As the capital city of North Carolina, this cultural hub has so much to offer. It was founded in 1792 and named after Sir Walter Raleigh. There is plenty of nature to explore here, hence its nickname the City of Oaks.
In addition, there are a plethora of museums and unique attractions awaiting an adventurous spirit. Raleigh has a rich history to discover and a thriving arts and culinary scene. There is something for everyone on this list of fun things to do in Raleigh.
The Best Things to do in Raleigh
North Carolina Museum of Art
This is one of the coolest cultural institutions in the whole state, no trip to the City of Oaks would be complete without a visit to the NC Museum of Art. They house an impressive collection of works from around the world. They offer a diverse range of perspectives and mediums which serve to expand and enlighten anyone who steps through their threshold. One of the best parts of the experience here is the grounds. Full of enchanting sculptural works, fields of sunflowers, hiking trails, and a reflecting pool, it’s a pastoral paradise worth seeing on its own.
William B. Umstead State Park
Almost 6,000 acres of picturesque trails and tranquil lakes shrouded in dense forest, William B. Umstead State Park is an idyllic North Carolina State Park that delves into the scenic landscapes Raleigh has to offer. Although it has become a popular hotspot, it still feels like the reprieve of seclusion you desire. You can hike or bike through the wilderness, bring binoculars for birdwatching, and venture out onto the clear waters via canoe or paddle boat.
Raleigh Municipal Rose Garden
An ethereal dream to discover, the Raleigh Municipal Rose Garden offers enthralling grounds to enjoy. There are 1,200 roses here of 60 different varieties. Examine and appreciate each blossom and breathe in their intoxicating aromas. Bring a picnic and spend a quiet afternoon amongst the flowers. There will be something in bloom almost all year, but it’s most spectacular from May to October.
This historic park was first established in 1887, a first for the state of North Carolina. It offers much more than your average park, with unexpectedly charming activities, such as a quaint carousel and miniature train to ride through the terrain. Pedal boats provide a chance to leisurely enjoy the waters of Lake Howell. There is also a charming cafe, fields for sports, indoor aquatic center, outdoor tennis courts, and an arcade.
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
The North Carolina Museum Of Natural Sciences is an expansive educational center covers a wide range of fascinating topics from dinosaurs to space exploration to DNA. It’s one of the largest in all of Southeastern America. Don’t miss the enchanting butterfly room where you can learn about and interact with different species.
Embrace your inner scientist and you will undoubtedly leave here with a newfound sense of wonder about our world. It’s easily one of the coolest things to do in Raleigh.
Enjoy the Raleigh Restaurant Scene
There are so many fantastic restaurants in Raleigh to try! Poole’s Diner is a popular eatery in Raleigh. The space was renovated to its current retro chic glory from the 1945 beloved establishment Poole’s Pies. These days they are serving up elevated Southern comfort food. The menu is seasonal and creative and is constantly rotating, even in the course of a day.
They use all fresh and locally sourced ingredients to create delectable dishes like the famed Macaroni Au Gratin. For phenomenal vegetarian and vegan fares try Fiction Kitchen and for mouthwatering Mexican, no one does it better than Jose and Sons. And for a delicious pizza you cannot miss the small family owned Pizzeria Faulisi!
Juniper Level Botanic Garden
The Juniper Level Botanic Garden is a nonprofit project to preserve and promote botanic diversity through plant study, identification, education, global exploration, and propagation. They aim to be the most unique and diverse garden in the world. The ornamental offerings are carefully placed for the optimal aesthetic experience. It’s also home to the Center for Mindfulness and Duality, which focuses on the study of perennial wisdom through meditations which challenge the perception of reality.
Raleigh Flea Market and Farmers Market
The Raleigh Flea Market is a treasure trove of everything new, both used and local. It’s one of the largest around with over 500 vendors and one of the best things to do in Raleigh on weekends. Get lost amongst the vintage memorabilia, fair food stands, and specialty shops. Wander in the Carolina sunshine with an ice-cold lemonade to browse everything from high end antiques to collectible coins to handcrafted baskets to all that is unique and uncommon.
It’s a thrifter and DIY decorator haven not to be missed. The Raleigh Farmers’ Market is one of the best in the Carolinas. With many local growers bringing all their fresh and beautiful produce to sell, you can find anything here you may desire. Stroll the stands to discover flowers, meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, baked goods, and artisanal crafts.
Grab a drink at one of the many Breweries
There are over 25 microbreweries in the beverage crafting mecca of Raleigh. Bhavana Brewery is beloved for their creative drafts with something new and exciting always on tap. The space is bright and airy, perfect for sharing some dim sum or laughs over pints. Trophy Brewing uses fresh and local ingredients to make a range of standout beers. Their garden is glorious for sipping in the sunshine and the Trophy Wife IPA has become a cult classic throughout the city.
North Carolina Museum of History
North Carolina is a state steeped in rich heritage. If you’re a history buff, this is the North Carolina Museum Of History is for you. Learn all about the fascinating past of the area through educational displays and artifacts. It spans across 14,000 years of stories and research on the state. You’ll find rotating exhibits and permanent collections exploring everything from early native American culture to Civil War weapons to 1920s drugstores to the Sports Hall of Fame filled with favorite local athletes. There is even a life-sized replica of the iconic Wright Brothers plane.
Videri Chocolate Factory
Satisfy any sweet tooth cravings at this fantastic factory of flavors. Take a tour at Videri Chocolate Factory to learn about how some of the finest chocolate in the region is made. At the end you’ll find yourself in a chocoholic’s fantasy land, with every chocolate creation imaginable available to buy and try. They focus on using sustainable practices and produce only fair-trade goods. Everything is handcrafted from bean to bar. This is definitely one of the most delicious destinations in the City of Oaks.
Raleigh Little Theater
The performance space at Raleigh Little Theater began in 1936 making it one of the oldest community theater groups in the country. They’ve put on many memorable productions, such as the Tempest and SPAMALOT since. It’s a charming outdoor venue of stone set amongst the forest and right next to the Raleigh Municipal Rose Garden. They aim to use theater to enrich, entertain, engage, and educate audiences. Be sure to check their schedule and catch one of their 11 annual shows while you’re in town.
Contemporary Art Museum of Raleigh
CAM provides multimedia works from local, national, and international modern artists. Every exhibit here is regularly rotated, ensuring there is always something new and exciting on deck. For example, Shaun Richards Rhetoric or Alun Be’s Empowering Women series. They intentionally do not collect, meaning no works here are permanent. It’s a non-traditional space which explores transformation through educational programs and cultural experiences.
Visit the last water powered gristmill left in the area. Yates Mill operated up until the 1950s and has since been restored, with the original equipment. Learn more about the operation of such mills by taking tours like the one on Corn Grinding. There is a plethora of events and exhibits as well which serve to preserve this agricultural heritage. It also sits on a vast wildlife preserve. There are several hiking trails around the stunning Mill Pond. See how many native species you can spot in your time here.
What better way to partake in the vibrant culinary scene of this North Carolina City than visiting one of their eclectic food halls. Morgan Street Food Hall is a bustling hub of dining delights. There are 17 different vendors in this hip cafeteria style space. They’re serving up everything from pizza to lobster to empanadas to curries. Treat yourself and try a little bit of everything.
Transfer Co. Food Hall is located in the historic Carolina Coach Garage and boasts a beautiful outdoor space to dine in. They’ve got burgers, oysters, burritos, and bagels just to name a few. A smorgasbord of bites, be ready to come hungry and leave stuffed.
Raleigh is home to much of the state’s premier performance art. The North Carolina Opera brings the highest level of operatic performance to the area through local and international talent. They also have an educational program to move opera into schools in the surrounding counties.
The North Carolina Symphony is nationally celebrated. This American Orchestra puts on classically haunting concerts all year round. The Carolina Ballet boasts some of the most talented ballerinas anywhere who work tirelessly to bring classic masterpieces and new expressions of passion to life through their technical and moving dances.
Neuse River Trail
This portion of the 28-mile path connecting North Carolina counties is also known as the Raleigh Greenway. It meanders alongside the Neuse River through wetlands and woods, for a relaxing wander in the countryside. The path is ten feet wide, so it never feels crowded or difficult to navigate. Bike, hike, or jog to experience this heavenly slice of local nature.
Mordecai House is the birthplace of Andrew Johnson, the 17th President of the United States. It was built in 1785, and it’s the oldest house around that still sits on its original foundation. You can take a guided tour of the entire estate which includes the gardens and other 19th century buildings of historical significance, such as St. Mark’s Chapel. It’s a fun and educational way to engage with the history of the city.
Marbles Kids Museum
If you’re looking for a family-friendly spot to take the little ones, look no further. Marbles is home to many interactive play spaces to explore and is one of the best things to do in Raleigh with kids. Dabble in music discovery at Tree Tunes, get crafty at Art Loft, or learn about horticulture at Sun Sprouts. It’s named for the one million marbles which line its surrounding wall and light up at night for a fun installation. There is also an IMAX theater on site which shows both educational and Hollywood films.
This tree top adventure park is the best thrill ride around. Take a tour of the canopies by zip lining your way through the clouds at Go Ape. Enjoy the views below as you soar like a bird. There are 50-foot-high, tree-to-tree crossings, as well as Tarzan swings that are sure to bring out the daredevil in you. There are suspended bridges as well as ropes and obstacles courses all immersed in nature for a stunning aerial experience. This is a one-of-a-kind outdoor experience in Raleigh.
Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky
This architectural art installation appears unassuming, almost as if it’s a natural part of the surrounding woodlands or an enchanted home straight out of a fairytale. It’s a tiny domed stone structure with a wooden door and leafy adorned rooftop. Once inside, it functions as a camera obscura using a tiny aperture up top to create an inverted image of the sky appearing on the ground of the structure you’re standing in. It’s one of the most unique perspective-based spaces to experience anywhere.
Pope House Museum
An homage to Dr. Manassa Thomas Pope, this Pope House Museum stands to educate about the brave actions of this local hero. During segregation, he ran for mayor of the city as a black activist in the Jim Crow era. The early 20th century home has been restored. It contains original furnishings and is filled with amazing artifacts from all the incredible achievements during his life. It’s the only African American house museum in the state, and it’s essential viewing for an accurate education on the history of the area.
This neighborhood is an architectural oasis and will remind you how the moniker City of Oaks came to be. It’s the largest in-tact 19th-century residential district in the state. Hundreds of homes here have been preserved and restored in all their original charm. Tucker House is an especially impressive specimen of Neoclassical Revival style. Also be sure to stop by the Historic Oak View Country Park. It’s a lovely place to stroll the day away and one of the best things to do in Raleigh on a laid back day.
Dorothea Dix Park
The Dorothea Dix Park is an expansive and lush land in the heart of the city is a favorite of the things to do in Raleigh among locals. At over 300 acres, it’s the largest city park and has so much to offer. The view of the downtown skyline from the soft grassy knoll is idyllic. There are many community events surrounding arts and sports, as well as a dog park where all the pups can play. Be sure to visit the flower field for a dreamland full of daffodils.
A cinematic experience like no other, Alamo Drafthouse is known for its screening of new films and retro classics. They offer a full menu and local beers on tap as well as craft cocktails to be delivered right to your seat during your movie. The decor is quirky and eclectic from old school arcade games to giant VHS tapes and neon signs. There’s a bar and patio space so you can even go to enjoy the ambiance and offerings without seeing a film.
The Video Vortex is the on-site video store and bar, a true blast from the past that warms the heart with nostalgia. They have one of the largest rental cinematic collections in the country, with 70,000 titles available from the beloved to the obscure all on DVD and VHS. You can even take home two at a time for free.
Bain Waterworks Plant
The historic Bain Waterworks Plant in Raleigh is one of the most important public works projects in the city. Originally built in 1901, the plant was designed to provide a clean and reliable water supply for the rapidly growing capital.
Today, the plant has become a popular tourist destination. The facade itself is a thing of art deco beauty, full of impressive architectural detail. The entire structure is like a piece of unintentional urban decay artwork. Thousands of people visit the plant each year to see its massive steam engines and learn about its role in Raleigh’s history.
The Bain Waterworks Plant is an essential part of the city, and it holds a special place in the hearts of many Raleigh residents.
- Address: 1810 Fayetteville St (GPS)
- Hours: Permanently closed
Durant Nature Preserve
If you’re looking for a place to get away from the hustle and bustle of Raleigh, Durant Nature Preserve is the perfect spot. With over 230 acres, it’s located just minutes from downtown and offers a variety of trails for hiking, biking, and walking. There’s also two lakes where you can go fishing or simply enjoy the peaceful surroundings.
You’ll find butterfly gardens, picnic areas, and playgrounds that are all family and pet friendly. Durant Nature Preserve is a great place to get some exercise, enjoy the outdoors, and relax.
- Address: 8305 Camp Durant Rd (GPS)
- Hours: Daily : 7:00 am – 7:30 pm
Joel Lane House Museum
The Joel Lane House Museum is a historic house museum in Raleigh. The abode was built in 1769 by Joel Lane, a planter and merchant who was one of the area’s largest landowners. Lane served in the North Carolina colonial assembly and was a delegate to the Continental Congress.
After the American Revolution, he served as a judge on the state’s supreme court. Joel Lane House is one of the best-preserved examples of Jacobethan architecture in the entire United States. It’s even listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The museum is open for tours Tuesday through Saturday so that visitors can learn about life in 18th-century North Carolina and see restored furniture, paintings, and artifacts from the period.
- Address: 160 S St Mary’s St (GPS)
- Hours: Wednesday- Friday : 10:00 am – 2 pm, Saturday : 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
- Cost of Admission:
James B. Hunt Jr. Library
The James B. Hunt Jr. Library first opened in early 2013 and is located on the Centennial Campus of North Carolina State University in Raleigh. The building is named after former NC governor James B. Hunt Jr., who was instrumental in its construction.
The library is situated on 5 acres of land and spans over 750,000 square feet, making it one of the largest libraries in the whole country. It currently houses over 2 million volumes and provides ample space for students to study, collaborate, and relax.
In addition to its traditional print collections, the library also offers a wide range of electronic resources, including a 3D printer and a digital media lab. The facility is truly state-of-the-art and provides an excellent resource for anyone looking to learn while in the city.
- Address: 1070 Partners Way (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Thursday : 7:00 am – 11:00 pm , Friday: 7:00 am- 6:00 pm
Saturday: 9:00 am – 6:00 pm, Sunday : 9:00 am – 11:00 pm
North Carolina Capitol
The North Carolina State Capitol building is located in the heart of Raleigh. The building was constructed back in 1833 to house the state government. The historic Capitol structure is currently open to the public for tours and also features an impressive museum focused on exploring the heritage of North Carolina.
The Capitol itself is a designated National Historic Landmark and is one of the most visited state capitols in all of the United States. Today it’s home to the state legislature and the governor’s office. The Capitol grounds include a number of monuments, including a famous statue of George Washington.
- Address: 1 E Edenton St (GPS)
- Hours: Monday -Friday: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm, Saturday: 10:00 am -5:00 pm
Lake Crabtree County Park
Lake Crabtree County Park is a great place to spend a day outdoors in the city. The park offers a variety of activities, including hiking, biking, picnicking, and fishing. Located just minutes from downtown Raleigh, the park is always a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the urban streets.
There are also several playgrounds and a large, beautiful body of water where you can go swimming. It’s open year-round and in addition to its recreational amenities, the park is also home to a variety of native wildlife, including deer, ducks, and geese.
- Address: 1400 Aviation Pkwy, Morrisville (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Sunday : 8:00 am – 9:00 pm
JC Raulston Arboretum
The JC Raulston Arboretum is a 7.5 acre public garden that first opened in 1976. Today, the arboretum is home to over 5,000 different plants, representing over 600 different local and exotic species. It’s open to the public year-round, and the best part is admission is totally free.
Visitors can explore the gardens at their own pace, or take part in one of the many educational programs offered by expert staff. The JC Raulston Arboretum is a beautiful and peaceful place, where visitors can learn about the wonders of flora and fauna from all corners of the globe.
- Address: 4415 Beryl Rd (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Friday : 9:00 am – 4:30 pm. Saturday:10:00am – 5:00 pm
Sunday : 10: 00 am – 6:00 pm
Carl Alwin Schenck Memorial Forest
The Carl Alwin Schenck Memorial Forest in Raleigh is a beautiful place to take a stroll and enjoy some local nature. The forest is made up of over 1,000 acres of land, and is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. There are several trails that wind through lush greenery, making it the perfect place to go for a hike or a simple wander.
In addition to its natural beauty, the Carl Alwin Schenck Memorial Forest is also home to a number of historical and cultural sites. It was once the site of a giant plantation, and today, visitors can see the remains of the house and outbuildings.
You can also discover a number of sculptures and monuments that commemorate the lives of those who have made an impact on Raleigh’s history here.
- Address: Reedy Creek Rd (GPS)
- Hours: Daily: 7:00 am -9:00 pm
Robertson Millpond Preserve
Robertson Millpond Preserve in Raleigh is a great place to relax in a tranquil environment. The preserve is known for being the natural habitat for a variety of native species, especially an abundance of birds. There are also several miles of trails to trek, which you can navigate through the woods and along the banks of the pond regardless of your skill level.
Picnicking is allowed in designated areas, and there are several grills and tables located throughout the preserve. In addition, the preserve offers opportunities for fishing, canoeing, and kayaking.
- Address: 6333 Robertson Pond Rd, Wendell (GPS)
- Hours: Daily: 8:00 am- 8:30 pm
Randleigh Dairy Heritage Museum
The Randleigh Dairy Heritage Museum in Raleigh is a must-see for anyone interested in the rich and interesting past of dairy farming in North Carolina agriculture. It’s a charming and offbeat attraction that’s just as quirky as it is informative.
The museum itself is housed in a rustic old dairy barn that has been carefully restored, and it features a variety of engaging exhibits on the history and role of dairy farms in the state’s economy. The museum also has a teaching creamery where visitors can learn about the process of making cheese and ice cream! Plus the taste testing may just be the best part of the whole experience.
- Address: 301 Dairy Ln (GPS)
- Cost of Admission: $15 per person ( Check their website schedule farm tours)
North Carolina Railway Museum
The North Carolina Railway Museum in Raleigh is a great place to learn about the state’s significant transportation history. It houses a collection of vintage locomotives, passenger cars, and freight cars, as well as a variety of artifacts and photos.
Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the exhibits, or they can participate in a guided tour led by one of the museum’s knowledgeable docents. The North Carolina Railway Museum is open all year-round, and it also hosts a wide variety of programs and events for all ages.
Whether you’re a rail enthusiast or simply looking to learn more about North Carolina’s history, the North Carolina Railway Museum is sure to please any patron.
- Address: 3900 Bonsal Rd, New Hill (GPS)
- Hours: Wednesday , Saturday , Sunday : 9:00 am – 5:00 pm, Closed: Monday,
Tuesday, Friday, Saturday
- Cost of Admission: For ticket information, click here.
Gregg Museum of Art and Design
Affectionately deemed the best museum you haven’t been to, the Gregg Museum of Art and Design is a great place to see a wide variety of art and learn about the history and culture of Raleigh. Located at NC State University, the museum has a large permanent collection that includes over 35,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, photographs, and more.
They’ve got everything from Japanese woodblock prints to antique quilts. In addition, the Gregg Museum frequently hosts temporary exhibitions that showcase the work of local, national, and international artists. The museum also offers a variety of educational programs for all ages.
- Address: North Campus – 1903 Hillsborough St (GPS)
- Hours: Tuesday -Saturday : 10:00 am -5:00 pm , Closed: Monday – Sunday
- Cost of Admission: For tickets information, click here.
RDU Observation Deck
The RDU Observation Deck in Raleigh is a great spot to take in the views of the city. The deck is located on the top floor of the international airport terminal, and it offers uninterrupted 360-degree views of the surrounding area. On a clear day, you can see for miles in every direction!
The deck is also a great spot for watching all the airport action, as you can see the planes take off and land right before your eyes. The RDU Observation Deck is open daily from 8am to 5pm, and it’s free to access. So next time you’re at the airport, coming, going, or stopping by, be sure to check it out.
- Address: W International Dr, Morrisville (GPS)
- Hours: Momday – Sunday : 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Raleigh’s Moore Square is a charming public park that dates back to the 18th century. This scenic spot is home to several heritage trees, including a massive live oak that is believed to be over 250 years old.
The park is well known by locals and tourists alike for hosting a number of events throughout the year, including food truck rodeos, concerts, and holiday celebrations. Moore Square is a beloved Raleigh landmark that offers something for everyone.
- Address: 201 S Blount St, Raleigh (GPS)
- Hours: Monday :10: 00 am -8:00 pm
St. Agnes Hospital
If you’re looking for a unique and interesting place to visit in Raleigh, St Agnes Hospital is definitely worth checking out. The hospital opened in 1892 and served the local community for over 50 years. In the 1940s, it was converted into a nursing home, and then finally closed its doors for good in the late 1990s.
Today, the hospital ruins are all that remain, and they make for a fascinating glimpse into Raleigh’s past. The hospital is located in downtown, and visitors can explore the grounds at their leisure. There’s also a small museum on-site that provides more information about the hospital’s history.
- Address: 1315 Oakwood Ave., Saint Augustine’s University, (GPS)
Drive Shack is a new golf entertainment complex in Raleigh that is perfect for a group outing or a day out with friends. The facility features three levels of indoor and outdoor driving range bays, a putting green, a restaurant, a bar, and a private event space. In addition to the driving range, there is also a nine-hole miniature golf course and an arcade-style game room.
Whether you’re a serious golfer or just looking for a fun day out, Drive Shack is sure to please. And with its convenient location in the heart of Raleigh, it’s the perfect place to visit any day of the week.
- Address: 6901 Play Golf Wy (GPS)
- Hours: Monday -Thursday & Sunday :10: 00 am -12:00 am ,
Friday – Saturday : 10:00 am -1:00 am
- Cost of Admission: For ticket prices, click here.
There’s something dignified and peaceful about wandering around a historic cemetery in any town. Raleigh’s Oakwood Cemetery is a beautiful place to reflect on the lives of those who have come before us. The cemetery dates back to 1869, and it’s the final resting place for many of Raleigh’s most notable citizens.
Today, it’s a popular spot for picnics, walks, and birdwatching. And on Memorial Day, the cemetery comes alive with flags placed on each grave in honor of those who served our country. Whether you’re looking for a place to pay your respects or simply enjoying the outdoors, Oakwood Cemetery is worth a visit.
- Address: 701 Oakwood Ave (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Sunday: 8: 00 am -5:00 pm
Raleigh has become widely known for its abundance of annual festivals. There’s the famous North Carolina State Fair, which is full of fun rides, games, and food from all over the state. The Raleigh International Festival celebrates the city’s diversity with food, music, and dance from around the world.
The Raleigh Jazz Festival is a must-visit for any music lover, with performances from some of the best jazz musicians in the country. The Krispy Kreme Challenge is a more unique event where runners are tasked with running five miles and eating a dozen donuts!
Regardless of the season, there’s a specialty celebration for everyone to enjoy in Raleigh.
Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve
If you’re looking for a place to commune with nature, look no further than the Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve in Raleigh. Here you can take a leisurely stroll through the woods, go for a hike on one of the many trails, or go canoeing or fishing in one of the ponds.
No matter how you choose to spend your time at the preserve, you’re sure to appreciate its beauty and serenity. It boasts 140 acres full of rare vegetation and a forest ecosystem as old as the last ice age. The on-site Stevens Nature Center can teach you more about the vast natural wonders in Raleigh.
- Address: 12616 Kildaire Farm Rd, Cary (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Friday : 10:00 am -5:00 pm