Looking for all the best attractions in the “City of Oaks”? Our guide to all the best things to do in Raleigh, North Carolina is all you need!
Raleigh, NC, is one of the best cities to visit in the US South! With both Southern charm and modern vitality, this city has so much to offer travelers.
Located in the heart of the Research Triangle Park, Raleigh stands as a hub of innovation and education, hosting renowned universities and research institutions like the NC State University Campus.
The city boasts a rich cultural and culinary scene as well. Visitors can tour historic neighborhoods, museums, and markets. Guided walking tours and a decadent craft beer scene add to the appeal of Raleigh!
Those looking for hiking trails and lush green spaces can explore Pullen Park and Umstead State Park, both of which provide a refreshing escape amidst urban life.
Raleigh, NC, is an amazing city full of fun things to do! Whether you want to tour a historic building or a national historic landmark, or you want to explore nature and greenery, Raleigh has it all.
Make sure you check out these fun things to do in North Carolina for more ideas in the state!
Table of Contents
- 21 Best Things To Do In Raleigh, North Carolina
- 1. Admire impressive works at the North Carolina Museum of Art
- 2. Explore William B. Umstead State Park
- 3. Feast at Morgan Street Food Hall
- 4. Tour the historic North Carolina State Capitol
- 5. Learn about history and culture at the Pope House Museum
- 6. Join a nighttime guided ghost tour
- 7. Admire the gorgeous plants at the JC Raulston Arboretum
- 8. Broaden your mind at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
- 9. See living history at the Mordecai Historic Park
- 10. Browse through the State Farmers’ Market
- 11. Visit the Joel Lane Museum House
- 12. Hike, bike, and picnic at Pullen Park
- 13. Explore Durham
- 14. Check out the North Carolina Museum of History
- 15. Get some exercise on the Neuse River Trail
- 16. Sip a craft brew at the Raleigh Beer Garden
- 17. Admire the works at Contemporary Art Museum Raleigh
- 18. Taste some delicious treats at the Videri Chocolate Factory
- 19. Tour Historic Yates Mill County Park
- 20. Wander around Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve
- 21. Bring the kids to the Marble Kids Museum
- Where To Stay In Raleigh, NC
21 Best Things To Do In Raleigh, North Carolina
From visiting the epic food halls to browsing history and art museums to taking on some hiking trails like the Neuse River Greenway trail, here are some of the best things to do in Raleigh, NC!
Raleigh is a very car-friendly city, as there isn’t too much traffic in downtown and you can easily get around with a car. Having a car also allows you to take day trips and explore more of the state parks outside of downtown.
Though you don’t have to rent a car in Raleigh, it will definitely help you get around! Otherwise, you can take taxis, Uber, or public transport.
The best way to get around is to rent a car and explore on your own! We recommend Rental Cars, which has the largest range of vehicles for the best value on the market.
1. Admire impressive works at the North Carolina Museum of Art
The North Carolina Museum of Art is a cultural gem that showcases a diverse art collection spanning over 5,000 years. Established in 1956, the museum has grown into a prominent institution with a mission to inspire creativity and enrich the lives of its visitors.
The North Carolina Museum of Art boasts an impressive array of artworks, including pieces from renowned artists such as Rembrandt, Rodin, and Monet. Its extensive collection covers a wide range of artistic genres, from ancient artifacts and European masterpieces to contemporary works, providing visitors with a comprehensive and immersive art experience.
Beyond its impressive permanent collection, the museum is celebrated for its commitment to fostering a vibrant cultural community. The North Carolina Museum of Art regularly hosts special exhibitions, educational programs, and events that engage visitors of all ages.
The museum’s innovative approach to connecting art with the public extends to its outdoor spaces, where visitors can enjoy the unique experience of exploring the Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park.
This beautiful park not only features monumental works of art but also provides a serene setting for reflection and relaxation, making the North Carolina Museum of Art a cultural destination that seamlessly blends education, inspiration, and the natural beauty of its surroundings.
2. Explore William B. Umstead State Park
Those looking for fun things to do outside can head over to William B. Umstead State Park. Named after William Bradley Umstead, a former governor of North Carolina, the park spans over 5,500 acres, making it a sprawling oasis just a stone’s throw away from the bustling city of Raleigh.
The park is a popular destination for hikers, joggers, and nature lovers, offering an extensive network of trails that wind through dense forests, across serene lakeshores, and along peaceful creeks. Visitors can explore diverse ecosystems, from mixed hardwood forests to open fields, providing a rich tapestry of North Carolina’s natural environment.
Aside from its well-maintained trail system, Umstead State Park also offers opportunities for picnicking, fishing, and birdwatching. The park’s trio of man-made lakes—Big Lake, Small Lake, and Reedy Creek Lake—add to its allure, providing a scenic backdrop for outdoor activities.
Whether visitors seek a challenging hike, a leisurely stroll, or a tranquil spot for reflection, William B. Umstead State Park caters to a variety of interests, making it a cherished retreat for both locals and tourists alike.
The park’s accessibility and diverse recreational offerings contribute to its status as a natural haven where individuals can escape the urban hustle and connect with the beauty of the North Carolina landscape.
Looking to explore more nature in North Carolina? Be sure to check out Asheville!
3. Feast at Morgan Street Food Hall
Raleigh, NC is known for its amazing food, and food halls are the best place to taste the local cuisine. Morgan Street Food Hall is a vibrant culinary destination located in downtown Raleigh that is a beloved gathering place for locals and visitors alike.
With a diverse array of food vendors, the hall encapsulates the rich and varied culinary landscape of the region, offering a mix of international and local flavors under one roof. From artisanal tacos and gourmet burgers to sushi, wood-fired pizza, and decadent desserts, Morgan Street Food Hall provides a smorgasbord of options to satisfy every palate.
The open layout of the food hall encourages patrons to explore the diverse menus, creating a dynamic and engaging experience.
Whether you’re looking for a quick bite, a leisurely meal with friends, or a culinary adventure, Morgan Street Food Hall stands as a testament to Raleigh’s evolving food scene and its commitment to fostering a sense of community through the shared love of good food.
4. Tour the historic North Carolina State Capitol
One of the best historic sites to see when you visit Raleigh, the North Carolina State Capitol reflects the state’s rich political and cultural history.
Completed in 1840, the North Carolina State Capitol building served as the seat of state government for over 170 years. Designed by the renowned architect David Paton, the structure showcases the neoclassical style and features a prominent dome reminiscent of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.
The Capitol has witnessed pivotal moments in North Carolina’s history, including legislative sessions, political debates, and the ratification of the state’s secession from the Union in 1861.
Today, the building is a museum that preserves and shares the state’s political heritage through exhibits, artifacts, and guided tours, allowing visitors to step back in time and gain insights into North Carolina’s role in shaping the nation.
Surrounded by Union Square, the North Carolina State Capitol is not only an architectural gem but also a picturesque public space. The Capitol grounds feature statues, monuments, and lush landscaping, providing a tranquil retreat in the heart of downtown Raleigh.
5. Learn about history and culture at the Pope House Museum
The Pope House Museum in downtown Raleigh is a unique and historically significant landmark that provides a glimpse into the life and legacy of one of the city’s prominent African American families.
Built in 1901, the Pope House is the only remaining residence of a black family from Raleigh’s once-thriving African American neighborhood of Method.
Dr. Manassa Thomas Pope, a prominent African American physician and community leader, resided in this elegant Victorian-style home with his family. The museum meticulously preserves the Pope family’s living quarters, offering visitors a tangible connection to the African American experience in Raleigh during the early 20th century.
The Pope House Museum, now under the care of the City of Raleigh Museum, serves as a vital cultural and educational resource. Through guided tours and exhibits, visitors can explore the beautifully restored rooms of the house and gain insight into the challenges and triumphs of the Pope family.
The museum’s mission extends beyond its historical significance, aiming to foster a deeper understanding of African American history, heritage, and contributions to Raleigh’s vibrant tapestry. As the only African American house museum in the state, this is an interesting and enlightening place to visit in Raleigh, NC.
6. Join a nighttime guided ghost tour
Another one of the most fun things to do in Raleigh is a ghost tour! Anyone who loves learning about haunting histories will have a blast on a guided night walking tour that focuses on the ghost stories of Raleigh.
The city is home to a number of supposedly haunted locations, such as the White-Holman House and the Heck-Andrews House. Join a charismatic local guide as you walk around the city after dark and hear about all the unique and spine-chilling histories of Raleigh!
7. Admire the gorgeous plants at the JC Raulston Arboretum
Also a highlight of Raleigh, NC is the JC Raulston Arboretum, a botanical haven renowned for its diverse collection of plants, trees, and gardens. Established in 1976, the arboretum was named in honor of Dr. J. C. Raulston, a distinguished horticulturist and professor at North Carolina State University.
The arboretum is a living laboratory and a horticultural showcase, featuring an impressive array of themed gardens, plant collections, and landscape designs.
Visitors to the JC Raulston Arboretum can embark on a horticultural journey through environments like the Rooftop Gardens, the Winter Garden, and the Japanese Garden, each offering a unique and immersive experience.
Beyond its role as a picturesque destination, the JC Raulston Arboretum plays a crucial role in plant research, conservation, and education. Affiliated with North Carolina State University, the arboretum serves as an outdoor classroom, providing a platform for students, researchers, and the public to learn about horticulture, gardening practices, and the importance of plant diversity.
Regular workshops, plant sales, and educational programs contribute to the arboretum’s mission of promoting environmental stewardship and a deeper appreciation for the world of plants. Whether one is an avid gardener, a student of horticulture, or simply someone seeking a peaceful escape surrounded by nature, the JC Raulston Arboretum is one of the best things to do in Raleigh.
Read next: The Perfect 3 Days In Asheville Itinerary
8. Broaden your mind at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, located in downtown Raleigh, is an excellent place to spend a few hours while exploring the city. This museum has evolved into the Southeast’s largest natural history museum, attracting visitors of all ages.
The museum’s expansive collection covers a wide range of scientific disciplines, including paleontology, geology, astronomy, and biology. With its innovative exhibits and interactive displays, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences offers a hands-on learning experience, allowing visitors to delve into the mysteries of the universe, explore the diversity of life on Earth, and uncover the fascinating history of the region.
One of the museum’s standout features is the Nature Research Center, an interactive and cutting-edge facility that combines research labs with public outreach. Here, scientists work on real-time research projects, and visitors can witness the scientific process in action.
From the immersive exhibits of prehistoric creatures to the live animal encounters, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences provides a holistic approach to education, emphasizing the interconnectedness of the natural world and the importance of conservation.
With its commitment to scientific discovery and public education, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences continues to inspire curiosity and appreciation for the wonders of nature.
9. See living history at the Mordecai Historic Park
Just north of downtown Raleigh lies Mordecai Historic Park, a captivating destination that takes visitors on a journey through the rich history of the region. The centerpiece of the park is the Mordecai House, a meticulously preserved Federal-style plantation home dating back to the early 19th century.
Constructed in 1785, the house has served as the residence of prominent figures such as the Mordecai family and the city’s founder, Joel Lane. As the oldest house in Raleigh still on its original foundation, the Mordecai House offers guided tours that provide a fascinating glimpse into the daily life of its former inhabitants and the historical evolution of the city.
In addition to the Mordecai House, the park encompasses a variety of historic structures, including the Badger-Iredell Law Office, the Allen Kitchen, and the Birthplace of Andrew Johnson, the 17th President of the United States.
These buildings, surrounded by beautifully landscaped grounds, collectively tell the story of Raleigh’s early years and its role in shaping North Carolina’s political and social landscape.
Mordecai Historic Park not only serves as a living history museum but also hosts events, educational programs, and community gatherings, inviting visitors to engage with and appreciate the cultural heritage woven into the fabric of Raleigh’s past.
10. Browse through the State Farmers’ Market
Strolling through a farmers market is one of the most fun things to do in Raleigh. The city is home to a few incredible markets, one of the best being the Raleigh Farmers Market. This expansive market has grown into one of the state’s premier destinations for fresh, locally sourced produce, artisanal goods, and a rich variety of products.
The Market Shoppes house local crafts, handmade goods, and specialty items, while the Market Imports section showcases a diverse array of international home decor and gifts. However, the true heart of the Raleigh Farmers Market lies in the Farmers Building and the outdoor market area, where local farmers and producers proudly display a bounty of fruits, vegetables, flowers, meats, and more.
11. Visit the Joel Lane Museum House
The Joel Lane Museum House is a historic gem from the 1760s that preserves the oldest dwelling in Raleigh and serves as a tangible link to the state’s colonial past.
Joel Lane, a prominent planter, legislator, and “Father of Raleigh,” owned the house and played a pivotal role in the establishment of the city as North Carolina’s capital. The museum meticulously preserves the architecture and period furnishings of the home, providing an authentic representation of life in the late 18th century.
Visitors can explore the various rooms, including the kitchen, bedrooms, and parlors, each filled with artifacts and exhibits that tell the story of the Lane family and the region’s early settlers.
The museum complex also includes the Visitors Center, which houses exhibits on Raleigh’s development and Joel Lane’s legacy, as well as a beautiful garden that recreates the colonial-era landscape. The Joel Lane Museum House organizes educational programs, tours, and special events, contributing to the community’s understanding and appreciation of its colonial heritage.
Explore more of North Carolina’s cities with a trip to Charlotte!
12. Hike, bike, and picnic at Pullen Park
Located just west of downtown Raleigh, Pullen Park has been delighting visitors for over a century. Established in 1887, Pullen Park is one of the oldest amusement parks in the United States, and it holds the distinction of being the first public park in North Carolina.
The park’s enchanting atmosphere is enhanced by its picturesque setting, featuring a large lake, walking trails, and lush green spaces. Pullen Park is renowned for its iconic carousel, which has been providing joy to generations of visitors since 1911.
This historic carousel, along with other classic rides such as the miniature train and pedal boats, adds a timeless charm to the park, making it a favorite destination for families, locals, and tourists alike.
In addition to its classic amusements, Pullen Park offers a range of modern amenities and activities. The park features playgrounds, picnic areas, and a community center, providing a diverse array of recreational options.
Pullen Park remains a vibrant hub for community engagement, hosting events, festivals, and educational programs throughout the year. Whether visitors are seeking a leisurely stroll by the lake, a thrilling ride on the carousel, or a day of family fun, Pullen Park continues to be a beloved destination that captures the essence of community, recreation, and nostalgia in the heart of Raleigh.
13. Explore Durham
Just 30 minutes away from downtown Raleigh is the neighboring city of Durham, a city with a rich history and vibrant culture. Known as the “Bull City,” Durham earned its nickname from the iconic Bull Durham tobacco brand and is characterized by a distinctive mix of historic red-brick architecture and burgeoning technology hubs.
The city played a significant role in the tobacco industry’s history, and remnants of its industrial past can be explored in places like the Tobacco Road district.
Durham is also celebrated for its diverse and thriving cultural scene. The American Tobacco Campus, once a bustling tobacco factory, has been transformed into a lively area featuring restaurants, shops, and entertainment venues.
The city is also home to the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC), a state-of-the-art venue hosting Broadway shows, concerts, and other performances. There are also some amazing art galleries and museums, and you can see the city’s best artistic locations on a guided art walking tour.
Beyond its urban attractions, Durham boasts natural beauty with parks like Duke Forest and the Eno River State Park, providing residents and visitors with ample opportunities for outdoor recreation. Durham is an easy, quick, and fun excursion from Raleigh that allows you to explore more destinations in North Carolina.
14. Check out the North Carolina Museum of History
History lovers can also check out the North Carolina Museum of History. The museum’s extensive collection spans a wide range of topics, including Native American history, colonial life, the Civil War, industrialization, and the civil rights movement.
Through immersive exhibits, artifacts, photographs, and interactive displays, the museum offers visitors a comprehensive journey through the cultural, social, and political milestones that define the state’s identity.
One of the museum’s standout features is the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, which celebrates the achievements of athletes from the state across various sports.
The museum also hosts rotating exhibits that delve into specific aspects of North Carolina’s history, ensuring there’s always something new to discover.
The North Carolina Museum of History serves as a vibrant resource for students, scholars, and the public, fostering a deeper understanding of the state’s heritage and its impact on the broader American narrative.
15. Get some exercise on the Neuse River Trail
The Neuse River Greenway Trail is a scenic gem in the heart of North Carolina, offering outdoor enthusiasts a picturesque pathway along the banks of the Neuse River.
Stretching for nearly 30 miles from Falls Lake Dam to the Wake County line, this multi-use trail is a haven for cyclists, joggers, walkers, and nature lovers.
The trail winds through diverse landscapes, including lush forests, wetlands, and open fields, providing a tranquil escape from urban life. Along the journey, users can appreciate the beauty of the Neuse River and Wake County, both of which add a serene backdrop to the trail and serve as a habitat for various wildlife.
The trail is part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, a cross-state trail system that showcases the natural beauty and diversity of North Carolina.
Those looking for some hiking trails and fresh air in an outdoor park can add the Neuse River Trail to their Raleigh bucket list!
16. Sip a craft brew at the Raleigh Beer Garden
Known for having the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest beer selection, Raleigh Beer Garden is a top destination in the city!
With a diverse and carefully curated selection of craft beers from local breweries and around the globe, the Raleigh Beer Garden provides beer enthusiasts with a unique opportunity to explore and savor an extensive range of flavors and styles in a vibrant and social atmosphere.
The venue is not only celebrated for its remarkable beer selection but also for its inviting ambiance. With its spacious outdoor patio, rooftop bar, and cozy indoor spaces, the venue caters to a diverse clientele, creating an inclusive and convivial atmosphere.
Whether visitors are seeking a casual after-work drink, a weekend gathering with friends, or a special occasion celebration, this is a great place to hang out in the city.
Read next: The 18 Best Day Trips From Charlotte, NC
17. Admire the works at Contemporary Art Museum Raleigh
The Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh, North Carolina showcases cutting-edge and thought-provoking works of contemporary art. Housed in a striking building designed by architect Brooks + Scarpa the Contemporary Art Museum has a diverse range of artworks including painting, sculpture, multimedia installations, and new media.
With a commitment to engaging the community, the museum hosts rotating exhibitions, artist talks, and educational programs that encourage dialogue and exploration of the latest trends and ideas in the art world.
The museum’s strategic location in the Warehouse District, surrounded by galleries, studios, and cultural spaces, contributes to the city’s vibrant arts scene. With its dedication to pushing boundaries and challenging traditional notions of art, the Contemporary Art Museum is a must-visit destination for art lovers!
18. Taste some delicious treats at the Videri Chocolate Factory
Those with a sweet tooth have to visit the Videri Chocolate Factory while visiting Raleigh! Videri is dedicated to producing high-quality chocolate while adhering to ethical and sustainable practices.
The factory is not only a place for the production of exquisite chocolates but also a welcoming space for chocolate enthusiasts to witness the entire chocolate-making process.
Visitors can take guided tours to observe the journey from cocoa bean to finished chocolate bar, gaining insights into the sourcing of ethically grown cacao and the meticulous steps involved in crafting each delicious treat.
Videri Chocolate Factory also features a retail space and a cozy cafe where patrons can indulge in a variety of chocolate treats, from classic bars to unique and inventive flavor combinations. With a commitment to transparency and quality, Videri allows visitors to appreciate the complexities and flavors of artisanal chocolate while promoting a sustainable and ethical approach to the chocolate-making industry.
The factory’s dedication to both craftsmanship and sustainability has earned it a reputation as a must-visit destination for chocolate connoisseurs and those seeking a sweet escape in the heart of Raleigh.
19. Tour Historic Yates Mill County Park
Another cool place where you can dive into the history of Raleigh is the Historic Yates Mill, a captivating landmark that preserves the rich history of milling in the region.
Built in the 1750s, the Historic Yates Mill is one of the few surviving water-powered gristmills in the United States. The mill served as a vital hub for the local community, grinding corn and wheat into meal and flour for nearby residents.
Over the centuries, the mill underwent several renovations and changes in ownership, evolving with the times. Today, it stands as a well-preserved testament to North Carolina’s agricultural and industrial heritage.
Surrounded by picturesque woodlands and situated on the banks of Yates Mill Pond, the historic site offers visitors a glimpse into the past through guided tours and educational programs. The mill complex includes a fully restored gristmill, a granary, and a miller’s house, providing a comprehensive view of rural life in centuries past.
The site also features walking trails, picnic areas, and opportunities for wildlife observation, making it a serene and educational destination for those interested in history, nature, and the intersection of the two. Historic Yates Mill County Park serves as a reminder of the crucial role mills played in the agrarian economy of early America and stands as a cherished landmark in the Raleigh area.
20. Wander around Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve
Just outside of Raleigh, NC lies the gorgeous Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve in Cary, North Carolina. This nature preserve is renowned for its ancient Eastern Hemlock trees, some of which are over 300 years old, creating a captivating and serene forested environment.
The preserve is home to several hiking trails, allowing visitors to explore the lush landscapes, meander along the swift-flowing Swift Creek, and appreciate the flora and fauna that thrive in this protected natural space. The bluffs themselves provide stunning scenic overlooks, offering panoramic views of the surrounding area.
Beyond its botanical significance, Hemlock Bluffs is a designated nature preserve with a mission to educate and inspire. The Stevens Nature Center within the preserve serves as an educational hub, providing information about the unique ecology of the bluffs, as well as offering programs and events for visitors of all ages.
Guided tours and interpretive exhibits enhance the experience, making Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve not only a peaceful retreat but also an educational destination that fosters an appreciation for the delicate balance of nature within this distinct ecosystem.
Read next: The 13 Best Day Trips From Washington DC
21. Bring the kids to the Marble Kids Museum
Travelers with kids who are visiting Raleigh can take the young ones to the Marble Kids Museum! This kid-friendly museum has interactive and educational exhibits designed to engage, educate, and entertain children of all ages.
Established in 2007, the museum is located in the heart of downtown Raleigh and has become a beloved destination for families and school groups. Marbles Kids Museum offers a diverse range of exhibits and activities that encourage hands-on exploration, creative thinking, and social interaction.
From the giant pirate ship and the interactive art studio to the hands-on science exhibits, the museum provides a dynamic and immersive environment where children can play, learn, and discover in a fun and educational way.
Whether kids are climbing through the treehouse, experimenting with water play, or participating in themed activities, Marbles Kids Museum is dedicated to creating a stimulating and joyful environment where children can explore the world around them and develop essential skills for the future.
Where To Stay In Raleigh, NC
Now that you know the most fun things to do in Raleigh, NC, you’ll want to find a place to stay. Raleigh is a pretty affordable city to visit in the US South, so you can find some amazing hotels for decent prices. Here are our top picks for places to stay in Raleigh, NC!
Best Budget Accommodation in Raleigh, NC: The Longleaf Hotel
Raleigh’s Longleaf Hotel gets stellar reviews from travelers online! Located within a 5-minute walk of the downtown museums and attractions, this hotel sets you up for success with a 24/7 front desk and secure guest parking. It’s a simple, cozy hotel with nice rooms for cheap prices.
Best Mid-Range Accommodation in Raleigh, NC: Residence Inn
Also located right downtown is the Residence Inn by Mariott. The hotel rooms here are exquisite, and you can even book mini apartments with their own kitchen facilities, seating areas, and work desks. The hotel also has an on-site restaurant and a delicious breakfast included.
Best Luxury Accommodation in Raleigh, NC: AC Hotel
The AC Hotel, also by Mariott, is a top-rated hotel in downtown Raleigh. With spacious king rooms, well-stocked bathrooms, and top-notch service, you can truly relax and let the staff cover all of your needs. The hotel is also conveniently located near all the best attractions, so you can enjoy your luxury stay and still make it to all the best sights in the city.
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