Things To Do In Raleigh, North Carolina
The state capital of North Carolina, Raleigh is an underrated gem with lots to offer. The City of Oaks lives up to its nickname, with plenty of lovely outdoor spaces and parks.
There’s also lots of history and culture, with many interesting museums, many of which are free to visit. Discover the 15 best things to do in Raleigh with this list.
1. Pullen Park
Visiting Pullen Park is one of the best things to do in Raleigh. Founded in 1887, it’s the oldest public park in the state. It’s also the fifth oldest operating amusement park in the country.
There’s plenty to enjoy in the park’s 66 acres. Ride a carousel built in 1911. Or hop on a miniature train around. Rent a pedal boat to go around Howell Lake. Kiddie boats are available for younger kids. The prices are all very reasonable.
The park also offers playgrounds with water features, athletic fields, tennis courts, an indoor aquatic center and a cafe. There are often shows at the amphitheater. And in the winter, the park turns into a wonderland with lights and even Santa.
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2. North Carolina Museum of Art
The North Carolina Museum of Art is one of the best things to do in Raleigh for art lovers.
The top art museum in the state, the museum is known for a great permanent collection, as well as a constant rotation of major touring exhibits.
See one of the largest collections of sculptures by Renoir in the country. The 164-acre Museum Park features more than a dozen massive sculptures, as well as miles of trails and lovely landscaping. The on-site restaurant is also noteworthy.
General admission to the museum is free, though special exhibits and events, such as concerts, films and classes, may charge a fee.
3. North Carolina Museum of Natural Science
Located in the heart of downtown, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science is one of the top attractions in Raleigh.
It’s the largest natural science museum in the southeast United States, and features two buildings and many interesting and interactive exhibits. Learn all about North Carolina in the Coastal North Carolina exhibit.
Get hands-on in the Discovery Room. See the only genuine Acrocanthosaurus skeleton in the world in the Prehistoric section.
See scientists at work and hear talks at the Nature Research Center. Admission is free, though special exhibits and 3-D movies do charge a small fee.
4. J.C. Raulston Arboretum
Part of the NC State University, the J.C. Raulston Arboretum is a delight for nature lovers. Spanning 10 acres, the arboretum and botanical gardens feature a wide variety of trees, plants and flowers.
There are more than 6,000 different types of plants from 50 different countries on display here. The garden is also home to the largest collection of landscaped plants adapted to the southeast.
Don’t miss the views from the rooftop garden. Other highlights include the Magnolia collection, White Garden, Japanese Garden and Xeric Garden. Admission is free.
Tours are available on Sundays in season and are a great way to learn about all the plants.
5. North Carolina State Capitol
Built in the 1830s, the North Carolina State Capital is one of the best-preserved examples of a civic building in the Greek Revival style.
A National Historic Landmark, it’s been restored to its original appearance, and is still a functioning government building. At one point, all the branches of the North Carolina government were housed in the building.
Today, it still holds the office of the Governor and the Secretary of State. A beautiful building, it’s worth seeing. It’s free to enter the building.
Explore on a self-guided tour of the building. Guided tours are available on Saturdays, and are very informative and recommended.
6. Historic Yates Mill County Park
Enjoy nature and explore the area’s last remaining water-powered gristmill at the Historic Yates Mill County Park. Founded in the 19th century, the mill operated into the 1950s.
Fully restored with original equipment, tours are available in season and you can watch costumed millers grind corn. It’s free to enter the park but tours do cost extra.
The park is also home to a 174-acre wildlife refuge and an environmental research center. Special activities and events are often held here.
There are also several miles of trails that go around the mill pond. You can also fish from several of the boardwalks.
7. Marble Kids Museum
Enjoy a day of educational fun at the Marble Kids Museum. It’s one of the best things to do in Raleigh for families with kids.
Filled with hands-on and interactive exhibits, it encourages learning and creativity in a safe and fun environment. Kids can play around with water at Splash, or get creative at Art Loft.
They can learn about music at Treetunes or gardening at Sun Sprouts. In Around Town, kids can simulate different adult experiences such as driving or grocery shopping.
There’s a special area for toddlers to safely play. The museum also has an IMAX theater that shows both educational films and Hollywood hits. Y
ou can bring your own food or take advantage of the on-site cafe.
8. Dorothea Dix Park
Enjoy the outdoors and incredible views at Dorothea Dix Park. Located at the heart of Raleigh, it’s the largest park in the city, spanning more than 300 acres.
Large open and green spaces make it ideal for a picnic or relaxing. While the sloping hills are ideal for running or biking. In the winter, you can even sled down the hills.
The park also offers one of the best views of the Raleigh skyline in the city. But a top draw for many are the acres of sunflowers that bloom in the summer.
The popular SunFest festival is also held here during that time. Find fields of pretty daffodils in the spring. There is also a dog park and several historic buildings.
9. Videri Chocolate Factory
If you love chocolate, then the Videri Chocolate Factory is a must while in Raleigh.
Located in the historic Raleigh Depot building in the Warehouse District, Videri is not your ordinary chocolate.
This bean to bar chocolate factory uses only fair trade cocoa to produce some of the best chocolate in North Carolina. Their products are all organic, with no additives or chemicals. Go on a self-guided tour and watch the entire chocolate making process.
Every step is well signed so you can understand what’s going on. Afterwards, sample some of their delicious chocolates on their outdoor patio and definitely take some home with you.
10. William B. Umstead State Park
Enjoy the great outdoors at William B. Umstead State Park. Located just outside of Raleigh, the pretty park spans 5,599 acres. Inside, there are 22 miles of hiking and nature trails.
For those that prefer to mountain bike or to go horseback riding, there are 13 miles of bridle trails. There are also three man-made lakes inside the park.
The largest, Big Lake, also offers canoe, kayak, rowboat and paddleboard rentals. Fishing is also popular. Enjoy a picnic or go camping at one of many sites available.
There’s also a visitor center, nature center and gift shop inside the park. Admission is free, though there is a fee for boat and other facility rentals.
11. Mordecai Historic Park
Located in downtown Raleigh, the park is home to several historic and landmark sites.
Highlights include the Mordecai House, the oldest building in Raleigh still on the same foundation, and the birthplace of Andrew Johnson, the 17th president of the United States.
The property is representative of the plantations that were common in the area. Guided tours are available and include the estate, gardens and several outbuildings, including the recreated Allen Kitchen, the Iredell Law Office and St. Mark’s Chapel.
On Saturdays, Historic Raleigh Trolley starts and ends at the park, and covers several historic sites in the city on a narrated tour.
12. NC State University
North Carolina State University offers a number of attractions that are worth visiting. Start your tour at the Bell Tower, which serves as a gateway to the main campus.
Other highlights here include the Gregg Art Museum, the Brickyard and the Solar House. Don’t miss historic Mitch’s Tavern, where some scenes from the movie, Bull Durham, were filmed.
Then head to the Centennial Campus research park and visit the Hunt Library. This futuristic building features a spaceship-like design and robots that retrieve books.
Finally, grab some Howling Cow ice cream, designed by the university’s Dairy Processing Lab.
13. North Carolina Museum of History
Learn all about North Carolina history at the North Carolina Museum of History. Located downtown, this gem of a museum covers 14,000 years of local history.
Don’t miss the 20,000-square-foot “Story of North Carolina Exhibit.” There are also special and traveling exhibits from time to time. See artifacts spanning Native American tools, European housewares, Revolutionary war clothing and Civil War weapons.
There are also two preserved homes and a life-size replica of the plane that the Wright brothers flew. For sports fans, the museum is also home to the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.
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14. Raleigh Farmers Market
Find fresh produce and much much more at the Raleigh Farmers Market. The market is massive, and spans 75 acres, with 225,000 square feet that are covered and climate controlled.
In the Farmers Building, find local fresh produce, plants and specialty items. In the Market Building, find goods from all over the country, including meats, cheeses, baked goods, wine, crafts and gifts and more.
At Market Imports, find furniture and goods from all over the world. There are also several restaurants onsite, including a country grill and a seafood restaurant.
Check their schedule before visiting as events are frequently held here.
15. North Carolina State Fair
If you’re visiting Raleigh in October, then a visit to the North Carolina State Fair is a must. The fair runs for around two weeks and dates back to the 1850s. Enjoy rides, games, food, and much much more.
But the fairgrounds are worth visiting the rest of the year as well. The grounds span 344 acres and feature several buildings and fasciitis. It hosts more than 500 events throughout the year so you’re bound to find something of interest.
Other big events include the annual Beer Festival every summer, the annual Greek Festival and the Got to be NC Festival. Every weekend, the site also hosts the largest indoor/outdoor flea market in the state.
And if you’re looking for things to do outside of the city, check out our list of day trips from Raleigh Durham, NC.