Raleigh is an affordable and easily accessible area to visit filled with fun, interesting, and free things to do for visitors of all ages. There are an abundance of free museum throughout the city, leading Raleigh to be nicknamed the "Smithsonian of the South," along with many parks and other nature areas that offer an escape from the busy city. Some attractions are free only on certain days – please check before you go.
1.North Carolina Museum of Art
© North Carolina Museum of Art
The North Carolina Museum of Art offers an extensive permanent collection of artwork open to the public to view free of charge. Free museum tours are offered on a daily basis, taking place at 1:30pm on Tuesday through Friday, and at 11:30am and at 1:30pm on the weekends. The Daily Museum Tours lasts around an hour and discuss ideas, cultures, and art, serving as an introduction to the museum’s permanent collection. These tours meet at the Information Desk in the West Building. Weekend Family-Friendly Tours are offered at 10:30am on weekends. Tours are first come, first serve.
2110 Blue Ridge Rd, Raleigh, NC 27607, Phone: 919-839-6262
2.North Carolina Museum of History
© North Carolina Museum of History
The North Carolina Museum of History offers visitors from all around a chance to discover hidden gems and interesting secrets about the past of North Carolina. Located in the heart of Raleigh’s downtown, the museum lets guests explore its collection of over 150,000 different artifacts with no admission fee. This extensive collection of historical objects span across six centuries. The collection encompasses a wide array of items that help to interpret the rich history of the state. Hours for the museum are 9:00am until 5:00pm Monday to Saturday and 12:00pm until 5:00pm on Sundays.
5 East Edenton St, Raleigh, NC 27601, Phone: 919-814-7000
3.North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
© North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is the country’s Southeast region’s largest museum of its kind. Through field experiences, programs, and many exhibits, the museum provides visitors with a chance to get up with nature and science. There is no charge for general admission and is open Monday through Saturday from 9:00am until 5:00pm and on Sundays from 12:00pm until 5:00pm. The location in downtown Raleigh includes the Nature Research Center and the Nature Exploration Center. The Discovery Room and the Living Conservatory, also known as the butterfly room, are generally closed on Monday.
11 West Jones St, Raleigh, NC 27601, Phone: 919-707-9800
4.Haywood Hall House and Gardens
The Haywood Hall House and Gardens is a city oasis in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina. Just two blocks away from the Capitol building, the historic house is nestled amongst grand oak trees within a picturesque garden. Haywood Hall is the former home of one of the city’s most prestigious families. It is now available for rental and open for tours. Built back in the year 1799 by John Haywood, the residence is a rare survivor of the Federal period in Raleigh. It is the oldest house on its original foundation within the city’s original limits.
211 New Bern Pl, Raleigh, NC 27601, Phone: 919-832-8357
5.Pope House Museum
© Pope House Museum
The Pope House Museum was constructed back in the year 1901 and is found just a few blocks from the Capitol in downtown Raleigh. The historic house museum is open to the public for tours on Saturdays from 10:00am until 3:00pm. Guided tours take place on the hour, every hour during this time with the last tour starting at 2:00pm. The Pope House Museum is the state’s only African-American house museum and provides a look into the life of Dr. Manassa Thomas Pope, the only African-American to run for Mayor in a Southern capital during the Jim Crow Era.
511 South Wilmington St, Raleigh, NC 27601, Phone: 919-996-2220
6.North Carolina Railway Museum & New Hope Valley Railway
The North Carolina Railway Museum and New Hope Valley Railway are located approximately thirty minutes outside of the city of Raleigh. Here, guests can take a one-hour train ride on a true locomotive. Visitors can learn more about the history of the railroad at the North Carolina Railway Museum; look at antique train cars, memorabilia, and other artifacts; view the G-Scale garden railroad; or browse the museum’s gift shop during their time at the museum and railway. Monthly locomotive rides are offered at the New Hope Valley Railway, with trains operating between the months of April and December.
3900 Bonsal Rd, New Hill, NC 27562, Phone: 919-362-5416
7.North Carolina State Capitol
The North Carolina State Capitol was built back in 1840 and is one of the best-preserved and finest examples of in the architectural Greek Revival style of any major civic building. The building is also listed as a National Historic Landmark. The Capitol is open to visitors for self-guided tours Monday through Saturday from 9:00am until 5:00pm, and guided tours are offered at 11:00am and at 2:00pm on Saturdays. The State Capitol is closed on Sundays. The historic building has been restored to how it looked from 1840 to the year 1865.
1 E. Edenton St, Raleigh, NC 27601, Phone: 919-733-4994
8.The African American Cultural Center
The African American Cultural Center is a museum that displays a rather unique collection of displays, documents, and artifacts from contributions by many African Americans. This collection is housed across multiple buildings along a scenic nature trail. While there is no fee for admission to the African American Cultural Center, they do welcome and appreciate donations, and visits are by appointment only. Visitors interested in exploring the complex can call to set up a visit. The center includes an African American Library and a Cultural Art Gallery in which exhibitions of prominent African-American and African artists are presented.
119 Sunnybrook Rd, Raleigh, NC 27610, Phone: 919-250-9336
9.American Tobacco Trail
The American Tobacco Trail is a rails-to-trails project that consists of more than twenty-two miles throughout the state of North Carolina’s Triangle region. The portion of the trail in Wake County is a recreational rail-trail that is open to runners, walkers, horseback riders, cyclists, and dog walkers. Cultural, history, and environmental programs are often offered along the American Tobacco Trail as well. The American Tobacco Trail runs from western Wake County in rural New Hill through the northeastern part of Chatham County to the downtown area of Durham and out to around the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
10.Cary Heritage Museum
© Cary Heritage Museum
The Cary Heritage Museum is housed within the Page-Walker Arts and History Center in the heart of downtown Cary, just a short distance from Raleigh. The museum, which is open to the public free of charge, highlights the history of Cary, North Carolina through a timeline exhibit. While the Cary Heritage Museum is quite small, situated within somewhat small space on the third floor, there are still numerous exhibits for visitors to see with many significant artifacts. Exhibits include a timeline that uses a railroad track to help guide guests through the history of Cary among several others.
119 Ambassador Loop, Cary, NC 27513, Phone: 919-460-4963
11.Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park at North Carolina Museum of Art
© Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park at North Carolina Museum of Art
The Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park at North Carolina Museum of Art connects people, nature, and art to foster human interactions and creative experiences. The park is home to a number of permanent and temporary art installations created by international artists, a terraced pond, recreational trails, contemporary and colorful gardens, and environmentally sustainable landscapes. Visitors can sit for a bit on the Ellipse lawn, picnic by the Gyre rings, or experience the cloud chamber along with several other activities. The trails lead guests to commissioned artwork and through nature areas. The museum park is open from dawn to dusk daily.
2110 Blue Ridge Rd,Raleigh, NC 27607, Phone: 919-839-6262
12.Historic Yates Mill County Park
The Historic Yates Mill County Park is a 174-acre park that is home to wildlife, hiking trails, a 24-acre pond, and the Historic Yate Mill, the last gristmill standing in Wake County, which is fed water by the Steep Hill Creek. The mill was built during the eighteenth century and has been fully restored and operational today. While admission is free for the park, there is a fee to visit the Historic Yates Mill. The park is open seven days a week, from 8:00am until sunset. There is also an environmental research center on-site at the Historic Yates Mill County Park.
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd, Raleigh, NC 27603, Phone: 919-856-6675
13.JC Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University
© M. Schuppich/stock.adobe.com
JC Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University is nationally-acclaimed garden boasting one of the Southeast’s most diverse and largest collections of plants adapted for landscaping. These plants are ideal for using in southern landscapes. Free public tours of the JC Raulston Arboretum are offered at 2:00pm on Sundays between the months of March and October. The arboretum is open daily from 8:00am until 8:00pm April to October, and from 8:00am until 5:00pm November to March. Free parking is available along Beryl Road and in the paved lot of the arboretum.
4415 Beryl Rd, Raleigh, NC 27606, Phone: 919-515-3132
14.Mordecai Historic Park
© Mordecai Historic Park
The Mordecai Historic Park in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina was formerly the grounds of Wake County’s largest plantation. The Mordecai House itself is the city’s oldest house located at its original site. The nineteenth-century kitchen garden has been recreated based on the information in the letters and memoir of Ellen Mordecai. Visitors can learn about the history of the home and the Mordecai family in the park’s permanent exhibit at the Visitor Center: The Mordecai Story: Faith, Family, and Community in Raleigh." There are also historic outbuildings that guests can explore, such as St. Mark’s Chapel and the Allen Kitchen.
1 Mimosa St, Raleigh, NC 27604, Phone: 919-996-4364
Artspace in Raleigh is a center for the visual arts that aims to inspire innovation through engaging with artists and experiencing the creative process. The arts center is open to the public free of charge, and provides free tours of its studios and exhibitions for both adults and youth ages ten and older. Artspace is open for visitors from 11:00am until 5:00pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. The center is open until 7:00pm on Thursdays, and until 10:00pm on the first Friday of every month. Artspace is considered a leader in visual arts in the Southeast.
201 E. Davie St, Raleigh, NC 27601, Phone: 919-821-2787
16.Bass Lake Park
Bass Lake Park offers opportunities for outdoor recreation and is home to several different species of wildlife and native plants that can be seen along the park’s scenic nature trails. The 54-acres Bass Lake is stocked with a variety of fish thanks to a partnership with the North Carolina Community Fishing Lake Program. Fish found in the lake include catfish, crappie, bream, and bass. Guests can borrow a fishing pole for free through the Tackle Loaner Program. Trails at Bass Lake Park are open for bicycle riding and hiking year-round, every day of the week, except for New Year’s Day, Christmas, and Thanksgiving.
900 Bass Lake Rd, Holly Springs, NC 27540, Phone: 919-557-2496
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17.Wake Forest Historical Museum
© Wake Forest Historical Museum
The Wake Forest Historical Museum offers free admission Tuesday through Friday from 9:00am until 12:00pm and 1:30pm until 4:30pm. It is also open on Sundays from 2:00pm until 5:00pm. The museum is elegant and bright, situated just behind the Calvin Jones House. The exposed beams, and sloped ceiling architecture is designed to give the atmosphere of the barn of the nineteenth century associated with the historic house and farm. Visitors will see a refined exhibition space upon entering the Wake Forest Historical Museum, climate controlled in order to protect the artifacts, portraits, and documents, as well as beautifully detailed.
414 N. Main St, Wake Forest, NC 27587, Phone: 919-556-2911
18.Carl Alwin Schenck Memorial Forest
The Carl Alwin Schenck Memorial Forest in the western area of Wake County is a 245-acre forest around ten minutes away from the campus of North Carolina State University. The grounds are managed by the university as a resource for research and teaching as a demonstration of the many benefits that are generated by actively managing a forest. Guests can stroll through the well-maintained forest trails and enjoy viewing wildlife and bird watching, have a picnic in one of the maintained facilities, and see how a managed forest shows successional stages. The Frances L. Liles Trails is one of the most popular trails.
Reedy Creek Rd, Raleigh, NC 27607, Phone: 919-515-7576
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The historic City Market in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina first opened over one hundred years ago. The market is a group of boutiques, specialty shops, art galleries, restaurants, and bars, and serves as a nice space for people to simply wander around when the weather outside is pleasant. Visitors can meander along the City Market’s original cobblestone streets full of nineteenth-century charm and lit my lamps. The City Market is open from 7:00am until 2:00am Monday through Saturday and 8:00am until 2:00am on Sundays. However, individual business hours throughout the market may vary.
215 Wolfe St, Raleigh, NC, Phone: 984-232-8661
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20.City of Raleigh Museum
© City of Raleigh Museum
The City of Raleigh Museum is located on the “Main Street” of Raleigh in the heart of downtown. The museum is housed inside of a historic building that was once a hardware store and is committed to the preservation and interpretation of the capital city of North Carolina’s history while also envisioning the city’s future. The museum features both permanent and temporary exhibits about the resources, places, and people of the City of Raleigh, maintaining a collection of around five thousand artifacts. The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday 9:00am until 4:00pm and Sundays 1:00pm until 4:00pm.
220 Fayetteville St, Raleigh, NC 27601, Phone: 919-996-2220
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© Historic Oakwood
Historic Oakwood in the city of Raleigh is a neighborhood from the nineteenth century. The historic neighborhood near the downtown area is listed on the country’s National Register of Historic Places and is the first local Historic District in Raleigh as well. The area consists of hundreds of houses designed in an array of different styles of architecture. A large number of these houses have been carefully and meticulously restored back to their original beauty and stature. Historic Oakwood is a great place for an afternoon walking tour with its quiet streets lined with trees and sidewalks.
22.North Carolina Executive Mansion
© North Carolina Executive Mansion
The North Carolina Executive Mansion was built in 1891 and designed by Samuel Sloan, a prominent architect of the time. The mansion is one of the gems of architecture in the state of North Carolina and acts as a repository for a grand collections of North Carolina paintings and furnishings from the eighteenth century and nineteenth century. The Executive Mansion has been the residence of many governors of North Carolina and their families and has been a cultural, social, and political center for the state for over one hundred years, one of only a handful of executive mansions in America built for that purpose.
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23.Raleigh Flea Market
The Raleigh Flea Market, a tradition in the Triangle region of North Carolina since 1971, is situated on the Historic State Fairgrounds. The family-friendly and fun atmosphere attracts thousands of people each weekend. Over six hundred vendors are showcased at the Raleigh Flea Market, offering shoppers everything from collectibles and antiques to clothing and jewelry to homemade items to furniture and much more, and is considered the largest selection of furniture, jewelry, and antiques in the state. The market is open from 9:00am until 6:00pm on Saturdays and Sundays, no matter if it’s sunshine or raining.
1025 Blue Ridge Rd, Raleigh, NC 27607, Phone: 919-899-3532
The Warehouse District in Raleigh, North Carolina is characterized by the many warehouses made out of red brick. This area of downtown Raleigh has been transformed into an interesting combination of antique stores, specialty shops, and restaurants that attract a large number of entertainment seekers every day. The Warehouse District is home to the legendary Pit BBQ restaurant and the Contemporary Art Museum as well as a number of other shops and attractions make the area a destination for shopping, dining, and cultural and arts entertainment. The district has become one of the must visit places in the city.
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25.State Farmers Market
The State Farmers Market is open seven days a week, with hours from 5:00am until 6:00pm Monday to Saturday and 8:00am until 6:00pm on Sundays. The Farmers Building is a 30,000-square-foot building where farmers sell plants, produce, and other items produced from local farms. Beginning in March, visitors can find a variety of plants, while vegetables and fruits are available throughout their growing season. The Market Shoppes are located within a climate controlled building and offer cheeses, baked goods, crafts, fresh produce, custom framing, meats, wines,old-fashioned candy, and much more. There is also a market grill.
1201 Agriculture St, Raleigh, NC 27603, Phone: 919-733-7417
25 Best Free Things to Do in Raleigh Year Round
- North Carolina Museum of Art, Photo: North Carolina Museum of Art
- North Carolina Museum of History, Photo: North Carolina Museum of History
- North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Photo: North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
- Haywood Hall House and Gardens, Photo: yod77/stock.adobe.com
- Pope House Museum, Photo: Pope House Museum
- North Carolina Railway Museum & New Hope Valley Railway, Photo: Vladimir/stock.adobe.com
- North Carolina State Capitol, Photo: pabrady63/stock.adobe.com
- The African American Cultural Center, Photo: yaisirichai/stock.adobe.com
- American Tobacco Trail, Photo: meihe/stock.adobe.com
- Cary Heritage Museum, Photo: Cary Heritage Museum
- Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park at North Carolina Museum of Art, Photo: Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park at North Carolina Museum of Art
- Historic Yates Mill County Park, Photo: pabrady63/stock.adobe.com
- JC Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University, Photo: M. Schuppich/stock.adobe.com
- Mordecai Historic Park, Photo: Mordecai Historic Park
- Artspace, Photo: Artspace
- Bass Lake Park, Photo: muratani/stock.adobe.com
- Wake Forest Historical Museum, Photo: Wake Forest Historical Museum
- Carl Alwin Schenck Memorial Forest, Photo: sjessup/stock.adobe.com
- City Market, Photo: ejkrouse/stock.adobe.com
- City of Raleigh Museum, Photo: City of Raleigh Museum
- Historic Oakwood, Photo: Historic Oakwood
- North Carolina Executive Mansion, Photo: North Carolina Executive Mansion
- Raleigh Flea Market, Photo: Punkbarby/stock.adobe.com
- Warehouse District, Photo: zimmytws/stock.adobe.com
- State Farmers Market, Photo: Michael/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: jzehnder/stock.adobe.com