LongWeekend Traveling Mom shares what unexpected opportunities she found for things to do in Raleigh, NC when she spent a weekend there with her 8 year old son. From the character of the city to the free attractions, she shares the family friendly things to do that she found in Raleigh and what makes it a treasure for families to explore without spending a fortune.
Let me start with the bottom line. Raleigh, NC is city with plenty of unexpected opportunities for family vacations or a long weekend. I discovered so many family-friendly things to do in Raleigh over a long weekend with my oldest son that made me want to move there. I know it might sound like an overstatement, but I loved the laid-back pace of the city, how affordable it was to visit and how much they really have to explore.
The Character of Raleigh
One of the things that I loved most about Raleigh is the overall character of the city. I’ve personally always thought of Raleigh as a trendy and growing city with lots of southern charm. I wasn’t surprised to find that has the innovation, trendsetting, free spiritedness, art and culture of Austin, TX but with the manners and graces of a true Southern city.
From our arrival at the airport, I never felt rushed or crowded. I wasn’t concerned about my son and me having to stay close because someone would push him away. For me to actually have a relaxing vacation, the pace of the city is an important thing. Considering that their airport, RDU, has more than 400 daily flights, it’s not a small airport. It actually has non-stop flights from 40 other airports, including international ones like London and Paris, which were departing from the gate next to us.
Raleigh stayed charming wherever we went, from lunch at Beasley’s Chicken + Honey (home of a James Beard award winning chef!) to hanging out at the Boxcar Bar & Arcade or shopping at Moon & Lola. I loved how the sales clerk closed my sale at Moon and Lola with “Thanks for shopping local.” They had some of the cutest personalized items but that was just icing on the cake for me.
Raleigh is Affordable
Raleigh is great place for families to visit because offers so many options of FREE things to do but even your hotel stay is reasonable. We stayed at the Sheraton Raleigh during our visit. I checked several weekend dates through 2017, even including holiday weekends, and the highest rate was $249 a night.
Sheraton Raleigh would be our Raleigh home base for a weekend again not only because of the price but also the location is walkable to many of the attractions I’d like to see. It’s also a great property for families. The rooms were large enough for a family to comfortably move around. They had a great space for working and there’s an indoor pool, so it meets all the requirements on my list for a hotel.
Raleigh also has a restaurant and food scene that rivals a lot of cities, with affordable menus that make it a little more comfortable to take the whole family out for an upscale dining experience. Ashley Christensen is the James Beard award winning chef from Beasley’s but she also has five other restaurants that I’d love to try.
When you’re looking for local BBQ flavor, you really should visit The Pit. They cook whole hogs over a simmering flame and offer several varieties of North Carolina BBQ. You’ll not only have an amazing dinner but an educational experience in the history of NC BBQ. The restaurant is white linen dining, but it’s a family friendly place where you can experience the best of Raleigh. Even Bobby Flay couldn’t beat them during his Throwdown.
Family friendly Things to do in Raleigh
There are easily 50 things that families could do in Raleigh. Because my son and I were only able to capture a few, we will be going back sooner rather than later. You could even spend just a week doing free things in Raleigh. Here is the list of favorite things we did and would love to do again!
Marbles Kids Museum – Marbles is everything that a children’s museum should be. There are spaces for bigger kids like the Power2Play exhibit that promotes physical activity through play. Then there’s room for little kids in the Toddler Hollow. The whole museum is a place to play with details like musical stairs connecting the first and second floors. My 8 year old played on them for a bit while a toddler and his mother did as well. As a mom, I liked that was lots of unique hands-on play that you don’t need a museum guide to fully experience. There is an actual workbench area where my son donned safety googles and went to work sawing. There were also art materials out and directions on how to use them. Admission is only $5 for anyone over 1.
Going Outside the City of Raleigh
Go Ape Zip Line – Go Ape has both the traditional zip lines and a Treetop Junior course for families with children under 10. We took the Junior course since my son is under 10 and it was our first adventure. I went in a little hesitant but it was a great mother/son bonding experience. The course starts with a low level of difficulty with two more advanced courses. Once you complete each, you can challenge yourself by going backwards or closing your eyes. My son, who felt he had a fear of heights, couldn’t get enough of the zip line! I even challenged myself by doing the course three times.
Visit Jordan Lake – Jordan Lake is a short drive from Raleigh. Here, we saw bald eagles in the wild. Our whole group was thrilled because when do you see a bald eagle in the wild?
The lake is 14,000 acres of a reservoir with plenty of space for boating, but there are also areas for swimming, hiking or camping. Charter tours are available if you don’t bring your own boat. We used Triangle Boat Tours and Captain Don was our charter guide. He knows the lake really well and can tailor a tour for your specific interests, so I’d recommend reaching out to him if you’re making a visit to Raleigh.
FREE Family friendly Things to do in Raleigh
Raleigh is home to an amazing number of FREE activities for families in all areas, from food to science to nature to history. These are two of my favorites worth exploring again.
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences – This is largest museum for natural sciences in the Southeast. This Museum asks four basic questions about the natural sciences—what do we know?, how do we know?, what’s happening now?, and how can you participate?
North Carolina Museum of Art – With indoor gallery space and outdoor sculptural space, the NCMA makes art accessible for families.
Both of these museums went way beyond what I expected and offer plenty of reasons to go back in the future. It’s not just Raleigh either. Be sure to check out this list of free things to do in North Carolina things to do.