Raleigh, the capital city of North Carolina is named after Sir Walter Raleigh – despite his never setting foot in the city. However he did encourage the settlement of North Carolina and established the first British colony in North America on North Carolina’s Roanoke Island.
Raleigh is one of the few planned cities in the USA and was also created specifically to be the state’s capital. It was planned in 1788 and officially established in 1792. There was no city prior in this area and in part was created to be fairly close to Isaac Hunter’s Tavern, a popular “watering hole” visited by the state legislators.
North Carolina is the birthplace of three of the nation’s presidents, Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson and James Polk – however only one of these men was born in Raleigh. Andrew Johnson, the nation’s 17th president, took over office in 1865 after President Lincoln was assassinated. Johnson would no longer recognize his place of birth; his original home is now site of modern buildings downtown while his tiny home was moved about a mile from downtown to Mordecai Historic Park.
Today Raleigh’s downtown is made for walking; it is compact and clean with a number of attractions and museums easily accessible by foot. The downtown is surprisingly free of cars. Oh, and there is a free WiFi network. When your tired of walking take relief in the fact that the city of Raleigh operates a free bus service in and around downtown called the R Line.
Recently the city has been voted one of America’s Best Cities by several survey’s including Bloomberg Businessweek.
There are not a lot of lodging options located in downtown Raleigh but one of the most convenient is Marriott City Center which backs up almost to the convention center. With 17 stories of rooms, an indoor pool and sauna, helpful staff and a decent Italian restaurant on site – this is a good choice for both business travelers and tourists alike. Visit: www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/rdumc-raleigh-marriott-city-center
Triangle Glides. What better way to see downtown Raleigh then from from a Segway on one of Triangle Glide’s daily tours. These fully narrated tours are led by knowledgeable guides. The 1 hour downtown tour quickly introduces one to current and past Raleigh. A number of historic location specific events are highlighted, places that would certainly take one some time to research and find especially if on foot. Segway operators are treated like pedestrians so the Segway can be ridden on the sidewalks. While you are riding the i2 Segway the guides drive the heavy duty x2 and one can quickly become envious watching them shoot off the street curbs.
Safety is first here and regardless of whether you’ve ridden a Segway before every participant will need to pass a simple indoor practice course. As they say here, “we don’t teach you to ride a segway but to glide a segway”. If water adventures is more your “thing” they also offer Stand Up Paddle boarding lessons.
Tobacco Road Tours offers a diversity of tours focusing on the history in Raleigh, hiking in the Sand Hills region along the coast, winery tours and even custom tours. During a recent pre-Halloween evening we took their 2.5 hour history, ghost tour & pub crawl (of downtown Raleigh. Their downtown tours always meet at Mecca Restaurant (Raleigh’s oldest continuously operated restaurant) – which appropriately means a meeting or gathering point. Our fearless leader Matt led us to a number of areas in downtown historically noted for ghost sightings and other oddball occurrences.
Stories surrounding the old Yarborough House Hotel abound. This historic hotel saw more than its fair share of occult from ghost hands awakening a guest at night in haunted room 218 to one “guest” who perched himself at the bar on occasion (years after he died) and was able to magically move himself around the building in an instant.
Flickering orange lamps greet you as you stop in front of several old homes in one of Raleigh’s downtown historic districts. Apparently these lamps were timed to go off when Matt started weaving one of his scary tales. Your tour finishes at Moore Square Park which was site to a number of hangings and lynchings. The “short lived” were brought in by horses while they sat on top of their own coffins – psychological torture before their impending death. By this time of the tour it is late and there has been enough macabre for one evening. A beer is in order and there are several places nearby to indulge including The Pour House across the street from the park.
Take in a game at the RBC Center; this indoor venue is conveniently located within minutes of Raleigh’s airport and is the home to the 2006 Stanley Cup Champions Carolina Hurricanes and NC State University Men’s Basketball team. The Hurricanes opened the center in 1999 by playing their first hockey game here. In early 2011 this venue hosted the NHL All-Star Game. RBC is intimate and even the upper seats have good views. Looking to splurge? Try the suite seats which include a buffet meal – with a surprising number of dishes (not your typical hot dogs and hamburgers that you might associate with a sports event!).
A great way to arrive at an event is with Harrison Global – they offer private transportation not only within Raleigh but in select cities up and down the East coast. For more information visit: www.rbccenter.com
Raleigh is often called the Smithsonian of the south, for good reason. The city has world class museums and the admission for a number of them is rather reasonable as in free! A few we visited are the following:
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is one of the top museums in the entire state and is over 130 years old. Four floors of exhibits, live animals (enough to qualify as a medium sized zoo!), and hands-on activities can easily occupy ones time for half a day or longer.
Select highlights include a hanging skeleton of a massive Blue Whale that died on the North Carolina coastline (the skull by itself weighs 3 tons), a living conservatory (feels like your in the tropics), “Willow” the only dinosaur discovered to date with a fossilized heart containing four chambers and a single aorta, and “Underground North Carolina” a collection of some of the states most beautiful gems and minerals.
This is a serious science museum and it is about to take its exhibits and education to the next level in 2012 when the Nature Research Center opens. The Nature Research Center is currently under construction to the tune of more than 100 million dollars. Once completed it will connect via a raised walkway to the main museum. This 80,000 foot center is part of Green Square, 2 blocks of eco friendly buildings. Solar panels are used and rainwater from the roof will be caught in cisterns to use for toilets. The center hopes to be certified LEED Gold when completed. A giant globe of the world sits outside and is the center piece of the complex. It will contain multi-media presentations on a 40×40 foot screen and will broadcast science news via live feed to schools across the state.
One of the museum’s popular annual events is a “Bug Fest”, a festival dedicated to insects. For adventurous eaters, local chefs are on hand preparing flavorful dishes using bugs. Admission is free.
North Carolina Museum of History has opened its largest exhibit ever, “The Story of North Carolina” – this detailed exhibit covers the state’s history from its earliest inhabitants through the 20th Century. The exhibit is so large that it is divided into two parts – up until 1830 and then key periods in the state after 1830 including the Civil War, the Great Depression, both World Wars (North Carolina had a 106% enlistment for WWI) and the Civil Rights movement. Did you know that North Carolina was home to the first gold rush in the United States in 1799, 50 years before the California Gold Rush. Another first – the first attack by a German U Boat in World War II occurred off of North Carolina’s coastline.
“The Story of North Carolina” is an exhibit that appeals to all ages. There are even several interactive displays meant for children including how to milk cows and how much a milk bucket weighs when its full of milk. Highlights of the exhibitions include a dugout canoe nearly 3000 years old, the state’s 4th oldest home (part of the roof was permanently removed to fit in the exhibit), uniforms and weapons from the Civil War, objects recovered from Blackbeard’s flagship, “Queen Anne’s Revenge” and a display on the state’s “Big Three” industries — textiles, tobacco and furniture. Admission to the museum’s permanent collection is free. Visit: www.ncmuseumofhistory.org
North Carolina Museum of Art is located about 20 minutes from downtown Raleigh; parking and admission to the permanent collection exhibits are free. Museum Park encompasses 164 acres, includes several short trails, green fields, creeks and woodlands – the art museum is its centerpiece. A new 127,000 square foot gallery building opened in 2010 to house the museum’s permanent collections and the older museum next door is setup for rotating exhibitions.
The permanent collection includes the largest exhibit of Rodin sculptures (both inside and in their outdoor courtyard) in the South East USA, Italian Renaissance and baroque period art, Egyptian works, and a small permanent collection of Jewish art pieces (only one of two American art museums to have a permanent display of Jewish art).
The museum often offers a treasure trove of pieces in their rotating exhibition galleries. Case in point is the Rembrandt in America exhibition running through January 22, 2012. It is the largest collection of Rembrandt paintings ever shown in an American Museum and consists of approximately 50 paintings including 27 that contains his autograph.
Rembrandt was a master painter; his genius is evident especially in this exhibition which shows such a diversity of his works. The exhibition also explores the “school of Rembrandt” and several paintings are shown that were initially thought to be Rembrandts but have since been disproven. View the end of our video at the bottom of this article for curator Dennis Well’s comments on this show. He spent 5 years putting this once in a lifetime show together. Visit: www.ncartmuseum.org
Big Ed’s City Market is such an institution in Raleigh that they do not have a website, rather using the “old fashioned” word of mouth marketing. Big Ed Watkins, a Raleigh area farmer opened this restaurant in 1958. While he sold the restaurant a few years back Big Ed still drops by from time to time. This is a restaurant that you come for old fashioned Southern style breakfasts, where the dusty sometimes eclectic decorations hanging from the ceiling are a throwback to another era. Some of the recipes are from Big Ed’s great-grandfather who was a mess sergeant in the Confederate army in the Civil War.
It is a restaurant that appeals to all walks of life – from local politicians to businessmen to families. Breakfast is the reason you visit Big Eds – choose from traditional dishes as well some “odd ball” named ones including Redneck English muffins, Rose pork brains and Herring fish roe with eggs. The Pancakes are like 18 wheelers – as in size. Huge portions. On the weekends sometimes the line to enter Big Ed’s snakes around the building. Some of the wait staff have been here for years. Located at 220 Wolfe St in City Market.
Escazu Chocolates. Hallot Parson is on to something, that is fairly unique across the nation – hand crafting chocolate from cacao beans on site and selling the finished product across the counter, “bean to bar”, if you will. He sources his cacao beans from high quality producers in Costa Rica and Venezuela. The name Escazu is a tribute to the town in Costa Rica where he decided he wanted to become a chocolatier.
Ever one to push the envelope on chocolate, Hallot has opened a “hot chocolate bar” in the store featuring historic hot chocolate. Hallot hit the cocoa history books for this – delving deep into the ages to come up with recipes for hot chocolates that might have been served in Europe and Central America hundreds of years ago. He found historic records detailing recipes, added a pinch of his own creative ingredients and now serves a pre-Columbian hot chocolate (500+ year old recipe dating to the Aztecs), and brews from 1549 Spain, 1670 Italy and 1692 France. These are intense rich drinks sure to satisfy any chocolate lover!
A rare treat to see a chocalatier in action is offered on the first Friday and Saturday of each month when Hallot opens the behind-the-scenes of his shop to tours. Visit: www.escazuchocolates.com
Irregardless is a rare find anywhere – it is Raleigh’s oldest continuously operated restaurant under the same owner. Think of your hometown: how many restaurants started in the 1970’s and are still in business under the same ownership? Arthur Gordon started this restaurant in 1975 with a focus on vegetarian foods. While vegetables are still a major part of the cuisine, Irregardless later added seafood and meats. After 36 years, Arthur continues to comb his local farmer’s market daily for the freshest local vegetables.
The restaurant offers live music nightly with dancing on the weekends after tables have been cleared away. Looking for a unique concoction with a name that begs questions? Check out “Vegan Sex”, a stacked salad layered with a number of fresh vegetables & fruits. Arthur compares his style of cooking to a jazz musician who puts all the notes together. After all these years in the restaurant business he knows his ingredients very well and a dish like “Vegan Sex” can only be created by someone who is comfortable mixing variety of ingredients.
He and his wife Anya are here nightly and are the type of owners that gladly sit down with their customers and as a result a number of their clientele have become good friends over the years.
Arthur extols the virtue of teas and you will find 25 leaf teas on the after dinner menu. Is it your birthday? Come for lunch or dinner and receive a free bottle of wine! Visit: www.irregardless.com
The official tourism site of the city of Raleigh is: www.visitraleigh.com – be sure to take their Destination i.d. – a short quiz which identifies your personality (one of seven) as it relates to visiting Greater Raleigh.