11 of the Best Museums in Raleigh (Downtown and Beyond)

Last Updated on April 13, 2021

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As residents of the area, we’ve been frequenting the best museums in Raleigh for years. Many fellow lovers of North Carolina (like you) either live in our capital city or visit in search of things to do, we thought it’d be helpful to share our favorite fun, interactive, and educational spaces in Oak City.

Fill your mind and wander the exhibits inside these Raleigh museums, with some found downtown and others scattered elsewhere in the city. Either way, we guarantee you’ll learn something new after visiting these wonderful places!

This post is part of our series on museums in North Carolina. A few of these awesome museums also featured in our guides to children’s museums and things to do with kids in Raleigh!

Museums in Raleigh

African American Cultural Complex

119 Sunnybrook Rd
Admission: FREE (donations welcomed) 

The mission of the African American Cultural Complex museum is to “make people aware of contributions by African Americans to North Carolina and America through structured educational programs.” This is the first of many museums in Raleigh with a unique collection of artifacts and documents

The displays here are housed in several buildings along a picturesque trail. The AACC has a multitude of programs and events offered, including their Independence Festival, the African American Commemorative Banquet and theatrical stage plays. 

The AACC is the first of a few museums in Raleigh that featured among our favorite free things to do in the city.

City of Raleigh Museum

220 Fayetteville St
Admission: FREE (Recommended donation of $5)

The City of Raleigh Museum is working hard to live up to its mission, which is to “Preserve Raleigh’s Past for the Future.” The museum collects and cares for artifacts, curates exhibits, and provides educational programming to highlight and interpret the city of Raleigh’s history and heritage.

Enjoy their current exhibits, with recent examples focused on the Women’s Suffrage Movement and another on the history of Dix Hill, one of Raleigh’s newest parks. 

Contemporary Art Museum Raleigh (CAM)

409 W Martin St
Admission: FREE

Museums in Raleigh CAM

Before it housed one of the best museums in Raleigh, the building started off as a produce warehouse, where inventory was always flowing in and out. Today, Contemporary Art Museum Raleigh (CAM) offers an interesting mix of educational programs to go with its non-traditional exhibitions by living artists.

The museum takes inspiration from the city around it and is all about continual progress and always moving forward. Guests can peruse exhibits, with previous examples including a focus on 1990s NBA basketball and other interesting themes.

Marbles Kids Museum

201 E Hargett St
Admission: $9/person (Members & Children under age one play free)

Marbles is one of our favorite museums in Raleigh for birthday parties!

Marbles Kids Museum is located in the heart of downtown Raleigh and offers themed exhibits, summer camps, IMAX documentary and feature movies and special events year round. Families can enjoy two floors plus outside exhibits such as Toddlers Hollow, Putting Zoo, Stemosphere, and Ideaworks.

Send your kid to summer camp or take advantage of the new offer for weekly or single day Virtual School Help for those taking part in asynchronous learning! Movies and IMAX are offered multiple times a week as well as birthday parties for the kids who can’t get enough of Marbles! 

North Carolina Museum of Art

2110 Blue Ridge Dr
Admission: FREE

Museums in Raleigh NC Museum of Art Inside

The North Carolina Museum of Art is unique and interactive where visitors can create their own experience each time they visit the museum. This Raleigh museum offers rotating and special exhibits, events, and other fun programs.

Take part in their film club every month or a fun scavenger hunt set up around the museum and museum park. Summer camps are offered to members and free concert live streams are available through the end of spring.

Visit when they have new exhibits, such as “Art in Bloom” coming in June 2021 and “Golden Mummies of Egypt” in Spring of 2021. Each trip is bound to be memorable with a number of engaging tours, performing arts, and family workshops. 

We also love visiting the NCMA for the Ann and Jim Goodnight Park outside. Some permanent and rotating exhibits out there join a variety of nature trails. The Art to Heart Trail starts here and connects you to a variety of Raleigh attractions, including NC State, Dorothea Dix Park, Pullen Park, and more.

North Carolina Museum of History (& NC Sports Hall of Fame)

5 E Edenton St
Admission: FREE

Museums in Raleigh NC Museum of History

The North Carolina Museum of History is a Smithsonian affiliate with visitors coming in from all over the country.

They offer many changing exhibits and our favorite remains “The Story of North Carolina.” This one takes you from NC’s prehistory through today while detailing all of the state’s twists and turns, including the Civil War, Civil Rights Struggle, and more.

The NC Museum of History offers an array of events and programs to continue the learning experience for both adults and kids. Online exhibits are also offered through their website. 

Of all the museums in Raleigh that we feature, this is the only one that’s actually two museums in one building. The NC Sports Hall of Fame is located on the third floor of the Museum of History building. Inside, you’ll find tributes to legends from auto racing, basketball, baseball, and more sports.

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

11 W Jones St, Raleigh
Admission: FREE

Museums in Raleigh NC Museum of Natural Sciences

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is not only the state’s most visited museum but it’s also the largest of its kind in the Southeastern United States. The seven floors of this Raleigh Museum span two city blocks and the building is full of interactive and explorative exhibits, both permanent and featured.

Three levels of laboratories and exhibits also reside in the Nature Preserve Center here. Of all the museums in Raleigh, this is the only one that offers the rare opportunity to watch researchers study the natural world in real-time.

The Natural Sciences Museum also hosts virtual trivia, lunchtime events, and classroom-type events.

Pope House Museum

511 S Wilmington St
Admission: FREE

The Pope House Museum in Raleigh is located only blocks from the Capitol building in Downtown. It is the only African-American house museum in the state of North Carolina and showcases a glimpse into the life of Dr. Manassa Thomas Pope.

Dr. Pope was the only African-American man to run for mayor of a Southern capital in the middle of the Jim Crow era. They offer guided tours that showcase original artifacts, as well as a variety of hands-on educational programs.

We also mentioned the Pope House Museum among these other important places to learn about Black history in North Carolina!

Randleigh Dairy Heritage Museum

301 Dairy Ln
Admission: $15/person

We keep saying these museums in Raleigh are unique and this one is another case. The Randleigh Dairy Heritage Museum is part of NC State University’s Dairy Farm.

It’s located only a few miles from downtown Raleigh near Yates Mill and you can visit for a guided tour. During this agritourism experience, you can learn how milk goes from farm to table.

It’s interactive and allows for guests to see how a typical North Carolina dairy farm works, including how they raise their cows, produce the milk, and make milk products. The museum also honors the Kenan family, whose support helped create the museum.

The Jersey cows on the farm are direct descendants of Kenan’s family stock. Don’t forget to grab some Howling Cow ice cream before you leave!

Ray Price Legends of Harley Drag Racing Museum

1126 S. Saunders St
Admission: FREE

The Ray Price Legends of Harley Drag Racing Museum sits downtown, above one of the largest Harley Davidson dealerships in the United States. It is also the only Harley Davidson drag racing museum in the world, and home to the late, world-famous drag racer Ray Price.

This Raleigh museum takes a trip down memory lane and showcases many drag races, some that may have become famous, and others that didn’t (but still had fun doing it). Some of the drag racers showcased include Jay Turner, Bill and Aaron Furr, and Jim McClure.

Ready to Explore These Awesome Museums in Raleigh?

You might’ve already known that there are more than a few museums in Raleigh to explore. But did you expect to see so many distinct and diverse places to visit?

Whether you are searching for art, history, or agriculture, this city is packed with places to interactively display our state’s culture and background!

Have you visited any of these museums in Raleigh? Which are your favorites? In case you haven’t made it here yet, we’d love to know which ones you plan to visit first!

More Things to Do in Raleigh

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