How to spend a BBQ and sports-filled weekend in Raleigh, North Carolina (PHOTOS)

May 23 2023, 4:52 pm

When we landed in Raleigh, we arrived without any expectations or reservations.
Back at the airport, 72 hours later, we flew home with a few souvenirs and a newfound appreciation for true Southern hospitality.

Known as the “Smithsonian of the South,” this is a town bursting at the seams with museums, tailgates, and an overwhelming sense of optimism. Raleigh boasts a population of less than 500,000. But that number might as well be 5,000, because aside from a few high rises, it feels nothing like a big city — in the best possible way.

It’s the kind of metropolis where strangers say hello to one another. We quickly learned that it’s also commonplace for locals to chat you up if you’re ever alone on a barstool, in an elevator, or just about anywhere.

Good manners aside, though, Raleigh, (and pretty much, all of North Carolina) is an ideal destination for foodies, sports fans, and history buffs alike. So if you’ve got a few days in the state’s capital, here are a few items to cross off your checklist.

Barbecue

For those who don’t know, North Carolinians do barbecue a little differently than other states. And they take their traditions very seriously.

The region has two distinct styles of barbecue: Eastern and Lexington. Eastern, found from the coast to the Piedmont, cooks whole hogs over oak coals, and then seasons the meat with a thin, tangy vinegar and pepper sauce.

The following are a few can’t-miss joints we tried in and around the state’s capital.

Sam Jones

sam jones bbq

Al Sciola / Daily Hive

Sam Jones is a big name in North Carolina BBQ, and its primary location is right in the heart of Raleigh. It smokes its hogs for hours on-site as a way to maximize flavour. This spot is big on tradition and has not changed most of its recipes in generations. Just about everything is made in-house, and that’s just how folks like it.

Longleaf Swine

longleaf swine

Al Sciola / Daily Hive

Another Raleigh BBQ hotspot is Longleaf Swine. Located in the historic Oakwood neighbourhood, this beloved food truck recently opened its first brick-and-mortar restaurant. You can’t go wrong with any of its smoked meats, especially the fall-off-the-bone brisket. Be sure to add other Southern classics like collard greens, sweet tea, and hush puppies to your order.

Picnic

picnic bbq durham north carolina

Al Sciola / Daily Hive

Located in Durham, just a short drive outside of Raleigh, Picnic is a little newer to the North Carolina BBQ scene, but what it lacks in age, it makes up for in quality and flavour. Owned and operated by a heritage hog farmer and a pitmaster, this joint presents bold takes on old classics.

After a healthy serving of its hush puppies, collard greens, and waffle fries, its iterations of classic Southern desserts like banana pudding and chocolate chess pie are simply to die for.

Sports

Hockey, southern style

 

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Raleigh is not like most American sports towns. Since the Carolina Panthers play in Charlotte, the main attraction in the Southern metropolis is actually hockey. And unlike a few other failed NHL experiments below the Mason-Dixon line, the Carolina Hurricanes are thriving.

As Canadians, we were a little taken aback by the passion of fans down there. Whether it’s a preseason game or an important playoff matchup, you can expect to see a cavalcade of jersey-wearing “Caniacs” before every puck drop. Their pre-game tailgate has become quite the tradition, so be sure to get to the arena early and soak in the atmosphere.

We were lucky enough to catch the boys in red on two separate occasions — once in a regular season matchup against the Montreal Canadiens at PNC Arena, and once more for the 2023 Stadium Series outdoor game against the Washington Capitals at Carter Finley Stadium.

 

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Both matchups ending in wins made the fireworks and tailgate grub even sweeter.

Plus, we got to witness the famous Storm Surge in person.

College ball

While the Canes are the main show in Raleigh, college basketball reigns supreme in North Carolina. In fact, three of the country’s most successful NCAA programs can be found within the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area.

The basketball rivalries between Duke, NC State, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are among the most intense and storied in college basketball. These three schools, all located within a short distance of one another, have been competing for decades. The rivalry between Duke and UNC is perhaps the most well-known, with their annual meetings referred to as the “Battle of the Blues,” but the feud between NC State and UNC is also fierce.

UNC vs NC State

UNC vs NC State 02/19/23 (Al Sciola / Daily Hive)

Fans of each school come from all ages and backgrounds and are deep enough to split families.

Along with attending an N.C. State game, we were able to tour the top-of-the-line athletic facilities of some of the state’s most prestigious schools at Duke University and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

University of North Carolina Tar Heels practice at Dean E. Smith Center (Al Sciola / Daily Hive)

Players’ tunnel at Duke University (Al Sciola / Daily Hive)

If you’re catching a game or just in the area, a tour of the campuses is too cool to pass up.

Sightseeing

Despite its size, Raleigh is bustling with things to do. Along with a fun nightlife scene, the walkable town also has its fair share of historical and cultural landmarks.

In between barbecue sessions and big games, we suggest checking out any of the following spots during your time in the city.

North Carolina History Museum

Visit Raleigh

Discover the state’s interesting past at the History Museum. From interactive exhibits tracing Native American origins to pivotal moments in American history, this immersive experience offers engaging artifacts and curated displays that showcase North Carolina’s rich heritage.

Permanent installments include the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame and North Carolina A to Z.

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Raleigh North Carolina

Al Sciola / Daily Hive

Explore the wonders of nature at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences — the largest museum of its kind in the Southeastern United States.

With a diverse range of exhibits and interactive experiences, the museum provides an engaging exploration of the natural world. Visitors have the chance to see paleontologists and researchers working wonders in the lab, making this the perfect stop for nature lovers, science enthusiasts, or anyone looking to deepen their understanding and appreciation of our environment.

Heights House

Raleigh North Carolina

Al Sciola / Daily Hive

Experience contemporary art, stunning architecture, and refreshments at Raleigh’s Heights House. Completed in 1860, the Italianate-style mansion is situated on the highest point of the historic Boylan Heights neighbourhood in downtown Raleigh.

Now a lovely boutique hotel, Heights House offers historical tours and features a lively cocktail bar.

A must-visit for those seeking a vibrant cultural experience with delicious drinks.

The author of this article was hosted by Visit Raleigh and Visit North Carolina.

Al SciolaAl Sciola

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