When my son and I were invited on a press trip to Raleigh, North Carolina, I was so interested in experiencing the various family-friendly attractions in the area. Although I’d been to North Carolina in the past for a very short visit, I really hadn’t experienced everything that they have to offer. During this recent trip, my son and I were only there for a weekend visit, but we were so impressed with all of the fantastic activities for families. Here are some things to do with kids in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Disclosure: We attended this trip at no cost. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. A click through or purchase through one of these links may result in a small commission paid to us.
Things to Do With Kids in Raleigh, North Carolina
Located right in downtown Raleigh, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is a fabulous and completely free museum (fees do apply for some special exhibits and movies). Two buildings comprise the museum – the Nature Exploration Center and the Nature Research Center. With so much to see, you could easily spend the day here. We started our visit with lunch at the Daily Planet Cafe, which is located in the newer building (the Nature Research Center). This is not your average museum cafe, however! It features delicious, fresh, and local cuisine, including fish tacos and quinoa/avocado salad.
After lunch, we explored the Nature Research Center. This 80,000 square foot building offers kids the opportunity to do some hands-on exploration. My son especially loved learning about animals in the naturalist center, which houses preserved specimens, fossils, furs, and so much more.
After checking out that building, we headed to the adjacent Nature Exploration Center, which is connected via pedestrian bridge. This building features more traditional museum exhibits, including a living conservatory filled with butterflies. We also had the opportunity to check out the temporary exhibit, “Race”, which is definitely worth seeing. I’d absolutely recommend saving at least a half day for a visit.
Getting Outdoors on Jordan Lake
When the weather is nice, I always like spending some time outdoors during our family vacations. Jordan Lake, the third-largest lake in North Carolina, is a reservoir that was created as part of a flood control project. It’s a nice, quiet place to explore because there are nine different access points over the 14,000 acre, undeveloped reservoir. Instead of seeing big houses and developments along the shore, there are a few public areas and loads of trees and green space.
We took a quick pontoon boat ride from Triangle Boat Tours, which was the perfect way to see the shore. We even saw a bald eagle in the trees, as well as a cormorant and a blue heron. Families can choose to rent the boats (with a captain), as part of their family vacation. It’s a nice way to explore nature during a vacation that includes several indoor spots.
Although we didn’t check out the Marbles Kids Museum during our trip to Raleigh, it’s a great option for younger kids. This children’s museum (best for kids under the age of 10) is just $5 per person, making it an affordable vacation option.
The North Carolina Museum of Art
On our last day, we stopped at the North Carolina Museum of Art, another free museum that is great for children. It features a number of both traveling and permanent exhibits, as well as a beautiful outdoor park that connects art and nature.
The North Carolina Museum of Art offers a number of programs for families. During our visit, we borrowed a park pack, which is complementary to use, and is filled with activity guides and other fun items that help kids explore the park. My son loved using the included materials to find the various artwork located throughout the park.
In addition to the park pack, there are other activities and events for families, including weekend family tours, Saturday workshops (pre-registration required), and pop-up art activities.
During our Raleigh family vacation, my son was most excited to check out Go Ape!, a treetop ropes course with ziplines that is located at Blue Jay Point County Park. Go Ape! offers two separate courses – a regular course and a junior course. My son, who is just under 4 feet 7 inches, was just a too short for the regular course, so we did the junior course instead.
The junior course, which doesn’t feel too small at all, offers two zip lines and three loops with twenty different obstacles. My son completed the course the first time, and when we headed back for the second time, he was given a challenge – to do the course backwards. It’s definitely fun for younger kids (under age 10), and as an adult, I didn’t think it was boring or too easy at all.
The regular course runs about three hours, and features five different sections, including 42 crossings. Part of our group did that course, and said it was fun but also challenging.
If you do visit Go Ape!, remember to bring hair ties to hold back your hair, and wear closed-toed and closed-heel shoes.
Pullen Park is the first public park in North Carolina, and is the 5th oldest operating amusement park in the US. It’s located adjacent to the North Carolina State campus, and includes several kiddie rides, including a carousel, train, and kiddie boats. Families will find lots of space for kids to run around and play on various play structures and playground equipment. In addition, there are covered picnic areas that can be rented, as well as paddleboats. Tickets for the three rides are just $1 per ticket. While we were there, we saw so many little kids enjoying rides on the train, carousel, and kiddie boats.
Willy Wonka fans will love a trip to this fun chocolate factory. We visited in the evening, after the chocolate making was finished, but it was still a fun trip. In addition to a chocolate counter (where you can sample some of the specialties), there’s also a counter where you can order chocolate drinks, including a cup filled of sipping chocolate. I was especially happy to see that the facility is nut free. I’d recommend visiting during the day, when you can see the chocolate being made.
During our visit to the North Carolina Museum of History, we visited the new North Carolina and World War I exhibit. This temporary exhibit will be at the museum through January 2019, so there is plenty of time to check it out. It not only shows North Carolina’s role in the war, it’s also a great place to learn about the war in general. My son enjoyed the interactive elements and I found the entire exhibit so informative.
In addition to the World War I exhibit, the museum also is home to several other exhibits, including the Story of North Carolina. The museum is free to the public, although there may be a fee for special exhibits (the one we saw was free).
Dining at the Pit in Raleigh
An already short trip coupled with a delayed flight meant that we only had one dinner in Raleigh. Luckily, it was a great one! We dined at the Pit, an upscale BBQ restaurant that is located just a short walk from the hotel we stayed in (and across the street from the Videri Chocolate Factory). The Pit serves authentic North Carolina BBQ, and diners can choose either a traditional Eastern or Western North Carolina sauce. I tried both the Carolina style ribs (which they are famous for) and the Chopped BBQ, and both were delicious. They also have fantastic sides and absolutely delicious desserts.
Breakfast at Big Ed’s
We loved breakfast at Big Ed’s, which is known for their huge hot cakes. My son only managed to eat a small percentage of the one he ordered, but he said that it was delicious. I opted for the farm fresh country breakfast, which included eggs, a meat, seasoned rice, and a huge biscuit. It was so good – one of the best breakfasts that I’ve had.
Where to Stay in Raleigh for Your Family Vacation
We stayed at the Sheraton Raleigh, which was the perfect spot for a weekend Raleigh family vacation. It’s located within walking distance of the North Carolina Museum of History, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and the Videri Chocolate Factory. It also offers an indoor pool. You can see reviews of other Raleigh hotels here.