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Raleigh isn’t just the capital of North Carolina and home to NC State University. It’s also a popular tourist spot that’s loaded with things to do from sports and entertainment to dining and outdoor recreation. You could easily spend a week here and not do the same thing twice. But, if you’re only in the capital city for a couple days, there are a few must-see stops you’ll want to make during your visit to the “City of Oaks.”
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What better way to start off your time in the capital city of North Carolina than by visiting a museum dedicated to the state’s history. Located in downtown Raleigh, the North Carolina Museum of History is home to a whopping 150,000 artifacts that span nearly 14,000 years. Yes, 14,000 – all the way back to its earliest native inhabitants. The museum’s most popular permanent exhibit, The Story of North Carolina, features a wide variety of artifacts, multimedia presentations and interactive displays, as well as two full-size historic houses, a replica of the Wright Brothers’ flying machine and a lunch counter from a civil rights era sit-in. While you’re there, you can have lunch at the Pharaoh’s restaurant and make sure to stop in the gift shop before you leave to grab a NC-themed souvenir to take home.
If you’re not too museumed-out, after lunch, head over to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, also located downtown, to explore four floors of scientific exhibits. The museum is the largest natural history museum in the Southeast and features a Nature Exploration Center and a Nature Research Center that are filled with live animals and interactive exhibits. You can check out a sloth up close, see reptiles and amphibians, get hands-on in the Discovery Room or learn what life is like for a bug in the Arthropod Zoo.
Bida Manda, located in the Moore Square District of downtown Raleigh, is one of the first Laotian restaurants in the United States and has been named one of the top 100 restaurants in the country by OpenTable. If you’re not sure what Laotian cuisine is like… think of a cross between Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese, with a bit of French thrown in. You’ll find a colorful menu that is inspired by the owners’ parents’ recipes and fresh local ingredients and includes dishes like crispy pork belly soup, chicken curry and ginger pork ribs. They also feature a selection of several desserts including classics like crème brulee and traditional desserts like sweet purple sticky rice.
Watts & Ward craft cocktail bar is a nod to the speakeasies of the roaring 20’s. Named after the Watts Act and Ward Law that attempted to prohibit the flow of spirits in North Carolina in the early 1900’s, this underground bar pays homage to all of those secret spots from over 100 years ago. Its location is hidden underneath Caffe Luna and their spirit selection is wide, from classics like Pimms Cup and Brown Derby to craft creations like Rum Punch and Watermelon Smash. Just kick back on one of the comfy leather couches and enjoy the vintage artwork, antique books or live jazz music on select nights.
Hopefully, you got a good night’s sleep because you’re going to want plenty of energy to start your second day in Raleigh. As long as the weather is nice, head over to the William B. Umstead State Park where you can hike over 20 miles of nature trails that twist and wind through the forest that surrounds three beautiful man-made lakes. If you want to enjoy the water, there are canoes and kayaks for rent, as well as plenty of fishing spots. There are also several covered picnic shelters, so make sure to pack a lunch to bring with you!
If you still have some energy after lunch, you’ll definitely want to check out Triangle Rock Club – a premier indoor climbing center with two locations in the Raleigh area, including one that is recognized as the tallest and largest facility in the surrounding five states! You don’t have to be an expert though to climb here, because they have lanes for all abilities and offer guided instruction as well.
The Raleigh Beer Garden currently holds the world record for the largest selection of draft beer under one roof, with more than 350 varieties available. There’s something here to satisfy every palette, including hard ciders for the gluten-free folks. It’s the perfect way to relax at the end of your active day, so pull up a chair on the first or second floor, or head up to the rooftop bar for a brew with a view.