First Friday Raleigh: Experience Local Art, Culture, and Entertainment

If you’re looking for a fun and exciting way to kick off the first weekend of the month in Raleigh, North Carolina, look no further than First Friday! 

Woman at an art gallery looking at art
Checking out art on First Friday.

This popular Raleigh event is a great way to explore the city’s vibrant arts scene, sample delicious food and drinks, and connect with your community.

You don’t need to be an art expert or have a lot of money to participate. All you need is a sense of adventure and a willingness to explore the city.

Whether you’re a lifelong resident of Raleigh or a first-time visitor, First Friday is a great way to discover new places and experiences.

What is First Friday in Raleigh?

People at a street festival with tents and trees lining the street
Downtown Raleigh on a First Friday.

Held on the first Friday of every month, the event is a celebration held once a month of Raleigh’s arts and culture.

Since 1990, First Friday has been a popular monthly event in downtown Raleigh. It’s certainly not unique to Raleigh – city art walks are something we’ve seen in many places on our travels across the USA.

Local businesses and galleries open their doors to the public for free showcasing creative work from local artists. Small retail stores, bars, and restaurants may also participate offering unique experiences to add to the celebration and help bring the community together. 

From 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., visitors can stroll through downtown Raleigh, stopping at various participating venues to enjoy live music, art exhibits, food and drink specials, and more.

First Friday will often reflect different seasons and celebrations happening in Raleigh like Halloween, Restaurant Week, and the Holiday Season. See the schedule here.

Where is Raleigh’s First Friday?

Man and woman standing in front of a sign that says CAM Raleigh
Outside the Contemporary Art Museum in downtown

The First Friday event takes place throughout downtown Raleigh, with many businesses and galleries located in the historic Warehouse District. 

Some popular venues to check out include the CAM Raleigh, an innovative contemporary art museum, Artspace, a non-profit visual arts center and working studios, and any of the bars in downtown Raleigh.

But the fun doesn’t stop there! During First Friday, you’ll also find street performers, food trucks, and other outdoor activities. It’s a great opportunity to mingle with other Raleigh residents and meet new people who share your interests.

Here is our guide to the Warehouse District – Use First Friday as an opportunity to explore it more.

Regular First Friday experiences not to miss

Events and experiences can change month to month, but typically there are a few regular events that happen for First Friday that we recommend you explore.

Way back in the early days, many of the studios had free wine and crackers, which made art crawling loads of fun!

You may still find some wine here and there – but mostly it will come at an affordable price. It’s just too popular now for these small spaces to sustain free wine and art!


Man in orange shirt looking at art on the wall
Craig checking out Artspace

Our First Friday experience – and most since – was wandering the halls and working art studios within Artspace. This is a non-profit visual arts center in City Market that has more than 35 artists working in their studios. They hold frequent events, exhibitions, and classes. 

On First Friday, you can wander the halls of Artspace and see the studios, meet some of the artists, and look at any specific exhibitions they may have. 

City Market Artist Collective

Cobblestone street with colorful buildings on each side
Historic area of downtown

On the other side of Artspace is City Market Artist Collective, another art gallery in Raleigh we like to visit on First Friday. Inside are eight gallery spaces filled with the work of resident artists including paintings, sculpture, and mixed media. Artists are usually present on First Friday! 

Plant lovers may want to pop next door to Copperline Plant Co. They often have events on for First Friday – and one can never have too much oxygen!

311 Gallery 

Red door or a red brick building with windows
311 in the Warehouse District

Another working art studio is the 311 Gallery on Martin St in the Warehouse District.

This art gallery has 12 artist’s studios as well as a gift shop in the front and an exhibition gallery out front, which changes every month with the First Friday opening reception. Its small shop front window belies just how big this gallery is.

CAM Raleigh

It wouldn’t be a Raleigh Art Walk event without CAM, that is the Contemporary Art Museum of Raleigh being involved.

This art gallery in the Warehouse District displays new and emerging work by local and national living artists. It’s only a small gallery with exhibitions across two levels and is free to enter. We love how inclusive and modern the art exhibitions are.

During First Fridays, they usually have special exhibitions, free art classes, pop up markets, and live music.

Designed for Joy

Raleigh’s favorite non-profit, Designed for Joy offers tours of their show on First Fridays. It’s also a perfect opportunity for shopping their brand of leather handbags, jewelry and home decor.

They provide women in crisis with stability through immediate employment (living wage) and support. It’s gratifying to know your purchases are supporting local. Read More: Designed for Joy’s annual Evening of Giving

Vita Vite Wine Bar & Art Gallery

Wine bar AND art gallery? Yep, that’s Vita Vite Art Gallery and Wine Bar in the Warehouse District. Another favorite of ours on First Friday (we also love their location in North Hills).

At Vita Vite you browse the gallery of handpicked local artisans and vendors while enjoying a glass of wine, and then curl up in a cozy chair by the fire (in the cooler months).

Moore Square Markets and Movie Nights

Every First Friday, Moore Square hosts a community artisan market and movie night. It’s usually related to the season or special events of the month in Raleigh. They also have live music, games for the kids, and food trucks.

First Friday Events for DECEMEBER 2023

For this December 2023, the following First Friday events are happening. Keep an eye and ear out for what your favorite local Downtown Raliegh businesses may be doing as some don’t announce too well on their websites and socials!

  • Illuminate Art Walk will kick off on First Friday. Don’t miss the Talking Heads signature piece for 2023. Our Illuminate Art Walk guide.
  • First Friday Market and Movie Night will be on in Moore Square with movie Home Alone (6pm) and food trucks and markets.
  • Black Friday Market is having a Block Party to celebrate small business. Store stays open to 12 am. There’ll be music, drinks and food starting at 7pm
  • Fish Market Gallery on Fayetteville St will be showcasing the design process behind any 3D work. 
  • Buriel Beer Co will have a Gallery Opening with Kevin Peddicord in Transfer Co Food Hall and a VISUALS Wine Tasting and Pop-Up from Unlikely Professionals while you’re here.
  • The Carter Building on Glenwood South will host the CoLab: Priceless exhibition of work that’s too personal or experimental to sell and learn the stories behind our priceless art community!
  • City of Raleigh Museum will have a Sip n Shop – holiday cocktails and local vendors.
  • Gallery C on N Blount St will have the exhibition Metamorphosis: New Paintings by guest artist Hulya Kucuk!
  • The Gathering Gallery will have a visit with Santa and scavenger hunts.
  • Glenwood Fine Art will launch the holiday gift season with featured small works with prices to fit into your budget.
  • The Green Monkey in the Moore Square District will have artist Kevin Molesworth Adult Coloring Books shares the inspiration behind his latest adventure into the world of adult coloring books.
  • The Mecca Restaurant will have Kocktails and Karoke and 1/2 of mimosas* and $3 beers. 
  • Curate Raleigh will have a DIY Martini Succulent event with Kay from The Houseplant Hippie between 6-9pm. Enjoy a complimentary drink and shop from over 60 local NC artists + makers!
  • Yoga Six will have a First Friday Free Flow with free yoga.

Other First Friday Local Businesses

The Warehouse District is usually buzzing with people during First Friday moving from gallery to gallery, boutique store to boutique store and popping into bars and restaurants in between.

The Flourish Market

Sign outside the entrance to a woman's clothing store
The Flourish Market

Always filled with people and alive with a fun energy on First Friday (well any day) is our favorite Flourish Market in the Warehouse District. 

They have wonderful products – like Designed for Joy, you can be assured your money is going to support and empower women makers. On First Friday, they often have a party-like vibe, and complimentary mimosas! 

Taverna Agora

It’s not just expression of self through paint, textures, and mixed media on First Friday in Raleigh, it’s also expressions of body and taste that we celebrate.

Every First Friday, Taverna Agora – home of our favorite restaurant patio in Raleigh – has a fun filled entertainment night with belly dancing, and bouzouki music, all while having an authentic Greek dinner! Do I hear an Opa? Read our full review of Taverna Agora here.

Current Wellness

A huge supporter of First Friday in Raleigh is Current Wellness located in East Raleigh near the Transfer Food Hall Co. 

The team there always seems to have some First Friday event usually relating to the season or specific themes happening in the city such as Black History Month etc. and fun experiences like yoga with drumming!

Curate Raleigh

Curate Raleigh on E Hargett St is a favorite place to visit with my teen. It’s also a spot I pick up some welcome gifts for our clients who buy homes in Raleigh with our partner realtors. 

They have a cute collection of local Raleigh and NC products as well as jewelry, plants and home decor. On First Friday, they do fun events like craft classes with complimentary drinks.

Clyde Cooper’s Barbecue

Bbq chicken and pork and hushpuppies on a tray
Historic BBQ joint

Not only does Clyde Coopers have some of the best BBQ in Raleigh, on First Friday they have some kind of music event from music bingo to live blues. Video below:

how to make the most of your First Friday experience

Here are a few tips to make the most out of this fun monthly event.

  1. Wear comfortable shoes: You’ll be doing a lot of walking, so make sure you’re wearing shoes that won’t leave you with sore feet.
  2. Bring a friend: First Friday is more fun with company, so invite a friend or two to join you.
  3. Take a date: First Friday would be a fantastic date night experience in Raleigh. What a great way to get to a future potential long-term partner.
  4. Plan your route: Take a look at the First Friday map ahead of time and plan out which venues you want to visit. We typically look at a few galleries then choose somewhere to have a drink or dinner.
  5. Be open-minded: First Friday is all about exploring and trying new things, so be open to whatever the evening brings.
  6. See the schedule here.

Whether you’re an art aficionado, a foodie, or just looking for a fun night out, First Friday in Raleigh is the perfect way to kick off the weekend. So, mark your calendar, grab a friend, and get ready to explore all that this exciting event has to offer!

Looking for more stuff to do in Raleigh? Check out our post on the top 25 Raleigh attractions, and 90+ things to do in Raleigh (bucket list).

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