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A Guide to Spending 24 Hours in Raleigh, North Carolina (Updated for 2024)

I have called Raleigh, North Carolina, home for over 10 years. As one of the South’s most vibrant and eclectic burgs, this state capital might be one of the fastest-growing midsize cities in the US. It regularly tops the “best places to live and work in the US,” but it still offers small-town charm and Southern hospitality. My wife and I decided to raise our kids here because of this mix.

Breakfast: Big Ed’s City Market
There’s no better Southern breakfast and introduction to Raleigh than at Big Ed’s in historic City Market, serving generous portions of Southern comfort food since 1958. Here you’ll enjoy a laid-back vibe under a collection of funky antiques hanging from the ceiling, along with warm Southern hospitality and food like Grandma used to make. Especially popular are their giant pancakes, local country ham, fried chicken, aged rib-eye steak and eggs, sliced pork loin, fried catfish, fluffy biscuits, and double-brewed sweet tea.

Morning activity: Museums
After filling up on a hearty meal, take in a museum. Raleigh has some excellent ones, and because of the quality and number of free museums it has, the city has often been referred to as “the Smithsonian of the South.”

Lunch: The Pit Authentic BBQ
North Carolina is a big barbecue state, and enjoying a plate is something they take very seriously in the state capital. It’s one of those “welcome to the South” moments all meat eaters should experience. In Raleigh, they mainly do Eastern-style barbecue, in which the whole hog is slow-cooked over hot coals; the meat is then pulled, given a little chop, and dressed with a vinegar-based sauce. Typically, it’s served as a sandwich or a plated dish, with all the traditional Southern sides you can handle.

Afternoon activity: Umstead State Park
Time to walk off lunch! Just a 15-minute drive from downtown is one of the most popular destinations in Raleigh, and one of North Carolina’s most visited state parks: William B. Umstead State Park, which is easily accessible from Interstate 40 and US-70. Its more than 5,000 acres of forest surround three man-made lakes and contain over 22 miles of trails, ranging from easy to moderate.

Pre-dinner drinks: Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing
The best view of the Raleigh skyline can be had from Wye Hill and its outstanding outdoor patio. Take it all in while enjoying refreshing craft beers and unique cocktails. There’s an excellent small-plate menu too!

Dinner: Stanbury
Stanbury is probably the most unique dining experience in Raleigh and one I can’t stop talking about. It has outstanding food, a wonderful ambiance in a quirky, rustic venue, and amazing service! The menu, which changes daily, features modern cuisine.

After-dinner drinks: Watts & Ward
Watts & Ward is my favorite (underground) bar in Raleigh, a craft cocktail place infused with the spirit of the 1920s. Think leather seating, cozy nooks, rustic tables, dim lighting, and bookshelves full of history.

If you only have 24 hours in Raleigh, this one-day itinerary is what I suggest for first-time visitors who want to get a real feel for the City of Oaks — its culture, history, food and drink scene, and sense of Southern community. (Of course, I suggest you stay longer, as there are plenty of cool things to do in Raleigh, including awesome festivals and sporting events.) Craig…

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