With an abundance of museums in and around the city, Raleigh has been deemed the “Smithsonian of the South”! Some area museums are even Smithsonian affiliates like the North Carolina Museum of History. From science and history to art and culture, Raleigh has something for everyone with nearly 20 museums, more than 23 art galleries and so much more. Here are our must-visit museums in Raleigh, NC:
Best Museums in Raleigh, NC
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences | 11 W. Jones St.
Located in downtown Raleigh, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences immediately catches your eye with its large multimedia globe on the front of the building, named the Daily Planet. The museum aims to educate visitors on the natural world and inspire its conservation through classes and interactive exhibits.
The museum is divided into two collections: the Nature Exploration Center and the Nature Research Center. The Nature Exploration Center’s four-story building features wildlife and geology exhibits that boast exciting live animal displays and fossil showcases. Inside the Nature Research Center, visitors can watch museum scientists study the natural world in real-time. The museum also has two cafes, a gift shop, and a 3D theater.
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Reserved tickets are no longer required, but the number of visitors entering the museum is limited in an effort to comply with local ordinances. General admission to the museum is free, but there are additional charges for special exhibits and films at the WRAL 3D Theater.
North Carolina Museum of Art | 2110 Blue Ridge Rd.
In 1947, North Carolina became the first state in the nation to use public funds for the purchase of art and the building of a gallery. The initial purchase of 139 works of American and European art that same year began the ever-expanding collection that is now the North Carolina Museum of Art.
Since then, many private collectors have made donations to the museum, expanding its collection to include Italian, Egyptian, Greek, African and Roman art ranging from the Renaissance era to the 20th century. The collection also includes international contemporary art, oceanic art, Jewish ceremonial artifacts and so much more.
Beyond the walls of the museum, visitors can explore the 164-acre Museum Park dotted with permanent and rotating art installations that highlight and incorporate their natural surroundings. The Museum Park scavenger hunt helps guests connect with the art, nature and people of the park. There is even an outdoor amphitheater where summer movies, concerts and performances take place. The Museum Park is open daily from dawn to dusk.
The North Carolina Museum of Art is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with free timed-entry tickets required. Special exhibitions require a paid ticket that also grants visitors access to the museum’s free galleries. New exhibits for 2021 include Golden Mummies of Egypt (featuring Egyptian mummies dating back to the 1st century), Moataz Nasr: Delicate Balance (an art collection by Egyptian artist and activist depicting contemporary life in Egyptian society) and To Be Young: Coming of Age in the Contemporary (a deeper exploration of growing up in the 20th and 21st centuries and the individual’s personal development).
North Carolina Museum of History | 5 E. Edenton St.
Step back in time and explore the history and heritage of North Carolina at the Museum of History. From the first English settlement in the New World to the first African American woman to receive a B.A. degree in the United State, North Carolina’s history is rich, diverse and extensive.
Learn the history behind shag dancing at the Beach Music: Making Waves Through the Carolinas exhibit, play with toys from the 50s and 60s at the Toy Boom! exhibit or experience the 1920s Drugstore exhibit with fixtures from a real drugstore once located on Fayetteville Street.
The museum is open to the general public Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. The museum offers special hours for senior citizens and those who are immune-compromised Tuesday through Saturday from 9-11 a.m. Admission to the museum is free.
Marbles Kids Museum | 201 E. Hargett St.
Kids and adults will have a blast exploring the educational and interactive exhibits at Marbles Kids Museum. With nearly 15 exhibits, there’s something for kids of all ages! Below are just a few:
- Use your hands and feet to create music at the Stepnotes exhibit
- Experience nature indoors at the Toddlers Hallow exhibit
- Learn how to garden at the Sun Sprout exhibit
- Create art with unusual mediums at the Art Loft exhibit
Marbles Kids Museum boasts an on-site restaurant, gift shop and IMAX theater to round out your experience. They also offer spring and summer camps PLUS virtual learning classes! The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. to the general public. Admission is $9 for everyone over the age of one with a discount offered to active military members. The cost of tickets to the IMAX movie theater varies.
CAM Raleigh | 409 W. Martin St.
Another popular museum in Raleigh is the Contemporary Art Museum (CAM)! Located in the Warehouse District of downtown Raleigh, CAM is a non-collecting museum featuring art, installations and exhibitions by living artists.
Contemporary art is considered culture at CAM. It’s more than just a painting on a wall. To CAM, art is food, fashion, music, videos, installations, technology and so much more. The Contemporary Art Museum ensures that local students are involved in growing its eclectic culture. Area middle school students act as docents during exhibition openings, teaching visitors about the artists, their piece of art on display and the process of how it was made.
The museum is open Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m., and admission is free. CAM also participates in Raleigh’s First Fridays, a monthly downtown Raleigh event that celebrates art and music.
More Museums in Raleigh, NC
City of Raleigh Museum | 220 Fayetteville St.
Learn even more about the history and heritage of the City of Oaks at the City of Raleigh Museum located in downtown Raleigh. This city-owned museum first opened in 1993 and continues to “preserve Raleigh’s past for the future” by collecting and caring for artifacts that tell the story of Raleigh.
The COR Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 1-4 p.m. Admission is free.
The Gregg Museum of Art & Design | 1903 Hillsborough St.
Located on the NC State University campus, this museum is unlike any other in the area. The Gregg houses more than 35,000 objects in its permanent collection, including the largest collection of outsider art in the state!
From ceramics, paintings and photography to sculptures, architectural drawings and modern furniture, The Gregg proudly shares its extensive collection with the NC State community, as well as the public. Admission to the museum is free, but a timed ticket reservation is required for entry. Museum hours are Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Pope House Museum | 511 S. Wilmington St.
Explore a piece of Raleigh’s history at the Pope House Museum. Originally built in 1901, the house of Dr. Manassa Thomas Pope stands as a reminder of the life and legacy of the only African-American man to run for mayor in a Southern capital during the Jim Crow Era.
The Pope House Museum offers guided tours through the Pope family home and around the downtown Raleigh area. The museum showcases more than 3,000 artifacts dating as far back as the 1860s. The collection boasts the family’s original furnishings, plus items like Dr. Pope’s medicine bag from the Spanish-American war and even his voter registration card. Admission to the museum is free, and tours run every Saturday 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. and Sunday 1-4 p.m.