Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and we'll send you a FREE Printable NC Waterfalls Checklist!

Raleigh & Wake County, North Carolina

Raleigh and its surroundings in Wake County are fun to explore, no matter what your reason is for visiting. We love hanging out here (especially with our kid) and are excited to share travel guides and background info on the area with you.

We personally think a weekend visit to Raleigh is always fun, and this post will guide you along as you explore Oak City, no matter when you’re in the area.

Things to Do in Raleigh

If you’re looking for free things to do, we’ve got you covered with this guide, too. We’ve also created food guides to include must-eat restaurants in Raleigh.

There’s also a specific focus on the city’s fun neighborhood/foodie paradise Lafayette Village. More topics include how to enjoy an afternoon day date or a food tour with Taste Carolina. Of course, Raleigh’s breweries deserve the spotlight during your time there.

Seasonal fun and events in Raleigh are also on our mind, which is why this is the place to learn about the awesome sunflower field at Dix Park that blooms during summer. We’ve also shared how to enjoy winter in the city and included it among our favorite winter getaways!

For everything else, take a look through our collection of guides. And in the meantime, we hope you enjoy your time in this awesome city and its surroundings.

Raleigh NC Background

The Raleigh of today hasn’t forgotten its history, with museums and historical markers spread throughout the city. It’s also filled with dedicated green spaces, and home to bustling food and arts scenes, there are many reasons Raleigh belongs on your NC Bucket List.

Named after the polarising Sir Walter Raleigh, Raleigh is the largest city in the Research Triangle and the second largest in the state.

The Legendary Birth of Our Capital City

Raleigh was established in 1792 and is the only state capital to have been purposefully planned as a city government.

Both New Bern and Edenton served as the North Carolina capital before in a complicated series of moves. During the Revolutionary War, New Bern was technically the capital, but the legislature rotated their business meetings among six locations in order to thwart the redcoats.

After the war, as legend says, Raleigh was chosen as the final permanent capital because commissioners wanted to be closer to a tavern that made a stiff brandy cocktail.

There’s no official evidence that this is the reason, partly because no politicians could tweet then. However, it certainly makes for a good story!

Location Location Location!

What probably makes more sense is that Raleigh was in a central location in terms of transportation. The east-to-west road connecting New Bern was already in place as well as a north to south route through Virginia and South Carolina.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was established three years before Raleigh, which also made Raleigh a more desirable location than New Bern and also proposed Fayetteville.

Fire, Debate, and Rebirth

In 1831, the State Capitol building burned to the ground while under protection. Ironically, steps were being taken to prevent a fire after the State House in Fayetteville had burned earlier that year.

As workers were putting the finishing touches on the wooden building’s roof, a careless mistake set it ablaze and caused us to lose many important state records and artifacts.

Many were still bitter about the decision to make Raleigh the capital. So naturally, there was a debate on whether to rebuild after the fire or move to another city. After eighteen months of political unrest, Raleigh kept its designation and has remained North Carolina’s state capital.

The city has since enjoyed many periods of growth, which is why the populations of Raleigh and its surrounding towns and cities continue to increase. There have also been tougher times, including stagnation and civil strife, which you can learn about at the City of Raleigh Museum.

Visiting Raleigh Today

By Plane

If you’re flying into Raleigh-Durham International Airport, that puts you about 25 minutes by car from Downtown Raleigh.

By Car

I-40 and US-70 are two ways we typically head into Raleigh. I personally prefer the latter for traffic, but for time, the interstate is usually the best way to go. Since Raleigh is always growing, plan for traffic and jams during busy times.

Wake County Surrounding Towns and Cities

As we mentioned, there are great places to explore in the rest of Wake County that surrounds Raleigh. They include some of our favorite breweries, outdoor escapes, and more day trip-worthy spots.

We’ve created a few posts about these spots, too, and look forward to sharing more!

Here are all the places you can explore beyond Raleigh in Wake County:

Angier to Fuquay-Varina

  • Angier: Most of this town sits in Harnett County, but some of it resides in Wake County, too. Their annual Crepe Myrtle Festival in summer brings in tons of folks from all over.
  • Apex: Home to historic downtown, Apex is perfect for exploring and, based on population figures, for people looking for a new place to live. Look out for Apex PeakFest in May, their weekly farmers market, and more fun throughout the year.
  • Cary: Booth Amphitheater hosts events throughout the year, including the NC Chinese Lantern Festival. Love strolling through downtown Cary and exploring the Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve.
  • Durham: Yep, a tiny part of Durham is actually in Wake County, though not very much. We cover quite a bit about Durham here.
  • Fuquay-Varina: Originally two separate towns of Fuquay Springs and Varina, F-V is gaining notice as a nice place to live along with the rest of Wake County. Fainting Goat Brewing and Aviator Brewery are here and many folks enjoy visiting Fuquay Mineral Spring Park, too.

Garner to Morrisville

  • Garner: Explore White Deer Park or Lake Benson Park for a true outdoor escape. Don’t sleep on Garner’s historic district, which hosts events throughout the year.
  • Holly Springs: Bass Lake Park is an awesome place to visit throughout the year, whether or not you like fishing. Holly Springs is also home to an amazing Farmers Market, as well as Carolina Brewing Company and the female-led Bombshell Beer Company.
  • Knightdale: Knightdale’s Mingo Creek Park & Trail connects to the Neuse River Trail, but that’s not the only thing this town has going for it. Knightdale Station Park is an excellent place to bring the whole family or yourself for a walk or visit to Oak City Brewing Company that’s right up against it.
  • Morrisville: Morrisville is a great spot for exploring ethnic food, but stick around for more fun here. The RDU Observation Park will give you nice views of Raleigh-Durham International Airport, which is the only place named “Raleigh-Durham.” Crabtree Creek Nature Park is a fun spot to visit, too, with a nature center and walking trails waiting for you.

Rolesville to Zebulon

  • Rolesville: Main Street Park and Mill Bridge Nature Park are two great things to do in Rolesville. September’s Hot Pick’n Finger Lick’n BBQ and Bands Festival pairs two awesome things (barbecue and music).
  • Wake Forest: Falls Lake sits in both Durham and Granville counties along with Wake, and its visitor center sits in Wake Forest. We love walking around downtown and stopping by White Street Brewing Company there.
  • Wendell: For such a small town, Wendell really offers a lot to visitors and residents. Roberston Millpond Reserve is fun for kayakers, with rentals available. The Wendell Farmer’s Market and 41 North Coffee keep things local.
  • Zebulon: The Carolina Mudcats call Zebulon “home.” If you stick around before or after games, you’ll find there’s plenty to do here. McLean’s Ole Time Cafe and Barham’s Restaurant are two great spots for breakfast while a variety of parks (six in total) allow you tons of options for walking off all that good food.

Searching for Something Specific?

We look forward to sharing more Raleigh attractions, the awesome people here, and more as we continue exploring our awesome state.

You can also visit our Facebook Group and ask a question there. Either way, we’ll be happy to help your search.