If you’ve never been to Raleigh before, think Old South meets Silicon Valley. It’s home to giant businesses like Red Hat and a vibrant startup scene that’s attracted major companies like Citrix, GE Digital, and IBM. It’s also a top university town, with a huge, world-class research university in NC State.
But Raleigh is also a city with a strong sense of history and Southern charm. The downtown area is full of beautiful historic buildings, such as the gorgeous 1920s-era Raleigh City Hall and the stately North Carolina State Capitol building, which is topped by an iconic dome. Charge your phone and camera because you’ll find yourself snapping photos at every turn!
This place is also an art and culture paradise. You’ll love perusing works of art at the North Carolina Museum of Art, one of the largest museums in the Southeast. And the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is so big it has its own planetarium!
And, of course, Raleigh is also home to some of the best food in the South. From delicious barbecue to farm-to-table fare, there’s something for everyone’s taste buds in Raleigh. Plus, with a growing craft beer scene and numerous wine bars, Raleigh knows how to have a good time.
Finally, Raleigh’s outdoor scene is absolutely majestic. It’s not called the City of Oaks for nothing! The sheer size of Umstead State Park will take your breath away, and you can explore all sorts of plant and animal life at the beautiful Historic Yates Mill County Park.
With so much going on, it can be hard to know where to start when planning your trip. So we’ve put together this list of the best things to do in Raleigh for you.
You’ll find a bit of everything below, from where to grab the best bites in town to how to find the city’s best hidden gems. We can’t wait for you to experience this gorgeous corner of North Carolina!
Don’t forget to check out our web story: The 15 Best Things to Do in Raleigh, NC
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15 Fun and Unique Things to Do in Raleigh, NC
1. Check Out the Massive NC State Farmers Market
If you’re anything like us, fresh produce and authentic local products are the hallmarks of a great trip, and Raleigh’s NC State Farmers Market quickly became one of our favorites from the moment we set foot in it!
The market is open every day, all year long, and it’s huge – seriously, this place covers 75 acres of indoor and outdoor artisan shops, restaurants, food trucks, gardens, stalls, and more. Keep your eyes peeled for delicious treats like chili-dusted pecans, sweet Amish baked goods, homemade noodles and cheese curds, assorted cured meats, fresh-pressed juices, and jars of honey so fresh they’re still dripping.
This is also an excellent place to find handmade jewelry, pottery, furniture, and clothing from some of Raleigh’s best local artists. Don’t forget to pick up a fresh bouquet of flowers at the market, too! They make for the perfect Instagrammable souvenir.
Take the entire family (even your dogs!), go with your friends, or explore it solo. No matter how you choose to experience the market, it’s no doubt one of the best free things to do in Raleigh.
2. Visit the World’s 16th Oldest Amusement Park
No Raleigh bucket list is complete without a visit to the world’s 16th oldest publicly-operated amusement park, Pullen Park. This historic gem has been delighting families since 1887 and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon!
There are all sorts of classic rides here, such as an antique carousel, a miniature train ride, bumper cars, and swings. There’s also a beautiful lake with pedal boat and canoe rentals. Plus, even if you’re not the active type, there are plenty of peaceful spots to simply sit back and enjoy the sights.
Pullen Park is also home to some excellent picnic areas. And since it’s located right next to the NC State University campus, you can bet there are plenty of food options close by if you need a break from packing your own lunch.
Whether you come for the rides or the history (or both!), you’re sure to have an incredible time at Pullen Park. Just be sure to check the website before you go, as some rides and attractions may not be available due to weather.
3. Follow the Tipsy Path of the Raleigh Beer Trail
Raleigh loves its beer, and the Raleigh Beer Trail is an excellent way to explore the city’s various breweries, taprooms, and historic watering holes.
Once you pick up a trail map, it’s as simple as sauntering from one buzzing brewery to the next, but don’t forget to stop for some delicious snacks along the way!
As for the brews themselves, where do we even start? You’ll find everything from wild ales, IPAs, and pale ales to sours, goses, and fruity-infused brews. We were also blown away by the unique local offerings like a chocolate-peanut butter porter and a sweet potato casserole stout (yes, you read that correctly).
Sure, you can get a pint or two in most cities, but nothing beats the craft beer scene that Raleigh has cultivated. Trust us when we say that this is one of the most fun things to do in Raleigh!
4. Conquer Raleigh’s Neuse River Greenway
If you’re in the mood for a laid-back outdoor adventure, add the Neuse River Greenway Trail to your Raleigh activities list. This extensive trail system winds through both Wake and Johnston counties, following alongside the Neuse River from Falls Lake all the way to New Bern.
Along the way, you’ll pass some of North Carolina’s most beautiful scenery, including peaceful forests, wetlands, and meadows. You might even spot some local wildlife, such as turtles, beavers, deer, and more.
But Neuse River Greenway Trail isn’t just a pretty place to take a stroll. It’s also an excellent spot for fishing, canoeing, kayaking, bird watching, and picnicking. You can enter and exit the trail at various points, but the easiest places for beginners are Swift Creek Park in Wake County and Riverwood Park in Johnston.
While the trail is technically open year-round, we recommend visiting during the spring or fall when the weather is at its best.
5. Tour Some of Raleigh’s Most Historic Districts
Raleigh may be a tech-savvy, modern city, but it also has a rich history that’s just waiting to be explored. For a taste of the past, make your way to one (or all!) of Raleigh’s historic districts.
The Oakwood Historical District is Raleigh’s oldest neighborhood and is home to some of the city’s most beautiful Victorian-style homes. Stroll down tree-lined streets, admire the intricate architecture, and pop into one of Oakwood’s charming cafes or shops.
If you’re interested in seeing where Raleigh’s elite once lived, you’ll want to head to the Historic Oakwood Cemetery. This gorgeous cemetery is the final resting place of many notable figures, such as NC governors, state senators, and even a few Confederate soldiers.
If you’re looking to learn more about the area’s African American history, head over to Raleigh’s Historic Oak View County Park. This property was once owned by the Williams family, who enslaved 10 people. It includes several buildings from the 19th century, including a kitchen, cotton gin barn, and livestock barn.
And those are just a few of Raleigh’s historic districts! Others include Boylan Heights, the Cameron Village Historic District, and the Mordecai Historic Park. No matter which neighborhood you choose to visit, you’re sure to get a taste of Raleigh’s fascinating past.
6. Eat at Raleigh’s Oldest Foodie Gems
Just as old and colorful as Raleigh’s history is its foodie scene. The capital city is home to some of the best restaurants in the state, many of which have been around for decades (or even centuries!).
Start your culinary adventure at one of Raleigh’s oldest restaurants: the Angus Barn. This world-famous steakhouse has been around since 1960 and has served everyone from local celebrities to US presidents.
The Angus Barn is known for its aged beef, fresh seafood, and extensive wine list – not to mention its gorgeous rustic-chic ambiance. We can’t pick just one favorite dish, but the prime rib/lobster tail combo and the chocolate chess pie are definitely up there!
For something a little more low-key, head over to Beasley’s Chicken + Honey. This popular restaurant is housed in a historic building from the 1800s and specializes in, you guessed it, chicken and honey! Beasley’s menu includes Southern classics like fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, and hush puppies. And don’t forget to try the restaurant’s signature honey butter – it’s to die for.
Last but not least is The Pit, a barbecue joint that’s been serving up some of Raleigh’s best barbeque since 2010. The Pit uses only local ingredients and cooks its meats over a wood-fired pit, resulting in juicy, flavorful, and downright delicious barbecue.
If you’ve never had North Carolina-style barbeque, you have to order the chopped barbecue plate or the beef brisket. Trust us, your taste buds will thank you!
7. Explore the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is one of the best museums in the country and also one of the top Raleigh attractions. This massive museum has something for everyone, whether you’re interested in dinosaurs, bugs, or marine life.
Some of the museum’s most popular exhibits include the hands-on Butterfly Pavilion, the immersive Ocean Hall, and the life-size replica of a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton. The museum also offers a planetarium, an IMAX theater, and a variety of educational programs for all ages.
From time to time, the museum also hosts special events, such as concerts, film screenings, and lectures about all sorts of topics, from bats to outer space, so be sure to check the museum’s calendar before you visit.
8. Get Lost In the Beauty of Umstead State Park
No matter how many times you visit Raleigh, the city’s beautiful parks will always be a feast for the eyes. One of them is Umstead State Park, a stunning 5,579-acre park that’s home to miles and miles of hiking trails, equestrian centers, picnic areas, swimming holes, and even primitive campsites with fire pits and tables.
Beginner hikers will love the Oak Rock Trail, which is an easy loop that takes you through a mixed forest of oak, hickory, and tulip poplar trees. For something a little more challenging, try the Company Mill Trail, which will take you past a historic gristmill and through dense hardwood forests.
The park is open daily from sunrise to sunset (with the exception of certain holidays) and has plenty of free parking available. Or, if you don’t feel like driving yourself there, take advantage of one of Raleigh’s free shuttle bus services, which run to and from the park on weekends.
9. Shop, Wine & Dine in Historic City Market
Another iconic Raleigh landmark is the Historic City Market, which has been serving locals and visitors alike since 1914. Today, the market is home to a variety of shops, restaurants, and cafes.
You can start your day by filling up on breakfast or lunch at the iconic Big Ed’s Restaurant. This eclectic eatery serves up some seriously good Southern-style dishes like rib-eye steak and eggs, meat biscuits, and giant pancakes.
After that, stroll through the market’s historic cobblestone alleys and admire its charming 19th-century architecture as you browse its various shops and restaurants. Pick up some of the market’s homemade items, from handcrafted home goods at Bella Vita or locally-made ice creams at Treat.
We suggest staying in City Market until the evening when the twinkling lights come on, and the live music starts to play. This is when all the cafes, bistros, and bars open their doors, giving visitors a chance to relax over good food and even better wine.
10. Drop by the North Carolina Museum of Art
This is one of the must-do things in Raleigh, especially for first-time visitors. Founded in 1949, the North Carolina Museum of Art is one of the best art museums in the country and features an extensive collection of ancient artifacts and modern artwork from across the globe.
Some of its most popular exhibits include its Greek and Roman Art Wing, which showcases gorgeous sculptures, and its Egyptian Art Wing, which features a life-size replica of an ancient Egyptian tomb.
The museum also has a beautiful 164-acre Museum Park, which is dotted with massive art installations. It’s the perfect place for a leisurely stroll or picnic lunch.
And best of all, admission to the museum is free!
11. Step Back in Time at Historic Yates Mill County Park
Historic Yates Mill County Park is a working gristmill that is over 200 years old and is one of the only remaining water-powered mills in North Carolina. The mill is open for tours on weekends, and you can watch as wheat and corn are ground into flour and meal using the same methods that were used centuries ago.
It’s actually one of the most fun things to do in Raleigh! You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time as you explore the mill’s grounds, which include a restored 1850s farmhouse, a nature center, and miles of hiking trails.
If you’re visiting Raleigh with kids, be sure to check out the park’s popular Junior Ranger Program, which offers kids a chance to earn a special badge by completing fun activities about the park’s history and wildlife.
12. Hunt for Treasures at The Raleigh Market
If you’re looking for something to do during the weekend, The Raleigh Market is always a fun idea! Take some time to look around this massive flea market, and you never know what you’re going to find.
From retro toys and vintage furniture to rare books and antique coins, there’s a reason this place is known as “NC’s Greatest Treasure Hunt” and “one of the finest flea markets in the US!”
It’s easy to lose track of time as you check out the booths, especially since everyone is so friendly. Don’t be afraid to haggle because finding bargains is the name of the game at The Raleigh Market. We also suggest you bring cash since not all vendors accept credit cards.
The market is open every weekend, rain or shine, and has plenty of free parking available.
13. Eat Your Way Through Morgan Street Food Hall
This is one of the newest additions to Raleigh’s food scene, and it’s already become a popular spot for locals and visitors alike. True to its name, Morgan Street Food Hall is a foodie’s paradise, with over 20 different vendors proudly offering up their unique specialties.
Explore the food hall, and you can choose from Nashville-style hot chicken sandwiches at Iyla’s Southern Kitchen, meat- and veggie-filled tacos at Wicked Taco, Indian curries and street food at Curry in a Hurry, traditional Greek dishes at Opa! Raleigh, and so much more!
An awesome thing here is that you can order from different vendors since they all have their own separate counters. That means you can satisfy all your cravings in one go, whether that’s a hearty burger for lunch or a light salad for dinner.
Whatever you decide on, don’t forget to save room for dessert! The food hall also has its own gelato counter, which serves up delicious homemade flavors like chocolate hazelnut and pistachio.
14. Go Kayaking at the Robertson Millpond Preserve
The Robertson Millpond Preserve is one of the most peaceful spots in Raleigh, and it’s the perfect place to escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. This beautiful park consists of over 120 acres of natural wetlands, where visitors can go hiking or biking along miles of scenic trails.
The highlight is easily the millpond itself, a large lake that stretches across four different counties. You can rent a canoe or kayak and enjoy a leisurely paddle along the water, admiring its gorgeous calm surface as you go. This is also a great spot for wildlife watching, so keep your eyes peeled for turtles sunning themselves on logs, birds gathering in large flocks, and other gentle creatures of the forest!
The best time to visit the preserve is in late spring or early summer when the weather is warm and sunny but not too hot. However, the millpond is also lovely in winter, when it’s partially frozen over and surrounded by a blanket of snow.
Either way, the Robertson Millpond Preserve is a lovely slice of North Carolina‘s natural beauty, and it’s definitely one of the top things to do in Raleigh.
15. Have a Sweet Time at the Videri Chocolate Factory
The Videri Chocolate Factory is a Raleigh institution specializing in high-quality bean-to-bar artisan chocolate. Every day, you can watch the skilled chocolatiers carefully crafting chocolates right before your eyes. It’s a real treat for both kids and adults alike!
But that’s not all. If you want to learn more about chocolate or just want to make some new friends, you can also take part in one of the factory’s hands-on classes or even sign up for a five-day intensive chocolate boot camp!
But if all you want is to sit back and relax with an indulgent treat, that’s perfectly fine too. The Videri Chocolate Factory has plenty of other places where you can enjoy your sweet creations, from the on-site cafe to the rooftop patio.
Don’t leave without trying the signature truffles, which come in a huge variety of flavors like raspberry and mint. Other treats you shouldn’t miss include the chocolate-covered pretzels, the s’mores kit, and the hot chocolate made with 100% cacao.
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Raleigh, NC. What’s your favorite thing to do in the City of Oaks?
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