Top Museums to Visit in Raleigh, NC

Some museums are must-sees for anyone traveling to the Raleigh, NC area. Raleigh is nicknamed the “Smithsonian of the South.” Here is why.

Raleigh is the capital city of North Carolina and the state’s second-largest city. Within its boundaries are housed many museums of top-notch quality. The North Carolina Museum of Art alone has just undergone a major expansion and has a permanent collection of over 5,000 works of art. The unique concentration of museums has rendered Raleigh the nickname

“Smithsonian of the South.” When you are visiting Raleigh, you must add some of these exceptional museums to your itinerary. A visit without this supreme offering of culture would not be the same without visiting some of these along the way. Here are four of the best.

African American Cultural Complex (AACC) of Raleigh, NC

This intriguing museum displays a collection that recounts the story of African Americans and their contributions to America. A favorite is one permanent exhibit that highlights everyday items that were invented or include components of inventions made by African Americans. Here you will be able to see the inventions of an ice cream cone, a bottle of peanut oil, and an eggbeater. Be sure to call the museum to schedule your visit. Tours are open by appointment.

Also check out the replica of the Amistad slave ship, which is on display all year long. Each July, the Amistad shines as a centerpiece when the annual production of The Amistad Saga: Reflections takes place. It is the only outdoor drama written, produced, and directed by and about African Americans in the United States. If you are in or around Raleigh in July, this should not be missed. Admission to the museum is free. There is a charge for the Amistad performance. There are other drama events throughout the year.

African American Cultural Complex
119 Sunnybrook Road; Raleigh, North Carolina 27610

Legends of Harley Davidson Drag Racing Museum in Raleigh, NC

Be sure to check out the only Harley-Davidson drag racing museum in the world. It located on the second floor of one of the largest Harley-Davidson dealerships in the world. The large showroom is the home of world-famous drag racing champion Ray Price. Ray will be quick to escort your party himself to the upstairs museum floors.

More than six decades of American motorcycle history are on display. There are Harley Davidson bikes representing each era from 1936 to the present. Some are in the original condition. Others have been restored. Admission is always free. The store is closed on Wednesdays. Hours of operation on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays are from 8:00 am until 4:00 pm. Saturday hours are 8:00 am until 4:00 pm. The store is open on Sundays from 12:00 noon until 4:00 pm.

Legends of Harley Drag Racing Museum
1126 South Saunders Street; Raleigh, NC 27603
919-832-2261; 800-39-HARLEY

North Carolina Museum of History &  Sports Hall of Fame in Raleigh, NC

This amazing museum contains more than 250,000 artifacts that represent North Carolina’s rich cultural heritage. There are exhibits on agriculture, politics, folklife and so much more. There are also changing exhibits that range from the roots of North Carolina music to North Carolina horses.

Located with the North Carolina Museum of History is the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. The exhibits display personal items that have been donated by over 200 inductees. Check out Richard Petty’s #43 racecar or Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice’s #22 football jersey. This exhibit is a treat for sports fans of all ages. Admission is free to the North Carolina Museum of History and Sports Hall of Fame. Hours of operation are Monday through Saturday from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm and Sundays from 12:00 noon until 5:00 pm.

North Carolina Museum of History
5 East Edenton Street, Raleigh, North Carolina 27601

North Carolina Railroad Museum outside Raleigh, NC

Visitors to the North Carolina Railroad Museum will delight in viewing the vast collection of train equipment. The museum also houses a recently restored Vulcan tank Steam Locomotive. All the equipment is available for viewing during normal daylight hours, but the museum is staffed only on Work Days, Train Ride Days, and Group Ride Days.

To ride the rails, catch a one hour ride adventure from Bonsal to New Hill and back. From May through September, guests can board the train the first Sunday of each month. Train rides pick up in the autumn and around Christmas. Some of the special holiday train rides include the “Halloween Express” in October and the “Christmas Train” featuring Santa Claus in December. There is also a feature attraction called “Operate-a-loco,” which allows participants the opportunity to practice the safe handling of a locomotive. Participants will be able to operate the engine for one hour under the supervision of qualified engineers. This is a must-do for train lovers. Admission is charged for train rides only. Be sure to call the Railroad Museum to verify plans to visit on workdays.

North Carolina Railroad Museum
5121 Daisey Street, New Hill, North Carolina 27562

There are also a number of museums and activities that are especially geared for families with children of all ages. Information on these youth & family venues can be accessed here.


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