Head over to Joule Coffee + Table for a bite. Go old school with an egg and cheese sandwich, go Southern with biscuits and gravy, or get crunchy with a breakfast salad; but whatever you do, get a cortado.
After breakfast, wander around downtown a bit. The North Carolina State Capitol is a fine-looking building and blissfully politician-free (they all hang out at the Legislative Complex a few blocks away) and you can finish off your coffee while sitting on the oak-shaded lawn or just stroll.
Make you way to Oak City Cycling and rent a bike. They’re only $25 a day and Ken or one of his folks in the shop will direct you to the Greenway, where you have a 6 mile ride through neighborhoods and along a bike paths to the North Carolina Museum of Art.
At the North Carolina Museum of Art, you don’t have to go inside to get a cultural experience (though you should go inside, the galleries are great and the restaurant, Iris, is fantastic), in the 160-acre Museum Park there are a number of giant sculptures ad whirligigs and interactive art pieces. In the woods, check out Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky, a bunker-like installation that’s actually a camera obscura projecting an image of the sky on the floor.
If you didn’t eat at the Museum, head back downtown. Go classic Raleigh (and super cheap) and eat at The Roast Grill where they’ve served two things since 1940: hot dogs and Cokes in a glass bottle to the customers in their dozen seats. Go for barbecue at Clyde Cooper’s and wolf down a pulled pork sandwich as big as your head. If you’re of the vegetarian-vegan ilk, The Fiction Kitchen has the dish you’re looking for.
Post-lunch, head over to Videri Chocolate Factory for a pick-me-up in the form of a chocolate bar or bonbon, which they make in house from roasting the beans to making the chocolate to packaging it up. It smells so good in there you’ll want to pick up one of their t-shirts and have them seal it in a Ziploc bag so you can smell it later.
With a little chocolate bar giving you a needed caffeine-sugar kick, go two blocks over to the CAM (Contemporary Art Museum), a small, well-curated museum in a former grocery warehouse. It’s a fitting space for a gallery where the exhibits rotate in and out as quickly as summer veggies.
It’s time to get serious, now, so go back over by Videri (and get more chocolate if you need it), but head a couple of doors down to Crank Arm Brewing Company where you will drink at least one flight of beer. Or two. Depending on your thirst level. Do a little self check and ask yourself, “Am I ready to bike over there to go to a bar with the most taps of anyplace in the world?” If the answer is, “No, I feel a little wobbly” or “I don’t know where that is,” see if one of the Rickshaw drivers is hanging around, they often are, and tell them you need to go to Raleigh Beer Garden, STAT.
Raleigh Beer Garden is a wonderland of beer. They hold the Guinness World Record for Most Number of Beers on Draft and that’s 366 beers and growing. This three-story beer bonanza has a bar with 144 taps dedicated to North Carolina brews, another with 220+ national and international beers, and a rooftop bar with a dozen or so taps where the selection is always something different. While you’re here, get a snack, the kitchen really knows what they’re doing and a pizza, an order of wings, or a giant pretzel will help even your keel for the rest of the evening.
You could go Irish right down the street at Hibernian, track down one of the many food trucks in town, or go for an all out feast of epic proportions at Babylon. Babylon serves up Moroccan dishes and everything on the menu is rave-worthy. Get a bottle of wine (if you’re the type to go from beer to wine to booze, because booze is next) and get dinner outside by the fountain where if it wasn’t for the Southern accents on every server, you could be in Casablanca.
Before evening turns into actual night, return your bike and get a driver to take you down to Boxcar Bar + Arcade. You’re going to need quarters, and lots of them, if you expect to make your way through the 70 video games—some vintage, others classic others newish—here. A full liquor bar means you can make the switch now, or go back to beer courtesy their two dozen taps, your call.
Get to The Haymaker over on Fayetteville Street, one of the growing number of craft cocktail bars in Raleigh.
From here, find a concert.
Bigger acts head to Red Hat Amphitheater, indie acts go to Lincoln Theatre and Kings, and in September and October, Fayetteville Street is jam packed with festivals like Hopscotch and the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Wide Open Bluegrass Fan Festival. If you’re into comedy, make your way to The Dangling Loafer where you can catch smart acts like Cliff Cash before they blow up.
It’s late and you’re hungry, so go to Beasley’s Chicken + Honey around 11:30 and get some chicken and Waffles. The waffle’s crispy, the chicken crispier, and the whole thing is drizzled in honey and damn if it isn’t late-night perfection.
If you catch a second wind or decide you never lost the first one, head downstairs for a post-chicken-and-waffle cocktail at Fox Liquor Bar where the drinks are strong and Willy Wonka-level creative.
10 tips for 24 Hours in Raleigh
- Get on the Greenway; walk if you want, but bikes are better
- Check out live music at Red Hat Amphitheatre, Lincoln Theatre, on Fayetteville Street or at The Pour House
- If Raleigh Beer Garden gets too crowded, head down the street to Hibernian Pub
- Some good Instagrammers—like raleighwhatsup, visitRaleigh and raleighfoodpics—can keep you up to date on what’s going on downtown
- There’s great food in every cuisine imaginable here (surprising for a Southern city), so try something new
- Pick up a copy of Indy Week for upcoming events and shows
- Drink like a local with a brew made not far from where you’re swilling it
- Or hit one of the up and coming cocktail lounges
- Bring a jacket in winter, it may be the south, but it can get cold in Raleigh
- Relax. It’s not a big city and you can take a moment, breathe, relax a little before you head to the next thing
Cabs: They’re here and in reasonable number, but just take an Uber
Public Transportation: GoRaleigh has plenty of bus routes and runs often and a day pass is only $2.50
Rail: There’s no light rail in the city but you can take Amtrak to or from Raleigh.
Bike: The Capital Area Greenway (get a map at the link) has over 100 miles of trails and many streets are bike friendly (or at least bike tolerant)
Foot: You can walk, but if you do you’ll be limited to the heart of downtown, which is fine because there’s plenty to do there.