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50+ Fun Things to Do in Wake County (Raleigh and Beyond!)

Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on May 14, 2024.

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There are plenty of fun things to do in Wake County, considering it’s the most populous county in North Carolina and home to Raleigh, the capital city.

Anyone who crosses the county line from Durham to the west, Johnston County to the east, or any other neighbors will be greeted with plenty of places to visit. You can start with the area’s thriving restaurant scene, museums, nightlife, outdoor spaces (hiking and biking opportunities galore!), and unique annual events throughout the year.

If you’re in the Raleigh area and interested in experiencing all there is to do in the city and its surroundings in Wake County, we’ve created this NC travel guide for you.

Here’s how we have organized this guide:

  • Where is Wake County NC?
  • Wake County Towns
  • Places to Stay
  • Annual Events
  • Things to Do in Wake County NC This Weekend (and All Year!)
  • Places to Eat
  • Restaurants
  • Breweries
  • Distilleries
  • Related Wake County NC Travel Guides

Whether you’re a new Wake County resident, a frequent visitor, or a Raleigh local, we’re leaving no detail behind. If you live in the area and are wondering, “What are the best things to do near me?” we know this NC travel guide will help you out! 

Read More: Amazing Things to Do in Raleigh (Award-Winning Restaurants, Museums, and More!)

Where is Wake County?

Things to Do in Wake County NC Map
Image Credit: David Benbennick, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Wake County is firmly located in Central North Carolina, around the capital city of Raleigh. It’s about 2 to 2-1/2 hours from the beach to the east and the mountains to the west.

Major highways that pass through Wake County include I-40, US-1, US-70, and US-64.

Many people travel to Wake County and its surroundings via Raleigh-Durham International Airport (2400 John Brantley Blvd, Morrisville, NC). If you’re unfamiliar with the area, the airport is the only place in the area that qualifies as “Raleigh-Durham.” /end rant

Wake County borders nine counties in North Carolina, including:

  • Granville County (North)
  • Franklin County (Northeast)
  • Nash County (East)
  • Johnston County (Southeast)
  • Harnett County (Southwest)
  • Chatham County (West)
  • Durham County (Northwest)

You can visually plan your Wake County NC adventures with the following maps:

Wake County Towns

Things to Do in Wake County NC Apex Downtown
Apex.

Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is Raleigh (and even Cary), but eleven more towns and municipalities make up this diverse county.

Here’s a quick list of all towns and cities:

  • Raleigh
  • Apex
  • Cary
  • Durham: A tiny sliver of Durham is in Wake County, but the Bull City is 99 percent within the Durham County line.
  • Fuquay-Varina
  • Garner
  • Holly Springs
  • Knightdale
  • Morrisville
  • Rolesville
  • Wake Forest
  • Wendell
  • Zebulon

Read More: 50 of the Best Day Trips from Raleigh (Fun Getaways!)

Places to Stay in Wake County

Mayton Inn Cary NC outside

When exploring the area, here are a few places to stay in Wake County:

Read More: Amazing Hotels in North Carolina (+ Inns, Resorts, & Rentals)

Annual Events

Winter in North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festivals Cary NC

With such a diverse and large population, Wake County hosts some incredible annual events, from festivals to the NC State Fair. Here’s our list of the best events you should try to plan your trip around!

  • Triangle Restaurant Week (January): Participating restaurants in the Research Triangle (including Wake County) offer special course menus. There are no reservations, tickets, or passes required for this annual event.
  • Krispy Kreme Challenge (February): This 5-mile race through Wake County also features donuts! Krispy Kreme sponsors this charity run challenge that requires participants to run 2.5 miles, eat a dozen donuts, and run back. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s a lot of fun!
  • Art in Bloom (March): “Art in Bloom” is a four-day fundraiser at the NC Museum of Art and a special event in Wake County. Highlights over 50 floral art interpretive pieces.
  • Minor League Baseball (April-September): The Carolina Mudcats in Zebulon start playing in April, and the Holly Springs Salamanders kick off their season in May.
  • Dreamville Music Festival (April): Dreamville Fest is an annual outdoor weekend music celebration in Raleigh. Internationally acclaimed hip-hop superstar (and NC native) J. Cole and his Dreamville team curate the lineup.
  • Pimento Cheese Festival (April): Taste some of the best pimento cheese samples from local restaurants while enjoying live music and more at Downtown Cary Park.
  • Apex PeakFest (May): Celebrate the “Peak of Good Living” in downtown Apex at the PeakFest! The historic downtown district transforms into a bustling street with artists, food, bouncy houses, activities, and more.
  • Pride Events (June): Out! Raleigh Pride is a day-long festival in downtown Raleigh. Another great Pride event in Raleigh is the Run for Love 5K, organized by Trophy Brewing and Runologie.
  • Independence Day Celebrations (July): Wake County’s July 4th celebrations occur on and around July 4, with each town celebrating our nation in style!
  • Lazy Daze Arts and Crafts Festival (August): For over 50 years, this two-day festival in Cary has been celebrating the end of summer. It’s a top-rated event with interactive art exhibitions, booths by over 300 artists, food, music, and more.
  • NC State Football Games (August to December and Maybe January): The NC State Wolfpack kick off their football season in August.
  • Hopscotch Music Festival (September): 25,000 fans come to downtown Raleigh for the Hopscotch Music Festival. Spread out across 11 venues with tons of bands, this festival is named one of America’s can’t-miss music events!
North Carolina State Fair View from Above
The NC State Fair.
  • North Carolina State Fair (October): The state’s largest event occurs every October in Raleigh, drawing in over a million attendees. Enjoy the deep-fried Oreos, the Ferris Wheel, and all the rides and games!
  • Carolina Hurricanes Games (October to April and Beyond): Take warning at PNC Arena with the Carolina Hurricanes and their NHL foes. The season starts in October and if the Canes make another playoff run, the fun won’t end until May or June.
  • NC State Men’s and Women’s Basketball (November to April): The NC State Men and Women start conference play in December, but the season gets going in November.
  • Christmas Events (November and December): Christmas in Wake County is a special time, with parades, Christmas lights, and more celebrations!
  • North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival (Nov-Jan): Each winter, the Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary lights up with the Chinese Lantern Festival. The lanterns, displays, and performances unite to celebrate Chinese culture in a truly amazing way.
  • First Night Raleigh (New Year’s Eve): Ring in the New Year with the Wake County community at the acorn drop! The tradition has occurred annually since 1995, and it’s a day-long celebration with over 100 performances throughout the afternoon.

Read More: The NC Tripping Events Calendar

Things to Do in Wake County This Weekend

Even if you aren’t in the area for one of the exciting annual events we mentioned above, Wake County still has a lot to do!

  • Downtowns
  • Family-Friendly Fun
  • Museums
  • Music Venues
  • Outdoor Spaces
  • Shopping
  • Restaurants
  • Breweries
  • Distilleries

Downtowns

Downtown Raleigh Drone Image by NC Tripping
Raleigh.

Unsurprisingly, Raleigh has the biggest downtown in Wake County, but the other downtowns are full of history and old-fashioned shops and boutiques.

Apex and Cary have quaint downtowns with locally owned restaurants and stores. Downtown Garner and Knightdale pride themselves on great food and shopping.

Wake County’s towns possess a distinct charm, and we think you’ll enjoy exploring them!

Read More: 10 Ways to Support Amazing Local Businesses in NC Today

Family-Friendly Fun

Things to Do in Wake County NC Downtown Cary Park Image by NC Tripping
Downtown Cary Park.
  • Boxcar Bar + Arcade (330 W Davie St, Raleigh, NC): With plenty of room and hundreds of games, this arcade mixes new and classic games for children and parents alike. Note that only visitors 21 or older are allowed after 9:00 pm.
  • Downtown Cary Park (327 S. Academy St., Cary, NC): The long-awaited Downtown Cary Park offers an awesome experience for families and anyone who visits. Play structures, botanical gardens, and much more await.
  • Frankie’s Fun Park (11190 Fun Park Dr, Raleigh, NC): Frankie’s has arcade games, laser tag, mini golf, batting cages, and more. Your inner kid will love an afternoon here.
  • Marbles Kids Museum (201 E Hargett St, Raleigh, NC): Marbles offers many games and exhibits simultaneously entertaining and informative. Check out the ball pit, car-making station, and more!

Read More: Amazing Children’s Museums in North Carolina for All

Pullen Park Train
Pullen Park.
  • Pullen Park (520 Ashe Ave, Raleigh, NC): Pullen Park is North Carolina’s first public park and free to enter. There are extra amusements (1911 Carousel, kiddie boats, train, pedal boats) that require tickets.
  • RDU Observation Park (W International Dr, Morrisville, NC): The RDU Observation Park overlooks the 10,000-foot runway near Raleigh-Durham International Airport’s Air Traffic Control Tower. You and the kids can watch as the planes take off and land.
  • Sassafras All Children’s Playground at Laurel Hills Park (3808 Edwards Mill Rd, Raleigh, NC): There are plenty of playgrounds in Raleigh, but we think that the Sassafras All Children’s Playground at Laurel Hills Park is one of the best. The 3.5-acre playground is inclusive for children of all ages and abilities, featuring zip lines, climbing structures, and playground equipment!
  • Spin-Art Nation & Splatter Studio (8204 Tryon Woods Dr #116, Cary, NC): Spin Art Raleigh is one of our favorite things to do in Wake County. This immersive art experience features spin art tables and a splatter room.

Read More: Great Things to Do with Kids in Raleigh

Museums

The museums in Raleigh are so varied that there’s something for everyone! From science to art, these museums will wow you with detail and charm.

Art Museum Raleigh Permanent Exhibits Image
NC Museum of Art.
  • CAM Raleigh (409 W Martin St, Raleigh, NC): The Contemporary Art Museum, or CAM, is a modern art lover’s dream. It’s a non-collecting museum, meaning the exhibits and collections keep rotating, and no two visits will ever be the same.
  • City of Raleigh Museum (220 Fayetteville St, Raleigh, NC): The City of Raleigh Museum preserves and promotes Raleigh’s past, with artifacts, exhibits, and educational programming.
  • North Carolina Museum of Art (2110 Blue Ridge Dr, Raleigh, NC): The main NC Museum of Art building has artwork from different eras and empires, and the outdoor Art Park contains a large field where visitors can sit and enjoy an afternoon.
  • North Carolina Museum of History (5 E Edenton St, Raleigh, NC): Some of the most impressive history exhibits we’ve ever seen are at the NC Museum of History, including The Story of North Carolina and the NC Sports Hall of Fame.
  • North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (11 W Jones St, Raleigh, NC): Spanning 5 floors in two different buildings, there are enormous dinosaur skeletons, a butterfly garden, snake exhibits, interactive research opportunities, and so much more at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences!

Read More: The Most Amazing Museums in North Carolina (for ALL Ages!)

Music Venues

Things to Do in Wake County NC PNC Arena Avett Brothers NYE Show Image by NC Tripping

Bands from North Carolina and beyond love playing in Wake County. Here a few of the biggest music venues in the area:

  • Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek (3801 Rock Quarry Rd, Raleigh, NC): The biggest acts come to Walnut Creek, which has a 20,000-capacity and a mix of lawn seats and reserved seats.
  • Koka Booth Amphitheater (8003 Regency Pkwy, Cary, NC): Also the site of the NC Chinese Lantern Festival, Koka Booth Amphitheater hosts acts from April to October.
  • Meymandi Concert Hall (2 E South St, Raleigh, NC): The North Carolina Symphony’s home is Meymandi Concert Hall. It’s a lovely setting, whether you’re in the pit or on the balcony.
  • PNC Arena (1400 Edwards Mill Rd, Raleigh, NC): PNC Arena is the home of the Carolina Hurricanes and the NC State Men, but it’s also an awesome music venue. We’ve seen several shows here, including Disney on Ice, the Avett Brothers New Year’s Eve Celebration, and more.
  • Red Hat Amphitheatre (500 S McDowell St, Raleigh, NC): From April to October, Red Hat Amphitheater draws bands and artists from all over to rock downtown Raleigh.

Outdoor Spaces in Wake County

Lake Crabtree Things to do in Cary NC

In addition to a healthy city environment, Wake County strives to cultivate spaces for visitors to enjoy nature. From parks to lakes, there are a lot of places to escape the city here.

  • Capital Area Greenway (Raleigh): A fun fact about Raleigh is that it built the nation’s first citywide greenway system in 1974! Since then, the Capital Area Greenway has expanded to 100 miles throughout the city and connects to Shelley Lake and Lake Johnson trails. Among longer trails, the Neuse River Greenway is our favorite!
  • Dorothea Dix Park (1030 Richardson Dr, Raleigh, NC): Dorothea Dix Park is Raleigh’s crown jewel. This beautiful 308-acre urban park stretches across forests, grassy knolls, and the famed sunflower field!
  • Fred G. Bond Park (801 High House Rd, Cary, NC): This park encompasses 310 acres of lake and forest. It’s a popular spot for boating, hiking, sporting, and playing on the playground.
  • Falls Lake State Recreational Area (Visitor Center is at 13304 Creedmoor Rd, Wake Forest, NC): The 12,000-acre Falls Lake is part of the Falls Lake State Recreational Area, a 26,000-acre span of forests and trails. This park is a hidden outdoor gem in Wake Forest, with access to the famed Mountains-to-Sea Trail, biking trails, camping, boating, and more.
  • Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve (2616 Kildaire Farm Rd, Cary, NC): Home to 235 trees not typically native to Central North Carolina, the Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve is home to well-kept nature trails, the Stevens Nature Center, and an excellent outdoor play space for young children. 
Yates Mill
  • Historic Yates Mill County Park (4620 Lake Wheeler Rd, Raleigh, NC): This Park is home to one of 70 mills in Wake County, the last one that’s still operable. You can walk the park’s 174 acres around the lake or stop by for a guided mill tour and watch as the mill grinds corn.
  • Lake Crabtree County Park (1400 Aviation Pkwy, Morrisville, NC): This man-made, 52-acre reservoir in Cary is a great place for an afternoon of hiking, biking, or kayaking. In addition to the gorgeous Lake Crabtree, there’s lots of grassy space for a picnic and a 10-mile dirt trail loop.
  • William B Umstead State Park (Two Main Accesses in Wake County): Umstead State Park is tucked away on the outskirts of Raleigh and Cary with two main access points. The biggest draw is the chainsaw art in Umstead! A 25-foot fallen oak was transformed into woodland creatures and forest scenes by an artist from Tennessee.

Read More: The Best Hiking Trails in North Carolina

Shopping

Things to Do in Wake County NC STIR Restaurant at North Hills Image by NC Tripping
STIR at North Hills.

You’ll find interesting shops throughout Wake County, especially in the downtowns we mentioned. Of course, these shopping malls and centers are the biggest collections of shops in the area:

  • Crabtree Valley Mall (4325 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh, NC): Its almost 200 stores and dozens of restaurants make Crabtree Valley Mall the area’s most popular shopping destination.
  • North Hills (4321 Lassiter at North Hills Ave, Raleigh, NC): North Hills hosts high-end boutique shops, a 14-screen cinema, department stores, and popular restaurants.
  • Triangle Town Center (5959 Triangle Town Blvd, Raleigh, NC): This Shopping Center offers two levels of excellent food and entertainment.
  • Village District (2068 Clark Ave, Raleigh, NC): Formerly Cameron Village, the Village District comprises neighborhood restaurants, locally owned shops, and a homey feel.

Read More: North Carolina Gifts from Amazing Local Businesses

Wake County Places to Eat

Morgan Street Food Hall Raleigh NC Wake County NC Travel Guide

Wake County has one of the best food scenes in the state. Just about every cuisine you could name, there’s a restaurant for it here!

  • Lafayette Village (8450 Honeycutt Rd, Raleigh, NC): Lafayette Village is styled after European themes and designs. The gorgeous little neighborhood will take you far away from North Carolina! Some of the city’s most elegant and cozy restaurants are here, and it’s one of our favorite places to visit and eat.
  • Morgan Street Food Hall (411 Morgan St, Raleigh, NC): Morgan Street Food Hall is a place for the community to dine together. Morgan Street packs some of the best local restaurants into its brick-and-mortar location, with tons of indoor seating and a kickass outdoor patio.
  • State Farmers Market (1201 Agriculture St, Raleigh, NC): Considered one of the best markets in the U.S., the State Farmers Market has 75 acres of indoor and outdoor specialty shops, restaurants, and a garden center.
  • Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours: With Taste Carolina, you meet up with your tour guide and a group of people who will become your foodie friends for the next several hours. You walk from location to location sharing conversation, a table, and a meal with them.
  • Transfer Co Food Hall (500 E Davie St, Raleigh, NC): Inside the historic Carolina Coach Garage and Shop, Transfer Co Food Hall houses a fantastic collection of vendors and restaurants.

Restaurants

Raleigh Restaurants Fiction Kitchen Image

These restaurants in Wake County are among the best in North Carolina, and are a great start to your culinary adventures in the area:

  • Amorino’s Gelato (137 E Davie St, Raleigh, NC): Amorino’s is the perfect dessert place. Their gelato is authentic and delicious, and they serve the cones in beautiful floral arrangements. You can’t go wrong with ordering anything on this menu!
  • Beasley’s Chicken + Honey (237 S Wilmington St, Raleigh, NC): The rest of the menu at Beasley’s doesn’t disappoint, but many people come for the exquisitely prepared Chicken and Waffles.
  • Bodega Tapas, Wine, and Rum (110 S White St, Wake Forest, NC): This eclectic eatery is perfect for a date night. Its signature serves small plates that borrow from various cuisines, so if you can’t decide on a cuisine, this may be the place for you!
  • Daniel’s Restaurant (1430 W Williams St, Apex, NC): Daniel’s is a homey Italian restaurant perfect for family dinner and a date night. Since 1996, Daniel’s has served handmade pizza and savory pasta. The space fills up fast, so we recommend booking a reservation!
  • Dos Taquitos (6101 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh, NC): Dos Taquitos is Raleigh’s oldest family-owned Mexican restaurant and home to some amazing food. 
  • Driftwood Cantina (8460 Honeycutt Rd #112, Raleigh, NC): As one of the largest restaurants in Lafayette Village, Driftwood Cantina serves elevated Mexican cuisine with fresh local ingredients.
  • The Fiction Kitchen (2409 Crabtree Blvd #100, Raleigh, NC): The world-class meals here are perfect for vegetarian and vegan diners. Everything here is 100 percent vegan, making it a unique and convenient dining option.
  • La Farm Bakery (3 Locations in Cary): This bakery is a quintessential Cary institution. In the past 20 years, the chain has expanded to multiple locations throughout Wake County. Stop by for a quick and delicious coffee and breakfast.
  • Plant Cakes Bake Shop (410 S White St, Wake Forest, NC): This 100% organic and plant-based bakery serves almost every baked good you can imagine. The desserts are so good that even those with no dietary limitations frequent here.

Read More: Restaurants in Raleigh (Date Night & Casual Bites)

Breweries in Wake County

Breweries Raleigh NC Big Boss

Wake County is home to many breweries, each with a unique charm. Raleigh Beer Garden in Raleigh is a great place to sample many of them, including favorites across the state.

Visit individual breweries in Raleigh and nearby and you’ll find some creations not readily available elsewhere. Here are a few of our favorites:

Read More: Tasty North Carolina Breweries (The Best of the Best!)

Distilleries and Liqeurs

Last but not least, there are some great distilleries in Wake County:

  • Oak City Amaretto (1100 Corporation Pkwy #132, Raleigh, NC): Using owner Anthony Scalabino’s Sicilian grandmother’s recipe and all-natural American ingredients, Oak City Amaretto makes some delicious amaretto that’s not too sweet and doesn’t leave a bitter aftertaste. 
  • Olde Raleigh Distillery (209 N Arendell Ave, Zebulon, NC): This family-owned business in Zebulon produces some tasty bourbon. They also offer facility tours, drink options for non-bourbon fans, and food.

Read More: Spirit-Filled North Carolina Distilleries, Liquor History, and What to Sip!

Want to Know More About Wake County NC?

As you can see, Wake County is filled with fun places to visit. They complement our capital city and its surroundings and make this one of the greatest places to be in North Carolina.

Are you familiar with these things to do in Wake County NC? Let us know in the comments.

When exploring the area, remember to share your adventures in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group! Photos are most welcome!

Related Wake County NC Travel Guides

We’ve mentioned things to do in Wake County in many of our NC travel guides. Here are a few examples.

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