There are a whole lot of very cool things to do in Raleigh, NC, but before we get down to the good stuff, let’s get some background on the Carolina city. Raleigh is the second largest city in the southern state of North Carolina and sits roughly in the middle of the state. Although Raleigh may not be the state’s biggest city, it is the capital; a title it held since 1788. Raleigh is known as ‘The City of Oaks’ for the large oak trees that line its downtown streets. The city was named for Sir Walter Raleigh, despite the fact that he never actually traveled to North America. The population of Raleigh is around 480,000, and it is famous for its Research Triangle, which is a program between the cities of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, and their respective universities.
Let’s have a look at all the amazing things to do in Raleigh, NC on your vacation.
North Carolina Museum of Art
NCMA is one of the leading museums in the Southern US and was the first to be established using public funding in 1956. It has more than 40 galleries and its works of art cover more than 5,000 years of history. Visiting the permanent collection is one of the best free things to do in Raleigh, NC. The permanent exhibits include collections from Europe, America, and Africa, as well as artifacts from Egypt and the Jewish faith. The highlight of the collection is work by Georgia O’Keeffe, Claude Monet, and Canaletto. There is also an incredible set of 30 sculptures by Auguste Rodin. Also, the museum grounds are the largest art campus in the entire US. A trip to the museum is one of the top things to do in Raleigh.
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
First off, this is such a fantastic building as it’s got an enormous globe outside. It’s not full sized or anything, but it’s an amazing place to get your photo taken. Anyway, inside the building is no less impressive, with a whole host of permanent exhibits and interactive displays. There’s a full section on the natural history of North Carolina, including what can be found on the coast and how it’s the home of Venus Flytraps. If that doesn’t seem like the nastiest thing in NC, prepare to be dazzled by the utterly obscene number of snake species they have in the state. Seriously, it’s amazing anyone lives there, to be honest. There are 40. 4-0. We don’t even really care that most of them are non-venomous because, well…they’re snakes. To take your mind off the whole snake thing, head to the deep-sea exhibits and learn about what lies beneath the waves. Hint: it’s not snakes. The museum is a huge space, with a ton of educational programs and there’s something here for everyone. It’s a great thing to do in Raleigh with kids, but we know the adults love it too. Also, it’s completely free, so there’s that.
Pullen Park is the first and oldest public park in North Carolina. It dates back to 1887 and currently covers an area of 66 acres. When it was first being landscaped, a male-only swimming pool was installed. Booo! However, women were deemed good enough to use it by 1891. Yay! Regardless, the pool was subsequently replaced by the aquatic center in 1992. As far as we know, that’s open to everyone. The park is home to an amusement park, which is the 5th oldest in the United States. The amusement park’s carousel is a stunning vintage from 1911 and has its own listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Even if you’re an adult, it’s one of the best things to do in Raleigh, just to say you’ve done it. Visitors can also take out pedal boats on Lake Howell and have themselves a lazy afternoon on the water. Kids love it, and grown-ups do, too.
North Carolina State Capitol
The State Capitol Building is the home (not literally, obviously) of the Governor of North Carolina and his staff. The structure was built in a Greek Revival style, and it’s a hugely impressive building. The grounds are well maintained and a good place to take a walk. It’s here you’ll find a statue of the three Presidents from North Carolina; James Polk, Andrew Jackson, and Andrew Johnson. Daily tours are offered of the capitol, and it’s a good thing to do in Raleigh for free to get a sense of the history of the city and the wider state of North Carolina.
JC Raulston Arboretum
The JC Raulston Arboretum is managed by the North Carolina State University and spans more than 10 acres of land. The garden was established in the 60s by Dr JC Raulston and is home to 13 major gardens. These include an All-American Garden, with hundreds of native plants and flowers, and a Japanese Garden with a plethora of plants and flowers native to Japan. The Japanese Garden also has a beautiful Zen Garden, which is great for a quiet walk. Among the other highlights is the rose garden, and the perennial garden. It’s a beautiful sight and one of the best free things to do in Raleigh, NC.
Marbles Kids Museum
Located in the Moore Square Historic District, this interactive kids’ museum is a firm favorite for residents and visitors. Marbles Kids Museum is no ordinary museum, though. It’s a brilliantly sneaky museum in that it makes things look colorful and fun, but it’s actually teaching kids some pretty important stuff. For example, the Moneypalooza area actively teaches kids how to budget and manage money by way of having them run a pizzeria, bank, lemonade stand, and various other ventures. We know a lot of adults who could benefit from a visit, if we’re being honest. As well as the money zone, you can also find the Art Loft, the Putting Zoo, and the Splash Zone. It’s the best thing to do in Raleigh, NC with kids and is a genuinely enjoyable visit for adults, too.
Tickets required, available from the entrance, $6-$7
Off-beat things to do in Raleigh
So, you like things a little weird, huh? Us, too! Head on over to the North Carolina Museum of Art grounds and, behind the museum, check out the Cloud Chamber for the Sky. This well-disguised Camera Obscura was designed by a Brit and kinda looks like it might be home to some of those little furry characters from Star Wars. It’s not, though. When you close the door to the little hut, the pinhole allows you to view the tree tops and sky as you were floating around in it. It’s extremely neat and a fun thing to do in Raleigh with kids. Or, it’s a fun place to leave your kids in Raleigh, we’re not really sure.
FAQs About Raleigh
We’ve compiled answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the city and things to do in Raleigh, NC. These will help your research, planning, and general education about all this beautiful southern city has to offer.
What attractions are in Raleigh NC?
There are so many attractions and things to do in Raleigh that we literally don’t have enough fingers and toes to count them all on. Some of our favorites, that we didn’t have space for above, are the William B Umstead State Park, Frankie’s Fun Park, Dorothea Dix Park, and Historic Oakwood.
What is there to do in downtown Raleigh?
Hit up Duke Energy Center and catch a performance, or check out the exhibits at North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. If you’re looking for a cool place to hang out for drinks and a bit of people watching, head to The Raleigh Times for two floors of fun, beer, and cocktails. Raleigh has a reputation for live music, so there’s always a show or two to catch when you’re downtown.
What beach is near Raleigh NC?
Wrightsville Beach is the closest to the city, but it’s 131 miles away from Raleigh. The beach is known for attracting a younger generation and is a hub for water sports, including surfing, kayaking, and boogie boarding. Gotta get up early if you want to spend the day there as it’s a good 2-3-hour drive.
Raleigh is a typical southern city, filled with southern cooking, southern weather and the southern hospitality its residents are so famous for. Raleigh is the fastest growing city in North Carolina, which is bringing investment, jobs, and new business to the area. This means it’s a vibrant and exciting place to spend time. Raleigh sits in a great position, mid-way between the Atlantic and the Blue Ridge Mountains. This increases the number of seasonal activities within easy reach of the city center and means that wide open spaces are just a short distance away. Raleigh has a great reputation for its live music scene and is a regular stop on tours for world-class bands, artists and DJs. The city is served by Raleigh Durham International Airport and has a wide range of different accommodation types to suit any budget. We hope we’ve twisted your arm about all the great things to do in Raleigh, NC and hope to see you there real soon.