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23 Free (and FUN) Things to Do in Raleigh

Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on April 18, 2024.

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Thanks to all the fun and FREE things to do in Raleigh, we’ve enjoyed many days, nights, and weekends without spending any money.

Of course, we’ve eaten out at many of the city’s restaurants before fun-packed date nights. However, Raleigh has many free activities throughout the year. Whether you’re searching for summer sunflowers, some of the state’s best museums, or more family fun, our guide has you covered!

Here’s how we’ve organized this guide:

  • Free Things to Do in Raleigh (Museums)
  • Free Things to Do in Raleigh (Parks and Trails)
  • Free Events in Raleigh

Each section within this guide covering free things to do in Raleigh is alphabetized by place name.

This post is a part of our series covering things to do in Raleigh and elsewhere in Central North Carolina. If you’re searching for places to stay, check out these cool Airbnbs in Raleigh!

Free Things to Do in Raleigh (Museums)

African American Cultural Complex

The African American Cultural Complex is the first of our free things to do in Raleigh and not just because it wins the ABC battle. This place 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.

The City of Raleigh Museum is this article’s first of many museums in Raleigh that we’ll mention.

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. 

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.

Read More: 50+ Easy Day Trips from Fayetteville (Great Getaways!)

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

Things to Do in North Carolina NC Museum of Art Raleigh

The North Carolina Museum of Art is one of our favorite spots for a 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 connect to the Reedy Creek Greenway.

We mentioned the NC Museum of Art and a few more spots in our guide covering winter things to do in Raleigh, too! They’re also a big reason why we consider Raleigh to be one of the best winter getaways in North Carolina.

North Carolina Museum of History

Free Things to Do in Raleigh NC Museum of History

The North Carolina Museum of History is free and open every day to Raleigh visitors. Its famed exhibit covers the “Story of North Carolina” from prehistory to today.

With displays covering slavery, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights era, this is definitely one important place to learn about Black history in North Carolina.

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.

NC Museum of Natural Sciences

NC Natural Sciences 9

We’ve already covered many free museums in Raleigh but the NC Museum of Natural Sciences might be the easiest to recognize from the outside. That’s because of the giant metal globe facing West Jones St. 

On the inside, it’s filled with beautifully curated exhibits and living creatures 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!

The NC Museum of Natural Sciences, along with a few other activities in this guide, are included among our favorite things to do in Raleigh with kids!

Pope House Museum

The Pope House Museum was built in 1901 and is North Carolina’s only African-American house museum. 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 10:00 am to 3:00 pm.

This most important of free things to do in Raleigh is included in our guide that covers Black history in North Carolina.

Free Things to Do in Raleigh (Parks and Trails)

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, free events are happening all year long, too! Bring a chair or blanket for a Movie by Moonlight, fly a kite in the breeze, or do Yoga in the Park while enjoying Dix Park!

We included these amazing Raleigh sunflowers among our favorite kid-friendly events in North Carolina.

Greystone Recreation Center

On rainy days in Raleigh, you can get your wiggles out for free at Greystone Recreation Center! It’s located in Greystone Village Shopping Center, and there, you’ll find a fun indoor playground and rock climbing wall.

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 Raulston’s Garden Storytime.

Neuse River Greenway Trail

What to Do in Raleigh NC Neuse River Greenway Image

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.

Pullen Park

Pullen Park NC

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.

Shelley Lake Park

The Shelley Lake Park Trail is an amazing loop!

Visiting Shelley Lake Park is absolutely one of our favorite things to do in Raleigh. Perfect for walkers and joggers, this partially shaded two-mile loop is pretty flat.

Shelley Lake is also a great option if you’re searching for a nice sunset stroll! You can start your walk from the parking lot next to the trail or connect via the Sertoma Arts Center trail parking lot.

Read More: 25+ Great Lakes in North Carolina (+ Our Top 5 Picks)

William B. Umstead State Park

North Carolina State Parks Umstead State Park Raleigh NC Image
Pott’s Branch Trail.

Exploring William B. Umstead State Park is easily one of our favorite free things to do in Raleigh. For starters, it’s the perfect place to escape the busyness of the city! 

With 5,600 acres and over 20 miles of trails, this state park is 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

Free Things to Do in Raleigh NC Umstead State Park Chainsaw Art Image

We thought this spot inside Umstead State Park also deserved a mention. In October 2017, Jerry Redi and Randy Boni of Smoky Mountain Art transformed a massive oak tree using chainsaws.

It’s off the Graylyn Multi-Use Trail and very easy to reach.

Yates Mill County Park

Free Things to Do in Raleigh NC Yates Mill Image

A visit to Historic Yates Mill County Park has long topped our list of favorite places to go in Raleigh. It’s such a serene park and home to one of the city’s most photogenic spots.

Yates Mill is 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 Gardens

The WRAL Azalea Gardens have opened their beautiful winding paths to the public since 1959. This free garden is located directly behind the TV Station, filled with breezy fragrant azaleas and other flowers.

It’s a popular spot for portrait sessions and even weddings, too. As you can see, we’ve taken advantage of this picturesque place for the former!

Free Things to Do in Raleigh (Events)

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.

Videri Chocolate Factory

WARNING: The Videri Chocolate Factory experience is free, but we cannot guarantee that you won’t buy some incredible chocolate!

During the self-guided tour (10 am to 3 pm during open days), you can watch the production process and learn more about the history of chocolate making, from farm to factory.

Ready to Enjoy these Free Things to Do in Raleigh?

Who knew 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 favorite FREE things to do in Raleigh? If there are any activities or attractions 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.

More Things to Do in Raleigh

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