You’ll definitely be in good company as a newcomer to Raleigh, NC. Since the area tops many of the best places to live and work lists, Raleigh is a popular place to relocate. In fact, natives are rare; almost everyone is from somewhere else.
Here are 20 things you need to know before moving to Raleigh.
1. It’s Raleigh or Durham, not Raleigh-Durham or RDU.
Using the term Raleigh-Durham is a quick way to stand out as a newbie to the area, since Raleigh and Durham are separate cities.
Likewise, RDU refers to the Raleigh-Durham International Airport, so if you say you’re moving to RDU, people might think you’re taking up residence in Terminal 1.
2. Yes, some kids go to school in July.
If year-round school doesn’t add up, you are not alone. To accommodate more kids, some Wake County elementary and middle schools operate on a year-round calendar. Year-round schools are divided into four tracks, with each track going to school for nine weeks and then having a three-week vacation (called a “track out”). Kids go to school the same number of days as those on a traditional calendar, but instead of a two-month summer break, vacation is spread throughout the year. If your base school is year-round and you’d prefer traditional (or vice versa), you can request a switch during the transfer period.
3. Research Triangle Park is not a playground.
Research Triangle Park, also known as RTP, is a 7,000-acre office park that’s home to more than 200 companies and more than 50,000 employees. “The Park” is home to many well-known employers, such as Cisco, IBM and Novartis, along with numerous startups.
4. The Triangle refers to the entire area.
If you draw a line between the towns of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, you’ll come up with a triangle of sorts, which is how this area came to be referred to as the Triangle. Since then, the area has grown. The term now refers to the original three cities, along with Cary and many smaller towns, such as Holly Springs, Apex, Wake Forest, Clayton, Garner, Fuquay-Varina and Knightdale.
5. The Triad, Down East and the Outer Banks are other parts of North Carolina.
If someone mentions the Triad, he or she is talking about the Greensboro/Winston-Salem area, while Down East refers to the smaller towns east of Interstate 95. And if you’re invited to go to the Outer Banks, your host is talking about the barrier islands in northeast North Carolina, including Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk and the famous Cape Hatteras Light House.
6. Barbecue: Eastern or Western? Pulled or chopped?
You’ve most likely heard that North Carolinians are proud of their barbecue. Keep in mind, though, that there are two barbecue styles: Eastern, which features a vinegar-based sauce, and Western, which has a red sauce. While the majority of barbecue in Raleigh is Eastern style, Western style is found on some menus as well. And many newcomers are surprised to find that most barbecue is served chopped instead of pulled. Often, the best barbecue can be found at churches and fire stations during the spring and fall.
7. Foodies will find plenty to make them happy.
If barbecue isn’t your style, don’t worry: The foodie scene is alive and well in the Raleigh area. In addition to long-standing local favorites like Second Empire, Irregardless Cafe and Angus Barn, Raleigh is home to some of the top new chefs, such as 2014 James Beard Award winner Ashley Christensen. Be sure to check out the food scene in nearby Durham, which was named the South’s Tastiest City by Southern Living magazine.
8. Wake Forest University is not in the town of Wake Forest.
The Demon Deacons actually play in Winston-Salem, located about two hours from Raleigh — but not in the town of Wake Forest, which is just north of Raleigh. Wake Forest University was founded in Wake Forest, but the school moved in 1946 to Winston-Salem. Today, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary occupies the old campus.
9. Basketball is king.
No other sport brings out the same passion and fan frenzy in these parts as basketball. With three major universities within 30 minutes of each other (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University and Duke), the rivalry is fierce. And don’t make any big plans during the ACC tournament or NCAA tournament; these events are practically holidays around here.
10. There are other sports. Really.
Don’t despair if basketball isn’t your passion. You’ve got other sports to choose from. The Triangle is home to the 2006 Stanley Cup-winning Carolina Hurricanes. And with so many universities in the area, you always can find a college football game taking place on a fall Saturday afternoon. Baseball fans are in luck as well, with two minor-league teams in the area: the Carolina Mudcats and the Durham Bulls.
11. In the mood for music?
Many popular bands and performers put Raleigh on their tour schedules. Sitting in lawn seats at Walnut Creek Amphitheater or the smaller Red Hat Amphitheater is a summer tradition. PNC Arena is a great indoors place to catch your favorite bands.
12. Yes, we drop an acorn on New Year’s Eve.
OK, we know Raleigh is a far cry from New York City, NY, so instead of dropping a ball, a giant acorn is dropped in downtown Raleigh on New Year’s Eve. Sure, it’s a bit odd. But Raleigh is the City of Oaks, so it’s fitting.
13. The State Fair is a big deal.
People take off work. Schools let out early. Going to the North Carolina State Fair each October is a big tradition around here. And if rides aren’t your thing, there are giant pumpkins, livestock, concerts, cakes made by 4-H kids and plenty of fried foods (Krispy Kreme cheeseburger, anyone?).
14. You won’t be the only one confused by the Inner and Outer beltlines.
Interstate 440 is a loop that circles downtown Raleigh; many folks have gone the wrong direction, only to take a 20-mile detour. If downtown is to your right (passenger side of your car), you are on the Inner Beltline. If downtown is to your left (driver’s side of your car), you are on the Outer Beltline. And if someone lives ITB (inside the beltline), it means his or her home is within the I-440 loop.
15. The bread and milk joke is real.
It’s true: When snow shows up in the weather forecast, the grocery store lines go out the door, and the milk and bread aisles become bare. And if snow actually falls on the ground, the entire city pretty much shuts down; schools have been known to close for several days over 2 inches of snow. But in our defense, the white stuff on the ground here often is icy.
16. Southern hospitality is alive and well.
If you see someone wave to you, don’t worry that you don’t recognize the person. People wave to strangers, make small talk in elevators and invite new friends into their homes. Before long, you’ll feel right at home and find yourself waving to strangers on the street.
17. If you order tea, expect it to be sweet.
If you order tea at restaurant, you most likely will be served iced tea, and it’ll probably be sweet. If you want hot tea or unsweetened tea, be sure to order it that way. But once you try sweet tea, you might become a fan.
18. Outdoor enthusiasts have lots to keep them busy.
If you love to get out on the water, head to nearby Jordan Lake or Falls Lake for fishing, water skiing or boating. Hikers have plenty of trails to explore at Umstead Park and the 28-mile scenic Neuse River Greenway. Shelly Lake and Lake Lynn Park are favorites as well. If you have little ones in your family, Pullen Park, the first public park in the state, is a must-do, with its rides, carousel and train.
19. Beach or mountains? Take your pick!
One of the best parts about Raleigh is its location — perfect for a weekend getaway to the beach or the mountains. Plan to visit the Boone area or Asheville for hiking on the Blue Ridge Parkway in the summer and skiing in the winter. While Wrightsville Beach is the closest beach to the Triangle, at a little over two hours away, other favorite spots include Atlantic Beach, Holden Beach and Ocean Isle.
20. Culture lovers can get their fix.
You can listen to the North Carolina Symphony play at Meymandi Concert Hall or head to the Durham Performing Arts Center (known as the DPAC) to catch a performance in its annual Broadway series. If museums are your style, don’t miss the free (except for special exhibits) North Carolina Art of Museum, North Carolina Museum of History and North Carolina Museum of Natural Science.
North Carolina State University basketball photo courtesy of Flickr/Jerome Carpenter