10 Things to Do Right Now in Downtown Raleigh, N.C.
Wednesday, October 28, 2020, 12pm by visitRaleigh
Downtown Raleigh, N.C., is where historic neighborhoods, world-class museums, Southern diners, outdoor green spaces, performing arts venues, local shops, breweries and underground cocktail spots all work together to create one incredible cultural hotspot. Here's how to plan a safe and activity-packed visit right now!
Raleigh, N.C.'s welcome mat is always out for you.
See more safe dining and things to do, plus local travel safety info, here.
Note: We ask that you please explore responsibly—wear a mask, wash your hands and wait six feet apart from others. If you're traveling to Raleigh, N.C., you may want to check out this list of Count On Me NC-certified hotels. Count On Me NC is a public health initiative that specifically trains hospitality businesses to help keep both guests and staff safe from COVID-19. The program also asks guests to pledge that they'll do their part to follow safety guidelines as well.
Dine outdoors with good friends and good weather
The Cortez: Since opening in 2017, The Cortez has featured freshly prepared seafood with a globalized pantry and worked with local purveyors and fisherman to source responsibly caught and raised products. Their relaxed patio backed by an ivy-covered wall gives you all the right vibes for a relaxing meal.
Raleigh Times Bar: Named for the city newspaper that formerly occupied their historic space, the Raleigh Times has been an anchor in the downtown Raleigh nightlife scene since it opened in 2006. Grab drinks and small plates on the rooftop terrace and enjoy the view.
Barcelona Wine Bar: Inspired by Spanish culture, this warm and inviting tapas bar features a sidewalk cafe reminiscent of those commonplace in Europe. Settle in for a nice glass of vino and a menu of rustic small plates made with delicious flavors and seasonal ingredients.
Transfer Co. Food Hall: Not sure what you’d like to enjoy food wise in downtown? No worries! That’s what our food halls are for. Transfer Co.'s open-air patio is perfect for chowing down on a smorgasbord of delicacies ranging from burritos to oysters available from 11 different vendors.
Humble Pie: Chef-inspired dinner fare that's meant to share—and a brunch menu that draws guests from across the Raleigh area—Humble Pie's comforting eats, big windows and awesome patio make for a perfect dining experience.
Plates Neighborhood Kitchen: For globally inspired, locally produced cuisine, snag a seat at one of the colorful outdoor tables at Plates Neighborhood Kitchen. Small plates and shareable appetizers dot the menu while main dishes like the braised short ribs steal the show.
Morgan Street Food Hall: Raleigh's Warehouse District also has its own food hall. Morgan Street, with its slew of yummy options and sunny patio, tickles visiting and local taste buds regularly. Drop by for a wicked taco, Maine lobster, towering burger, comforting empanadas and so much more.
Discover new art out in the open
While art is in the eye of the beholder, it’s also on buildings, in squares and along the streets of downtown Raleigh.
Two new masterpieces? Berkeley the Squirrel, beautifully carved from an aging willow oak and standing sentry in Nash Square Park, and Sonarc, shining brilliantly outside of the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. You should also check out this great list of Instagram-worthy murals to instantly make friends envious of your feed.
Visit some of the Southeast's best museums
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences: Interested in learning more about the natural world around you? Spend the day exploring the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. The Tar Heel State’s most visited museum not only boasts four floors of exhibits (some including live animals), but also gifts shops, cafes and a 3D theater.
Marbles Kids Museum: Marbles Kids Museum sparks imagination, discovery and learning through play. With two floors and over a dozen exciting exhibits, Marbles wows museum goers with a range of creative and practical themes. Local tip: Operating hours for Marbles Kids Museum are currently limited. Be sure to call or check the website for hours and to reserve tickets in advance.
City of Raleigh Museum (COR Museum): There’s no better place to receive a valuable history lesson on the City of Oaks than the COR Museum. Housed in the historic 1874 Briggs Building, the museum gives visitors the chance to really immerse themselves in the exhibits and get up close in personal with Raleigh’s past. You can also take advantage of walking tours that begin and end at the museum. Local tip: Admission is free, but donations are encouraged.
North Carolina Museum of History: The history of N.C. is not only fascinating, but also on full display at the North Carolina Museum of History. Located in Downtown Raleigh, this museum showcases more than 14,000 years with 150,000 historical artifacts. Additionally, on the third floor there’s the Sports Hall of Fame to view memorabilia donated by the hall's 300 inductees.
CAM Raleigh: Displaying new and emerging work by local and national living artists, CAM Raleigh attracts just as many locals as it does out-of-towners. Smart, modern and a little unexpected, this striking museum always manages to be unique, bold and refreshing no matter when you visit. Local tip: Make the most of your trip by visiting on a First Friday—downtown’s monthly art walk.
Grab a brew (or two)
Trophy Brewing + Pizza: For the perfect craft ale and pizza combination, you’ve got to try Trophy Brewing + Pizza. It’s literally some of the best beer and pizza in all of Raleigh! Be sure to stop by their expanded location on Morgan Street on your next trip downtown.
Tobacco Road Sports Cafe & Brewery: Tobacco Road feels like a casual neighborhood sports bar, but also manages to step it up a notch with a sophisticated and polished space. The beer and food are also worth bragging about from the Brightleaf IPA and Big Boss Burger to the Chai Tea Amber and the chicken pesto gemelli pasta.
Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing: Head over to Wye Hill Kitchen + Brewing, not just for the beer, but also sweeping views of Downtown Raleigh’s skyline and tasty vegan and vegetarian-friendly bar food. This popular spot owes its name and view to the ‘wye’ it’s built over—a junction where trains change direction.
Little City Brewing + Provisions Co.: Locally rooted and centrally located in the Glenwood South district, Little City prides itself on offering quality beer, cocktails and wine. In addition, the taproom regularly plays host to live DJs and various food trucks for an awesome experience that’s hard to pass up.
Clouds Brewing: What started out as a restaurant featuring a German-inspired menu, 40 guest beer taps and a 10-tap, self-pour beer wall has turned into the place for a casual outing with friends or the best date night ever. Come for the elevated pub food as well as the tasty brews and leave with the biggest smile of your face.
Crank Arm Brewing: Crank Arm Brewing in the Warehouse District draws beer lovers in with quality pints brewed right here in Raleigh, N.C. In addition to great beer, Crank Arm is dedicated to utilizing and advancing green transportation. Local tip: Look for the bright yellow bike racks outside with the brewery’s logo emblazoned on them.
Soak up some history
Pope House Museum: Built in 1901, the Pope House Museum gives visitors a glimpse into the life of a prominent African-American family led by patriarch Dr. Manassa Thomas Pope. The museum contains a remarkable collection of original furnishings, artifacts and documents dating back to 1851. Local tip: Open Saturdays only, from 10am-2pm, with tours starting on the hour.
Historic Oakwood Cemetery: Oakwood Cemetery, with its winding roads, glistening stream and towering oaks, is the tranquil resting place for more than 28,000 residents. For 150 years now, the cemetery has told the stores of generations. It’s also an excellent example of Victorian landscaping and mortuary art.
Mordecai Historic Park: Mordecai Historical Park is home to some of N.C.’s most extraordinary treasures. Tour the Mordecai House which was once part of one of the largest plantations in the state and now helps illuminate the stories of the over 200 African American slaves who live and labored there. You’ll also find the birthplace of 17th President Andrew Johnson on the grounds as well.
Hang out in a city park
Dorothea Dix Park proves to be the park everyone loves to enjoy. With its wide-open fields, rolling meadows and shady tree groves, it’s truly an escape right in the heart of the city. Grab a picnic basket and a blanket to enjoy a picnic on either The Big Field, The Grove or Harvey Hill. The park also holds programs and events like yoga, guided walking tours and nature classes for children. Even dogs can get in on the fun at the three-acre Dix Park Dog Park complete with separate areas for small and large breeds. Local tip: The dog park is the only spot in Dix Park where your dog can be off leash.
Go for a bike ride
One of the best ways to explore downtown is by bicycle and getting a set of wheels is as easy as locating one of the many Citrix Cycle bikeshare stations around town. Just use your mobile device to download the app and unlock a bike. From there, pedal off to some of Raleigh’s best parks restaurants, shops and attractions. Most of the bikes have electric assist which provides an extra boost when tackling some of downtown’s hills! Local tip: Riders can rent bikes for as little as $2 for 45 minutes. Be sure to dock your bike before times runs out to avoid additional charges.
Shop gifts, clothing and more
House of Swank: Folks hip to locally made fashion should check out clothing and accessory store House of Swank. It’s home to the coolest N.C.-themed merchandise and swag. We’re talking T-shirts, pins, facemasks, hats and more for men, women and kids.
Edge of Urge: Edge of Urge specializes in handmade and independent designer clothes, shoes, jewelry and accessories for men and women. If your style pops with a little bit of DIY, innovative and creative thinking added in, then this boutique is for you.
Raleigh Denim Workshop: Need an awesome pair of jeans? Then pay a visit to Raleigh Denim Workshop + Curatory, owned by passionate minds Sara Yarborough and Victor Lytvinenko. You can also shop other well-crafted denim items like bags, hats, aprons and face masks as well as tees, outerwear and sweatshirts.
DECO Raleigh: Local, handcrafted gifts are yours for the purchasing at DECO Raleigh. A shop with a distinctly local bend, DECO has the things unique to this area that you won’t find many other places—ideal for the perfect souvenir.
Father & Son Antiques: Go treasure hunting at this antique furniture, decor and vintage store nestled in middle of the Warehouse District. Relish the homey feel of the place as you discover old records, vintage clothing and accessories and more from decades gone by.
The Green Monkey: Quirky and slightly irreverent, The Green Monkey not only has an amazing local gift gallery, but also a pretty extensive beer bar to thoroughly enjoy. The place has a real neighborhood vibe, and the owners and patrons will help you feel right at home while you’re shopping and sipping.
The ZEN Succulent: Green and glamorous, the ZEN Succulent offers unique gifts for customers with true green thumbs and those who like a bit of nature sprinkled throughout their home. Local tip: Stop in for one of their workshops and to build your own terrarium at their DIY terrarium bar.
Plan an unforgettable date night
Goodnights Comedy Club: Grab a couple of tickets and treat your date to one of the many comedy shows that pass through Goodnights Comedy Club. The theater venue regularly showcases top-tier talent in a relaxing and cozy setting. Guests can experience tear-inducing laughs along with a wide selection of food and beverages from appetizers, full entrees and desserts to craft beers and cocktails.
The Tower Escapes: Escape rooms offer lots of socially distanced fun in downtown Raleigh, and they’re especially great ideas for dates. The Tower Escapes is one of the best options around with its wide variety of puzzles and challenges to solve. Choose any one of their three themed rooms and work together as a team to decipher clues, beat the clock and escape.
Wine and Design Raleigh: What’s more romantic than taking a painting class together? At Wine and Design, date night couples can really get to know each other while creating personal works of art. Both public and private classes are available and come complete with painting supplies and a qualified art instructor. Local tip: You provide the food and beverages; Wine and Design does the rest.
Header photo by Richard Barlow
Planning a trip? Whether driving or flying, exploring the outdoors or tasting the area's best food and drinks, we look forward to soon welcoming you to Raleigh, N.C. From transportation to lodging, dining and attractions, your health and safety are top priority for the hospitality industry. No matter how you travel, or what you do, you can travel confidently. Click here for the latest updates on COVID-19 and openings in the Raleigh area.
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