2021 Guide to the Best Places to Live in the Triangle

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Raleigh and surrounding Wake County are regularly recognized as the best places to live in the United States. And it's no surprise — the quality of life in the Capital City is high. The Research Triangle, or the Triangle as it is known locally, features three research universities, miles of greenways and parks, and a robust food scene that's just getting started. 

Add the affordability of this Southern city with its family-friendly activities, great weather, and convenient location on the East Coast, and it's clear that the second-largest city in North Carolina is a real winner. But with so many neighborhoods and suburbs to choose from, how do you decide where to live?  Read on to find the best places to live in the Raleigh-Durham area.

Best neighborhoods in Raleigh

Why live in Raleigh: You value being in the center of it all. Living inside the I-440 beltline offers convenience to shopping, nightlife, restaurants, and some of the Triangle's best museums and recreation areas.

Historic Boylan Heights

Median home price: $900K

As the first planned suburb in Raleigh, this neighborhood is full of history. So much so that it's on the National Register of Historic Places. A variety of architectural styles are present in Boylan Heights, but the most common are craftsman bungalows with wraparound front porches. While the historic nature might be what attracts residents, it's the tight-knit community, good schools, and proximity to downtown that makes Historic Boylan Heights one of Raleigh's most desirable neighborhoods. 

What to do in Historic Boylan Heights: dine on the patio at local favorite Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing, and be sure to enjoy the festivities at the annual Boylan Heights Artwalk in December. 

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Photo of century-old homes in Boylan Heights neighborhood in Raleigh, NC
In Boylan Heights, you'll find many century-old historic homes like this one

Historic Oakwood

Median home price: $535K

Historic Oakwood is the largest and oldest historic district in Raleigh, dating back to the 1800s. Offering a glimpse into the past, Victorian homes and Craftsman bungalows reside on tree-lined streets with well-maintained gardens. Located in downtown Raleigh's center, Historic Oakwood offers walkability and convenience to everything downtown has to offer.

What to do in Historic Oakwood: discover the neighborhood's history by foot on a walking tour or Candlelight tour in December, then dig into some delicious comfort food at the Side Street Restaurant.

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Mordecai

Median home price: $485K

This historic, urban neighborhood is Raleigh's oldest residential neighborhood. Mordecai gets its name from the Mordecai House, the oldest house in Raleigh and birthplace of Andrew Johnson, the 17th President of the United States. History comes alive here, but you don't have to give up modern convenience for character. In addition to renovated historic homes, there are also a few newly constructed homes, condos, and luxury apartment complexes. 

What to do in Mordecai: take a tour of the Mordecai House, sip a glass of wine at Seaboard Wine & Tasting Bar, or spend a day volunteering at Raleigh City Farm, a nonprofit urban farm.

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North Carolina State University is minutes from Cameron Park

Cameron Park

Median home price: $775K

Located just west of downtown Raleigh, this streetcar suburb rose to popularity in the early 1900s as an upscale suburb. It's still one of the most popular neighborhoods inside the beltline with proximity to downtown and North Carolina State University! 

What to do in Cameron Park: catch a basketball game at NC State or enjoy a picnic at Edna Metz Wells Park.

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Cameron Village

Median home price: $330K

Just north of Cameron Park is Cameron Village, a small neighborhood with some of the best shopping inside the beltline. Home to the Village District (formerly Cameron Village Shopping Center), the first shopping center between Washington DC and Atlanta, there's no shortage of restaurants and retail to explore. While less historic than Cameron Park, it's also more affordable, making it a popular choice for young professionals.  

What to do in Cameron Village: browse vintage retail at Fifi's Fine Resale Apparel, get pampered at Cameron Spa and Nails, and refuel at local favorite Benelux Coffee.

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Five Points

Median home price: $261K

This cluster of historic neighborhoods, including Hayes Barton, Bloomsbury, Georgetown, Vanguard Park, and Roanoke Park, make up the Five Points neighborhood. This quirky part of town extends out from Glenwood Avenue's intersection with Whitaker Mill and Fairview roads. Here you'll find an eclectic mix of old and new, from historic homes to laid-back taco shops.

What to do in Five Points: catch an old movie at the Rialto Theatre or tour the many breweries, including Big Boss Brewing Company and Neuse River Brewing & Brasserie.

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Glenwood South

Median home price: $385K

This former warehouse district turned trendy neighborhood is known as the entertainment district of Raleigh. The main drag on S. Glenwood features trendy eateries and unique boutiques that you can't find just anywhere. This revitalized area features a blend of condominiums and single-family homes.

What to do in Glenwood South: shop for vintage finds at Revolver Consignment, sample more than 350 beers at The Raleigh Beer Garden, or get your sweat on at Open Door Yoga, Raleigh's longest-standing hot yoga studio. 

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Best suburbs of Raleigh 

Why live outside the beltline: You enjoy a slightly slower pace of life. Living outside of the beltline is quieter and more relaxed with all the conveniences of great shopping and dining. 

North Hills

Median home price: $650K

Just north of the beltline is the affluent neighborhood of North Hills. This suburban area is one of the fastest-growing communities in the Triangle. And it actually feels like a community. In North Hills, you'll find public art, free concerts, farmer's markets, plus great shopping, dining, and parks. 

What to do in North Hills: catch a free concert or workout class in Midtown Park, walk the trails at Shelley Lake, or knock some pins down at the bowling alley at Kings Dining & Entertainment.

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North of 540

Median home price: $400K

Go a little further north, above the 540 beltline, and you'll find several well-established neighborhoods that offer an excellent lifestyle for families looking for more space. Among the areas north of 540 are Stonebridge, Harrington Grove, Falls River, Bedford, and Wakefield, all of which offer large homes on estate-style lots. Each community has its perks, including proximity to the lake, access to golf, and community amenities.

What to do North of 540: enjoy a round of golf at Wakefield Plantation Country Club, have some family fun at Galaxy Fun Park, or explore one of the many parks and nature preserves in the area.

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Zebulon

Median home price: $255K

Take a short 25-minute drive east of Raleigh, and you'll find the town of Zebulon. This vibrant community is home to the Carolina Mudcats minor league team, making it a fun place to be during baseball season. This small town offers many single-family homes as well as apartments, condos, and townhouses. Its proximity to Raleigh, charming downtown, and abundance of parks make Zebulon a great place to live.

What to do in Zebulon: eat crackerjacks at a Mudcats game, enjoy home cooking at McLean's Ole Time Cafe, or browse furniture at locally owned Whitley Galleries

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Robertson Millpond Preserve, located in Wendell, is a popular place to kayak and enjoy nature

Wendell 

Median home price: $274K

Experience small-town charm within 20 minutes of the city. Downtown Wendell's historic architecture landed its Main Street on the National Register of Historic Places, but you'll find more than just old homes here. Newer-built communities, including Wendell Falls, Foxborough Crossing, and Brighton of Wendell, offer residents the benefits of a new home near the historic downtown area.

What to do in Wendell: spend your Saturday browsing fresh produce at the Wendell Farmer's Market, kayak in Robertson Millpond Preserve, or enjoy free WiFi while you shop downtown.

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Knightdale

Median home price: $250K

This growing town nine miles east of Raleigh has become a hub for young families thanks to its many parks and kid-friendly activities. As a former railroad town, Knightdale offers all the convenience of being near the city with the suburbs' quiet, relaxed feeling. With a median age of 34, this town exudes a youthful, vibrant vibe. Offering a mixture of affordable housing and single-family homes, including the planned community of Knightdale Station, it makes sense that this community is in the top 10 fastest growing communities in North Carolina. 

What to do in Knightdale: explore the 96-acres of the railroad-themed Knightdale Station Park or grab a beer at Oak City Brewing Company.

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Best satellite cities & towns in the Triangle 

Why live in a satellite city or town: You like living somewhere with its own identity, history, and activities all within proximity to everything the Triangle has to offer.

Durham 

Median home price: $285K

Raleigh's sister city has experienced significant growth and revitalization over the last few years, much like the rest of the Triangle. As the home to Duke University, Durham is a cornerstone of the Research Triangle. It's easy to feel the vibrancy of college town living, entrepreneurial spirit, and thriving cultural scene. In recent years Durham has positioned itself as the tech hub of the east coast, making it an excellent place for those in the startup scene who don't want the high costs of Silicon Valley. Dubbed "Bull City," Durham offers a mixture of housing options in its many neighborhoods, from master-planned communities like Brightleaf at the Park to Historic Duke Park.

What to do in Durham: tailgate a Blue Devils basketball game, head downtown for craft cocktails at Alley 26 or a meal at one of the M-Restaurants, or catch a free concert at American Tobacco Amphitheater

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Photo of the "Old Well" at UNC Chapel Hill, modeled after after the Temple of Love in the Gardens of Versailles
The Old Well at UNC Chapel Hill, modeled after after the Temple of Love in the Gardens of Versailles

Chapel Hill

Median home price: $410K

Founded in 1871, Chapel Hill is a college town with history and an international scene. Home to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, this town is full of intellectuals and academics. The quaint downtown features a vibrant food and local music scene, and greenways and local parks are just about everywhere. As a college town, housing options vary: rental apartment communities, historic homes near the University, and neighborhoods built between the 70s and 90s. New construction isn't common in the Chapel Hill area.

What to do in Chapel Hill: take in the art and culture at the Ackland Art Museum, visit the Carolina Basketball Museum, or catch live music on the front porch of the Carolina Inn.

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Fuquay-Varina

Median home price: $325K

In 1963 Fuquay Springs joined the neighboring town of Varina to make Fuquay-Varina. Regularly recognized as one of the best places to live, Fuquay-Varina has experienced significant growth in the last decade. Located southwest of Raleigh, this safe town is a great place to raise a family. 

What to do in Fuquay-Varina: have a family fun day and the Playhouse Children's Museum or cool off on a hot summer day at the splash pad.

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Cary

Median home price: $400K

Like its neighboring towns in the Triangle, Cary also tops the charts as one of the best places to live. In 2018 Cary was recognized by Money as the no. 5 best places in the US to live. Mostly situated in Wake County, a small portion of Cary is also in Chatham County. Home to many established communities, including Preston, the largest in the area, Cary has various housing options at different price points, excellent schools, a thriving downtown, and a wide range of outdoor activities.

What to do in Cary: sip a coke float at Ashworth Drugs, explore more than 35 miles of greenway trails, or explore the booming restaurant scene in downtown Cary.

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Apex

Median home price: $405K

Apex is a safe community and one of the best places in the state to raise a family. Parks are a major fixture in this town, offering everything from hiking trails to sports fields and skate parks. The extensive greenways, including the American Tobacco Trail, connect Apex to other towns in the Triangle, making it a popular feature for runners and cyclists alike. The historic downtown area has held onto its charm, and the countless events and cultural activities ensure you'll never be bored living here. 

What to do in Apex: sample locally produced wine at Cloer Family Vineyards, browse the  boutiques downtown, or attend one of the many festivals throughout the year.

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Holly Springs

Median home price: $400K

This community is located right in between Apex and Fuquay-Varina and, like its neighbors, offers residents a high quality of life. This well-planned community features newly constructed homes, including those in the Sunset "family" of developments, which all optimize outdoor living through amenities, tree-lined streets, and pedestrian-friendly design. Holly Springs' agricultural roots remain strong with many farm-to-table restaurants in the community and one of the state's largest farmers' markets

What to do in Holly Springs: grab a beer at  female-owned Bombshell Brewery, get in on the action at Daniel Dhers Action Sports Complex, or enjoy the outdoors at Bass Lake Park.

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Photo of Wake Forest, North Carolina main street
Charming shops and walkable streets on Wake Forest's White Street

Wake Forest 

Median home price: $375K

Wake Forest is a small town located northeast of Raleigh. With proximity to other areas in the Triangle, Wake Forest has become a popular place for transplants thanks to its affordability and incredible lifestyle. Wake Forest is mostly in Wake County, with a portion of the town in Franklin County. The schools zoned to this area are among the best in the state. Among the popular neighborhoods is Heritage, which features an award-winning golf course. It's a great place to live or visit with plenty of outdoor activities, history, and culture. 

What to do in Wake Forest: shop local fare from 50 vendors at The Cotton Company, learn about the history of the area at the Wake Forest Historical Museum, or grab a German-style beer at White Street Brewing Company.

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Rolesville 

Median home price: $389K

This small town northeast of Raleigh is the second oldest in Wake County. And despite its growth in the last few years, it has maintained its small-town identity and pride through annual events like the Fall Fun Fest and yearly Easter Egg Hunt. Rolesville's growth also means that there's a lot of new construction in the area like Cedar Lakes and Carlton Pointe, which come complete with neighborhood amenities.

What to do in Rolesville: brush up on your scuba skills at Fantasy Scuba Park, the largest scuba diving park on the east coast, picnic at Main Street Park, or dine at Off The Hook Seafood.

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A local perspective: what makes the Triangle a good place to live?

Orchard’s Raleigh-Durham team is deeply familiar with the area. Here’s what they love about living in the Triangle:

“I live in the Wake Forest area, and I love the small mom-and-pop restaurants, stores, and proximity to Falls Lake recreation areas (hiking, swimming, camping). My guilty pleasure is the French toast at Stewart’s Bistro in Wake Forest!” - Meredith G., Regional Sales Manager

photo of a Duke basketball game in Durham, NC
Catch a Duke basketball game in Durham, NC

“The greatest thing about the Triangle area is the versatility. You have sports, you have science, you have entertainment, and you have some of the best restaurants around!" - Rashanda J., Buying Specialist

What are the pros & cons of living in Raleigh?

If you’re relocating from Charlotte or from out of the state, it’s helpful to know both the pros and cons of living in Raleigh: 

Pros

  • School system is strong
  • Nice & friendly people 
  • Property values are still affordable
  • Lower property taxes
  • Proximity to nature
  • College sports

Cons

  • Heavy traffic
  • Low walkability
  • Hot, humid summers 
  • Higher cost of living than the state average
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9 things to know before buying a home in the Raleigh-Durham area

We know that buying a home is a big decision. Here’s what you should know before starting your home search:

  1. Homes are selling quickly. Demand has increased faster than listing inventory. It’s a booming housing market, so be ready to make an offer quickly if you find a home you love. As with any competitive market, cash offers are more enticing to home sellers.
  2. You'll need a car. While some neighborhoods are walkable, the public transit is inconsistent, and the city's growth has led to sprawl. A car is a must in Raleigh.
  3. And with those cars comes traffic. The city's infrastructure hasn't entirely caught up with the growth, so consider traffic and commute times when selecting your neighborhood. Better yet, visit your desired neighborhoods during rush hour to get a better idea of commute times.
  4. The schools are great, but many are year-round. The majority of public schools in Wake County are rated highly nationwide. But take note, many operate on a year-round schedule. If you don’t want to disrupt your child’s schooling with a move, refer to their school calendar for their breaks.
  5. You’ll find plenty of new construction options. Rapid growth has led to record new home sales, making Raleigh the second-best market in the U.S. for buying a newly-constructed house.
  6. There are programs for first-time homebuyers. The NC Home Advantage Mortgage program offers stable, fixed-rate mortgages and down payment assistance. If you’re a veteran, you can even combine this program with the NC Home Advantage Tax Credit and save up to $2,000 a year on property taxes.
  7. College sports are a big deal. With three major colleges in the area, college sports are a key part of Raleigh-Durham's culture. Get to know the teams, their rivalries, and be prepared to watch some competitive basketball games! 
  8. Allergies can be rough. The temperate climate comes with its trade-offs — allergies in the spring and fall. 
  9. The Craft beer is seriously good. The Raleigh area is home to some of the best beer globally, including the world's largest beer garden.

Keeping these nine factors in mind should help you prepare to buy a home and live in Raleigh.

How to decide where to buy a home

Raleigh and the surrounding area have a lot to offer, and each neighborhood has its benefits. Where you choose to call home depends on what's most important to you. Consider proximity to work, schools, neighborhood feel, and budget.

We also have three resources to help you find your next place:

  • Orchard's Move First service helps you find a home and move in without waiting on your existing home to sell (read: no showings or timing nightmares).
  • Offer Boost lets you make an all-cash offer, so you don't lose out on a home you want (important if you're shopping in any of these neighborhoods).
  • Use our Home Match to find listings that meet all your requirements, from ideal commute time to specific home features.

If you're interested in working with us, get started here by sharing more about your home buying and selling needs.

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