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To the Research Triangle in North Carolina

North Carolina’s Piedmont region covers much of the central part of the state. The Piedmont Triad features Winston-Salem and Greensboro, along with the furniture capital of High Point; just to east through Burlington, another trio of cities have become known as the “Research Triangle,” chock full of universities and companies that advance research and technology, as well as the State Capitol in Raleigh. From there, we head east to the beach, catching Rocky Mount, Tarboro, and more along the way to Kill Devil Hills and Kitty Hawk, home to the Wright Brothers’ first airplane flight. Each city has a character all its own; let’s check out “NC-NC”…North Central North Carolina!

Let’s start in Winston-Salem, which lies right along I-40 in the Piedmont region. The new Best Western PLUS Hanes Mall Hotel is an ideal spot for the pre-tour pit stop, just off I-40 on the southwest side of town. Winston-Salem has about 237,000 residents, making it one of the five largest cities in North Carolina.

Winston-Salem has been a heavy-hitter in the tobacco industry for many years, being the headquarters for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company – helping to give it the nickname “Camel City.” The city is part of the Winston-Salem-Greensboro-High Point triad, and we’ll check out all of these places and more.

Winston-Salem is laid out with downtown being at the junction of “Business I-40” – what used to be the I-40 main route until a new alignment was built along the city’s south side – and U.S. 52, which is a north-south freeway through the city. Downtown features a sizeable skyline, including the bulbous top of 100 North Main Street, which thrusts 460 feet into the sky.

Winston-Salem was originally two separate towns (guess their names). Yes, one of them was Salem… and the historic Old Salem Museum & Gardens preserves the area that was settled by Moravians in the 18th and 19th centuries. This district, just south of downtown, includes original and restored shops, homes, and churches amidst old streets lined with towering trees and populated with skilled interpreters who can showcase blacksmithing, cobbling, tinsmithing, gunsmithing, traditional baking, carpentry, and more.

Within Old Salem, the Frank Horton Museum Center houses the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts and other exhibits. Meanwhile, the Salem Tavern is a National Historic Landmark in itself, having hosted customers since the 18th century – including George Washington for two nights back in 1791. St. Philips Moravian Church nearby is the oldest surviving African-American church in North Carolina, dating back to 1861. When you first reach the area, stop in the Old Salem Visitation Center for more tour information and full details on everything to see; the area is definitely worth checking out.

Trivia: When Salem merged with Winston in 1913, the new city was named “Winston-Salem” and thus became the first – and only – time the U.S. Postal Service officially designated a mailing address city with a hyphenated name.

Like many North Carolina cities, Winston-Salem is a university town: Wake Forest University's 7,500 students are congregated on the campus north of downtown, while Winston-Salem State University adds another 6,400 students near downtown. There are also some smaller schools, such as Piedmont International University, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, and Salem Academy & College just south of downtown.

Along with racing and college football, Winston-Salem enjoys pro baseball with the Winston-Salem Dash, a Class-High A Team playing in the Carolina League. They are part of the Chicago White Sox farm system and play their games at BB&T Field, which opened in 2010 and offers a nice view of the downtown skyline along with baseball action.

Bowman Gray Stadium lies just outside of the city’s downtown and hosts racing and football. It’s known as “NASCAR’s longest-running weekly track,” having hosted its first NASCAR-sanctioned event in 1949 (Fonty Flick was the winner, in case you were wondering). The .25-mile asphalt oval – with almost no banking, by the way – still hosts weekly races from April through August as part of the Whelen All-American Series. Races are still in held in four divisions: Modifieds (the main feature at Bowman Gray), Sportsman, Street Stock, and Stadium Stock. Bowman Gray – constructed in 1937 and named for the former RJ Reynolds Tobacco chairman – hosts football games, too. The Wake Forest Demon Deacons played here until 1968, and the Winston-Salem State Rams still have Bowman Gray Stadium as their home field.

Other things to do in Winston-Salem include checking out the Reynolda Historic District, once the 1,067-acre estate of one R.J. Reynolds (R.J. stands for “Richard Joshua” in case you were curious) and his wife, Katharine. The district includes shops, restaurants, formal gardens, and galleries, with the Reynolda House Museum of American Art serving as the centerpiece. Housed in the Reynolds’ former mansion, the museum is considered to have the finest collection of American art in the southeastern U.S. For kids, the Children’s Museum of Winston-Salem and SciWorks provide plenty of interactive and educational fun. And for the outdoors, a quick ride north on U.S. 52 to Pilot Mountain State Park provides plenty of opportunities for hiking, climbing, and more around this distinctive natural landmark.

From Winston-Salem, let’s head east on I-40 toward Greensboro, North Carolina’s third largest city (about 277,000). The Piedmont Triad International Airport (locally referred to as “PTI” even though its airport code is GSO) is right off I-40 near the junction with the new I-73; the Best Western PLUS Greensboro Airport Hotel is located at I-40 and NC Highway 68.

Greensboro is an active city with a bustling downtown area; over 500 restaurants are in the city and there is plenty of nightlife and shopping. The “Green” in Greensboro shows up not only with the tree-filled neighborhoods and hills, but with civic gardens and arboretums. If you enter the central part of the city on Lee Street just off Business I-40/85, prepare for Gateway Gardens, a colorful entryway into town. Gateway features its Children’s Garden, Heritage Garden, Rain Garden, the Gateway Plaza, and the “Great Lawn.” Butterfly gardens, water sculptures, mazes, and more make this a great stop. The Greensboro Arboretum on Ashland Drive features 17 acres of woody plant collections, special display gardens (butterfly, roses, and more), and distinct structures. Meanwhile on the northwest side, The Bog Garden at Benjamin Park features a living wetland ecosystem traversed by an elevated boardwalk that meanders through seven acres of natural wetlands. Serenity Falls in the park is the only waterfall in Greensboro (and it’s man-made, but so what?) A wide variety of plants, birds, and other wildlife can be seen in the park. All three of these “green” gems have free admission and are open year-round from sunrise to sunset.

Greensboro has been plenty of history; historic sites and museums document activities from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, as well as the Civil Rights movement. You may remember (if you’re older) or learned about in history class (if you’re younger) about a major milestone in the civil rights movement in the U.S.: on February 1, 1960, four young African-American students sat at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter and wouldn’t leave until they got service; eventually, hundreds of others joined them in what became the nation’s most famous “sit-in,” helping to spark desegregation across the South. That event took place on Elm Street in downtown Greensboro, and the International Civil Rights Center & Museum is located right inside that original Woolworth’s. Check out displays and exhibits about not only that event, but similar events for civil rights issues and struggles across the world. Most of the original lunch counter now resides in the Smithsonian in Washington DC, but some of it remains the museum. Additional plaques and monuments are along Elm Street outside the museum.

Greensboro’s history is vigorously explored and displayed in a one-time Confederate military hospital; the quite impressive Greensboro Historical Museum showcases everything from Civil War rifles and carbines and Greensboro’s days as the “Denim Capital” to the invention of Vicks VapoRub; from early pioneer days to the 1960s Civil Rights movement, with an actual portion of the lunch counter from Woolworth’s where the “sit-ins” began on display. You easily spend a few hours here; kids will enjoy the interactive displays as much as adults. We highly recommend it!

For more stuff kids will enjoy, head across Church Street to the Greensboro Children’s Museum, which features everything from learning and play areas to interactive exhibits and an “edible schoolyard,” the Old Town Players stage with stadium seating and special effects, and several full-size vehicles like fire trucks, airplane cockpits, and an ambulance for them to climb around on – and in.

Just a few blocks away along Lindsey Street and back to Elm, you’ll find three statues saluting a famous native son, writer William Sydney Porter. Better known by his nom de plume O. Henry, he not only has countless popular short stories (many with a twist) to his name, but he managed to pull off something few others have done: get a candy bar named after him.

In the center of downtown amidst the tall office buildings, Center City Park provides nearly two acres of gathering space and plenty of adornments, including statues and sculptures from area artists. Outdoor lunches and mini-concerts are popular in Center City Park, especially near the fountains on a hot day.

On the western edge of downtown, NewBridge Bank Park is where Triad residents can enjoy some pro baseball; the Greensboro Grasshoppers are a Class “A” affiliate of the Miami Marlins, playing in the South Atlantic League. The ballpark has a capacity of 7,500 and offers plenty of new amenities, including a “kid-safe” play park and an outdoor sports bar.

Typical of mid-size North Carolina cities, Greensboro hosts many, many college students, sporting two universities and a nationally-recognized college. North Carolina A&T (Agricultural & Technical) State University was established in 1891 and today educates a diverse student body of over 10,000. It is the largest “historically black university” in the nation. Similar to Texas A&M, their school moniker is the “Aggies.” Their football, basketball, and other teams compete on the NCAA Division I level in the Mid-Eastern Conference. The campus can be found east of downtown along Market Street, close to U.S. 70.

The University of North Carolina-Greensboro has a student body of over 18,000, one of the largest in the UNC system. The school is a major research university and their Spartans play 17 sports in the NCAA Division I Southern Conference. UNC-Greensboro hosts the Weatherspoon Art Museum at Spring Garden and Tate Streets, featuring one of the largest selections of modern American art in the country. The university’s lovely campus is just west of downtown and features several historic structures that date back to the school’s inception as a women’s college back in 1891; women still account for about 2/3 of the student body. Between UNC-Greensboro and downtown lies the campus of Greensboro College is a four-year liberal arts college with about 1,250 students.

For more history and museums, the northwest side of the city – near the Bog Garden, has more to offer. Guilford Courthouse National Military Park commemorates the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, which took place on March 15, 1781. It was one of the most hotly contested battles of the Revolutionary War. The commander of the American forces was Nathaniel Greene, for whom Greensboro was named. The Park features the Battlefield Visitor Center, which includes a live-action theater film, animated Battle Map program, and bookstore; a narrated auto tour replete with wayside exhibits; 2.5 miles of walking trails; and 28 monuments.

Nearby you’ll find the Greensboro Science Center, a complex that includes a museum featuring models of prehistoric dinosaurs, a exhibit allow you to tour the main systems of the body (the “gross” potential here is fairly high), the Herpetarium that explores reptiles, snakes, and amphibians, an extreme weather gallery and more; the Carolina SciQuarium, a 22,000 square foot aquarium that opened in 2013 and features sharks, penguins, stingrays, otters, and more; and Animal Discovery Zoological Park featuring everything from monkeys to marsupials and crocs to meerkats.

Just south of NewBridge Park on the southwestern edge of downtown, the Blandwood Mansion and Gardens (which is far from “bland”)1 is the oldest building still on its original foundation in Greensboro; it went up 1795 and has stayed put ever since. As far back as 1844 it was recognized as the “earliest Tuscan villa in the United States.” Its architectural significance as an antebellum home is known nationwide. A museum opened inside the mansion in 1976; the mansion and gardens are open for tours and events throughout the year.

Also along Business I-40 on the south side, the Best Western PLUS Windsor Suites has convenient access to all of the city, plus three other nearby attractions: the Four Seasons Town Centre, located across the street along Business I-40, includes a three-story mall and the Koury Convention Center, the largest convention complex between Atlanta and Washington, DC. About a mile up High Point Road is the Greensboro Coliseum, a major event, convention, and sports arena. The ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) Hall of Champions is located in the arena (as is ACC headquarters), along with an $18 million aquatics center and amphitheater. For a little water fun, Wet ‘n Wild Emerald Pointe is just a few miles east along Business I-40, sporting 36 rides including one of the tallest water slides in America. It’s the largest waterpark in the Carolinas.

Well, there’s quite a bit in Greensboro, isn’t there?

From Greensboro, let’s continue east along I-40/85, which combine for the ride from the “Piedmont Triad” to the “Research Triangle.” Along the way is Burlington, a city of 50,000 sitting in between the two trios of cities. Burlington is just under 20 miles east of Greensboro and is the seat of Alamance County. The Biscuitville restaurant franchise is headquartered in Burlington, as is LabCorp (one of the largest biomedical testing firms in the U.S)., and Gold Toe Socks – so there’s definitely variety in the economy. Right off I-40/85, Burlington has the Best Western PLUS Burlington, which features not only great accommodations but Grill 584, a restaurant and martini bar.

Just four miles south along SC Highway 62 is plenty of Revolutionary and Civil War history, with the Alamance Battleground State Historic Site offering a small museum and the grounds upon which some vigorous battles took place. The first battle took place in 1771, when a local group calling themselves the “Regulators” (no relation to the Warren G. song) battled with the Royal Militia. The Allen House on the site is a log dwelling vividly illustrating life on the frontier when this area was a colony. Also nearby along Highway 62 is the site of the Battle of Clapp’s Mill (1781), the Oak Grove Plantation, which lasted from 1790 to 1910, remnants of the Alamance Cotton Mill, which was built in 1837, and the Alamance County Historical Museum. The Museum is located in a beautiful country home built in 1790, with expansions in 1800 and 1875. Tours of the home and museum, which includes original furniture, are available every day except Monday and Federal holidays.

North of I-40/85 and the Best Western PLUS Burlington is downtown Burlington, where a mix of young companies and old historic buildings harmoniously blend. The Conservators’ Center is a popular draw, providing a home for nearly 90 exotic animals across more than 20 species from bobcats and dingos to tigers, foxes, wolves, and lemurs. They offer tours where you can get up close and interact with many of these animals.

Just west of Burlington, Elon University educates a little over 6,000 students. Established as a college in 1889 and a university in 2001, Elon is a liberal arts university with highly-acclaimed programs. Their sports teams play in NCAA Division I in the Colonial Athletic Association as the Phoenix (although for years they were known as the “Fightin’ Christians” in a nod to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons and Duke Blue Devils, who lurk nearby). Just east of Burlington in Mebane, you can add to the local economy at the Tanger Outlets if you’d like to get some shopping in.

Continuing east in I-40/85, the two interstate split just west of Durham. We’re entering the “Research Triangle” area here, and you can follow I-40 for direct connections to Chapel Hill, home to the flagship University of North Carolina, or I-85 to directly access downtown Durham and Duke University. We recommend both, why not?

Chapel Hill is named after a chapel built on a hilltop in 1752. Destined to be a college town (and one of the three corners of the “Research Triangle”), Chapel Hill is home to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a.k.a. UNC. It was chartered as the flagship university for North Carolina in 1789 and started admitting students six years later (it was pretty boring with no students, after all), making it one of the oldest public universities in the United States. Today – as well as historically – UNC-Chapel Hill is considered an “Ivy League” level public university, as are some neighboring universities with whom they share rivalries. The campus itself is fairly compact, covering 729 acres; it includes the Morehead Planetarium was the first planetarium in the U.S. to be built on a college campus (in 1949).

Of course, the university is huge for sports: the Tar Heels play football at Kenan Memorial Stadium, which holds 63,000 rabid fans and has hosted games here since 1927. Their storied basketball team plays at the Smith Center, named of course for 36-season coach Dean Smith (it’s also called the “Dean Dome” quite a bit). Their “home field advantage” is legendary. Basketball is huge across North Carolina, and UNC happens to have the Carolina Basketball Museum next door to the Smith Center. Classic symbols of the university include the Old Well, a rotunda completed in 1897 that once served as the sole water supply for the university, and the Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower, a beautiful 172-foot tower completed in 1931 that chimes on the quarter hour to help students realize they’re up to 15 minutes late for classes. Tours of the lovely campus are available that will take you to all of these sights and more, including the Old East Residence Hall, built in 1793 and the first state university building in the United States.

The campus hosts a number of museums, including the Ackland Art Museum, which since 1958 has been one of North Carolina’s primary cultural resources; over 17,000 works of art, including a sizeable collection of Asian and African art as well as pottery. The North Carolina Botanical Garden is a free attraction with a beautiful and bucolic collection of native North Carolina plants and trees; nature trails take you through series of gardens with plaques identifying the variety of flora.

Downtown Chapel Hill is loaded with restaurants, shops, bars, and more that cater to the college crowd and the extensive business and industry communities. Famed musician James Taylor spent his formative years near Chapel Hill and wrote “Carolina in My Mind” while in England as a salute to his home state; it’s now the “unofficial” song at UNC, and for the Carolinas in general. For the not-quite-college-age set, the Kidzu Children’s Museum offers plenty of fun exhibits; their new “Launch Pad” opens in spring 2015. Gimghoul Castle was built in 1924 as Hippol castle; its construction includes 1,300 tons of rough stone, supposedly from French artisans. The Castle and surrounding land is owned by the Order of the Gimghoul, a non-profit “secret society” membership group of male college students and alumni. There many legends and stories, some of which you can hear about at their magnificent headquarters in this castle. Hey, why not check it out?

When you’re done with Chapel Hill and the UNC portion of the Research Triangle, head up U.S. 15/501 into Durham, a city of a quarter million, bathing in the history of tobacco and academia.

Durham, most famously, is home to Duke University, an Ivy League school of 15,000 students, over one billion dollars in research, and major sports – especially in basketball – in the form of the Duke Blue Devils. Duke, established in 1838 as “Brown’s Schoolhouse,” consistently ranks among the world’s best universities. There are two campus locations for Duke in Durham: East Campus, which was the original location near downtown, and Main (West) Campus about one mile west, which was built in the 1920s and 1930s. Iconic buildings include the Duke Chapel. Completed in 1935, Duke Chapel evokes the classic Ivy League – or old European – feel: grey stone, stained glass, vaulted arches, the works. You can check out the Chapel (which is more like a Cathedral), perhaps hear the organ playing, and catch a lunch at the Divinity Café nearby.

Duke loves its sports. The Blue Devils play football at Wallace Wade Stadium, which opened in 1929. Renovations are underway which will increase capacity to around 44,000 spectators. Even bigger is Blue Devils basketball; they play in Cameron Indoor Stadium, a legendary arena that opened in 1940. It's wild, loud, entertaining, and full of legacy rituals with students and fans, try checking out a game – just get the proper spelling vs. pronunciation of the coach down first (Mike Krzyzewski – and you don’t pronounce it the way it looks!)

Trivia: Duke competed in the only Rose Bowl ever played outside of California by hosting the game at Wallace Wade Stadium in 1942. The game was moved to Durham that year in part due to fears of a Japanese attack on the West Coast in the wake of the recent attack on Pearl Harbor.

Duke’s campus is one of the most beautiful in the country; Gothic architecture is everywhere and forested hills dominate. On campus, Sarah Duke Gardens is considered one of the premier public gardens in the country; over 300,000 visitors annually enjoy the gardens, which are open 365 days a year – and it’s free! The Nasher Museum of Art features terrific exhibits of paintings and sculpture, much of it modern and contemporary.

Duke is named after the benevolent Duke family, which made its fortune from factories, farms, and The American Tobacco Company, the world's largest. A big chunk of the profits went to Duke University; resulting in the school being named after them. The Duke Homestead encompasses their early home, factories, and tobacco farms; it is available for tours and is essentially a living museum to the era and Durham’s history. Nearby, the Duke Lemur Center is a research facility that offer tours focusing on these fascinating creatures. The Museum of Life & Science features hands-on exploratory exhibits including a Magic Wings Butterfly House, an Insectarium, wetlands, dinosaurs, and more.

Baseball has a long history in Durham. The Durham Bulls are a “AAA”-affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays and have a more than 70-year history playing in town. From 1926 (when it opened as “El Toro Park”) until 1995 the team played in what is now Historic Durham Athletic Park downtown… and yes, this is where a chunk of the movie Bull Durham was filmed. Today, the team plays about a mile to the south in Durham Bulls Athletic Park, a terrific ballpark that hosted the “AAA” All-Star Game in 2014 and is one of the centerpieces of the American Tobacco Historic District, a complex of nightclubs, restaurants, bars, and other accoutrement that make up an entertainment district in former tobacco factory buildings.

That’s not the only complex of its kind in Durham, either; just west of the main downtown district you’ll find Brightleaf Square, which uses another complex of historic tobacco warehouses to feature shops, restaurants, and bars. Downtown Durham itself, centered on Main Street, includes the Central Park district that has more shops, cafes, restaurants, and gathering spots for Durham residents and Duke students. Traditional signs, including some old-school tobacco company murals you don’t get to see much of anymore, adorn some of the buildings.

Elsewhere around Durham, history abounds. The Bennett Place State Historic Site commemorates the largest surrender of the Civil War. Stagville State Historic Site is a former plantation offering tours illustrating life in the antebellum era. Also on the north side near I-85 not far from Creedmoor (home of the Best Western Butner Creedmoor Inn) is the Museum of Life & Science, which focuses on indoor and outdoor learning environments. The main building includes the Butterfly House, a farmyard, a café, a nature park, dinosaur trails, and a train. Its Aerospace exhibit is highly touted and includes many artifacts from the Apollo space missions; also of note is Catch the Wind, a set of exhibits illustrating how wind affects our environment.

From Durham, hit the Durham Expressway/NC Highway 147 and head east; it will take you right through Research Triangle Park, one of the world’s largest. Research Triangle Park was established way back 1959, when the concept of an office park complex was fairly new; it was built to try and stem the “brain drain” happening from the area’s universities, as many students upon graduation left for jobs elsewhere in the country. That certainly happened, as the Triangle Region is considered one of the most highly-educated metropolitan areas in the United States and has grown to over two million people.

From the Research Park area, connect to I-40 east and make your way into the capital city and third leg of the “Research Triangle” area, Raleigh. A fast-growing and dynamic city of over 400,000, Raleigh is the center of government and, like so many cities in this area, home to a major university: NC State (North Carolina State University), along with Duke and UNC, is the third corner of the “Research Triangle.” The university began as the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in 1887; the “NC State” change officially came in 1963 and today, the student body numbers around 34,000. Like the other universities in the area, the school is a major research university and is ranked worldwide, not just nationwide, in many academic programs.

The NC State Wolfpack share big rivalries with these schools and others in the ACC. Their football team plays at Carter-Finley Stadium, which opened a few miles west of campus in 1966 and holds nearly 58,000 spectators. Basketball is just as huge with NC State as with Duke and UNC; the team plays in Raleigh’s PNC Arena, which also hosts the only major league pro team in the area, the NHL Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes, originally the New England and Hartford Whalers, came to North Carolina in 1997 and snagged the Stanley Cup in the 2005-06 season. They are the only pro sports team in one of the four major sports in the state outside of Charlotte. Along with basketball and hockey, PNC Arena also hosts major events from concerts to monster truck shows, from the circus to ice skating shows and rodeos. Other professional sports in Raleigh include the NASL Carolina RailHawks, who play at WakeMed Soccer Park in suburban Cary (the NC State Wolfpack play soccer there, too); and an “A”-advanced affiliate of the Atlanta Braves, the Carolina Mudcats. The Mudcats play at Five County Stadium in suburban Zebulon (that’s a nearby town, not a distant galaxy).

The centerpiece of the city is the North Carolina State Capitol, a lovely Greek Revival structure that opened in 1840. One might look at it in the center of Union Square and think it’s not very big to serve as the capitol of such a large state, and that’s true. But North Carolina was a wee bit smaller back then; the expansions have gone into many surrounding buildings. The Office of the Governor and Office of the Lieutenant Governor are still located there, and statues showcasing the history of the state and some of its famous politicians adorn the grounds; tours of the Capitol are offered every half hour. Meanwhile, the legislature meets one block north in the North Carolina State Legislative Building.

Amidst these government buildings are a complex of museums, including the North Carolina Museum of History, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (the oldest museum – and largest museum of its kind – in the state), the Raleigh City Museum, and the Marbles Kids Museum, where there’s a lot more than just marbles to play with. A few blocks away, the Executive Mansion is an architectural gem built in 1891 surrounded by beautiful gardens. Limited tours are available of the Mansion, which connects the Capitol area to the historic Oakwood neighborhood, which is a great place for a walking tour.

A centerpiece of this area is Mordecai Historic Park, which preserves the Mordecai House. The House was built in 1795, is the oldest house in Raleigh still standing in its original location, and was the birthplace of our 17th President, Andrew Jackson. The park was the center of what was the largest plantation in Wake County. Other historic and lovely buildings are within a few blocks; the nearby Visitor Information Center has maps and other details.

South of the Capitol are the major towers in Raleigh, including the 538-foot, 33-story PNC Plaza, 431-foot, 29-story Two Hannover Square, and 400-foot, 30-story Wells Fargo Plaza. The Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts is a few more blocks to the south and hosts the city’s theatre companies, symphony, opera, and more.

Outside downtown, other major venues include the North Carolina Museum of Art, a large museum and 164-acre outdoor complex on the west side close to the PNC Arena and Carter-Finley Stadium. Also nearby are the grounds of the North Carolina State Fair, which takes place every October. The Dorton Arena is a National Historic Landmark on the fairgrounds, hosting events on the grounds year ‘round. Having opened in 1952, the Dorton Arena is known for its unique, sweeping elliptical architectural style.

The Walnut Creek Amphitheatre hosts outdoor concerts and music festivals for up to 20,000 music lovers, who enjoy the long “outdoor concert” season. Another outdoor place to enjoy – that’s a little quieter – is the JC Raulston Arboretum on the NC State campus. This Arboretum is rated among the top in the Southeast, with an extensive and diverse collection of landscape plants, with an emphasis on Piedmont species. For more flowers, the WRAL Azalea Garden is tucked away behind the city’s Channel 5 TV station; it’s a well-tended, fragrant garden with brilliant azaleas, orange blossoms, a fountain, and more; admission is free and spring is the best time to visit.

Close to suburban Garner and Cary, the Historic Yates Mill County Park is a 174-acre wildlife refuge and interpretive center that actively showcases the area’s agricultural and environmental heritage, including the grinding of wheat and corn in the grist mill, a museum, hiking trails, and more. On the north side of Raleigh, the Lassiter Mill is an historic park with a similar mill as well as a pleasant little waterfall. You can also fish below the nearby dam.

In the Raleigh area, four Best Western hotels offer terrific accommodations – which is good, since the area is worth spending at least a couple of days! In Raleigh proper, you’ll find the Best Western Raleigh Inn & Suites on the east side and the Best Western Raleigh North-Downtown on the (surprise) north side; both of these hotels are right off I-440. To the southeast in suburban Garner, check out the Best Western PLUS Edison Inn; just to the southwest in Cary by NC State, you’ll find the Best Western PLUS Cary Inn – NC State.

From Raleigh, it's a short drive to eastern North Carolina cities like Battleboro, Tarboro, Smithfield, and even Roanoke Rapid – featuring plenty more to see and do.

Plenty of options for a city and metro with plenty to see and do. Stay a while and then check out some of our other North Carolina tours!