Revitalized Raleigh Develops
New Draws for Travelers
Downtown Raleigh has been revitalized with new downtown development, chic new restaurants and expansions at museums and other attractions. The city places a strong emphasis (as shown above) on the arts.*
By Katy Koontz
Raleigh, nicknamed the City of Oaks, is one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S. But it isn’t just the population that’s getting a boost.
Museums are expanding; chic restaurants headed by young, cutting-edge chefs are debuting; and even the downtown area is reinventing itself.
Raleigh is developing into a mecca for young chefs seeking to open their own restaurants.*
The catalyst for downtown redevelopment is a new convention center and 400-room Marriott hotel opening next year. Residents got a taste of the changes last summer. Pedestrian-only Fayetteville Street (“F Street” to locals) was opened to vehicles for the first time in decades.
This capital city has experienced an unprecedented influx of new people and ideas -- inspired to some extent by Raleigh’s year-round mild climate, emphasis on education (the city boasts seven colleges) and the phenomenal growth of the tech industry in the surrounding area, known as the Research Triangle.
But not everything has changed. Raleigh remains a great destination for families, offering more than 20 free attractions (including some first-class museums). Green space abounds, with 150 parks, lakes and greenways, and 41 miles of walking and biking trails.
Getting out to enjoy Raleigh's green spaces is a favorite tourist activity. A small train attraction in Pullen Park is shown above.*
And even if they are moving faster these days, folks here are still as friendly as ever. Raleigh may be putting on a more cosmopolitan countenance, but at heart, it’s still a southern town.
Here’s what not to miss on your next visit.
One of the hottest things happening in Raleigh is the debut of the city’s first luxury hotel. Umstead Hotel and Spa (919-447-4000 or www.theumstead.com), 100 Woodland Pond, opened in January.
The new Umstead Hotel and Spa is Raleigh's first major luxury resort.*
Even if you don’t stay at this $75 million, six-story hotel, take the self-guided walking tour (brochures available from the concierge) to see its fabulous art collection. Owner Ann Goodnight spent years collecting and commissioning the nature-themed pieces that now grace the walls of the hotel and its signature restaurant, Herons.
You’ll find even more art outside. The 12-acre grounds are scattered with sculptures. After meandering, stay for high tea led by the Umstead’s tea sommelier every afternoon.
The hotel is near 5,500-acre William B. Umstead State Park (919-571-4170 or www.ils.unc.edu/parkproject/visit/wium/home.html), 8801 Glenwood Ave. Here, you can bike, hike, picnic, canoe, fish, horseback ride and camp. The park is just outside of town.
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (919-733-7450 or www.naturalsciences.org), 11 W. Jones St., has moved into larger digs. It is now the largest natural history museum in the Southeast. Admission is free.
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences boasts an unusual collection of dinosaur bones including the first discovered "fossilized heart."*
One of the most popular displays among its four floors is Willo, the only dinosaur ever discovered with a fossilized heart. Not far away is a meaner specimen — a dino skeleton known as Acrocanthosaurus, or the “Terror of the South.”
In addition to its exhibits, the museum is currently developing an innovative $100 million partnership of private and government agencies called the Green Square Project. When unveiled in 2009, it will include an investigative science facility called the Nature Research Center.
Also expanding is the North Carolina Museum of Art (919-839-6262 or www.ncartmuseum.org), 2110 Blue Ridge Rd. The collection includes works from ancient Egypt right up to modern times. The European galleries here are well known, with paintings by Monet, Rubens and Raphael. Admission is free.
The museum recently broke ground on a $75 million expansion that is scheduled to open in 2009. It will boost gallery space by 40 percent. One new gallery will display 22 bronze sculptures by Auguste Rodin. The gift of these sculptures in 2005 made the museum the only cultural institution in the South with a major Rodin collection.
Exploris (919-834-4040 or www.exploris.org), 201 E. Hargett St., is the world’s first children’s museum dedicated to global learning and awareness. Opened in 1999, this interactive learning center encourages visitors to explore different cultures. Admission is $5 for guests 4 and older (more for IMAX films or other feature films).
The 35,000 vendors at the State Farmers Market (919-733-7417 or www.ncagr.com/markets/facilit/farmark/raleigh), 1201 Agriculture St., ply their fresh local produce seven days a week.
Fresh produce and other food products are for sale at the State Farmers Market.*
In addition to vegetables and fruit, this state-owned market carries honey, cheeses, eggs, meat, bread, plants and even some exotic items. Ostrich meat, anyone?
Although you can’t go inside the grand Victorian North Carolina Executive Mansion (919-733-3456), 200 N. Blount St., you can tour the grounds. This stately 1891 building, a notable example of Queen Anne cottage-style architecture, is home to the governor of North Carolina. Tours of the grounds are free.
You can't venture into the Governor's mansion in Raleigh, but you can take a free tour of the grounds.*
You can, however, tour the interior of the State Capitol (919-733-4994), 1 E. Edenton St. Built in 1840, this Greek Revival-style building is one of the oldest in town. Although it has been recently renovated, some of the furnishings are original. Tours are free.
Admission to the North Carolina capitol building is free, a plus for families on a budget seeking attractions to explore.*
Best Bets: Hot New Raleigh Restaurants
If you go to Raleigh, where might you dine? Here are some options.
* An (919-677-9229 or www.ancuisines.com), 2800 Renaissance Park Pl., is easily the city’s most upscale and elaborate Southeast Asian restaurant. Not content to have just a sushi bar, An features Viet and raw bars as well.
* Herons (919-447-4200 or www.heronsrestaurant.com), 100 Woodland Pond, is an upscale restaurant in the new Umstead Hotel. It serves modern American cuisine with a Southern flair. Chef Phil Evans even has his own $20,000 herb garden.
Herons is one new restaurant Raleigh visitors might try. It's in the new Umstead Hotel and Spa.*
* JBetskis (919-833-7999 or www.jbetskis.com), 10 W. Franklin St., is a charming German bistro that pays homage to owner John F. Korzekwinski’s German and Polish heritage.
* Raleigh Times Bar (919-833-0999 or www.raleightimesbar.com), 14 E. Hargett St., is a step above most pub fare. It has the best beer selection in the city. The eatery is located in a restored building dating from 1906 that used to house a turn-of-the-century newspaper.
* South (919-789-0606 or www.urbanfoodgroup.com), 4351 The Circle at North Hills St., is a contemporary Southern bistro serving dishes like buttermilk fried chicken, and shrimp and grits in a chic urban atmosphere.
For More Information
Contact the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau (800-849-8499 or www.visitraleigh.com).
Katy Koontz, a member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), lives in Knoxville, TN. She has written for National Geographic Traveler, Family Fun, Travel & Leisure Family, Shape, Body & Soul, Endless Vacation and many other national magazines. Currently, she is updating The Insider's Guide to the Great Smoky Mountains. She specializes in family travel, adventure travel and "soul stretching" vacations and retreats.
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used courtesy of the Raleigh Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Ulmstead Hotel and Spa. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.