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Although it calls one of the most expensive universities in the country its own, Raleigh-Durham still has plenty of low-cost activities to keep you occupied; after all, college students abound. Whether it’s a museum or an outdoor adventure, you’re certain to find something that will fit your interests and your budget. The five best free things to do in Raleigh-Durham are:
1. Wander the woods at Eno River State Park. The wildflower-and-tangled-vine-filled woods line numerous paths throughout the state park, which runs alongside the 40-mile Eno River. Standout spots include Coon Foot Island and Buzzard Rock, just a few of the rocky outcroppings that let you become one with nature. Some points on the river, such as Sennett’s Hole, are deep enough for swimming, too.
2. Stroll through more than 5,000 years of art at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, all with no admission fee, then lunch at the museum’s Blue Ridge Restaurant — though you’ll have to pay for the food.
3. The William B. Umstead State Park, situated between Raleigh and Durham, is a 5,577-acre oasis of pines, lakes, trails and quiet. On any given day, people come with dogs, bikes and canoes. Borrow a mountain bike and zip past streams, lakes, Eastern Box Turtles — even the occasional creepy graveyard — on Umstead’s extensive trails
4. Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham. As you make your way through the breathtakingly beautiful campus of Duke University, you’ll take in some of the best sights that Durham has to offer. Once you make it to the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, be sure to check out the Japanese teahouse and various water features.
5. Venture across town to Duke University’s biggest rival, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While you wander among the Tarheels and your mind drifts back to the good old college days, make sure to take in the history of the campus; UNC is one of the oldest universities in the country.
The best free things to do in Raleigh-Durham are:
1. Take a walk through the Sarah P. Duke Gardens at Duke University. One of the premier public gardens in the country, it has 55 acres with more than 200 colorful plant varieties. It hosts more than 300,000 visitors from all over the world each year.
2. The North Carolina Museum of Art has free admission to its permanent collection and Museum Park. There is a charge for some special exhibitions and programs, such as concerts, films, classes and performances.
3. The North Carolina Museum of History is all about the history and heritage of North Carolina. Did you know that North Carolina has seven historic lighthouses still in existence dating all the way back to 1817? That in 1903 Orville Wright flew the first power-driven airplane at Kill Devil Hills (he stayed aloft for 12 seconds on the first trip)? Or that the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway began in 1935? Take a trip to the NC Museum of History and discover even more about great moments in the history of North Carolina.
4. The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is dedicated to science and nature, and is the largest museum of its kind in the Southeast. The museum is filled with four floors of exhibits, live animals and hands-on activities. The museum hosts programs daily. Segments such as the annual BugFest and Animal Grossology are exceptionally good at attracting and holding a kid's attention.
5. The Raleigh City Museum is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to collecting, preserving and interpreting the history of Raleigh, North Carolina's capital city.
Since we are blessed with such nice weather much of the year, there are many outdoor activities that can be enjoyed complimentary. The extensive Greenway Trail System consists of scenic, woodland paths that meander throughout the area, even connecting to Umstead State Park and the American Tobacco Trail in Durham. These trails are the perfect way to explore the area by foot, bike or horseback. Another way to enjoy the flora and fauna of the area is a visit to the JC Raulston Botanical Garden, which is adjacent to the North Carolina State University campus. A wide variety of native and exotic plants and flowers make for a wonderful experience in nature.
The permanent collection at the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) is open to the public at no charge as well. With over 30 works by famed sculptor Auguste Rodin, European paintings from the Renaissance to the 19th century, Egyptian art, ancient Greek and Roman work, and an impressive collection of contemporary works, the NCMA is an amazing free cultural outing. The museum expanded in April 2010 to a modern, light-filled 127,000-square-foot space, designed by New York-based architects Thomas Phifer and Partners.
On the first Friday of each month, Raleigh also holds “First Friday,” a chance to explore all the art galleries and museums in the downtown and Glenwood South areas at no charge. Galleries are open late during this self-guided walking tour and often offer complimentary food and drink.
We are also very fortunate to have the Southeast’s largest natural history museum in downtown Raleigh, which is open to the public at no charge. The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences features four floors of exhibits, live animals, a nature-oriented shop and Acro Café. Highlights include the world’s most complete Acrocanthosaurus dinosaur, a two-story waterfall and the Living Conservatory, which is buzzing with hummingbirds and butterflies.