Why Visit Raleigh, North Carolina? An In-Depth Guide

Raleigh, the capital city of North Carolina, is a vibrant and dynamic destination that offers a unique blend of Southern charm, cosmopolitan culture, and an array of attractions.

Family of four walking across a bridge with city buildings in the background.
Walking across Boylan Bridge in downtown

If you’re planning to visit Raleigh, you may be wondering what is there to see and experience? Raleigh doesn’t have the big city attractions like New York City, the thrill rides and Disney characters like Orlando, nor a food scene like New Orleans where every hole in the wall would keep the world’s best French chefs happy.

But it does have a vibrant local community that invites you in to enjoy the many fun festivals and events, it’s ever evolving food and craft brew scene (with a winery even), miles of greenway trails, parks, lakes, urban green spaces, historic neighborhoods and a fun college scene!

Man on a paddle board on a lake surrounded by trees.
Lake Johnson, our favorite near downtown!

In this guide below, we’ll delve into the personality of Raleigh and explore the top reasons why people should visit this thriving, forward-moving capital city.

The Personality of Raleigh

Aerial view of city buildings and surrounding streets and trees.
Downtown skyline

What is Raleigh known for? Well, it’s known for its welcoming personality and diverse offerings, a city that beckons travelers from all walks of life. Over the past few years, Raleigh has taken long strides out of adolescence and into young adult hipster.

It’s finding a new personality amidst the incredible growth and influx of residents for all over the country, and even the world – hello, we’re Australian!

It still has one foot in its Southern roots, with charm, warmth, and a laid-back way of being. People still have time to stop and talk to you and the pace is magnetically slow moving. Not country slow, but not New York City fast!

Man and woman holding hands walking through a city park.
Nash Square in downtown

With an abundance of green spaces and mild climate, you can be sure you’ll discover an active community. Raleighites like being outside whether it’s to picnic in the parks and gardens, hike or bike the greenway trails, or attend any of the many street festivals and music events held year-round.

A crowd of people at a market
Brewgaloo Beer Festival

As it’s home to some of the country’s most prestigious universities such as NC State (with Duke and UNC just 40-minutes away), the Research Triangle Park, and an emerging tech scene, you can be sure it’s a city that supports innovation and intellectual curiosity, with a mission of “a rising tide lifts all boats” rather than dog eat dog.

Aerial view of NC State University campus in Raleigh surrounded by green trees.
NC State’s Centennial campus near downtown

Don’t arrive in Raleigh highly strung – well that will unwind soon enough if you are. This is not NYC, Atlanta or California, and we don’t want it to be. Enjoy Raleigh for Raleigh and embrace this gentler, slower, more connected way of being. Enjoy the fact that it’s not a big tourist destination – you’ll have less waiting time, more space, and fewer crowds to battle through.

You won’t be looked at funny if you turn up to places in shorts and a T-shirt, or with a child or pet beside you. But, if you want to turn up in a shirt and tie, you can do that too. There are plenty of options for both.

Man and woman sitting at the bear bar with drinks in hand.
Burger Village, Glenwood Ave

With a wonderful mix of ages and cultures, Raleigh offers a vibrant lifestyle. One thing that has always struck out to me as we’ve moved back and forth from our home country of Australia, and from visiting many other countries, the people are genuinely friendly here, and, for the most part, people who live here are happy and tend to stay. That’s not to say we don’t have problems – hello poor public transport and a lack of attention to affordable housing!

Historic home with a front porch
Historic Oakwood

People who visit here more often than not end up returning – even deciding to live here, they become so enamored by it.

Hey, we’re Australian, have lived in 5 countries, traveled to over 50, are professional travel bloggers, and with our portable business we could live anywhere in the world, and we CHOSE Raleigh. We think that’s saying something!

No matter your age, background, culture, or interests, all are welcome here and you’ll find something to make you smile and enjoy your time. To learn more, see our interesting facts about Raleigh article.

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Top Reasons to Visit Raleigh

Fun Year-Round Raleigh Festivals & Events

A man and a woman at a music festival in front of a water tower.
Dreamville Music Festival

Since Raleigh doesn’t have big name attractions, many people visit for a particular festival or event. What a great reason to plan a trip to Raleigh, as we have many top festivals and events throughout the year that celebrate art, food, music, and more.

The wide variety of events ensures there’s always something exciting happening in the city. Be sure to add in a couple of extra days, so you can explore Raleigh in more depth while here.

A few of our favorite Raleigh events and festivals throughout the year include:

  • Dreamville – Now one of the premiere music events in the country, attended by 50,000 each day of the two-day hip hop and rap festival hosted by Fayetteville native and Grammy award winning artist, J Cole.
  • IMBA Bluegrass Festival – one of the top bluegrass events in the country, this weeklong festival includes random pop-up shows, bluegrass music awards and a 2-day street festival. 2024 will be its last year, but something is being developed to replace it.
  • NC State Fair – the largest event in North Carolina, comes to Raleigh every October, filled with fun rides, agricultural shows, and lots of fried food.
  • Art festivals Artsplosure and Spring Daze in Bond Park, Cary are wonderful events to help connect you with local artisans.

Exciting Raleigh Sports Events

College football stadium with fans watching a game at NC State University.
Carter-Finley Stadium, home of NC State football

Raleigh may not have professional football, basketball, or baseball teams, but we have plenty of action-packed college sports and events year-round. And, we do have one pro-sporting team, though. Ever heard of the Carolina Hurricanes?

The Canes are one of the best teams in the NHL, Stanley Cup winners in 2006, and apparently some of the loudest ice hockey fans in the league. In 2023, we even hosted the NHL Stadium Series at Carter Finlay Stadium. Raleigh knows how to put on an event!

Thousands of fans at an indoor ice hockey game
PNC Arena, home of Carolina Hurricanes

This region is also one of the best in the country for soccer, especially women’s soccer, and we have our professional men’s North Carolina FC and NC Courage women’s teams have their base at WakeMed Soccer Park. This venue also hosts ACC and NCAA championships each year.

Soccer fans watching a game
WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary

In nearby Durham we have the minor league baseball team, the Durham Bulls, which is always a fun game experience and family night out.

The Triangle region, of which Raleigh is a part along with our neighbors Durham and Chapel Hill, is home to three major US universities and countless smaller ones. You can be sure the personality is young, vibrant, full of good times, and high sporting cheers.

People sitting at a bar drinking and watching sports
The Players Retreat, iconic sports bar!

Is there a bigger rivalry in college sports than UNC vs Duke? You can watch or be part of that electric atmosphere right here in the Triangle. We have an abundance of college sporting games to watch live or one of our top sports bars in Raleigh. Read more:

Urban Forest Playground

Aerial view of a city park with trees, a grass area and buildings in the background.
Moore Square surrounded by oak trees!

Raleigh is often referred to as the “City of Oaks” because of the thousands of oak trees that line its streets, creating a lush and picturesque urban landscape.

Along with all the oak trees you have pine tree forests everywhere, wooded neighborhoods, green spaces and parklands. Whenever we have friends visit, they always remark on how GREEN Raleigh is. When flying into Raleigh-Durham Airport, look out the window and see for yourself!

People laying in a park with a city skyline in the background
Dorothea Dix Park

This natural beauty sets a tranquil and inviting tone for the city. Immersing yourself in the forest of Raleigh will help you to see why there is a slow, happy, calm way of being. Just ask the Blue Zone experts, why this is such an important part of quality living.

We have the Umstead State Park on our doorstep offering many trails, and beautiful parks and green spaces like family-favorite Pullen Park and Dorothea Dix Park. One of our favorite things about Raleigh are the beautiful lakes you can paddle on or walk/ bike around. (Lake Johnson is our Happy Place).

Woman walking down a hiking trail in the forest.
Umstead State Park, 15-mins from downtown!

The Capital Area Greenway System is made up of 28 individual trails over 100 miles. So, jump on a bike or take a walk and unwind. One of our favorites is the Art to Heart Trail (a 6-mile trail connecting the NC Museum of Art to downtown Raleigh). And we have many beautiful gardens, including the spectacular Sarah P Duke Gardens in Durham.

Use the below guides to help you plan some nature activities while here in Raleigh:


A long history to Explore

Lady in red dress sitting on bench with historic home behind her
Mordecai Historic House

The Wake County region was inhabited by Native American tribes such as the Tuscarora and the Occaneechi, who lived in the Piedmont region of North Carolina. The land around Dorothea Dix Park and Raleigh was used as their hunting grounds for hundreds of years.

That all changed with the arrival of settlers from Europe. From that point of view, Raleigh’s history begins with its formation as the capital of North Carolina in 1792, due to its central location within the state. It was named after Sir Walter Raleigh, who was an English explorer and sponsor of the Roanoke Island Colony in the late 16th century.

Buildings in downtown Raleigh surrounded by trees.
State Capitol Building

The city grew slowly at first, but it gained importance during the American Civil War when it became a center for Confederate soldiers and supplies.

After the war, Raleigh experienced economic growth and development. The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the expansion of industries such as textiles, tobacco, and furniture manufacturing. The city continued to grow and evolve throughout the 20th century, becoming a hub for technology, education, and research.

People standing in a park taking photos of a city skyline
Walking tour in Dorothea Dix Park

While not overflowing with historical site experiences, there are some great tours and attractions in Raleigh to experience and learn more about the city’s history. Here are a few attractions to enjoy:

Arts & Cultural Experiences

Lady looking at artwork on a wall
NC Museum of Art

I love seeing how the art scene in Raleigh has blossomed over the past few years. It feels like a new art gallery is opening every month, and more events are held to celebrate our local artists.

We have the outstanding NC Museum of Art, which I feel is Raleigh’s best foot forward. Not only for its collection of art in its beautifully designed glass-walled West Gallery, but for the 164-acre Ann and Jim Goodnight sculpture park. Have a picnic, enjoy its 4.7 miles of trails, attend an event, or see a concert or show in its outdoor theater. During the summer, the sunflower field is just like the museum, colorful, bright, and joyful.

Young girl looking at large steel ring art sculpture
Ann and Jim Goodnight sculpture park

Other art galleries and museums worth visiting are CAM Raleigh in the Warehouse District, Artspace to see working artists’ studios, Charlotte Russel Gallery in Five Points which showcases local women and minority artists work, and the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University is exceptional.

You can participate in the Art Gallery walk every First Friday of the month to peruse local art and attend fun events downtown. And Illuminate Raleigh during the Holidays brings the streets to life with illuminated art installations.

Portrait painting of a black women in an art museum
Cam Raleigh

The Martin Marietta Center for the Performing Arts stands as a cultural cornerstone in downtown Raleigh. This iconic venue is a testament to the city’s commitment to the arts and entertainment. Renowned for its acoustics and elegant design, it serves as a dynamic space for a diverse range of performing arts, including theater, music, and dance.

It’s home to the Carolina Ballet, NC Opera, NC Symphony, NC Theater, Pinecone and many smaller visiting and local events. At Christmas time, it hosts the popular Dessertery Cafe and Raleigh’s favorite annual A Christmas Carol performance.

A Christmas carol play in a theater.
Martin Marietta Center for the Performing Arts

And the incredible Duke Performing Arts Center (DPAC) in Durham hosts many visiting Broadway Shows year-round.  

You can see our monthly events post and weekend event guide to see what is playing in Raleigh during your visit.

Free Raleigh Museums

Aerial view of a museum
Museum of Natural Sciences

There is a reason Raleigh is known as the Smithsonian of the South. We have many fascinating museums in Raleigh that are mostly free, and some are withing walking distance of each other! These institutions provide engaging and educational experiences for visitors of all ages.

Downtown we have the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, the North Carolina Museum of History, including one of Craig’s favorite exhibits, The Sports Hall of Fame; and the City of Raleigh Museum.

Display of a dinosaur Skelton in a museum
Natural Science Museum

Raleigh is also home to the only Harley-Davidson drag racing museum in the world, founded by world-famous drag racing champion Ray Price located on the second floor of one of the largest Harley dealerships in the U.S.

Live Music & Entertainment

Aerial photo of an amphitheater in downtown Raleigh.
Red Hat Amphitheater

While it cannot compare to Nashville or Austin (there’s always room for this kind of improvement). Raleigh does have an active live music scene.

We absolutely love our summer outdoor venues: Red Hat Amphitheater, the Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek, and our personal favorite, Koka Booth Amphitheater in Cary – this is true piedmont style with the stage in the middle of the forest beside the lake.

PNC Arena hosts live music and comedy acts year-round as well as many smaller venues with Indy music such as the Lincoln Theater (so cool), the Pour House, and the Ritz.

People watching a band perform on stage inside a music venue.
The Lincoln Theater

Raleigh’s music festivals, like Hopscotch and IBMA’s World of Bluegrass, draw music enthusiasts from near and far. You’re not going to find live music at every brewery and bar in Raleigh, but you may find pop ups here and there.

The nightlife in Raleigh has really grown over the years and you have plenty of options. Glenwood Ave South has always been known as Party Street (best for late night partying) and is particularly popular with the younger crowd. East Harget St in downtown Raleigh will draw an older crowd with classy bars like Watts & Ward and the Greenlight Speakeasy.

Man and woman sitting on couch drinking cocktails
Underground bar, Watts & Ward

If laughter is more your thing, Raleigh has a several comedy clubs including Goodnights in the Village District, Comedy Worx and Raleigh Improv in Cary. Check out the following articles:

Delicious Raleigh Food Experiences

Girl eating bbq on an outside table at a restaurant
Sam Jones BBQ

Now, y’all know I love Raleigh, but in wearing my travel professional hat after visiting 40+ states and 50+ countries worldwide, I must be upfront and say, I don’t classify Raleigh as a “foodie” destination!

A foodie destination to me is like San Francisco where every hole in the wall you pass by has the best pho or cannoli you’ve eaten outside of its native country. Or, New Orleans, where French chefs bow down in praise of maintaining the integrity of every dish you eat whether it’s beignets on the street or fine dining in one of The Brennan Family’s restaurants. Yep. A foodie will know they are a NOLA institutional restauranter family.

Biscuit with bacon and egg.
Biscuits are a popular staple in Raleigh!

Or destinations like Seattle and Portland, where every café has a cup of coffee that gets this Aussies nod of approval (Australians are a nation of proud coffee snobs, because we’re the best at it).

And then there’s NYC with every kind of cuisine you could ever hope for in one long street line and all great quality. Ask any New Yorker in Raleigh and they’ll tell you “I can’t find any good NY bagels or slice of pizza” I hear it’s the water. I wonder if that’s why the coffee is so different to Australia. We’re all snobs about something!

ny bagels deli bagels raleigh nc 6
Best bagels are at NY Bagel & Deli in North Raleigh

On an international scale, we think of places we’ve visited like Thailand, Singapore, Italy and France. Places we’d be happy to return to JUST for the food.

Raleigh is not a complete foodie town, yet. We don’t have any Michelin Star restaurants, but we do have James Beard award winning chefs. All this is not to say you can’t have memorable food experiences here. The food scene has improved immensely over the past decade and continues to evolve.

I want to be honest so you’re not disappointed IF you heard the term Raleigh = foodie destination. Personally, when we think of “foodie” destinations in the US, Raleigh doesn’t come to mind!

If you’re traveling to Raleigh for any other reason, I can assure you, you will find high-quality dining experiences. New, innovative, and delicious Raleigh restaurants are opening every month, and perhaps in a few years, Foodie Destination could be Raleigh’s new label. Nearby Durham is also making headway to that Tastiest Town of the South moniker.

Woman having dinner with a bowl of curry
Bida Manda – excellent Asian food!

Raleigh is a place to eat traditional Southern food like pulled pork BBQ, hush puppies, biscuits, and sweet tea. You can find good, not amazing, Italian, Mexican, Asian, Mediterranean, Seafood, pizza, burgers, bakeries, vegetarian/vegan, cheap eats, and fine dining!

Here are some of favorite Raleigh food experiences you’ll potentially rave about:

Thriving Raleigh Beer Scene

Lynwood Brewing Concern
Lynwood Brewing is popular

Now, we do rate the craft beer scene here up there with the best in the country, and you could visit Raleigh just to experience its fantastic craft breweries.

We’ve sampled many brews from some of the top beer cities in the U.S. such as Denver, Portland, San Diego and Asheville, and some of our favorite beers and breweries are right here in the city of oaks!

State of Beer, Raleigh, NC
State of Beer is a top bottle shop!

Beer not your thing? Cideries are starting to open in Raleigh with Bull City Ciderworks in downtown Cary, and East Bower in the Iron Works. Plus, you’ll find some cool wine bars, tap rooms, and even a winery here and there!

Here’s a list of breweries in Raleigh area to sip your way through the city! Let us know your favorite in the comments?


Family of four getting a photo taken with the Raleigh city skyline in the background.
View of downtown from Boyland Bridge

It makes the list as one of the best places to live in the US for families, so it makes sense that it’s a family-friendly destination.

As mentioned above, you can generally take your kids anywhere in Raleigh (except for 21+ of course) and never be looked at strangely. Breweries and restaurants often have outside seating areas, kids’ menus, and even play areas set up.

Pullen Park

Raleigh has an abundance of parks, playgrounds, indoor play centers, and kid-friendly attractions like the Marbles Kids Museum and Pullen Park ensure that children of all ages have a memorable visit. And nearby we have Wet ‘n Wild in Greensboro and Carowinds Theme Park in Charlotte. Read more:

“y’all are welcome”

Family of four posing in front of a mural that says all are welcome to Raleigh.
428 S McDowell St. Yes, all are welcome!

Raleigh’s cultural scene is a melting pot of art, music, and cuisine. It’s incredible to see how much this city has grown and how it embraces other cultures, both domestically and internationally.

But I love how Southern roots are not forgotten and it still thrills me every time I hear that Southern accent.

Raleigh is a progressive city that lives by its moniker “y’all are welcome, and y’all means y’all. No matter what your interests or proclivities you will find experiences and people to match and make you feel at home here.

Mom and two daughters posing for a photo with a sign saying Raleigh behind them.
Sign at Raleigh Union Station

Downtown Raleigh has a huge percentage of women and black and brown owned businesses, which is rapidly growing. Black, LGBTQ, and Native American festivals are held each year as are other festivals that celebrate Diwali, Asian and Latina cultures, and many more.

There’s still a lot of work to be done, but the commitment to forward momentum is strong.

Great Towns in the Greater Raleigh area

Aerial view of a main street with shops
Downtown Apex

A visit to Raleigh should not start and end within the city’s borders. “Only 20 minutes” is a common phrase Raleighites will use when talking about getting anywhere.

That’s not just within Raleigh borders, but across the entire Wake County, which is comprised of twelve municipalities, each with their own vibrant personalities, charming downtowns, and things to do.

Drive 20-minutes more and you’ll be visiting other fantastic destinations like Chapel Hill and Durham or Johnston County.

Aerial photo of a downtown city street with buildings, trees, and cars.
Downtown Wake Forest

We love having so many cool towns to visit in the Greater Raleigh area. Apex and Cary made our top small towns in the USA – both are booming with modern hipster bars, and restaurants. As is Wake Forest. And the town of Cary just opened a world-class downtown park that is only going to enhance its happening vibe.

North Hills or Midtown is one of our favorite places to hang out. It’s a mini city filled with retail, movie theaters and bowling avenues, some of our favorite restaurants in Raleigh and fun events in the town squares.

skyrises of North Hills around common garden
Midtown Park, North Hills

Many of the towns in Wake County are becoming their own little trendy hubs and wonderful places to live. Fill out the form below if you’re looking to relocate here and we can help you find the perfect neighborhood for you.

Looking for a Realtor

Are you looking to buy or sell a home and are in needed of a real estate agent in the Raleigh area? As a Licensed Realtor and referral agent, I can save you the time and stress searching and vetting and connect you to my team of trusted Realtor partners. Read more here or click the button below to fill out the form and get started.

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Excellent location for Getaways

Lady walking along a riverfront boardwalk with a bridge in the distance.
Wilmington is just 2 hours’ drive away!

Raleigh is also ideally located with proximity to the coast (2 hours) and to the Appalachian Mountain ranges, in North Carolina and surrounding states (3+ hours).

This means you can explore a variety of landscapes from beaches to hiking trails. Raleigh is a perfect stop over to any itinerary passing through North Carolina. Whatever reason you are visit Raleigh for, you can easily add in day trips or getaways to the North Carolina mountains and North Carolina beaches, making it a well-rounded experience.

Aerial photo of a city center with buildings and cars and mountains in the background.
Downtown Asheville is 4 hours away

Can you get any better than mountains, city and beach in the one trip? Read more in the following articles:

In Summary

A lady walking in a vineyard drinking wine.
The grapevines at Cloer Family Vineyard

Raleigh, North Carolina, is a city that offers a well-rounded experience to visitors. Whether you’re interested in culture, education, technology, nature, or simply enjoying some good old-fashioned Southern charm, this area has something for everyone.

The diverse personality of Raleigh and its myriad attractions make it a city worth exploring and experiencing. Its attractiveness lies in its slower pace, friendly vibe, and ability to immerse yourself into local culture, enjoying what truly is important in life: good times, connection to nature, and interaction with others.

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FREE Printable CHECKLIST for all the best things to do in Raleigh  + updates + insider tips. 
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