10+ Best Free Things to Do in Raleigh, NC (That Will Make Your Wallet Happy)

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Best Free & Fun Things to Do in Raleigh, NC

When you first think of North Carolina, Raleigh might not be the first place that comes to mind. However, Raleigh, the state Capital of North Carolina, has plenty to offer, including tons of fun and free things to do!

So, if you’re heading to Raleigh, NC, I have you covered with some of the best free things to do in our city, along with some additional tips for visiting the Oak city of Raleigh!

From beautiful parks, museums, and Downtown Raleigh, you will experience tons of the best things Raleigh has to offer!

Raleigh, NC Skyline

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1. William B. Umstead State Park

Umstead State Park is likely one of the most popular parks in Raleigh and is free to visit. With over 5,500 acres, you will be greeted with hiking and biking trails, boat rentals, picnics, camping, and more!

The park has a wide variety of plants and animals, including beavers, raccoons, deer, and an abundance of bird species. If nothing else, the park is a great place to visit on a nice day for a walk around the lake.

There are two access points to Umstead. One from Glenwood Ave. which gives you access to the visitor center and Crabtree Creek, and the other in Cary from Reedy Creek.

The below Umstead photos are from the Glenwood Ave. entrance.

Crabtree Creek Entrance: 8801 Glenwood Ave. Raleigh, NC 27617

Reedy Creek: 2100 N. Harrison Ave. Cary, NC 27513

2. North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA)

The NC Museum of Art is easily one of my favorite places to go in Raleigh! Not only do they have beautiful art exhibits, but the museum also has a nice walking trail with unique sculptures throughout the trail.

Both the museum and outdoor greenway are free to enjoy and dog friendly (on the greenway). You will see lots of people picnicking, walking the trail, doing photoshoots, and just hanging out!

The museum always has something new going on. If you happen to be visiting during the summer, you can also enjoy their sunflower fields!

Address: 2110 Blue Ridge Rd, Raleigh, NC 27607

The NC Art Museum outdoors sculptures is another free things to enjoy in Raleigh
NC Art Museum outdoors sculptures
NC Art Museum outdoors area with metal tree scupture

3. The Dillion in Downtown Raleigh

The Dillion is one of my favorite hidden gems in Raleigh for the best skyline views! Not only is it free to visit the Dillion, but you can also bring your own food and drinks (as long as no event is going on).

You can find the entrance to the Dillon right next to Barcelona Wine Bar’s Patio. All you need to do is take the elevator up to the 9th floor, walk through the public lobby, and enjoy the views of Downtown Raleigh Skyline! The Dillon also has to be one of the most Instagrammable places in Raleigh!

Address: 223 S West St, Raleigh, NC 27601

Hours: Monday – Friday: 7 AM – 7 PM, Saturday 7 AM – 1 PM

The Dillion free rooftop deck is one of the many free things to do in downtown Raleigh
The Dillon Rooftop Deck

The Dillion Benches

4. Explore Downtown Raleigh

Downtown Raleigh has tons of free things to do and see! This includes murals, museums, a free tour at the Capital, and Glenwood South (all of which are free, of course)! To be honest, downtown Raleigh could have its own separate post of fun and free things to do!

Some of my favorite murals in downtown Raleigh to check out include:

  • Sparkles the Bobcat
  • The Marbles Mural
  • All are Welcome Raleigh
  • Raleigh Founded

You can find more photo-worthy Raleigh Murals here!

Additionally, you can people-watch around Glenwood South, and walk down the charming corner of City Market. Downtown Raleigh also has free events going on in around City Market, Moore Square, and more!

Moreover, Downtown Raleigh is also known for its large array of great places to eat!

Some places to put on your list of places to try include Big Ed’s, Morgan Street Food Hall, Taverna Agora Greek Kitchen & Bar, Raleigh Beer Garden, and Pit Authentic Barbecue.

These are easily some of the best things to do in downtown Raleigh!

Insta-worthy Sprinkles Mural in downtown Raleigh. Large mural of cat with a crown, red and pink flowers with woman.
Photo-Worthy Sprinkles the Bobcat Mural in Downtown Raleigh

5. Raleigh Museums

Raleigh is known as the Smithsonian of the South for its free museums you can visit! The best part, they are all located near one another.

  • Natural Science Museum
  • The CAM Museum
  • City of Raleigh Museum
  • North Carolina Museum of History
  • Marbles Kids Museum
  • North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame
  • Legends of Harley Drag Racing

It is also a great indoor activity for those rainy days in Raleigh!

6. Tour The North Carolina State Capitol

Want to take a tour of the North Carolina State Capital? This is another fun thing you can do. The tours are self-guided, and you can visit every day except Sunday. They also run some public guided tours as well!

Update: Temporarily closed for construction

Address: 1 E Edenton St, Raleigh, NC 27601

Capitol Raleigh Christmas tree and lights

7. Raleigh Rose Garden

Raleigh Rose Garden is another one of my favorite free places to visit! This serene little garden is located behind the Raleigh Little Theater. The garden itself was dedicated in 1951.

Enjoy 60 rose beds with a variety of different roses, along with additional perennials gracing the garden.

The garden holds the perfect backdrop for special events such as weddings (associated costs), photoshoots, or even a picnic! You can find people enjoying the gardens daily as a peaceful place right in Downtown Raleigh!

Address: 2703 Everett Ave, Raleigh, NC 27607

Visiting the Free Raleigh Rose Garden
Raleigh Rose Garden

8. Dorothea Dix Park

Looking for another epic skyline view of downtown Raleigh? Dix Park has over 300 acres and 6 fields to enjoy. Located just outside downtown Raleigh, Dix Park is easily another fun and free place to visit.

While the park is a popular place to visit year-round, people flock to the park to see the daffodils in the springtime and the sunflowers during the summer.

Dix Park is a popular place for picnicking, walking, photography, and every time I visit, I see people flying toy-like planes and drones.

The park is also dog-friendly and includes a dog run.

My favorite place to visit in Dix Park is where you can see the Downtown Raleigh skyline is located at 2105 Umstead Dr. Raleigh, NC 27606. This is where they plant the daffodil flower fields.

9. Historic Yates Mill County Park

Yate Mills is undoubtedly one of the best free parks to visit in Raleigh! The park is 174 acres and has the only working gristmill still working in all of Wake County! The mill was fully restored and dates back to circa 1756.

The building the mill is connected to is even thought to be one of the oldest buildings in Wake County.

This serene park offers hiking trails, fishing off the bridge, and picnics. Yates Mill opened to the public in 2005 and hosts over 100,000 visitors a year, according to Wake.gov park info.

The park is open 7 days a week from 8 AM – to sunset. Additionally, the visitor center (which is also free) is open 7 days a week from 8 AM – 5 PM.

During our visit, I specifically wanted to find the mill. So, the quickest way to the mill is by heading to the trail on the left. If you are starting off on the bridge, this is the further away from the mill, so walk back out and head all the way to the left.

Address: 4620 Lake Wheeler Rd, Raleigh, NC 27603

Raleigh NC Yates Mill
Historic Yates Mills

10. WRAL Azalea Garden

Another favorite awesome free place to explore in Downtown Raleigh is WRAL Azalea Garden. I find myself coming back every couple of months to see what’s blooming.

Their garden is very picturesque and peaceful. If you love bird watching, it is also a great spot since they have feeders throughout. Additionally, you can also bring your fur babies!

Address: 2619 Western Blvd, Raleigh, NC 27606

WRAL Azalea Garden in Raleigh, NC

11. Shelley Lake

One of my new favorite parks in Raleigh is Shelley Lake! I love how peaceful their 2-mile trail is with a scenic boardwalk overlooking the lake. Additionally, you can see tons of ducks, turtles, and geese.

Moreover, Shelley Lake also has a fishing pier, basketball court, open fields, and a kid’s playground.

Address: 1400 W Millbrook Rd, Raleigh, NC 27612

Shelley Lake in Raleigh, NC

12. Pullen Park

So, I am including Pullen Park because I have seen it on countless lists, however, Pullen Park is my least favorite park out of all the listed parks. But, hear me out!

Pullen Park is great if you have kids who want to go on the 3 amusement park rides (which is not free) that they have.

If amusement rides interest you, they have a carousel, kiddie boats, and a train ride.

Fun North Carolina fact: The amusement park area is the 5 oldest operating in the USA and 16th in the world, according to Raleigh NC Gov. 

Other than that, it is a cute more city-like park, and if you are in the area, you can stroll by the pond. However, I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit this park.

Address: 520 Ashe Ave, Raleigh, NC 27606

Pullen Park is another free park to visit. Standing on the bridge with my dog Marley
Pullen Park Bridge

How To Get To Raleigh, NC

As you might have guessed, the easiest way to get to Raleigh is by plane. You will want to fly into the Raleigh- Durham International Airport (RDU). The airport is about 30 minutes from downtown Raleigh.

The airport is pretty small with 2 terminals, so don’t worry about getting lost!

Additionally, you can consider taking an East Coast road trip through Raleigh. We personally drive to see our family in New York often, and it’s about 8.5 hrs.

Furthermore, depending on where you are traveling from, you might also have the option to take a Greyhound bus or Amtrack. The train station is located in Downtown Raleigh.

Raleigh Downtown tra
Raleigh Amtrak train station

Getting Around Raleigh

The best way to travel around Raleigh is by renting a car. Raleigh does not offer much public transportation to really experience the city.

However, if you plan on just visiting Downtown Raleigh, a car is not 100% necessary. Uber and Lyft are also available for day trips outside of downtown. In general, Downtown Raleigh is the best place to stay when visiting.

Raleigh Free Things To Do in Review

As you can see Raleigh, NC has tons of free and fun things to do! From parks to museums and murals, I hope you had a great time in North Carolina’s Capital City!

Have any questions about these free things to do in Raleigh, or did I miss one of your favorites? Let me know in the comments below.

Love this Free Things to Do in Raleigh, NC Guide? I’d appreciate it if you could share this post below!

Free things to do in Raleigh
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Samantha Oppenheimer

Samantha Oppenheimer (Sam Opp) quit her corporate marketing job in 2018 to travel the world and become a travel writer, blogger and content creator. She loves experiencing authentic travel experiences, photography, and nature. Sam shares helpful travel itineraries, travel tips, budget tips, and travel advice from her personal experiences. You can also find Sam's words featured in large publications including Mirror, Thrillist, and Well + Good.

7 thoughts on “10+ Best Free Things to Do in Raleigh, NC (That Will Make Your Wallet Happy)”

  1. This guide to Raleigh, NC is incredibly helpful. You’ve really thought through everything you need to know before planning a trip. Thank you for this helpful resource. Saving this guide for later!

  2. Ahh, I really need to get back to Raleigh! Love these ideas, especially that rose garden! Hopefully I will get down there in the near-ish future!

  3. I’ve always wanted to visit NC and Radley looks like such an incredible city! NC Museum of Art sounds wonderful! I’d definitely love to pay it a visit. And the murals are stunning! I’m always amazed at how impressive street art is! Thanks for the wonderful guide, I hope I get an opportunity to visit!


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