5 Raleigh Museums that are Totally Free

5 Raleigh Museums that are Totally Free

Whether you are a newcomer or native to the area, there is so much to love about the historic, thriving city of Raleigh, North Carolina—especially the Raleigh museums!

These 5 Raleigh museums do not charge anything for general admission. That’s right! Admission = $0!

Raleigh Museums: North Carolina Museum of Art

A Brief History

North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA)

North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA)

The North Carolina Art Society founded the North Carolina Art Museum (NCMA).

Back in 1924, a group of citizens, intent on creating an art museum for the state, formed the North Carolina Art Society. They spent decades raising funds, recruiting members, and acquiring art. They also had several temporary art exhibitions in other historic, Raleigh buildings.

The Society continued to gather support from the community and the state. Because of this, in 1947, the North Carolina state legislature put a whopping $1 million towards purchasing more art for the future museum. According to NCMA’s website, the museum “was the first art museum in the country to be established using state funds.”

With a matched donation from New York philanthropist Samuel H. Kress and the Kress Foundation, the NCMA was born. In April 1956, the NCMA was given a proper home in the old State Highway Division building. As a result, local news outlets called the space the “Miracle on Morgan Street.”

The museum quickly outgrew its original location. Consequently, the museum was moved to Blue Ridge Road, where it is today.

Why We Love This Raleigh Museum

The gorgeous NCMA building sits on 164 acres, with art installations and 2 miles of walking trails. This makes the NCMA the largest art park in the country. (Psst: for something more challenging than a walking trail, try the best places to hike in the Triangle.)

Raleigh locals and tourists love that the NCMA engages and entertains art lovers of all ages and backgrounds, from novices to connoisseurs. Certainly, this Raleigh museum is a peaceful, attractive, educational place for an outing with friends or family. The NCMA summer concert series, going on from May 17, 2019-September 8, 2019, combines visual arts with live music, making the NCMA perfect for a night on the town with friends!

Hours: Tuesday–Thursday 10 am–5 pm, Friday 10 am–9 pm, Saturday–Sunday 10 am–5 pm

Address: 2110 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh, NC 27607

Website: ncartmuseum.org

Raleigh Museums: North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

A Brief History

When the state’s agricultural and geological collections were combined under one roof in 1879, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences was formed. A year later, a pair of brothers from England named Herbert Hutchinson “HH” Brimley and Clement Samuel “CS” Brimley, arrived in Raleigh.

As the brothers built their lives in the area, they served the North Carolina State Museum. HH and others founded the North Carolina Audubon Society; CS published a book about over 9,000 local insects called The Insects of North Carolina.

Together, HH and CS laid the groundwork for what the museum was to become, guiding the institution for half a century. Certainly, thanks to the Brimley brothers, this Raleigh museum sustains a unique blend of research, collections, education, and conservation efforts.

Building upon the museum’s mission to educate the local community and nurture widespread appreciation for nature, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences built the Prairie Ridge Ecostation for Wildlife and Learning in 2004.

Why We Love This Raleigh Museum

The NC Museum of Natural Sciences is the largest natural history museum in the southeast. This Raleigh museum features dinosaurs, whale skeletons, live animals, walk-through dioramas, special exhibits, hands-on science education, and accessible scientists.

Perfect for children and family outings, the downtown museum offers a fun, educational experience for all ages. The collection takes up four floors in two buildings—the Nature Exploration Center and the Nature Research Center. Every Raleigh visitor should take advantage of the 45 acres of Piedmont prairie, forests, ponds, and streams located at Prairie Ridge Ecostation. These gorgeous hiking trails and outdoor classrooms are a gem in the heart of our state.

Hours: Monday-Saturday: 9am-5pm, Sunday, noon-5pm

Address: 11 West Jones Street, Raleigh, NC 27601

Website: naturalsciences.org

Raleigh Museums: North Carolina Museum of History

A Brief History

North Carolina Museum of History

North Carolina Museum of History

The North Carolina Museum of History welcomes over 40,000 visitors per year from all over the world.

Back in the 1880s, Raleigh News and Observer publisher Samuel A’Court Ashe was inspired by the rich, celebrated history in Boston, MA. He dreamed of saving North Carolina’s history so that future generations could know North Carolina’s story, and began an editorial campaign to rally the public. Moved by his colleague’s cause, Frederick Augustus Olds (now considered the father of the North Carolina Museum of Natural History) began collecting artifacts for the collection.

In 1898, this collection, known as a ‘gallery of history,’ was housed in a building now known as the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences building. The collection outgrew its space and in 1902. Consequently, it was moved into what is now known as the Ruffin Building, and renamed the Hall of History. In 1939, the Hall of History moved again, and once more in 1968. Finally, more than $29 million later, the Museum of History (as it was later coined) moved into its current home, specifically designed for the museum, in 1988.

Why We Love This Raleigh Museum

The Museum of History features a research library, a variety of classroom spaces, and a large and well-equipped, 315-seat auditorium. Gallery spaces total 55,000 square feet, with design shops, storage areas for over 250,000 items, and conservation labs make this an incredible resource to Raleigh residents and tourists.

Their exhibits are interactive and visually intriguing. While informative, the museum finds a balance between educational and artful with many innovative full-size, 3D exhibits. Kids love the kids room at the museum. This Raleigh museum is quite expansive. As a result, we recommend setting aside a couple hours to explore all it has to offer.

Hours: Monday-Saturday, 9am-5pm, and Sunday, 12-5 pm

Address: 5 East Edenton St, Raleigh, NC 27601

Website: ncmuseumofhistory.org

Raleigh Museums: City of Raleigh Museum

A Brief History

City of Raleigh Museum
City of Raleigh Museum

The City of Raleigh Museum offers exhibits and educational programs about the history of the city; it maintains an extensive collection of Raleigh photographs and artifacts as a part of its service to the city.

Right down the street from the capitol building, the museum’s current home was built on the first floor of the historic Briggs Hardware Building in 1998.

The museum was the dream of Raleigh historian, Beth Crabtree. When she died, Mary Cates carried the torch. With city-wide support and a group of advocates, Cates opened the City of Raleigh Museum in 1993 in the Borden Building in Fred Fletcher Park.

Why We Love This Raleigh Museum

This Raleigh Museum is a great resource to learn about our state capitol. This museum is small. Therefore, it is perfect for a casual, map-free outing. Their exhibit rotation ensures that you and your family will have something new and exciting to explore every time you go. Their website also has loads of free, downloadable guides to assist you on your journey through the past.

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 9am-4pm & Sunday, 1pm-4pm

Address: 220 Fayetteville St, Raleigh, NC 27601

Website: cityofraleighmuseum.org

Raleigh Museums: Artspace

A Brief History


The nonprofit visual art center known as Artspace is located in downtown Raleigh in what used to be a livery. For a while, the building was even the Sanders Ford Car Dealership! Certainly, this unique history adds to Artspace’s mystique. Today, this Raleigh museum is home to over 30 working artists, 3 exhibition spaces, education space, a gift shop, and administrative offices. ArtspaceNC.com explains that “Artspace is one of the largest open studio environments in the country and the premier organization of its kind in North Carolina.”

Why We Love This Raleigh Museum

If you want something cool and different, Artspace is the place! For example, in their open studios, you can watch as the Artists-In-Residence work on their art pieces while conversing with visitors. In addition, they also sell pieces that are on display. Artspace is known for its innovative education programming, which challenges youth and adult students alike. In short, you will find gorgeous works of art, interesting classes, and fun art-centric exercises everyone can participate in here.

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 11am-5pm, Thursday 11am-7pm

Address: 201 E Davie St, Raleigh, NC 27601

Website: artspacenc.org

As you can see, you don’t need to take a weekend getaway have a fun, educational excursion. Look no further than Raleigh museums, which are fun, educational, and free to visit!

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