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Raleigh NC - First Friday

First Friday
Art. Food. Music. First Friday is Raleigh’s free self-guided tour of downtown’s cutting edge cultural hot happenings. Local art galleries, art studios, alternative art venues, and museums stay open late the first Friday of every month to welcome thousands of art-seeking enthusiasts downtown.

It’s a college town and the state capital, but beyond those admittedly appealing characteristics Raleigh has an appealing vibe for all ages and interests.

The town is filled with topnotch hotels and if you have a favorite, you’ll find it here. One good option is the Raleigh Marriott City Center, in the middle of downtown. It’s close to everything and known for its great service with an emphasis on green practices. The property has undergone a renovation, so expect fresh new accommodations when you go.

Residence Inn by Marriott® Raleigh Downtown is a new hotel, and is Silver Leed Certified. It’s an all-suite hotel, ideal to relax and offering room to work, with a kitchen for convenience. It’s close to Raleigh's dynamic downtown scene and includes 10th & Terrace, their rooftop bar, and Overlook, their on-site restaurant.


Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Farmers Markets & More

What to do? Depends on your particular preferences, and in a city like Raleigh your tastes will be beautifully accommodated.

In fact, let’s begin with taste – food tasting to be exact. Fans of the gooey-sweet pride of the south (Krispy Kreme doughnuts) might want to pay homage at their iconic landmark building on Person Street. The doughnut dynasty started in 1937 in nearby Winston-Salem, but two short years later, the ubiquitous treats arrived in Raleigh, where they’ve been favs ever since.

Healthier, more natural fare can be found at the NC State Farmers market, open every day. Depending upon the time of year, visitors will find all manner of fruits, veggies and other delights. There's also the Raleigh downtown Farmers market in Market and Exchange Plazas that opens on Wednesdays from April - October.

Want a bit more guidance? May we suggest the Taste Carolina Gourmet food tours, or perhaps Triangle Food Tours.

Taste Carolina showcases fine dining and eclectic eateries. Different tours cover downtown options (with ample food and drink), or perhaps afternoon tasting, for a Saturday afternoon “Speakeasies” cocktail tour.

Triangle Food Tour spans the five downtown districts and samples a number of unique local restaurants.

Known for effortlessly blending modern architecture with historic buildings and monuments, Raleigh showcases fine dining and eclectic eateries. Whether you're a resident or a visitor, you'll enjoy the opportunity to talk with chefs and owners who are serving innovative ethnic and Southern cuisine, house-made chocolate, authentic barbecue, beautiful and delicious cupcakes, local beer and organic wine.

There are walking tours, barbecue tours, chocolate tours, tapas crawls, forays outside town and specialty events.


Get Your Bearings (Literally)

Perhaps you’d like an overview of Raleigh ia a Triangle Glides Trikke Tour. For those so inclined, gliding through the tour, accompanied by a wireless audio pack, will provide insider glimpses into Raleigh’s rich history. They provide training and helmets. Rules apply, so check with the staff.


Food, Glorious Food

Consider one of these great options. You’ll be surprised at the number of excellent restaurants in the Raleigh area.

Bida Manda: Make reservations and plan for a wonderful, exotic Laotian lunch or dinner at Bida Manda (the words mean father and mother in Laotian). Foodies rave over the papaya salad and the crispy pork belly soup. Both vegans and meat lovers can be happy here, and one reviewer calls their small desserts “parties for your taste buds.” Their cocktails are spectacular as well.

Garland. James Beard Foundation nominee Cheetie Kumar brings eclectic Indian and Pan-Asian dishes to downtown Raleigh with a southern twist. Sourcing from local farmers’ markets and family farms the menu is always fresh, always in season and always adventurous.

Brewery Bhavana:  From the creators of Bida Manda, brother and sister Vansana and Vanvisa Nolintha, Brewery Bhavana is a brewery, taproom, dim sum restaurant, library and flower shop, all in one. A gathering space welcoming people from all walks of life, backgrounds and futures to enjoy Belgian-inspired beer and lovingly-crafted food while surrounded by books and flowers. Recently named to Bon Appétit’s The Hot 10 list of Best New Restaurants in America. It is truly a magical place.
Crawford and Son:  James Beard award semifinalist Scott Crawford's neighborhood restaurant. The food and atmosphere both embody modern sophistication and classic charm at this cozy Person Street District restaurant.
Raleigh Beer Garden: Largest Beer Garden in the world (Guinness World Record holder for most beer on tap and largest selection of beer on draught in the world). The owner Niall Hanley newest offering is Morgan Street Food Hall a new lifestyle dining concept that features local eateries, restaurants and food retailers.  Different meals are enjoyed in a shared seating area.  Check for opening date.

Want to blaze your own dining trail? There are more than 1,100 restaurants reviewed in Trip Advisor, plus My Restaurant Guru has more great resources on delightful dining.


Raleigh NC - Sparkcon

Catch this Spark. Sparkcon is a four-day creative explosion of art, music, film, fashion, geek, circus, dance, comedy, design, food and more. Now this is a festival that makes your spirit soar – and emphatically demonstrates how much Raleigh has to offer. Held each year in September.




Get Cultured – Museums & Sports

Frequently, what makes a city unique can be found inside its museums and galleries. Raleigh’s museums are fun-filled and diverse, so let’s begin with kids’ stuff.

Raleigh is often dubbed the “Smithsonian of the South,” based on an abundance of high-quality, FREE museums, historic attractions, performing arts and educational institutions. Raleigh’s museums are fun-filled and diverse, so let’s begin with kids’ stuff.

Marbles Kids Museum has created an environment where learning is more than fun. Children create works of art, learn about green building, experience life on the farm, or behind the wheel, and so much more, including the Wachovia IMAX Theatre. Special events are held throughout the month, and even the smallest visitors have play areas designed with their tiny hands in mind!

Pullen Park is another great destination if you’ve got children. A livingly restored antique carousel offers rides, as does the tiny train. Take a paddleboat out on the lake, and wonder through the gardens. It’s next door to NC State University.

NC Museum of Natural Sciences, in downtown Raleigh brings the natural world to life. Not sure the kids will approve? Mention the Terror of the South dinosaur, the world’s only real Acrocanthosaurus skeleton exhibit.

Raleigh City Museum  is a private, non-profit facility dedicated to all things related to the city. In February, the museum is hosting a strong line-up of African-American exhibits as part of Black History Month. Visitors can learn about Raleigh during the turbulent era that spanned the thirty years after 1950. Other exhibits introduce Raleigh’s earliest days, and its evolution into a fascinating area to visit, and perhaps in which to live.

NC Museum of History  is a one-stop-shop for learning about what made North Carolina a wonderful state to visit and in which to live. Current exhibits explore life from earliest times. The NC Sports Hall of Fame brings athletic legends to up close and personal.

CAM Raleigh (Contemporary Art Museum) provides an environment for transformation through educational programs, cultural experiences, and bold, non-traditional exhibitions by living artists. Fascinating!


Raleigh NC - New Years

First Night Raleigh
What a night! First Night Raleigh offers almost 100 performances in more than three dozen locations, culminating in the Acorn Drop, where you and thousands of your new friends ring in what promises to be another fabulous year.

And speaking of sports …

Raleigh is a sports-loving community, starting with NC State and its Wolfpack. Basketball is legend around Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, but football offers fantastic afternoons of fun and games.

The Carolina Hurricanes offer edge-of-your-seat thrills and NHL match-ups that have helped create a strong base of newly minted hockey fans throughout the area. Professional baseball can be found at the Carolina Mudcats’ ballpark, and golf courses offer a great day on the links for every skill level.

Contact the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau for up-to-the-minute details on sports, and browse the website for a complete listing of upcoming events, from opera, to Broadway Touring companies, and even a spelling bee or two.


The Great Outdoors

Raleigh is filled with fabulous ways to enjoy being outside. Family-friendly parks and trails offer low-key options for those who want a quiet stroll, or a fast-paced ride. Here are two favorites.

The Neuse River Trail is the longest greenway trail in North Carolina, extending 28 miles from Falls Lake Dam to the Wake County line. Along the way, it skirts the eastern edge of Raleigh, following the river for most of the way. Enjoy walking or bike riding through scenic areas lined with trees. You may see wildlife, especially on the boardwalks that cross wetlands areas. Families and recreation enthusiasts of all ages love the area.

William B. Umstead State Park is a real treasure in Raleigh. There are well-marked hiking paths made of asphalt, and trees cover much of the grounds. Bathrooms are handicapped accessible, and picnic shelters and lakes dot the area. Quartz crystals can be found and everyone enjoys the serenity to be found in an urban environment.


The Evening Hours

The sun is waning, but the fun is heating up in Raleigh. This is a university town, so expect active watering holes, including The Green Light, a legit speakeasy hidden behind a false bookcase/wall, passcode only.  Many say they have the best cocktails in town.

Another option is C. Grace, with cocktails and live jazz has inventive, delicious drinks.  Be sure to try the Indian Summer when you go.

Gallo Pelon Mezcaleria is one of only two mescal bars in the Southeast.  For a unique experience, it’s a great option.

Watts and Ward is one of the largest and newest underground speakeasies in the Southwest with an outdoor patio and lawn where live music and swing dancing are options.

Bittersweet is a dessert, coffee and cocktail bar with a local, all-natural seasonal menu.  Take your friends and order a pitcher of lemonade made with fresh blackberry syrup and the booze of your choice: vodka, gin, rum tequila.  It’s part of their summertime menu.

Fox Liquor Bar serves classic and contemporary cocktails which are served in a subterranean drinking den.

Got great cuisine on your mind? Several of the restaurants mentioned earlier, will make fine choices.

If you’re lucky (or smart), you’ll be in Raleigh on the first Friday of the month. The city showcases its exciting art, music and dining scene and offers free, self-guided tours of local art galleries, art studios, museums, retail, restaurants and alternative art venues. First Friday is a guaranteed good time.

City Plaza downtown and the Red Hat Amphitheater, feature special events as well.

Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts offers a Broadway series, plus opera, ballet and a wide range of performances. See what’s in town when you’re planning to visit. You just might catch a star-studded show.

Satiated and probably exhausted, it’s time to retreat to your room. You’ve got a big day tomorrow.




Day two

For a truly Southern experience, consider having breakfast at a local institution. Big Ed’s was founded in 1958 by Big Ed Watkins, a native of Wake County. His family’s farm produced tobacco and other crops and Big Ed developed the recipes used in his restaurants by helping his mother in the kitchen as she prepared meals for the farm workers. Since 1989, it’s been located in the Downtown City Market and features such favorites as biscuits with all the fixins, fried catfish or local sausage, and farm fresh eggs.

Enjoy their Southern-style meal at breakfast or lunch, cooked to order using fresh and local products. Then, stay and see the antique farming equipment on the walls and ceiling of the restaurant.

After a yummy breakfast, you’ll need to review plans for the day. About the only thing we haven’t tackled so far is shopping, and, undoubtedly, during your wanderings you found a couple of boutiques and galleries that demanded a closer look. Here are some insider suggestions:

Holly Aiken’s Stitch - Launched in 2004, Holly has remained true to her original vision to provide uncomplicated bags using distinctive, indestructible materials. Influenced by colors found in dime store aisles and vintage racing jackets, Holly's bags are primarily made from vinyl and bold black webbing trim, accented by stripes or crisp geometric shapes. Her color palette is slightly retro and always just right. Every one of Holly's bags is made in North Carolina and has been lovingly constructed with precision and care to withstand the daily grind.

Deco Raleigh - DECO Raleigh proudly features more than 60 local artisans' work: pottery, prints, cards, jewelry, textiles and the best local t-shirts and they even have a parklet -- In place of two parking spaces, they're creating a mini-park with places to sit, be creative and enjoy downtown Raleigh!

Ornamentea specializes in beads and ornamentation.

Videri Chocolate Factory makes the good stuff – from bean to bliss. Try the 50% dark milk chocolate bar. Dare we say, the best of all words? Perhaps the sea salt chocolate is more to your liking. Or, take some Big Fig chocolate home. Your friends and family will thank you – if you can part with it.

There are more, of course, so browse around Downtown Raleigh for a more complete list of shopping destinations. Three more to consider: North Hills, Cameron Village, and Crabtree Valley Mall.

Want to spend a second night? We thought so. You’ve still got lots to see and do in Raleigh.

Related Reading

More about Raleigh, NC
Greater Raleigh Convention & Visitors Bureau
Day Trips Directory