Three interstates -- 77, 85 and 40 -- ease the drive to fascinating cities spaced by rolling hills.
Tax dollars, politicians and N.C. State students aren't the only things that end up in Raleigh. There's a great (and not necessarily costly) time awaiting you in the N.C. capital.
The General Assembly and governor have resided there since 1794, but Raleigh was largely a slow-grown place until the 1950s.
A good bit of old Raleigh still stands, though the outer limits of the city have effectively merged with Durham and Chapel Hill, its Research Triangle Park partners.
Plan your itinerary beforehand: Major attractions are spread out -- and Raleigh can be harder to navigate than Charlotte.
The N.C. Museum of Art (northwest, outside the Beltline) is a no-charge attraction with impressive collections ranging from ancient Egyptian artifacts to modern abstract canvases. Free guided tours of the permanent collection are offered Tuesday-Sunday. Special events and special productions may require admission. Always free: The lawns, woodlands, trails and streams of museum's 164-acre campus; it has outdoor sculptures on display (details at www.ncartmuseum.org).
Also free: A semi-urban state park (Umstead), between Raleigh and Durham on Interstate 40 with 20 miles of hiking trails and two good-size lakes.
Alltel Pavilion at Walnut Creek (southeast, outside the Beltline; www.alltelpavilion.com), is Raleigh's outdoor venue for touring music acts.
The 2008 N.C. State Fair (www.ncstatefair.org) will be held Oct. 17-26; it features a large midway, animal and craft competitions and name entertainment. June 5-8, the Fairgrounds will be the site of the first-ever It's Got to Be N.C. festival (www.ncagfest.com); see farm products and antique farm equipment and enjoy the carnival.