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A Weekend in Raleigh: 30+ Things to Do for EVERYONE

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As frequent visitors to Raleigh, we’ve gotten to know the City of Oaks and the home of our state capitol. If you’re interested in spending a day and even a weekend here, this list of fun attractions is where you should start.

That includes award-winning chef-led restaurants, museums galore, outdoor spaces, and a variety of seasonal events—many of which are free.

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.

This post is part of our series on Raleigh and other awesome places to visit in Central North Carolina. We originally created it on December 12, 2019.

A Weekend in Raleigh NC: Attractions for Every Weekend

Seasonal Events in Raleigh

Before getting into what you can do any weekend 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.
Raleigh Sunflowers Dorothea Dix Park Image
  • 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

Things to do near Raleigh NC Chinese Lantern Festival Image
  • 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. Want to see what else did? Check here.

For Every Weekend in Raleigh

Get Outside

Dorothea Dix Park

Raleigh NC Attractions Dorothea Dix Park Image

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.

Yates Mill County Park

Stuff to do in Raleigh NC Yates Mill County Park Image

Just 8 miles south of downtown Raleigh, 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

Umstead State Park Raleigh NC Chainsaw Art Image

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

Weekend in Raleigh NC Neuse River Greenway Image

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.

Pullen Park

Things to Do in Raleigh NC with Kids Pullen Park Carousel Image

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

CAM Raleigh

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.

We also think CAM Raleigh is the perfect way to spend a day date in Raleigh and wrote more about it here!

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

NC Museum of Art Inside Building Image

The North Carolina Museum of Art is one of our favorite ways to enjoy a morning in Raleigh. 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.

The 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

Things to Do in Raleigh NC Museum of History Image

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.

Boxcar

Weekend in Raleigh NC Boxcar Barcade Image

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

Raleigh Breweries Trophy Morgan St Location Image

You can start with a sip or two at North Carolina’s first woman-owned brewery, Bombshell Beer Company, or celebrate with some delicious pizza at Trophy Brewing (Morgan St location).

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 look forward to sharing more of our favorite Raleigh breweries with you. Stay tuned for more updates!

Raleigh Beer Garden NC Taps Image

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

Restaurants in Raleigh NC High Horse Image
High Horse.

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!

The stars cook here, too, as you’ll find when dining at Top Chef Katsuji Tanabe’s High Horse or one of James Beard winner Ashley Christensen’s restaurants.

Raleigh Restaurants Fiction Kitchen Image
Fiction Kitchen.

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.

Weekend in Raleigh NC Food at Bida Manda Image
Bida Manda.

Make a reservation for the highly popular Bida Manda or drop into their sister restaurant, Brewery Bavanha, next door. There, you’ll admire DIY flower arrangements while devouring juicy pork buns.

Don’t forget about Lafayette Village, which is a foodie paradise we love visiting. A couple of our favorite spots to eat there include Driftwood Southern Kitchen and Zanyu.

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.

Food in Raleigh NC Benchwarmers Bagels Image
Benchwarmers.

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.

Raleigh Food Morgan Street Food Hall Image

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.

There are many more vendors to explore at both Transfer Co and Morgan Street, and we look forward to sharing more about them in the near future!

Join a Food Tour

The Best Raleigh Food Tour Taste Carolina Raleigh Image

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.

Restaurants in Raleigh NC 41 Hundred Cocktail Image

And as a bonus, Renaissance in North Hills sits in a nice spot and also shares the space with the on-site 41 Hundred Restaurant.

Of course, there are many more Raleigh hotels, and you can find info about them here.

Ready for a Weekend 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.

3 thoughts on “A Weekend in Raleigh: 30+ Things to Do for EVERYONE

  1. Nils Skudra says:

    Don’t forget to visit the Mordecai House in Raleigh. I believe it is the oldest home in Raleigh and allegedly is haunted! Really interesting history about a fascinating family that lived here.

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