Known to give off a big city feel with Southern charm, Raleigh, North Carolina is a modern-meets-historic destination that draws you in. And for me, was quite the pleasant surprise. A clean, young, and vibrant city, it is filled with amazing and plentiful restaurants, lovely gentrified areas, and enough culture to please everyone. All of which means there is no shortage of activities and no matter what you like to do, it is there to be found.
For the history and cultural buff…
North Carolina Museum of History
Located downtown, this history museum turned out to be a pleasant surprise and one we ended up spending several hours visiting. The museum preserves local, state, and regional history. One of the more popular permanent exhibits, The Story of North Carolina, traces life in NC from its earliest inhabitants through the 20th century. You can see stone tools dating from 12,000 to 1,000 BCE, a real cannon that was recovered from Blackbeard’s flagship, a full-size replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer airplane, a lunch counter that played a pivotal role during the Civil Rights Movement, and much more.
The special exhibit we viewed was on NC and World War I. They had videos, created bunkers, had people dressed in historic costumes, and had artifacts on display from the war. But the coolest exhibit was the NC Sports Hall of Fame featuring memorabilia from multiple sports. The museum is free and they also have an amazing shop with many featured local artists.
North Carolina Museum of Art
The North Carolina Museum of Art is amazing. Seriously. One of the premier arts museums of the south, it features not only a world class art collection, but an outdoor park with works of art, trails, and an outdoor live music venue. The permanent collections include innovative contemporary art, ancient Egyptian artifacts, renowned European Old Master paintings, African and Judaic works of art, and a huge collection of sculptures by Rodin. It is truly a not to be missed museum and it’s free. You can even shop and dine while visiting. Be sure to check for concerts while you’re there.
Contemporary Art Musuem (CAM) and the Warehouse District
Known for its cultural experiences and bold, non-traditional exhibitions by living artists, I feel in love with CAM. Both the exhibits and the space are top notch. While there were no permanent exhibits, when we visited, there were 3 special exhibits. Painting the Roses Red by Margaret Bowland kept us enthralled while we read the detailed description and inspiration for each painting by the artist. The Long Sun by Anne Lindberg was a unique visual experience. There was a small donation entrance fee.
After visiting the museum, head out for a walk in the area, called the Warehouse District. The area is obviously undergoing gentrification. Be sure to stop in to Vita Vite, a wine bar/art gallery, for a drink and browse. We were persuaded by the bartender to try the Frose, essentially a rose wine slushy. It quickly became my favorite summer drink!
Special Events and Arenas
Raleigh teems with special events. In fact, it has the most concert dates, venues, bands and genres that any music fan could hope to find. Visitors can find a show every day of the year at the large scale arenas, such as Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek and Red Hat Amphitheater or at smaller or mid-sized concert halls such as KINGS or The Pour House Music Hall. Be sure to check the calendar before you visit and to get tickets.
For the active, outdoors type…
William B. Umstead State Park
Outdoor lovers will find heaven in William B. Umstead State Park. Located just 15 minutes outside of downtown Raleigh, the park offers 22 miles of hiking trails, 13 miles of bridle or mountain bike trails, camping, fishing and paddle boarding, all within the nearly 6,000-acre urban recreational area. You will also be happy to share your outdoors experience with an abundance of wildlife!
Triangle Rock Park
A state-of-the-art indoor climbing and fitness center, Triangle Rock Park will please anyone who loves indoor rock climbing. It features both lead and top-rope climbing, expansive bouldering terrain, and a comprehensive fitness area. There are locations in North Raleigh and Morrisville, which has the largest and tallest climbing structures in the surrounding five states. It also includes 100 climbing lanes and walls spanning to 55 feet. It is a must visit.
Art to Heart Trail
This is a great way to get out and see Raleigh via bicycle. You can bike a 5.9 mile trail from the NC Museum of Art through several parks and the campus of NCS University before you finish in the heart of the city. This will give you a great view of many city sites as you get a little exercise.
Spectator Sports Events
While we were visiting, national baseball championships were going on, a dance competition, and an Ironman triathlon. Raleigh offers it all from baseball to hockey to professional soccer. Plus, with multiple universities including North Carolina State, you have tons of options to choose from.
For the kids…
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is the southeast’s largest natural history museum and North Carolina’s most popular attraction. Not only does it have a Nature Exploration Center and Nature Research Center, where you can watch research scientists and get inspired by the field of study, but you’ll find four floors of exhibits, live animals, and gift shops and cafés. And if that wasn’t impressive enough, it’s also an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. Oh, did I mention it’s free!
Marbles Kids Museum
Definitely worth a visit with your little ones (kids ages 10 and under), Marbles will keep them occupied for hours. From the world’s first and only kid-driven smart power grid to hands-on STEM learning stations, Marbles educates and inspires children. The museum offers themed exhibits designed to build imagination through self-led exploration of new ideas and experiences. Furthermore, you can also take in a movie at the Marbles IMAX, boasting North Carolina’s only 3D-capable giant screen.
Amusement rides, kiddie water boats, and “Andy & Opie” statue are just a few of the activities that make Pullen Park so popular. The kids will love spending hours and so will you. It was the first public park in NC and continues to host thousands of visitors throughout the year. The Gustave A. Dentzel Carousel was originally installed in 1911 and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
For the beer lover…
Raleigh Beer Trail
Who knew the Raleigh area is home to over 25 breweries. If you like giving a variety of breweries a try, the Raleigh Beer Trail is designed for you. From Wake Forest to Raleigh to Holly Springs and Fuquay-Varina, barstools await you. You can even take your own brewery tour with the Raleigh Beer Trail. Since many of the breweries will provide free tours to visitors, you can learn the difference between beers like porters and dopplelbocks and sound like a beer connoisseur when you get home.
Raleigh Beer Garden
The Raleigh Beer Garden has the world’s largest beer selection with over 350 beers on tap. This was made official when representatives from Guinness World Records visited in 2015. Located in downtown Raleigh’s Glenwood South entertainment district, the venue has plenty of outdoor space, including a rooftop “garden” with seating that makes it the perfect warm-weather hangout. And if you’re hungry, a full dining menu includes everything from handcrafted pizzas to cheese and charcuterie plates.