25 Fun Summer Things to Do With Kids for Free (or Less Than $5)
The best places to find free — or cheap — summer fun
Updated: July 2021
As the summer stretches ahead, we’ve come up with 25 ideas for free or inexpensive fun with your kids in the Triangle. Seize the long, warm days, explore nature and get out for exercise when the weather is fine. Seek out some of the indoor spaces that made our list for playing and learning on rainy days.
1. Explore the North Carolina Museum of Art’s Museum Park.
You’ll find unique, gigantic sculptures, a whirligig and even a whispering bench along trails.
2. Wander the varied bridges and gardens of the Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham for free.
Sarah P. Duke Gardens Photo courtesy of Megan-Morr
3. Soak in beautiful sounds at free outdoor concert this summer.
Pack a picnic and make it a delicious evening, as well. Browse our roundup of Triangle concert series.
concert at the American Tobacco campus in Durham (Photo courtesy of Scott Faber Photography)
4. Visit the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences Prairie Ridge Ecostation in Raleigh.
You’ll learn about native plants, view wildlife, walk trails and participate in citizen science projects.
Nature comes close at Prairie Ridge Ecostation. Photo courtesy of CL Goforth.
5. Bike a greenway trail along the Neuse River to see turtles basking in the sun and deer in the woods.
Try a route along the Capital Area Greenway.
6. Watch a movie under the stars or go indoors to a theater on hot days.
Browse our roundup of Movies for $1 All Summer Long Across the Triangle.
Photo courtesy of North Carolina Museum of Art
7. Escape with your kids for a day of fun or nature programs at local parks.
Check out 10 playgrounds worth a drive and five gated playgrounds for corralling young children in the Triangle. Visit our Daily Calendar to find an upcoming nature program at a park near you.
Photo of Laurel Hills Park in North Raleigh courtesy of RALEIGH PARKS, RECREATION AND CULTURAL RESOURCES DEPARTMENT
8. Chill out at a public pool or water park.
Browse our roundup of Cool Water Fun Places in the Triangle.
PHOTO OF THE SOUTHPARK SPLASH PAD IN FUQUAY-VARINA COURTESY OF MELISSA CHAMPLION
9. Head to the North Carolina Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill to wander the gardens for free.
Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Botanical Garden
10. Visit the JC Raulston Arboretum to learn about plants in the Southeastern U.S.
Photo courtesy of Kenneth Keifer/Shutterstock.com.
11. Check out Raleigh Union Station and take a train ride to a nearby North Carolina town.
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
Photo courtesy of Leo Suarez
12. Step back in time at any of North Carolina’s historic sites.
Kids can learn from where docents, re-enactors and historians about our state’s history and peoples.
Photo courtesy of the Joel Lane Museum House.
13. Visit the North Carolina Museum of History in downtown Raleigh.
Learn “The Story of North Carolina,” “North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame” and “Are We There Yet? North Carolina’s Variety Vacationland, 1930s–1970s.”
Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of History
14. Burn calories and have fun at the Skatepark at Durham Central Park or the Rodgers Family Skate Plaza in Apex.
15. Explore Pullen Park, the fifth-oldest operating amusement park in the U.S.
Your kids can ride the Gustave A. Dentzel Carousel (dating to 1911), the kiddie boats and a kid-sized train. Or they can hop aboard a pedal boat.
Pullen Park (Photo Courtesy City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department)
16. Visit a farmers market near you for an outing filled with new colors, textures and tastes.
Take home something fresh and healthy to eat. Many farmers markets offer kids’ fun. Browse our roundup of Farmers Markets to find one near you.
Photo of Durham Farmers Market courtesy of Erik Krouse/Shutterstock.com
17. Check out Marbles Kids Museum for a full day of fun.
Check out the new River Playway exhibit and the all-new Polly’s Pet Care play area in the Moneypalooza exhibit — both on the museum’s second floor. Stepnotes consists of an ordinary staircase that has been transformed into a playful piano with interactive colorful lights. There are also giant Legos and much more to explore. Right now, take advantage of Marbles’ Play Late for Less, during which the museum stays open until 7 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays through Labor Day. On those days, admission drops to $3 after 3 p.m.
Stepnotes fun Photo courtesy of Marbles Kids Museum
18. Take the kids out for free bowling
For cool, frugal fun when temperatures soar outside or on a rainy summer day, you can’t beat bowling. These three free and low-cost bowling programs around the Triangle bypass inevitable cries of summer boredom.
Photo courtesy of CroMary/Shutterstock.com
19. Enjoy storytimes in several languages as well as art and craft programs and indoor exercise.
Browse our Daily Calendar to find lots of activities.
Image courtesy of Robert Adrian Hillman/Shutterstock.com
20. Visit the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh.
Experience seven floors of interactive exhibit spaces that cover topics from dinosaurs and meteorites to birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, insects, plants and more. Catch a talk from a scientist in the SECU Daily Planet Theater. Admission is free.
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences features a theater inside of its globe Photo courtesy of Eric Knisley
21. Take an interactive tour of Bayer CropScience’s North American Bee Care Center in Research Triangle Park.
Learn how you can help restore the health of bees that pollinate our food supply.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BAYER CROPSCIENCE NORTH AMERICAN BEE CARE CENTER
22. Step back in time to learn about art from around the world at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh.
Check out the museum’s programs for young children and teens and its free weekend family-friendly tours.
Photo Courtesy of North Carolina Museum Art
23. Visit The Scrap Exchange in Durham and take part in the Open Studio program for creative fun.
The cost is $5 and your kids can create arts and crafts using recycled products.
24. Enjoy indoor playgrounds designed for young children at local malls.
PHOTO COURTESY OF TRIANGLE TOWN CENTER IN RALEIGH
25. Volunteer with your kids to help those who are less fortunate in the community.
Browse our roundup to find causes that interest you and your kids and where you can serve close to your home.
Photo courtesy of Wavebreak Media/Shutterstock.com