North Carolina’s state capital for more than 200 years, Raleigh shakes a lot of charm from the boughs of its ancient oaks. Another feeling pulses through the city, too —
North Carolina’s state capital for more than 200 years, Raleigh shakes a lot of charm from the boughs of its ancient oaks. Another feeling pulses through the city, too — a new, iconic vibe that runs right alongside the old. Braided together, downtown Raleigh charms and delights, revealing unique experiences for folks exploring the City of Oaks.
Ready to plan your visit? Whether you’re an art, history, food, or shopping enthusiast, you’ll find your heart’s desire in one of these three downtown Raleigh itineraries.
Downtown Raleigh isn’t just a destination. It’s an invitation to discover something different from your day-to-day. It’s where 93% of businesses are locally owned and where you’ll find exceptional experiences and people who, like you, are anything but ordinary.
Begin your stay by checking into the Longleaf Hotel on North Dawson Street. Just a few minutes’ walk from the heart of downtown, this motor lodge-esque, open-air hotel welcomed visitors in the 1960s as a travelodge. Today, guests once again arrive for a respite. The recently remodeled interiors feature sleek, midcentury modern furnishings and longleaf-inspired decor, from pine needle wallpaper to a hatch-pattern carpet. “Our vintage vibe pulls people in,” says Longleaf’s Chris McGinnis. Grab a vermouth-based cocktail or local beer from the Longleaf Lounge and settle into the perfect place to call home while you explore the sights, smells, and sounds of the capital city.
After a good night’s rest, start your morning with an easy 10-minute stroll to Edenton Street. Check out exhibits at the North Carolina Museum of History, including North Carolina’s Sports Hall of Fame, which features items like Richard Petty’s stock car. Then head to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences right across the plaza, where you can watch a 3D science movie, explore exhibits on the plants and animals that call North Carolina home, see the skeleton of an enormous right whale, and marvel at the displays of prehistoric fossils.
After you hop off, stroll to Glenwood South. There, art seems to radiate from every corner. Hear jazz music drift out of C Grace, take in Glenwood South’s public art, or stop by the Carter Building to view and purchase original work from more than 40 entrepreneurial artists.
Start your day on Davie Street at Sir Walter Coffee. Fit for a foodie, this downtown barista bar serves up drinks like the Queen’s Guard (cold brew, basil simple syrup, grapefruit bitters, and cream, all served over ice), along with mouthwatering pastries and savory breakfast sandwiches.
For a bigger breakfast or lunch, head over to Transfer Co. Food Hall, where you can find something for everyone, all under one roof. Try Benchwarmers Bagels, where the fresh, artisan-made and award-winning bagels feel more crafted than baked. Grab a dozen oysters on the half shell (hauled in from across North Carolina) at Locals Oyster Bar & Seafood Market, tasty Argentinean empanadas at Che, or a loaded cheeseburger with hand-cut fries at Mama Crow’s. Finally, top it all off with an extra-special ice cream sandwich from Captain Cookie and the Milkman — you can select the ice cream flavor and the cookie type. Might as well make that two.
When it’s time for happy hour, there’s no place like the heart of downtown. Until it put out its final edition in 1989, the Raleigh Times was a go-to newspaper for Raleighites for more than 100 years. Today, the old Times building is the perfect spot for the restaurant of the same name, where you can sit on the rooftop deck, outdoors on the sidewalk, or grab a spot in the window and choose from a wall of 16 draft beers, unique appetizers, and pub fare like fried pickles with an out-of- this-world homemade ranch sauce.
At supper time, stroll down Hargett Street to find authentic, international cuisine. Craving Italian? Try Caffe Luna. Want to try Lebanese? Sitti is a great choice, with menu items like Samkeh Harra, a pan-seared salmon topped with spicy tahini sauce, cilantro, mint, and onions. Looking for something you can share? Head to ORO. In the mood for Asian? Try the dumplings at Mofu Shoppe. Aiming for a classic dish with a European flair? Visit Capital Club 16 on Martin Street — and start with an order of the pimento cheese fig crostinis or the zucchini schnitzel.
Just next door you’ll find Garland, where nationally acclaimed chef Cheetie Kumar serves a seasonally driven menu influenced by the flavors of India and Asia. Stay on Martin Street to satisfy your sweet tooth at Bittersweet. Their specialty dessert cocktails include inventive and refreshing options like the Black and Coke — Mexican Coke over chilled espresso.
Wrap up your foodie tour with drinks on the rooftop bar at 10th & Terrace with views of the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, or settle into one of the oversized leather couches in the basement speakeasy Watts & Ward.
With 93 percent of downtown Raleigh stores locally-owned, your shopping experience in the City of Oaks will truly feel unrivaled. Start your spree on Martin Street, where you’ll make a double impact when you buy any of the carefully curated jewelry, gifts, and clothes at The Flourish Market. “Every product has a give-back component,” says founder Emily Grey. “Shop clothing made by sex-trafficking survivors in Nepal, jewelry with proceeds benefiting childhood cancer research, and bath bombs made by adults with disabilities — just to name a few.”
If you like your clothes crafted, stop in at Raleigh Denim Workshop + Curatory, down the street on Martin. Here, you can buy field-tested, handpicked fabric used to create custom jeans and clothes made in the workshop. The Curatory in the front is part laboratory, part retail store and offers an abundance of trendy local products and a lot of denim, of course.
Walk a block down Harrington Street and then take a left on Davie for a mid-morning treat or coffee at Videri Chocolate Factory, where chocolate aficionados know how to turn a chocolate bean into deliciously rich chocolate. “Customers can try our daily selection of chocolate or choose some of our award-winning 70 percent dark chocolate fudge,” says Chef Sam Ratto. “Or our new soft-serve ice cream with house-made toppings — like our favorite toffee, which has an added cocoa nib crunch.”
Head back north on Harrington toward Martin. Look left, and you’ll see Father & Son Antiques, one of Raleigh’s best spots for uncovering vintage clothes, unbeatable records, and mid-century furniture. Then continue the upcycled trend around the corner at Retro Modern on Hargett Street, where you’ll find antique furniture like atomic chairs and live-edge coffee tables.
By now it’s time for a late lunch, and you’ll want to try A Place at the Table, which offers incredible sandwiches, like the turkey bacon avocado club, made from locally sourced ingredients. Bonus: at A Place at the Table, you pay what you can, whether it’s the price on the menu or by volunteering. You can also pay it forward and buy a meal for someone else in the community.
No better way to end your time in the Warehouse District than with wine and art. Vita Vite is right across the street. Take a few of your Videri truffles over and sip your favorite vintage while you take in the view: Vita Vite is filled with art from 13 different artists. Drop into a comfy couch or chair and unwind from your extravaganza in the Warehouse District.
Not ready to stop the shop? Venture just outside the Warehouse District and visit Black Friday Market on Hargett Street, where 100 percent of the profits from your purchases go directly to local, Black-owned businesses. Just around the corner, pop into DECO Raleigh for a unique souvenir from your trip to the capital city.