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14 Low Cost things to do in Raleigh

As a college student, of course I have a list of go-to places where I can hang out and pass time for free (or at least very very cheap). And it’s like… my duty to pass along all of my favorites to you. So here are 14 places you can go for when you don’t want to spend money, but you want to explore the city or show a visiting friend what’s cool in Raleigh.

I would have had more photos for you if my computer didn’t totally die on me, but for now you’ll have to handle just a bunch of text. (I’m sorry)

Exploring Dorothea Dix. Photo by Rebekah Greengrass.

1. Lake Raleigh

There’s a disk golf course over there, some piers so you can go fishing or watch the water, and a garden behind the dam if you’re looking for somewhere in nature mildly secluded to read a book or paint a picture. I definitely recommend going at sunset sometime!

2. North Carolina Museum of Art

I’m obsessed with all the roman statues NCMA has, and reading about the history behind the art. The outdoor area is just as good, and you have to be sure to check out the Cloud Chamber. It acts as a camera obscura, reflecting the trees and sky onto the floor. Plus it looks like a hobbit home from the outside.

3. Hunt Library

What can I say, I’m a textiles girl and I love my campus. It’s so pretty here, and they have a rooftop patio overlooking Lake Raleigh. If you’re an NCSU student, don’t forget that there are a *lot* of services and events offered through the library that you can take advantage of. Check out their website or ask the help desk!

4. North Carolina Museum of History & North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

I have to group these together because they’re side by side downtown. If you haven’t been since your fourth grade field trip… you’re missing out. You’re never too old to appreciate history & science (and this time you can actually understand the information you read). Sometimes they have some pretty cool events going on at the science museum, so be sure to check their website. They have “adult nights” occasionally too – disclaimer, I’m not sure if these are free and I know you have to be 21+.

5. Dorothea Dix

It’s way bigger than you’d think and has some great views. It’s my favorite spot for a picnic (or some hill repeats… whatever suits you). They also have a soccer field here, if you can convince some friends to join a pick-up game!

6. Lake Johnson

If you’re a runner, check out the 3-ish mile loop that runs around the lake! It’s paved so technically you could also rollerblade around it if you wanted to. If you end up rollerblading please hit me up because that sounds like a good time. You can also rent kayaks for pretty cheap while it’s still warm!!

7. Nash Square

I think I like Nash Square even more than Moore, despite the fact I went to Moore Square to take these photos. For the true Raleigh Creative Species/exclusive Theresa experience, park in those diagonal spots next to Nash Square (on a weekend or after 5, so it’s free!) and then walk down Hargett Street towards Father & Son, DECO, Art of Style and Raleigh Raw. I literally do this all the time because those places are some of my favorites in the city!

8. State Farmers Market

The State Farmer’s Market off of Centennial that has a lot of local produce and plants you can check out as you wander through. Sometimes people offer free samples of their locally grown produce but I’m just warning you, you’ll probably end up wanting to buy some.

9. Raleigh Flea Market

If it’s the weekend, definitely go to the one on the State Fairgrounds for a bunch of antiques and homemade products. It’s the best place to strike up a conversation with some of the interesting people of Raleigh!

10. Cause for Paws

This is my favorite thrift store in Raleigh (mostly because they usually have some cute cats up for adoption in the middle of the store). Check out all of their dresses and odds & ends. Maybe you’ll even find something cool!

11. Thrift 2 Gift

Although this is technically in Cary, it’s not far from NC State. The people that work here are always very friendly, and it’s incredibly organized. Go look through all the stuff! Woo!

12. Downtown Cary

This one is hands down DEFINITELY in Cary, but I’m still including it because it got a MAJOR makeover and now is super cool. Go at night so you can see the fountain all lit up, and then maybe play some bocce ball or ping pong if you’re lucky and it’s free (it’s always taken when I get there). There are usually dogs here, too.

13. JC Raulston Arboretum

NC State’s 10-acre arboretum and botanical garden! It’s prettiest in the spring, but I’ve been year round to wander and take pictures here, especially. If my computer hadn’t died and taken all my memories with it, I could have attached some for you all.

14. Umstead (Schenck Memorial Forest or Crabtree entrances)

Go on a hike or jog down the single track trails at Umstead, or bike or jog down the main bridle paths! Don’t get lost. There are some loops, but I’d go with someone else to explore those and just stick with out and backs while you’re alone.


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