North Carolina's capital, Raleigh, makes up the southeastern
corner of the famous Research Triangle, with Durham and Chapel Hill
at the other two points. The state's second-largest city is a vital
centre of high-tech business and education. Unlike many cities that
grew up around ports or stations, Raleigh was planned specifically
to be the capital.
At its centre stands the beautiful North Carolina Capitol
building, a fine Greek Revival-style landmark, from which wide,
oak-lined streets radiate. This careful geometry makes exploring
Raleigh quite straightforward, although the city lacks the charming
scenes that often develop with more haphazard growth, such as shops
on crooked alleyways and old homes on narrow, hidden lanes.
Nonetheless, Raleigh remains a pleasant city, with a unique mix of
Southern heritage and down-home manners; elite academia and
boisterous university life and athletics; and the fast-paced, sleek
sophistication of Triangle professionals.
Raleigh has been described as somewhat sleepy in the past, but
its nightlife scene has become much livelier in recent years, and
its diverse historic districts and neighbourhoods cater to many
different tastes. The area surrounding the Capitol is the centre of
government, business and history. Despite its daytime bustle, it
remains a lovely spot for a stroll, with grand museums and a leafy
square. Nearby Oakwood is full of exquisitely restored 19th century
homes and gardens. Moore Square, with its old-fashioned lampposts
and cobbled streets, is another city oasis. By day, visitors can
lounge in the park and must rub for good luck the giant copper
acorn sculpture, in honour of Raleigh's 'City of Oaks' nickname. By
night, Moore Square comes alive with upscale bars and restaurants,
as do pedestrian Fayettesville Street and the chic Warehouse
district, popular with Raleigh's 'urban hip' crowd.
Shoppers should head for the posh shops of North Hills or the
boutiques of Cameron Village. Those in search of a more colourful
atmosphere, however, will find it on Hillsborough Street and in the
NC State University district, where a jumble of undergrads,
professors and tourists mingle in coffeehouses, restaurants and
casual pubs. NC State is the North Carolina's largest university,
and its strong reputation for research is often overshadowed by its
wildly popular Wolfpack, a leader in intercollegiate sports.
Raleigh is often lumped together with nearby cities Durham and
Chapel Hill, and though the three are only about a 30-minute drive
from one another, there are different communities. Durham was once
one of the most thriving African-American centres in the country.
Today, its main attraction is Duke University, one of the top
schools in the United States and home of the Blue Devils, another
sports powerhouse. Its downtown areas, however, have suffered in
the past years, although revitalization efforts are underway.
Chapel Hill, meanwhile, has the reputation of a lovely college
town, with beautiful old homes; endless independently-owned coffee
shops, pubs and restaurants; and a decidedly liberal leaning. It is
home to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, another
top American institution, and the beloved Tar Heels, another top
force in college athletics. The three cities, and their massive
college sports followings, remain friendly rivals.