The Raleigh area is booming with new visitor experiences, making for great story ideas. Get the rundown on new hotels, culinary and nightlife, noteworthy attractions and more.
Accommodation news | Culinary and nightlife | Noteworthy attractions |
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Heights House Hotel
This historic pre-Civil War-era mansion in downtown Raleigh has been completely renovated and revitalized into a boutique hotel. Named for its location within Raleigh's historic Boylan Heights neighborhood, the 10,000-square-foot, 1858 Italianate-style mansion features nine ensuite guest rooms that have been lovingly restored, 15-foot ceilings and original hardwood floors throughout the space, a total of 10 cozy fireplaces and grand common spaces crafted with immaculate detail and decorated with modern and vintage touches. The indoor/outdoor space is also available for private events for up to 120 guests. This National Historic Landmark is one of the few remaining pre-civil war houses in the area and opened in May 2021.
Located between the Glenwood South and Warehouse Districts in downtown Raleigh, this incredibly stylish and modern full-service property opened during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The vibrant 126-room, seven-story boutique hotel with locally-inspired décor includes event space and a plant-forward restaurant called Good Day Good Night.
The Longleaf Hotel
A modernized mid-century gem sitting at the northern gateway to downtown Raleigh not far from the museums, State Capitol, Glenwood South district and more. The state’s namesake is the soaring longleaf pine, which has inspired every aspect of this modern renovation of a vintage motor lodge. The property, which opened in January, has 56 rooms and includes the swanky Longleaf Lounge and patio, which is great for enjoying locally roasted coffee, classic cocktails or a local beer.
The Umstead Hotel and Spa
A Five Star and Five Diamond, independently owned hotel drawing inspiration from art and nature. The property features stunning interiors punctuated with privately curated fine art, 150 spacious guest rooms and suites, world-class cuisine, a stimulating spa and a serene woodland setting. The property has recently undergone a $14 million renovation. In spring 2020, all 150 guest rooms were updated with new furnishings, textiles and lighting, a brand-new private nursing room was added for mothers and the public restrooms were upgraded. The bar and lounge were renovated in fall 2020. The hotel's award-winning restaurant Herons also underwent renovations at the end of 2020.
A couple of new hotels are coming to downtown Raleigh:
- AC Hotel Raleigh Downtown is currently being built in the Glenwood South district as part of The Willard development. The 146-room Summit Hospitality project will be a stylish, urban hotel and will include The AC Lounge. This property is estimated to open in Fall 2021.
- The Gables is an old motor lodge in downtown Raleigh that’s being renovated into a boutique motel by Raleigh native and Grammy-nominated folk singer Tift Merrit and Daniel Robinson (who developed the Durham Hotel). It’s currently under construction and will have 19 guest rooms and a lounge.
Culinary and nightlife
Sam Jones BBQ
Rooted in the tradition of North Carolina whole-hog barbecue that third-generation pitmaster and James Beard Award semifinalist Sam Jones has known his entire life. Since his teenage years, Sam worked with his family's acclaimed barbecue mecca, Skylight Inn, before deciding to open his own business, in partnership with Michael Letchworth, in Winterville, N.C., in 2015. Chopped barbecue is king at Sam Jones BBQ, made from whole-hog smoked over Carolina oak. Other menu highlights include tried-and-true Southern staples at their finest, such as slow-cooked chicken, spare ribs, pork skins and pimento cheese, sweet slaw, baked beans, hand-cut fries, collard greens and more. Sam has now opened the second location of Sam Jones BBQ in downtown Raleigh.
Chef Lelia Kidd's new plant-based gastropub concept sits right in the heart of downtown Raleigh's Fayetteville St. The fully vegan menu makes no compromises—you'll find buffalo chicken sandwiches, crispy wings, BBQ nachos, smash burgers and more (all with the appropriate substitutes) to go along with an extensive beer and cocktail menu.
Di Fara Pizza Tavern
A spin-off and the first East Coast location outside of New York City of the famous Di Farra Pizza in Brooklyn. Opened in 1965, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Zagat and the late chef Anthony Bourdain have all called the original Di Fara the best pizza in New York. It may not be Brooklyn, but this downtown Cary pizzeria serves the same family-style, mouth-watering pizza as the original.
James Beard Foundation's 2019 Outstanding Chef Ashley Christensen unveiled her newest dining concept, a pizza place called Poole'side Pies, in the space directly next to Poole's Diner. The highly-anticipated restaurant has been in the works for several years and is now open. Poole'side Pies is Neapolitan-style pizza shop inside a whimsical, swimming pool-themed setting. In Poole'side's case, Neapolitan-style means thin-crust pizza, cooked for 90 seconds at more than 800 degrees in a 6,000-pound, Marra Forni wood-fired oven, using organic Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes, a dough made from local flour and house-made mozzarella. The 90-seat restaurant, dressed in aqua blue and coral hues, has a distinct vintage vibe. Design details include a 52-foot skylight, custom-built wood banquettes and glass globe chandeliers that were originally used as street lights in Paris.
Five-time James Beard award semifinalist Scott Crawford, owner of Crawford and Son, opened a new restaurant called Jolie. The French-inspired bistro offers casual French classics with a modern twist. The cozy, yet lively, space also serves French beer and wine. Named for his daughter, and the French word "pretty," Jolie opened September 2019 right beside Crawford and Son in the N. Person St. neighborhood. Crawford has also announced plans to open a steakhouse called Crawford Brothers in Cary in 2021.
Christopher Prieto, a champion pitmaster, self-proclaimed "barbecue nerd" and the mastermind behind Prime Barbecue brings together the flavors of Texas, North Carolina and Kansas City barbecue. Find Prieto’s award-winning brisket, ribs, pulled pork, sausages, banana pudding and more on the menu at this trip-worthy dining stop in Knightdale.
Southeast Asian cuisine is celebrated in Cary ]with the opening of kō•än. Under the direction of executive chef Drew Smith, formerly of Raleigh’s bu•ku and so•ca, kō•än inspires guests with its humble and tranquil fare composed of small plates, hot pots and inventive bowls inspired by Asian culture and cuisine.
Standard Beer and Food
The creators behind Cary's beloved Bond Brothers Beer Company and beer pop-up Ancillary Fermentation have revitalized the former Standard Foods space in the Person Street neighborhood to open Standard Beer and Food. The new space focuses on pub-style beers with culinary inspiration. The cozy indoor space and outside yard emphasize synergy between beer, food, people and the space.
A relaxed speakeasy with an eclectic menu that intertwines the old of the historic Merchants Association building with new, interactive cocktails.
The Ark Royal
Glenwood South’s newest tiki bar and lounge. Sip on exotic cocktails that taste like mini-vacations in a glass. Ark Royal’s name comes from an old ship commissioned by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1586 in ode to exploration, adventure and discovery.
Hank's Downtown Dive
A drink, a bite and a good time! This new downtown Cary hangout—from the same owner as the popular cocktail spot Sidebar just down the block—is a modern take on a classic dive (plus a dash of vintage vibes, to be sure), with a food menu that turns up a little unexpected (grilled octopus, a gluten-free chicken sandwich, N.C.-raised ribeye and more) and a bar offering that equally suits the after-work and weekend dinner crowds.
BB's Crispy Chicken
Chef Ashley Christensen—operator of five downtown Raleigh eating and drinking spots and named America's best chef by the James Beard Foundation in 2019—has an exciting new fast-casual project in the works to once again raise the bar for the culinary scene in Raleigh. This time the focus is on that iconic Southern comfort food—fried chicken. Rumor has it that Christensen has perfected a new recipe that strikes a balance between a delightfully crunchy exterior and a juicy, tender interior. She says that contrast plus the right seasoning and quality ingredients are what make good fried chicken great. The Raleigh location will open its doors in the new Midtown East Shopping Center just off Wake Forest Rd. and a Cary location, both expected to open in 2021.
In the works for five years now, (ish) Delicatessen is Matt Fern's sandwich shop opening this summer in downtown Raleigh. Here's the word from Fern himself, a longtime veteran of the food and beverage scene in the City of Oaks: "If you crave the tastes of Jewish, Russian, American, Italian or just about anything between two slices of bread, then your new favorite sandwich joint is coming very soon. We know you are going to love it, and can’t wait to share our food with you."
Young Hearts Distilling
Downtown Raleigh's first distillery and restaurant is coming to life from the owners of Raleigh's beloved Trophy Brewing Company. Young Hearts will offer a variety of liquors, tasty bites from the restaurant, a rooftop patio, event space and more in mid-2021.
Cut & Gather
A new wood-fired, Southern-style cuisine concept from celebrity chef Kenny Gilbert. The Top Chef alum has a coming-soon shop in the Wakefield neighborhood in North Raleigh in early 2021. Gilbert envisions a venue that’s homey and inviting like a warm hug. An emphasis on family-style dining and fellowship will add to that feeling as well. When it comes to food, the Southern-style cuisine menu will include barbecue, seafood, grilled meats and Southern sides among other delicious offerings. Cut & Gather plans to serve lunch, dinner and weekend brunch.
Ed Mitchell, the acclaimed barbecue chef who's made his name in local restaurants and earned national media recognition, plans to open The Preserve on Creekside Dr. just north of downtown Raleigh. In partnership with LM Restaurants (the team behind the popular Carolina Ale House franchise), The Preserve will bring another delicious barbecue eatery to our area from the man known as “The Pitmaster.” The Preserve opened a pop-up 'cue shop in early 2021 before fully opening later this year.
Wyatt's Whole Hog Barbecue
Pitmaster Wyatt Dickson—of Picnic in Durham—will open his second barbecue restaurant (and first solo project) in the capital city. Wyatt's Whole Hog Barbecue will bring his experimental approach to traditional Eastern-style barbecue and also offer ribs, brisket, and more. Look for his second restaurant in Raleigh's Gateway Plaza later this year.
Year of BBQ
With a plate of barbecue in hand, all is right with the world. Pitmasters across the state are converging on Raleigh to make it the BBQ Capital of N.C. this year. Longleaf Swine is graduating from food truck to brick-and-mortar in downtown Raleigh's historic Oakwood neighborhood. Wyatt Dickson will launch Wyatt's Whole Hog Barbecue in Gateway Plaza as an offshoot of his Durham eatery. Midtown Raleigh will be home to Ed Mitchell's new collaboration with LM Restaurants, The Preserve BBQ. Redneck BBQ Lab (from Johnston County) will open another location in North Hills.
Recently opened: Third-generation pitmaster and James Beard semifinalist Sam Jones' newest namesake restaurant, Sam Jones BBQ, in downtown Raleigh. Champion pitmaster Christopher Prieto's Prime Barbecue in Knightdale and Shady’s, a barbecue bar, in Garner.
There's no shortage of ways to find peaceful escapes in order to explore the outdoors in the City of Oaks. Use any of the Raleigh area’s 180 miles of greenways—many of them connecting to attractions and letting you travel all over the destination—or numerous other miles of trails traversing through parks, and you’ll find runners getting in workouts, cyclists out for leisurely rides, parents pushing strollers and people of all ages soaking up the fresh air. Check out the destination's Top 10 Sports & Outdoors Experiences!
Moore Square Renovation
One of four public spaces that was designated by the founders of Raleigh in 1792, downtown Raleigh's Moore Square completed a new master plan that closed the area for approximately one year while the construction was in progress. The $12.5 million renovation included landscaping, construction of a small cafe (Square Burger), a concert area, a water feature and more. Ground broke on the renovation in early Nov. 2017, and the Grand Opening Celebration took place on Aug. 3, 2019.
Robertson Millpond Preserve
Transport yourself to a long-ago place and time when you visit Robertson Millpond Preserve in Wendell, an 85-acre refuge for nature lovers, canoeists and kayakers. The area is significant for its rich cultural and environmental history. When you look around, you’ll think you are in the Great Dismal Swamp! Paddle on the millpond in a non-motorized boat, explore the natural areas and fish in designated areas.
Museum Park at the North Carolina Museum of Art
More than 5,000 works of art spanning from antiquity to present day make up the bulk of masterpieces you'll find at NCMA, plus the largest museum art park in the country. Museum Park's 160+ acres of meadows, woodlands, and creeks expanded a few years ago adding contemporary gardens, a promenade connecting the park and galleries, hundreds of new trees and an elliptical lawn overlooking the park's rolling meadow. The vast trail system is designed for walking, jogging, hiking and cycling. Explore more than 30 works of art surrounding the outside of the museum and along the trails and greenway paths. Don't miss the Rodin Garden and the trio of Gyre rings.
North Carolina Freedom Park
A long-planned park aiming to honor the African American struggle for freedom and liberty for all broke ground in late 2020 just a few blocks from the North Carolina State Capitol. The park will include phrases and quotes from famous Black North Carolinians engraved throughout the space, and a large sculpture in the middle of the park will shine a light into the night sky—the Beacon of Freedom—to reflect the fire for freedom. Designed by the internationally known late architect Phil Freelon, the park expects to open in 2022.
Dorothea Dix Park
In July 2015, the City of Raleigh acquired 308 acres of the Dorothea Dix Campus from the State of North Carolina. The purpose of the City’s acquisition of the property is to plan and develop a new destination park—Dorothea Dix Park. A master plan for the park—the city's largest green space—was unanimously approved by Raleigh City Council in Feb. 2019. The master plan proposes the park be transformed through six distinct landscapes, with ideas on how each landscape could be used by visitors (open space, playgrounds, plazas, gardens, performance spaces, public art, etc.). Implementation of Phase 1 of the plan, which began in late 2020, calls for physical improvements to the park, including restoration of the creek, cemetery enhancements, rehabilitated buildings, a new main entry to the park, a new multi-use path and interim parking. Phase 1 of the plan may take 10-20 years to implement.
RDU International Airport currently averages approximately 400 arrivals and departures daily and services more than 11 million passengers annually. RDU provides service to nearly 60 other airports via nonstop flights and consistently has the lowest average fare among North Carolina’s commercial airports. Later this year Delta will resume its nonstop to Paris daily and American to London Heathrow, also daily. In 2019, both airlines increased the size of the aircraft on the route adding comfort and additional capacity.
Next on the list? RDU recently added non-stop flights to: Albany, N.Y.; Fort Myers and Jacksonville, Fla.; Montreal, Canada; San Jose, Cali.; Syracuse, N.Y.; and West Palm Beach. RDU is also pursuing international expansion to include flights to China and Mexico.
This year RDU added some local flair to the airport with a full craft beer bar and robust menu from Raleigh's third-largest production brewery, Raleigh Brewing Taproom, and a beloved European bakery from Cary's own Master Baker Lionel Vatinet, La Farm Bakery Café, (both in Terminal 2).
Downtown Raleigh’s Warehouse District now houses the new Union Station transportation hub, which opened in July 2018. This major project accommodates longer trains and provides larger platforms, among other improvements. As part of a 10-year strategic Wake County Transit Plan approved by voters in 2016, Union Station not only serves Amtrak passengers but also acts as a multi-modal transit center connecting riders to other forms of transit.
The plan includes the expansion of bus service from 17 to 83 miles, including 20 miles of Bus Rapid Transit-related infrastructure improvements and will complete with the activation of 37 miles of Commuter Rail Transit (CRT) running from Garner to downtown Raleigh, North Carolina State University, Cary, Morrisville and the Research Triangle Park continuing to Durham and will leverage the bus network to connect riders to RDU as well.