Free Things to Do in the Raleigh-Durham Area

Visiting the Raleigh-Durham area? You won't have any trouble finding free—and fun—things to do throughout the region's cities and towns during your stay. Whether you're looking for a place to hike, jog or stroll for fresh air and exercise, or a museum to gaze upon regional art, you'll find plenty of options in the Triangle.

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh is the Southeast's largest natural history museum and consistently ranks as Raleigh's No. 1 attraction. Best of all, it's free! View the only real Acrocanthosaurus skeleton on display in the world, and explore the brand new, state-of-the-art Nature Research Center wing, where you can watch a documentary in the SECU Daily Planet Theater or observe scientists at work.

The American Tobacco Historic District's revitalized warehouses in Durham accommodate restaurants, shops, an ice skating rink in winter and a taste of days gone by. Listen for the crack of a baseball bat during a nearby Durham Bull's Baseball game, or sit a spell on the lawn during a free summer concert.

Pullen Park, founded in 1887, offers a free playground for children in addition to paid attractions, such as its Dentzel carousel, which features an impressive menagerie of more than 50 beautifully restored animals.

Perhaps the Triangle's most famous free destination is Sarah P. Duke Gardens—55 acres of historic flora, fauna and natural beauty. Enjoy a walking tour, which takes approximately 1.5 hours and is free—365 days a year.

Here's more information about these and other free attractions in the Raleigh-Durham area that will enable you to keep your budget in check and get to know the culture, beauty and people of the Triangle.

State Farmers Market

One of five state farmers markets, the market in Raleigh sells more than 300 different items and offers products for wholesalers and consumers. More than 35,000 spaces are rented to growers for sales of locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables, plants, Christmas trees, and crafts.

RDU Observation Park

Watch planes land and take off from Raleigh-Durham International Airport's 10,000-foot runway at the free RDU Observation Park. Listen to piped-in pilot-tower communications from the nearby air traffic control center, check out the play area and take a picnic to enjoy on the grass lawn.

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Sit in the center of the Earth to hear a scientist talk. Visit with the “Terror of the South,” the only real Acrocanthosaurus skeleton on display in the world. View beautiful gems and minerals, living snakes and bugs.

Pullen Park

The fifth-oldest operating amusement park in the U.S., Pullen Park is a fun place for all ages and a scenic spot to wander through with lots of flowering trees in the spring and summer. Take younger kids to ride the Gustave A. Dentzel Carousel, built in 1911 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Falls Lake State Park

Falls Lake formed as a result of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ efforts to control damaging Neuse River floods and to create a water supply for surrounding communities. Construction of the dam, which began in 1978, took two years.

Jordan Lake State Recreation Area

Swim, ski, sail and fish in Jordan Lake’s 14,000 acres of water, covering parts of Wake and Chatham counties. Open year-round, Jordan Lake State Recreation Area offers campgrounds, picnic areas, public beaches, sand volleyball courts, comfort stations and more. You might even see a bald eagle. 

American Tobacco Historic District

Downtown Durham’s entertainment district flourishes throughout revitalized warehouses that once accommodated The American Tobacco Company, which was created during the 1890s.

Duke Gardens

Duke Gardens offers visitors four primary sections that expand across 55 acres of fertile land. These gardens have flourished since the mid-1930s on Duke University's historic campus.

North Carolina Museum of History

Bright, lively and interactive, this is not one of those boring history museums of days past. Rather, the North Carolina Museum of History presents a colorful side of North Carolina’s history, including permanent exhibits that feature pirates, a 1920s drugstore, No.

Bentonville Battlefield

In the waning days of the Civil War, the Battle of Bentonville was the last full-scale battle where Confederate troops mounted a tactical offensive against Union troops. More than 4,000 men were killed or wounded during the battle, which took place March 19-21, 1865, in Johnston County.

University Tours

Whether you have a future college student or just want to relive your glory days, touring one of the Triangle’s acclaimed universities is time well spent.

North Carolina State Capitol

Get a feel for North Carolina’s political past at the State Capitol, which dates to 1840. A National Historic Landmark, the building is one of the best-preserved examples of a major civic building in the Greek Revival style.

Historic Stagville

North Carolina’s largest antebellum plantation, Historic Stagville, offers guided tours of the late 18th-century Bennehan House, the Holman House (original slave quarters dating to 1851) and the Great Barn, the largest agricultural building in North Carolina when it was built.

William B. Umstead State Park

Twenty miles of hiking trails and 13 miles of bridle trails greet visitors to William B. Umstead State Park in Raleigh, which expands across 5,599 acres. Take a short stroll with younger children or embark on a more extensive hike into the woods with older kids who are up for the challenge.

Falls Lake State Park

Falls Lake formed as a result of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ efforts to control damaging Neuse River floods and to create a water supply for surrounding communities. Construction of the dam, which began in 1978, took two years.

Eno River State Park

Eno River State Park encompasses the majestic and rolling Eno River, mature forests, a historic mill, historic home sites and scenic river bluffs that cover parts of Durham and Orange counties.

North Carolina Botanical Gardens

The North Carolina Botanical Garden, located on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus, offers 1,000-plus acres to explore.

Greystone Recreation Center

Designed for ages 5-12, this free indoor playground features a climbing structure and an 8-foot traverse rock-climbing wall. The center's rubber surface ensures safe landings.