Getting Cultured in Raleigh, North Carolina

Heading to Raleigh, North Carolina on your next trip and want to immerse yourself in the local arts scene? Check out this guide to Raleigh’s must-see museums, galleries, and theatre venues.

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Think Raleigh’s artsy side is just the historic statutes along the oak-lined streets? Time to head to some of the great museums and theaters in North Carolina’s capital to check out a hidden scene of drama, art, and music. There’s a reason it was named the best place to live in America in 2012 by Business Week magazine a few years ago. These streets lead to many spots that get those creative juices flowin’.

The grey statue of George Washington stands outside an office building in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina on a warm morning.

North Carolina Museum of Art

Dating back to the 1920s, folks here began work to funnel state funds toward a new art museum called the North Carolina Museum of Art. The overall experience really starts with the surrounding 164-acre park and 2 miles of walking trails filled with more than a dozen large sculptures. Once inside the building, with its glass walls and reflecting pond, visitors get treated to all kinds of art and artifacts, including Egyptian tombs, African masks, 18th-century Italian paintings, and Rodin’s famous “The Thinker” sculpture. It’s a perfect place to spend a few hours on a rainy day.

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

It’s hard to miss the 72-foot-high globe sticking out of the side of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science, the largest museum of its kind in the nation. With free admission, there’s a lot of nature-inspired art on seven floors that stretch two city blocks — but you must get past the dinosaurs first. From dioramas of coastal habitats to free events with local dancers, there’s plenty to keep everyone from grandparents to toddlers busy and entertained.

Burning Coal Theatre

Grab tickets to the Burning Coal Theatre, a small, professional theatre on Polk Street, to see some high-energy performances designed to make you part of the show. Both local and international actors belt out lines from the stage, which feels within reach of most seats. With lots of free parking, it’s easy to settle in to watch a creative cast offer twists on classics like Shakespeare on trapeze or Irish folk songs in James Joyce’s “The Dead.”

The streaks of cars going down a road are seen in the foreground with the bright lights of downtown Raleigh, North Carolina in the background on a bustling summer night.

ArtSpace

As one of the best non-profit art centers in the Southeast, ArtSpace is a 30,000-square-foot meeting place for artists and art lovers alike. See locals creating their pieces right before your eyes in the old City Market, or sign up early for its popular art happy hour to create some art of your own. As has been the custom, every first Friday night of the month, ArtSpace is open for tours, while live music and talks are on the calendar throughout the year to get you ready to make your own masterpiece. (Check before you go to be sure it is open.)

Imurj

For some hip, up-and-coming art, head over to Imurj. This artist collective includes a studio, gallery, and two stages complete with a café and bar. Pay a minimal fee to enter the 6,000-square-foot space on McDowell Street, and see culture in process with pop-up performances happening throughout the year. This underground scene includes a weekly live music jam and tips to buy local art for a souvenir that may be worth a whole lot more someday.

Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts

Slip into one of the comfy red chairs in the audience of the Memorial Auditorium of the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts to enjoy the sounds of top acts bouncing off the sound-reflecting walls. Don’t worry if opera isn’t your thing — holiday performances, pop music concerts, and fun shows like “Dixie’s Tupperware Party” fill the four stages here throughout the year. Floating up the twin floating staircases is a great way to feel like a million bucks without breaking the bank.

There’s no shortage of culture in Raleigh, North Carolina. Whether you’re visiting for a weekend or staying for a while, with the help of this guide you’re sure to return home with a newfound appreciation for the Raleigh art scene—and maybe an eclectic souvenir or two, too.

What museum or art show are you most looking forward to during your visit to Raleigh? Let us know by stopping by to leave a comment on our Facebook page.

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