If you are looking for the ultimate list of things to do in Raleigh for your 2023 bucket list that are unique to Raleigh, including the best attractions, food and drink experiences, top festivals and sporting events, and arts and cultural activities, we’ve got you covered!
Ever since moving here in 2004, Raleigh has consistently topped the “best cities to live and work in the USA” lists and we understand why. And Raleigh just keeps growing, new places keep opening up, and it just keeps getting better!
From the thriving restaurant and craft beer scene to the fantastic museums, lakes, greenway trails, Southern hospitality, college vibes and family-friendly atmosphere, Raleigh is a fun place to live and play.
Whether you plan to visit Raleigh for a day, are searching for things to do in Raleigh this weekend, or live here like us, down below are our hand-picked suggestions on the cool things to do in Raleigh from over 10 years of living in the City of Oaks.
If you don’t know what to do in Raleigh, I’ve broken this list up into specific categories such as Eat & Drink, See & Do, Attractions, Arts & Culture, Festivals, Sports, and Shopping to make it easier to navigate. These are the local experiences that we feel tell the unique Raleigh story.
So, if you want to feel like a Raleigh local and get a real feel for the city, let’s dive into what’s uniquely Raleigh for your bucket list of experiences that will last you a whole year!
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Eat in Raleigh
Breakfast at Big Ed’s (City Market)
Founded in 1958, Big Ed’s City Market is old school Raleigh charm and possibly the best Southern breakfast in Raleigh with dishes like country ham and biscuits, fried catfish, sliced pork loin, fried chicken, aged ribeye steak and peach cobbler.
Here you’ll get a taste of real Southern comfort food and hospitality, and food like what grandma used to make in a laid-back restaurant with funky antiques hanging from the rafters.
NOTE: They have a “hot cake challenge” – if you eat their jumbo-sized hot cake in 45-minutes or less you get a free t-shirt. Read our full review of Big Ed’s.
Grab a burger at Char-Grill
It doesn’t get more Raleigh than Char-grill. Think local version of Shake Shack. Char-Grill has been serving charcoal-grilled burgers fresh off the grill that the locals love since 1959.
It’s one of our go-to places to eat in Raleigh to grab a quick burger, and our kids love their shakes and fries! Just placing your order is a part of the experience – you fill out a paper order sheet with a pencil and wait while your food is cooked to order.
Read More – 11 of the best burgers in Raleigh
Fried Chicken – it’s the South, y’all
They’re always frying things in the South, and Southern-fried chicken is a Raleigh locals favorite and one of the 9 classic Southern dishes you should try. Popular places to indulge in fried chicken include:
- Parkside Restaurant – Chicken & Waffle sandwich
- Beasley’s Chicken + Honey
- Iyla’s Southern Kitchen
- The Mecca
- Clyde Cooper’s BBQ – choice of dark or white meat.
- MoJoe’s – Fried Chicken Sandwich
- Humble Pie – Buttermilk Fried Chicken
- Rise – Righteous Chicken Sandwiches
Indulge in Carolina BBQ
North Carolina is a big BBQ state, synonymous with pork barbecue, and here in Raleigh it’s Eastern style barbecue – they slow cook the whole hog over hot coals, then pull the meat, maybe give it a little chop, and dress it with vinegar base sauce.
Enjoying a plate of barbecue in Raleigh is one of those “welcome to the South” moments and one of the top things to do in Raleigh.
Read More: Where to eat the best BBQ in Raleigh
VIDEO: Check out the iconic Clyde Cooper’s BBQ
Dine at the oldest restaurant in Raleigh – The Mecca
The Mecca is the oldest of the restaurants in Raleigh, founded by Greek immigrants in 1930, and another top spot for a Southern breakfast experience. The historic setting oozes nostalgia with red stools along a long counter, a black and white checkered floor, and heavy wooden booths.
This family-owned mainstay serves Southern comfort food. Popular dishes include Ham & Eggs, Pancakes, Omelettes, Breakfast sandwiches, Southern-Style Half Fried Chicken, NC Chopped BBQ plate..
Down a doughnut at the 2nd original Krispy Kreme store!
In case you don’t know, Krispy Kreme was born and bred in North Carolina, just up the road from Raleigh in Winston-Salem, and the second original store is right here on N Person Street.
You can’t visit the N Person Street neighborhood without popping into Krispy Kreme, just ask my kids who still rate their doughnuts above any other in Raleigh – and there are some good ones!
- Address: 549 N Person St, Raleigh
Eat a hot dog from Snoopy’s or The Roast Grill
Snoopy’s has been a Raleigh icon since 1978. Here Eastern North Carolina hot dogs and burgers are served with mustard, onion, and chili on a steamed bun.
The Roast Grill is also legendary in Raleigh and has been serving just hot dogs and glass bottle cokes since 1940.
Get your Biscuit fix
Biscuits are Southern comfort food and the bread of the South. If you’re not familiar with Southern style biscuits, they’re a flour-based baked food product, more like a scone, and often filled with savory ingredients
When in Raleigh, you’ve just got to try a biscuit. I wasn’t a big fan originally but have certainly acquired the taste. Popular places include:
- Real Biscuits at the State Farmers Market restaurant
- Jubala Coffee makes amazing biscuits!
- Rise Biscuits
- Big Ed’s
- Flying Biscuit Cafe
- Beasley’s Chicken + honey
Get your Brunch on
Brunch in Raleigh has become a big deal. And why not, who doesn’t love going out for a casual Sunday brunch with friends or family. Some of the most popular brunch spots in Raleigh include:
- Rosewater Kitchen & Bar
- Parkside Raleigh
- Taverna Agora
- Plates Neighborhood kitchen
- Humble Pie
- Irregardless Cafe
- St. Roch Fine Oysters + Bar
Go ahead and read our full guide to the 12 best brunch spots in Raleigh to get your Sunday fix!
Celebrate a special occasion at The Second Empire Restaurant & Tavern
For an incredible fine dining experience in Raleigh, head to Second Empire Restaurant & Tavern set in a historic, circa-1879 Second Empire house. We celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary here and it was fantastic!
Second Empire is a dining experience that incorporates beauty, history, Southern charm, gourmet meals, fine wines, and excellent service. Read our full review of our date night at Second Empire.
Enjoy a burger (+ drink) at the storied Players Retreat
The Players Retreat (PR) is one of the storied sports bars in Raleigh and a true landmark. Established in 1951, it’s the oldest continuously operating tavern between Atlanta and Washington D.C.
Located near NC State University, this place is a tradition with students and alumni, but you’ll also find an eclectic mix of people.
This is an old school sports bar with booths and bar stools, tables on the sidewalk, pool tables and lots of TV screens for sports. It has a focus on hamburgers and a bar boasting the largest collection of single malts in NC!
Eat a GIANT slice of cake from Hayes Barton Cafe & Dessertery
This classic Raleigh staple is located in the historic Five Points neighborhood. Hayes Barton is one of the must eat places in Raleigh – loyal fans flock here for their HUGE and delicious cakes.
A throwback to a classic diner, this cafe showcases photos of old celebrities and World War II soldiers and sailors. Come here for great comfort food, their AMAZING desserts, and feel like you’re stepping back in time.
Eat the famous Macaroni Au Gratin at Poole’s Diner
Famed local chef Ashley Christensen’s first Raleigh restaurant, Poole’s has become a well-known modern diner with retro-chic charm serving seasonal comfort food, cocktails and house desserts. And her Macaroni au gratin is one of the most well-known and famous dishes in Raleigh.
Dine at the Popular Angus Barn steak house
One of the most famous restaurants in Raleigh is the Angus Barn, especially for their steaks, chocolate chess pie, and Christmas decorations! Great for all occasions, but especially for celebrating a birthday, an anniversary, or family get together.
Get your vegetarian fix at Irregardless Cafe
All vegetarians should head to Irregardless Cafe, the city’s first vegetarian restaurant and a Raleigh staple since 1975. You can expect healthy and innovative meals (and good portions), in a warm and fun atmosphere. The artsy and eclectic decor is quite interesting too.
We love Irregardless because it also offers meat and seafood dishes (and a kid’s menu) so there’s something here for everyone. Vegetarians, this is a great place to go with your meat-eating friends!
grab a pastry or bread from a local neighborhood bakery
We love local neighborhood bakeries, it’s one thing our kids miss about Australia (our bakeries are so good), and if you’re visiting Raleigh from out of town there’s a growing list of cool bakeries here!
On offer are flaky chocolate croissants, sweet fruit-filled tarts, handmade artisan breads, delicious cupcakes, savory breakfast quiches, morning buns, cookies, and even good coffee!
With the expert help of our kids, we’ve taste tested some of the best. Read our post on 6 of the best bakeries in Raleigh.
Dessert at Bittersweet
If you enjoy the concept of a dessert bar, a place where you can get bourbon with your pie, or champagne with your cake, Bittersweet serves up delicious desserts, coffee and cocktails.
Here you’ll get a fun atmosphere, nostalgic decor, music playing, and all of the desserts are made in-house. Our favorite is the Pumpkin Brule with an Espresso Martini or Irish coffee.
Lick the best ice cream in North Carolina
Two Roosters ice cream was founded by a NC State University alum and was recently nominated as the best ice cream in North Carolina by Food & Wine Magazine.
Their handcrafted ice cream features seasonal and permanent flavors – often inspired by local events and restaurants. Popular flavors: Earl Grey Lemon Cookie Dough, Blackberry Hibiscus. Coffee Bourbon.
Related post – 7 best ice creams shops in Raleigh
Dine outside on a patio
Patio season is a great season in Raleigh, just don’t ask me when that actually starts and ends because we have some fantastic year-round patio options for outdoor dining (it doesn’t get that cold here).
Some of our favorite places to eat local and get a taste of the best outdoor dining experiences in Raleigh among the greenery of the city include:
- Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing (those views)
- Taverna Agora Greek Kitchen & Bar
- Raleigh Times Bar
- Trophy Brewing & Pizza
- Mojoe’s Burger Joint
- Gravy (Italian)
- Gringo A Go Go (Mexican)
- Jolie (French Bistro)
Read more – best places to eat outside in Raleigh
Eat Your Way Through Morgan Street Food Hall
One place you can taste test from many different local vendors under one roof is the Morgan Street Food Hall, 22,000 square feet of space inside a repurposed warehouse.
Choose from 20 different food concepts showcasing local eateries. It’s a lively atmosphere and a popular place for the community to hang out, especially their Mimosa weekends: $15 champagne buckets.
Transfer Co. Food Hall (something for everyone)
The other Raleigh food hall is 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+ local vendors.
Inside is bright and open with a nice variety of food choices including burgers, seafood, Asian, Italian, Mexican, Bagels, Beer, Wine and more. And their outdoor patio is a hit.
Eat Your Way Around the World
Besides the classic Southern American restaurants in Raleigh, there’s a growing diversity of dining options here and you can pretty much travel around the world with your taste buds. Just some of the options include:
- Eat amazing Greek food at Taverna Agora
- Italian at Cafe Luna, Vic’s Italian and Mulino
- Lebanese at Sitti and Neomonde
- Mexican at Centro and Gonza Tacos y Tequila
- French at Saint Jacques
- Vietnamese at Anise Pho
- Indian at Kabab and Curry
Drink in Raleigh
Sip on one of 350+ beers at Raleigh Beer Garden
With 350+ beers on tap, Raleigh Beer Garden is the world record-holder for largest selection of draft beer (verified by the folks at Guinness World Records).
The craft beer scene in Raleigh is unlike any other in the Southeast and at the Raleigh Beer Garden you can sample many local brews from across the state.
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!
Get your whiskey or bourbon fix at Whiskey Kitchen or Dram & Draught
One of our favorite bars in Raleigh is Whiskey Kitchen – part whiskey bar, part Southern kitchen that features a beautiful open space and hip venue with over 300 whiskies and craft cocktails.
It has a repurposed industrial feel and a garage door that opens to an awesome outdoor patio. Large selection of whiskeys, try a whiskey flight, but also great beer options, wine and cocktails.
Dram & Draught also has over 300 whiskeys from around the world, plus nice hand-crafted cocktails, wines, and draught beer from Raleigh and beyond.
Grab a beer at This timeless watering hole – The Raleigh Times
Named after the former newspaper that occupied this 100-year-old building, it’s probably the most famous bar in Raleigh – even Obama had a campaign beer here.
The Raleigh Times has an extensive Belgian beer selection, multiple levels and an awesome open rooftop bar for a drink with a view – one of our favorite things to do in Raleigh.
- Address: 14 E Hargett St, Raleigh
- Website: RaleighTimesBar.com
Go underground at Watts & Ward
Watts & Ward is easily one of our favorite bars in Raleigh. It’s a craft cocktail bar founded upon the underground spirit of 1920s America.
A 6,000-square-feet space of seemingly endless cavern, with room after room of leather seating, rustic tables, dim lighting and bookshelves full of history. An inventive cocktail menu and low-key jazz events.
Enjoy brews with incredible views at Wye Hill
What’s better than great beer? How about great beer with the best view of downtown Raleigh thrown in! Oh, and their food is top notch too!
As they say at Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing, come for their refreshing brews and stay for the fantastic views of downtown Raleigh from their amazing outdoor patio (good for all seasons).
A drink here (or bite to eat), is easily one of my favorite things to do in downtown Raleigh. Come and enjoy the views with innovative craft beers, signature cocktails, and wine. Read our full review of Wye Hill.
- Address: 201 S Boylan Ave, Raleigh
Find the Speakeasy Bar behind a secret bookshelf
This is the true definition of a hidden bar. The Green Light has a 1920s speakeasy feel and the bar is literally tucked away behind a secret bookshelf inside in a secret room in what was once an architect’s office.
This small, dimly lit room is such a cool bar to have a quiet drink.
Hop to a Local Brewery
With over 20 local breweries in Raleigh, the craft beer scene is unlike any other in the Southeast and for me, tasting new brews is one of the most fun things to do in Raleigh.
I have been to some of the best craft brewery locations in the USA including San Diego, Northern California, Portland, Seattle, and Asheville, and I can say with confidence that some of the best beers I’ve had have been right here in Raleigh. There’s even a Raleigh Beer Trail.
Some of my favorite breweries in Raleigh, and some of the most popular include:
Get your caffeine fix at a local coffee shop
As Aussies, we think we know a good cup of Joe when we sip on one. It’s a well known fact that Australia has one of the best coffee scenes in the world, second only to New Zealand in my opinion.
The Raleigh coffee scene has improved considerably over the years with new places opening up regularly, and as coffee addicts, this just adds to the reasons we like living here.
Wine lovers head to Vita Vite Art Gallery + Wine Bar
Vita Vite is a premier wine bar that doubles as an art gallery. They offer a great selection of wine and a classy and relaxed atmosphere.
The cozy lounge-style wine bar is furnished with plush, fireside couches and there’s a nice outdoor porch. Two locations, with a decent beer selection too for a wine bar.
Enjoy a pint at the Bridge DTR
Take in an English Premier League soccer match (football) at this British themed pub and eatery owned and operated by two guys who love their English football, AND beer!
The Bridge DTR has an enjoyable atmosphere and is THE place in downtown Raleigh to watch football (soccer) and other league matches – home to the Raleigh Liverpool supporter’s club (but all fans welcome of course).
Enjoy a drink at the bar or in the big landscaped outdoor courtyard, either way, it’s a fun pub to watch all sports and meet new people.
Bar hop on Glenwood South
Party people, if you want to bar hop in Raleigh with tons of options within walking distance, Glenwood South is Raleigh’s signature street with a mixture of new and old bars, pubs, clubs and restaurants.
This is where we used to party every weekend pre-kids back in the early 2000’s, and Glenwood Ave has changed and grown a lot in recent years. Good options include:
- Tin Roof
- The Avenue
- Milk Bar
- Raleigh Beer Garden
- Hibernian Irish Pub
- Carolina Ale House
See & Do
Walk, jog, or bike the Lake Johnson loop trail
Located near NC State University’s Centennial Campus, Lake Johnson is popular for college students and all locals who like to get active. It’s one of our favorite things to do in Raleigh and we take all our visiting friends and family here!
Walk, jog, or bike the paved three-mile loop around the lake. Plus, you can rent canoes, kayaks, sunfish sailboats, stand-up paddle boards and jon boats (or bring your own). Read our full post on why Lake Johnson is our favorite lake.
- Address: 4601 Avent Ferry Rd, Raleigh
Take your kids to Pullen Park
Looking for top Raleigh attractions for kids? Pullen Park is one of the most fun things to do in Raleigh NC with kids.
Located on 66-acres of land five minutes 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 ride a historic carousel, rent pedal boats, ride a miniature train, let the kids run free on the playgrounds, have a picnic or grill out, see a play, or play your favorite sport and much more. Read our full guide to Pullen Park.
- Address: 520 Ashe Ave, Raleigh
Hike (or bike) in William B. Umstead State Park
15-minutes from downtown Raleigh is one of North Carolina’s best state parks, Umstead State Park, which offers great hiking trails, biking, camping, horseback riding, canoeing, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding opportunities.
It’s amazing we have such a great state park in our backyard, and when you visit Raleigh, don’t miss this natural oasis surrounding three man-made lakes and more than 5,000 acres of forest. Check out these trails:
Walk across The Boylan Bridge for iconic downtown views
The bridge has nice wide sidewalks for safe pedestrian access and is a popular photography spot. It spans the multiple train tracks, and you get a great view of the Raleigh Union Station (Amtrak Station).
Fun Fact: this railroad junction in Raleigh is called The Boylan Wye. The name refers to the Y-shaped layout (“wye”) of the tracks.
- Address: 234 S Boylan Ave, Raleigh
Picnic in Dorothea Dix Park
Set on a whopping 300+ acres, Dorothea Dix Park is the largest park in Raleigh with impressive views of the downtown Raleigh skyline.
It’s a lovely space at any time of year with wide-open fields, rolling meadows, and tree-lined streets. The “Flowers Field” section is a top spot for a picnic with city views!
Kayak or paddle board on Lake Raleigh
Lake life is the best life especially during a summer in Raleigh, and there’s an abundance of fantastic lakes and getting out on a lake on our stand-up paddle boards or a kayak is one of our favorite things to do in Raleigh NC.
Talk about a hidden gem. It took us 6 years of living in Raleigh before we even knew that Lake Raleigh existed, now it’s one of our favorite lakes in Raleigh. Set on NC State University’s Centennial Campus and close to downtown, yet you feel like a million miles away. Read our Lake Raleigh guide.
Some of the other best lakes in Raleigh to get out on the water for a paddle include:
- Lake Johnson
- Lake Crabtree
- Umstead State Park
- Jordan Lake
- Falls Lake State Recreation Area
Explore the Historic Raleigh Neighborhoods
There’s plenty of charm and history here, showcased in the many historic neighborhoods in and around the city center.
- Historic Boylan Heights was one of Raleigh’s first planned suburbs with development beginning in 1907 and has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
- Oakwood Historic District dates back to the 1800’s and rose after the Civil War. It’s home to magnificent oak trees, Grand Victorians and modest bungalows. Their Christmas candlelight tour is fun.
- Mordecai is Raleigh’s oldest neighborhood. The Mordecai House, which dates from 1785 is the oldest house in Raleigh and Andrew Johnson, the 17th President of the United States, was born here.
- Cameron Park near NC State University was developed between 1910 and 1935 and was one of three suburbs subdivided into lots as development began with a streetcar line making the location appealing and convenient.
- Hayes Barton is one of the premier Raleigh neighborhoods. Built in the 1920’s in the post-World War I wave of suburban development, homes here are a collection of Georgian, Colonial, Tudor, Craftsman, Bungalow and contemporary designs.
Bike the Art to Heart Trail
Beginning at the fabulous NC Museum of Art, bike the 6 mile Art to Heart Trail that winds through the museum’s 164-acre park, passes behind Meredith College, cuts through the main campus at NC State, passes by Pullen Park and finishes in downtown Raleigh just outside of the Performing Arts Center, or wherever you like!
The trail can be done in reverse, of course, and bike racks are available at the museum. One of our favorite free things to do in Raleigh. Read our full guide here.
See the video
Shop at the Huge State Farmers Market
We love farmers markets, and the State Farmers Market is considered one of the nation’s best and most modern markets. This market boasts 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 a good list of local markets in and around the Raleigh area to get produce and arts/crafts including:
- Apex Farmers Market – local homegrown organic and conventional fruits and vegetables, pastured and sustainably farmed meat, baked goods and other artisanal products (year round).
- Midtown Farmers Market – local, family-farmed foods, and educational opportunities to learn about sustainable farming methods and food systems (Saturdays, April – Nov)
- Cary Downtown Farmers Market – local farmers, plus artisans such as coffee roasters, bakers, and craftsmen (year round).
- Moore Square Market – pick up some local produce and high-quality crafts, meet up with friends, have a picnic in Moore Square and enjoy live music (Sundays, May – October).
- Black Farmer’s Market – purchase fresh foods from farms and support Black-owned businesses by shopping from small farmers + vendors (every 4th Sunday).
Soak up the sun in Moore Square
Moore Square has been a place of gathering, entertainment, and recreation for locals and visitors to Raleigh since 1972.
This four-acre urban green space was conceived as one of five public green spaces for the City of Raleigh and the park/square and surrounds is a charming mix of old and new in the heart of downtown Raleigh.
- Address: 225 E Martin St, Raleigh
Play with your younger kids at Marbles Kids Museum
If you have young kids, consider Marbles Kids Museum 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.
A wall that wraps around the museum is filled with more than one million marbles that light up at night.
Walk down Fayetteville Street
Fayetteville Street is the central thoroughfare of downtown Raleigh. It is the City of Raleigh’s ceremonial center, hosting parades, special events, and seasonal celebrations.
At the northern end you’ll find the NC State Capitol Building, at the southern end is the Performing Arts Center (about a 10-minute walk between each). You’ll also find several restaurants, bars as well as government buildings and offices. Some of our favorites to eat/drink include:
- The Big Easy
- Foundation Bar
- The Haymaker Bar
- Element Plant-Based Gastropub
- Rye Bar & Southern Kitchen
Meander along cobblestone streets of Historic City Market
Browse the historic cobblestone-streets of City Market in the heart of downtown. Here you’ll find galleries, restaurants, bars and specialty shops.
City Market, which originated in 1914, is now a major tourist attraction and for locals to enjoy the open-air shopping and dining options that line the beautiful cobblestone streets.
See a band at The Pour House, Lincoln Theater or Slims
The Lincoln Theater also has live music acts, everything from bluegrass to metal and DJ-driven dance parties behind an unassuming facade.
Slims like to say, “We’re the best worst bar!”. Our local Raleigh friend says; “Slim’s is one of my favorite music venues/dive bars. It’s been around a long time and never ceases to surprise and you never know what you are going to see at Slim’s.
Canoe, kayak, or paddle at Robertson Millpond Preserve
A true Raleigh hidden gem! The serene, forest-like setting at Robertson Millpond Preserve is a unique place to canoe, kayak or paddle board. This hidden gem near the town of Wendell is the area’s only bald cypress habitat and is recognized as a wetland treasure.
Swim (or go boating at Jordan Lake)
One thing we dislike about living in Raleigh is the lack of swimming options in summer. Unless you live in a neighborhood that has a community pool, or pay a membership for a pool, you are limited. Yes we have some great lakes, but you can’t swim in most of them.
Jordan Lake, an outdoor recreation paradise and 14,000-acre reservoir, is an exception. We like the Ebenezer Beach section for a swim and a picnic.
Explore the small towns
Besides the ever evolving Downtown Raleigh area, there is a diverse collection of neighborhoods and small towns in Wake County, each with its own personality, charm and history and well worth a visit.
One of the fastest-growing areas in the South, the charming downtown is home to renowned restaurants, shopping, culture and arts. Read our downtown Cary guide.
Talk about charming and historical. The town of Apex features more than 60 commercial and residential structures dating from 1870 to 1940 with a quaint downtown area filled with cafes, bars and restaurants. Read our downtown Apex guide.
Just north of Raleigh, Wake Forest is a beautiful small town with plenty of history, culture and activities and a historic downtown district with places to eat, drink and play.
Others include Fuquay-Varina, Knightdale, Holly Springs, and Wendell. And be sure to read our guide on 12 great places to live in Raleigh for families.
Get your selfie in front of the “All Are Welcome” mural
With the growth of Raleigh there’s been a natural increase in the cultural diversity of people which I think is a good thing and makes the place more interesting and vibrant.
Created by artist Luke Buchanan, this mural was commissioned to promote equality for the LGBT community and is located on the side of Poole’side Pies as you drive into downtown Raleigh from the south.
- Address: 428 S. McDowell St., Raleigh
Bike (or walk) a section of the 27-Mile Neuse River Greenway Trail
The 27-mile Neuse River Greenway trail is considered the gem of the 180-mile Capital Area Greenway system. This fully paved trail stretches from Falls Lake in North Raleigh to the Wake County border line in southeast Raleigh.
Lots of starting and stopping points, and along the way are winding boardwalk areas, views of historical sites, and suspension bridges. Trail is open to joggers, walkers, runners, cyclists, roller-bladers and others.
- Address: a good place to start is Anderson Point Park, which has plenty of parking: 20 Anderson Point Dr, Raleigh
- Trail map
Raleigh Municipal Rose Garden
One of three accredited rose gardens in North Carolina, the Raleigh Municipal Rose Garden is home to 1,200 roses of 60 different varieties (in full bloom May until autumn)
In the summer months, a free outdoor movie series is a local-favorite. And every year they host Art in the Garden, the annual arts festival benefiting Raleigh Little Theatre. Open to the public 7 days a week.
Go Ape Tree Tops Adventure Course
Located near Falls Lake, Go Ape is another of the fun things to do with kids in Raleigh. Here you can take on various tree top obstacle courses and ziplines, depending upon your age and comfort level for adventure (and heights).
Designed to deliver adventure, fun, and a sense of accomplishment, this is perfect for families, groups of friends, and companies looking for team building!
Chase the Fall colors
It seems like every year the leaf peeping season gets shorter, but unlike having to plan a road trip to New England and time it perfectly, if you live in Raleigh you are already here and can act quickly!
The best places to see the leaves pop is typically close to water, and some of the best spots to explore fall colors in Raleigh include:
- Lake Johnson
- Jordan Lake
- Umstead State Park
- Falls of Neuse River Trail
- Falls Lake State Recreation Area
- E. Carroll Joyner Park (Wake Forest)
- Apex Lake
Also keep in mind botanical gardens, parks and preserves like:
- J.C. Raulston Arboretum
- Pullen Park
- Dorothea Dix
- Durant Nature Preserve (North Raleigh)
- Robertson Millpond Preserve (Wendell)
- Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve (Wake Forest)
- Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve (Cary)
- Duke Gardens (Durham)
Stroll through 10-acres of gardens at JC Raulston Arboretum
JC Raulston Arboretum is a 10-acre arboretum and botanical garden administered by North Carolina State University.
This nationally acclaimed garden has one of the largest and most diverse collections of landscape plants in the Southeast, with 5,000 plants collected from all over the world on display.
Juniper Level Botanic Gardens
This other hidden gem in Raleigh is only opened to the public 8 weekends a year. Juniper Level Botanic Gardens is a 28-acre not-for-profit private research and botanic garden with over 28,000 different plants and lovely features like waterfalls!
It’s said to be one of the most spectacular gardens in the USA. Juniper Level is located in south Raleigh at Plant Delights Nursery. You can buy their unique, rare and native perennial plants online.
As Aussies who grew up on the beaches of Australia, we can’t go through a Raleigh summer without taking at least one getaway to the beach. Each of the beaches on the NC coast offer a unique experience no matter your style and budget.
North Carolina Museum of History
The Museum of History was founded in 1902 and more than 400,000+ visitors a year pass through its doors, 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. Free admission (Charge for some special exhibits).
Step back in time at Mordecai Historic Park
Mordecai Historic Park was once known as the largest plantation in Wake County and home to many interesting pieces of North Carolina history.
Here you can see the Mordecai Historic House, the oldest residence in Raleigh still on its original foundation, and the birthplace of Andrew Johnson, the 17th President. Begin your visit at the Visitor Center.
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
The Southeast’s largest natural history museum and North Carolina’s most visited museum is not to be missed. Over 4 floors of exhibits including live animals, education and research centers, dinosaur and whale skeletons, and so much more.
Visit the NC State Capitol Building
Built of local stone in 1840, the State Capitol building is a National Historic Landmark and one of the best-preserved examples of Greek Revival-style architecture.
There’s a statue of George Washington dressed as a Roman general in its rotunda – start your visit by walking around the exterior 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: Spring & Summer
Wander through 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.
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 7 governors, 5 US Senators, 8 Supreme Court Chief Justices of NC, 4 Civil War generals, 2 Secretaries of the US Navy, numerous Raleigh mayors, and thousands of other individuals.
Historic Yates Mill County Park
If you love learning about local history and walking nature trails, put Yates Mill County Park on your list of historical things to do in Raleigh NC.
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.
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). Read our full review.
Pope House Museum
This is the only African-American house museum in the state, and it offers a look into the life of one of Raleigh’s prominent African-American citizens, Dr. Manassa Thomas Pope.
Dr. Pope was a graduate of the Leonard School of Medicine, an officer during the Spanish-American War and the only African-American man to run for mayor of a Southern capital in the Jim Crow Era.
Visitors can tour the home complete with original furnishings, artifacts and documents dating back to 1851. Admission is free.
See the Governor’s Mansion
The North Carolina Executive Mansion has been the official residence of the Governors of North Carolina since 1891 and is a beautiful Victorian-style mansion built from native materials.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (F.D.R) once described the mansion as having “the most beautiful governor’s residence interior in America.”
Guided tours of the mansion and gardens are available for groups of 10 to 30 people and must be reserved at least two weeks in advance through Capital Area Visitor Services.
Arts & Culture
North Carolina Museum of Art
The North Carolina Museum of Art is one of the most popular Raleigh NC attractions and admission to the Museum’s permanent collection and Museum Park is free.
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.
See a show at the Performing Arts Center
Catch a show or performance at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, Raleigh’s premier arts venue. Here you can see theatrical productions at the Kennedy Theater, listen to the North Carolina Symphony in the Meymandi Concert Hall, watch the Carolina Ballet or the A Christmas Carol.
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. We LOVED seeing A Christmas Carol in the Christmas holiday season!
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 is popular among local residents and every exhibition is unique and designed to be thought-provoking and transformative and offers free admission.
Raleigh’s original and longest running arts festival held each year that attracts 80,000 people to downtown. This two-day event features an Art Market of approximately 175 juried visual artists from across the US showcasing works in ceramics, glass, fiber art, jewelry, metal, painting, photography, wood and more.
- Website: Artsplosure.org
Festivals & Events
There are tons of festivals and fun Raleigh events each year to keep everyone entertained through all four seasons. Check out our top festival and events guide. Some of the biggest and best include:
The World of Bluegrass – largest FREE urban bluegrass festival in the world
Yep, Raleigh is home to the largest FREE urban bluegrass festival in the world. For this two-day event they close down Fayetteville Street to bring you five blocks and six stages of music stretching from Martin Street to the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, and Red Hat Amphitheater. Read our guide.
North Carolina State Fair
For rides, music, animals, and all the greasy fair food you can imagine, Raleigh locals flock to the annual NC State Fair each October, the largest annual event in the state which draws one million visitors over 11 days.
- Website: NCStateFair.org
Brewgaloo Craft Beer Festival
Brewgaloo is North Carolina’s largest craft beer festival is held annually in Raleigh and features over 110 craft breweries from around NC, plus 50 food trucks and local vendors.
This street festival spans the length of Fayetteville Street in downtown with two stages featuring local bands all day long. Read our guide to Brewgaloo.
Take on the 4-mile Krispy Kreme Challenge
Looking for fun and unique things to do in Raleigh NC? Started by NC State University students, this fun run starts at the NC State campus, then you run 2.5 miles to Krispy Kreme, then attempt to consume 12 doughnuts (2400 calories),, then run 2.5 miles back.
For us, this is one of the most fun events in Raleigh (our kids even do it for the doughnuts), AND, it’s for a GREAT cause, with proceeds going to the UNC Children’s Hospital.
- Website: KrispyKremeChallenge.com
Hopscotch Music Festival
This annual three-day music festival in downtown Raleigh features more than 120 bands and is known for adventurous lineups, memorable performances, and a fan-friendly atmosphere. From a large outdoor main stage in Raleigh City Plaza to intimate club shows, the festival offers music in almost every genre imaginable.
This popular four-day festival is for fans of pop culture, superheroes, science fiction, and more. Held annually at the Raleigh Convention Center.
- Website: GalaxyCon.com
The largest Christmas Parade between Washington DC and Atlanta is held in downtown Raleigh and has been a much-loved community event since it began in 1939.
The parade covers 1.4 miles beginning at Hillsborough Street at the intersection of St. Mary’s Street and ending at the bottom of Fayetteville St. Read our guide to the Christmas Parade.
See the acorn drop on New Years Eve
New York has the ball drop, Raleigh has the acorn drop (it’s the City of Oaks after all) in downtown Raleigh to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Fun for all the family.
Raleigh drops the acorn twice each December 31st – once at 7 pm for the children, and a second time at midnight to bring in the New Year!
- Website: FirstNightRaleigh.com
Sports in Raleigh
Attend a Carolina Hurricanes ice hockey game
Raleigh is home to the 2006 Stanley Cup winning Carolina Hurricanes ice hockey team who play in the PNC Arena, and they have a raving fan base, the Caniacs.
Even if you didn’t grow up with hockey like us, going to a live game is awesome and one of the top things to do in Raleigh for sports fans – don’t miss the tailgating fun. Go Canes!
Cheer on the NC State University Football Team
Of course, Raleigh is home to NC State University, and going to a game and cheering on the Wolfpack in any sports is always fun.
The Wolfpack compete in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). The football team plays out of the 60,000 seat Carter–Finley Stadium and the tailgating is top notch.
- Website: GoPack.com
Watch the National Women’s Soccer League team play
Women’s soccer is a BIG deal in North Carolina, and the North Carolina Courage is a professional women’s soccer team who are based at the 10,000-seat WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, one of the premier soccer complexes in the USA, and they compete in the NWSL.
Cheer on the NC professional men’s soccer team
The men’s North Carolina FC (professional soccer team) was founded in 2006 and is based in Cary. They play in the USL League One, the third tier of the American league system, and they also play their home games at WakeMed Soccer Park.
See the world famous Durham Bulls baseball
For baseball fans, the world famous Durham Bulls, a Minor League Baseball team of the Triple-A East and the Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, are based just 30-minutes up the road in Durham.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the famous Hollywood movie, Bull Durham starring Kevin Coster? That’s the Durham Bulls.
Shopping in Raleigh
North Hills (Midtown)
North Hills is a giant open-air, walkable district offering more than 130 local shops, restaurants, bars, spas, a theater, an outdoor live music venue and much more. Check out our 48 hour guide to North Hills.
The Village District
Formerly Cameron Village, The Village District is home to more than 100 unique and distinctive shops, cafés, restaurants and services.
When it opened in 1949, it became the first shopping center between Washington D.C. and Atlanta., and a Raleigh Tradition was born. Read our guide on how to spend a day in The Village District.
A French Village in North Raleigh featuring restaurants, retail shops and an indoor/outdoor market. Nice atmosphere here and some of the best outdoor dining Raleigh has to offer.
Shop Local at Independent Stores
We always strive to shop local in Raleigh and support small local retailers who contribute so much to the local economy and fabric of the city. Some of our favorite local stores in downtown include:
There you have it. Our ultimate list of things to do in Raleigh NC (so far). We will continue to add to this list of Raleigh things to do as we experience new attractions, food, and events ourselves. And be sure to check out our guide on how to visit Raleigh in 48 hours.
Raleigh is growing fast, and we never run out of fun or cool things to do and love sharing it all with you. Now it’s your turn. What would you add to this list? Please leave a comment down below!