Moving to Raleigh? Here's What You Need to Know Before You Go
If you're thinking about moving to Raleigh, North Carolina, you're not alone! Often featured on best places to live lists, Raleigh is the fastest growing city in the U.S. With its moderate temperatures, vibrant lifestyle, and opportunities for growth, it's easy to imagine why more and more people are drawn to Raleigh every year.
Meet the City of Raleigh
Known as the “City of Oaks” because of its many tree-lined downtown streets, Raleigh has been the capital of North Carolina since 1792. It's the second largest city in the state, with a diverse population of over 400,000 people. The city was named after Sir Walter Raleigh, who sponsored the first English settlement in North America in the 1500s. Nowadays, Raleigh is the seat of Wake County and has earned a reputation for job growth and high quality of living.
Raleigh is considered part of the Research Triangle area, with nearby cities Durham and Chapel Hill. The nickname came about after the creation of the Research Triangle Park by local government, universities, and businesses in 1959. It's now the largest high-tech research and development park in the U.S., home to over 250 companies with 50,000 employees and 10,000 contractors.
The cost of living here is lower than the national average, but housing costs have been on the rise the last few years are more people are moving to Raleigh. Low property taxes, however, make home ownership in Raleigh much easier than in other major cities. It's relatively affordable compared to other U.S. tech and research hubs.
People and Lifestyle
The people who call this area home are young, diverse, and educated. There's a strong sense of community. Starting a friendly conversation with a stranger is perfectly normal here, as Raleigh has its fair share of the well-known Southern charm.
With good jobs, excellent schools, and low crime rates, the Raleigh area is a desirable place to put down roots and raise a family. The outer part of the city and suburbs are rapidly growing and offer countless amenities, while the inner city is still just a short drive away. There's a more youthful vibe to the city center, due to its many colleges and universities. Downtown Raleigh is a revitalized hub of arts, music, culture, artisan breweries, restaurants, museums, and more.
Raleigh is an active place, with many runners, bikers, hikers, and outdoor enthusiasts. Cultivating green spaces in the city for all to enjoy is important to residents. Centrally located in North Carolina, Raleigh is only three hours to the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains and just two hours to the Atlantic Ocean and warm, beautiful beaches.
Annual Weather Report
Located in the southeastern U.S., Raleigh has a humid subtropical climate and enjoys four seasons throughout the year. Rainfall is average and steady each month, though it can spike in the summer when a hurricane or tropical storm is near the coastline. Most days are partly cloudy, with the sun shining two-thirds of the year. Some years, Raleigh may experience drought conditions, and residents will be asked to conserve water. Tornados can also occur, though large ones are rare.
Winter is short, usually cool, with daily temperatures ranging from 40 to 60 degrees. A few inches of snow may fall, but a freezing mix is more likely. Summers are hot and humid, with highs in the 80s and 90s. Swimming pools are a great way to cool off and survive the heat. You'll find many homes have them already installed in their backyards. Spring and fall are warm and pleasantly mild, perfect weather for enjoying all the outdoor adventures and events that Raleigh has to offer.
Get the Lay of the Land
The city of Raleigh is divided into six geographic areas and surrounded by more than a dozen suburbs.
Downtown and Inside-the-Beltline
Downtown Raleigh is home to historic buildings, the restored City Market, the Fayetteville Street business district, state capitol, convention center, and schools. The area is split into five smaller districts: Warehouse, Fayetteville Street, Moore Square, Glenwood South, and Capital District. Inside the beltline refers to being south of I-440, and includes neighborhoods mostly built prior to World War II.
Midtown is a residential and commercial area north of the beltline and is part of North Raleigh. Its main features are the North Hills and Crabtree Valley shopping centers, North Hills Park, and part of the Raleigh Greenway System.
A diverse and fast-growing suburban area is found in the northern area of Raleigh. It's a mix of established neighborhoods, newly built subdivisions, and large shopping areas.
The south side of the city is the least dense and developed of all the areas. Much of the south lies within the Swift Creek watershed district, so regulations limit housing construction. To the southeast you'll find the Coastal Credit Union Music Park, a major outdoor concert venue.
Most of east Raleigh's neighborhoods lay along main roads such as U.S. Route 1, a.k.a. Capital Boulevard. These developments are bordered to the east by the town of Knightdale.
The west of the city is home to North Carolina State University, Rex Hospital, PNC Arena, and the North Carolina State Fairgrounds. It's bordered to the west by the suburb of Cary.
The primary suburbs are Cary, Morrisville, Garner, Clayton, Wake Forest, Apex, Holly Springs, Fuquay-Varina, Knightdale, Wendell, Zebulon, and Rolesville. A lot of people live in these areas and commute to Raleigh for school and work.
Transportation Around Raleigh
Whether you're coming or going, there are a lot of ways to travel around Raleigh. When relocating to the area, be sure to check your commuting route so you don't end up living too far away from your daily destination.
Cars are the quickest and most popular mode of transportation in the Raleigh area. Looping around and going through the city are several interstates and main U.S. highway routes. Traffic congestion occurs mainly during weekday rush hours.
Known as the Raleigh Beltline to locals, I-440 makes a loop around the central part of the city. Commonly called the outer beltline, I-540 is the city's newest interstate and is only partially completed. The plan is for I-540 to eventually encircle most of Wake County.
Then there's I-40 that if taken to the northwest connects Raleigh to Durham and Chapel Hill. A two-hour drive southeast on I-40 will land you in the city of Wilmington, a coastal gem. The main east-west path through Raleigh is U.S. Route 64. U.S. Route 70 runs mostly northwest-southeast, while U.S. Route 1/U.S. Route 401 travels north to south through the city.
Around the city, public transit bus routes are operated by GoRaleigh daily. Regional and commuter bus services are offered by GoTriangle, connecting Raleigh to Durham, Cary, Chapel Hill, and more. Bus routes to Research Triangle Park, the airport, and several of the region's larger suburban communities run daily. GoTriangle also coordinates a vanpool and rideshare program to serve the area's larger employers and commuter destinations.
Raleigh has been designated as a bicycle friendly community, with two major bicycle routes traveling through the city. The Maine to Florida U.S. Bicycle Route #1 and the N.C. Bicycle Route #2, commonly called the “Mountains to Sea” route. Most public buses are equipped with racks, and some roads have dedicated bicycle-only lanes. The city is working on establishing more biking commuter paths to ease up on traffic congestion. There are also many paths and trails open to cyclists throughout Raleigh's extensive Capital Area Greenway System.
Train travel is a popular option, as Amtrak operates one of the busiest southern U.S. train stations in Raleigh. Passenger trains offer daily service between Raleigh and Charlotte, with stops along the way available. The train travels to major cities like Philadelphia, New York, Miami, and Washington D.C. too.
The Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) serves millions of travelers each year. Located northwest of downtown, it's the main airport for the city and surrounding Research Triangle region. Some of the major airlines that use this hub are Southwest, American Airlines, Allegiant, Delta, United, Frontier, Air Canada, and JetBlue.
With numerous colleges, universities, and the largest public-school system in the state, the Raleigh area is rich in educational opportunities for students of all ages. It's a highly educated city. Over 50 percent of the population has obtained at least a bachelor's degree.
Elementary through High School
Public schools in Raleigh are operated by the Wake County Public School System. The system employs about 10,500 teachers to educate over 150,000 students in more than 180 schools. There are 114 elementary, 36 middle, and 28 high schools, with a handful of alternative schools as well. The school district is number one in the nation in board certified teachers, with over 2,000 meeting the high standards of an excellent leader and teacher.
Long known for its innovative efforts of integration, Wake County Public School System maintain a policy that creates a socially and economically balanced system. They do this by using income as a prime factor in assigning students to schools, so there are no bad schools in Raleigh. Some of the schools are year-round, while others follow a more traditional school calendar.
Since there are no neighborhood schools, students travel by bus to get to their assigned location. This can sometimes be a long ride. If you're looking for an alternative to public school, Raleigh has about a dozen charter schools, and many private and religious faith-based institutions.
There are a lot of choices when it comes to pursuing higher education in Raleigh and its surrounding areas. You'll be able to find universities, colleges, law schools, community colleges, and seminaries. The three most well-known universities within the Triangle area are within 30 miles of each other.
North Carolina State University
Founded more than 125 years ago, North Carolina State University is a globally recognized powerhouse in science, technology, engineering, and math. Other top disciplines include education, textiles, business, agriculture, design, and one of the world's best colleges of veterinary medicine. About 25,000 undergraduate and 10,000 graduate students take part in bachelor, master, or doctoral programs. NC State is in west Raleigh and is the eastern most point of the Triangle. Home of the Wolfpack, students compete NCAA Division 1 athletics.
University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
UNC-Chapel Hill was established as the nation's first public university in 1795. At the western point of the Triangle, it's in the lovely college town of Chapel Hill. Its strengths lay in liberal arts, journalism, business, medicine, and research. About 18,000 undergrads, plus 11,000 graduate and professional students, receive a world-class education at one of the best public universities in the nation. A NCAA Division 1 school, the Tarheels are rivals to both NC State and Duke.
Forming the upper point of the Triangle is Duke University in nearby Durham. This prestigious research university consistently ranks among the very best schools. It's the smallest of the three main universities, with over 6,000 undergrads and more than 8,000 graduate and professional students. Duke is a leader in the fields of business, divinity, engineering, environment, law, medicine, nursing, and public policy. Known as the Blue Devils, they also compete alongside NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill.
Raleigh is a top spot for job-seekers and tech professionals in the U.S., nationally recognized as a leading urban center, and one of the best cities for young professionals. Unemployment rates here are lower than the national average. The plethora of educational opportunities are one reason why there are a lot of jobs. Researchers, professors, staff, and more are drawn to these institutions for work. Many local schools foster partnerships with area businesses so that upon graduation students can provide talent to major industry players.
In addition to education, some other industries at work in the Triangle are information technology, healthcare, research, and engineering. Top employers include IBM, Cisco Systems, BASF Corporation, GlaxoSmithKline, SAS Institute, Biogen Idec, Lenovo, and WakeMed Health and Hospital. Many people work at Research Triangle Park, whether it's for an established industry leader or a hot new start-up company.
An innovative campus of hundreds of companies and thousands of people, Research Triangle Park welcomes workers to join their community. Creative work spaces are available for anyone or any sized group that needs to use them. Conference rooms, work spaces, and free Wi-Fi are available daily in Frontier Building 800. It's a great opportunity for freelancers and teams who haven't yet acquired their own offices.
Things to Do
Everyone needs some downtime in their lives, and with so much to do and see in Raleigh, it's hard to know where to start. When you live here, you'll become a part of a vibrant city lifestyle that offers entertainment, culture, sports, history, nature, and so much more.
Parks and Recreation
Raleigh is known for its green spaces. It's often called a city in a park, and with over 10,000 acres of dedicated parkland it completely deserves that description. Ranging from natural parks and greenways to lakes and amusements, there's a space for everyone to enjoy the outdoors.
William B. Umstead State Park is North Carolina's most-visited state park of more than 5,000 acres of forest, trails, and lakes. There's 22 miles of dedicated hiking trails, and 13 miles of multi-use trails with rolling hills for activities like horseback riding, jogging, or biking.
Falls Lake State Recreation Area is a collection of seven access areas around the shore of an undeveloped reservoir. It's one of the largest recreational facilities in the state, with access to a network of 14 miles of mountain biking trails and a separate lake for kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddle boards. For swimming areas with sandy beaches, access the reservoir at Beaverdam or Sandling Beach. Picnic sites with outdoor grills and tables are available for gatherings.
The first public park established in North Carolina, Pullen Park is also the fifth oldest amusement park in the country. Pullen sits between downtown Raleigh and the main campus of NC State. With its many activities, it's a large draw for families. You can spin around on a historic carousel, ride a miniature train through the park, or cruise around Lake Howell in a paddle boat. Other features include tennis courts, ball fields, arts center, and performing arts theater.
Families in Raleigh enjoy a lot of outdoor fun when the weather is nice, but when it's too hot or cold, they often head to popular indoor attractions. Marbles Kids Museum is a great example of where kids can learn while they play. Marbles is full of hands-on exhibits, with an IMAX theater that's sure to please.
Educational fun is also found at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, the Southeast's largest natural history museum. Self-guided tours are available on four floors of exhibits, which includes a nature exploration center, live animals, nature research center, and cafe. Heading south out of downtown, you'll come across the North Carolina Railroad Museum. Kids of all ages learn about antique railroad equipment and then take an exciting ride on a real train.
Families who love competition will be glad to know that there is almost always a game to watch in Raleigh. NHL's Carolina Hurricanes, or the 'Canes as the locals say, are Raleigh's professional hockey team. They play home games at the PNC Arena from September to April. NC State's men's basketball team also plays home games at this arena, while the Wolfpack's football team is close by at Carter-Finely Stadium. With several colleges and universities, there are a lot of opportunities for fans to gather for tailgating and sporting events.
For a family-friendly night out, go cheer on Raleigh's single-A team, the Carolina Mudcats at Five County Stadium. They are an affiliate of Major League Baseball's Milwaukee Brewers and play a season from April to September. Sure to be a hit are the post-game fireworks that are set off after every Friday night home game.
Arts and Music
Another nickname for Raleigh is the Smithsonian of the South. Creative artists and innovators provide an endless supply of live performing arts and visual art galleries. Must-see art museums include CAM Raleigh and North Carolina Museum of Art. The Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park at the NC Museum of Art is fantastic. The park connects art, nature, and people, featuring larger-than-life art installations and colorful gardens.
A non-profit professional theater group, The North Carolina Theatre is Raleigh's connection to Broadway. They offer six shows each season, downtown at the Duke Energy Center for Performing Arts. The Carolina Ballet, North Carolina Opera, and North Carolina Symphony are all professional, top-rated venues worth attending. They feature the best of regional artists and performers, plus bring in acts from around the world.
As for music in Raleigh, there's just so much of it! This city has the most live music in all of North Carolina. The most venues, bands, and genres are all found here. The locals are smart, passionate music fans who have worked together to create an energizing live music scene. Every day of the year, you'll find a performance. All kinds of musicians play in over 80 venues around the area, including everything from a big arena to a mom-and-pop playhouse.
Out on the Town
The nightlife of Raleigh is bustling. With five walkable entertainment districts, you've got the art scene, live music, sports, and theatrical performances. Then there are comedy clubs, movie theaters, breweries, and restaurants. Cafes and bars around university campuses are frequented by both students and residents. So, whether you're catching a live outdoor show or sipping cocktails in a swanky, yet cozy lounge, an exciting night out awaits those are looking for it.
Raleigh is where city energy meets southern hospitality. It's a contributing factor to the growing brewery and restaurant scene. More than 25 craft brewers have started their business in the area. They are a passionate group eager to share their craft with the public. Many of the breweries offer free tours where you can see how the beer you're drinking is made and learn more about the different beers that are just waiting to be sampled.
The Raleigh Beer Trail has been designed for those wanting to give a variety of breweries a try. First, you need to download a trail passport or pick one up at the Raleigh Visitors Information Center on Fayetteville Street. Then, you check in at local breweries to get your passport stamped. The more stamps you get, the more prizes you'll earn when you turn your passport in.
Another awesome venue to check out is the Raleigh Beer Garden. It has the world's largest beer selection, with more than 350 beers on tap. You'll find the place in the downtown district of Glenwood South. It's great for hanging out, with plenty of outdoor space and a rooftop garden with seating. You can grab a bite to eat here as well, as the Raleigh Beer Garden has a diverse menu of handcrafted pizzas, sandwiches, cheese plates, and more.
The Foodie Scene
What the locals want you to know is that Raleigh is more than just beer and barbecue, though they are fantastic at producing both. A Zagat rated culinary scene has been growing in recent years, as top chefs have been moving in and opening restaurants in this welcoming southern city. Known as one of the "Hottest Food Cities," resident foodies rejoice in all the options that are available for dining in Raleigh. You'll still be able to find traditional southern dishes alongside all the new global flavors that are popping up.
Best Places to Eat
James Beard Award-winning chef, Ashley Christensen, is a leader of the food scene here in Raleigh. City residents love her restaurants and often recommend them as the best places to eat and drink. Christensen is the owner of AC Restaurants. The group includes Poole's, Beasley's Chicken + Honey, Chuck's, Fox Liquor Bar, Death & Taxes, and Bridge Club. Also bringing new ideas to Raleigh is Ireland native Niall Hanley, who owns the Raleigh Beer Garden. Hanley has recently opened the Morgan Street Food Hall, a new lifestyle dining concept featuring local eateries and food retailers.
Other standout dining spots include Crawford and Son, headed by five-time James Beard Award-nominee Scott Crawford, and Herons at the Umstead Hotel and Spa, North Carolina's only five-diamond restaurant. One of the top ten best new restaurants in the U.S. is the Brewery Bhavana. It's a combination of brewery, bookstore, slower shop, and dim sum restaurant found in the Moore Square district. Forbes magazine has also listed it as one of the ten coolest places to eat in the entire world.
Food Trucks are also a major part of the foodie scene in Raleigh, with almost 100 food trucks about the city on a regular basis. They pop up in front of attractions, venues, and offices. Basically, if there's a hungry crowd about, there's bound to be a food truck somewhere nearby. And it's not just bland fair like a boiled hotdog or cold cuts, food trucks in Raleigh take their cuisine to a whole other level. Raleigh is home to the winner of Food Network's Best Food Truck in America competition. The Pho Nomenal Dumpling truck serves up American classics with Asian flare.
Known for its deliciously smoky barbecue made of locally sourced ingredients, The Humble Pig is worth tracking down too. So is the Cocka-Doodle-Moo food truck, which turns out incredible mac and cheese that's a deep fried, crispy and creamy plate of awesomeness. Every so often, the streets of Raleigh get shut down, or a park is taken over, for the ultimate foodie event, a food truck rodeo. Up to 50 trucks gather to offer their unique and delicious creations to the crowds. One of the biggest events is the Downtown Raleigh Food Truck Rodeo. It spans nearly half a mile, with food trucks as far as the eye can see. Some locals call it the best four days of the year.
A Year's Worth of Events
Raleigh is such happening place. No matter the season, there is always something fun or inspirational going on. Here are some highlights of the city's best annual events.
International festival: A celebration to feature culture, music, and food from around the globe.
North Carolina State Far: A 10-day annual fair and agricultural exposition with competitions, carnival rides, food, and exhibits.
Triangle Restaurant Week: A week-long celebration of culinary excellence, with the area's best offering special fixed price menu options.
Ipreo Raleigh Winterfest: A two-month long winter extravaganza in City Plaza with an outdoor ice-skating rink, live bands, and kid activities like sledding ramps and Santa's Village.
African American Cultural Celebration: A kickoff to Black History month at North Carolina Museum of History brings together musicians, storytellers, dancers, chefs, historians, and artists.
North Carolina Science Festival: Features hundreds of science and technology events in the Triangle.
Got to Be NC Festival: A three-day celebration of the state's down-home style, which includes live bluegrass music, antiques, rides, and more.
Artsplosure: A premier arts festival celebrating fine visual art and live music.
Raleigh Supercon: A three-day festival of pop culture, superheroes, science fiction, and more at the Convention Center.
Packapalooza: An all-day block party and street festival to end NC State's welcome week features vendors, food, games, arts and crafts, music, and a water slide.
Final Thoughts on Moving to Raleigh
If you live an active lifestyle and love to get out an explore, then Raleigh is the right city for you. With so many opportunities for growth all around, relocating to the City of Oaks may just be the life-changing experience you've been looking for.