Explore These Must-Visit Museums in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, NC
Discover a wide variety of art, science, kids and cultural museums to explore in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, NC

The Triangle area boasts dozens of engaging educational spots to explore, from rotating cultural exhibits at Chapel Hill’s Ackland Art Museum to life-size dinosaurs at Durham’s Museum of Life and Science. Raleigh, NC has even been nicknamed “The Smithsonian of the South” due to its large concentration of free museums. Find your perfect Triangle museum below!

Arts and Culture Museums

The North Carolina Museum of Art

Art in Bloom at NCMA
The NCMA invites local florists to interpret works from the collection at the annual “Art in Bloom” exhibit.

History and art buffs can spend the entire day – literally – at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh. More than 127,000 square feet of paintings, sculpture and artifacts spanning ancient cultures to present day invite visitors to take a closer look. The museum also hosts special ticketed exhibits on a rotating basis; recent topics have included “Dutch Art in a Global Age,” “Scott Avett: Invisible” and “Ruth E. Carter: Afrofuturism in Costume Design.” The NCMA is fully accessible and offers programs and tools for disabled visitors, as well as multilingual resources. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday and is free to visit.

Pauli Murray Center

Dive into the inspiring legacy of a trailblazing figure in Durham’s history at The Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice. The center, located in and around Murray’s childhood home, celebrates the life and accomplishments of the visionary activist, lawyer and priest. Engage with exhibits that chronicle Murray’s ongoing impact on civil rights and gender equality, a journey that parallels the resilience and courage that shaped the Triangle’s own growth.

Ackland Art Museum

Ackland Art Museum, part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is a cultural gem offering a rich tapestry of more than 20,000 art objects. The collection covers many centuries and cultures and the museum provides a dynamic space for engagement and exploration. With a commitment to education, conservation and community enrichment, the Ackland also offers talks, special events and regular “Drawing in the Galleries” sessions for adults and children that encourage deeper exploration in the galleries.

The North Carolina Museum of History

Downtown Raleigh’s North Carolina Museum of History holds room after room of captivating tributes to the state’s rich and diverse heritage. From the moment visitors step through its doors, they embark on an enlightening journey through North Carolina’s past. The museum meticulously showcases the state’s pivotal role in the aviation, furniture making and transportation industries, highlighting inventions and innovators that have shaped the nation. Exhibits include perspectives from our state’s indigenous populations, colonial period, agricultural and industrial eras.

Science Museums

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Adjacent to the North Carolina Museum of History, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences brings dinosaurs, sea creatures, local species and more to life in downtown Raleigh. The four-story museum’s halls are full of life-size skeletal representations, fossils and live animal exhibits that showcase the evolution of plant and animal life in North Carolina. Educational events are held most weekends, including animal feedings, storytelling hours and hands-on demonstrations.

Morehead Planetarium

Aspyn Attucks can see herself as an astronaut in the Morehead Planetarium’s Gateway Gallery.

The Morehead Planetarium and Science Center is a destination for celestial explorers of all ages, captivating visitors with the wonders of the universe. Renowned for its iconic architecture and cutting-edge planetarium shows, Morehead has long been a center for astronomical exploration and education. Notably, this institution played a pivotal role in the training of astronauts during the Gemini and Apollo programs, underscoring its historical significance in space exploration. The facility underwent a $9.2M renovation project in 2019, expanding its footprint inspire curiosity and awe, offering interactive exhibits, stargazing opportunities, and engaging presentations that make the cosmos accessible to all.

Museum of Life and Science

The Museum of Life and Science in Durham, NC, is known for its animals, insects and outdoor spaces. Step into the enchanting Butterfly House, explore two acres of outdoor play in Hideaway Woods or roam the Dinosaur Trail to encounter lifelike prehistoric friends. Meet intriguing wild creatures such as red wolves, lemurs, tortoises and black bears in the wild animal habitats, or get up close with llamas, cattle and a friendly donkey named Lightning at The Farmyard. Don’t forget to hop on the iconic train for an added layer of excitement during your museum visit, and be sure to check out their calendar of engaging adult programs during select evenings.

Museums for Kids

Though all of the museums mentioned above offer programming and exhibits aimed at children, the NC Triangle is also home to two museums focused specifically on educating and engaging kids.

Kidzu Children’s Museum

Luyi Li makes dinner in Kidzu’s kitchen play area.

Designed to spark creativity and exploration, Kidzu Children’s Museum is a haven for young minds. The Chapel Hill museum offers hands-on exhibits that encourage imaginative play. From the bustling maker space area to the magical puppets in the Forest Theater, every corner invites discovery. Kids can don costumes, create art or experiment with science. A separate play area, The Nest, is designed for toddlers-only play. Kidzu ensures children are active participants in their learning journey, making it a must-visit for families in the Triangle.

Marbles Kids Museum

Marbles Kids Museum offers a range of interactive exhibits spanning science, technology, arts and culture, making it a dynamic hub of discovery for children. Marbles seamlessly blends education with play through different “zones;” the Adventure Zone sparks curiosity, Moneypalooza inspires creativity and the whimsical Splash exhibit adds a splash of fun. Beyond the hands-on exhibits, Marbles features an IMAX theater, offering an immersive cinematic experience that adds another layer of excitement to educational films on view. This vibrant museum is a go-to destination for families seeking a blend of education and entertainment in downtown Raleigh.

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