Tips to Spend A Weekend in Raleigh with Your Family

Consider visiting Raleigh, NC for a weekend getaway with your family, a southern city boasting festivals, museums, historic parks, and more.

Looking for a fresh idea for a long weekend getaway? Raleigh, NC obliges with diverse, surprisingly novel pursuits and a diverse, genuinely friendly population. No sterile theme-park sameness, nothing slick or pretentious. And no, it’s too far for a long weekend. It’s a two-hour flight, or a little less, from NYC. Once you’re there, you can walk almost everyplace. Here are just a few of the top ways to fill your family’s three days in this southern city.

Hit Fayetteville Street.

It’s the scene of festivals all year that turn downtown into a pedestrian art-music-carnival scene. Like what? BugFest comes around in September, which is just what it sounds like, a must for budding entomologists. In October, it’s the North Carolina Whole Hog Barbecue Fest. Come February (when weather is mild compared to ours, remember), steel yourself for the Krispy Kreme challenge.


A two-hour Segway tour with Triangle Glides is a way of seeing the sights that’s way more fun than walking around. Never ridden a Segway? It’ll be fine. Sandy and her crew are patient with beginners, and don’t set off until every person in the group is comfortable. It’s easier than it looks! Then, try rock climbing on the tallest wall within five states at Triangle Rock Club. No experience is necessary here, either. Once you all have the hang of it, test your newfound skills in both lead and top-rope climbing. Finally, buoyed by success of your first two adventures, zip line over trees and perch on a Tarzan swing to soar over 50-foot-high obstacles at Go Ape.

Museum hop.

John Vercelletto

See dinosaurs and more at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

It’s easy to find the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences: a three-story multimedia globe depicting Earth’s biodiversity stands on the corner. A star exhibition here is Race. The award-winning project gives visitors a look at the concept of race through the lenses of science, history, and personal experiences, including those of celebrities. It’s a cool and timely look at the differences (or lack thereof) between people. Another favorite corner is at the Living Butterfly Conservatory, where you can walk among legions of the delicate winged beauties, watch them nibble honey, and pose with them for selfies. Just check yourselves for hitchhikers before you leave!

Next door, Smithsonian affiliate North Carolina Museum of History houses the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, with memorabilia for 300 athletic legends from the state. The largest exhibit of its kind, as far as state museums go, is the one marking the WWI centennial. When you walk in, you’re immersed in a trench environment by a maze of seven-foot-high walls spread over much of the exhibit’s 6,500 square feet. Hundreds of sandbags line the “earthen” trench, as interactive videos and authentic film footage periscopes lead visitors through the exhibit. Adding to the feeling that you’re actually part of a battle is a recreated field hospital, wall-sized photo murals, and more than 500 artifacts, including the uniform of North Carolinian Kiffin Rockwell, the first American pilot to shoot down an enemy aircraft in WWI. The sounds and lights are pretty realistic too. While it’s likely too intense for younger kids, older tweens and teens will probably be fascinated to see what they’re learning in school made real. It ends on a positive note, though, as each visitor finds out why a red poppy is the symbol of the fallen.

An art museum may not sound like the first place you’d run to on a family trip, but the North Carolina Museum of Art is a little bit different. OK, a lot different. Yes, it draws high-profile traveling art exhibitions and is the permanent home of several “traditional” art museum displays, such as Rodin sculptures. You’ll also find an Egyptian sarcophagus, circa roughly 600 B.C.E. Yet the distinguishing feature is that this is an indoor-outdoor museum. The Museum Park has an amphitheater where stage shows are held, a picnic area, and modern art installations sprinkled about the 164 acres, including works made of such unconventional materials as bronze, river stones, steel pipes, painted steel, concrete, and billboards. It’s an expansive, fascinating place, so much so it may be helpful to have a little curation. Weekend family-friendly tours go off on Saturday and Sunday at 10:30am for kids ages 5-11. Or, grab a Tour-in-a-Tote and peruse the works in kid-friendly, hands-on way.

Turn back time.

John Vercelletto

The Mordecai House is the oldest house in Raleigh on its original location.

Older kids might enjoy a stop at the Mordecai Historic Park to amble through the oldest house in Raleigh that is still in its original spot. President Andrew Johnson’s birthplace is contained within the park, as is a kitchen garden of the 1830s, with vegetables, herbs, and flowers. A costumed docent leads the way as guests tour the other buildings on this site of what once was a large plantation, including a church and a lawyer’s office. All contain original artifacts. If your kids like Old Bethpage Village Restoration on Long Island or Historic Richmond Town on Staten Island, they’ll like this. 

Save money and get outside.

John Vercelletto

The Pullen Park Carousel is a designated Raleigh Historic Landmark.

For families on a budget (read: almost all of us) Raleigh has more than the average number of free, fun things to do. For starters, the Sassafras All Children’s Playground has a play structure of tunnels, bridges, towers, swings, and rings suspended over sand, all geared to children of differing capabilities. The basketball hoop is height adjustable, and elevated decking is wheelchair accessible. Pullen Park, with playgrounds and picnic shelters, also has gratis entrance, with a carousel, boat, and train rides at a nominal ticket price. Don’t miss TV Land’s Andy and Opie statue (Mayberry was in North Carolina…who knew?). And believe it or not, most of the museums have free admission, too.

Get spooked.

Tobacco Road Tours offers ghost tours that are big on goosebumps without being too scary (unless you count exploring a dark cemetery by flashlight). It’s a good time for older kids and teens, and the tour guide (ask for Brad!) is adept at weaving local history in with the thrills and chills at four paranormal sites. For even more spirited fun, take a walk around Historic Oakwood Cemetery, the resting place of 1,500 Confederate soldiers, five Civil War generals, and seven governors, as well as Jessie Helms, Elizabeth Edwards, and the husband of author Margaret Mitchell, on whom her character Rhett Butler was based. The Victorian monuments and landscaping is really something to see.

Play, then indulge.

Game the old-time way at Boxcar Barcade, where kids will get a taste of classic arcade games, which you’ll likely enjoy as much as they do. Just get there before 9pm, when it switches to 21 and over. Afterwards, go right next door to the Videri Chocolate Factory, where craft chocolates of every imaginable type (and some you wouldn’t imagine) line the walls. The owners do everything in this century-old former railway depot, from roasting the organic beans from Central America to wrapping the bars. You can see how it’s all done through picture windows. They even make 90 percent dark chocolate, if you’re a hardcore chocoholic.

Toast your good idea to try Raleigh.

Restaurants that parents will enjoy (really enjoy) that still work for the kiddos are few and far between. But you’ve come to the right place. Death & Taxes is helmed by James Beard Award-winning chef Ashley Christensen and is located in a historic building that has housed both a funeral parlor and a bank over the years. The menu revolves around wood-fire cooking and spectacular dry-aged steaks. Aside from meats, the vegetables, seafood, and even their Caesar salad are wood-fired—and served family style. While this is widely considered the tippy top place to dine in the city, it somehow still manages to be suitable for kids. The open kitchen with adjacent counter service keeps the vibe from being sedate, while diners are dressed more casually than you might expect.


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Main image: SCULPT. C is an interactive, colorful, pig-shaped play structure featuring a slide sized for children at the North Carolina Museum of Art.

Photo by John Vercelletto