Best Things To Do in Raleigh
The capital of North Carolina is filled with diversions for all sorts of travelers. For instance, art lovers will appreciate the North Carolina Museum of Art while those with an interest in science might enjoy the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. History buffs should take a tour of the North Carolina State Capitol and a jaunt through the North Carolina Museum of History. And for active travelers, Raleigh contains a number of parks, including Umstead and Pullen.
Updated January 26, 2015
- #1View all Photos#1 in Raleigh5.5 miles to city centerHiking, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Sports, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND5.5 miles to city centerHiking, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Sports, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
The Neuse River Trail (also known as the Raleigh Greenway) is a portion of a nearly 28-mile path that stretches from the Falls Lake Dam in Wake Forest, North Carolina, down to the Wake/Johnston county line in Raleigh. The wide path travels along the Neuse River, across wetlands, through woods and is altogether beautiful, according to many a jogger, dog walker and bike rider.
In fact, the Neuse River Trail caused one TripAdvisor user, who hails from Boston, to consider moving to Raleigh: "This trail is a total delight. … Locals ride their bikes [and] run their miles with their dogs … Not used to be smiled at by a total stranger … Why haven't I moved here?!"
- #2View all Photos#2 in Raleigh0.2 miles to city centerMuseums, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND0.2 miles to city centerMuseums, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is Raleigh's most popular attraction for several reasons: it's free, its cafe features a menu of tasty and reasonably priced items and it contains plentiful exhibits that recent visitors say interest travelers of all ages. The museum teaches visitors about North Carolina through exhibits like "Coastal North Carolina," which features everything from whale skeletons to seahorse bioramas and the "Living Conservatory," which flutters with butterflies. There is also a wing of the museum dedicated to nature research, and this is where visitors can embrace their inner scientist in "Investigate Labs" or simply watch scientists work in the "Windows on Research" areas.
Recent visitors "ooh" and "ahh" over the diverse displays and the free admission. One TripAdvisor user was also quite impressed by the museum staff: "I stopped in to ask for someone to answer some questions about preying mantis', these 2 ladies answered my questions and then some."
- #3View all PhotosfreePullen Park#3 in Raleigh1.5 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND1.5 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Pullen Park, which sits beside North Carolina State University, has a number of superlatives to its name. Not only is it the state's first public park, it's also the fifth-oldest operating amusement park in the U.S. and the 16th-oldest operating amusement park in the world. Today, visitors flock to the park for its cheap amusements — $1 for a carousel ride or a trip out on the paddle boats — as well for its lush beauty. Fans of the Andy Griffith Show also like to seek out the bronze statue of "Andy and Opie." There are also playgrounds, sports fields, tennis courts and an indoor aquatic center.
Recent visitors, particularly families, can't say enough about Pullen Park, though some recommend visiting on the evenings and weekdays when it's less crowded.
- #4View all Photos#4 in Raleigh4.2 miles to city centerMuseums, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND4.2 miles to city centerMuseums, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
The North Carolina Museum of Art's gleaming white galleries, which hang with paintings like Andrew Wyeth's "Winter 1946" and "The Holy Family with St. Anne" by Peter Paul Rubens and Workshop, are impressive in and of themselves. But visitors also highly praise the museum's rotating exhibits, the lovely sculpture garden and the interesting tours and events. The museum's restaurant, Iris, is also an artful place too with its floor-to-ceiling windows and wall sculpture.
One TripAdvisor user, who calls the North Carolina Museum of Art "one of the loveliest spots in Raleigh," also has this to say: "The grounds are a wonderful blend of sculpture, garden and pastoral beauty. Parking is plentiful. Restaurant is imaginative in presentation and menu selection. Collection is always evolving and not overwhelmingly vast."
- #5View all Photos#5 in Raleigh9.7 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, Recreation, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND9.7 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, Recreation, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
In the between the cities of Raleigh, Cary and Durham is the William B. Umstead State Park and its 5,579 acres of wooded trails and picturesque lakes. You can walk, bike, hike and run through it, and you can even take a paddleboat or a canoe out for a small fee. Some travelers are chagrined at its popularity, saying that it's lost some of its delightful seclusion. But most recent visitors highly recommend it.
"At over 5,000 acres, it can be crowded along popular trails close to parking areas," one TripAdvisor user said. "However, go more than a mile up a trail … and it's very quiet. There are dozens of hiking trails, great birding opportunities, several lakes, boating/canoeing, and fishing."
- #6View all Photos#6 in Raleigh0.2 miles to city centerMuseums, Tours, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND0.2 miles to city centerMuseums, Tours, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
The North Carolina Museum of History is exactly what its name suggests — a museum about North Carolina's history. Exhibits include the 20,000-square-foot permanent "Story of North Carolina," which traces the state's history across 14,000 years. Visitors will find everything from two full-size historic houses to a life-size replica of the Wright brothers' plane, the "Wright Flyer." Other exhibits focus on themes like sports or the Civil War, and there are a host of temporary exhibits that rotate through the museum.
Visitors were especially delighted by the museum's preservation of the historic homes, and many say they were enchanted by the stories about the wars and North Carolina's origins.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Raleigh0.1 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND0.1 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
You might wonder where this children's museum got its name, and the answer is two-fold. One, because the museum founders encourage kids to "use their marbles" (or brains) while they play. And two, because a wall that surrounds the museum is filled with more than 1 million marbles that light up at night. Other than marbles, the museum features exhibits that range from an "Art Loft," where kids can do crafts, paint and sculpt, to a "Power 2 Play" exhibit where children can play with kid-size athletic equipment. There's also a cafe and an IMAX theater.
Visitors to Raleigh with children in tow highly recommend this museum, citing the bottom floor's age-specific diversions as particularly engaging for youngsters. Others advise leaving plenty of time to enjoy the museum's diverse exhibits, and potentially even splitting up a visit here across two different days, noting the sheer number of choices can be overwhelming for the younger set.
- #8View all PhotosfreeCity Market#8 in Raleigh0.2 miles to city centerShopping, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.2 miles to city centerShopping, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Raleigh's City Market, which opened more than a century ago, is an ensemble of shops and boutiques, bars and restaurants, and it's a nice place to meander when the weather is nice. You'll come across everything from eateries like Vic's Ristorante Italiano to businesses like the Dogwood Collective, which sells local clothing brands. Last year, a seasonal farmers market had stalls at the market too, from the spring to the fall.
Recent visitors say that although the selection of shops is small and somewhat overpriced, the salespeople and restaurateurs are affable and their products are excellent.
- #9View all Photos#9 in Raleigh0.1 miles to city centerMonuments and Memorials, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.1 miles to city centerMonuments and Memorials, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
The North Carolina State Capitol, which was completed in 1840, is the center of activity for North Carolina state government. It also contains a host of curiosities — like its Greek architecture and the fact that the visage of George Washington shows up four times, once in a Roman general's garb — that make for an especially interesting tour. Recent visitors strongly suggest penciling in time for the tour, saying that the docents offer a variety of interesting details about the building and North Carolina's past. In December, the Capitol hosts a handful of festive holiday events, from a tree lighting to an open house.
The Capitol is open for visits Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The free guided tours, which many recent visitors highly recommend, are held on Saturdays at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. You'll find the building downtown on East Edenton Street. For more information, visit the website.
- #10View all Photos#10 in Raleigh5 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND5 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
The 174-acre Historic Yates Mill County Park is the last remaining water-powered gristmill in Wake County. It's also a nice place to stretch your legs: There are several miles of hiking trails that trace the Mill Pond and extend west of it. And you can also fish from two boardwalks.
Some visitors say that the Historic Yates Mill County Park is the perfect spot to indulge in some fresh air and tranquility. "We found this by 'accident' and it was one of our favorite stops in Raleigh," one TripAdvisor user said. "If you like the outdoors and quiet trails, you should check it out."
Explore More of Raleigh
If you make a purchase from our site, we may earn a commission. This does not affect the quality or independence of our editorial content.