How to Spend Three Days in Raleigh, North Carolina

Originally designed as a capital city, Raleigh’s destiny as a historic place was written on its first day. After gaining the nickname, the City of Oaks, Raleigh has preserved much of its natural parks. Because of this, locals and travelers can enjoy a beautiful garden city, that’s surrounded by state parks.

Arts and culture are a big part of what makes Raleigh such a great place to visit. Beyond the parks, you’ll discover museums, galleries, historic districts and performing arts.

If you’ve thought about exploring the capital of North Carolina, then wonder no more. With our ultimate 3 days in Raleigh itinerary, we can help you experience all the city has to offer.

Downtown Raleigh at North Salisbury Street. Chansak Joe/Shutterstock

Where to Stay in Raleigh

There are several great neighborhoods to stay in while experience Raleigh. The most popular choice is the downtown area. Close to several museums, attractions and the local nightlife, you’ll enjoy many top things to do within walking distance.

Families will love staying within the Oakwood area. The historic district is a breath of fresh air from the downtown area but also comes with its own attractions, with several major museums and beautiful parks.

For those traveling on a budget, check out Crabtree Valley. North of downtown, there are public transport options to get closer to the city. While there are some great local parks and hikes to do, including the Crabtree Creek Trail.

We love visiting Raleigh in the fall — those beautiful auburn colors! Wileydoc/Shutterstock

The Best Time of Year to Visit Raleigh

For the majority of the year, Raleigh, North Carolina, is a great place to be. The spring starts early, with blooming flowers and leafy greens returning to the city. The parks come to life and exploring on foot is pleasant. Plus, attractions like the Yates Mill have reopened after their winter slumber.

Summer is another fun time to visit, Theatre in the Park is at its peak and the festival season is in full swing. The days can be warm, so long hikes may be off the table. But with plenty of lakes and fascinating indoor museums, there are plenty of ways to cool off.

With that all said, it’s hard to beat visiting Raleigh in the fall. Crowd numbers have dropped off and hotels tend to be cheaper. But most importantly, the fall foliage is spectacular. Hiking through the many parks or simply strolling through downtown comes with a burst of color. While there’s no better time to enjoy the famous Raleigh Beer Garden.

The Lake Lynn Trail is perfect for a sunny morning walk. Wileydoc/Shutterstock

Day One: Nature, Museums, and Historic Oakwood

Surrounded by beautiful nature, begin your three days in Raleigh, North Carolina by exploring some of the best greenways around the city. Before you tuck into some fantastic museums and galleries, get in your steps or jump on a bike and enjoy the Capital Area Greenway System.

All counted Raleigh has 180 miles (290km) of greenway trails waiting to be explored. The system is made up of 28 individual trails, creating one of the top attractions in town.

Some of the popular trails include the Neuse River Greenway and the Sal’s Branch Trail. However, if you are on foot, you’ll love the picturesque Lake Lynn Trail. The paved 2.8 mile (4.5km) walk provides gorgeous waterfront scenery, without taking a huge chunk out of your day.

If you want to get about on two wheels, then head to the Bike Guy, for bike rentals on the greenway. The 23 mile (37km) trail is a local favorite and follows an abandoned railroad bed through the woods.

The North Carolina Museum of History is the building on the right of this photo. Wileydoc/Shutterstock

Now, with the day’s exercise behind you, it’s time to experience one of the top indoor activities in Raleigh, North Carolina. The North Carolina Museum of History features both permanent and traveling exhibits that include the history of European settlers, period costumes from the Revolutionary War, along with artifacts and weapons from the Civil War.

One of the top exhibits explores African American history in North Carolina, including slave trade and an in-depth look at the Civil Rights Movement. The museum is also the location of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. Pay a visit to learn famous sports figures from the past that created a storied legacy in the state.

Mansion in the Historic Oakwood neighborhood. Wileydoc/Shutterstock

From the museum, enjoy a short 1 mile (1.6km) walk to Historic Oakwood. The spectacular neighborhood is the largest preserved historic district in North Carolina. Formed in the 19th century, the neighborhood is on the National Register of Historic Places, with dozens of homes from the 1800s restored to their peak condition.

Before venturing too far into the district, stop by the Capitol Area Visitor’s Center and pick up a map. The map comes with ample information about what streets to explore, neighborhood history and the story behind many individual homes.

The Tucker House on Person Street. Wileydoc/Shutterstock

One of the top homes in Historic Oakwood is the Tucker House. The stunning neoclassical home is surrounded by beautiful gardens and provides a wonderful glimpse into early life in Raleigh.   

Plank Kitchen: the oldest building at Oak View Historical Park. Dee Browning/Shutterstock

Finish off at the Historic Oak View Country Park where you’ll discover an antebellum farmhouse from the late 1800s. The park comes with a history center, Plank Kitchen and the memorable Cotton Gin House. The surrounded orchards and open spaces are great for relaxing and enjoying a picnic with friends and family.

The North Carolina State Capitol. Wileydoc/Shutterstock

To add the cherry on top of a history-focused afternoon, head back towards downtown Raleigh and visit the State Capitol. The building is a striking example of Greek Revival architecture and is a National Historic Landmark. 

Around the building, which opened in 1840, are a series of statues and monuments. None more important than the George Washington statue. Here, the first President of the United States is draped in Roman General attire. 

After experiencing the beautiful grounds around the Capitol, you are free to explore the interior for free. You can complete a self-guided tour of the historic building, once home to the Governor and Supreme Court. Guided tours also occur at 10am and 1pm on weekdays.

Contemporary Art Museum of Raleigh, in the Warehouse District. Jay Yuan/Shutterstock

From the State Capitol, you’ll have only a short walk into Raleigh’s rejuvenated Warehouse District. Here you’ll visit the Morgan Street Food Hall, the perfect spot to try the best food that the south has to offer, in one place.

The trendy spot has been open to locals and travelers since 2018 and quickly became a must visit. The food hall houses almost 20 vendors serving up unique twists of classic local dishes along with international cuisine.

With a lively atmosphere, you can spend your time sampling different foods or simply enjoy a big dinner. Wash it all down with a Boba Brew, an authentic bubble tea, or take your evening to the next level with a champagne bucket!

Big Ed’s City Market Restaurant is in the white building. Wileydoc/Shutterstock

Where to Eat on Day One in Raleigh

For your first meal in Raleigh, make your way to Big Ed’s City Market Restaurant. Found within the historic City Market, Big Ed’s is a huge establishment serving down-home southern comfort food.

Kick back and enjoy some modern Mexican food to begin your evening in Raleigh. Using organic and local ingredients, Centro offers the best downtown tacos in an energetic setting.

Locally grown sweet bell peppers for sale at the State Farmers Market. zimmytws/Shutterstock

Day Two: Markets, Art, and Play

Begin your second day in town at the Raleigh Farmers Market. With the crisp morning air floating around, there’s no better place to be than right here. The city’s market is one of four major farmers markets in North Carolina. While local markets are always fun to explore, the sheer size of the Raleigh Farmers Market dwarfs many around the country.

Wondering the aisles, you’ll find everything you can think of from fresh seasonal produce, meats and cheeses to delectable baked eats. The market covers 75 acres and is also home to a fantastic range of hand-crafted creations, candles, soaps and art work.

Along with several onsite restaurants, the Raleigh Farmers Market is a great spot to sample wine from around the state and simply enjoy local culture. There are several major festivals throughout the year, from Watermelon Day in July to Sweet Potato Day in September.

Umstead State Park in the fall. Wileydoc/Shutterstock

With some fresh produce in hand, head to William B. Umstead State Park to soak in some more beautiful scenery in North Carolina. The expansive park is home to miles of trails that connect three man-made lakes. 

Popular among hikers, runners, cyclists and even horse riders, the park is a lovely spot for a picnic. Fishing is a common activity on the Big Lake and you’ll see many anglers throwing out a line. You can join them or explore the large lake, thanks to canoe and rowboat rentals. 

In the summer, the park opens up campgrounds to experience some nature under the stars. However, no time in the park would be complete without discovering the fallen red oak tree. Home to a not-so-secret art project, the trunk of the oak has been carved to into an elaborate piece of art. You can discover the fallen red oak tree by hiking the Graylyn Trail.

Rodin’s Court at the North Carolina Museum of Art. Carolyne Parent/Shutterstock

From Umstead State Park, you’ll be within walking distance of the North Carolina Museum of Art. Upon opening in 1956, the gallery became the first state-funded art museum. On the inside, discover pieces from the Renaissance, burial artwork from Egypt along with classic sculptures and artifacts from ancient Rome and Greece.

The North Carolina Museum of Art is also one of just two museums in the United States to offer a permanent exhibit focusing on Jewish art. Although you’ll enjoy exploring on your own, the museum offers some wonderful guided tours. Learn more about each gallery hall and exhibit, with the option of joining workshops, lectures and sometimes performing arts shows.

Outside the museum, there is a spacious park with over a dozen art pieces. Wander the grounds to round off the experience. 

Next up, one of the top things to do with kids in Raleigh, North Carolina, the Marbles Kids Museum. If you’ve come to Raleigh with the young ones in tow, then let them run free and explore the many interactive exhibits. 

The kids will love going on a musical journey at Tree Tunes, roaming the Kid Grid and exploring a world of horticulture in the Sun Sprouts exhibit. If you have a child under three, then no stress, the Toddler’s Hollow is a safe playground just for them.

Give the kids a laminated picture map and they can plan their afternoon at the Marbles Kids Museum. While they’re off on that adventure, enjoy the on-site cafe or have a picnic. Later come together and enjoy a blockbuster film on the IMAX Theatre screen.

Craft brewery-hopping on Person Street Plaza. zimmytws/Shutterstock

One way to experience the local beer scene in Raleigh is to complete the Raleigh Beer Trail. Whether you find time in the afternoon or embark on a pub crawl at night, the trail features 25 local breweries that serve up craft beer and favorites from around the States. 

The Mecca in Downtown Raleigh. Wileydoc/Shutterstock

Where to Eat on Day Two in Raleigh

For breakfast you can’t beat Plates Neighborhood Kitchen. Featuring a modern brunch and an inspired farm-fresh menu, enjoy a healthy take on your brunch favorites.

For lunch, dine out at one of the oldest restaurants in Raleigh. The Mecca opened in 1930 and the family-owned restaurant oozes nostalgia, good times and great food.

For dinner, look no further than Cafe Luna. Serving Tuscany-inspired Italian, the art-filled restaurant has been a popular evening spot since the 1990s. Complement your delicious dinner with an extensive wine menu.

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Chansak Joe/Shutterstock

Day Three: Mills, Pedal Boats, and Beer

Begin your last day in Raleigh, exploring the city’s best museum. The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is found downtown and is one of the biggest museums of its kind in the South. 

Comprising two buildings, one full of educational exhibits and the other focusing on science, you could spend an entire day learning about the world. On your arrival, grab a map and plot out your morning, as there’s still much to do in Raleigh. 

Some of the best permanent exhibits include an exploration of the North Carolinian coastline, mountains and human history and the Anthropoid Zoo. The Prehistoric Section is sure to impress, with the only legitimate Acrocanthosaurus skeleton found on earth! However, you can’t leave before visiting the SECU Daily Planet exhibit which comes with a huge three-story theater.

The historic Yates Water Mill. Paul Brady Photography/Shutterstock

After a morning of natural history, head to the location of a historic man-made mill. The Yates Mill first operated in the 1700s and didn’t stop spinning until the 1950s.

The water-powered gristmill is the last of its kind. At its peak, there were over 50 mills operating in the county. The mill is open from March until November and you can discover the original equipment and how it all operates. To add to the experience, you can see millers in period costumes grinding the corn.

Afterwards, stretch out the legs by exploring the expansive wildlife refuge where Yates Mill is located. One of the top trails follows the end of Mill Pond, with boardwalks providing a popular place to fish.

Peaceful Pullen Park. Wileydoc/Shutterstock

Another fun thing to do in Raleigh, North Carolina with kids is to explore the first public park in North Carolina. The gorgeous Pullen Park opened in 1887, but is more than just a green urban space. There is a classic carousel to experience and you can explore the park on a miniature train.

Activities for couples and families include getting out on the picturesque Lake Howell via pedal boats. The young ones will also have a blast exploring on the kiddie boat ride. 

Throughout the year, Pullen Park is home to Raleigh’s Theatre in the Park. If you’re lucky, you can end your three days in Raleigh with a live show among wonderful nature.

If not, then not to worry. You can toast to an epic three days in town at the Raleigh Beer Garden. With over 350 beers on tap, trying to decide on one with be a challenge. After all, it hold’s the world record for the largest selection of draft beer. 

The huge venue comes with three levels, an abundance of outdoor space, patio and rooftop bar. Grab a pint and soak in the views.

Where to Eat on Day Three in Raleigh

Kick start your last day in Raleigh by dining at local favorite. Poole’s is located in a 1940s era diner. The retro-chic setting isn’t the only thing that will make you smile. The seasonal brunch menu is rated as one of the best in the city.

If you’re downtown on day three and looking for a lunch spot, then make your way to Capital Club 16. The European-inspired cuisine also comes with traditional American fare and amazing vegetarian options.

Final Thoughts

The charming city of Raleigh, North Carolina, is a wonderful choice for a three day escape from regular life. The historic city is a delight to walk around and there are many fun things to do both inside and out, so you’ll never have to worry about the rain foiling your plans.

The growing dining scene presents not just amazing southern cuisine, but foods from all around the world. Combine that with state parks, beer gardens, museums and interesting architecture and you have a recipe for a fun 3 days away from home!.

About the author

Lauren Juliff

Lauren Juliff is a published author and travel expert who founded Never Ending Footsteps in 2011. She has spent over 12 years travelling the world, sharing in-depth advice from more than 100 countries across six continents.

Lauren's travel advice has been featured in publications like the BBC, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Cosmopolitan, and her work is read by 200,000 readers each month. Her travel memoir can be found in bookstores across the planet.

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