporates history, Southern charm, gourmet meals and excellent service.
- Crawford & Son – perfect date night experience for those who want an intimate setting with a little buzzy vibe. Casual yet elegant with innovative dishes beautifully presented by award winning chef, Scott Crawford.
After-dinner drinks or activities
- Watts & Ward – our favorite bar in Raleigh (underground bar at least). A craft cocktail bar founded upon the underground spirit of the 1920s. Leather seating, rustic tables, dim lighting and bookshelves full of history. Inventive cocktail menu and low-key jazz events.
- Dram & Draught – excellent range of whiskeys from around the world, plus seasonal cocktails, wines, and draught beer from Raleigh and beyond.
- The Merchant – beautiful decor, pleasant atmosphere, unique cocktails.
- Or, any of the pre-dinner drink recommendations!
- See a show at the Performing Arts Center (home to the Carolina Ballet and the NC Symphony)
- A concert at Red Hat Amphitheater
- Or, live music at The Lincoln Theater
Whilst day one was all about getting to know downtown Raleigh, on day two you’ll explore a little further outside of the city center so there will be some driving within a 15-20 minute radius. Don’t worry, Raleigh doesn’t really have much traffic, except maybe for morning and afternoon rush hours!
Breakfast (day 2)
The Morning Times
Since 2006, The Morning Times has been a popular breakfast spot and coffee shop for locals and visitors alike.
Located right in the heart of downtown (next door to Raleigh Times), on the menu are unique, and staple, breakfast items. My favorite is their breakfast burrito. Also consider the corned beef and hash, or one of their yummy biscuits.
Sit in the cozy upstairs that also functions as an art gallery, or on the sidewalk and watch the Raleigh street scene go by, or grab a bagel or biscuit to go. And as mentioned on day one, excellent coffee here too!
Alternative breakfast options
- A Place at the Table – Raleigh’s unique pay-what-you-can-afford cafe. Amazing concept and staff.
- State Farmers Market Restaurant – another locals favorite for good old country breakfast favorites. Get there early on a weekend as this place gets busy!
Jubala on Hillsborough Street
Just a 5-minute drive out of downtown gets you to Jubala Coffee, located across the street from the iconic bell tower of NC State University, and in the general direction of our morning activity at the NC Museum of Art.
If you follow us on Instagram, you’ll know that Jubala Coffee is one of our favorite Raleigh coffee shops. We love all things Jubala, a premier specialty café known for their strong, fresh coffees and tasty small bites menu.
All of their coffee is roasted by Counter Culture Coffee, an excellent roaster out of Durham, and their professionally trained baristas create lattes, mochas, cappuccinos, simple espressos, and flat whites, plus specialty and seasonal drinks.
Mid-Morning Activities (day 2)
North Carolina Museum of Art
Drive a further 3-miles west of downtown and you’ll arrive at one of Raleigh’s top attractions, the NC Museum of Art.
This Raleigh art museum is home to more than a dozen beautiful gallery spaces showcasing art from around the world. You can self-explore, take an engaging tour, see performing arts, and participate in family workshops.
Don’t miss taking a stroll through the Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park, the 164-acre park and trail system through natural areas that features more than a dozen commissioned works of art.
Admission to the Museum’s permanent collection and Museum Park is free.
NOTE: one of our favorite things to do in Raleigh is the Art to Heart bike trail, a 6-mile trail from the Museum of Art to downtown Raleigh (not a loop).
Go Shopping at The Village District
To get a taste of shopping in Raleigh, it doesn’t get any more “Raleigh” than the Village District. When it opened in 1949, it became the first shopping center between Washington D.C. and Atlanta, and a Raleigh tradition was born and is still a favorite neighborhood destination for shoppers.
The Village District is home to more than 100 unique and distinctive shops, many small, independent, and local. Plus a residential community of cafés, restaurants and services.
Lunch (day 2)
There’s no shortage of inviting lunch spots in Raleigh. Pick one of the options from day one, or one of these additional suggestions below:
- The Players Retreat – one of the storied sports bars in Raleigh and a true landmark for NC State students and alumni. Established in 1951, it’s the oldest continuously operating tavern between Atlanta and Washington D.C. Inside seating at booths and bar stools, tables on the sidewalk. My pick, the Bernie or Hawaiian Burger!
- MoJoe’s Burger Joint – classic local neighborhood burger joint with a large patio serving excellent burgers along with wings and pub-style appetizers. I love their Carnivor burger with a side of tater tots.
Southern American comfort food:
- Parkside Restaurant – a retro-industrial restaurant serving traditional Southern comfort food the locals love. They also do an excellent burger, plus chicken & waffle sandwich, prime rib, and other popular Southern dishes.
- Whiskey Kitchen – one of our favorite bars in Raleigh that also does excellent and inventive Southern food in a beautiful open space and hip venue. I love their lamb burger and fried brussel sprouts.
- Trophy Brewing & Pizza – if you’re in town on a weekend, then Trophy is open for lunch (mid-week, open from 4pm). For a good slice of pizza washed down with one of the best craft beers in Raleigh, it’s hard to go past this neighborhood pizza and beer joint.
- Sam Jones BBQ – the famous Sam Jones BBQ opened in Raleigh in 2021 to much fanfare from BBQ lovers. Popular for their Chopped BBQ, Fried Chicken, Sandwiches, Baked Flat Corn Bread, Mac and Cheese, Collard Greens. Indoor and outdoor seating.
Globally inspired, locally produced:
- Plates Neighborhood Kitchen – come taste the world and enjoy some favorite international dishes combined with regional southern flavors. Modern eatery with a farm-fresh menu, plus signature cocktails & weekend brunch.
- Clouds Brewing – full service restaurant and industrial-chic pub with a kids menu and outdoor patio area. Variety of beers and styles.
- Tobacco Road Sports Cafe & Brewery – offers scratch-made Southern-inspired food, sourced locally. Quality in-house beer selection, and a love of sports with plenty of TVs.
Umstead State Park
Just a 15-minute drive from Raleigh downtown is one of the most popular places to visit, and one of North Carolina’s most visited state parks – William B. Umstead State Park.
If you love nature trails through the forest, biking, trail running, picnicking, canoeing, or even horseback riding, don’t miss Umstead.
With more than 5,000 acres of forest, this natural oasis surrounds three man made lakes and the park is easily accessible from Interstate 40 and US-70.
A great introductory trail to Umstead is the 2.8 mile loop Sal’s Branch Trail which is good for all fitness levels and probably the most popular of the Umstead park trails. Mostly shaded and flat with tall trees and a lake view.
Located on the northeastern side of Umstead Park, to get to Sal’s Branch Trail drive to the Crabtree Creek park access and visitor center off US-70 (Address: 8801 Glenwood Ave).
See our hiking guides to
Video: Loblolly Trail
Lake Johnson Loop Trail
Just a 10-minute drive from downtown, Lake Johnson is our favorite of the lakes in Raleigh and when we first moved to Raleigh in 2004 we lived on Lake Johnson for four years and take all our visitors here.
We love walking the 3-mile paved greenway loop around the western side of the lake, plus there’s an additional two miles of unpaved trail around the western side if you’re looking for a longer combined 5-mile trail.
There’s also a 700-foot-long boardwalk across the center of the lake, a boat house, small beach area, and picnic shelters. Peaceful and calming, with plenty of shade and sunny spots
- Address: 4601 Avent Ferry Rd, Raleigh
- Dorothea Dix Park – set on a whopping 300+ acres and just a 5 minute drive from downtown, Dix Park is the largest park in Raleigh with impressive views of the downtown Raleigh skyline and a lovely space with wide-open fields, rolling meadows, and tree-lined streets.
- Explore the historic neighborhoods:
- Historic Oakwood dates back to the 1800’s and rose after the Civil War. It’s home to magnificent oak trees, Grand Victorians and modest bungalows. And don’t miss the magnificent Oakwood Cemetery!
- Boylan Heights was one of Raleigh’s first planned suburbs with development beginning in 1907 and has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Pre-dinner drinks (day 2)
- Raleigh Beer Garden – with 350+ beers on tap, Raleigh Beer Garden is the world record-holder for largest selection of draft beer. This massive 8,500-square-foot venue has 3 levels, tons of outdoor space, a back garden patio (family-friendly), a rooftop bar, and ever changing selection of beers!
- Lynnwood Brewing Concern – excellent brews and outdoor beer garden space which is good with kids, and it’s attached to Wilson’s Eatery – win, win!
- Neuse River Brewing & Brasserie – specializes in Belgian-inspired beers paired with European Bistro inspired fare with a North Carolina twist.
- Standard Beer & Food – large outdoor space to sit and for the kids to move around. Located in our favorite Nth Person Street area of downtown.
NOTE: see day one’s suggested pre-dinner drinks section for whiskey bars, a wine bar, other breweries, and a rooftop bar!
Dinner (day 2)
- Garland – one of the best Raleigh restaurants period. Indian and Asian dishes are served with a Southern twist, plus craft cocktails in a chic, playful setting.
- Mandolin – in a refined bistro space, Mandolin is Southern at its roots, but draws influences from around the world. They use high quality local ingredients to create seasonal menus that represent a fresh take on Southern food in a soulful, comforting atmosphere.
- Cortez Seafood and Cocktail – Their food and cocktail menu is unlike anything in Raleigh. Seafood (including raw oysters & ceviche) and cocktails with Mexican influences in a tropical space.
- 42nd Street Oyster Bar – a Southern Seafood tradition since 1931, if you love seafood, atmosphere, and good service this is a Raleigh landmark and one of the most popular places to eat in Raleigh downtown.
Innovative neighborhood delight:
- Stanbury – outstanding food, wonderful ambiance and one of the highest rated Raleigh restaurants in a quirky, rustic venue with amazing service! New American small plates & entrees, plus craft cocktails.
- Poole’side Pies – this is Raleigh’s James Beard award-winning chef, Ashley Christensen’s take on Neapolitan-style pizza. The interior theme is swimming pool-inspired (hence the name). Exceptional service and pizzas big enough to share. No gluten free pizza bases. No separate kids menu.
- Trophy Pizza & Brewing
- Oakwood Pizza Box
- Gonza Tacos y Tequila – a fun place to dine and possibly our favorite Mexican restaurant in Raleigh. Combine Mexican-Colombian plates, an eclectic decor, hand crafted Latin cocktails, and an extensive variety of tequilas and regional spirits.
- Gringo A Go Go
- La Santa Modern Mexican
- Irregardless Cafe – classic Raleigh staple since 1975 offering a global menu of locally sourced fare, plus live music. Also has vegan and meat dishes – there’s something for everyone!
- Vidrio – upmarket Mediterranean cuisine and handcrafted cocktails served in stylish surroundings. Sharing plates are made with the freshest ingredients, plus the purest Greek olive oil, and 50 wines on tap. In the heart of Glenwood Ave Sth with lots of bars nearby.
- Jolie Restaurant – by Raleigh’s other award-winning chef Scott Crawford of Crawford and Son, this French bistro themed restaurant with an amazing rooftop called Le Rooftop is highly rated – bookings essential as far in advance as you can!
- Death & Taxes – another Ashley Christensen restaurant located in an elegant building that was once a mortuary and a tax office (hence the name). Features an open kitchen with an emphasis on wood-fired fare with Southern ingredients. Incredible food, extensive wine and drink list, impeccable service.
NOTE: if none of the above meet your needs, refer back to day one dinner suggestions!
After dinner Drinks (day 2)
- Bittersweet – locals favorite dessert bar where you can get bourbon with your pie, or champagne with your cake, and specialty cocktails.
- C. Grace – known for having some of the best drinks in the area, this cocktail lounge with a Prohibition-era feel has classic jazz and well-crafted cocktails. Live music five nights a week.
- Foundation Bar – underground bar with industrial-chic decor, warm brick walls, great artwork and intimate atmosphere. Super talented bartenders who make great drinks!
- The Green Light – is a true definition of a hidden bar and literally tucked away behind a secret bookcase door in a secret room in what was once an architect’s office. Small, dimly lit room with a 1920s speakeasy feel – can be a wait to get in.
- William & Company – cozy neighborhood cocktail bar in the heart of Oakwood on popular Nth Person Street. Fresh and unique craft cocktails created by excellent bartenders!
Where to Stay in Raleigh
The choice of hotels in Raleigh just keeps getting better. Below are our handpicked selection for a short stay:
- Residence Inn Raleigh – cozy apartment style (all-suite) accommodation, walk to everything downtown. Cool rooftop bar!
- Marriott Raleigh City Center – in the middle of it all in downtown Raleigh on Fayetteville St. Good for leisure or business travel.
- Origin Hotel – one of the newest and boutique Raleigh hotels in downtown on the edge of the Warehouse District.
- The Longleaf Hotel – former motor lodge turned stylish retro hotel and modernized mid-century gem on the edge of downtown (8 min walk to Capitol Building).
- Heights House Hotel – boutique hotel in historic Boylan Heights on the edge of downtown. Previously the Montfort Hall, this historic landmark that dates to the 1860s was recently revitalized.
- NOTE: if you are looking for hotels near Raleigh Airport, stay here.
Use the map below to find your Raleigh hotel and book!
There you have it. I hope this guide on how to visit Raleigh in 48 hours helps you have a memorable time in the city of oaks. If you have any questions, or your own suggestions on things to do in Raleigh, please leave a comment down below!