The capital of North Carolina and the state’s second-largest city, Raleigh, is called the “City of Oaks” because of its stately, oak-lined streets in the downtown area. This city makes up one corner of the Research Triangle metropolitan area, with Chapel Hill and Durham on the other corners. This region has attracted many research and technology companies and has proliferated.
The city has a long history that you will enjoy learning about at places like the North Carolina Museum of History, Mordecai Historic Park and the Pope House Museum. Natural areas such as the Neuse River Greenway Trail, JC Raulston Arboretum and Lake Johnson Park are serene spots to get outside to play. Here are some of the best things to do in Raleigh in a city with a lot to offer everyone, no matter their age.
Raleigh, North Carolina
20 Things To Do In Raleigh
1- Go On A Ghosts And Dark History Tour
The Ghosts and Dark History Tour is a historical city tour exploring Raleigh’s dark and spooky side at night.
The 60- or 90-minute nighttime stroll is a great way to see eight different sites, including the White-Holman House, Heck-Andrews House and North Carolina State Capitol Building.
While on the 90-minute tour, you’ll visit 12, including Isaac Hunter’s Tavern.
Listen to stories of smuggling alcohol through underground tunnels and get a glimpse of who the city’s former residents were.
Scary legends about witches and peg-legged apparitions provide a colourful backdrop to the city’s history.
Wear comfortable walking shoes, as you can expect to stand for most of the tour.
The tour starts at the North Carolina State Capitol, 1 E Edenton St, Raleigh, NC 27601. Find out more about it here.
2- Join A Breweries Tour
Raleigh is home to many local craft breweries, and a brewery tour will allow you to check out the city’s foodie side.
More than 30 breweries exist and many offer free tours where you can meet the brewmaster.
Beer connoisseurs who enjoy beer and food pairings can’t go wrong with an organised tour of three breweries and a brewpub.
The perfect way to start a beer adventure, the tour offers transportation to and from a central location, plus sixteen beer samples, beer flights, and a workshop on good beer and food pairing.
So, immerse yourself in the craft beer culture of Raleigh by reserving your spot on a brewery tour.
Tours start at 616 S Salisbury St, Raleigh, NC 27601.
3- Visit The North Carolina Museum Of Natural Sciences
The museum is one of the largest natural science museums in the USA’s southeast and one of the state’s most popular museums.
Over one million visitors pass through its doors each year to see permanent exhibits on the geology, plants, animals and fossils.
These exhibits include Prehistoric North Carolina, Beyond Our Planet, Ancient Fossils and New Discoveries, Underground North Carolina, Coastal North Carolina and Snakes of North Carolina.
The museum hosts special events, such as Astronomy Days, BugFest and Darwin Day.
On Thursday nights, museum guests can sit with a scientist at the museum cafeteria, ask questions, and compete in a trivia contest.
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is at 11 W Jones St, Raleigh, NC 27601.
4- Step Back In Time At The North Carolina Museum Of History
The North Carolina Museum of History contains over 150,000 artifacts that cover over 14,000 years of North Carolina history.
The permanent exhibits at this museum have dioramas, interactive activities, and recreated displays that serve to educate visitors about the rich history of North Carolina.
Permanent exhibits include The Story of North Carolina and the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.
The Story of North Carolina contains artifacts and exhibits that tell the stories of Native Americans, pirates, the Wright Brothers, the Civil Rights Movement, and more.
The Sports Hall of Fame houses North Carolina-specific sports artifacts, such as Richard Petty’s stock car.
The North Carolina Museum of History is at 5 E Edenton St, Raleigh, NC 27601.
5- Admire Works At The North Carolina Museum Of Art
The North Carolina Museum of Art was ranked as one of the top 25 museums in the country.
It has two buildings, one which houses the permanent collection and one that hosts educational programs and special exhibitions.
The permanent collection contains art from ancient civilisations to modern societies from all over the world.
Artwork from Greek sculptures and Renaissance paintings to modern photography is all represented.
The museum’s collection of Rodin sculptures and Judaic ceremonial items are impressive.
A 164-acre (66-ha) art park outside the museum, the largest in the country, provides trails for walking, running and biking.
The museum hosts films, lectures and art programs throughout the year.
The North Carolina Museum of Art is at 2110 Blue Ridge Rd, Raleigh, NC 27607.
6- Have Fun In Pullen Park
Pullen Park has the distinction of being the fifth oldest amusement park in the United States.
Rides at the park are perfect for children of all ages, including a carousel, pedal boats and a train.
This 66-acre (27-hectare) park was the first public park in the state.
They have an Aquatic Center that offers swimming and swim lessons and a large playground for kids of all ages.
Tennis courts and athletic fields provide a place for recreational leagues and other visitors to play.
The Arts Center offers various art classes and exhibitions.
A restaurant near the Community Center has a selection of fresh and seasonal foods for sale.
The theatre in the park hosts popular productions throughout the year.
Other amenities include restrooms, shelters, and pavilions that can be rented for groups and events.
Pullen Park is at 520 Ashe Ave, Raleigh, NC 27606.
7- Visit Yates Mill County Park
Yates Mill County Park is a 174-acre (70-hectare) historical site where a restored water-powered grist mill operated for 200 years.
Mill tours sometimes include demonstrations of corn grinding using equipment original to the mill.
These demonstrations happen twice monthly each fall.
Costumed interpreters offer visitors a glimpse of life when the grist mill was operating.
Adults pay only $5, and children ages 7 to 16 pay $3 for the grist mill tour. Children ages 6 and under are free.
Mill-ground cornmeal and postcards can be purchased at the visitor centre from March to November.
The Historic Yates Mill County Park is at 4620 Lake Wheeler Rd, Raleigh, NC 27603.
8- Visit Marbles Kids Museum
The Marbles Kids Museum is a nonprofit museum containing exhibits that encourage children to use their minds (or their marbles) at interactive exhibits.
The STEMosphere exhibit allows children to experience math through brain teasers, puzzles, games and challenges.
The Moneypalooza exhibit provides kids with a learning experience about saving money, earning money and running a business.
The ImagiFAB exhibit gives children a safe place to invent, design and build anything they can imagine.
Many other interactive exhibits in the museum create numerous opportunities for children to learn about science, math and engineering.
The museum’s IMAX theatre shows new releases and documentaries.
Marbles is perfect for children aged 10 and under and require at least two hours to explore.
The Marbles Kids Museum is at 201 E Hargett St, Raleigh, NC 27601.
9- Hike Neuse River Greenway Trail
The Neuse River Greenway Trail has 27.5 miles (44 km) of paved, winding trails that pass through wetlands and historical sites.
This trail contains boardwalks and suspension bridges.
Runners, walkers, and bikers have a miles-long, flat section and a miles-long section of gently rolling hills.
The Greenway is part of more significant trail segments for the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and the Capital Area Greenway.
Other recreational activities on the Greenway include fishing, canoeing and kayaking.
Amenities on the trail include parking, restrooms, and water fountains.
Four access points on the Neuse River Greenway Trail offer free parking. The parking lots are all located in Raleigh at:
● 2928 Horseshoe Farm Road
● 5812 Buffaloe Road
● 20 Anderson Point Drive
● Falls Lake Tailrace Parking, Mile Marker 0
10- Admire The Plants At JC Raulston Arboretum
The JC Raulston Arboretum is a beautiful botanical garden at North Carolina State University that is open to the general public year-round and has free admission during the day.
The botanical gardens contain diverse landscaping plants native to the southeast.
The Arboretum offers special events during the day and evenings, including classes, luncheons and nighttime light displays.
Landscaping plants go on sale outside the Visitor Center and can be purchased with cash, checks or credit cards.
Visitors to the Arboretum can see the efforts made by researchers who work tirelessly to collect, evaluate and reproduce the best landscaping plants for the southeastern region of the United States.
The JC Raulston Arboretum is at 4415 Beryl Rd, Raleigh, NC 27606.
11- Get Outdoors At Umstead State Park
The William B. Umstead State Park covers 5,600 acres (2266 ha) in the centre of the heavily urbanised area of the Research Triangle between Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Durham.
Miles of trails provide scenic, forested views for hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders.
Three man-made lakes and their tributaries offer places to canoe, kayak and fish.
Campers can choose from individual tent sites, group tent sites and primitive cabins.
If camping is not your thing, the Maple Hill Lodge has overnight lodging available in this historic building.
Amenities include restrooms, showers, a bathhouse, picnic shelters, parking, and boat rentals.
Umstead State Park is at 8801 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh, NC 27617.
12- Get Active At Frankie’s Fun Park
Frankie’s Fun Park is a popular place for locals and is geared toward adults and children, making it a fantastic place to spend a few hours, day or night, seven days a week.
In the amusement park section, bumper cars, bumper boats, the Sidewinder, the Windstarz and the Drop Zone get the adrenaline pumping with thrilling rides.
Race tracks, miniature golf and a ropes course are fun activities for kids and their parents.
For some unique fun, laser tag, the virtual reality Hyperdeck and the 3D Dark Ride competition engage the imagination and put video game skills to the test.
An arcade filled with various games provides some traditional fun for visitors.
The restaurant serves alcoholic and non-alcoholic refreshments and food.
Frankie’s Fun Park is at 11190 Fun Park Dr, Raleigh, NC 27617.
13- Explore Mordecai Historic Park
The Mordecai Historic Park contains the Mordecai House, the birthplace of the 17th United States President, Andrew Johnson.
This house is the oldest in Raleigh in the location where it was built in 1785.
It’s worth the small fee to tour the Mordecai House, outbuildings, and grounds to learn about the history of the plantation.
Some outbuildings include a Plantation Office, Smokehouse, Allen Kitchen and St. Mark’s Chapel.
More than 5,000 artifacts in the park’s collection tell the story of these grounds and the people who once lived here.
Amenities include a visitor’s centre, gift shop and classroom.
Mordecai Historic Park is at 1 Mimosa St, Raleigh, NC 27604.
14- Relax At Lake Johnson Park
Lake Johnson Park is 500 acres (202 ha) of land containing a 150-acre (61-ha) lake and a few miles of trails.
A paved greenway that is part of the Walnut Creek Greenway Trail runs along the east side of the lake.
A 1.5-mile (2.4-km) unpaved trail winds around the west side of the lake.
Benches, hammock posts and a QR Fit Trail provide different and fun ways to use and enjoy the park trails.
The Waterfront Center promotes outdoor recreation by renting boats and fishing gear.
While park visitors cannot wade or swim in Lake Johnson, the Lake Johnson Park Pool provides a place for people to swim.
Lake Johnson Park is at 4601 Avent Ferry Rd, Raleigh, NC 27606.
15- Discover Nature At Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve
Hemlock Bluffs is a 140-acre (57-hectare) state nature preserve named for its ancient hemlock grove that has persisted since the last glacial period.
In addition to the unique plants found here, the preserve protects the critical habitat of native salamanders.
Three short loop trails have boardwalks winding through the nature preserve.
Overlooks along the trails offer visitors scenic views of the fragile habitats protected by the preserve.
The Stevens Nature Center contains a Hemlock Bluffs exhibit that details the history and ecological importance of the hemlocks.
In addition to the Hemlock Exhibit, the Nature Center has a gift shop, classroom, and public restrooms.
Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve is at 2616 Kildaire Farm Rd, Cary, NC 27518.
16- Step Back In Time At Pope House Museum
The Pope House Museum is a restored home once owned by a prominent African-American doctor, Dr Manassa Pope, in the early 1900s.
It is the only house museum in North Carolina owned by an African American, and it is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Dr Pope led an exciting life as an officer during the Spanish-American War and later ran for mayor of Raleigh in 1919.
Over 3,000 artifacts, original furnishings and documents are contained in the museum’s collection.
These items provide a glimpse of the lives of African-Americans families during this time and throughout the Jim Crow era. Admission is free.
The Pope House Museum is at 511 S Wilmington St, Raleigh, NC 27601.
17- Admire The Landscape At Juniper Level Botanic Garden
Juniper Level Botanic Garden is a 28-acre (11-hectare) property gifted to North Carolina State University in 2018.
Tony Avent gave the property to his alma mater after spending 30 years developing the gardens and devoting his life to preserving and experimenting with plants he collected from twelve countries.
It is a sister facility to the JC Raulston Arboretum.
This botanical garden contains several greenhouses, display gardens, rock gardens, fountains and patios.
More than 27,000 plants are found throughout the gardens, including native perennials, exotics, and rare species.
This facility is only open eight weekends each year.
Juniper Level Botanic Garden is at 9241 Sauls Rd, Raleigh, NC 27603.
18- See The Flowers At Raleigh Municipal Rose Garden
The Raleigh Municipal Rose Garden is a historic garden containing 1,200 rose bushes with 60 varieties of roses blooming from late spring to early fall, creating a cacophony of colour.
Other seasonal flowers in the rose garden come from bulbs, annuals, and flowering trees and shrubs.
Admission into the rose garden is free and open every day from sunrise to sunset.
The Raleigh Little Theatre is next to the Rose Garden and offers theatrical performances and concerts in one of the two indoor theatres or the outdoor arena.
Amenities in the garden include picnic tables and a play area.
Raleigh Municipal Rose Garden is at 301 Pogue St, Raleigh, NC 27607.
19- Visit The North Carolina State Capitol
The National Historic Landmark is in the centre of downtown Raleigh.
It is a Greek-revival-style civic building built in 1840 to replace the original building, which had burned down in 1831.
Until 1888, it was the location of all of the state’s government, including the Supreme Court, State Library, and General Assembly.
Admission into this restored historic building is free.
Walk through the Capitol and grounds to see statues, busts and other artifacts that showcase notable North Carolinians throughout history.
The building is open Monday through Saturday, and guided tours are given twice a day on Saturdays. The Capitol grounds are open every day.
North Carolina State Capitol is at 1 E Edenton St, Raleigh, NC 27601.
20- Shop At State Farmer’s Market
The North Carolina State Farmer’s Market contains 75 acres (30 hectares) of vendors selling vegetables, fruits, cheeses, meats, honey, potted plants, baked goods, and flowers in both indoor and outdoor sections of the market.
Gift items, such as wines, candies, chocolates, soaps, lotions, and hand-crafted items, can also be found.
The market is open 365 days and is a top spot to shop and eat.
Two restaurants open early for breakfast at 6 or 7 am and close mid-afternoon. A third restaurant is open for lunch and dinner until 8 pm.
The State Farmer’s Market is at 1201 Agriculture St, Raleigh, NC 27603.
For more places to visit in the Southern states, see:
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