We’ve spent so much time exploring Oak City, eating out various restaurants during day dates and fun-packed evenings of concerts and other events. On quite a few occasions, we’ve been able to enjoy the Raleigh without spending much money at all. And that’s largely thanks to all the fun and free activities and events you can find in Raleigh throughout the year. Whether you’re searching for summer sunflowers, some of the state’s best museums, or more fun, check out our collection of free things to do in Raleigh.
Free Things to Do in Raleigh
African American Cultural Complex
Raleigh’s African American Cultural Complex houses a unique collection of artifacts and documents, and there’s also a beautiful nature trail for visitors to explore. This free museum aims to celebrate African-Americans who have contributed to the growth and prosperity of North Carolina and America.
Artspace‘s exhibits, classes, and active artist studios make art and its development processes accessible to the community. The center’s four exhibition spaces and 30 artist studios are free to browse, too. Raleigh residents and visitors can join some amazing classes, which aren’t free, but still worth checking out!
City of Raleigh Museum
With a mission to “Preserve Raleigh’s Past for the Future,” the City of Raleigh Museum is an integral part of the community. Exhibitions feature Raleigh artists, artifacts of the city’s past, and projects completed by area school children. Exhibits are not permanent, so this place is worth multiple return visits.
Contemporary Art Museum of Raleigh (CAM)
Ahead-of-the-game art and innovative experiences await as you stroll through the Contemporary Art Museum of Raleigh (CAM). By highlighting non-traditional exhibitions by living artists, the works at CAM remain thought-provoking and especially relevant to today’s issues.
Dorothea Dix Park
If you’re looking for a stunning view of the Raleigh skyline, head to the 308-acre Dorothea Dix Park! In the summer, you’ll find people flocking there to catch the Raleigh Sunflowers. However, there are free events happening all year long, too! Bring a chair or blanket for Movie by Moonlight, fly a kite in the breeze, or Yoga in the Park while enjoying Dix Park!
Greystone Recreation Center
At Greystone Recreation Center, you can get your wiggles out for free on rainy days in Raleigh! It’s located in Greystone Village Shopping Center, and there you’ll find a fun indoor playground and rock climbing wall.
Haywood Hall House
The Haywood Hall House and Gardens are where you can tour the oldest house within Raleigh’s original city limits! The site was built by John Haywood in 1792 and represents family life during the development of North Carolina’s statehood. Today, it is a museum and venue that hosts special events and weddings. Tours of the house are available on the second & fourth Thursdays.
JC Raulston Arboretum
The JC Raulston Arboretum is maintained by NC State University and is filled with 10 acres of blooming flowers and interesting plants. This free thing to do in Raleigh is recognized as one of the most diverse collections of plants in the Southeast. And you know what? You can always find something in bloom here! Stop by for a stroll through the various themed gardens and if you have a little one, check out the Raulston’s Garden Storytime.
Midtown Beach Music Series
During their 18-week event season, get your Shag on with friends in North Hills at the Midtown Beach Music Series! Over 125,000 people jam together throughout the summer at one of the best free concert series in North Carolina.
Neuse River Greenway Trail
The Neuse River Greenway Trail‘s 27.5 miles of paved trails that run through Wake County are the perfect way to walk, bike, or run Raleigh. It’s also part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, and this section passes through wetlands, farming pastures, and even links to trails in Wake Forest, Knightdale, and Johnston County.
North Carolina Executive Mansion
Since 1891, the North Carolina Executive Mansion has been the home to 28 governors. Free tours of the home and gardens are available through the Capital Area Visitors Center but must be made a minimum of two weeks in advance.
North Carolina Museum of Art
The North Carolina Museum of Art is one of our favorite spots for a day date, with an awesome permanent collection and spectacular rotating exhibits. Bring some comfortable walking shoes and visit The Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park trails, which connects to the Reedy Creek Greenway.
We mentioned NC Museum of Art and a few more spots in our guide covering winter things to do in Raleigh, too!
North Carolina Museum of History
The North Carolina Museum of History is free and open every day to Raleigh visitors. Here, you’ll find its famed exhibit covering the “Story of North Carolina” from prehistory to today. The NC Sports Hall of Fame is also here and always full of surprises each time we look up at the banners of inductees, beyond Michael Jordan, Richard Petty, and other legendary figures.
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is easy to recognize on the outside, thanks to the giant metal globe facing West Jones St. On the inside, it’s filled with beautifully curated exhibits and creatures that live in our state. You have plenty to explore here, including North Carolina’s ecosystem from the mountains to the sea, dinosaur bones, butterflies, and much more!
Pope House Museum
Built in 1901, the Pope House Museum is the only African-American house museum in North Carolina. It was Dr. Manassa Thomas Pope’s home, and the site today commemorates his life as well as his courageous run for mayor in 1919 in the middle of the Jim Crow South. Tours of the house and original furnishings are available on Saturdays from 10 am to 3 pm.
Home to 66 acres of trails and playgrounds, Pullen Park is North Carolina’s first public park and still operating. Entry to the park itself is free, but there are extra amusements (1911 Carousel, kiddie boats, train, pedal boats) that require tickets.
Raleigh Rose Garden
Theater and roses? Yes, please! The Raleigh Rose Garden features 1,200 roses of 60 different varieties that bloom during the summer months. Located on the Raleigh Little Theatre campus, this is one of three accredited rose gardens in North Carolina.
Videri Chocolate Factory
WARNING: The Videri Chocolate Factory experience is free, but we cannot guarantee that you won’t end up buying some incredible chocolate! During the self-guided tour (Monday to Friday, 10 am to 3 pm), you can watch the production process and learn more about the history of chocolate making, from farm to factory.
William B. Umstead State Park
William B. Umstead State Park is the perfect place to escape the busyness of the city! With 5,600 acres and over 20 miles of trails, it’s one of the best places to go hiking in North Carolina. Sycamore (7.2 miles round trip) and Sal’s Branch (2.8 miles round trip) are our favorites for beautiful, tree-covered walks.
Umstead State Park Bonus: Chainsaw Art Tree Carving
We thought that this spot inside Umstead State Park required a mention, too. A massive oak tree was transformed via chainsaws by Jerry Redi and Randy Boni of Smoky Mountain Art in October 2017. It’s off the Graylyn multi-use trail and very easy to reach.
Our guide to Umstead State Park covers this awesome chainsaw art, its trails, and more!
Historic Yates Mill County Park is home to one of the area’s most photogenic spots. It’s also great for soaking up the sound of falling water. The fully restored 1756 gristmill is only five miles south of Downtown Raleigh and offers mill tours every weekend from March to November. You can also take a stroll around the pond to see the mill from all angles!
WRAL Azalea Garden
The WRAL Azalea Gardens have opened their beautiful winding paths to the public since 1959. Located directly behind the TV Station, this free garden filled with breezy fragrant azaleas and other flowers. It’s a popular spot for portrait sessions and even weddings, too.
Our Thoughts And Yours, Too!
Who know that there were so many fun free things to do in Raleigh? From culture, history, to beautiful greenways and outdoors, we think Oak City has it all, especially for those traveling on a budget. Out of the spots we featured, do you have any favorites? If there’s a free activity or attraction that we left out, we’d love to know about it. Let us know in the comments and we might even add it to the list.