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22 Essential Things to Do in Raleigh, North Carolina

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If you’re planning a vacation to North Carolina‘s capital city, you’re probably anxious to figure out what to see, do, and eat. If you’re like me, the eating part is a top priority. Luckily, there are a variety of museums, parks, tours, sporting events, and other things to do in Raleigh – and yes, there will be food!

Located north of Fayetteville and about three hours west of the Outer Banks, Raleigh became the capital in 1792. It was named for Sir Walter Raleigh, the chap who tried to settle the world’s first English colony in the New World in the 1580s.

We all know how that ill-fated Roanoke expedition turned out. And now you’re ready to take on the next round of American history trivia.

Geographically, Raleigh is about halfway between the Atlantic Ocean and the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville. So, while the city is urban, it offers accessibility for day trips to coastal sites and mountain trails.

Raleigh joins Durham and Chapel Hill to form the area known as the Research Triangle. This studious-sounding nickname comes from the area’s Research Triangle Park, home to the world’s largest technological research park. The area comprises manufacturing, agricultural technology, life sciences, and cybersecurity industries.

Additionally, three tier-one research (and apparently, sports) universities – North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Go, Heels), and Duke University (Go, Blue Devils) – are all within minutes of each other in a triangle shape. Think of the Bermuda Triangle without the magnetic anomalies but with major sports rivalries.  

TL;DR

Category Recommendation
Must-See Landmark Gristmill at Historic Yates Mill County Park
Park Pullen Park
Activity for Kids Marbles Kids Museum
Activity for Adults Raleigh Beer Trail
Food Morgan Street Food Hall
Place To Stay Residence Inn by Marriott Raleigh Downtown

Things to Do in Raleigh, North Carolina

1. North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences building exterior
Refrina – stock.adobe.com

Address: 11 W. Jones Street, Raleigh, North Carolina 27601

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is made up of six facilities that are divided between five campuses. Two of them, the main one in downtown Raleigh and the Prairie Ridge Ecostation in West Raleigh, are easy to get to when visiting the city.

The Prairie Ridge Ecostation features live animal feeding sessions with snapping turtles, snakes, lobsters, and gar! The other three Museums of Natural Sciences locations are Whiteville, Greenville, and Contentnea Creek.

Visit exhibits on coastal North Carolina, soil and geology, prehistoric connections, snakes of the state, spiders, Genghis Khan, and weather research. You can also enjoy the fun of educational programs and 3D movies about the planet and dinosaurs of Antarctica at the Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

Read Also: Most Scenic Train Rides in North Carolina

2. Yates Mill County Park

Historic Yates Water Mill in Raleigh, North Carolina
pabrady63 / Adobe Stock

Address: 4620 Lake Wheeler Road, Raleigh, North Carolina 27603

Opened in 2006, the 174-acre Yates Mill County Park is home to a fully restored 1756 gristmill and a wildlife refuge. The mill entered the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. The equipment in the historic Yates Mill is original and left from when it stopped milling operations in the 1950s.

The mill is in operating condition, and corn grinding weekends are sometimes held. Guided tours can be taken of the interior. The park also has gardens, hiking trails, picnic areas, a visitor center, and restrooms. 

Lake Wheeler Park is another Raleigh-area greenspace to visit. It’s a bit south of Yates Mill on Lake Wheeler. There are boat rentals, picnic areas, and playgrounds. It’s also dog-friendly, so bring the whole crew.

Read Also: Secret Caverns in North Carolina

3. Raleigh Beer Trail

Raleigh Beer Garden Entrance
Raleigh Beer Garden / Facebook

The Raleigh Beer Trail is a great way to check out Raleigh’s brewery and taproom scene. The Greater Raleigh CVB teamed up with Wake County’s breweries to create a fun experience. Participants can print a downloadable “passport” that they have stamped at each participating venue.

After five stamps, they get a stainless-steel Visit Raleigh bottle opener. After 10 breweries, they get a Beer Trail can huggie. At 15, they have completed the assignment and will receive a Beer Trail t-shirt.

Speaking of hoppy happenings, the Raleigh Beer Garden offers more than 350 varieties of beer. It has gathered Guinness Book of World Records status for this stunning collection of domestic and global beers.

The first-floor bar at the Raleigh Beer Garden has 144 local varieties, and the “international” section has 222 varieties. There’s also a rooftop bar if you can make it there after taste-testing your way up.

Oh, and there is food to go along with all the beverages. Beer-battered pretzels, fried shrimp, poutine, pizza, burgers, and sandwiches are available. Brunch options are available on weekends. DJs, karaoke, trivia nights, and yoga sessions round out the event schedule.

4. North Carolina Museum of Art

North Carolina Museum of Art exterior
North Carolina Museum of Art / Facebook

Address: 2110 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh, North Carolina 27607

Take a guided or self-guided tour through the vast collections at the North Carolina Museum of Art. Opened in 1956, exhibits include Dutch and American Indian art, surrealism, textiles, Egyptian mummies, ancient Greece and Rome sculptures, Renaissance paintings, African art, and religion in the Deep South. You can also enjoy live music there!

The North Carolina Museum is situated alongside the Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park, making it a terrific spot to combine a love of art, nature, and outdoor recreation. The 164-acre outdoor park features walking and biking trails that wind through natural areas and more than two dozen public art installations.

The Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) is another Raleigh museum worth a visit. Located in the Warehouse District, it features works by national, regional, and international artists in painting, sculpture, textiles, and more.

See Related: Best Museums in the US to Visit

5. Parks and Rec

Raleigh’s natural setting is a given for nature lovers. The city offers a wide range of parks and outdoor recreation opportunities.

Eno River State Park

Trail in Eno River State Park
Brett / Adobe Stock

The 4,200-acre Eno River State Park is a lovely area about 10 miles northwest of Durham. There are several easy and moderate loop trails for hiking. Sitting along the Eno River, which is fairly shallow but rapid, it’s a popular park for fishing, paddling, picnicking, and camping.

The park is part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. This hiking trail stretches 1,175 miles from the Great Smoky Mountains at Clingmans Dome to the Outer Banks.

Neuse River Greenway Trail

Neuse River Greenway Trail in North Carolina
PT Hamilton / Adobe Stock

The Neuse River Greenway Trail, also part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, is 27.5 miles of a 10-foot-wide paved trail. You’ll find wetlands, historic buildings, farm fields, and more along the way. There are areas along the hiking trails for fishing, kayaking, and canoeing.

William B. Umstead State Park

Panoramic view of William B. Umstead State Park
ying / Adobe Stock

William B. Umstead State Park is only about 15 minutes from downtown. It’s the place to go for picnicking, camping, canoeing, bicycling, hiking, and horseback riding. Umstead State Park has three man-made lakes within the 5,000-acre forest property.

Lake Johnston Park

Lake Johnston Park Trails in Raleigh, North Carolina
Lake Johnson Park / raleighnc.gov

For lake lovers, Lake Johnson Park offers about five miles of paved and unpaved trails surrounding a lovely lake. You can rent canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and sunfish sailboats, or go fishing from the boardwalk. Swimming isn’t allowed in the lake, but a swimming pool exists.

6. Go Underground at a Speakeasy

Watts & Ward interior in Raleigh, North Carolna
Watts & Ward / Facebook

Mobster lore, secret entrances, exclusive memberships, and a swanky vibe make this legal activity seem like an adventure. Where better for bar lovers to soak in these vibes than at a speakeasy or somewhere inspired by a speakeasy?

Watts & Ward serves local brews and craft cocktails in a 1920s-inspired setting. This spirit-filled gathering place is defined by leather sofas, dark wood, rustic brick, and floor-to-ceiling bookcases.

It’s named for the Watts Act of 1903, which prohibited the manufacture and sale of spirits except in incorporated towns, and the Ward Law of 1905, which extended Prohibition to incorporated towns with less than 1,000 inhabitants. Let’s remember that Prohibition didn’t officially start everywhere until 1920, so it seems these guys were getting a bit ahead of themselves!

Another speakeasy-type bar in Raleigh is the Atlantic Lounge. This cocktail bar requires a membership “key” to get in. Members pay $40 and can bring in one guest at a time. The bar seats 44, and when it’s full, it’s full. No entry for you. No food is served, just classic craft cocktails. And, of course, there’s that air of exclusivity.

If you’re not interested in the exclusive status of paying for a key (and we get it), there are many other Raleigh bars to avenge a craft cocktail fix. Check the Wild Turkey Lounge, the Blind Barbour, Killjoy, and Foundation.

7. Haunted Tour with Tobacco Road Tours

Tourists on  a Raleigh Tobacco Road Tours
Tobacco Road Tours / Facebook

Haunted tours are my favorite way to learn about a place’s historic sites and past. Spend time learning about the city on a Raleigh Haunted Footsteps Ghost Tour.

This spooky-inspired 1.5-mile walking tour takes you past some of the city’s most haunted and infamous sites. Learn about local folklore, ghost stories, and paranormal activity on this 1.5-hour tour.

The Yarborough House, the Capitol Building, the historic City Market, and Oakwood Cemetery (one of the most haunted cemeteries in the state) are some sites you might explore on this tour. Tours are designed for kids ages eight and up. After the tour, grab a bit to eat at Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, Sitti, or Vic’s Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria.

8. North Carolina State Capitol

Building exterior of North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh, North Carolina
Kathy Huddle / Adobe Stock

Address: 1 East Edenton Street, Raleigh, North Carolina 27601

Visiting the North Carolina State Capitol is one of the best things to do in Raleigh for fans of history, government, architecture, and the capital city of Raleigh. Completed in 1840, it features lovely Greek Revival architecture.

A National Historic Landmark, it was designed by Alexander Jackson Davis, whose work includes the Federal Hall National Memorial in New York City, Lyndhurst Mansion in Tarrytown, New York, and Grace Hill in Brooklyn, New York.

The Victorian-style North Carolina Executive Mansion is just a few blocks from the state capitol. It has been the home of the state’s governors since 1891 and features the beautiful governor’s residence interior, complete with stunning Queen Anne architecture, ornate woodwork, and numerous antiques. Free tours of the house and gardens are available through the Capitol Area Visitors Center.

See Related: Most Famous Landmarks In The USA Worth Visiting

9. Take a Trolley Pub Tour

Tourists on a Raleigh Trolley Pub Tour
Trolley Pub Raleigh / Viator

Looking for fun things to do in Raleigh while you explore? Hop aboard the trolley and take a trolley pub tour!

This two-hour pedal-powered tour lets you see several of Raleigh’s downtown sites. It’s BYOB, and there’s a cooler to store your beverages. You’ll visit the Raleigh Times rooftop bar, Zenith Raleigh, and the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium while sampling craft beer, cocktails, and small bites.

After this boozy tour, you may visit some local coffee shops. Coffee lovers will want to head to Sosta Café, Heirloom – Coffee, Tea, Kitchen, Sir Walter Coffee, or Benelux Coffee.

10. Videri Chocolate Factory

Videri Chocolate Factory building exterior
Videri Chocolate Factory / Facebook

Address: 327 W. Davie Street, Raleigh, North Carolina 27601

Chocoholics will want to visit artisan chocolatiers at the Videri Chocolate Factory. Easily the sweetest thing to do in Raleigh, you can take self-guided tours of the chocolate-making process.

Learn how cocoa beans are grown, roasted, fermented, and turned into deliciously sweet treats. Afterward, enjoy treats such as espresso, bonbons, ice cream, and chocolate bars in the café.

Videri Chocolate is produced “bean to bar,” with no artificial flavorings or added preservatives like soy lecithin or xanthan gum. Just the best cocoa beans, cocoa butter, and organic cane sugar. It’s even an allergy-friendly site, as all products are peanut and tree-nut-free.

11. Pullen Park

Pullen Park in Raleigh , North Carolina
RadioFan / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Address: 520 Ashe Avenue, Raleigh, North Carolina 27606

Pullen Park is one of the oldest amusement parks in the world and the first public park in the state. It’s located on 66 acres beside the NC State University campus.

While not a typical amusement park with roller coasters and thrill rides, it’s a fun way to spend a nostalgic afternoon. Ride a miniature train, take a spin on a historic carousel from 1911, and pedal around the lake in a mini boat.

There are also tennis courts, baseball fields, a playground, and picnic areas, as well as an arts center, a theater, and a café. The Pullen Aquatic Center is open for swimming most of the year.

Nearby, you’ll find the Gregg Museum of Art & Design, the WRAL Azalea Garden, and the 308-acre Dorothea Dix Park are nearby, which features an all-faith chapel, a sunflower field, and a daffodil field. The Dix Dog Park is a fun place to let the four-legged kids run off-leash.

12. Marbles Kids Museum

Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh , North Carolina
Marbles Kids Museum / Facebook

Address: 201 E. Hargett Street, Raleigh, North Carolina 27601

Located in downtown Raleigh, the Marble Kids Museum is the perfect place to take the youngsters in your crew. It’s all about play and imagination at Marble Kids Museum.

Enjoy interactive and educational exhibits such as IMAX movies and water play areas, as well as pretend play stations. Each one replicates fire stations, doctor’s offices, grocery stores, kitchens, farms, bakeries, and much more.

13. PNC Arena

Exterior of PNC Arena in Raleigh , North Carolina
PNC Arena / Facebook

Address: 1400 Edwards Mill Road, Raleigh, North Carolina 27607

For a game, concert, rodeo, or Disney on Ice, PNC Arena is downtown Raleigh’s entertainment hub. Opened in 1999 and offering nearly 700,000 square feet, the arena can seat up to 20,000 fans of sports, music, and other events.

PNC Arena hosts Carolina Hurricanes ice hockey and NC State basketball. On the music side, you’ll also catch holiday performances by The Trans-Siberian Orchestra and national touring acts such as Panic at the Disco, Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, Pitbull, and Bryan Adams.

The Ramada by Wyndham Raleigh makes an excellent choice for its proximity to sporting events, concerts, and other things to do in Raleigh. NC State University is nearby if you’re in town to cheer on the Wolfpack at Carter Finley Stadium. The hotel has a business center, an outdoor pool, and an on-site restaurant.

14. Joel Lane Museum

Joel Lane Museum in  Raleigh , North Carolina
Joel Lane Museum / Facebook

Address: 160 S. St. Mary’s, Raleigh, North Carolina 27603

The Joel Lane Museum House is one of Raleigh’s most historic landmarks. Also known as Wakefield, it was built in 1769. Based on how well it’s preserved, you’d never think it was that old.

It was the home of Colonel Joel Lane, a founding father of Raleigh and Wake County. Visit the property’s herb and formal gardens. The Joel Lane Museum House is the oldest home in Wake County and features 18th-century furniture, décor, and artifacts.

15. Mordecai Historic Park

Mordecai House in Mordecai Historic Park
self / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0

Address: 1 Mimosa Street, Raleigh, North Carolina 27604

Site of another historic Raleigh home and National Historic Landmark, the Mordecai Historic Park, was the birthplace of Andrew Johnson, the 17th president of the United States. It’s an excellent spot to learn about early life in Raleigh. Built in 1785, the Mordecai House is the oldest in Raleigh, still in its original location.

Other historic buildings on the property include the smokehouse (1820s), Andrew Johnson’s birthplace (1790s), the Federal Building (1840s), and St. Mark’s Chapel (1847). The Visitor’s Center has more free exhibits and a gift shop for history lovers with a penchant for purchasing.

16. Pope House Museum

Pope House Museumin Raleigh , North Carolina
Friends of the City of Raleigh Museum / Facebook

Address: 511 S. Wilmington Street, Raleigh, North Carolina 27601

The only African-American house museum in the state, the Pope House Museum, was built in 1901. This was the home of Dr. Manassa Thomas Pope. Pope was one of the first Leonard School of Medicine graduates at Shaw University. He was also a former military surgeon in the Spanish-American War and the only African-American man to run for mayor of a Southern capital at the height of the Jim Crow era.

The Pope House home has original furnishings, historical artifacts, and documents dating to 1851. Admission to this historic building is free, and tours are offered throughout the day at this African-American history museum.

17. Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve

Hemlock Bluffs in Raleigh , North Carolina
Friends of Hemlock Bluffs / Facebook

Address: 2616 Kildaire Farm Road, Cary, North Carolina 27518

It’s beautiful around Raliegh, so take some more time to enjoy the native plants and wildlife. Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve in nearby Cary is filled with eastern hemlock trees as well as nature trails and bird and wildlife watching.

Three nature trail loops range from easy to moderate and rugged. One of the best things to do in Raleigh on the outdoorsy side, it’s found on 140 acres near the Research Triangle area.

Be sure to visit the Stevens Nature Center while you’re there. Situated within the nature preserve, it offers nature and historic exhibits on Raleigh’s Piedmont region.

See Related: National Parks to Visit in November

18. North Carolina State Farmers Market

State Farmers Market in Raleigh , North Carolina
State Farmers Market / Facebook

Address: 1201 Agriculture Street, Raleigh, North Carolina 27603

Pick up some favorites and discover some new finds at this massive 75-acre market. You could easily spend an entire day here. Or maybe that’s just me.

Several buildings at this Raleigh farmers market hold a wide range of fruits, vegetables, meats, and plants. You’ll also find bakery items, home décor, specialty gifts, pottery, farm-to-table restaurants, and a garden center.

19. Discover the Culinary Side of Raleigh

Tourists on a Raleigh Food Tour
Triangle Food Tours / Viator

This walking Raleigh food tour takes you to some of downtown Raleigh’s best bars and restaurants. Learn fun and interesting facts while checking out the local architecture, landmarks, and neighborhoods like Seaboard Station, Glenwood South, and Fayetteville Street.

A few culinary gems you might visit and taste, include Mediterranean and Lebanese favorites in the Triangle, a local deli, an empanada stop, Neapolitan pizza, and a local brewery with German and American favorites. Tours start and end at the City of Raleigh Museum, which is worth stopping by if you haven’t already.

20. Morgan Street Food Hall

Raleigh Morgan Street Food Hall Interior
Morgan Street Food Hall / Facebook

Address: 411 W. Morgan Street, Raleigh, North Carolina 27603

If you still can’t decide on where to eat, head to Morgan Street Food Hall. At food halls, everyone can make their own decisions from among a variety of local restaurants and food retailers. Then, sit together to enjoy your culinary choices, or head to Nash Square to enjoy the great outdoors and shady oak trees.

Choose from food hall selections such as Makus Empanadas, HotBox Pizza, Amitie Macarons, CowBar Burger & Fries, Curry in a Hurry, and Cousins Maine Lobster. Grab a brew, glass of wine, sparkling champagne, or a classic cocktail from The Arbor Bar & Garden.

21. Day Trip to Durham

Cityscape of Durham, North Carolina
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

A Durham art walking tour is one of the best ways to be sure you see it all. Join a local guide for this fun tour of downtown Durham. You’ll visit several galleries, get behind-the-scenes access, learn background information on murals and sculptures, and tour downtown indoor and outdoor art installations.

The tour starts at the Durham Bottling Co. and ends at the Golden Belt Gallery. You’ll also stop at a local brewery to enjoy your beverage choice. Head to Mezcalito Durham, Bull City Burger and Brewery, or It’s a Southern Thing for food.

If you’re looking for a hotel while checking out the sites in Durham, consider the Aloft Durham Downtown. Located near the Durham Performing Arts Center and Research Triangle Park, the hotel has a bar, a restaurant, meeting rooms, and a fitness center.

The hotel is near the Historic Durham Athletic Park (500 West Corporation Street), where scenes from the 1988 movie Bull Durham were filmed, and the Durham Bulls Athletic Park (409 Blackwell Street), which is where the current Durham Bulls play.

Other landmarks include Durham Central Park, the Museum of Durham History, the Durham Convention Center, and the popular “Major the Bull” bronze sculpture. This bull has been a city symbol since the 1800s!

22. Scrap Exchange

The Scrap Exchange in Raleigh, North Carolina
The Scrap Exchange / Facebook

Address: 2050 Chapel Hill Road, Durham, North Carolina 27707

Enjoying your Durham day trip? Then you gotta stop off at this staple. The Scrap Exchange isn’t just a thrift store; it’s an art gallery, a reuse art center, a market, a studio, and more.

Designed to promote creativity, environmental awareness, and community engagement, the center opened in 1991 to spread the joys of creative reuse and recycling. Local artists sell unique handmade goods, upcycled art, jewelry, home décor, and other items. The center holds workshops, classes, and craft nights.

While you’re in Durham, check out modern, medieval, and European art at the Nasher Museum of Art, and see a show at the Durham Performing Arts Center. Go cheer on the Blue Devils at Duke University’s Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium.

Heck, make a day of it; take a quick drive to Chapel Hill. About 20 minutes from Durham, you can visit spooky Gimghoul Castle, located off-campus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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