It’s no coincidence that maps mark Raleigh with a star—North Carolina's capital city boasts plenty of things to do. Conveniently sandwiched midway between the ocean and mountains, it's also a perfect urban retreat for outdoorsy types looking for a temporary change of pace.
A good first stop would be the city’s downtown area, where the impressive State Capitol stands. Tours take visitors through the Greek Revival-style building constructed in 1840 and so well preserved that it is distinguished as a National Historic Landmark. From there, a short walk brings visitors to the North Carolina Museum of History, where permanent exhibits include a restored slave cabin, a full-sized replica of the Wright brothers' first plane, and gold and weapons that once belonged to the pirate Blackbeard. Next door, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences features a Living Conservatory, where lush foliage and live turtles, snakes, and a two-toed sloth inhabit a recreation of a Central American tropical forest.
A 10-minute drive from the museums brings visitors to the Raleigh Farmer’s Market, where hungry shoppers peruse produce, plants, cheeses, meats, and wines grown and produced right in North Carolina. The indoor Market Shoppes may prove more fruitful for those in search of non-perishable souvenirs, such as old-fashioned candies, soaps, and North Carolina-themed gifts. On weekends, shoppers can also check out the Raleigh Flea Market on the state fairgrounds to hunt for antiques, jewelry, handmade pottery, and leather goods.
The North Carolina Museum of Art sits close to the state fairgrounds, though none of its holdings are for sale. Permanent additions include Egyptian funerary art, ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, and early works by Renaissance masters Titian and Raphael. The Museum Park is also worth a visit, especially for those fond of picnicking. After lunch, traverse the trails that pass by outdoor art installations dotting more than 160 acres of fields, creeks, and woodlands
William B. Umstead State Park further connects visitors with nature. This sprawling preserve lies right next to two major roads, but that’s hard to believe considering how peaceful the hiking trails are. The 5,579-acre park also houses local wildlife such as deer and provides access to horse trails, picnic areas, and fishing spots. After a lengthy hike, sate growling stomachs nearby at one of Raleigh’s most well-known restaurants, The Angus Barn. The bright-red barn beckons steak lovers with corn-fed Midwestern beef that is aged on site, while oenophiles will be blown away by the wine cellar where the meticulously curated selection of pours has earned the restaurant no less than 20 Grand Awards from Wine Spectator.
Of course, no visit to Raleigh—or North Carolina, for that matter—would be complete without some good, old-fashioned barbecue. At The Pit, diners can go whole hog––literally. Chefs roast whole, split, free-range North Carolina pigs to create the restaurant's famous chopped pork and baby back ribs that came out on top during a "Throwdown with Bobby Flay".