Raleigh, the historic capital city of North Carolina, offers its family visitors Southern charm wrapped up in active and cultural activities, including 40-plus free attractions. There’s plenty of choice in non-stop air service from New York City that gets you to Raleigh-Durham International Airport in just over one hour. Once there, explore with a rental car or with Uber, or hop on the R-Line, downtown Raleigh’s free hybrid electric bus that makes a circular route that takes 30 minutes to complete.
Here are just a few of the reasons Raleigh is great for families:
Raleigh’s three major state museums are free for visitors. The North Carolina Museum of Art, celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, boasts more than 5,000 works of art. Bring the kids to its Museum Park, where they can explore the artwork nestled within 164 acres of woodlands and walking trails.
Sitting across a pedestrian lane from each other in downtown Raleigh, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and the North Carolina Museum of History bring these fascinating subjects to life in many ways just for children. What kid wouldn’t want to see giant Acrocanthosaurus bones and step into a Central American tropical dry forest with living plants and animals at the interactive Museum of Natural Sciences?
There may be 14,000 years of North Carolina history to explore at the Museum of History, but sports fans will want to spend most of their time at the museum’s North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, with such artifacts as champion driver Richard Petty’s stock car and Meadowlark Lemon’s Harlem Globetrotters basketball uniform.
Available online or at the museum, “Fred’s Finds” printouts, named after museum founder Colonel Fred Olds, have kids on the lookout for his favorite museum artifacts and includes descriptions of them.
North Carolina Museum of Art (2110 Blue Ridge Rd., ncartmuseum.org)
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (11 W. Jones St., naturalsciences.org)
Take a short walk from the science and history museum to explore downtown’s restaurants and shops, which will appeal to older children and teens. A good choice for lunch or dinner is Italian-American food at Gravy. Nearby shops include Moon & Lola for jewelry and gifts, Stitch for hand-made leather bags and accessories, and Deco Raleigh, which is a purveyor of items from more than 75 local artisans.
A few blocks further takes you to the Warehouse District, where the Raleigh Denim Workshop & Curatory and Videri Chocolate Factory offer a glimpse into how the items are made and the chance to purchase gifts.
Opening in 2017 is the Morgan Street Food Hall, which will feature local eateries and retail food outlets.
Gravy (135 S. Wilmington St., www.gravyraleigh.com)
Moon & Lola (208 S. Wilmington St., www.moonandlola.com)
Stitch (20 E. Hargett St., hollyaiken.com)
Deco Raleigh (19 W. Hargett St. #108, decoraleigh.com)
Raleigh Denim Workshop & Curatory (319 W. Martin St., raleighdenimworkshop.com)
Videri Chocolate Factory (327 W. Davie St., viderichocolatefactory.com)
Some of Raleigh’s other historic sites can be seen on the Raleigh Historic Trolley Tour at Mordecai Historic Park. The one-hour tour on a transformed bus that replicates a historic trolley gives a nice overview of the city including some of the city’s most beautifully restored Victorian and historic private homes. Check out the park, once the site of the largest plantation in Wake County, before or after the trolley tour.
Raleigh Historic Trolley Tour (1 Mimosa St., www.visitraleigh.com/listings/Historic-Raleigh-Trolley-Tours/60518/?maxshow=10)
Mordecai Historic Park (between Mimosa and Cedar streets, www.raleighnc.gov/parks/content/ParksRec/Articles/Parks/Mordecai.html)
Active older kid adventures
Visiting tweens and teens will especially enjoy the chance to experience an adrenaline rush at Go Ape Treetop Adventures, which boasts a treetop obstacle course that includes Tarzan swings and ziplines.
At Daniel Dhers BMX Park, said to be the world’s largest indoor biking park, visitors can rent bikes, scooters, and skateboards and switch from one to the other. The Triangle Rock Club lays claim to being the tallest wall in the southeast.
Go Ape Treetop Adventures (3200 Pleasant Union Church Rd., goape.com/Locations/North-Carolina/Raleigh)
Daniel Dhers BMX Park (171 Tradition Trail #207 in Holly Springs, N.C., www.ddasc.com)
Triangle Rock Club (6022 Duraleigh Rd., www.trianglerockclub.com)
Hub and spoke
Families looking to make their visit to North Carolina a longer one can use Raleigh as a base to explore the state’s beautiful beaches, approximately a two-hour drive from the city.
For more information on the city, check out www.visitraleigh.com.