21 Best Things To Do In Downtown Raleigh, North Carolina

things to do in downtown raleigh
| 11 min read

Raleigh, North Carolina may be known as the “City of Oaks” but head on over to Downtown Raleigh and you’ll find that there’s more to the area than just trees lined up on the street. Behind those trees await hidden treasures and secrets waiting to be discovered by tourists. Downtown Raleigh is known to be a central hub for arts, history, and culture, giving tourists lots of reasons to go visit. Stay at one of the modern cabins near Raleigh and discover unique attractions in this town such as a chocolate factory, a beer garden, and themed breweries. Keep on reading to check out more of the exciting things to do in Downtown Raleigh, North Carolina.

1. Browse through the contemporary collections of North Carolina Museum of Art

Rodin Courtyard,  North Carolina Museum of Art,  Raleigh NC
Source: Photo by Flickr user Joe Wolf used under CC BY-ND 2.0

Discover both ancient and modern art of all sorts at the North Carolina Museum of Art. From historic sculptures to contemporary paintings, the gallery will surely captivate art enthusiasts. Permanent collections can be found at the newly built West Building while visitors can enjoy workshops and events at the original building (now called the East Building). The museum also takes pride in having museum parks and concert areas outdoors. Clearly, the NCMA values not just art itself but its connection with people and nature as well. The best part is that admission to the museum is free!

North Carolina Museum of Art

Address: 2110 Blue Ridge Rd, Raleigh, NC 27607, USA

Website: North Carolina Museum Of Art

Opening hours: Tue - Thu, Sat - Sun: 10am - 5pm; Fri: 10am - 9pm (closed on Mon)

Price: Free

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2. Stroll through the lovely Historic Oakwood

Historic Oakwood house in Raleigh, North Carolina
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Suzie Tremmel used under CC BY 2.0

Take a little trip down memory lane as you visit the Historic Oakwood neighborhood in Downtown Raleigh. Registered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, Historic Oakwood is a quaint little community lined up with Victorian-era homes preserved for generations. Aside from the beautiful architecture of the houses, residents also take pride in conserving their charming gardens and backyards for visitors to see. Historic Oakwood offers two main seasonal tours - the Historic Oakwood Candlelight Tour during Christmas season and the Garden Club Tour during spring. The Candlelight Tour lets visitors marvel at the interiors of select homes while the Garden Club Tour allows them to admire the best gardens in the neighborhood while having a cup of tea. However, walking tours around the neighborhood are available anytime, simply check out their brochure on their website.

Historic Oakwood neighborhood

Address: Downtown Raleigh, North Carolina

Website: Historic Oakwood neighborhood

Opening hours: Historic Oakwood Candlelight Tour: December 14 & 15, 1pm - 7pm; Garden Club Tour: April 27 & 28, 10am - 2pm

Price: Historic Oakwood Candlelight Tour: 25 USD (advance ticket), 30 USD (regular ticket), 23 USD (group ticket) / Garden Club Tour: 35 USD (advance ticket), 45 USD (regular ticket)

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3. Visit North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Nature Research Center
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user RadioFan used under CC BY-SA 3.0

For the science geeks and for anyone who is simply fascinated by the natural world we live in, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is for you. It’s the biggest natural museum in the Southeastern region of the United States and is North Carolina’s most-visited museum–and there’s no surprise why. The two main buildings, namely the Nature Research Center and the Nature Exploration Center offers a wide variety of displays and exhibits about natural science. See amazing displays of fossils, a breathtakingly massive dinosaur skeleton, actual live animals, and interactive shows and documentaries. Make sure to also catch a show at the iconic SECU Daily Planet, an enormous globe sitting outside the museum which houses a three-story theater.

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Address: 11 W Jones St, Raleigh, NC 27601, USA

Website: North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Opening hours: Mon - Sat: 9am - 5pm; Sun: 12pm - 5pm

Price: Free

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4. Delve into local history at North Carolina Museum of History

NC Museum of History, Raleigh, NC - panoramio (1)
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user RJ Matthews used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Another must-visit museum in Raleigh is the North Carolina Museum of History. Here, visitors will discover about 14,000 years of North Carolina’s fascinating history including artifacts from Blackbeard’s ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, a life-size replica of the first aircraft, Wright Flyer, and even stone tools and fossils that date back to the pre-historic age. The museum has permanent exhibits such as The Story of North Carolina, but visitors should check their website beforehand for featured temporary exhibits. Not much of a history buff? Perhaps you’ll enjoy the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame which is filled with items from legendary athletes hailing from the state. Kids will also enjoy the museum as their website offers an interactive downloadable map that allows the young ones to go on a “scavenger hunt” while learning throughout the museum.

North Carolina Museum of History

Address: 5 E Edenton St, Raleigh, NC 27601, USA

Website: North Carolina Museum of History

Opening hours: Mon - Sat: 9am - 5pm; Sun: 12pm - 5pm

Price: Free

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5. Enjoy a concert at Red Hat Amphitheater

Red Hat Amphitheater
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user FoxDon used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Perfectly situated near the fun and entertainment area of Downtown Raleigh lies the Red Hat Amphitheater. Enjoy a concert of your favorite artist or band or see a local performer at their state-of-the-art stage then head on over to the nearby bars afterwards to complete the fun. This ampitheater has seen acts like Maroon 5, Paramore, Jimmy Kimmel, and the North Carolina Symphony perform with the beautiful backdrop of Raleigh’s skyline behind it. Be sure to visit their website for upcoming shows that you’ll want to check out!

Red Hat Amphitheater

Address: 500 S McDowell St, Raleigh, NC 27601, USA

Website: Red Hat Amphitheater

Opening hours: 8am - 11pm (daily)

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6. Sample the finest chocolates at Videri Chocolate Factory

Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Reverie 39 used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Work that sweet tooth and check out Videri Chocolate Factory. No, you don’t need a golden ticket to enter, in fact self-guided tours are free of charge. Feel free to roam around the factory and marvel at how cacao beans are produced into the finest chocolate bars. Videri Chocolate Factory takes pride in its quality products and services, and even more so with the fact that they support cacao farmers who are dedicated to providing only the best in sustainable farming. We challenge you to resist buying everything at their Coffee Bar and Chocolate Counter!

Videri Chocolate Factory

Address: 327 W Davie St, Raleigh, NC 27601, USA

Website: Videri Chocolate Factory

Opening hours: Mon - Thu: 8am - 6pm; Fri: 8am - 9pm; Sat: 11am - 9pm; Sun: 11am - 5pm

Price: 20 USD (guided tours, minimum of 10 people) / Free (self-guided tour anytime during business hours)

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7. Chug down craft beers at Raleigh Beer Garden

Source: Needpix

Quite arguably one of the most popular destinations for beer lovers in North Carolina is Raleigh Beer Garden. The bar serves more than 350 beers on tap and this earned them the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest beer selection in 2015. The rustic wooden interior of the bar gives it a more unique feel, especially with an enormous tree situated in the middle. The bar doesn’t have a printed menu due to its frequent changes in their selection so be sure to check out their website for what they currently have. Of course, if you’re not much of a beer drinker, they offer other drinks and bites as well.

Raleigh Beer Garden

Address: 614 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh, NC 27603, USA

Website: Raleigh Beer Garden

Opening hours: 11am - 2am (daily)

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8. Tickle your taste buds with delicious hot dogs at The Roast Grill

Hotdog sandwich
Source: Pixabay

If you’re looking for something unique to fill your hungry stomachs, The Roast Grill should be one to consider. It’s unique in the sense that it literally only serves one thing: hot dogs. And only the best, mind you. Oh, they do have a glass bottle of coke to pair the hot dogs with though, and quality Greek desserts but that’s all. Their website notes that absolutely no ketchup, mayonnaise, cheese, fries, chips, iced tea, or any of the usual stuff is served. The television show Man v. Food has paid its visit here to take on the hot dogger eating challenge with 17 hot dogs in one hour but sadly didn’t beat the record of 26 hot dogs. Pay a visit to this one-of-a-kind diner and see if you can beat the record!

The Roast Grill

Address: 7 S West St, Raleigh, NC 27603, USA

Website: The Roast Grill

Opening hours: Mon - Sat: 11am - 4pm (closed on Sun)

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9. Go shopping along Fayetteville Street

Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Bz3rk used under CC BY-SA 3.0

One could say that Fayetteville Street is somewhat a cultural melting pot because visitors will find all sorts of buildings, restaurants, and shops lined along and around this area. During the day, people can be seen coming to take their lunch breaks from work and shoppers wandering around the many retail stores. At night, the street becomes a bustling area of fun as bars and clubs come alive. The art and culture scene doesn’t fail to take a spot in the street either. During music festivals and parades such as the Downtown Raleigh Food Truck Rodeo, Christmas Day Parade, and St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Fayetteville Street is closed to make way for people to enjoy these activities.

Fayetteville Street Shopping District

Address: Fayetteville St., Downtown Raleigh, North Carolina

Website: Fayetteville Street Shopping District

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10. Bike through Art to Heart Corridor

Get some exercise while exploring Downtown Raleigh on bike
Source: Pexels

Take a break from the usual sightseeing and see Downtown Raleigh from a different perspective - on wheels. Grab a bicycle and explore the Art to Heart Corridor, a trail that begins at Fayetteville Street, will take you past the Red Hat Amphitheater and Raleigh Convention Center until finally culminating at North Carolina Art Museum Park. It’s an amazing way to see the city and at the same time, it helps promote a healthier lifestyle through exercise!

Art to Heart Corridor

Address: NC Museum of Art, 2110 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh, NC, 27607

Website: Art to Heart Corridor

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11. Admire the exhibits of CAM Raleigh

Contemporary Art Museum, Raleigh
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user James Willamor used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Marvel at one-of-a-kind modern pieces at the Contemporary Art Museum of Raleigh or more commonly called CAM Raleigh. The building alone is already quite impressive with its unique geometric-shaped roof at the entrance. Upon entering, visitors will get to admire different kinds of artistic pieces. What makes CAM unique is that their exhibits are ever-changing since it’s a non-collecting contemporary museum. To fully experience CAM, head over during any first Friday of the month to enjoy food trucks and performances. Like many of the museums in Downtown Raleigh, admission is free!

Contemporary Art Museum of Raleigh

Address: 409 W Martin St, Raleigh, NC 27603, USA

Website: Contemporary Art Museum of Raleigh

Opening hours: Thu - Fri: 12pm - 6pm; Sat - Sun: 12pm - 5pm (closed from Mon - Wed)

Price: Free

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12. Have a fun time at Marbles Kids Museum with your kids

Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Jmturner used under PUBLIC DOMAIN

Get your kids to learn and have fun at the same time at Marbles Kids Museum. The museum aims to achieve its mission statement, to encourage kids’ imagination and help them learn through play, by offering a series of fun play exhibits. Bring out your child’s inner creativity at the Art Loft, teach them healthy money habits at Moneypalooza, or have them experience a mini version of the real adult world in Around Town. In addition to these exhibits, the museum also houses a 3D IMAX Theater where kids can watch an educational documentary or catch their favorite Hollywood blockbuster.

Marbles Kids Museum

Address: 201 E Hargett St, Raleigh, NC 27601, USA

Website: Marbles Kids Museum

Opening hours: 9am - 5pm (daily)

Price: 7 USD

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13. Appreciate the fabulous architecture of North Carolina State Capitol

North Carolina State Capitol Building in Raleigh
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user User: Bz3rk at ... used under CC BY-SA 3.0

If you’re into architecture and history, a visit to the North Carolina State Capitol is a must-see for you. The historic building was finished in 1840 and used to house the North Carolina state government and legislation until 1888. Some departments branched out since then and presently, it’s home to the office of the governor of North Carolina and their immediate staff. Architecture lovers will notice and appreciate that the Capitol’s design is that of Greek Revival, the best well-preserved example of its kind. The North Carolina State Capitol Foundation, a non-profit organization, takes the lead in preserving it as a historic site by “celebrating the past and inspiring the future”. Though admission is free, donations are welcome, and public guided tours are available on Saturdays at 11am and 2pm.

North Carolina State Capitol

Address: 1 E Edenton St, Raleigh, NC 27601, USA

Website: North Carolina State Capitol

Opening hours: Mon - Sat: 9am - 5pm (closed on Sun)

Price: Free

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14. Awaken the history buff in you at Mordecai Historic Park

Historic Mordecai House-Raleigh-NC-13 Sept 2010
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Mark Turner used under PUBLIC DOMAIN

A few blocks away from the Historic Oakwood neighborhood lies Mordecai Historic Park, another noteworthy destination for history lovers. The park is home to many significant buildings such as Mordecai House, which is the oldest residence in Raleigh still standing on its original foundation, Ellen Mordecai Garden, St. Mark’s Chapel, and the birthplace of President Andrew Johnson. Take a tour around these buildings and discover the story behind them and how they shaped the history of North Carolina. The park is also available to be rented out for weddings and events.

Mordecai Historic Park

Address: 1 Mimosa St, Raleigh, NC 27604, USA

Website: Mordecai Historic Park

Opening hours: Tue - Sat: 9am - 4pm; Sun: 1pm - 4pm (closed on Mon)

Price: 5 USD

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15. Unwind at Raleigh Country Club

Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing

Take some time off and relax at Raleigh Country Club. If you’re in the mood for some golf or would like to take a few laps in a five-lane lap pool, Raleigh Country Club is the place for you. On the other hand, lounging back in the pool cabanas or at the video game lounge is also an option. Dine to your heart’s content afterward at Raleigh Country Club. Planning an event? Opt to rent out a venue here to make your event more memorable. Though just like most country clubs, the services are open to members only so you may drop by or check out their website to inquire so you may access their quality services!

Raleigh Country Club

Address: 400 Donald Ross Dr, Raleigh, NC 27610, USA

Website: Raleigh Country Club

Opening hours: Tue - Sun: 9am - 6pm (closed on Mon)

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16. Plan a camping weekend at William B. Umstead State Park

Umstead State Park - Road and trees 2014
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Monumenteer2014ca... used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Explore and disappear into the wilderness for a while by visiting William B. Umstead State Park. Alright, maybe not actual wilderness, but Umstead Park is a 5,599-acre (2,265 hectares) area full of trees and three lakes, although these are man-made. There are two entrances to the park but the main and frequently used is Reedy Creek Road. The park is a popular destination for camping, hiking, biking, and exploring. Canoeing and fishing are also common activities at the park. Cabins may be rented as well for big groups.

William B. Umstead State Park

Address: 8801 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh, NC 27617, USA

Website: William B. Umstead State Park

Opening hours: 7am - 9pm (daily)

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17. Pay a visit to the historical All Saints Chapel

Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing

Perhaps the chapel with one of the most unique backstories ever, All Saints Chapel is a sight to see. Established in 1875, All Saints Chapel is only 70 feet (21.3 m) long, 40 feet (12.2 m) wide, and 235,000 pounds (106,594.2 kg) in weight. It used to be situated on Hillsborough Street under the congregation of the Church of the Good Shepherd until recently in 2005 when they were given an ultimatum to either relocate to a bigger space or be demolished. Luckily, a kind soul came through and the chapel was moved - literally - by a truck to its new home in South East Street. And what a blessing it was too, because now people get to admire the chapel in its restored beauty. It was even voted the prettiest chapel in the South!

All Saints Chapel

Address: 10 S East St #1537, Raleigh, NC 27601, USA

Website: All Saints Chapel

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18. Pay your respects at Oakwood Cemetery

Confederate graves and monument, Oakwood Cemetery, Raleigh, North Carolina
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Mike P. used under CC BY 2.0

Just next door to the Historic Oakwood neighborhood is Oakwood Cemetery. It’s known to be historic in its own way mainly because many of those laid to rest here played a huge part in the history of North Carolina and even the United States. Numerous US senators, about 1,500 confederate soldiers, 7 governors, and 5 Civil War generals have been laid to rest here. Be sure to contact the cemetery office first for group tours to learn about the lives of these people but feel free to pay a visit personally, especially if a loved one is also resting here.

Oakwood Cemetery

Address: 701 Oakwood Avenue, Raleigh, NC 27601

Website: Oakwood Cemetery

Opening hours: 8am - 5pm (daily)

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19. Dine on delicious food at Pit Authentic Barbecue

Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Josh Evnin used under CC BY-SA 2.0

It’s not a trip to North Carolina without the authentic barbecue experience! One of the best places to experience this is at Pit Authentic Barbecue. The Pit has made a name for itself by appearing on several shows such as Man v. Food, Throwdown with Bobby Flay, and Good Morning America. They’ve also been featured on many food recommendation sites. If that’s not enough credit to show, then it’s highly recommended that you visit them yourself to try their signature pit-cooked barbecue, ribs, and Southern twists.

Pit Authentic Barbecue

Address: 328 W Davie St, Raleigh, NC 27601, USA

Website: Pit Authentic Barbecue

Opening hours: Sun - Thu: 11am - 10pm; Fri - Sat: 11am - 11pm

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20. Catch a game of football at Carter-Finley Stadium

Carter-Finley Stadium 1
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user SMaloney used under CC BY 3.0

Home of the NC State Wolfpack football team, Carter-Finley Stadium is an iconic place to catch a classic American football match. The stadium, opened in 1966, currently houses over 57,000 worth of seating capacity. Sports enthusiasts will love to take a trip to this destination. It’s important to note that there are also other sporting events held at the stadium aside from football. The stadium also held acclaimed performances from music legends like Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, U2, and Beyonce. Check out their website for upcoming events that might interest you and your group!

Carter-Finley Stadium

Address: 4600 Trinity Rd, Raleigh, NC 27607, USA

Website: Carter-Finley Stadium

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21. Check out the local talents at Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts

Raleigh Memorial Auditorum at Christmas
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user MadeYourReadThis used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Catch the best of North Carolina’s culture at Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. The theater houses five distinct venues perfect for a specific kind of performance should it be rented out - the majestic Raleigh Memorial Auditorium for big productions, the impressive Lichtin Plaza for outdoor performances, the acoustic halls of Meymandi Concert Hall which is home to the North Carolina Symphony, and the more intimate Kennedy Theater and Fletcher Opera Theater. Whatever you feel like watching, there’s a venue at Duke Energy Center for that! Do check their website beforehand to catch a glimpse of their next shows and performances.

Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts

Address: 2 E South St, Raleigh, NC 27601, USA

Website: Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts

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Absorb the best of culture, art, and history at Downtown Raleigh

Downtown Raleigh is definitely home to a lot of cultural hot spots such as museums and historic sites. This wonderful town has so much to offer for everyone from all walks of life. The best part is that most of these activities are free! What are you waiting for? Downtown Raleigh is ready to share its history and culture with you.

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Any must-sees we missed? Tell us about them in the comments section or write a post here to help out fellow travelers!
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Marga is a self-employed aspiring writer and budding artist from the Philippines. On days she's not writing, she paints and creates art which she later sells at craft bazaars. Marga also has...Read more

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