Fall is here! Show of hands—who's enjoying falling leaves, cooler weather, tailgating parties, museum exploring and all pumpkin everything? We've had big plans for these cooler months in Raleigh, N.C.! To keep you busy during this gorgeous time of year, we've put together this list of 30 items for your fall bucket list, perfect for planning a trip to the Raleigh area with friends and family. Need more inspiration? Follow us on Instagram or give us a shout on Twitter—we're here to help! 

1. Grab your friends and family and head to see the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival (opens Nov. 18) at Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary, where hundreds of lanterns and more than 15,000 LED lights make up more than 20 incredible glowing displays. Check out our event guide from last year here (with information on the 2022 event coming soon!).

Chinese Lantern Festival mythical bird

2. Warm up with whiskey at Olde Raleigh Distillery, just east of Raleigh in Zebulon. During Blending Over Backwards, you’ll take a behind-the-scenes tour with head distiller Brandon McCraney. Explore the barrel room and discover the way that everything from wood to weather can transform flavor, learn the basics of distilling combined with the art of blending and last, but certainly not least, end your tour with a taste of Olde Raleigh’s newest, unique blended batch. Use this link to inquire about booking availability.

3. Take a stroll through Historic Oakwood, a neighborhood of homes near the city center which mostly date from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. In early December (still technically fall!), the Oakwood Candlelight Tour (Dec. 10-11) is one of the year's most anticipated events, allowing a rare opportunity to step inside Victorian and Queen Anne-era architectural gems.

4. Explore the deepest oceans and discover shipwrecks at James Cameron: Challenging the Deep, open through May 7, 2023, at the North Carolina Museum of Natural SciencesChallenging the Deep traces explorer and filmmaker James Cameron's passion for deep-ocean science, technology and exploration—including his record-breaking dive to the bottom of the ocean—using cinema-scale projections, artifacts and specimens from his expeditions.

Challenging the Deep

5. A special, ticketed exhibition at the North Carolina Museum of Art running through Jan. 22, 2023, A Modern Vision: European Masterworks from the Phillips Collection features more than 50 paintings by iconic artists from The Phillips Collection’s world-renowned holdings (Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gogh, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and more). The Phillips Collection opened in Washington, D.C., in 1921 as America's first modern art museum, and A Modern Vision showcases extraordinary paintings by titans of impressionism, postimpressionism, expressionism and cubism, carefully collected by founder Duncan Phillips.

6. Combine a trip to the North Carolina Museum of Art with one of these upcoming performing arts events for a perfect weekend:

  • Theatre Raleigh presents Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, Oct. 26-Nov. 6;
  • North Carolina Theatre presents Steel Magnolias, Nov. 4-13;
  • Raleigh Little Theatre presents Cinderella, Dec. 2-18.

Raleigh Little Theatre Cinderella

7. How about trying a trio of the Raleigh area's best new restaurants? At Fenton—the mixed-use, 440,000-square-foot live-work-play district in Cary—big deal dining is the name of the game. In early September, both Colletta, an Italian food and wine eatery led by chef Oscan Gnapi, and M Sushi, a chef Michael Lee concept that was named among the 100 best restaurants in America by OpenTable this year, opened to the public. In late September, Superica, a chef Ford Fry Tex-Mex margarita and taco spot, opened their doors as well (so yes, come hungry!). 

Other retail stores that are already open within Fenton include Arhaus, Athleta, Lululemon, Nike, Paragon Theatres, Pottery Barn and more.


8. Explore Lafayette Village—a quaint shopping district in North Raleigh with a European vibe that's filled with restaurants, coffee spots, boutique shops and more. Stroll through the paved walkways and kick up your feet by the fountain on a relaxing day.

9. Get creative and learn some new skills. Sign up for a sewing class at Craft Habit, or take a paint-pouring class with Joy Worthy Co (perhaps you could learn how to knit a blanket for those chilly fall days!).

10. Taste new foods and flavors at Craften Neighborhood Food & Drink in Knightdale. The new, 4,500-square-foot indoor and outdoor food hall was created by local entrepreneurs Max Trujillo and Kip Downer and includes four restaurants, a bar, a coffee shop and a double-decker patio—perfect for beautiful fall weather! Pro tip: Craften is just steps away from Kightdale Station Park, a family-favorite playground destination (with a dog park, too). 

11. Stake out your spot along the 1.4-mile route of the 78th Annual Raleigh Christmas Parade (Nov. 19), where nearly 60,000 spectators (and lots of pets!) will watch marching bands, dancers, classic cars, superheroes and Santa Claus walk the streets of downtown Raleigh. The parade is the largest Christmas parade between Atlanta and Washington, D.C. A frequently asked question: Why is the Christmas Parade held before Thanksgiving? The event gives local businesses a chance to promote themselves by entering the parade, and thus gives shoppers a chance to fine-tune their lists well in advance. Plus, it's tradition—it's been this way (with a few exceptions) since 1939!

Raleigh Christmas Parade

12. A magical lighting exhibition that's suited for the entire family, Moonlight in the Garden at JC Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University is a once-per-year opportunity to see the nationally acclaimed gardens artfully illuminated by colorful lights. Each evening of the ticketed event is paired with live music, food trucks, hot apple cider, fire pits and marshmallows to roast. This year's dates are Nov. 10-12 and 17-19, so mark your calendar!

13. Track down 35 of the biggest, the best and most-Instagrammed outdoor murals in Raleigh, N.C. (showcasing pride, flowers, bicycles, local history and more!). 

All Are Welcome Mural

14. Jam out at the North Carolina Museum of History with the special, ticketed The Power of Women in Country Music exhibit, taking visitors on a journey through the history of women in country music, from the early years and post–World War II music, to the emergence of Nashville as a country music mecca and to female country artists becoming international pop sensations. The exhibit features artifacts, such as instruments and costumes, and special content from a diverse roster of 70 female country artists.

15. Take in one of the Tar Heel State's best two-wheel adventures by tackling the Neuse River Greenway Trail, a 30-mile paved, uninterrupted greenway that stretches from Falls Lake in North Raleigh to the Wake County line in southeast Raleigh. The ride is mostly flat and easy navigate—many consider it to the gem of the 100-plus-mile Capital Area Greenway System! Read our full guide to a perfect fall bike ride here.

Neuse River Greenway Trail Bike Riders

16. Grab a book at one of Raleigh’s numerous book stores, such as So & So Books and Quail Ridge Books, before curling up at a local coffee shop (you can get your pumpkin spice latte fix at Sir Walter CoffeeBittersweet and BREW Coffee + Bar, among others!).

17. Put on your red and white, pack up your lawn chairs and coolers and head to Carter-Finley Stadium to get your tailgate on before rooting for the North Carolina State University Wolfpack football team. Show up early and be prepared to get loud—we take our football (and tailgating) seriously! Check the schedule here.

18. And speaking of tailgating…we do it for hockey games, too! The puck has dropped for another season for the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes. Check out the on-ice action in person at PNC Arena this year! Full schedule here.

Carolina Hurricanes

19. Put your dancing shoes on and get ready to catch live music acts headed this way—Reba McEntire (Nov. 3), ​Michael W. Smith (Nov. 6), ​Silversun Pickups (Nov. 11), ​An Evening with Ginuwine and Friends (Nov. 12), St. Lucia (Nov. 13), ​Manchester Orchestra (Nov. 16), Gangstagrass (Nov. 17), Chairman of the Board (Nov. 18) and way, way more!

20. Get a head start on your holiday shopping in downtown Raleigh. Whether you’re looking for the perfect gift for your loved ones, a souvenir that just screams “Raleigh” or a new outfit to wear to your work holiday party, downtown Raleigh is a shopper’s paradise. Check out this article for more on the best places to shop in downtown Raleigh, N.C.

21. Visit breweries, earn rewards! Download and print your Raleigh Beer Trail Passport, then make your way to more than 30 Raleigh area breweries—collect 15 or more stamps along the way and you'll have earned a stainless steel bottle opener, a Raleigh Beer Trail pint glass hugger and a limited edition T-shirt.

Bond Brothers Beer

22. Do some digging at Cheshire Cat Antique Gallery—one of the area's largest antique shopping stops with more than 20,000 square feet of vintage collectibles, furniture, jewelry, art, books and more in Village District—or meander down downtown Apex's Salem St. for some shopping and dining fun. Start your adventure at Common Grounds Coffee House, before stopping in Antiques on Salem Street to treasure hunt, and ultimately finishing up at Tap Station, one of the area's best new restaurants and a new go-to for tater tots and hot chicken sandwiches.

23. Explore what the Raleigh area has to offer without breaking the bank! Tour the North Carolina State Capitol, explore the state's most popular museum, visit a nationally-acclaimed arboretum and more—there are more than 30 free (or nearly free) attractions and experiences that can anchor any visit to the area. Use this article as a starter when building a weekend trip with family or friends.

24. Treat yourself in the best way possible with a weekend getaway at one of Raleigh area's most relaxing retreats. Check into Guest House Raleigh, a historic, eight-room boutique hotel that a husband-and-wife team saved from demolition and relocated to its current location in 2017 (where a backyard courtyard, skyline views and more await!). Or, settle in at The Umstead Hotel and Spa, a AAA Five-Diamond property in Cary that has a spa and restaurant on-site that live up to the hype. Need more ideas? We've got 'em!

The Umstead Hotel and Spa

25. Pick up some of Videri Chocolate Factory’s Hot Chocolate Mix. Videri Chocolate Factory is a fully-operational chocolate factory and retail shop in downtown Raleigh. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the factory and learn more about the chocolate making process. Hot tip: Purchase hot chocolate mix to-go or sip on some of their sweet cocoa in store.

26. Get together with friends over drinks at a new cocktail bar inside one of the world's best new hotelsThe Parlor at Heights House! The intimate cocktail bar compliments the Italianate-style property, offering Italian-inspired cocktails, an all-Italian wine list and local craft beer (cheese and charcuterie boards are available for purchase as well). After ordering from the bar, visitors are welcome to explore the entire property!

Heights House Parlor

27. A new season means new goodies at the State Farmers Market, Raleigh—time to pick up those pumpkins and stock up on apples! More than 30,000 square feet of fresh produce, plants and other specialty items from local farms await.

28. Create your own tasting tour of some of Raleigh's best burgers: The Players' Retreat (an iconic spot open since 1951 across from North Carolina State University); MoJoe's Burger Joint (a dive bar of a burger spot with plenty of vegetarian options and a dog-friendly patio); The Brasserie at Neuse River Brewing (you'll find a half-pounder with beer cheese and crispy onion strings served on a bun from local bakery Union Special); and Char-Grill (charcoal-flamed burgers ordered at a window and enjoyed anywhere, preferably with a chocolate shake!). 

Char Grill Couple

29. If hot dogs are more your style, here's your to-do list: The Roast Grill (the tiniest, no frills, no-ketchup-allowed spot in town for charred dogs); Cloos' Coney Island (serving locally-famous Detroit-style dogs with chili, onion and mustard); and The Cardinal (a cozy bar and grill with elevated hot dogs and a great beer-drinking porch).

30. Take advantage of ideal hiking weather by exploring William B. Umstead State Park—a 5,000-acre refuge with 22 miles of dedicated hiking trails and 13 miles of multi-use trails—or pop over to Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve, a family-friendly escape in Cary with three miles of easy hiking that turn rich with color in the fall. Pictured below is Umstead State Park's Turkey Creek Trail, a beautiful and sometimes brutally steep, lesser-trafficked portion of the park.

William B. Umstead State Park


More fall festivals and events

  • Stargazing at The Willard, Nov. 2
  • November Drag Dinner, Nov. 3
  • Garner Night Market, Nov. 4
  • Startup Holiday Market, Nov. 4
  • 38th Annual Train Show and Sale, Nov. 5-6
  • Pinkalicious the Musical, Nov. 5
  • City of Oaks Marathon, Nov. 6
  • Vintage Market Days, Nov. 11-13
  • Triangle Wind Ensemble Concert: Come Sunday, Nov. 13
  • Magic and Mischief: A Wizard’s Market, Nov. 19
  • Downtown Raleigh Coffee StrollNov. 19


Carolina Hurricanes photo by Jaylynn Nash; Bond Brothers Brewing photo by Brian Strickland; Heights House Parlor photo by Forrest Mason

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