The Top Things to See and Do in Raleigh, North Carolina

Raleigh is known as the Smithsonian of the South thanks to its many free museums
Raleigh is known as the 'Smithsonian of the South' thanks to its many free museums | © Mark Alan Howard / Alamy Stock Photo
Paige Watts

Known as the ‘Smithsonian of the South’ for its abundance of high-quality museums and cultural institutions that are free of charge to visit, North Carolina‘s capital Raleigh has a lot going for it. Here are the top 10 things to do and see while in Raleigh.

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North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is the largest natural history museum in the southeast USA. The permanent exhibitions in the Nature Exploration Center reflect North Carolina’s diverse natural history, from flora and fauna to geology and fossils. On display is the only real Acrocanthosaurus skeleton on view in the world. And in the Nature Research Center, you’ll find exhibits on the tools and techniques scientists use to study the planet. You can watch videos and presentations inside the SECU Daily Planet and meet Stumpy the Right Whale.

Neuse River Greenway Trail

The Neuse River Greenway Trail is a 27.5 mile (44km) paved trail that offers scenic views of the Neuse River. The trail takes you over seven bridges and a winding boardwalk through the wetlands with historical sites and interpretive signs. The Neuse River Greenway Trail is a segment of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, a long distance trail that runs across North Carolina from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks. The Parks and Recreation Department provides five canoe and kayak launch points along 17 miles (27km) of the Neuse River that can be accessed from the trail starting at the Falls Lake Dam.

North Carolina Museum of History

The North Carolina Museum of History showcases local, state, and regional history for generations to come. Story of North Carolina is the museum’s largest permanent exhibit, covering more than 14,000 years of the state’s history, from its earliest inhabitants to the 20th century, through artefacts, dioramas, and hands-on interactive displays. The museum also features a number of regularly changing traveling exhibits that cover everything in regional history from sports to art.

Historic Yates Mill County Park

The Historic Yates Mill County Park is a 174-acre (70 hectare) wildlife refuge, environmental research center, and park whose focal point is the Historic Yates Mill. The mill is the last operable water-powered gristmill in Wake County. The mill building is open for guided tours and features corn-grinding demonstrations and costumed guided tours once a month. The park features three hiking trails perfect for identifying native trees and wildlife.

Triangle Glides Segway Tour

Glide around Raleigh on a Triangle Glides Segway Tour. The fully narrated city tours cover plenty of ground as you go through Raleigh’s historic neighborhoods and stop at the city’s landmarks. Take your pick of sightseeing downtown for some new and old landmarks, through the Warehouse District with its artistic vibes, or through the historic Oakwood District with its gorgeous architecture and cemetery tour. You can even take a Segway Treasure Hunt or learn about Raleigh’s Darkest Secrets.

North Carolina Museum of Art

The North Carolina Museum of Art has an expanding collection that began in 1947 when the North Carolina General Assembly appropriated $1m for the purchase of art, making North Carolina the first state to use public funds to buy art. The museum provides guided tours as well as audio tours of its permanent collection of Egyptian, African, European, and American art. Museum Park encompasses more than 160 acres of art and nature intertwining: permanent and temporary pieces are inspired by, and interact with, nature to create a unique experience.

North Carolina State Capitol

The North Carolina State Capitol was built in 1840 and is regarded as one of the finest examples of Greek Revival civic architecture still standing in the United States. The 1840 legislative furniture is preserved by the state. The tours of the capitol building are self-guided throughout the week with guided tours offered on Saturdays. The tour takes guests through the Rotunda, the area reserved for the governor’s office, the House of Representatives and Senate chambers, the committee room, the state library, and the state geologist’s office.

Blue Jay Point County Park

Blue Jay Point County Park is a 236-acre (96 hectare) park on the shores of Falls Lake. The grounds of the park feature the Center for Environmental Education with an exhibit hall on the environment and natural resources, the Overnight Lodge used for overnight educational experiences for school and youth groups, five miles of trails, playgrounds, and a Go Ape Treetop Adventure Course with zip lines and obstacles. The park hosts seasonal events, such as the Winter Open House that teaches environmental themes through crafts and hands-on activities, and the Songbird Celebration that celebrates the return of migratory songbirds in the spring.

Artspace

Artspace is a visual arts center where visitors can view the work of regional, national, and international artists in the galleries and also have the chance to engage with any of 35 professional artists in their open artist studios as they work and create. It is one of the largest open studio environments in the United States and the premier organization of its kind in North Carolina. Artspace also offers a variety of classes and workshops for people of any age to learn from resident artists.

William B Umstead State Park

William B Umstead State Park has an extensive network of trails reaching over 20 miles (32km) surrounding three man-made lakes. To access some of the most scenic and secluded parts of the park, travel the multi-use trails on horseback or bicycle. Big Lake, the largest of the lakes, offers canoe and rowboat rentals, and fishing is allowed at all of the lakes. Tent camping is popular during the summer months, as well as primitive group camping. The exhibit hall features displays of the natural and cultural history of the parkland.

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