Make the most of your visit to Raleigh by sampling some of its historical relevance, technological progress and culinary culture. Here are five places to spend a free hour or two while you're in the City of Oaks.
The Fayetteville Street District
Take a stroll through Raleigh's Fayetteville Street District to find a variety of downtown businesses, boutiques, restaurants and bars, as well as Raleigh Marriott City Center. Fayetteville Street leads to the North Carolina State Capitol building and also accommodates parades, special events and seasonal celebrations, such as the Ipreo Raleigh Winterfest at the 400 block of Fayetteville Street, a two-month-long winter event featuring an outdoor skating rink with natural ice.
While you're there, stop by the City of Raleigh Museum at 220 Fayetteville Street to view exhibits on civil rights, higher education, media and a city timeline. Need a jolt of caffeine? Order from a full espresso bar or grab a bite to eat at Cafe Carolina and Bakery in the Wells Fargo Center at 150 Fayetteville Street. Connect to the "Downtown Raleigh FREE WiFi" network in designated outdoor public spaces such as City Plaza, Fayetteville Street, Moore Square and the Raleigh Convention Center.
The Executive Mansion
Completed in 1891 and located on North Blount Street, the Executive Mansion has since served as the home of North Carolina governors while welcoming thousands of visitors for tours. Designed by prominent architect Samuel Sloan and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this prominent example of Victorian architecture contains 18th- and 19th-century North Carolina furnishings and paintings.
Note the bricks in the sidewalks surrounding the mansion, made from Wake County clay and molded by prison labor. Many still bear the inscribed names of the men who made them. Look for hallmarks of the Queen Anne style of Victorian architecture, such as the steeply pitched gable and elaborate turned woodwork. Take advantage of the holiday open house, typically held during the second week of December, if you are in town at that time.
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences on Edenton Street is the largest museum of its kind in the Southeast and offers free access to exhibits, programs and special events. Be sure to check out "Acro" at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences—the only real Acrocanthosaurus dinosaur skeleton on display in the world.The museum's Nature Research Center features the SECU Daily Planet, a three-story multimedia center that displays colorful documentaries.
Save some time to head across the mall to the North Carolina Museum of History, which is also free. Marbles Kids Museum, designed for kids ages 10 and younger, is just a few minutes away on Moore Square.
James B. Hunt Jr. Library
The five-story James B. Hunt Jr. Library is located on North Carolina State University's 1,314-acre Centennial Campus research park, less than a mile away from the main campus. The library covers more than 221,000 gross square feet and is 88 feet high at its tallest point, providing dramatic views of Lake Raleigh and the city skyline.
This isn't your grandmother's—or even mother's—library. Through a glass wall, you can watch the bookBot robotic book delivery system in action. This system can store up to 2 million items in a climate-controlled environment and deliver any of them within 5 minutes of a click in the online catalog.
Almost 100 group study rooms and technology-equipped spaces support and enable learning, research and collaboration. Be sure to check out the Game Lab, which provides faculty, researchers and students an opportunity to explore new gaming environments, methods of interaction, collaborative game design and the role of gaming in education and training.
North Carolina Museum of Art
Revolving exhibits share space with permanent collections of American, European, African, Oceanic, Judaic and modern pieces at the North Carolina Museum of Art, located at 2110 Blue Ridge Rd. in Raleigh. An expansion in 2010 brought a 127,000-square-foot west wing to the museum, including 65,000 square feet of day-lit galleries, as well as four acres of newly landscaped sculpture gardens and reflecting pools, a renovation of the east building and such new collections as a gift of 30 sculptures by Auguste Rodin.
Enjoy art outdoors by exploring the museum's 160-acre park encompassing fields, woodlands and creeks. And this isn’t just any park—it’s the North Carolina Museum of Art Park, which extends art outdoors—across the park’s fields, throughout its paved trail and across Interstate 440.