Visiting Raleigh - What to See and Do
(Raleigh Durham International Airport RDU, USA)
has been North Carolina's capital since just after the American Revolution in 1792. This energetic city sparked the state's decision to secede from the Union at the start of the Civil War. It later suffered Union occupation and harsh treatment in the ensuing Reconstruction.
Today, the 5-acre / 2-hectare public square in front of the imposing state capitol building is the geographical heart of the city, with pleasant leafy streets and attractions radiating outwards. Raleigh has enjoyed a prosperous revival in recent years, evident in the hugely popular pedestrian mall that covers a large section of downtown.
As part of North Carolina's thriving Research Triangle, there is plenty of money and action in Raleigh. Visitors have one of the state's top venues for dining, shopping and evening entertainment. The city is also a long-standing university town, and the students of North Carolina state help to ensure that the scene stays current and lively.
Ten things you must do in Raleigh
- The Greek Revival style State Capitol is amongst the city's most enduring landmarks. Built in 1840, it is on the National Historic Register and definitely worth a visit, even if only to marvel at its 30-meter / 97-foot copper dome. Guided tours are available of the interior and take about 45 minutes. The capitol is also a good base for explorations of the downtown area.
- One of the state's top museum attractions is the North Carolina Museum of Art, which just opened a new multi-million dollar wing dedicated to sculptures like its collection of Rodin bronzes. The permanent collection is an eclectic mix of European masters, American artists and contemporary art. Around a dozen touring exhibits come to the gallery each year as well.
- Of the many parks and gardens in Raleigh, the most unusual is the Hobbit Garden, a small little hideaway devoted to the cultivation of odd plants. A pair of enterprising horticulturists proved that rare species, such as the evergreen dogwood and carnivorous pitcher plants, can in fact grow in North Carolina. The garden is small but very intriguing, and sure to interest any gardener.
- Take a look at the natural side of North Carolina at the impressive North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Located downtown at the state capitol complex, it is the state's oldest museum. Its recent move to its new home gives the amazing array of exhibits a breath of life. Check out dinosaur skeletons, one of which has a fossilized heart, and the Naturalist Center that showcases the range of America's natural world.
- Take a break from the urban scene to do some horseback riding at Dead Broke Farm. Its 60 acres / 24 hectares of rolling woodland are marked by streams, meadows and a wealth of wildlife. Horseback riding is the main activity here, being conveniently located just minutes from the city center. Visitors to the farm can also simply walk around or go camping in the summer.
- The golfing attractions both in and around Raleigh are nothing short of sublime. The hardest part is picking which course to play first, though many first-timers tend to gravitate towards the Tobacco Road Course. Both challenging and incredibly scenic, this course is a perennial favorite with locals and tourists alike. Most golf courses around Raleigh are open to the public, and the greens fees are usually very reasonable.
- There are in excess of 140 public parks in Raleigh, many of which are connected by an excellent urban bike path. This ensures that visitors can find a green space to get some exercise just about anywhere in the city, and those with more drive can keep busy for days on end. Lake Wheeler is a great place to go if you feel like spending a day on the water. This huge lake has rentals for kayaking, canoeing, sailing, rowing and fishing - just minutes from the city.
- Antique hunters are going to have a field day working their way through Raleigh's Five Points district. This suburban neighborhood is home to a dozen or more top-flight antiques stores, where the goods are definitely closer to treasure than trash. Far from a flea market, this is the place to make an investment, as the range of goods is among the best in America thanks to the long history of the city and the region.
- Every weekend, the Raleigh Flea Market lures thousands of shoppers looking for something special at a great price. Around 600 vendors show up each Saturday and Sunday at the North Carolina Fairgrounds, selling everything from antiques and collectables to gadgets and vintage clothing. It is free to enter and bargaining is encouraged.
- The campus of the North Carolina State University is as pretty as any park in the city. To see how the student population gets on in Raleigh or just to enjoy a walk around its shady green campus, it is a great place to spend an afternoon. The university's basketball team, the Wolfpack, is extremely popular in Raleigh, and home games are always high-energy events.