10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Raleigh
Named for Sir Walter Raleigh, who established a short-lived English settlement here in the 1580s, North Carolina's state capital was, like Washington, D.C., planned from the start as the capital city. From its founding in 1792, it was called the "City of Oaks," and its leaders ever since have been committed to preserving and maintaining its parks and trees. The result is an attractive and very livable city, where modern glass and steel construction is softened by parks and greenways. Both visual and performing arts are important here, and you'll find art museums and theaters among its most popular tourist attractions. Raleigh's past is especially visible in the Historic Oakwood neighborhood, where you'll see beautifully restored Victorian-style homes.
See also: Where to Stay in Raleigh
1 Historic Oakwood
Near downtown Raleigh, the historic Oakwood neighborhood includes hundreds of 19th-century homes, many of which have been fully restored to their former glory. Be sure to stroll past the Tucker House, an impressive Neoclassical Revival style home. In addition to the architecture, you'll see beautiful gardens surrounding many of the homes. A walking tour guide can be found at the Capitol Area Visitor's Center, including a map and information about the houses and the history of the neighborhood. Maps and more detailed information can also be found at the Historic Oakwood website. The Historic Oak View Country Park is an antebellum farmhouse built in 1885. It features the Farm History Center, the Cotton Gin House, and the Plank Kitchen. The gardens and orchards are the perfect place to bring your picnic and visit the friendly goats.
2 African American Heritage Sites
Raleigh's African American heritage runs deep, and the city is home to many sites that celebrate both the triumphs and sorrows of that journey. The African American Cultural Center at North Carolina State is at the Witherspoon Student Center and features exhibits by prominent artists that focus on this rich heritage. The Pope House Museum, located downtown on South Wilmington Street, is open on Saturdays for free, guided tours. Dr Manassa Thomas Pope was a graduate of the Leonard School of Medicine, Raleigh's first four-year medical school for African Americans. The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Gardens encircle a Bronze statue of King and a monument that honors the sacrifices of those who fought for civil rights. Mount Hope Cemetery, built in 1872, covers 35 acres, and is the largest African American cemetery in the city. Here, you will find monuments and plaques commemorating the lives of its residents.
3 Pullen Park
First opened in 1887, this was the first public park in North Carolina. The park's 66 acres offer far more than the typical city park. Visitors can take rides on the Gustave A Dentzel Carousel and the C.P. Huntington miniature train. Pedal boats are available to rent for a cruise around Lake Howell, and for the younger mariners there is a kiddie boat ride. Kids will also love the huge playground that includes water play for those hot summer days, and there are often shows in the Children's Amphitheatre. Fans of the Andy Griffith Show will want to pose for pictures with the "Andy and Opie" statue. The park also has a café, tennis courts, an aquatic center, sports fields, and the Theatre in the Park, as well as many special events throughout the year.
Address: 520 Ashe Ave, Raleigh, North Carolina
4 Mordecai Historic Park
Mordecai Historic Park preserves the birthplace of Andrew Johnson, the 17th president of the United States. Built in 1785, the Mordecai House is the oldest in the city still standing on its original foundation. Guided tours are offered on the hour and include the estate and gardens as well as many additional 19th-century buildings such as St. Mark's Chapel; Badger Iredell Law Office; and the Allen Kitchen, which was re-created using descriptions left in Ellen Mordecai's correspondence.
This is also the home base for the Historic Raleigh Trolley, a one-hour narrated tour of the city's historic sites. If you are planning a special event, the trolley can also be chartered or rented.
Address: 1 Mimosa Street, Raleigh, North Carolina
5 Marbles Kids Museum
Marbles Kids Museum is a hands-on, interactive attraction for children under age 10, conveniently located in downtown Raleigh. There are many fully interactive exhibits, including an exploration of music at Tree Tunes; the world of horticulture at Sun Sprouts kid's garden; an energetic time at Kid Grid; and the BB&T Toddler's Hollow, where kids three and under can play and explore safely in a place just for them. Laminated Picture Maps are available to borrow, so that the kids can plan their day, and parents will be happy to have the choice of eating at their on-site café or bringing their own lunch for a picnic. The Wells Fargo IMAX Theatre at Marbles shows both Hollywood hits and educational films on its 50 by 70-foot screen, keeping everyone in the family entertained.
Address: 201 E. Hargett Street, Raleigh, North Carolina
6 North Carolina Museum of Art
The galleries at the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) first opened in 1956 as the first state-funded collection. They showcase art from the Renaissance, ancient Greek and Roman sculpture and artifacts, Egyptian burial artwork, pre-Columbian works, and early American art. The NCMA is also proud to be one of two American museums to house permanent exhibits dedicated to Jewish art. The museum offers guided tours of its galleries and special exhibits and also hosts workshops, lectures, films, and performing arts shows. The museum grounds are worth exploring, where you will find sculptures, gardens, and a peaceful reflecting pool.
Address: 2110 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh, North Carolina
7 North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
Conveniently located downtown, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is one of the largest natural science museums in the southeastern United States. It has two buildings: one focused on the educational exhibits, and the other focused on the methods behind the science. In addition to traveling exhibits, the Nature Exploration Center has permanent installations including the Arthropod Zoo; the Living Conservatory; and exhibits that explore North Carolina's coasts, mountains, and local natural history. The Prehistoric section is the most popular, where you can meet Acro, the only genuine skeleton of an Acrocanthosaurus on display in the world. Those who like to get really hands-on will love the Discovery Room, where you are encouraged to touch and explore everything. The Nature Research Center is where you can learn about the science behind the natural world, from the DNA Investigative Lab to space exploration. The can't-miss exhibit here, though, is the SECU Daily Planet, a three-story theater that explores the planet earth from the inside out. The museum offers detailed floor maps for self-guided tours, or you can get their app for a digital guide.
Address: 11 W. Jones Street, Raleigh, North Carolina
8 North Carolina Museum of History
The North Carolina Museum of History has permanent and traveling exhibits that encompass the state's past. You will find Native American tools, housewares of early European settlers, costumes from the Revolutionary War era, and weapons and military gear from the Civil War. African American history is featured as well, from the first days of slavery through the arduous fight for freedom and equality. This is also home to the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, where visitors can learn about native sports heroes and see plenty of memorabilia.
Address: 5 E. Edenton Street, Raleigh, North Carolina
9 North Carolina State Capitol
The North Carolina State Capitol Building is considered one of the best-preserved examples of Greek revival architecture in the United States. Architect David Paton's influence can be seen in the attention to detail in its intricate molding and plasterwork, the cantilevered gallery, and the grandiose Greek elements. Completed in 1840, the building is one of Raleigh's best-loved landmarks. Up until 1888, it housed all of North Carolina's State Government, but today it only houses the Governor's office. This sightseeing stop is on Raleigh's historic Trolley Tour.
Address: 1 E. Edenton Street, Raleigh, North Carolina
10 Performing Arts in Raleigh
Raleigh is home to a wide variety of performing arts venues and organizations. Theater-goers will love the Theatre in the park at Pullen Park, which hosts several productions each year and is best known for its annual December performance of A Christmas Carol. The Burning Coal Theatre is located downtown, and the nearby Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts hosts stage plays and musicals produced by the North Carolina Theatre, as well as the work of the North Carolina Opera. It is also the performance home for the Carolina Ballet and hosts the nationally celebrated North Carolina Symphony.
Where to Stay in Raleigh for Sightseeing
Raleigh's main attractions, including the State Capitol, Historic Oakwood, and a majority of the museums, are located downtown. For first-time visitors, this is the best place to stay. Luxury and mid-range hotels are generally found near the convention center, and the prices drop as you head out towards Interstate 440. Sports fans may want to stay to the west by PNC Arena, near North Carolina State Museum. Below are some highly-rated hotels in good locations:
- Luxury Hotels: Attached to the Convention Center, the Raleigh Marriott City Center is ideal for trade show attendees and offers well-appointed rooms with marble bathrooms, coupled with first-class service. Just west of the downtown core is the new hip and trendy Aloft Raleigh. Ultra-modern décor and the latest technology are featured throughout the property. Nearby, in the North Hill shopping district, is the Hyatt House. The large rooms with kitchens and the seasonal outdoor pool make this a great hotel for families.
- Mid-Range Hotels: The recently renovated DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Raleigh, just a mile west of downtown, features oversize rooms and is within easy walking distance of several restaurants. Easily accessible off Interstate 440, beside the large Crabtree Mall, the Hilton Garden Inn offers comfortable rooms and an indoor pool. The Hampton Inn & Suites is less than a mile from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, in the trendy Glenwood South District. This hotel offers an evening reception with appetizers, and plenty of restaurants and entertainment venues are just steps away.
- Budget Hotels: Conveniently located right downtown in an older building with some of the best views in the city is the Holiday Inn. A great-value option just two miles to the south is the Red Roof PLUS+. This hotel has recently been renovated and offers pet-friendly rooms. Just over ten minutes to the northwest of downtown is the Candlewood Suites. A good choice for families, this hotel has a variety of suites, all with kitchens.