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I’ll admit to you that Raleigh has never been at the exact top of my bucket list. I had (wrongly) assumed that the southern city was full of only small-town charm, small-ticket adventures, and single-minded constituents. I. was. totally. wrong. about. Raleigh. This charming capitol city packs a huge punch for family travel with cultural events, first-class museums, outdoor adventures, a walk-able core, and budget-saving opportunities around every corner. Check out all the reasons I think your family will fall in love with Raleigh.
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But don’t tell anyone, this family-friendly southern capitol city is our little secret.
Family-Friendly Things to do in Raleigh NC
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Photos by Katie Bodell, Bigstock/SeanPavonePhoto
Discover the Charming Capitol with Big City Perks
As the capitol city of North Carolina, Raleigh receives funding to feature the state’s very best displays of history, science, art, and culture, on display for both native Carolinians and visitors to the region. Numerous free-to-visit museums allow families not only a budget-friendly vacation option, but also the ability to pop in and out of art, history, science, and culture museums without the financial guilt that comes with big budget attractions. (My girls aren’t totally keen on art museums, but we love them. We spent a short couple hours at the North Carolina Museum of Art and all had a fabulous time. We didn’t feel bad leaving when kids began to stir as there was no financial investment in the activity.) Other great museums your family should visit while in Raleigh include the North Carolina Museum of History and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences; all three of these top-notch museums equipped with hands-on activities and adventures for families, are completely free to visit.
Don’t Miss: Although it isn’t one of the city’s free museums, the younger set of kids will LOVE a visit to Marbles Kids Museum. Trekaroo families rave about the hands-on activities and the affordable price.
Another great perk of the capitol city of Raleigh is its absolutely charming historic downtown that hosts unique events and opportunities year-round. From the old and new capitol building to kid-friendly ghost tours to the outdoor Red Hat Amphitheater for concerts, downtown shopping from local artisans, events, green spaces, and walkable core, your family can definitely walk Raleigh’s downtown and discover something new with each turn. During our short weekend in Raleigh, we were privvy to a Kidz Bop Concert at the lovely Red Hat Amphitheater (I’ll admit it, these kids are pretty darn entertaining!); an outdoor Ben Folds concert that filled the downtown air with singer-songwriter vibes; Out! Raleigh, the city’s premier Pride festival; numerous barcades (bar + arcade, check out my review of Boxcar) with your favorite 80s arcade games and family-friendly age limits before late night; and a hip farmer’s market. This was one weekend.
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Good-to-Know: If you find yourself in Raleigh on a weekend, don’t skip the visit to the Mordecai Historic Park, built in 1785. History comes alive with interactive encounters with costumed characters and hands-on activities for children.
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Explore the Great Outdoors In and Around Raleigh
A North Carolina adventure wouldn’t be complete without a outdoor exploration, and the Raleigh area boasts some of the state’s most lovely turf to tackle. For an epic adventure through the forested trees of North Carolina, Go Ape Adventures features zip lining and ropes course thrills for families, even those with young kids. Looking for a slower pace? Head to Jordan Lake Recreation Area just west of downtown Raleigh. Whether you decide to sink your toes in a spot of sand while the kids splash in the cool lake, hike the trails that surround the state park, or take a boat ride through the beauty, be sure to look up; the lake is one of the most densely populated bald eagle habitats in North America (we spotted two!).
Other fabulous options for outdoor adventure include Umstead State Park and the Neuse River Biking and Hiking Trail (you can even rent bikes along the trailhead).
Don’t Miss: Raleigh’s Pullen Park features everything families could want for a day outdoors. Take the train around the property, ride the antique carousel, paddle boats on the small lake, or play on the playgrounds. Your family will want to stay here!
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Explore the Foodie Scene in Raleigh
The foodie scene is alive and well in Raleigh. Top chefs and entrepreneurs are moving into the downtown en mass, and your taste buds get to revel in the goodness while you visit. For Carolina BBQ, which is a can’t-miss while in town, head to The Pit where you’ll find whole hog roasted pig and other BBQ musts. Across the street, your kids can step inside a childhood dream at Videri Chocolate Factory. Here you can watch chocolates being made, sample the best flavors, and even try a cup of “sipping chocolate,” which is basically the best thing ever made by man. Chicken and waffles calling your name? Try Beasley’s Chicken & Honey downtown where your kids can sample this and other Southern staples. Big Ed’s City Market has been a part of Raleigh for nearly 50 years; kids in our group wanted to try to eat three hotcakes to win a T-shirt but our no-nonsense waitress let them know that they wouldn’t even be able to eat a half. You can definitely share a plate here. If you are searching for something quick, easy, and actually good for you to boot, check out B. Good downtown where they serve organic, locally-sourced meals in a fast-casual setting.
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Don’t Miss: Take advantage of Raleigh’s French roots at Lucette Grace down town. The adorable shop serves up a variety of pastries, coffees, and delicious treats, but the Technicolor macaroons are a must!
Where to Stay in Raleigh with Kids
When visiting Raleigh, you’ll have plenty of lodging options, but don’t miss the opportunity to stay downtown within walking distance of museums, landmarks, fabulous food, shopping, and local events. We stayed at the Sheraton Raleigh, housed in a beautiful historic building that more than pre-dates our family but is perfectly upgraded with modern amenities, onsite restaurant, indoor pool, gym, and coffee bar. The ultra-soft bedding and eco-friendly features were truly fabulous.
Disclosure: My family was hosted by Visit Raleigh on a group press trip to explore all that the city has to offer for families. I was not required to state any particular view; all opinions are my own. If you are looking for more family-friendly Raleigh activities or recommendations, be sure to check out the tips & tricks on their site.
Lead image by Bigstock/Sean Pavone Photo