On our list of must-haves for a family weekend getaway: carefree, convenient, memorable, and bonus points if it doesn’t break the bank. For your next family vacation that checks all those boxes and more, visit Raleigh Durham. This under-the-radar hub for family fun is much more then a college town. With train rides, indoor playgrounds, a chocolate factory tour and the largest natural history museum in the Southeast—all of which are free or uber cheap—Raleigh is a prime destination for an inexpensive weekend getaway. Here are 16 affordable things to do in Raleigh Durham with kids.
It’s no secret why Pullen Park consistently ranks high on parents must-do list in Raleigh. The 66.4 acre park has a little something for everyone. Choose from a carousel ride, a kiddie boat ride, a train ride or a pedal boat cruise around Lake Howell. Or, opt for all four! Tickets are only $1.50 each. Need to get the wiggles out? Head to the Park’s playgrounds where you’ll find an age-appropriate area for every member of your family. Discover the swing area with 14 swings for all ages and abilities, the sand and water play area, preschool play area and school age climb and slide for the older kiddos.
Videri Chocolate Factory
This bean to bar chocolate factory is set up so you can easily walk in whenever they’re open to take a self-guided tour. We love that the business is small and intimate so your kids can get an up close look at the chocolate-making process. You may catch them roasting coco beans, cooking caramel or loading the chocolate grinder. A visit to the factory is free, but we’re guessing you may want to load up on chocolate before you leave.
Marble Kids Museum
Marble Kids Museum is all about interactive play with purpose. Best for kids ages one to 11 years old, this awesome play spot will have your littles practice balancing over a meandering bridge, making music on oversized instruments, board a science submarine and pirate ship, and much more. Words don’t do this place justice so you’ll just have to check it out yourself. Admission is only $7 and free for kids under one.
Stay at a Marriott Hotel at Up to 15% Off
Your weekend getaway couldn’t be easier to plan thanks to Marriott Hotels. They have hotels throughout the area and are catering to families like you with their can’t-be-beat winter getaway discount. Book directly and save 15% off with advance purchase using code ADP. Bonus: sign up to be a Reward member (if you aren’t already) and you may receive even greater discounts on your trip to Raleigh-Durham.
Explore the UNC Campus
Your kids may be a wee too young to apply to college, but that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy a day on campus. While you can always sign up for a tour, you can also leisurely stroll around. From an art museum to the community garden to botanic garden, there is ton to see. And, if you have a kiddo in grades K-5, be sure to check out the Tar Heel Scavenger Hunt Guide.
photo: smkybear via flickr
Raleigh State Farmers Market
For a taste (literally) of the best the Raleigh Durham area has to offer beeline it to the State Farmers Market, which is open seven days a week and is totally free to enter. Your kids can sample seasonal produce, plants, meats, cheeses, baked goods and more from local farmers and purveyors. Bonus: check out their calendar for special upcoming events like the Fall Craft Fair Nov. 9-11 and Colossal Collard Day on Nov. 16.
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RDU observation park is a good place to kill time if you arrive early to pick someone up, or if you just like to watch airplanes. I for one would much rather chill here and wait instead of making the RDU terminal circles after airport security yells “keep it moving – no parking!” As someone who really enjoys travel, I’m glad we’ve progressed a little bit since the Wright Brothers “Wright Flyer”… #FirstInFlight 📸: @nhsparrow
RDU Observation Park
If you have a plane fanatic in your fam, you’ll want to carve out time to spend at RDU Observation Park where you’ll be able to see planes takeoff and land. The sweeping views of RDU’s 10,000 foot runway isn’t the only reason to schedule a pit stop here. Parents will love the free parking, restrooms, picnic and play areas, and the pilot-tower communication audio speakers situated on the elevated observation platform.
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Register online for fall children’s programs at Duke Gardens. Grow your own food 🥦, witness a butterfly’s life cycle 🦋learn how different animals communicate🐸, explore wetland wonders, and more! See our profile link to go straight to our fall & winter children/family offerings. . . . #dukegardens #education #earthscience #scienceisfun #homeschool #dukediscoverygarden #dukefoodgarden #dukestudents #picturedurm #bestofdurham #bestofthebull #pictureduke #lovedurm #durhamnc #dukeuniversity #workingatduke 📷 Cathi Bodine
Sarah P. Duke Gardens
Located in the heart of Duke University sits Sarah P. Duke Gardens, a 55 acre garden that’s completely free to explore. From a rock garden to the butterfly garden and more, you could spend hours in this botanist haven. Be sure to check out the Garden’s kid programs, which includes nature storytime, meet the gardens keepers and special family workshops throughout the year.
Traveling with kids often means that grab-and-go eats or casual dining is what’s on the menu. Parents will be thrilled with Foster’s Market. This laid-back cafe meets gourmet market in Durham is an ideal spot to dine with kids. Order off the kids menu or opt for a half sandwich, and then set up camp on their outdoor picnic tables. Don’t forget dessert—Foster’s Market’s pies and baked goods are yum.
photo: Greystone Rec Center
Greystone Recreation Area
If it’s rainy or cold during your visit to Raleigh but you just have to get the wiggles out, head to the free indoor playground at Greystone Village Shopping Center. Appropriate for kids ages 5-12, this free play space boasts an eight-foot climbing wall and rubber surface.
North Carolina Museum of History
A world-class museum with free admission?! You get it all at North Carolina Museum of History, located in downtown Raleigh. The museum is full of historical artifacts and exhibits about North Carolina so you’ll leave with a great perspective about this state’s past. We especially love the museum’s pre-visit materials for kids, which includes worksheets like “5 Things to Do without a Pencil” and the Artifact Guide. These engaging activities will help make the museum really come to life.
Sunday Supper at Pompieri Pizza
While you can nosh on Pompieri Pizza’s farm fresh pies almost any night of the week, we suggest heading here for Sunday Supper. The pizza makers at Pompieri Pizza are trying to foster community and bring back family dining by offering an all-you-can-eat menu 4:30-6:30 p.m. every Sunday. Sit and meet other families (Pompieri even provides conversation starter cards) and try out the food that’ll be generously passed around the communal table. The only rule: all cell phones must be put in the baskets on the tables and not touched during dinner. Bonus: every Tuesday kids under 10 can stretch, sauce and choose toppings for their personal pizza.
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Before the dinosaurs ruled the Earth, creatures like the Rauisuchids were the top predators. Some were 20 feet long and weighed more than 1,000 pounds. Some likely preyed on early dinosaurs during the #Triassic period, until their extinction 201 million years ago. See this skeleton cast in our permanent Prehistoric North Carolina exhibit. #ncmns
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
Lucky you: the largest natural history museum in the Southeast is located in Raleigh. When we say large we mean huge. The museum spans two city blocks and features seven floors of interactive exhibits. Highlights include the Naturalist Center where you can get hands-on with birds, reptiles, fossils and rocks, the Micro World Investigate Lab where your kids use real scientific tools to discover nature on a microscopic scale, and the Window on Animal Health where you observe vets performing real procedures and surgeries. The possibilities are endless here and admission is free (donations suggested).
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Coming up Saturday, October 20 is our Nature Therapy Immersion Workshop. The benefits of being outside include reducing anxiety and increasing creativity, happiness, and ability to connect with others—and our Museum Park is the perfect place to experience the restorative effects of nature. Join a herbalist for a medicinal plant walk; partake in “shinrin-yoku,” the Japanese practice of forest bathing; and start a nature journal. Get a ticket at the link in our bio!
Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park at North Carolina Museum of Art
Put on your walking shoes and meander through NCMA’s Park that showcases stunning public art installations that encourage visitors to interact with the art pieces. These pieces of art directly engage the landscape and visitors alike. Choose your own adventure and explore the miles of trails, terraced pond and contemporary art—all for free.
Durham Bulls Game
If sports is your thing and you happen to visit during baseball season, take in a minor league baseball game. Tickets start at just $9.
Durham Central Park
You’ll be hard pressed to name something Durham Central Park doesn’t have. Go wild at Mount Merrill, an interactive kids play area with two slides, a climbing net and much more. Lounge on the Great Lawn (be sure to check their events website for special happenings like outdoor movies during the summer) or bring your wheels to the 10,000 square foot skate park (helmets required). And, guess what? It’s all free! Online: durhamcentralpark.org/visit/
featured photo: James Willamore via flickr