Raleigh, North Carolina was destined to be the state’s capital from the beginning. Sir Walter Raleigh, who established a short-lived English town here in the 1580s, was given the name. Raleigh, like Washington, D.C., was built from the ground up to be the capital city.
It has been known as the “City of Oaks” since its establishment in 1792, and its authorities have been dedicated to conserving and maintaining its parks and trees ever since. As a result, the city is appealing and comfortable, with modern glass and steel structures softened by parks and greenways.
If that isn’t enough green space, the magnificent Umstead State Park is only a few miles away, where you can stroll or bike through woodland trails or rent a canoe or paddleboat to explore the lake.
Art museums and theaters are among the city’s most popular tourist attractions, as are both visual and performing arts. The Pope House Museum, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Gardens, and the 35-acre Mount Hope Cemetery all pay homage to Raleigh’s African American past.
With the help of this list of top attractions and activities to do in Raleigh, you can see the finest of the city.
Also see: Where Should I Stay in Raleigh?
1. North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is one of the largest natural science museums in the southeastern United States, and it is conveniently located downtown. It consists of two buildings, one dedicated to educational exhibits and the other to scientific methods.
The Arthropod Zoo, the Living Conservatory, and displays that highlight North Carolina’s beaches, mountains, and local natural history are among the permanent installations at the Nature Exploration Center, in addition to temporary exhibits.
The most popular portion is the Prehistoric section, where you may meet Acro, the world’s only genuine Acrocanthosaurus skeleton on display. The Discovery Room, where you are encouraged to touch and examine everything, is ideal for those who enjoy getting their hands dirty. From the DNA Investigative Lab to space exploration, the Nature Research Center is where you can learn about the science behind the natural world.
The SECU Daily Planet, a three-story theater that explores the planet Earth from the inside out, is the must-see exhibit here. For self-guided tours, the museum provides detailed floor maps, or you can download their app for a digital guide.
2. North Carolina Museum of Art
The North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) first opened its doors in 1956 as the state’s first art collection. They have Renaissance art, ancient Greek and Roman sculpture and antiquities, Egyptian burial art, pre-Columbian art, and early American art on display.
The NCMA is also pleased to be one of only two American museums with permanent Jewish art exhibits. The museum organizes workshops, talks, films, and performing arts performances, as well as guided tours of its galleries and special exhibits. Sculptures, gardens, and a quiet reflecting pool are all worth seeing on the museum grounds.
The African American Cultural Center at North Carolina State University is located in the Witherspoon Student Center and offers exhibits by well-known artists focusing on this rich history.
3. Pullen Park
This was North Carolina’s first public park, which opened in 1887. The Gustave A Dentzel Carousel and the C.P. Huntington miniature train are available for visitors to ride. Pedal boats can be rented for a journey around Lake Howell, and a kiddie boat ride is provided for the younger seafarers.
The large playground, which includes water play for those hot summer days, will undoubtedly appeal to children, as will the many performances in the children’s amphitheater. The “Andy and Opie” statue will be a popular photo opportunity for fans of The Andy Griffith Show.
There’s also a café, tennis courts, and the Theatre in the Park, as well as a number of special events throughout the year.
4. Marbles Kids Museum
For families with young children, the Marbles Kids Museum should be high on their list of things to visit. It features interactive exhibits such as Tree Tunes, which explores music; Sun Sprouts, which explores the world of horticulture; Kid Grid, which is full of energy; and the BB&T Toddler’s Hollow, which allows children aged three and under to play and explore in a safe environment.
Parents will appreciate being able to borrow laminated Picture Maps so that their children can plan their day, and they will be glad to eat at the on-site café or on a picnic. On its 50 by 70-foot screen, the Wells Fargo IMAX Theatre at Marbles presents both Hollywood hits and educational films, keeping the whole family entertained.
5. North Carolina Museum of History
The North Carolina Museum of History offers both permanent and traveling exhibitions that cover the history of the state. Native American artifacts, early European settlers’ housewares, Revolutionary War era clothes, and Civil War weapons and military gear are all on display.
From the earliest days of slavery to the grueling fight for liberation and equality, African American history is featured as well. The North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame is also located here, where visitors may learn about local sports legends and view memorabilia.
6. Walking through Historic Oakwood
The historic Oakwood area, located near downtown Raleigh, is North Carolina’s biggest, intact 19th-century residential district and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Many of the town’s hundreds of 19th-century mansions have been meticulously restored to their former splendor.
Take a stroll past the Tucker House, a Neoclassical Revival-style mansion. Many of the residences have magnificent gardens surrounding them, in addition to the architecture.
The Capitol Area Visitor’s Center has a walking tour guide with a map and information on the residences and the neighborhood’s history. The Historic Oakwood website also has maps and more extensive information.
Oak View, a Historic Site The gardens and orchards are ideal locations for a picnic.
7. Performing Arts in Raleigh
A diverse range of performing arts venues and groups may be found in Raleigh. The Theatre in the Park at Pullen Park, which presents multiple shows each year and is most renowned for its annual December rendition of A Christmas Carol, will delight theatergoers.
The Burning Coal Theatre is located downtown, and the adjoining Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts features the North Carolina Theatre’s stage plays and musicals, as well as the North Carolina Opera’s productions.
It is also the home of the Carolina Ballet and the North Carolina Symphony, both of which are internationally renowned. The International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass is held in the city each September.
8. Historic Yates Mill
Yates Mill, about five miles south of the town, is the area’s lone extant water-powered gristmill, a remnant of a day when Wake County had 70 of them grinding corn and wheat into meal and flour.
During a visit to the mill, which is open from March to November, you can watch costumed millers grind corn and discover how the millstones were driven by a water wheel. The mill is located in a park that includes a 174-acre wildlife refuge and an environmental research center, and it helps to maintain the region’s agricultural legacy through programs and exhibitions.
Around the Mill Pond and into the adjacent park, there are several miles of hiking routes. Two boardwalks provide fishing opportunities, as they did when the mill was a popular gathering spot for rural locals.
9. JC Raulston Arboretum
The JC Raulston Arboretum is both a tourist attraction and a source of inspiration for regional gardeners, with one of the largest and most diversified collections of plants for landscape use in the Southeast. Plants are collected and analyzed to locate those that are best suited to the weather and landscapes of Piedmont North Carolina, but the gardens are simply a lovely location to visit at any time of year for the casual visitor.
Camellias bloom even in the winter in Asian Valley and the Southall Memorial Garden, and Chinese redbud, pink and white magnolias, squills, and snowdrops bloom in February.
Perennial borders, the Finley-Nottingham Rose Garden, the Swindell Contemplation Garden, a wall garden, a white garden, and other themes are among the attractions.
10. Mordecai Historic Park
Andrew Johnson, the 17th president of the United States, was born in Mordecai Historic Park. The Mordecai House, built in 1785, is the city’s oldest structure still standing on its original foundation.
The estate and grounds, as well as numerous other 19th-century structures such as St. Mark’s Chapel, Badger Iredell Law Office, and the Allen Kitchen, which was re-created from details given in Ellen Mordecai’s correspondence, are all included in hourly guided tours.
The Historic Raleigh Trolley, a one-hour narrated tour of the city’s historic landmarks, is also based here.
11. North Carolina State Capitol
One of the best-preserved specimens of Greek revival architecture in the United States is the North Carolina State Capitol Building. The attention to detail in the delicate molding and plasterwork, the cantilevered gallery, and the grandiose Greek motifs are all influenced by architect David Paton.
The building, which was completed in 1840, is one of Raleigh’s most well-known landmarks. It once held the whole state government of North Carolina, but now it solely holds the Governor’s office. This is a stop on the historic Trolley Tour of Raleigh.
12. William B. Umstead State Park
William B. Umstead State Park is located just outside of Raleigh. A labyrinth of 13 miles of twisting pathways weaves around three man-made lakes to create this natural wonderland.
Hikers and equestrians alike enjoy Umstead State Park. Fishing is another popular activity, particularly at Big Lake, where canoe and rowboat rentals are available.
The art project concealed among the trees is possibly the best kept secret of Umstead State Park. Discover a 25-foot fallen red oak tree whose trunk has been carved by two artists to display elaborate depictions of animals, tree branches, and foliage on the Graylyn multi-use trail. It’s quite a sight to come across while hiking through the woodland nature trails.
Where to Stay for Sightseeing in Raleigh
Historic Oakwood, the State Capitol, and the majority of Raleigh’s museums are all located in the downtown area. This is the finest place to stay for first-time guests. Near the conference center, you’ll find luxury and mid-range hotels, with prices dropping as you get closer to Interstate 440. Sports lovers may prefer to stay near the North Carolina State Museum, which is located west of PNC Arena. Some highly rated hotels in favorable locations are listed below:
Hotels of the highest magnitude:
The Raleigh Marriott City Center, which is connected to the Convention Center, is excellent for trade fair guests and offers well-appointed rooms with marble bathrooms, as well as first-class service.
The new sleek and fashionable Aloft Raleigh is located just west of the central core. Throughout the facility, ultra-modern décor and cutting-edge technologies are featured.
The Hyatt House is close by, in the North Hill commercial district. This hotel is ideal for families because of the huge rooms with kitchens and the seasonal outdoor pool.
Hotels which has Mid- Range Magnitude
Just a mile west of downtown, the recently refurbished DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Raleigh offers large accommodations and is within walking distance of various eateries.
The Hilton Garden Inn is conveniently located off Interstate 440, next to the big Crabtree Mall, and offers pleasant accommodations and an indoor pool.
In the trendy Glenwood South District, the Hampton Inn & Suites is less than a mile from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. This hotel hosts an evening welcome with snacks, and there are numerous restaurants and entertainment options within walking distance.
The Holiday Inn is conveniently located in downtown in an older structure with some of the nicest views in the city.
The Red Roof PLUS+ is a wonderful value choice about two miles to the south. This motel has recently been remodeled and now features rooms that are pet-friendly.
The Candlewood Suites is located just over ten minutes northwest of downtown. This hotel has a range of suites, all with kitchens, and is a wonderful alternative for families.