When I moved here three years ago, having only visited the Triangle briefly twice, I had a misperception that Raleigh-Durham was all one thing, not two distinctive cities separated by twenty-eight miles and a good deal more cultural distance. As it turns out, there was a lot I needed to learn—and indeed, that I’m still learning.  

Here are ten observations, suggestions, and things you need to know to get started. 

1. The Triangle could be its own state. 

The combined statistical area for Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill—the three counties commonly referred to as the Triangle, plus the more rural counties adjoining them—comprises 5,510 square miles and has about 2.2 million people. That makes us geographically larger than Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island, and larger in population than fifteen states and the District of Columbia. We damn sure wouldn’t have given our electoral votes to Donald Trump, either. 

2. The term “Raleigh-Durham” is misleading. 

I probably wasn’t alone in thinking of Raleigh-Durham as one amalgamation. But the only thing the cities share is an airport. I’ve found that the best way to think of Raleigh is that it’s a giant small town coming to grips with the fact that it’s becoming a big city—basically Austin Jr.—whereas Durham is a big city wrapped in a little city, with all of the amenities in a cheaper, more compact space. 

3. You’ll find a lot of smart people here. 

Thank the universities, or Research Triangle Park, or the startup culture that has blossomed in the last decade, or all of the above—but chances are, if you strike up a conversation with a rando in a bar, it won’t be dull or vapid. 

4. You’ll find a lot of nice people here. 

That person you strike up a conversation with will also probably be exceedingly nice and infallibly polite—maybe unnervingly so, especially if you’re coming from bigger Northeastern cities. Southern hospitality is a real thing. 

5. You’ll find a lot of people who are proud to be from here. 

Per capita, I don’t think Iíve seen as many T-shirts shouting out their wearers’ hometowns or home states as I’ve seen in the Triangle, often from local retailers such as Runaway or House of Swank. (Runaway’s controversial 2013 tee—“I’d rather be shot in Durham than die of boredom in Cary—is a classic of the form.”) There are, as best I can tell, two reasons for this: One is pride, obviously. The second is that we’re not a huge tourist mecca, so wearing a shirt or a hat touting your own city isn’t as weird as it might be in, say, Orlando.  

6. Go outside. 

I won’t lie: Summer will be a hot, humid mess. February will be cold and gray and miserable. But most of the time—and especially in the transitional seasons, spring and autumn—you live in one of the most pleasant, enjoyable environments anywhere. And there are so many ways to take advantage of it, from biking paths to hiking trails to scenic rivers to gorgeous parks to the stunning Duke Gardens. 

7. Explore. 

The cool thing about being in central North Carolina is that you are roughly equidistant from the mountains and the ocean. It’s about a two-and-a-half-hour drive to Topsail Beach and maybe three hours or so west to the mountains. So when you need to get away for a bit, you have options. 

8. Eat everything. 

For being a collection of midsize municipalities, the Triangle has a big-city collection of top chefs: Ashley Christensen, Cheetie Kumar, Andrea Reusing, Matt Kelly, Scott Crawford, Vansana and Vanvisa Nolintha, to name a few. But the excellence of our food scene extends well beyond the big names, from down-home ’cue (Ole Time Barbecue) to legit Mexican (Super Taqueria), from the best fried fish in the state (Saltbox Seafood) to real-deal vegan pulled pork (Fiction Kitchen), from incredible food-truck empanadas (Fuzzy’s) to maybe the best ice cream anywhere (The Parlour). The point is, eat up. And if you gain a little weight, we don’t judge (see number 4).   

9. You’ve arrived at an exciting moment. 

Every day, it seems, brings word that somewhere in the Triangle has landed on a Best Place for Something list. Every week brings a new crane announcing new construction or a new all-the-rage restaurant opening. This is a region on the rise, and the world is taking notice. 

10. Get politically active. 

While the Triangle is diverse, tolerant, progressive, and, to varying degrees, committed to social and economic justice, the state government that calls it home—but draws its control from gerrymandered districts that empower rural, conservative white voters—is none of those things. That’s holding us back. Since you’re here, if you want to help move our region and state forward, please get involved. We could use your help. 

One reply on “New to the Triangle? Here Are Ten Things You Need to Know.”

  1. You have NC all wrong. You have Raleigh all wrong. I hope the people who live are ingluenced by your liberalism and your leftist sttitudes because you don’t know what you’re talking about. The reasin people from the Raleigh and the triangle are nice, friendly, and hospitable is because they are Christians and Conservatives. This liberal trend there is false and dangerous. Trump is a far greater person than anyone you will ever meet in the Democratic party. I am from that area and graduated from UNC-CH…No, i no longer respect the school not donate to it. Sad as the liberals seem to have taken over…very sad. I can tell you are a young person and your leaders have misled you tremendously. You can believe me, your leadrrs do not have your welfare in mind…judt theirs.

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