From belly-busting meals of pulled pork and shrimp and grits to Asian-influenced fine dining matched with world-class wines, the so-called Research Triangle in North Carolina is bursting at the seams with things to do, see, buy, eat and drink. Whether you’re strolling the picturesque campuses of historic rivals Duke University and the University of North Carolina or exploring Raleigh, here’s a guide to the perfect long weekend in Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill.
Upon arriving at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, drive 25 minutes to the college town of Chapel Hill and check into The Carolina Inn, a historic hotel on the University of North Carolina campus. The inn was built in the 1920s and donated to the school in 1935. Today, it’s a four-star lodge with superb access to paths and gardens on campus, as well as the restaurants and bars that line nearby Franklin Street, the main artery of UNC nightlife.
Basketball fans will want to pay homage to Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke University, where the Blue Devils hold court. Nature lovers should stroll through the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, a 55-acre spread of colorful terraces and chirping songbirds. Having taken in the flora, drive south to Pittsboro, where fauna in the form of tigers, lions, ocelots and bearcats reside at the Carolina Tiger Rescue preserve. Tours here are guided and by reservation only, so call ahead to book. Don’t miss the North Carolina Museum of Art, featuring a fine permanent collection and a Rodin exhibit that’s almost as impressive as what you’d see in Paris. If you like jeans, trendy Raleigh Denim is Victor and Sarah Lytvinenko’s authentic denim factory. Skilled craftsmen hand-sew every pair of jeans, right down to embossing the leather labels with a manual punch.
Wine & Food:
On Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, there are several musts for wine, food and coffee lovers. Lantern is a pan-Asian-inspired restaurant operated by renowned Chef Andrea Reusing. Carolina shrimp cakes with a spicy chili jelly, dumplings filled with wild mushrooms and tea- and wood-smoked black cod are just some of the offerings. The wine list is a virtual treasure trove of top-notch, dry white wines from around the globe. A few blocks away, Crook’s Corner serves upscale Southern dishes like jalapeño-and-cheddar-infused hushpuppies, creamy shrimp and grits and green Tabasco chicken. If a good cup of joe is your thing, Caffé Driade does a fine job of channeling Seattle or San Francisco via its tattooed baristas, literary clientele and excellent coffees and teas. Have drinks at The Crunkleton, a “members only” cocktail lounge-cum-bar that doesn’t seem to turn anyone away. It features a vintage pool table in the back and bartenders who know how to mix a stellar Negroni. For a wine-centric experience, Six Plates Wine Bar in Durham serves patrons six plates of farm-to-table fare paired with different wines, including Mencía from Ribeira Sacra and Txakolí from the Basque Country. Barbecue lovers should try The Pig, a modern whole-hog joint in Chapel Hill that uses only antibiotic- and hormone-free animals for their pulled pork and ribs. For your last meal in Raleigh, dine at J. Betski’s, celebrating German and Eastern European cuisine. Top choices include pierogies, a beet and quark salad, pork schnitzel and an array of beers and wines from Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic.