With a big city feel and plenty of Southern charm Raleigh, North Carolina continues to grow in stature and popularity. Visitors can make the most of the modern amenities while never being too far from nature.
As the capital of North Carolina, Raleigh is home to some of the state’s best museums and galleries. The cultural experiences, along with sporting events and local markets within the downtown core, means there’s plenty of things to do in Raleigh. However, Raleigh refuses to overgrow to surrounding natural areas leading to trails, parks, and an abundance of outdoor adventures.
12. Neuse River Trail
When the sun is out or you feel like being active, the Neuse River Trail is the way to go. This trail is a part of the 100-mile Capital Area Greenway System, the longest such trail in North Carolina. Combining boardwalks, nature trails, and suspension bridges, the 27.5 mile Neuse River Trail is the most popular section of the greenway.
Designed for hikers, cyclists and even roller-bladers, there are multiple ways to approach the trail. The most common way to experience the Neuse River Trail is to begin at Falls Lake Dam. As you venture towards the edge of Wake County in southeast Raleigh, you’ll meander through wetlands and forests while crossing several rivers via scenic bridges.
Arrange transport or return along the trail for a long but beautiful day in nature.
11. North Carolina State Capitol
Best seen on the city’s historic Trolley Tour, the North Carolina State Capitol is a beloved landmark and a pristine example of Greek revival architecture. Built in 1840, the capitol was the base for the North Carolina State Government for 48 years before becoming the home of the Supreme Court and later the Governor’s office.
There are both self-guided and guided tours available for those that want to explore the history of the capitol building through its many iterations and uses. For others, the tours are a great way to get a further look at the intricate architecture that makes the building so special.
10. JC Raulston Arboretum
The beautiful gardens, found on the campus of North Carolina State University, feature some of the most diverse plant life in this part of the United States. Flowers are first evaluated and tested for the conditions before finding a permanent home in the JC Raulston Arboretum.
Those that fit and thrive in the landscape can be seen throughout the year with a variety of plants blooming in each season. The burst of colors is best seen in the spring and summer where you’ll delight at the sight of the blooming iris, rhododendron, hydrangea, and lilies.
In the winter, the show continues thanks to the perennial rose gardens, magnolias, and snowdrops.
9. Historic Yates Mill
The last of 70 mills in the surrounding area, the historic Yates Mill, is a powerful reminder of early industry around Raleigh, North Carolina. The Yates Mill far outlasted its counterparts, having operated until the 1950s and still features its original equipment today.
Between March and October, you can visit the mill where you’ll be greeted by period actors grinding the corn. You can get a firsthand insight into how the process works and the importance of the complex to the local agriculture industry. Around the mill is a sprawling wildlife refuge calling your name, trade the corn and wheat for the nature trails as you wander around Mill Pond.
8. PNC Arena
As Raleigh’s main stadium, the PNC Arena is the place to go for live sports and concerts featuring music’s biggest stars. The arena can hold around 20,000 fans who also arrive from neighboring cities like Durham and Chapel Hill.
Between October and April, the floor at PNC Arena turns to ice as it plays host to all Carolina Hurricanes home matches in the NHL. When the rink isn’t getting carved up by skates, the NC State Wolfpack college basketball team plays right here as they battle to reach March Madness. The process of changing the court is no small feat and can take up to six hours.
7. Umstead State Park
In a state of amazing parks, you’ll be happy to know that there’s a great one right around the corner. Halfway between Raleigh and Durham, Umstead State Park is made up of three beautiful man-made lakes that split the tree-laden forests.
Throughout, you’ll find a series of trails that will guide you to the lakes, over scenic bridges and through the heart of the local nature. There are 13 miles of trails to experience, so get your hiking boots strapped up or your bicycle ready to go.
You can also get out on the water. Big Lake is the chief destination for water sports, such as canoeing and fishing. While in the summer, the campgrounds are open for a night among nature.
6. State Farmers’ Market
One of four regional farmers’ markets in the state of North Carolina, the Raleigh Farmers’ Market features seemingly endless aisles of fresh produce and craftwork. The enormous farmers market dwarfs many around the United States and is the perfect way to load up on groceries during your time in town.
Even if you aren’t on the hunt for a delicious bargain, you’ll find ample tasty treats as you explore. The Raleigh Farmers’ Market is also serviced by multiple restaurants for when you want to rest your feet and enjoy a late breakfast or early lunch.
The market hosts some exciting events year-round such as the Watermelon Day, the Weekend Gardener Show and the tasty Sweet Potato Day.
5. North Carolina Museum of History
Covering over 14,000 years of history, the North Carolina Museum of History houses a thorough catalog of all that has come and gone. The museum has been in place since 1902 and is now complete with over 150,000 artifacts that encompass prehistoric eras, Native American communities, European settlement, and the Revolutionary and Civil wars.
Perhaps the highlight of any visit to the North Carolina Museum of History is the full-sized replica of the Wright Flyer from 1903 and the hall dedicated to African American history. This section explores the state’s history of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, including a lunch counter from the sit-in in Salisbury in 1960.
4. Marbles Kids Museum
Parks and history museums only go so far when it comes to entertaining the restless young folks. Thankfully, Raleigh is home to a captivating kid-focused museum that will allow them to stoke their curiosities through a series of hands-on activities.
Begin your family day at Marbles Kids Museum by getting your hands on the laminated picture maps. Let the kids plan out their day jumping between activities like the Tree Tunes, with a focus on music, the STEM-learning station, and the smart power grid. It all helps to inspire imagination and will lead to one of their most exciting days in Raleigh. Afterwards, come back together for a family movie at Marbles’ IMAX theater.
3. Pullen Park
Far from just another urban park, Pullen Park was the first such public space in North Carolina. It continues to be at the forefront of local life thanks to its sprawling lawns, beguiling lakes, and classic carousels. You can even explore the historic park on a miniature train!
A fun activity for families and couples is to get out on Lake Howell on a pedal boat. In the fall, the foliage is magnificent, creating a backdrop of orange, purples, and greens as you cruise around the calm waters. You’ll find an accessible path around the lake, another great way to explore. This will lead you by picnic areas, playgrounds and the amphitheater, home to the park’s summertime theater in the park.
2. North Carolina Museum of Art
Comprising the first state-funded collection of art, the NCMA has a proud focus on cultural representation and diversity. The North Carolina Museum of Art is one of only two art museums in the United States that has a permanent exhibit displaying Jewish works.
When the Museum of Art opened in 1956, it began with a meager 74 pieces of art. It quickly expanded to house a wide-ranging collection that includes Egyptian burial works, the Renaissance, ornate sculptures and creations from ancient Greek, and the Roman era, along with paintings showcasing early American life.
Take yourself on a guided tour of the museum for an elevated experience and learn the stories behind each of the fascinating pieces. NCMA also hosts a variety of workshops and performances throughout the year.
1. North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
Across two buildings packed with educational exhibits, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is one of the largest of its kind in the southeast. Young and old will love diving into the science behind nature while spotting enormous whale and dinosaur fossils and the museum’s two-story waterfall.
Among the permanent and temporary exhibits, which keep the space fresh for return visitors, you can cross paths with live animals in the Living Conservatory. Other permanent exhibits that continue to steal the show include the Arthropod Zoo, the Prehistoric Hall, and the Nature Research Center. The latter being an incredible way to discover the science behind our natural world, including an interactive investigative lab.
However, you can’t leave without visiting the three story theater that shows off our planet from the inside out.