Fun Things to Do in Raleigh NC

aerial view of city buildings
Photo by Curtis Adams on

In today’s edition of American Nomad, I’m sharing a few of my favorite things to do in my hometown of Raleigh North Carolina.

Quick Facts:

  • Raleigh is the Capital City of North Carolina
    • Founded in 1792 as the official capital of North Carolina – Raleigh is named after Sir Walter Raleigh, who attempted the first English colony in the US on the Carolina coast called at Roanoke. This became known as ‘The Lost Colony’ as the colonists disappeared. It is a fascinating history. Learn more here.
  • Known as ‘The City of Oaks’ because of the number of towering oak trees throughout Raleigh. (Sadly many of being cut down for development in recent years)
  • Raleigh is the largest city in the Raleigh metro area known as The Triangle.
    • The Triangle includes Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Durham and other suburbs.
    • The metro area of Raleigh is over 1.4 million, while the city limits have around 430,000 souls.
  • Raleigh is the Silicion Valley of the East and one of the biggest tech hubs in the world…
  • Home to numerous colleges and universities, including NC State University, Meredith College, William Peace University and Wake Tech…not to mention UNC (Go Heels) and Duke nearby…Raleigh is a center of learning and is a cultural and academic hub for The Tar Heel State.

Location: Raleigh is in the Piedmont Region of North Carolina…NC has a diverse terrain from Mountains to Piedmont (hilly region) and the Coastal Plain (and gorgeous coast).

  • Raleigh is centrally located about 2 hours from Wilmington, 4 hours to Asheville, 2.5 hours to Charlotte

Why visit Raleigh?

Raleigh is home to world class museums, great music, food and sports. It is also the ideal launching point for a North Carolina Beach Getaway or trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway and NC Mountains.

  • Wilmington, NC and nearby Wrightsville Beach is only two hours from Raleigh
  • Asheville NC and The Blue Ridge Parkway is only four hours from Raleigh
  • Greensboro and Winston-Salem are also a quick (1.5-2 hour drive) from Raleigh

For me the top reason to visit the city of Raleigh is the access to AMAZING Museums and Performing Arts opportunities.

We’ll start with my go-to stop in Raleigh, The North Carolina Museum of Art

North Carolina was one of the first states to create a state run art museum in 1947. Empowered by local donors and amazing gift from The Samuel Kress Collection – The NCMA began in the 1950s as a FREE museum known as ‘The People’s Collection’ to show that his is a museum for the people by the people of North Carolina.

North Carolina Museum of Art:

  • Includes one of the finest collections of Renaissance and Italian Art in the Southeast with works by Giotto, Botticelli, Titian, Raphael, Tintoretto, Veronese and more
  • One of the largest collections of Rodin works in the country
  • A strong collection of European and American works including Impressionism paintings by Monet, Pissarro and Hassam.
  • If you enjoy sculpture – the NCMA Museum park has numerous sculptures on the outdoor greenway trails.
  • The NCMA is one of the largest museum parks in the country – with endless trails connecting to the Raleigh Greenway system. It is a perfect spot to take a walk, enjoy a picnic and sit by the mini lake and watch birds like Herons and Egrets search for fish.
  • Website
  • You can check out a feature I wrote about The NCMA for our sister site Art Expeditions here.

Downtown – start your tour at the NC State Capitol...this 1840 Greco Roman domed building is gracious in design and packed with history.

Keeping on the museum exploration path, in downtown Raleigh, near the State Capitol Building, you’ll discover:

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences:

This state run museum, is 100% FREE with the exception of events/special exhibits

The museum is home to one of the best paleontogy departments and dinosaur collections in the US.

With over 300,000 square feet in the downtown campus, as well as satellite learning areas in other areas of the state, The NC Museum of Natural Sciences is the largest and most comprehensive in the Southeast.

They also have tons of interactive exhibits about the natural ecosystems and geology of North Carolina.

Learn more here.

Right next door you’ll find

North Carolina Museum of History:

This state run museum is 100% FREE with the exception of events/special exhibits

I was blessed to volunteer at the museum pre-COVID and was always impressed by the quality of exhibits and the permanent installations that tell the story of North Carolina history from prehistoric peoples to The Lost Colony of Sir Walter Raleigh to the Revolutionary and Civil Wars and beyond. North Carolina has a fascinating history and the museum makes the story come alive for all ages and backgrounds.

Learn more here.

If you enjoy history…Raleigh has several living historic houses including The Joel Lane House (oldest in Raleigh) and Mordecai House

Be a kid at…

Marbles Kids Museum

Located in the Moore Square area of downtown Raleigh, this interactive and fun playspace is a must-visit for kids (and kids at heart)…The museum has endless opportunities for play from dress up and theatre stations to lego bricks and more. The museum is also home to an IMAX theatre. Learn more on their website.

After exploring Marbles you can walk through Moore Square to The Old City Market and meander the shops at Art Space (a center with artist shops and art classes) before grabbing a bite to eat at a local restaurant. (My favorite is Caffe Luna – Italian)

And for kids of all ages, Pullen Park is a gorgous kid’s wonderland with rides, a Japanese Bridge, train and more.

  • The adjoining parkland borders NC State and includes the Pullen Art Center and Theatre in the Park

Speaking of parks…Raleigh is known as the City of Oaks with our towering trees and greenery…We have many city and nearby state parks that provide outdoor and recreation access…a few of my favorites:

  • Shelley Lake – in North Raleigh
  • Lake Lynn- in North Raleigh
  • Durant Road Nature Park
  • Umstead State Park – while Umstead is surrounded by the worst traffic and soot, this oasis of trees is an escape from the urban jungle. Go on a hike and rediscover a bit of piece in the hubub of the city.

If you enjoy gardens – the JC Raulson Arborteum at NC State is a wonderland of color and magic. It feels like a secret garden

Spend a day at a Mill…

  • Yates Mill is a fun park for families where you can learn about one of the important historic mills in Raleigh’s history
  • Lassiter Mill – this was my family’s mill and sadly burned down many years ago, but I remember hearing stories growing up about ‘the old mill,’ – today it is a city park and ideal spot for a picnic by the falls or walk on the nearby parkway.


Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium and adjoining theatres plays hosts to some of the best musical, theatrical and dance shows in the southeast.

The North Carolina Symphony, which is one of the only state funded symphonies in the United States, consistently hosts international giants of classical, broadway and popular music.

You can also catch top quality productions by NC Theatre and NC Opera in the complex.

Red Hat Amphitheater in Downtown Raleigh showcases national touring acts from Walk the Moon and The Head and the Heart to The Goo Goo Dolls every summer.

Enjoy local theatre at charming and historic Raleigh Little Theatre and meander through their beautiful Rose Garden

Artsplosure in May is the largest arts and music festival in Raleigh and features local and national artists, musicians and dance every year. Learn more here

In September, Raleigh hosts the IBMA World of Bluegrass Festival – where dozens of bluegrass bands and musicians descend on downtown Raleigh for an Amazing FESTIVAL of roots, Americana and Bluegrass music. This is a bluegrass music lovers dream!

The PNC Arena and Coastal Federal Credit Union Amphitheater are the major venues for national touring musicans like The Eagles or James Taylor.

The PNC Arena is also home to the NC State Wolfpack Basketball Games and The Carolina Hurricanes NHL Team.

College basketball reigns supreme in Raleigh. NC State is in Raleigh, but nearby UNC (Chapel Hill) and Duke (Durham) make up for serious Triangle (area of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill) rivalries. I’m a died in Carolina blue girl, but I have family that also went to Duke and State. It gets intense.

Raleigh represents the best of the NC BBQ scene at restaurants like Clyde Cooper’s BBQ and The PIT.

I’ll feature the Best of Raleigh Coffee on an upcoming Destination Coffee post, but if coffee is your goal…Raleigh won’t disappoint…

Coffee shops like Cup a Joe, Deja Brew, 42 & Lawrence offer the perfect chai or latte to get you through the day.

I plan to blog more about Raleigh and my home state of NC in the coming months, but I hope this was a good primer to get you excited about a trip to Raleigh.

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