Between its family-friendly atmosphere, great quality of life and welcoming Southern community, it’s no wonder people are moving to Raleigh, NC. The region has even been named the best place to live in North Carolina—and the best big city in the Southeast.
Raleigh has been slowly emerging as a large technology hub, but there’s more than what meets the eye in this modern-but-quaint town.
We put together a Raleigh relocation guide to help you understand everything you need to know before moving to this beloved Southern metropolis.
Living in Raleigh, NC
Before we dive into the specifics of life in Raleigh, let’s hammer out the basics. Where is Raleigh? How big is it? What makes it so special? Here are a few things you need to know before moving to North Carolina’s capital.
Where is Raleigh?
Raleigh is the capital of North Carolina and the second-largest city in the state, right behind Charlotte. Most of Raleigh is located within Wake County, with a small portion extending into Durham County. Raleigh’s primary neighboring towns include Cary, Morrisville, Clayton, Wake Forest and Rolesville.
Is Raleigh known for anything?
Raleigh is known as the “City of Oaks,” due to its beautiful oak trees that line the streets in the heart of the city. Raleigh is more commonly known for its Research Triangle Park (RTP) which is named for its tri-city region of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. While Raleigh has its own sense of small-town Southern charm, its up-and-coming metropolis makes it a highly sought-after place to live.
What is the cost of living in Raleigh?
Raleigh is a great place to move if you’re looking for an affordable city to live in. The economy is doing well and the job market is continuously growing. Some important economic information about the city includes the following:
- The median household income is $61,505 according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
- The median home value is $282,237.
- North Carolina has a flat income tax of 5.25%.
- The sales tax rate for Raleigh is 7.3%.
According to Payscale, the average housing expenses in Raleigh are 30% lower than the national average.
- Median rent for Raleigh is $756.55 per month.
- The median home price for Raleigh is $241,512.
- The average energy bill in Raleigh is $161.62 per month.
- The average phone bill in Raleigh is $172.29.
- The average cost of gas in Raleigh is $2.39 per gallon.
- On average, the cost of living in North Carolina is 5% lower than the national average.
What are the pros and cons of living in Raleigh?
In Raleigh, you’ll find friendly, diverse and educated residents who appreciate a strong sense of community. Raleigh also encompasses beautiful green spaces, family-friendly museums and a growing arts scene. On the flip side, if you’re young, single and looking for a big city vibe, you might find that Raleigh lacks in the “nightlife” area. The weather also tends to be hot… brutally hot. You’ll want to keep in mind that Raleigh lacks a public transportation system since most residents drive from place to place. But ask any resident and you’ll soon find out that the positives most definitely outweigh the negatives.
The Best Raleigh Neighborhoods
After moving to Raleigh, one of the first things you’ll notice is the welcoming, friendly community. And it’s continuing to grow. The Raleigh metro is expected to have 2.2 million residents by 2040—up 72% from its current base.
Whether you reside close to the city or in a nearby suburb, you’ll feel like a regular in no time. Here are some of the best places to live in Raleigh, NC:
Thriving since the Civil War era, Oakwood is a historic district featuring restored homes, bungalows and grand Victorians. This neighborhood, minutes from downtown Raleigh, has become popular among young couples and first-time homebuyers looking to upsize.
2. Five Points
If you’re moving to Raleigh, NC, Five Points is one neighborhood you’re going to want to look at. As one of the most sought-after neighborhoods in the area, Five Points gets its name from the confusing intersection where newcomers are likely to make a mistake the first time they drive through it. Located north of downtown Raleigh, Five Points includes several small neighborhoods, parks, restaurants, bars, and boutique shops.
3. Brier Creek
Built in the 1990s, Brier Creek is one of the most newly developed neighborhoods in the area. Brier Creek offers thousands of single-family homes and condominiums along with shops, restaurants and offices. One of the most popular landmarks is Brier Creek Country Club, which features estates, townhouses and endless amenities. Located in Wake County (home to some of the area’s best schools), this neighborhood is popular among young, upwardly mobile families.
4. North Hills
If you’re looking for a suburban oasis that’s not too far from downtown Raleigh, North Hills is the spot for you. Known as Raleigh’s fastest-growing area, it offers great schools, endless restaurants and several parks. Here you’ll find lots of apartment options for renters as well as peaceful residential areas for young families. There’s something here for everyone.
Apex is one of the most historic places in all of Raleigh. It’s found on the National Historic District Registry and its residents appreciate the small-town, community feel. Apex boasts a number of impressive recognitions, including being named the Best Small Town in North Carolina and the Best Place to Live in the U.S. Apex offers up and coming neighborhoods, reasonable commutes and access to parks and recreational facilities.
Why are People Moving to the Raleigh Area?
1. Research Triangle Park
One major reason that Raleigh is attracting so many young professionals is a combination of the low cost of living, the booming job market, and the proximity to Research Triangle Park (RTP), an area experiencing a period of enormous growth. Research Triangle Park, also known as RTP or The Triangle, is known for its proximity to three fantastic universities — North Carolina State University, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, and Duke University.
The 7,000-acre RTP is home to more than 200 companies and over 50,000 people with expertise in fields such as microelectronics, biotechnology, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and environmental sciences. RTP is also located in a central location: 9 to 11 miles from downtown Durham, 12 to 14 miles from the center of Chapel Hill and the University of North Carolina, and 18 to 21 miles from the state capital of Raleigh.
2. Higher Education
As we mentioned, a major draw to the area is the trinity of fantastic universities. Colleges like Duke University, North Carolina State University, and the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill add huge value to the area. In fact, 43.1% of people have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, a rate of about 1.4 times the rest of North Carolina.
Here’s a little more info on the area’s best colleges:
- North Carolina State University – NC State is North Carolina’s largest university with over 35,000 students. This research university is a powerhouse in science, math, engineering, and technology. Each year, NC State adds $6.5 billion to the statewide economy, equivalent to creating 90,000 new jobs.
- The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – More commonly known as UNC-Chapel Hill, this research university opened its doors in 1795 as the nation’s first public university. Nestled in the beautiful college town of Chapel Hill, N.C., UNC has earned a reputation as one of the best universities in the world. It prides itself on a diverse student body, innovative teaching, public service and academic opportunities not found anywhere else.
- Duke University – Located in Durham, Duke is a private research university with a campus spanning over 8,600 acres. Duke is the second-largest private employer in North Carolina and is consistently ranked among the best places to work. In 2017, the Wall Street Journal also ranked Duke first in the nation for student outcomes, tied with Harvard University.
- Wake Forest University – Wake Forest is a private university located in the Winston-Salem area with nearly 8,000 students from 48 states and 46 countries. Known for being a diverse and vibrant community (not to mention one of the best universities for study abroad participation), the university offers 42 majors to choose from.
3. The Weather
You’ll want to prepare for some hot summer days if you’re moving to Raleigh, but the winters are a pleasant departure from the sort of snow and ice you see in places like New England! The average temperature for the winter is 43 degrees, while the summer sees an average of 78 degrees.
4. The Booming Job Market
If you’re moving to Raleigh, NC, you’re in for a bright future. The city offers a thriving economy, especially in the technology, healthcare and education fields. Because of its strong market and salary versus cost of living, Raleigh was named the third best city for job seekers in 2017.
In 2018, unemployment in Raleigh was at 3.4%, .5% lower than the national average. The current job market is scored at 7.3 out of 10 according to US News. The Triangle area is a hotspot for startups, in part due to the proximity to 3 of the nation’s best universities, and since the 1970s around 1,800 startups have developed in this area. If you’re looking for a good place to pursue your career, this is an excellent place to start.
Here are some of the top major employers in Raleigh:
- The United States Environmental Protection Agency
- IBM Corporation
- WakeMed Health & Hospitals
- SAS Institute Inc.
- Cisco Systems Inc.
- Fidelity Investments
- National Institute of Environmental Health Services
- BASF Corporation
- Biogen Idec Inc.
5. The City Life
Raleigh is a growing city, and as it continues to expand, the city life just gets better. The nightlife is alive already, with dozens of options for late-night drinks. Some of the best bars include:
- Raleigh Beer Garden
- Watts and Ward
- Dram and Draught
The athletics scene is incredibly active, between the Carolina Hurricanes and the many college teams that compete in the Triangle area. Just be careful wearing Carolina Blue or Duke Blue during the basketball season!
Raleigh is also located perfectly for weekend trips to the beach or mountains, depending on your preference. Wrightsville and Carolina Beach are both a mere two hours away. If the mountains are more your speed, Ashville is less than four hours away!
Things to do in Raleigh
Whether you’re moving to Raleigh, NC on your own or bringing your entire family, there’s something for everyone. From parks and sporting events to museums and shopping districts, you’ll find plenty of things to do in the capital city.
Here are some great things to do in Raleigh, NC:
If you’re a fan of mountains, beaches and anything to do with the great outdoors, you’re in luck. Raleigh offers parks, trails and outdoor spots that active residents will absolutely love.
- Pullen Park – Located just west of downtown Raleigh, Pullen Park is the state’s first public park. The park offers playgrounds, sports fields, an indoor aquatic center and peaceful trails. It’s free to visit and offers carousel rides and trips on paddle boats.
- Neuse River Trail – Commonly referred to as the Raleigh Greenway, the Neuse River Trail is a 28-mile path that stretches from the Falls Lake Dam in Wake Forest down to the Johnston County line in Raleigh. Whether you enjoy walking your dog, jogging or just strolling through the woods, the path is a beautiful way to connect with nature.
- Lake Crabtree County Park – With 215 acres and 16 miles of trails, Lake Crabtree County Park is the perfect getaway for friends and family. Enjoy multiple trails, picnic areas, boating and fishing, and scenic waterfront views. If you tend to be more of a beach person, Wrightsville Beach is the city’s closest beach located 131 miles east of Raleigh.
Enjoy the grub.
Foodies, rejoice! Choose from more than 1,200 Raleigh restaurants with a wide range of cuisines and prices. Whether you’re in the mood for a quick lunch spot, fine-dining or welcoming, down-home service, you’ll quickly see why Raleigh’s culinary scene is gaining national recognition.
It’s no secret that Raleigh residents love Carolina staples like barbecue, sweet tea and home-style vegetables. And let’s face it: barbecue is a way of life in the South. From pit-smoked pork to Texas-style brisket, you can’t escape good, old-fashioned comfort food. The Pit and The Pig both offer free-range pork and delicious sides at great prices. Ole Time Barbecue, just outside of Raleigh, also serves great lunches, dinners and tailgate platters to go.
If you believe in supporting your community farmers and choosing local, sustainable food, you won’t have any issues adjusting in Raleigh, NC. The Raleigh Downtown Farmers Market brings the highest quality growers and artisans together for the heart of the city. It’s located at City Plaza in downtown Raleigh and runs seasonally from April to October. The State Farmers’ Market, however, is the best of the best. It has a deep culture of supporting local farmers and high-quality food. It’s also affiliated with one of the most prominent agriculture schools in the country.
Raleigh is dubbed the “Smithsonian of the South” due to its historic attractions, free museums and educational institutions. You’ll soon understand the sense of pride that comes with the culture and heritage of this Southern metropolis.
Here are some great pieces of history in Raleigh that you won’t want to miss:
- North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences – As the Southeast’s largest natural history museum, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences offers four floors of exhibits, live animals, 3D displays and more. Visitors can observe scientists at work in investigative labs, enjoy movies in a three-story theater and check out the gift stores and cafes.
- North Carolina Museum of History – The North Carolina Museum of History brings North Carolina’s history to life. Dive into more than 14,000 years of North Carolina history with an award-winning exhibition featuring artifacts, decorative art, sports heroes and more. If you’re not familiar with Raleigh’s history, this is the perfect way to learn everything there is to know about your new home.
- North Carolina Museum of Art – Whether you’re looking for a new date night idea or a family friendly outing, the North Carolina Museum of Art is one of the premier visual arts museums in the South. Experience special exhibitions, sculptures, performances and a 164-acre, outdoor Museum park—the largest museum park in the country!
If you’re looking for more ways to learn about Raleigh’s rich history, be sure to visit the North Carolina State Capitol, CAM Raleigh, and the Marbles Kids Museum where the little ones can discover, imagine and even check out an IMAX movie.
Shop ‘til you drop.
If you’re moving to Raleigh and shopping is your scene, you’re going to be set. The area boasts three major shopping malls and an abundance of stores and boutiques selling anything from locally made crafts to high-end designer clothing. There are far too many to name, but be sure to check out Triangle Town Center, City Market, and Crabtree Valley Mall–Raleigh’s premier shopping experience with over 220 stores. From food to clothes to home goods and everything in between, you’ll soon come to find that Raleigh has it all.
Charlotte vs. Raleigh: What’s the Difference?
As North Carolina’s two largest metropolitan areas, Charlotte and Raleigh have many things in common. But they have even more differences. Here’s what you need to know about the two cities.
Charlotte is the larger region.
Charlotte is around 165 miles southeast—two and a half hours—from Raleigh. Raleigh has 460,000 residents while Charlotte has 842,000. While Charlotte is building up and becoming denser, Raleigh is building out and spreading.
Some think Charlotte is still finding itself, while Raleigh has established charm.
While Raleigh’s neighborhoods are rich in history, the city of Charlotte tends to be a melting pot of transplants. If you’re planning on moving to Raleigh, you’ll find a sense of community there. In Charlotte, not so much.
“Charlotte and Raleigh differ in big ways,” notes Scott Huler, North Carolina resident and Charlotte Magazine contributor. “Nobody confuses them any longer. Charlotte once looked at Raleigh and saw the sleepy little town it hoped it had left behind, and Raleigh looked at Charlotte and saw the soulless big city it feared it might become. Now, they’ve evolved into two of the best places to live in the country.”
Interested in learning more about Charlotte? Here are the best places to live if you’re moving to Charlotte.
Are you sold on moving to Raleigh, NC?
Between its outdoor beauty, impressive technology scene and sense of Southern charm, Raleigh is a great place to call home. But let’s face it–moving can be quite overwhelming. If you need assistance with your move, Life Storage offers self storage in Raleigh.
Update: This post was originally published on November 15, 2017 and was most recently updated on January 29, 2020 with new information from Raleigh expert Devon Cameron.