On day four of our road trip across North Carolina, we packed up and left Nags Head in the Outer Banks and headed west for Raleigh. The drive was a pretty easy three hours, and here and there along the way there were small towns and places to stop for food and restroom stops (mostly McDonalds, natch). I’ll be honest, it was tough leaving the beach, but we were pleasantly surprised after arriving in Raleigh and discovered a state capital that was bustling and bursting with charm and character.
Where we stayed in Raleigh:
We spent the night at the Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown/Glenwood South. It was a brief, but very comfortable stay! There is complimentary coffee and cold drinks in the lobby at all times, a pretty decent indoor pool, and a hot breakfast buffet every morning that starts as early as 6am. The hotel is steps from the pubs and restaurants of the trendy Glenwood South area of Raleigh, and we walked to the museums and state capital building area in about 15min.
Our room was your typical double, with two (comfy) beds and a nice, spacious bath. Hampton Inns tend to always have mini-fridges and microwaves in their guest rooms, which are a total necessity when traveling with kids.
The parking garage for the Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown Raleigh is across the street, and is included in your stay. But the only time we drove in Raleigh was to visit Pullen Park. Otherwise we walked or hopped the R-Line, which is Raleigh’s free transit loop that runs a circle around the most popular attractions of downtown.
Where we ate in Raleigh:
The Daily Planet Cafe – Raleigh NC
Located in the Nature Research Center of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, the Daily Planet Cafe was a delightful surprise. A bit groggy and stiff after our drive, I was resuscitated by cold unsweet tea and a great selection of sandwiches and salads. And there were plenty of choices for my gluten-free Mr. Almost every single item served is locally sourced, and I was stunned by how reasonable the prices are (I live in a very expensive city, apparently).
The Hibernian Pub – Raleigh NC
There are three Hibernian Pubs in the Raleigh area, and we had dinner at the one located on Glenwood, just steps from our hotel. The charming owner, Niall Hanley, has done a great job in creating a comfortable and friendly Irish pub where families happily dine alongside the drinks-after-work crowd and those catching up on the footie. We were lucky enough to be there on a beautiful summer night, so we sat outside on the upstairs patio. We were also lucky enough to be there on a Monday, which is $5 build-your-own burger day. There’s a great selection of beer and cider (in fact, Hanley just opened the Raleigh Beer Garden, with a record-breaking 366 beer taps), and the Bacon Cheddar Pub Chips are happiness on a plate. Trust.
Big Ed’s City Market – Raleigh NC
We capped off our (too brief) visit to Raleigh with breakfast at a local landmark: Big Ed’s City Market. Here you get to enjoy a lovely and historic part of the city–complete with cobblestones–and a self-styled museum of Southern culture, but a big and yummy breakfast too. On the menu it says if you can finish three pancakes you’ll win a free t-shirt. We didn’t bother trying once we saw they were as big as the plate! Portions are big, and the atmosphere is fun and casual. The classic Southern fare is as buttery and salty as it should be. Yum 🙂
What to do in Raleigh with Toddlers and Kids:
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
Our first stop in Raleigh was the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. First, let me say that it is free to enter! After our quick stop for refreshments at the Daily Planet Cafe (see above), my little brainiacs were off exploring. I was fascinated by the giant Right Whale skeleton, but my kids were all about the mini replica Mars Rover and the teeny (and cute) Puffer Fish.
North Carolina Museum of History
The North Carolina Museum of History is also free to enter, but we were headed right for the limited-time Starring North Carolina! exhibit, which had a nominal fee to enter. I hated rushing through these awesome attractions, but luckily they are practically next-door to each other. We checked out some cool movie memorabilia (it was tough to tear Bub away from the Iron Man mask) and discovered just how many great movies and TV shows are filmed in North Carolina (Iron Man 3 being one of them). With my daughter starting out in acting, she really enjoyed learning about the production process and how different locations pose as new places all the time.
We needed to let the kids blow off some steam, so we hopped in the van and headed for the historic Pullen Park. One of our favourite places close to home is Centreville Amusement Park, and Pullen Park really reminded us of that. Adjacent to the campus of the University of North Carolina, the area is totally charming and a wonderful little escape within Raleigh. And, like the museums, Pullen Park is also FREE to enter. The rides (historic carousel and small train) are just $1 per ride. The playground area is divided up by age group, and it’s all contained so you can hang back a bit and let your kiddos off-leash. I admit to being a hover-er, so I like this a lot. Pullen Park was about a ten minute drive from the Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown Raleigh and we had no issues finding it, thanks to our trusty GPS.
Marbles Kids Museum
Now the one place we really wanted to visit, but simply ran out of time, was the Marbles Kids Museum. This museum isn’t free, but it’s only $5 per person and $2 after 3pm on Thursdays. The fact that we weren’t able to carve out enough time to check out their fabulous interactive exhibits means we have a great excuse to return to Raleigh.
We visited North Carolina with the assistance of Visit North Carolina, but all opinions are my own.