Raleigh is easily one of the most underrated cities in the US and many people overlook it in favor of all the other great places North Carolina has to visit. This guide details the best things to do in Raleigh NC for first-time visitors!
North Carolina’s capital is brimming with historical attractions, delicious restaurants, and several worthwhile day trips. This will only touch the surface but will definitely make you want to come back for a second trip!
Did we miss any of the top Raleigh attractions? Let us know your tips in the comments. Thanks!
Best Things to Do in Raleigh NC (for Nature Lovers)
Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve
Just to the southwest of Raleigh, you will find the beautiful Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserver. The 140-acre park features 200 Eastern Hemlock trees, nearly three miles of walking trails, and the Stevens Nature Center.
During the summer, the trees provide plenty of shade for walking and exploring the overlooks. However, during the fall foliage, the park becomes rich in color.
The Nature Center offers educational nature displays and Piedmont North Carolina historical exhibits. Pets are permitted on the trails but must be on a six-foot leash.
Address: 2616 Kildaire Farm Rd, Cary, NC 27518
Historic Yates Mill County Park
The 174-acre wildlife refuge and research center offer plenty of things to keep you busy throughout your visit to the North Carolina park.
Step back to the 1750 s when the water-powered Yates Gristmill just began grinding corn into cornmeal. The fully restored mill is the only automatic mill in North Carolina and one of a few water mills in the US that is still in operation.
You can purchase the mill’s ground cornmeal on-site during grinding weekends or at the Howling Cow Creamery and the Historic Yates Mill County Park Visitor Centers. Weekend tours of the mill are also available on March through November weekends.
The 24-acre pond is a great place to relax and fish from the boardwalk.
With nearly three miles of trail, you can enjoy a one-mile stroll along the easy Mill Pond Trail, a 1-mile moderate hike across the wetland boardwalks, or, if you are up to it, the nearly a mile strenuous High Ridge Trail.
Visit the exhibits filled with interpretive information on agriculture, environment, and local history in the Finley Center for Education and Research.
The center’s front porch is a great place to take in the magnificent view of the mill and pond from one of the rocking chairs.
Address: 4620 Lake Wheeler Road, Raleigh, NC 27603
Juniper Level Botanical Gardens
A walk through the Juniper Level Botanical Gardens will be truly a remarkable experience for plant lovers. The 28-acre sanctuary features over 30,000 exotic plants, rare specimens of bushes and trees, 66 varieties of iris, and native perennials.
A stroll through the wooded area features the stunning golden leaf dawn redwoods that are particularly beautiful during the fall foliage.
Be sure to check their calendar before going since they are only open eight weekends each year.
Address: 9241 Sauls Road, Raleigh, NC 27603
Mordecai Historic Park
Mordecai Historic Park was once Wake County’s largest plantation. Today the Mordecai House is Raleigh’s oldest residence, the birthplace of US President Andrew Johnson, and home to intriguing North Carolina history.
Explore the gardens, Mordecai House, St. Mark’s Chapel, Iredell Law Office, the Allen Kitchen, and various other buildings in the park through a 50-minute guided tour or take a ride on the Historic Raleigh Trolley and explore the city’s historical sites on a one-hour narrated tour.
Address: 1 Mimosa St, Raleigh, NC 27604
Neuse River Greenway Trail
The 27.5-mile Neuse River Greenway Trail takes in some magnificent views of Falls Lake, Milburnie Dam, suspension bridges, and views of the Neuse River.
The trail offers walkers, joggers, roller-bladers, and cyclists the perfect place for a long-distance outing.
However, you can easily break the trail up into smaller chunks if you are not up for a 27-mile jaunt.
Some of those options would be the eight-mile route from Falls Lake Trailhead to the Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve, then from Horseshoe Farm to Anderson Point Park is 10 miles, with the final nine miles going from Anderson Point Park to Mial Plantation Road Trailhead.
No bike? No excuse. Begin your trek from the Falls Lake Trailhead. You will find The Bike Guy’s full-service bike shop and bike rental beside the parking lot.
The trail also has spots to enter the river with your inner tube, canoe, or kayak.
Address: 1721 Riverview Rd, Raleigh, NC 27610
Pullen Park was established in 1887 and is now considered one of the oldest amusement parks in the entire world.
The park includes favorites like the C.P. Huntington miniature train, the Gustave A Dentzel Carousel, pedal boats, and the Theatre In The Park, where innovative performing arts shows are featured.
The park also has a picnic area, an enormous playground with water features in the summer, and ball courts to keep you and your family entertained and fed all day long.
Be sure to get your Instagram photo beside The Andy Griffith Show “Andy and Opie” statue.
Address: 520 Ashe Avenue, Raleigh, NC 27606
Raleigh Municipal Rose Garden
On the Raleigh Little Theatre campus, you will find one of North Carolina’s three accredited rose gardens. The Raleigh Municipal Rose Garden is an incredible place to visit each spring when the over 60 varieties of roses burst into bloom.
In later April, head to the park for the annual Art in the Garden festival.
Throughout the summer, the conservatory features free outdoor movie nights.
Address: 301 Pogue St, Raleigh, NC 27607
Robertson Millpond Preserve
Enjoy time exploring nature at the 85-acre Robertson Millpond Preserve. The preserve is a great spot to cast your line and spend the day fishing from your kayak or canoe or the boardwalk.
For kayakers, canoers, and paddleboarders, spend time exploring the blackwater swamp and the bald cypress trees along the 1.15 Paddle Trail.
Be sure to bring water, a snack, and the trail map as you explore the 73 buoys that mark the trail.
Also, on the property and worth exploring is the historic mill foundation and millstone. At the landmark, there are informational displays about the dam and mill that once was on the property.
Address: 6333 Robertson Pond Rd, Wendell, NC 27591
William B Umstead State Park
The 6,000-acre William B. Umstead State Park is packed full of ways to explore the great outdoors and just a short 15-minutes from downtown Raleigh.
Take to the trails and explore the 22 miles of hiking trails that pass by three lakes.
You will want to explore the multi-use Graylyn trail, where an intricate piece of art has been carved into the fallen red oak trunk.
The 2.8-mile Sal’s Branch Trail is an excellent trail for families to hike through the woods since there are just gentle elevation changes and features, and it has some fantastic views of the lake.
There are also 13 miles of trails that are open to mountain bikes and horses.
Extend your stay in the park by reserving one of the 28 campsites at the Umstead Campground. The campground offers no hookups but does have water, restrooms, and showers are open April through October. Two primitive campgrounds are available all year round.
You can also enjoy a day of fishing from the banks around Big Lake or by canoe or rowboat. Boats are available for rental at the visitor center.
Address: 8801 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh, NC 27617
JC Raulston Arboretum
The JC Raulston Arboretum is another must-visit garden in the Raleigh area. On your visit, you will pass 5,000 plants planted in themed gardens from around the world in the 10-acre attraction.
Out of the thirteen gardens, some of the favorites to visit are the Butterfly Garden, Color Trails, and the Finley-Nottingham Rose Garden.
For a shady walk, choose to meander through the Asian Valley or select the Japanese Garden for a calm and relaxing place to sit.
If it is a photo opportunity you are looking for, then the Klein-Pringle White Garden with its charming Victorian gazebo and famous English garden is where you should head.
There is something in bloom at the JC Raulston Arboretum, no matter the season.
Address: 4415 Beryl Rd, Raleigh, NC 27606
Best Raleigh Museums to Visit
Contemporary Art Museum
In Raleigh’s Warehouse District is the non-collecting Contemporary Art Museum. This favorite museum features the work of national and local living artists.
Explore the 16 galleries through an engaging docent-led tour or explore the thought-provoking exhibits that interest you on your own.
At CAM, there is so much more than exhibits in the galleries.
- Join the SOUL YOGA group for a hip, energetic yoga class on Saturday mornings.
- Take part in a CAM Connection Dinner where you can socialize with artists and learn more about their CAM exhibit.
- On the evening of the first Friday of the month, come out and enjoy the sounds of the Kevin Golden Jazz Ensemble at the CAM Raleigh First Fridays.
One of the best things is the museum is free to explore.
Address: 409 W. Martin St. Raleigh NC 27603
North Carolina Museum of Art
A day spent at this premier visual arts museum means exploring an outdoor park, hiking trails, and enjoying live entertainment.
Were you looking for galleries filled with Egyptian artifacts, European paintings, and the most extensive collection of Auguste Rodin sculptures? Those you can find in the two buildings also include early American art, ancient Greek sculptures, and a permanent exhibit of Jewish art.
The North Carolina Museum of Art hosts workshops, films, and lectures throughout the year and offers guided tours.
Visiting the North Carolina Museum of Art exhibits is just half the fun. Venture outside and stroll through the 164-acre Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park, where you can walk the trails and see over a dozen different commissioned pieces of art.
The park is also home to seminars, concerts, seasonal full-moon walks, bird watching, and Tai Chi classes.
Address: 2110 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh, NC 27607
North Carolina Museum of History
The North Carolina Museum of History showcases more than 150,000 artifacts that outline North Carolina’s history.
Inside, you will find the 1960 sit-in lunch counter from Salisbury, a full-sized 1903 Wright Flyer replica, Native American tools, Civil War military gear and weapons, and much, much more.
The museum is also home to North Carolina’s sports Hall of Fame. In this exhibit, you will find one of Richard Petty’s stock cars, Harlem Globetrotter Meadowlark Lemon’s basketball uniform, and Kay Yow’s Olympic team basketball.
Altogether there are 363 NC sports heroes represented in the Hall of Fame Exhibit.
Address: 5 East Edenton Street, Raleigh, North Carolina 27601
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
One of the favorite museums for kids is the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. The museum is the most visited museum in North Carolina and the most significant natural history museum in the southeast United States.
The two-building museum features four floors of whale and dinosaur skeletons, live animals in the Arthropod Zoo and Living Conservatory, and the three-story SECU Daily Planet theater.
For those who like to get your hands-on science, head to the Discovery Room, where you can not only explore everything but touch it as well. Then visit the Natural Research Center, where you can learn more about the DNA Investigative Lab and space exploration.
Address: 11 West Jones Street | Raleigh, NC 27601
Marble Kids Museum
For those in the Raleigh area with children ten and younger, a visit to the Marbles Kids Museum in the Moore Square District will be a day of self-led exploration through hands-on STEM stations.
The kids will have a blast exploring both the outdoor exhibits as well as the two floors of fun inside.
At the exhibits, visitors can explore the horticulture throughout the Sun Sprouts kid’s garden, the kid-driven smart power grid, and don’t forget the 50′ x 70′ IMAX theater.
The Splash area that includes The Lighthouse, Under the Waves, a submarine, and a pirate ship is not only a fan favorite, but you might even get a little wet from the water tables.
What kid doesn’t like playing on the steps? At the Marble Kids Museum, playing on the stairs becomes a learning experience as each step you step on makes a different sound and light display.
When lunchtime comes around, choose between having a picnic lunch outside or visiting the on-site café.
Note: You must pre-book admission tickets online.
Address: 201 E Hargett St, Raleigh, NC 27601
Pope House Museum
The Pope House Museum was the former home of the prominent African-American Dr. Manassa Thomas Pope.
Here on what used to be known as the Third Ward, visitors can take a 30-minute guided tour and learn more about one of the most prominent African-American citizens of Raleigh and his family. Inside the home, you will find documents, artifacts, and original furnishings.
Pope had a medical degree from the Leonard School of Medicine, was a Spanish-American War officer, and ran for mayor during the Jim Crow Era.
Address: 511 S Wilmington St, Raleigh, NC 27601
Interesting Places to Visit in Raleigh
Frankie’s Fun Park
What could be better than spending the day racing go-carts, getting wet as you challenge friends and family on the bumper boats, laser tag, or a game of mini-golf?
You can do all this and more at Frankie’s Fun Park in Raleigh. With the pay per activity and not a flat fee, come for an hour or spend the entire day having a blast at your favorite adventure activities.
Address: 11190 Fun Park Dr, Raleigh, NC 27617
Raleigh Coffee Shops
Raleigh has a pretty burgeoning coffee scene these days and you will find plenty of cozy cafes in the heart of the city.
Be sure to head to Bittersweet if you’re looking for a delicious pastry to pair with a tasty coffee – they also have unique concoctions such as the ‘Daywalker’ which is chilled espresso topped with ginger beer and a dash of bitters.
Pine State Coffee opened in 2019 and has been serving locals beans and fresh cups of joe around town ever since. The design inside is cozy and woodsy (just as the name suggests) and it is one of the most beloved Raleigh coffee shops.
Some other popular cafes in Raleigh are:
- Sir Walter Coffee
- Full Bloom
- Cup of Joe
- Heirloom Brewshop
- The Optimist
- Thanks a Latte
Historic Oakwood Cemetery
The beautiful park-like Historic Oakwood Cemetery is more than 28,000 Raleigh citizens’ final resting place.
As you stroll under the historic oaks and explore the Victorian landscaping, you will find a wide variety of national, state, and city leaders’ tombstones.
See if you can find the burial spot of four Civil War generals, five United States Senators, and eight Supreme Court Chief Justices of North Carolina.
The cemetery has various events throughout the year like Wreaths Across America Day, scavenger hunts, walking tours, and plays about some who found their final resting place here.
Address: 701 Oakwood Ave, Raleigh, NC 27601
North Carolina BBQ in Raleigh
One thing you can’t forego when visiting Raleigh is to indulge in the famous North Carolina BBQ scene!
You will find plenty of places throughout the city but not all are created equal. Some of the top places for North Carolina BBQ in Raleigh are:
- The Pit Authentic BBQ
- Aviator SmokeHouse
- Clyde Cooper’s BBQ
- Big Al’s BBQ
- Sam Jones BBQ
- Olde Time BBQ
You can read some local reviews of a few of the places mentioned above on this post about the best BBQ in Raleigh!
North Carolina Capitol
In the heart of downtown Raleigh, the North Carolina State Capitol sits in the center of Raleigh’s original boundaries.
Today the Greek Revival-style building is a National Historic Landmark only houses the Governor’s and Lieutenant Governor’s offices and space for official state business.
Capitol Interpreters meet at the east entrance and offer twice-daily guided tours during the week. On tour, you will learn about the history of North Carolina, the state government, and citizenship.
Keep your eyes open for the remarkable Greek revival architecture in the intricate molding and the cantilevered gallery.
Around the capital, you will find various monuments and statues on display and some impressive old oak trees. A statue of George Washington will greet you in the rotunda.
Address: 1 E Edenton St, Raleigh, NC 27601
Videri Chocolate Factory
Chocolate lovers will want to stop by the Raleigh Depot, enjoy some of the south’s finest chocolate, and take a self-guided tour of the Videri Chocolate Factory. The factory has signs posted so you can easily follow the chocolate-making process.
After discovering the Videri chocolate-making process from bean to bar, stop in the shop and try a sample of the dark chocolate with sea salt, dark milk chocolate, or the classic dark chocolate classic bar before purchasing a few bars to take home.
Finally, head to the coffee bar and order a Videri chocolate ice cream, hot cocoa tea, or frozen hot chocolate. Their patio is a great place to enjoy a refreshing snack in the summertime.
Address: 327 W Davie St, Raleigh, NC 27601
Craft Beer in Raleigh
While the capital city does coffee and food well, it also is ahead of the game with its local breweries and craft beer scene.
You’ll find plenty of taphouses as well as craft beer bars. Definitely be sure to check some out and support these local businesses while you’re in town.
Some of the most popular breweries in Raleigh and the surrounding area are:
- Bearded Bee Brewing Company
- Standard Beer + Food
- Carolina Brewing Company
- Bigfoot Taphouse
- Little City Brewing + Provisions Co.
- Raleigh Brewing Company
- Clouds Brewing
- Compass Rose Brewery
- Lonerider Brewing Company
Let us know if we left out any of your favorites in the comments!
Where to Stay in Raleigh
There are plenty of places to stay in Raleigh! Here is a mix of some boutique-style hotels as well as recognizable chains that are top-rated:
- Origin Hotel Raleigh (pets allowed!)
- Guest House Raleigh (8 guest room boutique inn)
- Heights House Hotel (boutique hotel; handicap-accessible)
- Residence Inn by Marriott Raleigh
- Aloft Raleigh
What are the best things to do in Raleigh NC, in your opinion? Let us know your top tips for Raleigh landmarks and attractions in the comments. Thanks!
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Laura Gray is a travel blogger and retired teacher. She is from Western Pennsylvania but has lived in Virginia for the past 30+ years. During the summer months, you will find her enjoying the beach in her hometown when not out on an adventure. Laura thrives on creating itineraries to make the most of each place she visits. She enjoys exploring National Parks (Laura has explored 1/3 of all the US National Parks), waterfalls, and beaches. Her travel blog posts have been featured on nearly a dozen sites.