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Save & Splurge: Raleigh, N.C.

Raleigh, North Carolina’s capital city, is a delight to visit, with a compact downtown, thriving restaurant scene, exploding craft brewery industry, and several free museums and green spaces. The walkable city is bursting with energy, and it can be fun to time your visit with one of the city’s many festivals. Make sure to check out its eclectic shops and boutiques, too.

Budget

Stay: The Holiday Inn Raleigh Downtown is ideally situated in the center of town. Once you park your car, you might not need it again until you leave: Shopping, restaurants and attractions are just minutes away on foot. The hotel offers free WiFi and the panoramic views from its 20th floor Skye Tower Restaurant and Lounge are outstanding.

Do: Spend a day exploring the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, the North Carolina Museum of History and the North Carolina Museum of Art, all of which are completely free! Admission is just $5 at the excellent Marbles Kids Museum, where families can enjoy dozens of hands-on exhibits and educational programs.

Dine: Any barbecue place that’s been around for more than 75 years, like Clyde Cooper’s BBQ, must be doing something right. The casual spot has been serving Carolina-style barbecue since 1938. Top lean pork shoulders are slow cooked until they are beyond tender and mixed with a secret barbecue sauce.

Mid-Range

Stay: The Raleigh Marriott City Center is within walking distance to entertainment, museums, attractions and dining. The 400-room hotel has comfortable guest rooms, featuring Marriott’s signature bedding, plus an indoor pool and a Starbucks. Rye Bar & Southern Kitchen offers tasty Southern cuisine.

Do: Hop aboard the Raleigh Brews Cruise, a bus tour that takes visitors to three local breweries. Guides explain the brewing process, the different styles of beer, and what makes each brewery unique. Of course, multiple samples are supplied, and – best of all – someone else does the driving.

Dine: One of Raleigh’s more creative restaurants is Bida Manda. The Laotian cuisine is a blend of Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese, with a dash of influences from the country’s French colonial past. Crispy pork belly soup with coconut curry is outstanding, as are more familiar dishes like fresh summer rolls and pad thai.

Luxury

Stay: Located about 15 minutes from downtown, the AAA Five Diamond Rated Umstead Hotel and Spa is worth the drive. The six-story hotel sits on 12 acres filled with gorgeous gardens and a lake. It has an amazing collection of art, complimentary bicycles to borrow and an outdoor pool. Guests also have use of the spa facilities, even if they don’t book a treatment.

Do: Raleigh is a real food-lover’s town, and a Taste Carolina gourmet food tour is a great way to get a feel for the area. You’ll meet chefs while enjoying their food, which usually features local ingredients. Guides also talk about the city’s history and architecture along the way. Tours might visit five to seven restaurants and shops. Tours are offered every weekend.

Dine: One of Raleigh’s go-to special occasion restaurants, the Second Empire Restaurant and Tavern, makes for a delicious night out. The seasonal menu might feature dishes like grilled Australian rack of lamb or roasted five-spice Pennsylvania duck breast. For a truly luxurious meal, book the chef’s table and eat in the kitchen with chef Daniel Schurr and his staff.

Get a taste of Raleigh by planning your stay at AAA.com/BookRaleigh.

By Kim Foley MacKinnon

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