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As I started researching this post, I was blown away at the long list I had to edit to get down to 25 free things to do in Raleigh, but also at how many of the free things are museums. There were several times when I went to investigate one of these activities that someone “said “was free, but I honestly thought I was going to find that there was an admission fee. Raleigh boasts not only a free art museum, but also a free history museum and a free museum of natural sciences! I think I know where we’re going to take our next vacation!
Top 25 Free Things to Do in Raleigh
Hike the American Tobacco Trail
This trail is perfect for hiking or walking, and you will probably get to see some horses, as it is a popular horseback riding trail.
Roam the Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park
This park is part of the North Carolina Museum of Art, but I’m giving it its own entry because you could spend the whole morning here! It’s a beautiful outdoor area with many outdoor art structures and exhibits, a pond, and lots of space to wander.
Donations are accepted, but it’s always free to visit this art gallery. You can also go on a free tour if you’re over 10 years old.
Play disc golf at the Buckhorn Disc Golf Course
Practice your throwing skills at the many holes found at this great disc golf course.
Watch birds inside Carl Alwin Schenck Memorial Forest
In addition to looking for birds, there are lots of hiking trails and places to set up a family picnic.
Visit the Cary Heritage Museum
This museum is built inside an old railroad hotel, which is super cool! Inside you can learn more local history and there are frequently other free programs offered.
Explore history on the Historic Oakwood Walking Tour
Oakwood is a historic neighborhood in Raleigh filled with homes that have been renovated to historical standards. These homes have people living in them, so you can’t necessarily go inside, but you can use the free walking tour from the website to explore history walking by these historic homes.
Visit the City of Raleigh Museum
While you may not have thought you were that interested in the history of a particular city, this musuem focus on the history of the city of Raleigh and provides a unique perspective on local history!
Honor those who served at the Garner Veterans Memorial
In addition to memorial bricks and structures honoring veterans, this area also offers playgrounds and walking trails.
Explore William B. Umstead State Park
Whenever we go somewhere new, state parks are always on our list of places to visit!
Play at Shelley Lake Park
This park has beautiful greenway trails to run out some energy as well as a great little playground.
See nature at the J. C. Raulston Arboretum
We love plants and gardening at our house, so arboretums are kind of like our paradise. We love seeing different varieties of plants and getting ideas for landscape design. Our kids may not be that excited about those particular things, but they also love getting to run around in all of the green spaces!
Explore the Knightdale Environmental Education Park
This park has plenty of nature to explore as well as several observation overlooks for some great views.
Play at the Sassafras All Children’s Playground
This playground was built to be accessible to kids of all abilities, which is awesome in and of itself, but it’s also just a great playground overall!
Visit the North Carolina Museum of History
Affiliated with the Smithsonian Museum, I’m still amazed that this museum is free! If we lived in Raleigh, this would be a regular destination for us.
Explore the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
Another free museum! Is this real life? For homeschooling families like ours, a resource like this is not to be missed.
Indulge your love of sports at the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame
Even if sports aren’t your thing, learning history is often interesting anyway! This museum focusing on important sports figures from North Carolina.
Enjoy art at the North Carolina Museum of Art
The free museums just keep coming! This art museum will entertain the whole family with all that it has to offer.
Tour the North Carolina State Capitol
Getting a little glimpse into how state governments work can be a great way to introduce your kids to civics and what it means to live in the United States!
Explore the Prairie Ridge Ecostation
The Ecostation has so many offerings for individuals and families: There is a nature garden, a nature playspace, and ongoing programs that will introduce you and your kids to nature!
Play at Pullen Park
This amazing park has what I would call traditional playground structures, but there are also some play areas that include sand and water play. Come with a change of clothes!
Wander through the Raleigh Municipal Rose Garden
Visiting gardens is refreshing and relaxing, so it’s always something I love to try to do on vacations. Even kids seem to sense that it’s a good time to slow down and smell the flowers, so to speak!
Browse the State Farmers Market
There’s always an option to buy something, but window shopping and people watching can be enough entertainment, especially since this farmers market is open for most of the week!
See all the museums at the Fuquay-Varina Museums Complex
There are at least 5 different museums located on the Fuquay-Varina campus, so plan to spend at least a morning here seeing all you can!
Visit the Wake Forest Historical Museum
I’m closing out the list with a final museum because again—I can’t get over how many free ones there are in the area. This museum shares the local history of Wake Forest as well as Wake Forest University.
Heading to Charlotte instead? Check out our list of top 25 free things to do in Charlotte!