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North Carolina Travel Guide
Things to Do in Raleigh

History, Art and Science

Museum of Natural SciencesSomewhere I saw Raleigh referred to as the "Smithsonian of the South," and though I myself had never considered it in that regard, it is true that the city has a number of pretty cool cultural attractions, many of them free.

In addition to the North Carolina Museum of Art, which has to be one of the best art museums in the USA, with visiting exhibitions as well as a very impressive permanent collection, several attractions are well worth checking out.

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences at W. Jones St. is a 70,000-square-foot collection of walk-through natural environments that includes live animals. Among the cool exhibits is a 66-million-year-old dinosaur skeleton named Willo with a fossilized heart and this giant fly.

Jurassic Park DinosaursMarbles Kid's Museum, downtown, at 201E. Hargett St. Marbles Kids Museum opened its doors on September 29, 2007 to kids and kids-at-heart! The crowd was wowed when they unveiled their new name and new exhibits after a suspenseful 24-day transformation that followed the merger of Exploris and Playspace. Why Marbles? A wall that wraps around the museum is filled with more than one million marbles that light up at night. And Marbles is a nickname for brains. At Marbles Kids Museum, kids are encouraged to use their marbles - learning new things through imagination, discovery and play. Marbles Kids Museum inspires imagination, discovery and learning through extraordinary adventures in play and larger-than-life IMAX experiences. Boasting North Carolina’s only GIANT screen, the newly upgraded Wells Fargo IMAX Theatre at Marbles offers a unique educational and entertainment experience designed to place you in the world's most immersive movie experience.

Artspace RaleighFor big kids, there's Artspace, downtown, at 201 E. Davie St., a nonprofit visual and performing arts center dedicated to "promoting art by making the creative process accessible." Artspace is home to more than 30 artists who open their space to the public. Artspace is open to the public 6–10pm on the first Friday of each month for the First Friday Gallery Walk (with the exception of First Fridays with a holiday conflict). First Friday Gallery Walks are free and open to the public. Donations are appreciated. First Friday Gallery Walks attract as many as 3000 people in one evening to tour studios and local galleries. Artspace provides exhibition openings, open artist studios, gallery talks, artist demonstrations, live music, and refreshments. For information on exhibits, talks, classes, demonstrations and more, go to their website.

The African American Cultural Complex at 119 Sunnybrook Rd. is a relative newcomer to the Capital City cultural scene. The complex offers a collection of artifacts, documents and displays of contributions made by African Americans toward the development of the state and the nation, including innovations in science, business, politics, medicine, sports and the arts. It also has a nature trail. Each year during the last two weekends in July, an outdoor drama is produced: "Amistad Saga: Reflections," which, according to the AACC, is "the only outdoor drama written, produced, and directed by and about African Americans in the US."

The North Carolina Museum of History is at 5 E. Edenton St., also downtown, and features exhibits on … well … the history of North Carolina. It hosts concerts and craft exhibits and other such activities, and is also home to the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. And the Raleigh City Museum in the Briggs Building on the downtown Fayetteville Street Mall, has a variety of exhibits honoring the history of the city.

NC Governors MansionThe State Capitol building and the Governor's Mansion (called by Franklin Roosevelt "the most beautiful governor's mansion [interior] in America") are both worth checking out, and are within spittin' distance of each other downtown, which also puts you in the general vicinity of a number of choice Raleigh Restaurants and Bars.

Mordecai Historic Park is one of the oldest residences in Raleigh and the oldest on its original foundation, built in 1785 by Joel Lane (see Raleigh History). In 1824, William Nichols, an acclaimed architect of the time, was hired to enlarge the original house, transforming it into a Greek Revival mansion, which is today a museum. The grounds also include the birthplace of Andrew Johnson, our 17th president and the first to stand an impeachment trial, which was relocated from its original site downtown.

Into Harleys? Visit the Ray Price Legends of Harley Drag Race Museum, located upstairs from the showroom of one of the largest Harley dealerships in the country, Ray Price Harley, at 1126 S. Saunders St. Price is himself a member of the Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Fame, and is known as the "Father of Funnybike." The museum features exhibits on such legends as "Pearshape" Pearson, North Carolina native Jay Turner and Greenville, South Carolina's Pete Hill.

Music and Performance

NC SymphonyThe North Carolina Symphony is a full-time, professional, 65-member orchestra, and it makes its home in Raleigh's Meymandi Concert Hall. The symphony offers one of the most extensive educational components of any orchestra in the country, providing over 50 concerts a year to schoolchildren throughout the state. The Carolina Ballet company often performs with the symphony, as does the North Carolina Opera.

Then there's the North Carolina Theatre, the state's largest nonprofit professional regional theatre, at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium now known as Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. All shows are locally produced, casting a mix of local and Broadway talent. For drama, there's also the Flying Machine Theatre Company, Burning Coal Theatre Company, Raleigh Little Theatre and Theatre In The Park, the largest community theatre in North Carolina, best known for its annual original production of A Christmas Carol.


Carolina HurricanesIn the world of sports, there's the National Hockey League Carolina Hurricanes who were formerly the Hartford Whalers before moving down to the sunny south and making their home in the beautiful PNC Arena; the Carolina Mudcats Double A professional baseball team (see also Things to Do in Durham for the scoop on the Durham Bulls); and a plethora of college athletics, courtesy of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association's Shaw University and St. Augustine's College and the Atlantic Coast Conference's North Carolina State University which of course includes College Basketball.

As for participatory sports, among the finest Raleigh-area golf courses (see also Golf in NC) are Tobacco Road Golf Club (having been described, according to their website, as "Pine Valley on steroids" and "golf's rock and roll thrill ride," it was voted a "Top Ten Upscale Public Course's by Golf Digest magazine) and Wil-Mar Golf Club (voted one of the 100 most women-friendly courses in the country by Golf for Women magazine).

Other Stuff...

NC State FairAnd, oh yeah, don't forget the North Carolina State Fair in the fall and the Raleigh Flea Market which is every weekend at the fairgounds. First Night in Moore Square, Raleigh's answer to New York City's New Years Eve festivities at Times Square (they have an acorn instead of a ball) and Artsplosure Spring Festival, one of the North Carolina's most acclaimed and well attended outdoor art festivals, scheduled each year for the third weekend in May. The World Beer Festival in  held  in the spring in downtown Raleigh's historic Moore Square. In the fall, Arts Alive on Lichtin Plaza is a celebration of the state's fine art and craft community showcasing Raleigh's leading galleries, arts organizations, with a juried arts and crafts exhibition and sale, and temporary large-scale art installations on Lichtin Plaza.

Where else can you get some good exercise, have fun, enjoy tasty morsels, learn first-hand about unique restaurants & insights about the downtown areas of Raleigh and Chapel Hill / Carrboro? TriangleFood Tour – Offers two Walking Food Tours in Downtown Raleigh & Chapel Hill / Carrboro.  Guided food tasting tour with historical tidbits and unique insights are scheduled on Saturdays at 2:30pm, $28 + svc chg.  Tickets must be purchased in advance. Tours typically fill up a week ahead.  See for additional information, available dates and tickets.

Other Related Sites: Raleigh Intro, Raleigh Restaurants, Raleigh History, Historic Neighborhoods, NC State Fair, Museum of Art, Chapel Hill, Durham

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