Last Updated on January 11, 2021
Last Updated on January 11, 2021
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As frequent visitors to Oak City, we’ve gotten to know our capital city and want to share our favorite things to do in Raleigh. If you’re interested in spending a weekend (or living) here, this list of fun attractions is where you should start.
These are just a few of the awesome things to do that keep visitors coming from across the state and beyond. If you’re one of them, this guide is for you. Follow along if you want to enjoy your first (or next) weekend in Raleigh.
Seasonal Events in Raleigh
Before getting into year-round things to do in Raleigh, here are some specific events in the city, with more getting added each year!
Spring and Summer
- March: Every year, the North Carolina Museum of Art explodes with flowers. More than 50 floral interpretations by world-class designers are created on-site for a once in a lifetime experience.
- April: Brewagloo is North Carolina’s largest craft beer festival bringing over 30,000 people to sample over 100 state breweries and 50 food trucks. The festival is free but samples are available for purchase to celebrate NC Beer Month!
- Mid-April: Visit the WRAL Azalea Gardens during its peak. You’ll see a variety of pinks and purples mixed with greens, as a full demonstration that spring is in full swing! Get there early because the gardens get crowded on weekends with photography sessions and visitors from all over.
- May: Featuring over 50 area chefs with a mission to raise awareness of food insecurity, Thrive NC is a two-day food festival served up by Raleigh’s top chefs and restaurants.
- July: Ever seen a field filled with sunflowers? What if I told you those sunflowers would later be turned into biofuel? Not only are the Raleigh Sunflowers a must-see event, but they end up going to a great cause. While they typically do bloom in early July, keep your eyes peeled to our social media for updates!
- September: 25,000 fans come to downtown Raleigh for Hopscotch Music Festival, to bump and groove to 120-plus bands! Spread out across 11 venues, this festival is named one of America’s can’t-miss music events!
Fall and Winter
- October: Have you ever had deep-fried Oreos? The North Carolina State Fair highlights the best of our state and has for over 150 years! The largest annual event in the state brings in over one million visitors and has incredible food, rides, music, and entertainment!
- November: From November into January, nearby Cary lights up with the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival. With more than 20 larger-than-life displays draw over 100,000 people from across the Triangle to illuminate the night.
- December: Count down the New Year with First Night Raleigh, a tradition since 1995. To celebrate the clock striking midnight, a giant acorn drops. More than 100 performances across 35 venues and celebrations join the fun, making Raleigh one of the best places to celebrate New Year’s Eve in North Carolina.
- February: Do you love Donuts and running? If so, the Krispy Kreme Challenge is for you! Run two and a half miles and eat a dozen donuts before running back in under an hour and you’re a winner!
More than a few of these events made our NC Bucket List.
Things to Do in Raleigh ALL Year
Dorothea Dix Park
The first place you should go when visiting Raleigh is Dorothea Dix Park. The former plantation/mental health hospital has transformed into a beautiful 308-acre urban park, filled with wide-open spaces for you to chill out and enjoy.
It’s also home to stunning views of the city’s skyline. In recent years, the City of Raleigh has planted the #instaworthy Raleigh Sunflowers that we mentioned earlier.
Even when visitors aren’t there for flowers, this place gets incredibly popular during the summer.
For a deeper dive, we interviewed Kate Pearce from Dix Park to learn more about its past, present, and future!
Yates Mill County Park
Just 8 miles south of downtown Raleigh, Historic Yates Mill County Park is the perfect getaway. It’s one of 70 mills in Wake County, but the last that’s still operable.
You can walk the 174-acres of the park around the lake or stop by for one of the guided tours of the mill and watch as they grind corn.
William B Umstead State Park
The 6,000-acres of wooded land in Umstead State Park is part of why Raleigh is known as “The City of Oaks.” Trails at this wonderful park weave in and out of what used to be two segregated parks, which everyone can now enjoy.
We love Sycamore Trail and Sal’s Branch on the Crabtree Creek end and Company Mill on the Reedy Creek side. Another favorite of ours is one of the park’s best-kept secrets: The Chainsaw Art Tree! Accessed via the Multi-Use Trail, a 25-foot fallen oak has been transformed into a work of wooden art!
Our guide to Umstead State Park shares our favorite trails, background info, and much more!
The Capital Area Greenway
Started in 1974, the City of Raleigh has been building and expanding the Capital Area Greenway, the nation’s first citywide greenway system.
It spans over 100 miles around Raleigh and connects 28 individual trails. While a major city with some pretty intense traffic, it’s totally possible to escape it all and hop on a trail and forget it all.
If the weather is nice, Pullen Park is one of the best things to do in Raleigh with kids. It’s the fifth oldest operating amusement park in the US and filled with fun spots. You can grab a ticket for a train or carousel ride or any of the other extra fun, but we also enjoy the playgrounds.
Tip: Arrive early if you plan to visit on a Saturday because the parking lot fills up fast!
Museums in Raleigh
We’ve mentioned seasonal events in Raleigh already but these museums are a big part of why we consider the city among our favorite winter getaways in North Carolina.
Get your contemporary art fix at CAM Raleigh, with rotating exhibits in an accessible and inviting atmosphere. Since this is a non-collecting museum, no two visits to CAM are ever the same!
Every second Saturday is “Sensory Saturday” at CAM, with two hours of structure and quiet available before opening to everyone else.
City of Raleigh Museum
History lovers will enjoy the City of Raleigh Museum, which is really a place for all learners.
They really do a good job of telling as much of the whole story is possible. To me, that’s a step ahead of many Southern museums that leave out or diminish the African-American and minority experience.
North Carolina Museum of Art
The North Carolina Museum of Art is one of our favorite ways to enjoy a weekend in Raleigh, especially during mornings. Its beautiful Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park connects to the Capital Area Greenway and is one of our favorite ways to spend a weekend morning.
Their stunning and expansive free permanent collection has been complemented over the years by captivating guest exhibits such as Frieda + Diego, Scott Avett, and Ansel Adams.
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (and North Carolina Museum of History)
While they are two separate museums, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and the North Carolina History Museum are right next to each other, so we usually combine them during Saturday mornings.
They are both FREE and great to explore before grabbing a late lunch.
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
Check out the dinosaur bones and explore ecosystems across our state at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. There’s also a fun butterfly garden (find the sloth!) to walk through, but we really enjoy all the snakes, insects, and fish that are exhibited throughout.
The North Carolina History Museum
We then hop over to the NC Museum of History and spend a little extra time lingering through The Story of North Carolina exhibit. This traces the first North Carolinians from thousands of years ago to the 20th century through artifacts, multimedia, and hands-on manipulatives.
It’s one of the most impressive and thorough history exhibits you’ll ever see and a big reason why this is one of our favorite museums in North Carolina. The NC Sports Hall of Fame is on the third floor, with many great names like Michael Jordan and Richard Petty on display.
Marbles Kids Museum
Located downtown near the City Market, Marbles Kids Museum is an indoor interactive and hands-on learning destination. It’s great for kids of all ages, with exhibits geared to STEM, music, fine and gross motor skills, and more.
Bring your kiddo and expect hours of fun play and learning at this awesome children’s museum!
Arcades and Barcades
Frankie’s Fun Park
Even if you didn’t bring kids to Raleigh, Frankie’s Fun Park is an awesome place to go. They have laser tag, batting cages, and more to go along with games galore. My favorite is Ms. Pac Man but you might find your own after visiting.
If you want some adult beverages between rounds of DDR or quarters of NBA Jam, check out Boxcar. Their full bar with 24 rotating taps complements the dozens of pinball machines, 75-plus arcade games, and nearly 200 console games you’ll find inside.
Breweries in Raleigh
Raleigh’s got big pints and I cannot lie. With over 30 breweries in Raleigh and Wake County, the City of Oaks might as well also be named the City of Hops.
Our Favorite Raleigh Breweries
Feel like a BAMF at Big Boss Brewing or get your bike shorts ready at Crank Arm Brewing (across from Boxcar). The beer names at Lynnwood Brewing Concern might crack you up, but they’re seriously delicious.
We share more in a guide to our favorite Raleigh breweries.
And if you can’t decide on one brewery, visit the Raleigh Beer Garden. This place has set two Guinness world records for the largest selection of draft beer. And with one entire tap wall dedicated to North Carolina beer, you have plenty of options for keeping it local.
They have plenty of places to sit and a nice food menu. Stop by and you’ll see why this is the perfect spot to hang out with friends or large groups.
Eat at These Raleigh Restaurants
Pull up a chair and be prepared to be wowed in the City of Oaks! Raleigh is home to a diverse food scene with everything from Laotian to good old country home-cooking!
Vegetarian and vegan diners can find incredible world-class meals at The Fiction Kitchen (definitely get the BBQ!). Spirits aficionados will love the selection while deciding what to put in their flight at Whiskey Kitchen.
Our Raleigh restaurant guide includes some of these places and more!
Visit a Food Hall
Raleigh is also home to two great food halls, with enough variety to eliminate any “what should we eat?” debate.
Transfer Co has my favorite bagel spot in the area (Benchwarmers) and Chhote’s knows how to cure that Curry fix. Che Empanadas brings a little Argentine flair to the table and yours, too if you order from them.
At Morgan Street Food Hall, you’ll find the much-hyped and worth it Cousins Maine Lobster for New England-themed deliciousness. But no matter where you go, top it off with something sweet from the amazing Raleigh Rolls.
Join a Food Tour
If you can’t decide where to eat in Raleigh, we highly recommend joining a Taste Carolina Food Tour! You get a nice sampling of restaurants over two to three hours. Your guide will also mix in some Raleigh history with tidbits about some of the restaurants you visit.
We shared more about our Raleigh Taste Carolina tour here.
Where to Stay
When looking for hotels in Raleigh, the question comes down to this: what do you really want in a place to stay?
For the ultimate luxury and relaxation spot, the Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary is where you should start. If location and convenience are your main focus, the Marriott City Center and Sheraton across the street are perfect.
Ready to Explore these Things to Do in Raleigh?
Spending a weekend in Raleigh is easy for us since we’ve done it so many times. That’s why we know this collection of stuff to do will keep you busy and is battle-tested for first-time visitors to the area and even seasoned locals.
We’re always on the hunt for more fun in Raleigh and if you know of something we missed, feel free to email us or let us know in the comments section.