Raleigh City Guide
As a lover of travel, I’ve come to appreciate and rely on city guides as my preferred method to plan for the best food, activities, and sites for our trips! Even if just passing through, it’s helpful to see recommended options all in one place from someone who lives there, or has been there enough to know the best ways to enjoy the area!
I was born and raised in Raleigh, and I’m proud to know first-hand all the ways she has grown and changed. I’m so thankful for the staples and the new additions that add so much to Raleigh’s culture and atmosphere.
Here are my top recommendations if you are staying in or passing through Raleigh, NC!
Downtown Raleigh’s first boutique hotel, located right in the heart of downtown’s cozy neighborhoods, within walking or scooting distance to Fayetteville Street. This is a new addition, and was very much needed! The decor is simple, stylish, and very well curated using local artisans and stylists, and they even just added a new house as a sort of private suite!
Come here if you’re wanting a more luxury experience, close to both downtown Raleigh and downtown Durham (for the sake of this particular city guide, I’m going to stick with Raleigh spots, but Durham is definitely a place you’ll want to explore if you have time!) Set away in the Umstead forest, you’ll feel like you’re having an upscale retreat even thought you’re minutes from downtown! Be sure to book some time at the spa if you have a chance!
It’s right in the middle of downtown Raleigh, walkable to most of the venues, restaurants, and bars that are totally worth experiencing. If you’re looking for convenience to downtown Raleigh, this is the way to go!
A lovely new addition to downtown’s well-known Hillsborough Street on NC State’s campus, right across the street from the bell tower. Ask for a room with a bell tower view! Walkable to many yummy restaurants along hillsborough street (which stay open late!) and a short scoot/Uber to downtown proper. Bonus: Jubala is right downstairs for all of your coffee, breakfast, and lunch needs!
Coffee & Breakfast
A small shop in downtown, as good as (or better than) any baked good you may have had in Paris! They grind their flour on-site and take a huge amount of pride in what they do. Outdoor seating available. Only plain or iced coffees available, as well as seasonal iced tea.
With two locations, one in North Raleigh and one downtown on Hillsborough Street. Delicious coffees of all kinds (espresso, lattes, pour-overs), and delicious food items. I highly recommend the bacon-egg biscuit and a pour over!
For those of you who are health-conscious, and you’ll get a cool scene as a bonus, right in the heart of downtown! Fresh-pressed juices are available in the fridge, as well as to-order smoothies, crack coffee, and poke bowls!
Just out of downtown Raleigh, Hummingbird is an understated breakfast/coffee place with indoor and cool, warehouse outdoor seating. Enjoy a breakfast cocktail as well! Especially enjoyable as a ladies brunch location.
Totally worth the trip up to northwest Raleigh! An extensive menu, but breakfast and coffee are my favorite. Plenty of outdoor and indoor seating, and a hip but comfortable vibe! You’ll notice it’s a popular spot, always filled with Raleigh-ites and visitors alike! Try the green juice, a cappuccino, or mini donuts! Their salads are also noteworthy for a lunch option!
A new addition to the new-and-improved Warehouse District, right below the Dillon and across from the train station! If you love a fancier coffee experience and great interior design (think light wood, whites, and light pinks), Heirloom is a must-try! I often go there to get some work done, and it never disappoints! They also offer small dishes during the day (try the chilled noodle salad!), as well as alcohol and dinner offerings at night.
A Raleigh staple for breakfast and brunch. Though there is ample seating upstairs, I recommend getting a street-side seat if the weather is nice! It’s one of my favorite places to write and people-watch, and their biscuits are delish!
On the edge of the Mordecai/Oakwood neighborhoods, Yellow Dog is primarily a bakery with the bonus of an espresso machine, and you’ll want to check it out if you’re in the mood for a tasty baked good! If you’re there on the weekend, get the twice-baked almost croissant, or if you’re in the area a while, get a loaf of bread! Enjoy the quaint outdoor seating and scenery of downtown’s beautiful neighborhoods.
Lunch & Quick Eats
For all the true hotdog lovers out there wanting a hyper-local experience - this place has been around for 80 years! Bring cash and don’t ask for ketchup, they don’t have any! Get it all the way - mustard, chili, and onions, with a soda in a glass bottle!
The most delicious eastern NC style BBQ will be at Cooper’s, right in the heart of downtown. Complete with the best southern fixins, sweet tea, hushpuppies, pork rinds, all in a very authentic southern atmosphere.
If you’ve got a large group with different preferences, pick one of downtown’s two food halls, each with plenty of entree, drink, and dessert vendors to choose from, and plenty of seating options with a view.
Happy + Hale (North Hills or Downtown)
Perfect for a quick, healthy meal, especially if you have dietary restrictions or needs - amazing smoothies, salads, poke bowls, coffee, and kombucha.
Just trust me - if you’re looking for true southern Calabash-style fresh seafood - PLEASE GO HERE! It is located at the NC State Farmer’s Market in what looks like an old warehouse and the lack of decor is part of the charm. You’ll see people from all backgrounds and walks of life here because it is just so good. Split a combo with someone - the trays come with more than enough food! Then go peruse the Farmer’s Market.
A beautiful, romantic spot with delicious Laotian food. Get the pork-belly soup. Trust me!
Directly beside Bida Manda, its sister restaurant. Serving dim sum and freshly brewed beer on tap! Get several plates to share, but make sure one of them is the Pork Bao! You can pick up a curated bouquet and a book from the shop while you wait!
Arguably Raleigh’s most notable and long-running dinner staple, known for it’s world-renowned steak cuts and incredible wine reserves. Close to the Brier Creek area of Raleigh, The Angus Barn is set away from the hustle and bustle and is a destination you’ll want to spend at least a few hours enjoying. Make reservations, but arrive early - they have their famous spreadable cheese and crackers and relish assortment available while you wait in one of their lovely lounging areas. They often have a live band while you wait. The pecan pie a la mode is to die for.
An incredible vegan and vegetarian restaurant that even carnivores will enjoy! The “chicken” tinga tacos are delicious, as are their cocktails! Set right in downtown Raleigh towards the Warehouse District.
A personal favorite of mine for it’s unique, cozy decor and german/american fusion dishes. They change the menu to incorporate locally sourced, in-season food, and have several vegetarian options. They also have amazing German and European beer on tap.
A fancy-fun take on chicken-n-waffles and amped-up southern fixins.
Named as such because it used to be the location of the original Raleigh Times newspaper. Delicious american fare and plenty of beer on tap to choose from. Sit rooftop or on one of the sidewalk tables if the weather is nice, and you’ll have a great view of downtown happenings!
You’ll have to pay a dollar once to get in, but it’s worth it for the super snazzy atmosphere and delicious drinks! If the weather is nice, sit outside, where they often have a live band playing!
My personal favorite, because the drinks are just that good. Located below street-level right on Fayetteville St., you’ll go downstairs into a cellar-like room, small but comfortable. My go-to here is the whisky sour!
A new bar located in North Hills, with a beautiful rooftop bar with a view of downtown and tapas to enjoy as well!
Vita Vite (North Hills or Downtown)
A beautiful wine bar located in both North Hills and downtown Raleigh.
This little patisserie in downtown is the cutest shop with some seriously gorgeous and tasty treats! Perfect for an after dinner date or go to meet a friend during the day and grab a coffee & pastry! Our favorite is anything involving chocolate and raspberry! A must-taste!
This classic is located in the 5-points neighborhood of Raleigh and although the cafe serves full meals, the cake is what you’ll really want to get after. These slices are HUGE and homemade and freakin delicious. You can also order to-go, which I’ve totally done before!
Fresh churned, small-batch ice cream using milk from local dairy farmers. Perfect for the family to enjoy! There are two locations in Raleigh - North Raleigh (near Sola) and downtown (near Yellow Dog). Their flavors are always rotating so you’ll want to try a few!
Famous frozen custard that started right here in Raleigh, with plenty of locations to choose from! A fun evening with family to sit outside and enjoy the delicious treats!
Quirky, curated finds including antique/vintage pieces as well as new (often artisan) goods. They also offer interior design services.
This little trio of shops is holding down the retail fort in downtown Raleigh. There isn’t a ton in the way of shops that are walkable in downtown, but these gems are close to each other and filled with goodies for yourself or gifts for others!
A beautiful upscale shopping center in midtown. Everything from boutique shops to big box chains (Target, JCPenny, LuluLemon) and extremely walkable. Plenty to eat here as well, and a cute little grass area for the kiddos to play.
One of my favorite shopping experiences in Raleigh! Located in the warehouse district, this lovely women’s boutique is filled with all ethically sourced clothing and accessories in a warm, welcoming, and beautiful environment. There are great giftables and children’s clothing, too! The Flourish team is always happy to help with suggestions and styling help.
For any design lovers out there looking for unique home goods, accessories, and gift items. Inspired heavily by Scandinavian style, you’ll enjoy hard-to-find products with clean lines and the perfect marriage between style and function.
One of Raleigh’s newest additions! Located in the 5 Points neighborhood, this beautiful boutique (clothing, accessories, and home decor) is also home to an open gathering space, complete with a coffee bar and children’s area. Perfect for moms with small kids looking to get out of the house to work or meet with friends, or work-from-home-ers who need to get out of the house. They also host food trucks and special events regularly for a fun time out!
A full-service spa located in the gorgeous Umstead Hotel, located near RTP. Massages, facials, manicures/pedicures, and body treatments, as well as the general spa area with amenities like fully-stocked showers, a heated whirlpool tub, a cold outdoor whirlpool, and access to the large outdoor pool of the hotel, which looks over a beautiful lake.
With several locations across the area, Paintbase is by far my favorite nail experience in Raleigh. Call ahead or book online for an appointment to ensure a spot, but I promise that small effort is worth the quality! Always clean, friendly, with wonderful polish options in a relaxing environment (a beverage is included, too!)
Looking for a unique spot to shop all things clean beauty & personal products? You have to stop into Trellis, located in North Raleigh in Lafayette Village! While you’re there, get a quick steam facial treatment at the Steam Bar for a little pick-me-up for your skin.
Part of NC State University and very beautiful and peaceful. Perfect for a pretty day to walk around on a date or with family to enjoy the beautiful trees and flowers. There are plenty of open spaces to bring a picnic, too!
Best place in downtown Raleigh to get outside with the family. There are grills, pavilions, playgrounds, paddleboats, and a small train around the park to enjoy with the kiddos! There’s also a beautiful lake to walk around, picnic tables, and a café on site with small local fare.
Dorothea Dix Park
The largest park in the downtown area, with rolling hills perfect for frisbee, a picnic, or a stroll around, and a gorgeous view of the Raleigh skyline. Great for pets too (and they even have special off-leash days!)
My personal favorite! Open 365 days a year and fully stocked with produce, local goods, plants, flowers, cheese, eggs, meats, and more. Perfect for a day date or a time out with family. There is an inside and outside area, so be sure to check out both (and here’s a tip - inside, you’ll want to try the fresh pressed lime- and orange-ades!) Grab a quick bite right there at the NC Seafood Restaurant before you go!
If you love the outdoors, you’ll absolutely want to check out Umstead State Park. Located between Raleigh and Durham, it’s 5,000 acres of wooded land filled with trails, lakes, and creeks, with camping, fishing, kayaking, and swimming available.
Not only is the Art Museum free and beautiful to walk through inside, but there is also a huge property to explore outside with beautiful art sculptures scattered throughout. The museum also houses a café, and an outdoor auditorium which hosts tons of concerts and performances throughout the year.
Located right next to each other in the heart of downtown, these museums are perfect for a day trip when visited together, or a quick trip if you just want to breeze through one or the other! The Museum of Natural Sciences does have dining options and activities for the kids.
Delicious beers located near downtown Raleigh with indoor and outdoor seating, and food trucks regularly visiting for yummy fare to compliment!
Located across from Meredith College campus. Try the Hell Yes Ma’am Belgian Golden Ale! Also host to many food trucks for a bite.
A personal favorite! Great beers a great indoor and outdoor spaces, located just north of downtown Raleigh.
Located closeby to Big Boss and LBC, Neuse River is another great brewery with a great atmosphere, and tons of activities through the week!
Red Hat is a beautiful outdoor amphitheater located right in the heart of downtown, and is home to larger acts passing through Raleigh. Grab a bite to eat and walk on over for music under the stars for a perfect date night!
If you’re wanting to hike or bike while in town, these two trails are the best! The Capital Area Greenway is paved and located all throughout the city with multiple trail on/off points. The MTS trail is a more rustic trail system located in North Raleigh, winding through the woods by Falls Lake.
A huge roundup of Food Trucks gather in the heart of downtown Raleigh every other month and it is a must-do at least once! Get everything from beer to main courses to desserts!
The largest urban bluegrass festival in the world! WOB is an annual festival (usually occurring in September) gathering bluegrass lovers from all over for a weekend of concerts, exhibits, programs, and even a BBQ championship!
Hopscotch is for all the music lovers out there, also located in the heart of downtown! 3 days, multiple stages, concerts all day you can pick and choose from, and more than 130 bands!
Artspolsure is a huge annual art event that takes over downtown once a year and is fun for the whole family. The streets are lined with spectacular chalk art and dozens of exhibits are available to explore, including paintings, pottery, photography, woodworking, jewelry, and art installations (last year, they had huge flower arrangements in random city trash receptacles all throughout downtown!)