One of the reasons we love living in Raleigh is that it’s not a big tourist destination, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t interesting and fun Raleigh attractions to keep us and visitors entertained, and many of them are FREE.
Although historic and the capital city of North Carolina, Raleigh has youthful energy and is a vibrant place to live, and visit. This is a thriving Southern city!
The cool thing about Raleigh is that it’s great for locals who want to live within their means, and for those visiting on a budget.
If you are visiting Raleigh for the first time and need a place to stay whilst experiences the best attractions Raleigh has to offer, check out the 7 best hotels in Raleigh, or these cool Airbnb rentals.
Raleigh NC Attractions
Ok, let’s get started on our list of the best things to do in Raleigh and places we take visiting guests from out of town for history, culture, and family-fun in the city of oaks.
If you’re looking for Raleigh attractions for kids, don’t miss Pullen Park. Located on 66-acres of land near NC State University and just a five minute drive from downtown Raleigh, Pullen Park is the first public park in North Carolina, and the 5th oldest operating amusement park in the USA.
Here you can rent pedal boats, ride a historic carousel and miniature train, let the kids run free on the playgrounds, have a picnic or grill out in one of the picnic areas, see a play, or use the sports fields or tennis courts to play your favorite sport.
North Carolina Museum of Art
The North Carolina Museum of Art is one of the most popular Raleigh NC attractions and one of the top Raleigh museums and admission to the Museum’s permanent collection and Museum Park is free.
This Raleigh art museum is home to more than a dozen beautiful gallery spaces showcasing art from around the world. You can self-explore, take an engaging tour, see performing arts, and participate in family workshops.
Don’t miss taking a stroll through the Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park, the 164-acre park and trail system through natural areas that features more than a dozen commissioned works of art.
And we love biking the Art to Heart trail.
Capital Area Greenway System
If you love walking or biking trails, one of the best things about living in Raleigh is the 180-miles of greenway trails to explore.
The Capital Area Greenway System is made up of 28 individual trails and for locals and people who visit Raleigh it’s one of the most popular things to do in Raleigh so don’t forget your bike and walking shoes!
Popular trails include:
- Neuse River Greenway (27-mile paved trail stretching from Falls Lake in North Raleigh to the Wake County border line in southeast Raleigh)
- American Tobacco Trail (23-mile trail running along an abandoned railroad bed)
- Art to Heart Trail (6 mile trail connecting the NC Museum of Art to downtown Raleigh)
- Lake Johnson Park (paved three-mile greenway loop)
- Lake Lynn Trail (paved 2.8 mile loop)
- Sal’s Branch Trail (Umstead State Park)
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
When I think of Raleigh attractions, the first thing that comes to mind is the excellent free museums in Raleigh, and the Museum of Natural Sciences is not to be missed and one of the top things to do in Raleigh with kids.
It is the Southeast’s largest natural history museum and North Carolina’s most visited museum with over 4 floors of exhibits including live animals, education and research centers, dinosaur and whale skeletons, and so much more.
This museum is one of the best things to do in downtown. Read our full review here.
North Carolina Museum of History
Located across from the museum of natural sciences, the Museum of History was founded in 1902 and more than 400,000+ visitors a year pass through, including 80,000+ school groups.
On display are over 14,000 years and 150,000 artifacts of North Carolina history, from a full-size replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer to the lunch counter from a 1960 sit-in in Salisbury, and much more. N.C.,
Free admission. Charge for some special exhibits.
William B. Umstead State Park
We’re lucky in Raleigh to have an awesome state park just a 15-minute drive from downtown Raleigh and near Cary, and if you love nature trails through the forest, biking, trail running, picnicking, camping, canoeing, and horseback riding, don’t miss Umstead State Park.
With its more than 5,000 acres of forest, Umstead is North Carolina’s most visited state park and a natural oasis surrounding three man made lakes with easy access from I-40 and I-70.
For families, we love the Sal’s Branch Trail.
North Carolina State Capitol Building
Built of local stone in 1840, the State Capitol building is located in the heart of downtown at the end of Fayetteville Street.
It’s a National Historic Landmark and one of the best-preserved examples of Greek Revival-style architecture.
At one point, the building housed the office of the Governor, the Supreme Court and the chambers of the General Assembly, as well as various other state offices.
There’s a statue of George Washington dressed as a Roman general in its rotunda, so start your visit by walking around the exterior of the building among the impressive oak trees and explore the monuments and statues on display.
Admission is FREE (donations appreciated).
Self-guided Tours: Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm.
Guided Tours: Weekdays at 10am and 1pm. A Capitol Interpreter will offer a brief overview of the history of the building outside the east entrance.
Marbles Kids Museum
Got young kids? Consider Marbles Kids Museum as one of the best things to do in Raleigh for families.
There’s two levels of kid-focused museum activities with dozens of hands-on exhibits and the state’s only 3D-capable IMAX theater.
Here children can imagine, discover and learn in dozens of interactive exhibits, daily educational programs
Located in the Moore Square District of downtown Raleigh, Marbles serves a diverse population of families, school groups and community organizations.
A wall that wraps around the museum is filled with more than one million marbles that light up at night.
Dorothea Dix Park
Dorothea Dix Park is the largest park in Raleigh on a whopping 300+ acres with impressive skyline views and a lovely space with wide-open fields, rolling meadows, and tree-lined streets.
But it doesn’t stop there, The City of Raleigh has big plans for a transformative public space at Dix Park – think mini Central Park NYC.
Located just 5-minutes from downtown, Dix Park is a lovely space at any time of the year and plays host to numerous events and festivals, including the field of sunflowers each year.
Mordecai Historical Park
At the end of N Person Street (our favorite street) you’ll find Mordecai Historic Park, once known as the largest plantation in Wake County and home to many interesting pieces of North Carolina history.
Begin your visit at the Visitor Center (a short walk from the parking area which lines Mimosa Street) where you’ll find tour tickets and park information, as well as the gift shop and meeting space.
- Address: 1 Mimosa St, Raleigh
- Website: www.raleighnc.gov
Morgan Street Food Hall
The Raleigh food scene has exploded in recent years with an exciting mix of traditional southern food and global flavors.
And one place you can taste test from many different local vendors under one roof is the Morgan Street Food Hall, a 22,000 square feet of space inside a repurposed warehouse in the thriving Warehouse District.
Choose from 20 different food concepts showcasing local eateries housed in food stalls. It’s a lively atmosphere and a popular place for the community to hang out on the outdoor patio, especially their Mimosa weekends: $15 champagne buckets.
- Address: 411 West Morgan St
- Website: MorganFoodHall.com
Historic Yates Mill County Park
If you love learning about local history and walking nature trails, then put Yates Mill County Park on your list of tourist attractions in Raleigh.
There’s lovely hiking trails, a 24-acre pond, and the Historic Yates Mill that make up this 174-acre wildlife refuge and environmental resource center. The 174-acre Historic Yates Mill County Park is the last remaining water-powered gristmill in Wake County
Admission is free, but to tour the mill to learn about the “farm-to-fork” process, witness the corn grinding process and purchase bags of ground yellow and white cornmeal will cost $3-$5 (March through Nov.).
State Farmers’ Market
Considered one of the nation’s best and most modern markets, the Raleigh Farmers Market is one of four regional Farmers Markets across the state.
This market oasts 75 acres of indoor and outdoor vendor space where you can sample and shop for fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and gift products from farmers across the state.
There’s also a popular restaurant (locals love the biscuits!).
Duke Energy Center for Performing Arts
Raleigh’s premier arts venue is the Duke Energy Center for Performing Arts and here you can see theatrical productions at the Kennedy Theater, listen to the North Carolina Symphony in the Meymandi Concert Hall, and watch the Carolina Ballet.
This venue has been a historic and cultural focal point in downtown Raleigh since 1932, playing host to Broadway classics, rock legends and major political figures
Transfer Co. Food Hall
There’s not one but two awesome food halls in downtown Raleigh.
Housed in the historic Carolina Coach Garage and Shops, Transfer Co. Food Hall is 50,000+ square feet of renovated warehouse space that’s now home to 12 vendors and a place for the community to gather through food.
Inside is bright and open with a nice variety of food choices including burgers, seafood, Asian, Italian, Mexican, Bagels, Beer, Wine and more.
Raleigh Beer Garden
350+ beers on tap and the world record-holder for largest selection of draft beer (verified by the folks at Guinness World Records) definitely puts you on the list of top Raleigh attractions.
It’s not just the food scene that is thriving in Raleigh, with over 30 local Raleigh breweries the craft beer scene is unlike any other in the Southeast and at the Raleigh Beer Garden you can sample many local brews.
This is a massive 8,500-square-foot venue with 3 levels, tons of outdoor space, a back garden patio (family-friendly), a rooftop bar, and ever changing selection of beers!
Contemporary Art Museum (CAM)
CAM Raleigh is a multimedia contemporary art gallery with no permanent collection but offers exhibitions of works by artists with regional, national, and international recognition
The CAM art center is popular among local residents and every exhibition is unique and designed to be thought-provoking and transformative and offers free admission.
Oakwood is a historic district that dates all the way back to the 1800’s that rose after the Civil War.
This neighborhood is home to magnificent oak trees and a combination of restored Grand Victorians built in the 1800s, to modest bungalows of the 1920s, and newly constructed homes giving you a neighborhood feel whilst being only 1 mile north east of downtown Raleigh.
This is a popular area to live for professionals working in downtown Raleigh, and for families seeking community.
We love walking through this historic neighborhood. Grab a coffee from nearby Yellow Dog Bread Co. or lunch at one of the establishments on N Person Street and then wander around on foot, or drive the streets slowly.
Historic Oakwood Cemetery
For more than 140 years it has been the final resting place of over 22,000 of the area’s citizens including prominent city, state and national leaders.
A place of unique significance, meaning and value, Historic Oakwood Cemetery provides a beautiful park-like setting for the final resting place of a fascinating cross section of the area’s citizenry, including many prominent city, state and national leaders.
Among the many beautiful monuments and statuary are those of seven governors, five United States Senators, eight Supreme Court Chief Justices of North Carolina, four Civil War generals, two Secretaries of the United States Navy, numerous Raleigh mayors, and thousands of other individuals
North Carolina is a golfing state and one of the most fun attractions in Raleigh is Drive Shack, a three-story interactive 260-yard long golf driving range that combines physical targets to aim for with augmented reality and virtual games.
We’ve played there twice now and had a blast. Don’t worry, no golf experience is necessary and you can make it as competitive as you like. For us it’s more about having a hit, a drink, and a laugh.
Drive Shack opened its facility in Raleigh in August 2019, and excluding the pandemic, it’s been one of the most popular Raleigh attractions.
Frankie’s Fun Park
Here you’ll be entertained with Go-karts, laser tag, batting cages, bumper boats, flight simulators, mini-golf, arcade games and much more.
No admission price to enter the park. You pay per activity you choose to play. And anyone under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.
Popular for families, birthday parties, and group events.
We love a good festival, and there are tons of festivals in Raleigh each year to keep anyone entertained through all seasons.
Some of the biggest annual events in Raleigh include:
- The North Carolina State Fair – largest annual event in the state at the fairgrounds in Raleigh.
- Wide Open Bluegrass Festival – two-day event and the largest FREE urban bluegrass festival in the world.
- Hopscotch Music Festival – three-day music festival in downtown with more than 120 bands.
- Triangle Restaurant Week – week-long celebration of culinary excellence.
- St. Patrick’s Day Parade – a day of fun with a full line-up of live music
- Art in Bloom – four-day festival of art and flowers.
- Brewgaloo – N.C.’s largest craft beer festival-featuring 100 breweries, 50 food trucks.
- Artsplosure – Raleigh Arts Festival that attracts 80,000 people to downtown.
- Food Truck Rodeo – 50+ food trucks in the city center spanning 11 city blocks.
- Krispy Kreme Challenge – started by NC State students, this fun run starts at the campus then you run 2.5 miles to Krispy Kreme, then attempt to consume 12 doughnuts, then run 2.5 miles back.
Raleigh Municipal Rose Garden
As one of three accredited rose gardens in North Carolina, the grounds include sixty rose beds surrounded by an arboretum of evergreen and deciduous trees.
In the summer months, a free outdoor movie series is a local-favorite. And every year (in normal times) they host Art in the Garden, the annual arts festival benefiting Raleigh Little
Theatre. The Raleigh Rose Garden is open to the public 7 days a week.
The Raleigh Market
Since 1971, this flea market at the State Fairgrounds has offered one of the most unique and entertaining shopping experiences in North Carolina
Each weekend, over 600 indoor and outdoor vendors showcase an incredible range of items, from high-end antiques to power tools and everything in between.
JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University
Speaking of gardens, this nationally acclaimed garden has one of the largest and most diverse collections of landscape plants in the Southeast.
Here you can stroll through 10 acres of gardens with 5,000 plants collected from all over the world on display.
There you have it. Our list of the top tourist attractions in Raleigh NC. How many of these have you visited? What Raleigh attractions would you add to this list?