Looking for day trips from Raleigh? One of the great things about the “City of Oaks” is its central location to numerous fun and interesting places across the state. While Raleigh boasts many things to do in its own right, there are several great places to visit as a day trip. Ranging from a 30-minute drive to a few hours, there’s big cities and small towns, mountains and beaches, and even numerous great wineries just a short trip away from the capital city of North Carolina.
Drive time: 2 hours
Wrightsville Beach is a popular beach town in North Carolina and a great place to escape the busy city of Raleigh. This four-mile barrier island boasts the intracoastal waterway on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. While you could easily just spend the day in the water or relaxing on the sandy beach, there’s much more to do in town.
Crystal Pier offers beautiful ocean views, while South End is a good spot to watch the sunset. Tower 7 Baja Mexican Grill and South Beach Grill are great spots for lunch. You could also take a guided paddle boarding or kayaking tour with Wrightsville SUP.
Drive time: 2 hours
Around a two-hour drive straight down Interstate 40 is the port city of Wilmington. A historic city on the Cape Fear River, it’s full of Victorian-era gardens (like the Airlie Gardens) and homes, galleries, farm-to-table restaurants, unique breweries, and historical attractions. If you’re a craft beer enthusiast, venture along the Wilmington Ale Trail and its more than a dozen breweries.
The scenic Riverwalk in Downtown Wilmington is the perfect spot for a stroll and views of the river. You can also find several locally owned restaurants, art galleries, and one-of-a-kind shops. There’s also the Battleship North Carolina, noted by USA Today as one of the “Best Museum Ships.”
Drive time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Asheboro is a great day trip for the entire family. The biggest attraction here is the North Carolina Zoo, home ro more than 1,500 animals. There are plenty of zoo favorites to see, such grizzlies and lions, as well as opportunities to feed animals and other special activities. For those who prefer something a bit more thrilling, there’s the Richland Creek Canopy Zipline.
Drive time: 40 minutes
Famous as one of the country’s best college towns, Chapel Hill is the home of the University of North Carolina. There’s more than basketball games to experience here. Catch one of the star shows at the Morehead Planetarium, stroll through the North Carolina Botanical Garden, or same local beers and spirits at the Carolina Brewery and Top of the Hill Distillery.
There’s also Historic Franklin Street, home to over 200 retail shops, bars, and restaurants. Check out the Carolina Coffee Shop, one of the oldest restaurants in the state, or stop by Epilogue Books Chocolate Brews, a unique chocolate shop, book store, and local cafe.
Drive time: 2 hours
The premier destination in North Carolina for vineyards and wineries, the Yadkin Valley boasts a rich wine production history and stunning scenery. You can find a wide array of grape varieties at the numerous wineries, offering something for all wine tastes. In addition to the great wine, the Yadkin Valley also offers many other activities like special events and hiking.
Drive Time: 2 Hours
Pilot Mountain is one of the state’s most distinctive and recognizable landmarks. This state park is one of the best day trips from Raleigh if you love hiking, fishing, or bicycling. There’s also opportunities for rappelling, climbing, and paddling. Make sure to bring a picnic lunch for your day out in nature.
Drive Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
While “Charlotte’s got a lot,” there’s just too much to do to try to fit it into just a day trip. If you’re more of the outdoorsy type, head over to the U.S. National Whitewater Center for mountain biking, climbing, and whitewater rafting. Racing fan? There’s the NASCAR Hall of Fame. For amusement park enthusiasts, Charlotte is home to Carowinds. There’s also plenty of shopping opportunities at the Concord Mills mall, or check out some of the many wineries near the city.
Drive time: 30 minutes
While Durham may not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking about a day trip from Raleigh, the city is full of interesting and fun things to do. In addition to its amazing food scene, Durham is home to numerous festivals, arts, history, sports, and more. There’s Duke University and the Durham Bulls for sports and DPAC for concerts and other performances. For nature lovers, explore the Duke Gardens, one of the top public parks in the country.
For shopping and dining, head over to the American Tobacco Campus, or quench your thirst at one of the local breweries. Families may particularly enjoy exploring the Museum of Life and Science or a visit to the Duke Lemur Center.