Car Free Journey: December, 2012 By Steve Atlas

December 4, 2012
First Night Ferris Wheel, Raleigh, North Carolina

First Night Ferris Wheel, Raleigh, North Carolina

As the holidays approach, many of us wonder how to spend New Year’s Eve. One of my favorite New Year’s Eve activities is “First Night:” A non-alcoholic arts and entertainment evening available to area residents at little cost (usually a “button” that costs $10-$20 for all programs).  For many years, my wife and I enjoyed 1st Night in Annapolis, MD. One year, we celebrated 1st Night in Alexandria, VA.

One of the benefits of First Night is there is no need to drive. Many programs are within walking distance of each other. Frequently, a free shuttle bus provides transportation between venues. Since many First Nights are held in or near downtown, visitors can stay in one location and enjoy a great New Year’s Eve without ever needing to drive.

For a complete list of communities throughout the United States that have their own First Night, visit

This year, we wanted to celebrate First Night away from home. One community we considered was Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Unfortunately, our plans changed and we couldn’t come that evening.) Raleigh is one of many communities that offer First Night for the entire family. In this month’s column, we will visit downtown Raleigh, learn about First Night, and suggest a few self-guided walking tours that you can enjoy without ever needing to drive or leave downtown Raleigh.

Getting Here

Amtrak’s Silver Star serves Raleigh daily from New York, Baltimore, Washington, Richmond (VA), Savannah Georgia, and Florida. The Piedmont has a daily train from Charlotte to Raleigh.

Capital Area Transit (CAT) buses 7, 11, 21, and 36 stop at the Amtrak station, 320 West Cabarrus Street. Or take the free R line shuttle.

Downtown Raleigh

Downtown Raleigh

All of these buses to Moore Square in downtown Raleigh.

The Raleigh Durham International Airport (RDU) is served by Triangle Transit’s regional bus 100 every day except Sunday. On Sundays, Sky Shuttle (919) 599-8100, and Skylink Shuttle (919) 233-3952 or (855) 759-8267 will take you to the Airport from Downtown Raleigh for under $30.

The Greyhound Bus Terminal is located at 314 Jones St. CAT bus 8 serves the Greyhound terminal Monday through Saturday. On Sundays, take CAT bus 38.

After You Arrive:

Because our visit focuses on downtown Raleigh, it’s easy to walk most places. Or you can take the free R line downtown circulator bus.  For a list of stops and other information about the R line Circulator, go to

For attractions, entertainment, and what to do in downtown Raleigh, go to

Ryan Smith, from the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau, is our guide to downtown Raleigh.

Entertainment Districts.

Downtown Raleigh has many personalities and defined streetscapes that are walkable and can be enjoyed either day or night. Here are the top 4 entertainment districts that show the city’s diversity:

  1. Glenwood South: Known for its’ lively nature and eclectic mix of restaurants, shopping and spirited nightlife, Glenwood South is South Raleigh’s trendiest district and offers exciting scenery for all to enjoy.
  2. Capital District: A busy business district, the Capital District houses stately buildings and classic architecture that showcases North Carolina state history.
  3. Fayetteville Street District: A main street on a grand scale, Fayetteville Street is known for its’ distinctive restaurants and impressive skyscrapers as well as restored historic buildings.
  4. Moore Square Art District: If you want to get a taste of Raleigh’s art scene, Moore Square is the perfect district to visit! Clustered in a three-block radius around the historic City Market, the district includes commercial and display galleries to tap into your creative genius.
Raleigh's Capital District

Raleigh’s Capital District

Where to Stay in Downtown Raleigh

Hotels within Downtown Raleigh:

  1. Raleigh Marriot City Center.
  2. Sheraton Raleigh Hotel
  3. Clarion Hotel State Capitol.
  4. Hampton Inn Glenwood: Opening in late 2012, the Hampton Inn Glenwood will open its’ door to guests with 126 rooms and approximately 950 sq. ft. of retail space.

Oakwood Bed and Breakfast:

Exploring Downtown Raleigh

    Organized Tours.

  1. Taste Carolina Gourmet Tour: Guiding you to six to eight restaurants and shops serving innovative food sourced locally from farm-to table. You’ll have opportunities to talk with chefs and owners, and professional guides will tell you about local history and cool new developments in town.
  2. Tobacco Road Tours: As the Research Triangle Region’s only full-service tour operator, including group tours and daily, professionally guided motorized and walking tours, Tobacco Road offers packaged tours for Historic Raleigh, plus a Raleigh Haunted Footsteps Ghost Tour, Raleigh Pub Crawl & Haunted Adventure and African-American Culture & Experience.
  3. Triangle Glides: Fully narrated Segway tours get you up close to Raleigh’s points of interest, and Stand Up Paddle lessons have you walking on water while getting a full-body workout.

Self-Guided Tours of Downtown Raleigh

1)     For a three-hour self-guided walking tour around Downtown Raleigh, here is an itinerary you can use to get the most out of your visit:

  • Start at the Raleigh Visitors Center located between the Raleigh Marriott and the Raleigh Convention Center on Fayetteville Street
  • Stop #1Raleigh City Museum: Learn about the city’s history through historical artifacts and exhibits and see how the museum is “preserving Raleigh’s past for the future”.
  • Stop #2 – State Capitol: Explore one of the finest and best-preserved examples of a major civic building in the Greek revival style of architecture.
  • Stop #3 – North Carolina Museum of History: Interpret the state’s history through exhibitions and other historical materials in a local, regional, national and international context.
  • Stop #4 – North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences: Enhance your understanding and appreciation of the environment through exhibits and the newly-built Nature Research Center.

If you want to explore outside of the Downtown area and enjoy walking on trails, parks or other natural areas, the 11 (Avent Ferry) and 11C (Buck Jones) routes on the Capital Area Transit will take you to the newly renovated Pullen Park, a 72-acre public park located near the campus of North Carolina State University.

2)     The R Line Circulator is a free and easy way to get around Downtown Raleigh. Here is an itinerary you can use to get a sense of the best places to go in the area before 6:30pm:

  • Start at the bus stop in front of the Raleigh Convention Center (R13)
  • Stop # 1 – State Capitol (R1): Visit the State Capitol Building, Legislative Building, Executive Mansion, State Archives, the North Carolina Museum of History and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
  • ·       Stop #2 Seaboard Station (R3): Stop and have lunch at Tyler’s Taproom or 18 Seaboard. ,
  • Stop #3 – Glenwood South (R5, R6, R7): Walk down Raleigh’s trendiest district and explore the city’s nightlife.

After 6:30pm, the R Line Circulator changes course to show visitors the exciting nightlife of Downtown Raleigh. Here is an itinerary you can use to see how Raleigh comes alive in the night time:

  • Start at the bus stop in front of the Raleigh Convention Center (R13)
  • Stop #1 – City Market at Moore Square (R17): Explore the historic Moore Square District and possibly stop for dinner at Batistella’s, a take on classic New Orleans and upscale Southern cuisine.
  • Stop #2 – Glenwood South (R5, R6, R7): See the district come to life and enjoy the casual, friendly, and spirited atmosphere! Possibly stop for a drink at Natty Greene’s Brewing Company, one of 9 Raleigh microbreweries.
  • Stop #3 – Warehouse District (R10, R11): Take the 3-block walk and see some of the city’s best restaurants and nightlife at places such as The Pit and Brewmasters Bar and Grill.

6df5604963760110c4b973c9a6fb03f9Don’t Forget about First Night Raleigh if you are here on New Year’s Eve

First Night Raleigh is central North Carolina’s largest New Year’s Eve community celebration of the arts.  This year’s festival will feature nearly 100 performances showcasing various forms of dance, improvisational comedy, theatre, interactive art installations, and live music from performers representing a wide variety of genres including rock, blues, jazz, classical, gospel, opera, folk and more.  The 22nd annual festival will take place on Monday, December 31, 2012 across a 24-block area of downtown Raleigh, encompassing three-dozen indoor and outdoor venues.

This year’s celebration takes inspiration from the world of the circus, and many of the interactive installations, make-and-take crafts, and performances throughout the afternoon and evening will feature the circus arts.  First Night festivities begin at 2:00 PM with the Children’s Celebration – performances and hands-on art activities geared specifically toward young revelers.  Following The People’s Procession – a participatory parade at 6:00 – and an early countdown at 7:00, Raleigh comes alive with continuous performances throughout downtown, culminating in a performance by local rising stars Delta Rae on the Main Stage in City Plaza.  You won’t want to miss the 90-foot Ferris wheel and a chance to drop like the acorn on the Jumbo Drop, which will be erected on Fayetteville Street.  The festival concludes at Midnight with the famous Raleigh Acorn drop and fireworks to ring in 2013.

Admission passes go on sale December 1 for $9 and provide access to ALL First Night Raleigh 2013 venues, performances and activities.  For more information about First Night Raleigh 2013 and full performance schedules, visit, or call (919) 832-8699.

For More Information

For attractions, tickets, packages and where to stay, go to Or call the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau at either (919) 834-5900, or toll-free (800) 849-8499

Go to, for information about Bus 100 that serves Raleigh Durham International Airport every day except Sunday.

For local bus service in Raleigh and the free R shuttle that serves downtown Raleigh, go to, or call (919) 485-RIDE.

For information about downtown Raleigh, go to (For information about the R Circulator, go to

Steve Atlas enjoys hearing from readers. Would you like to share a personal car free vacation experience, or suggest a destination for a future column? E-mail Steve at