Best Things To Do In Raleigh, North Carolina: 12 Essential Places To Visit

by Emil Backup
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Are you planning to explore Raleigh, North Carolina this year? Here are some of the most exciting, scenic, and unique things to do in Raleigh. These breathtaking sights, exhilarating activities, and fun attractions are sure to make for a truly memorable vacation experience.

Welcome to the heart of North Carolina, the city of Raleigh. This vibrant capital city, known as the “City of Oaks” for its many oak trees, is a treasure trove of cultural attractions, outdoor adventures, and culinary delights. Whether you’re a history buff, a nature lover, or a foodie, Raleigh has something to offer you. When it comes to the best things to do in Raleigh, there is no shortage of options.

Raleigh is a city that effortlessly blends traditional Southern charm with a modern, innovative spirit. It’s a place where historic landmarks stand proudly alongside cutting-edge tech companies, where lush parks and greenways are just minutes away from bustling downtown streets, and where world-class museums, galleries, and performance venues offer a rich tapestry of cultural experiences.

As part of the Research Triangle, Raleigh is a hub of innovation and education, home to top-tier universities and research institutions. But it’s not all work and no play here. The city’s thriving food and craft beer scene, vibrant nightlife, and diverse array of festivals and events ensure there’s always something fun and exciting happening. Here’s everything you need to know about these fun things to do in Raleigh.

The best things to do in Raleigh, North Carolina right now.
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Best Places to Visit in Raleigh, North Carolina

Ready for a rundown of all the coolest things to do in Raleigh? As noted above, there’s something for everyone at this underrated vacation destination. So keep reading to discover all these unique Raleigh places to visit.

In Raleigh, you’ll find a warm, welcoming community that’s proud of its heritage and excited about its future. So come explore the city’s historic sites, immerse yourself in its arts and culture, savor its culinary delights. Discover the natural beauty of its parks and greenways. Get ready to fall in love with Raleigh, a city that’s always growing, but never forgets its roots. Whatever your vacation preferences are, these must-sees in Raleigh can accommodate your needs. Here’s all the best attractions in Raleigh, North Carolina that you should know about. 

1. Stanbury

This is one of the best things to do in Raleigh, hands down. When you’re in Raleigh, North Carolina, you can’t miss out on the culinary delight that is Stanbury. This walk-in-only establishment is a favorite among locals and tourists alike, offering a variety of small plates and cocktails that change daily. Angela Salamanca, owner of Raleigh’s Centro and Gallo Pelón Mezcaleria, praises Stanbury for its neighborhood location, unassuming atmosphere, and amazing food.

Stanbury reflects Raleigh’s own personality; it’s casual and spirited, yet elevated and thoughtful. The restaurant is known for its innovative menu that changes daily, ensuring that every visit is a unique experience. The chefs at Stanbury take pride in sourcing local ingredients, and their creativity shines through in every dish they serve. From the perfectly seared scallops to the mouth-watering pork belly, every bite is a testament to their culinary prowess.

The ambiance of Stanbury is just as impressive as the food. The restaurant’s rustic decor, complete with exposed brick walls and wooden tables, creates a warm and inviting atmosphere. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable, adding to the overall exceptional dining experience.

So, if you’re looking for a dining experience that captures the essence of Raleigh, Stanbury is a must-visit. It’s more than just a meal, it’s a culinary journey that showcases the best of what Raleigh has to offer. With so much charm and personality, Stanbury is one of the top places to visit in Raleigh.

Indulge in the culinary delight that is Stanbury
Indulge in the culinary delight that is Stanbury.

2. North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA)

Experience North Carolina in style at this unique place to visit in Raleigh. Art enthusiasts and casual visitors alike will find themselves entranced by the North Carolina Museum of Art, a cultural gem nestled in the heart of Raleigh. With a collection that spans over 5,000 years of artistic work, NCMA is a place where creativity knows no bounds.

The museum’s indoor galleries are home to a rich array of art, ranging from European paintings to contemporary sculptures. But the experience doesn’t end indoors. Step outside, and you’ll discover the museum’s 164-acre Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park, where art and nature intertwine in a harmonious dance. Stroll along the winding trails, and you’ll encounter sculptures that seem to grow from the earth itself, each piece telling a unique story.

Whether you’re a seasoned art critic or simply looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, the North Carolina Museum of Art offers a serene retreat that stimulates the mind and soothes the soul. Don’t miss the chance to explore the rotating exhibitions, which often feature works from renowned artists from around the globe. It’s not just a museum; it’s a celebration of human creativity in all its glorious forms, making it one of the most fun things to do in Raleigh.

Exploring the North Carolina Museum of Art is a journey through time and creativity.
Exploring the North Carolina Museum of Art is a journey through time and creativity.

3. Historic Yates Mill County Park

For a unique experience like no other, you’ll want to check out this top place to visit in Raleigh, North Carolina. Step back in time and experience a slice of North Carolina’s rich history at the Historic Yates Mill County Park. Located just a few miles from downtown Raleigh, this 174-acre wildlife refuge is home to the last operable water-powered gristmill in Wake County.

The centerpiece of the park, Yates Mill, is a fully restored 18th-century mill that stands as a testament to the area’s agricultural heritage. Visitors can take guided tours of the mill, watch live grinding demonstrations, and even purchase cornmeal ground on-site.

But the park is more than just a historical site. It’s a natural oasis where visitors can explore scenic trails, enjoy picnicking by the pond, and observe local wildlife. The park’s Environmental Education Center offers interactive exhibits and programs that educate visitors about the natural and cultural history of the area.

Whether you’re a history buff, a nature lover, or simply looking for a peaceful escape from the city, Historic Yates Mill County Park offers a unique blend of historical charm and natural beauty. It’s a place where the past and present come together, offering a glimpse into a time gone by while providing a tranquil retreat for today’s visitors. It’s easy to see why this is one of the best things to do in Raleigh!

Step back in time at Historic Yates Mill County Park, where the echoes of the past blend harmoniously with the natural beauty of the present.
Step back in time at Historic Yates Mill County Park, where the echoes of the past blend harmoniously with the natural beauty of the present.

4. Pullen Park

A visit to Raleigh would be incomplete without spending a day at Pullen Park, the first public park in North Carolina and the fifth-oldest operating amusement park in the United States. This historic park, located just west of downtown Raleigh, is a beloved destination for both locals and tourists.

Pullen Park is more than just a green space; it’s a place where fun and excitement meet relaxation and tranquility. The park features an array of attractions that cater to all ages. Kids will love the vintage carousel, kiddie boats, and miniature train ride. Moreover, adults can enjoy leisurely strolls along the scenic walking trails or paddle boating on Lake Howell.

The park is also home to the Pullen Arts Center, where visitors can explore local art exhibits or even take a class. And when hunger strikes, the Pullen Place Cafe offers a variety of locally sourced and sustainable food options.

Whether you’re looking for a fun-filled day of activities or a peaceful spot to unwind, Pullen Park offers something for everyone. It’s a place where memories are made, a place that embodies the charm and spirit of Raleigh. Is this one of the coolest things to do in Raleigh? Absolutely!

Joyful moments at Pullen Park: Carousel and lake delights. Among the best things to do in Raleigh North Carolina.
Joyful moments at Pullen Park: Carousel and lake delights. Among the best things to do in Raleigh North Carolina.

5. Neuse River Greenway Trail

Yearning for a getaway like no other? This thing to do in Raleigh has got you covered. For outdoor enthusiasts, the Neuse River Greenway Trail is a must-visit when in Raleigh. This stunning 27.5-mile trail is part of North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail and offers a unique way to explore the natural beauty of the area.

The trail takes you along the scenic Neuse River, through wetlands, across boardwalks, and under canopies of trees. It’s a haven for walkers, runners, cyclists, and nature lovers. As you traverse the trail, keep an eye out for local wildlife, including deer, turtles, and a variety of bird species.

The Neuse River Greenway Trail is not just about the journey; it’s about the destinations along the way. The trail provides access to several parks and natural areas, including Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve and Anderson Point Park. These spots offer additional recreational opportunities, from fishing and canoeing to picnicking and bird watching.

Whether you’re looking for a vigorous workout, a leisurely bike ride, or a peaceful walk in nature, the Neuse River Greenway Trail offers an outdoor experience like no other. It’s a testament to Raleigh’s commitment to preserving its natural beauty and providing recreational opportunities for its residents and visitors. There’s so much to see at the Neuse River Greenway Trail, that it’s no wonder this is among the most fun things to do in Raleigh.

Discover the best things to do in Raleigh, North Carolina, Including Exploring the Neuse River Greenway Trail.
Discover the best things to do in Raleigh, North Carolina, Including Exploring the Neuse River Greenway Trail.

6. Raleigh Beer Trail

Looking for the best things to do in Raleigh? Don’t miss this one! If you’re a craft beer enthusiast, then the Raleigh Beer Trail is a must-visit. Raleigh, often referred to as the “Southern Beer Capital,” is home to more than 40 breweries. It offers its own unique brews and atmosphere.

The Raleigh Beer Trail is more than just a collection of breweries; it’s an adventure. As you hop from one brewery to the next, you’ll get to taste a wide variety of beers from hop-heavy IPAs to smooth stouts and everything in between. Each brewery has its own unique vibe. This includes everything from the rustic charm of Crank Arm Brewing Company to the modern, sleek design of Trophy Brewing Company.

But it’s not just about the beer. Many of these breweries also offer tours where you can learn about the brewing process, meet the brewers, and even get a behind-the-scenes look at how your favorite brews are made.

And the best part? If you visit 15 breweries and get your Beer Trail Passport stamped, you’ll earn a Raleigh Beer Trail prize. It’s a fun and rewarding way to explore Raleigh’s booming craft beer scene. As one of the top Raleigh, North Carolina attractions, you’ll definitely want to add this to your travel itinerary.

Craft Brew Haven: Savoring Flavors at Crank Arm Brewing Company in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Craft Brew Haven: Savoring Flavors at Crank Arm Brewing Company.

7. State Farmers Market

Looking for what to do in Raleigh, North Carolina? Look no further than the State Farmers Market. Experience the vibrant local culture and indulge in fresh, farm-to-table produce at the State Farmers Market in Raleigh. This sprawling market covers 30,000 square feet and is a bustling hub for farmers, artisans, and food vendors from across the state.

As you wander through the market, you’ll find a cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables, locally raised meats, fresh seafood, and artisanal cheeses. But it’s not just about the produce. You’ll also find a wide array of homemade baked goods, preserves, honey, and other specialty food items.

The State Farmers Market is also home to a number of specialty shops selling everything from handmade crafts to plants and flowers. And if all that shopping works up an appetite, you can grab a bite to eat at one of the market’s restaurants. They serve up delicious meals made from locally sourced ingredients.

Visiting the State Farmers Market is more than just a shopping trip; it’s an experience. It’s a place where you can connect with the people who grow and make the food you eat, learn about their processes, and appreciate the hard work and dedication that goes into every product. It’s a true taste of North Carolina. No wonder this is one of the top Raleigh things to do for the most discerning tourists.

Culinary Paradise: Exploring Raleigh's State Farmers Market for Fresh Flavors and Local Treasures.
Culinary Paradise: Exploring Raleigh’s State Farmers Market for Fresh Flavors and Local Treasures.

8. Contemporary Art Museum (CAM)

Art lovers visiting Raleigh should not miss this top thing to do in Raleigh: Explore the Contemporary Art Museum (CAM). Located in the city’s burgeoning Warehouse District, CAM is a non-collecting museum that presents bold, contemporary art and design relevant to diverse audiences.

CAM offers a dynamic range of exhibitions and educational programs that foster the exchange of ideas and experiences between artists, students, and the general public. The museum features works from both emerging and established artists, providing a platform for creative expression and innovation.

The museum’s exhibitions change regularly, ensuring there’s always something new to see. From thought-provoking installations to innovative multimedia works, the art on display at CAM challenges perceptions and inspires dialogue.

In addition to its exhibitions, CAM offers a variety of educational programs and events. This includesartist talks, workshops, and family-friendly activities. Whether you’re an art aficionado or a casual observer, CAM offers a unique and engaging experience that goes beyond the traditional museum visit.

So, if you’re looking to immerse yourself in the contemporary art scene, visiting CAM is one of the best things to do in Raleigh that you should experience at least once in your life.

Experience the best things to do in Raleigh, North Carolina, Including Immersing Yourself in Creativity at the Contemporary Art Museum.
Experience the best things to do in Raleigh, North Carolina, Including Immersing Yourself in Creativity at the Contemporary Art Museum.

9. College Football Game at the Carter-Finley Stadium

For sports enthusiasts, experiencing a college football game is one of the most fun things to do in Raleigh. The city is home to the North Carolina State University Wolfpack, and the energy and excitement of a game day is something you won’t want to miss.

The action takes place at the Carter-Finley Stadium, a venue that can hold over 57,000 cheering fans. Whether you’re a die-hard Wolfpack supporter or just a casual observer, the electric atmosphere, the roar of the crowd, and the thrill of the game make for an unforgettable experience.

But the fun doesn’t stop at the final whistle. Tailgating is a beloved tradition at NC State games, and the parking lots around the stadium transform into a sea of red and white as fans gather to enjoy food, drinks, and camaraderie before and after the game.

Even if you’re not a huge football fan, attending a game is about more than just the sport. It’s a chance to experience a quintessential part of American culture and Raleigh’s community spirit. So don your red and white, join the Wolfpack, and get ready for a day of fun, excitement, and, of course, football. As such, I recommend this thing to do in Raleigh to everyone I meet.

Roaring Crowds and Gridiron Glory: Carter-Finley Stadium - The Heart of Raleigh's College Football Spirit.
Roaring Crowds and Gridiron Glory: Carter-Finley Stadium – The Heart of Raleigh’s College Football Spirit.

10. North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Science enthusiasts will love this top thing to do in Raleigh, North Carolina. For a day of discovery and learning, head to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. As the Southeast’s largest natural history museum, it offers a wealth of exhibits and interactive displays. They are sure to captivate visitors of all ages.

The museum is divided into several sections, each dedicated to a different aspect of natural science. Explore the Nature Exploration Center, where you can see a variety of live animals and learn about different ecosystems. Or visit the Nature Research Center, where you can watch scientists at work in the Investigate Labs.

One of the museum’s highlights is the Daily Planet Theater, a three-story, multimedia space where you can watch fascinating presentations about the natural world. And don’t miss the museum’s collection of dinosaur fossils, including a complete Acrocanthosaurus skeleton.

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is more than just a museum; it’s a place of exploration and discovery. Whether you’re interested in paleontology, astronomy, ecology, or just curious about the world around you, visiting this museum is one of the most unique things to do in Raleigh that you don’t want to miss.

Discover the best things to do in Raleigh, North Carolina: Fascinating Journey Through Time and Nature at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
Discover the best things to do in Raleigh, North Carolina at the Museum of Natural Sciences.

11. JC Raulston Arboretum

As far as things to do in Raleigh go, this activity is among the coolest! For a tranquil escape from the city, take a stroll through the JC Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University. This beautiful garden is a living laboratory for the university’s horticultural research and a peaceful retreat for visitors.

The arboretum spans over 10 acres and features a diverse collection of plants from around the world. As you wander through the garden, you’ll encounter a variety of landscapes, from lush woodland areas to vibrant flower gardens. Each section of the arboretum is designed to inspire, educate, and demonstrate how plants can be used in the landscape.

Highlights of the arboretum include the Japanese Garden, the Rose Garden, and the Perennial Border, which is particularly stunning in the spring and summer months. The arboretum also offers a variety of educational programs and workshops for those interested in learning more about horticulture.

Whether you’re a gardening enthusiast or just looking for a peaceful place to unwind, the JC Raulston Arboretum offers a serene and picturesque retreat. It’s a place where you can connect with nature, learn about plants, and find inspiration in the natural world. For those seeking rest and relaxation, the JC Raulston Arboretum is one of the best places in Raleigh.

Nature's Sanctuary: Unveiling Tranquility at the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Nature’s Sanctuary: Unveiling Tranquility at the JC Raulston Arboretum.

12. Raleigh Little Theatre

It would be a crime to write an article on the top things to do in Raleigh, North Carolina without mentioning the Raleigh Little Theatre. For those with a love for the performing arts, a visit to the Raleigh Little Theatre is a must. This community theater, one of the oldest and most respected in the country, has been a part of Raleigh’s cultural fabric since 1936.

The Raleigh Little Theatre offers a diverse array of performances throughout the year. They range from classic plays and musicals to contemporary works and children’s theater. The talent on stage is often a mix of professional actors and dedicated community members. They all come together to create high-quality productions.

The theater itself is a charming and intimate venue, allowing for a personal and engaging experience. Whether you’re enjoying a timeless Shakespearean play or a modern musical extravaganza, the Raleigh Little Theatre’s commitment to excellence shines through in every performance.

But the theater’s impact goes beyond the stage. It’s also a hub for education and community engagement. It offers classes, workshops, and outreach programs that foster a love for the arts and creativity.

Whether you’re a theater aficionado or simply looking for a unique night out in Raleigh, the Raleigh Little Theatre promises an unforgettable experience. It’s a testament to the city’s vibrant arts scene and a must-visit for anyone looking to be entertained and inspired. As such, this Raleigh attraction is one of the most popular sights in the state.

Captivating Performances and Endless Creativity: Raleigh Little Theatre Unveils Theatrical Magic in North Carolina's Capital.
Captivating Performances and Endless Creativity: Raleigh Little Theatre Unveils Theatrical Magic in North Carolina’s Capital.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Best Things to Do in Raleigh, North Carolina

Looking for more content on the top things to do in Raleigh, NC? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get that will help you plan your trip to Raleigh:

What is Raleigh, NC known for?

Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina, is known for its vibrant arts scene, rich history, and diverse cultural attractions. From its world-class museums and beautiful parks to its thriving food scene and exciting sports events, there’s something for everyone in this dynamic city.

What is the best time to visit Raleigh, NC?

The best time to visit Raleigh is in the spring (March-May) and fall (September-November) when the weather is mild and the city’s parks and gardens are in full bloom. However, with its wide range of indoor and outdoor attractions, Raleigh is a great destination year-round.

Is Raleigh, NC a good place for families?

Absolutely! Raleigh offers a variety of family-friendly attractions, including museums, parks, and educational centers. The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Marbles Kids Museum, and Pullen Park are just a few of the places that kids and adults alike will love.

What are some unique things to do in Raleigh, NC?

Raleigh offers many unique experiences, from exploring the Historic Yates Mill County Park to catching a performance at the Raleigh Little Theatre. Foodies will love exploring the city’s thriving food scene, while nature lovers can enjoy the numerous parks and green spaces.

Rural Tranquility: Discovering the Beauty of a Farm in North Carolina's Picturesque Landscape.
Rural Tranquility: Discovering the Beauty of a Farm in North Carolina’s Picturesque Landscape.

Does Raleigh have nightlife?

Yes, Raleigh, the capital city of North Carolina, does have a nightlife scene that caters to a variety of tastes and preferences. Here’s an overview of what you might find:

Downtown Raleigh

  • Bars and Pubs: Downtown Raleigh is home to numerous bars, pubs, and breweries, offering everything from craft beers to cocktails.
  • Live Music Venues: You’ll find venues hosting live music, ranging from local bands to nationally recognized acts.
  • Nightclubs: For those looking to dance, there are nightclubs playing a variety of music genres.

Glenwood South District

  • Trendy Bars and Restaurants: This area is known for its vibrant nightlife, with a mix of upscale bars, lounges, and restaurants.
  • Outdoor Patios: Many establishments offer outdoor seating, perfect for enjoying a warm evening.

Warehouse District

  • Art and Culture: This district offers a more eclectic vibe with art galleries, live performance venues, and unique bars and eateries.

College Scene

  • Nearby Universities: With several universities in the area, including North Carolina State University, there’s a youthful energy to Raleigh’s nightlife, especially in neighborhoods close to campuses.

What part of Raleigh is best to stay in?

The best part of Raleigh to stay in largely depends on your interests. If you’re keen on history and culture, the Downtown area is ideal with its proximity to museums, galleries, and historic sites, while those looking for a more tranquil, residential vibe might prefer the North Hills area, known for its charming boutiques, eateries, and parks.

Is it worth visiting Raleigh NC?

Absolutely, it’s worth visiting Raleigh, NC! With its rich blend of history, culture, outdoor activities, and a burgeoning food scene, Raleigh offers a diverse range of experiences that cater to all types of travelers, making it a destination that’s not to be missed.

Closing Thoughts on Exploring Raleigh, North Carolina

From its rich history and culture to its beautiful parks and vibrant arts scene, Raleigh, NC offers a wealth of experiences for every type of traveler. Whether you’re a history buff, a nature lover, a foodie, or a sports enthusiast, you’ll find something to love in this dynamic city. So why wait? Start planning your trip to Raleigh today and discover all the amazing things this city has to offer.

Best Things to Do in Raleigh, North Carolina.
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