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15+ Important Tips to Enjoy the NC State Fair

Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on April 15, 2024.

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The North Carolina State Fair is an annual October event in Raleigh, North Carolina, and draws more than 1 million people. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture hosts this family-friendly event highlighting farming families, entertainment, carnival rides, and unique food. 

Our guide shares everything you’ll need to prepare for this year’s fair. We include the history of this fantastic event, must-try food stops, and tips based on our personal experiences to help maximize your experience at the NC State Fair!

Here’s how we’ve organized this guide:

  • History of the NC State Fair
  • Location Info
  • Dates and Times
  • Ticket Prices and Info
  • Things to Do
    • Exhibits
    • Fair Food
    • Rides
      • The State Fair SkyGazer
  • Important Tips
  • More Things to Do in Raleigh (NC Travel Guides)

Skip ahead to any section or keep reading about the fair’s history, from its beginning through today!

Read More: 100+ Unique Things to Do In North Carolina (Your NC Bucket List)

History of the NC State Fair

The first North Carolina State Fair happened in 1853 in Raleigh and has celebrated the state’s agriculture ever since. During the 1870s and 1880s, the mills in Winston-Salem would close. This was done to allow families to attend popular events. 

The NC State Fair has been in the same place since 1928, attracting over a million visitors in 11 days. 

Read More: 125+ Important Facts About North Carolina You Should Know (History, Geography, and More!)

Where is the NC State Fair?

Address: 4285 Trinity Rd, Raleigh, NC

The North Carolina State Fair is held in west Raleigh at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds off Blue Ridge Road. It conveniently sits off of I-40, I-440, and I-540 and is close to the NC Museum of Art

The fair has been held here since 1928. It covers 344 acres and includes Dorton Arena, a 7,500-seat arena with a unique roof. 

You can visually travel to the NC State Fair with our map of Central North Carolina and our North Carolina Travel Map.

When is the 2023 NC State Fair? (Dates and Times)

  • Dates: The 2023 North Carolina State Fair is open from Thursday, October 12, 2023, to Sunday, October 22, 2023.
  • Times are subject to change but follow the same pattern, except for Opening Day. Sunday to Thursday times are the same and Friday and Saturday times are the same. Here’s a specific breakdown of NC State Fair times.
    • Opening Day Times (Thursday, October 12, 2023)
      • Gates: Noon – 11:00 pm
      • Admission Ticket Booth: Noon – 9:45 pm
      • Ride Redemption Booths: Noon – 10:00 pm
      • Midway Ticket Booth: 1:00 pm – 10:30 pm
      • Midway Rides: 1:00 pm – 11:00 pm
      • Exhibit Halls: Noon – 9:45 pm
    • Friday and Saturday Times (Friday, October 14, 2023-Saturday, October 15, 2023, and Friday, October 21, 2023-Saturday, October 22, 2023)
      • Gates: 9:00 am – Midnight
      • Admission Ticket Booth: 9:00 am – 9:45 pm
      • Ride Redemption Booths: 9:00 am – 10:00 pm
      • Midway Ticket Booth: 10:00 am -11:30 pm
      • Midway Rides: 10:00 am – Midnight
      • Exhibit Halls: 9:00 am – 9:45 pm
    • Sunday to Thursday Times (Sunday, October 16, 2023 – Thursday, October 20, 2023, and Sunday, October 23, 2023)
      • Gates: 9 am – 11 pm
      • Admission Ticket Booth: 9:00 am – 9:45 pm
      • Ride Redemption Booths: 9:00 am – 10:00 pm
      • Midway Ticket Booth: 10 am – 11:30 pm
      • Midway Rides: 10 am – 11 pm
      • Exhibit Halls: 9 am – 9:45 pm
  • Fireworks: Fireworks light up the sky nightly, starting at 9:45 pm, and visitors can easily see them from the Midway. Look towards the lake across from Gate 8 for a magical display! 

Read More: 10 of the Best Museums in Raleigh (Downtown and Beyond)

NC State Fair Tickets

North Carolina State Fair View from Above
  • Fair Ticket Prices
    • $13 for Adults
    • $8 for Military Adults
    • $7 for Kids ages 6-12
    • $5 for Seniors
    • Free for Kids ages 5 and under
  • A sheet of 18 ride tickets is $10 (most rides are about 5-6 tickets).
  • A wristband is $40 and gets you unlimited rides for one day. 
  • State Fair SkyGazer costs $7.

Purchase NC State Fair Tickets

Things to Do at the NC State Fair

Before we share our best tips, knowing about all the things you can do at the North Carolina State Fair is essential.

Exhibits at the North Carolina State Fair

North Carolina State Fair pumpkins

One of the best parts of the NC State Fair is walking through the exhibits. The Antique Farm Machinery displays vintage farm tools, a Model-T engine, and tractors from the 1930s through the 1950s. 

If you are a plant enthusiast, you cannot miss one of the 90 demonstrations during the Flower and Garden Show. This tent always has something going on, from pumpkin carving to flower arranging! 

Read More: 18 of the Best Pumpkin Patches in North Carolina (Eastern, Central, and Western NC)

And one of our kid’s favorite exhibits is the Village of Yesteryear. See demonstrations from artists and crafters spinning wool, weaving, turning pottery, and more!

The artists also sell their handmade crafts in the village, so be prepared to come home with something fun and unique. 

Read More: The NC Museum of History in Raleigh (+7 Things We Love About It!)

Food at the NC State Fair

Peachey’s Baking Company will probably have the longest line at the NC State Fair, but with good reason. And as someone who hates to stand in line for food, I’ll admit it was worth it.

These hot fresh donuts are fluffy, yeasty, and everything I’ll dream about for the following year’s fair. 

Previous top choices include Oak City Fish and Chips, a popular restaurant in Raleigh known for its delicious food. They specialize in lobster and salmon bites, and we highly recommend grabbing one during your visit to the NC State Fair.

Read More: 15 Hop-Tastic Raleigh Breweries for Your Next Flight, Pint, or Growler

Rides at the NC State Fair

Did you know the NC State Fair has the largest midway at any state fair?! There are more than 100 rides, including the State Fair Flyer, SkyGazer, and the Pirate Ship. 

If you purchase your ride tickets or wristbands online, you must redeem them for physical tickets. The Ride Redemption Tents are bright green. They can be found by Gates 7, 8, and 9 or in front of Dorton Arena.

Note that there are height requirements for the rides. You can find the height requires for each ride here.

Read More: How to Enjoy Carowinds Amusement Park (10 Important Tips!)

The State Fair SkyGazer

North Carolina State Fair

If there is one thing we recommend doing at the NC State Fair, it’s riding the State Fair SkyGazer! It is an extra cost but is a 155-foot tall Ferris wheel and the largest in the USA.

It holds 200 people at a time and offers fantastic park views. 

15+ Tips for Enjoying the NC State Fair

So now that you know what there is to do, here’s how you can enjoy the North Carolina State Fair, based on NC Tripping’s tips!

  • Bring Your Best Walking Shoes
  • Go on a Weekday if You Can
  • Walk Through The Exhibits
  • Try as Much Food as You Can
  • Check Height Requirements for Rides
  • Enjoy the State Fair SkyGazer
  • State Fair Ticket Saving Tips
    • To get cheaper tickets for the NC State Fair, buy them online or at area Circle K stores before it starts.
    • Another great way to save money is by attending the food drive day.
    • Bring six cans of food and receive free admission to the fair! But note that this is usually one of the most crowded days. 
North Carolina State Fair agriculture demos
  • State Fair Parking Tips
    • Parking can be confusing at the NC State Fair, but one of the most recommended options is to park at the lot at the corner of Edwards Mill and Reedy Creek and take a complimentary shuttle to the fair. 
    • If that isn’t available, more free parking lots, including Carter-Finley Stadium and PNC Arena, are nearby. But note that there is no shuttle, and you’ll need to walk to the gates. 
  • Bag Policy Tips
    • In previous years, the NC State Fair had a clear bag policy, but as of 2023 they have modified the policy to allow other bags. Note that this does not extend to additional events held at the NC State Fairgrounds and only for the NC State Fair in October.
    • The N.C. State Fair will operate two security checkpoints at each gate. Those fairgoers who bring a clear bag will go through a much quicker inspection, while those with an opaque bag will go through our bag search line. In an effort to get you into the fun as quickly as possible, please bring your items in a clear bag. There is no size limit to the clear bag being accepted. 
    • Outside food and drink, water bottles, diaper bags with baby/toddler supplies and medications are allowed. 
North Carolina State Fair crowds
  • Water Tips
    • Save a little cash and bring your own water bottle!
    • Water filling stations are outside Casey’s Clubhouse and between Kiddieland and the Scott Building. 

Do you have any tips to add? We’d love to hear about them! Let us know in the comments section.

Ready to Enjoy the NC State Fair in Raleigh?

The North Carolina State Fair, an annual celebration in Raleigh, showcases this beautiful state’s agriculture, entertainment, and diverse cuisine. We hope you can put our tips to use and enjoy this event as we have.

If you’re familiar with the NC State Fair, we’d love to hear about your experiences and tips. Let us know in the comments. Before you do, though, here are more ways to enjoy Raleigh.

More Things to Do in Raleigh (Beyond the NC State Fair)

There are many fun things to do in Raleigh (especially with kids), all of which will complement your visit to the North Carolina State Fair. Here are some of our favorites:

These NC travel guides cover the Raleigh area in thorough detail, too!

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