Discovering Raleigh

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Photo courtesy of Keenan Hairston/

PICTURED ABOVE: Freedom Park commemorates Black Americans’ struggle for freedom and equality. Quotes from famous Black North Carolinians are etched on the stone wallways, and the Beacon of Freedom sculpture rises into the air at the park’s center. Phil Freelon, the architect best known for designing the National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C. designed Freedom Park. Photo courtesy of Keenan Hairston/

Great ways to get to know the City of Oaks


New to Raleigh? Or perhaps you’ve lived here for a while, but you’d like to rediscover the city? Here are some adventures that can help you get to know the City of Oaks. Each of these activities reveals something special about this unique city you now call home, and participating can help you understand this area’s unique character.

Visit a Local Farm or Farmers Market
In 2022, North Carolina ranked eighth in the nation for the value of its agricultural products, and the Piedmont is where farmers grow a lot of those products. The Triangle area is surrounded by farmland, and agriculture is an important influence on life in Raleigh. North Carolina State University contributes greatly to the state’s agricultural research, and the university reaches out to the public with education, exhibitions and products (try Howling Cow ice cream, which is made on campus as part of N.C. State’s Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences. It’s delicious!) Also, each fall, farmers across the state bring their prize-winning animals and produce into the city for the North Carolina State Fair, which attracted over 926,000 people in 2023. Come see just how big pumpkins can get in 2024!

Raleigh is also home to the State Farmers Market, where you can buy local produce—as well as pork products, fresh seafood from the North Carolina coast, and a variety of goods made by local artisans—all day, seven days a week. Plenty of smaller farmers markets also pop up on the weekends across Raleigh and in nearby towns. Agricultural opportunities abound in our restaurants as well. Visit the Angus Barn steakhouse and Big Ed’s Restaurant, for example—two beloved Raleigh dining venues that lean heavily into North Carolina farm life in both their menus and decor. 

The rapid growth of Wake County’s population has meant that farms that once required a drive into the country are now just a few minutes outside town, and some farms have responded by becoming creative with agritourism opportunities. In spring and summer, go to one of the many pick-your-own farms in the area for berries, flowers and other treats. In the fall, explore pumpkin farms, corn mazes, hayrides—there’s even a place in Cary where you can shoot pumpkins from a pumpkin launcher into a lake. Bonus points if you hit the target for your preferred college sports team. 

Explore a Free Raleigh Museum
Raleigh is unique for a city of this size in its number of high-quality, free museums—so many that it has earned the moniker the “Smithsonian of the South.” Enjoy free exhibits at the North Carolina Museum of Art and then wander its extensive museum park, which is filled with sculptures, flowers and interactive exhibits. Check out the new Dueling Dinosaurs exhibit (see our story on page 38) at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, (NCMNS) which includes the Nature Exploration Center and the Nature Research Center in its downtown location. Each building offers several floors full of exhibits, dioramas and interactive opportunities.

The North Carolina Museum of History is currently closed for renovations, but make sure to visit once it reopens, as it will offer a new, updated series of excellent regional history exhibits.

Many smaller free museums are also available to the public, like the one at Historic Yates Mill County Park, which runs a still-functioning, water-powered gristmill, the likes of which powered North Carolina’s economy for many decades along local creeks and rivers. You can also visit the Pope House Museum, which illuminates the life of a prominent Black family in Raleigh in the early 20th century. These and many other museums and historical opportunities are offered for free to anyone who cares to visit.

Raleigh’s free museums result from a deliberate decision by North Carolina state officials to make cultural resources available to as many people as possible and encourage both citizens and visitors to explore them. “There’s a concept in the museum world called the Threshold Effect,” says Dr. Denise Young, Director of NCMNS. “It takes a lot of effort to get someone to literally walk over the threshold of the museum door and come in. There are lots of reasons for that, and one is financial.” Removing the financial barrier is an important way to encourage people to explore science, art, history and other cultural opportunities in their communities. “It’s a big deal that North Carolina invests in its cultural institutions and maintains [a commitment to] their being freely available,” says Young.

The JC Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University houses plants from over 50 countries. Many are varieties adapted for use in Piedmont landscapes. The public is welcome to explore the arboretum’s 10 acres daily, free of charge. Photo courtesy of Christopher Todd Glenn/

Visit a Local Park
Raleigh is home to over 200 free local parks that are open to the public. William B. Umstead State Park is the largest park in the Triangle area. With over 5,500 acres of densely forested land, this park, though located at the busy center of the Triangle, creates the impression of bringing visitors far into nature and away from the hustle and bustle of urban and suburban life. It also contains intriguing ruins—remnants of local history.

Other local parks are small but beautiful, like the Raleigh Little Theatre Rose Garden and the WRAL Azalea Garden, which bloom into magnificence in April and May. Some focus on history, like the North Carolina Freedom Park in downtown Raleigh, which commemorates the African American struggle for equality. Some are educational as well as beautiful, like the extensive JC Raulston Arboretum at N.C. State University. Bring your kids to Pullen Park, one of the oldest still-functioning amusement parks in the country, offering historic train, carousel and boat rides as well as an extensive playground and beautiful grounds to explore. Buy an ice pop while you’re there (or hot chocolate when it’s chilly) and enjoy watching the ducks on the pond. Or enjoy the sunflowers and swing on the hammocks at Raleigh’s largest city park, Dorothea Dix Park.

The spirit of Raleigh—its reverence for history, love of green space and emphasis on family- and community-oriented activities—is encapsulated in its parks.

Enjoy College Sports and the Carolina Hurricanes
Raleigh is a city of sports enthusiasts, particularly when it comes to college sports. N.C. State University is right here in Raleigh, so many locals are Wolfpack fans, but we have a lot of UNC Tar Heel and Duke Blue Devil fans living here too. Basketball is the big-ticket item, of course (both the men’s and women’s Wolfpack teams played in the Final Four this year, and the entire city was cheering them on), but Raleigh celebrates other college sports as well, and many cultural events are built around them. Most bars and many restaurants show college games on screens at all times, and tailgating at N.C. State football games is a beloved tradition here. Pick a team to root for and have fun with it!

Raleigh also celebrates the Carolina Hurricanes, our only major league professional sports team, with great enthusiasm. The team, coached by former star player Rod Brind’Amour, consistently makes the playoffs, and no matter what your college affiliation may be, everyone in the area roots for the Canes. The team brings the city together. Don some Canes gear and enjoy the games with others in the community!

Fireworks in Downtown Raleigh in 2023 celebrate 25 years of the Carolina Hurricanes. Photo courtesy of Garrett Poulos/

Learn a Little Something
Raleigh is one of the best-educated cities in the U.S.—Forbes has us at number six—which is hardly surprising, given our proximity to three major research universities (N.C. State University, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Duke University) and Research Triangle Park. The city is home to ten traditional colleges and universities, with over 20 in the metropolitan area, as well as Wake Technical Community College, the largest community college system in North Carolina. Between the research universities and the research companies, we have some very smart people living here—and many of them enjoy sharing what they know.

Enjoy public lectures at local colleges and universities. Take a continuing education class through a college or university or through Wake Tech. Take one of the many educational programs available to the public through the City of Raleigh. Go to one of Quail Ridge Books’ many local and national author events. Attend one of hundreds of conferences in the area—from professional development events to hobbyist conferences and self-empowerment weekends. Many local businesses get in on the act, too, hosting educational events related to their fields. You’ll find dozens of ways to expand your understanding. From poetry and public speaking to learning Python, you can learn a lot in Raleigh!

These suggestions have focused on Raleigh specifically, but keep in mind that the Triangle area is full of learning opportunities. You’ve hit a cultural treasure trove. Expand your horizons both into and beyond Raleigh, and who knows what you might find?

Enjoy exploring!

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