Things to Do in Raleigh: By JUNKET
Did you know Raleigh’s Capitol Building is actually a tomb? Or that Raleigh’s official vegetable is the sweet potato? Or that it is illegal to borrow your neighbor’s dog here?
Tucked amid verdant hills, shimmering lakes, and sprawling woodlands, Raleigh is a city that is as inviting as it is diverse, where Southern hospitality mingles seamlessly with technological innovation and enriching experiences. With its unique architecture, renowned cultural attractions, and thriving arts and music scene, North Carolina’s capital city invites you to explore a wide variety of fascinating activities and places of interest.
From literary gatherings and art events to bustling markets and lively festivals, Raleigh's cultural offerings paint a tapestry of experiences that reflect the city's vibrant creativity. Whether you're drawn to the captivating museums, lush parks, or the warmth of its local communities, Raleigh unveils itself layer by layer, inviting you to explore its places of interest, uncover its fun attractions, and discover the hidden treasures cherished by those who call this dynamic city home.
Nicknamed “Smithsonian of the South" due to the dozens of museums and historic landmarks housed around the city, Raleigh could never be accused of having a shortage of things to do. An array of attractions awaits, from the splendid North Carolina Museum of Art, showcasing centuries of artistic brilliance, to the historic Oakwood neighborhood, where beautifully preserved Victorian-era homes stand as silent witnesses to the past.
Venture beyond the ordinary and embrace hidden local gems, such as the enchanting Neuse River Trail, where nature's serenity offers respite from the urban rhythm, or City Market, where historic storefronts house eclectic boutiques, galleries, and eateries, capturing the essence of both old-world charm and contemporary flair.
As night descends, Raleigh comes alive with a vibrant energy that ushers in an unforgettable evening. The city's lively Glenwood South district presents an enticing fusion of elegance and thrill, alive with an assortment of restaurants, live music venues, and nightclubs that resonate with energy and creativity.
Ghosts of Oak City
As evening advances, the intriguing Raleigh Ghost Tour invites you to uncover the eerie stories and spine-tingling accounts of the city's mysterious past. Prepare for a thrilling supernatural journey as you explore dimly lit streets and haunted landmarks with chilling tales, where you will:
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Before European settlers discovered North Carolina, the area that would become Raleigh was inhabited by various Native American tribes, including the Tuscarora and Occaneechi. Their communities thrived through hunting, fishing, and agriculture. English explorers began to arrive in the late 1600s, establishing trade relationships with these indigenous groups.
Early settlers like Isaac Hunter and Joel Lane played pivotal roles by acquiring significant parcels of land in the area. Alongside their landholdings, they established taverns and ordinaries along the primary north-south route traversing central North Carolina.
Referred to as Wake Crossroads, this rudimentary outpost initially operated as the county seat for Wake County, North Carolina. Its establishment in 1771 laid a foundation that would significantly impact Raleigh's evolution two decades later.
By the late 1780s, North Carolina's General Assembly recognized the necessity for a permanent location to house the state government and opted to construct a new city at a central location rather than rotating among various existing cities.
In March of 1792, state commissioners purchased 1,000 acres from Lane and swiftly drafted a city plan. With admiration for the 16th-century English explorer and nobleman Sir Walter Raleigh, the city was fittingly christened "Raleigh."
This homage to a historical figure marked the city's official naming, commemorating both the exploration spirit of the past and the promise of a new chapter in North Carolina's history.
As Raleigh became the capital, the city underwent rapid development, with the State Capitol building completed in 1840, symbolizing the city's importance.
In time, a growing array of establishments began to dot the city’s landscape, including inns, taverns, dry-goods stores, coffin houses, and brickyards, which lent crucial support to the burgeoning capital.
Fayetteville Street emerged as the bustling commercial nucleus of Raleigh, as residences made way for storefronts along the southern blocks of the State Capitol. This transformation underscored the city's shift toward a more business-oriented and commercially vibrant center.
Beyond the downtown commerce, Raleigh's landscape featured a small number of mills and pioneering endeavors such as the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad. Collectively, these elements formed the fabric of antebellum Raleigh, laying the groundwork for the city's continuous evolution.
Spoils of War
Following the decision by North Carolina legislators to secede from the Union on May 20, 1861, preparations for war were set into motion. In a matter of weeks, Raleigh became a hub of military training as over five thousand North Carolinians converged to prepare for the impending conflict.
Unlike some other Southern capitals, Raleigh managed to evade the widespread devastation inflicted by the ravages of war. Four days after the surrender of the Confederacy, Union forces led by General William T. Sherman marched into Raleigh.
In a bid to prevent the extensive destruction previously witnessed in cities like Atlanta and Columbia, the city was formally surrendered to the Union. Although resources and sustenance were pillaged, the city remained physically unscathed, embodying a poignant testament to Raleigh's resilience during a tumultuous period in history.
The late 19th century witnessed Raleigh's industrial growth, with tobacco, textiles, and furniture manufacturing becoming prominent industries. Despite endeavors to establish a manufacturing base, retail commerce emerged as a robust force, with a multitude of family-owned businesses taking center stage in the bustling downtown district.
Fayetteville Street emerged as a magnet, drawing crowds for a range of activities, from shopping and entertainment to lively parades.
The city's theaters and public performance venues evolved into vibrant hubs, catering to diverse preferences—whether patrons sought grand opera, vaudeville acts, or the magic of motion pictures, there was something to captivate individuals of all ages.
The year 1887 etched a transformative milestone in Raleigh's trajectory, as present-day North Carolina State University was founded as a land-grant institution. This significant development not only added another layer of educational prowess to the city but also further elevated Raleigh's stature as a paramount center for learning, innovation, and progress.
"The City of Oaks has grown like magic in recent years, not by sprouting leaves, but by sprouting buildings."
- William C. Friday
The establishment of this esteemed institution solidified Raleigh's role as a beacon of education that radiated its influence far beyond its city limits.
Raleigh's transformation into a modern city gained momentum in the mid-20th century. The establishment of the Research Triangle Park in the 1950s marked a turning point, attracting high-tech companies and research institutions. This, along with the presence of universities, contributed to Raleigh's emergence as a hub of innovation and technology. The city's population surged, accompanied by cultural diversification and urban development.
The 1950s and 1960s ushered in more transformative changes for Raleigh, fueled by the constructive forces of the Civil Rights Movement. Of all the national events, none left a deeper imprint on the city than this movement.
Students and activists embarked on bold demonstrations, marching through the streets and challenging the confines of Jim Crow laws. These acts of protest, from sit-ins at segregated eateries to public rallies, redefined Southern culture and laid the foundation for the eventual enactment of comprehensive laws at national, state, and local levels—laws that would safeguard the rights of all citizens.
Today, Raleigh stands as a dynamic metropolis, celebrated for its blend of history, innovation, and cultural richness. The city's journey from Native American settlements to a thriving capital and technological hub reflects its resilience, adaptability, and enduring commitment to progress.
Smithsonian of the South
Raleigh boasts a captivating array of museums that offer enriching experiences for visitors seeking art, history, and science. The North Carolina Museum of Art stands as a cultural gem, showcasing a vast collection spanning various periods and styles, from European masterpieces to contemporary works. Its expansive outdoor park features sculptures and serene walking trails, making it a harmonious blend of art and nature.
For history enthusiasts, the North Carolina Museum of History presents an immersive journey through the state's past, featuring engaging exhibits that chronicle everything from the Native American heritage to pivotal moments in American history. Moreover, the museum hosts rotating exhibits that provide fresh insights into diverse aspects of North Carolina's story.
Exploring scientific mysteries, the Museum of Natural Sciences offers an engaging space for both the curious minds and the young at heart. From the impressive dinosaur exhibits to interactive displays on wildlife and ecosystems, this museum provides an opportunity to delve into the wonders of the natural world.
The Great Outdoors
Embraced by the natural beauty of North Carolina, Raleigh offers a wide variety of outdoor activities for those seeking adventure and relaxation. Umstead State Park is an oasis of tranquility, inviting hikers, bikers, and nature enthusiasts to explore its winding trails, lush forests, and serene lakes, as well as thrilling mountain biking trails and opportunities for horseback riding. Nearby, Lake Johnson Park offers kayaking, canoeing, and fishing adventures on its glistening waters.
For a more leisurely escape, Pullen Park presents a charming retreat, complete with pedal boats, a historic carousel, and playgrounds that promise family-friendly fun. The Neuse River Trail stretches alongside the scenic river, providing an ideal route for cycling, jogging, or simply strolling in the embrace of nature.
Raleigh's commitment to green spaces also extends to the JC Raulston Arboretum, where visitors can immerse themselves in a diverse collection of plants, flowers, and trees. This botanical haven is perfect for a leisurely walk or quiet contemplation amidst vibrant blooms and tranquil landscapes.
“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.”
– Our State
Arts and Culture
Raleigh's commitment to creativity extends to performing arts as well. The Martin Marietta Center for the Performing Arts hosts a range of events, from Broadway productions to symphony performances, ensuring a captivating cultural experience for all.
The city's vibrant arts scene is epitomized by the Contemporary Art Museum (CAM Raleigh), which features thought-provoking exhibitions that challenge perspectives and engage visitors with contemporary artistic dialogue.
Cultural enrichment can also be found in the heart of Raleigh's downtown at the Marbles Kids Museum, a dynamic space where families can engage in hands-on learning and creative play.
Immerse yourself in the local art scene at First Friday Raleigh, a monthly event that transforms the city's downtown into an art gallery. Explore local galleries, studios, and shops that open their doors to showcase an intriguing range of artworks, often accompanied by live music and engaging conversations with artists.
As you journey through Raleigh's cultural neighborhoods, make yourself familiar with the city's thriving beer scene, indulging in sumptuous flavors at renowned establishments like the Raleigh Beer Garden. With 366 choices, this three-story bar offers the world's largest selection of beers on draft. Relax at Brewery Bhavana, a bookshop-flower shop-restaurant-brewery combination that has been named one of the prettiest breweries in the country.
Get to Know Raleigh
In addition to the Junket Raleigh Experience, the City of Oaks offers a diverse array of entertainment options that cater to every taste and interest, from captivating museums and historic locations to thrilling nature activities and mesmerizing art displays. Some of Raleigh’s renowned attractions include:
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