midway rides at the north carolina state fair North Carolina State Fair
The NC State Fair is one of the top attractions in this attractive state. Fairgrounds open Thursday, Oct. 13. (Image via NC State Fair)

The 11-day state fair has all the food, fun, and fireworks you won’t want to miss.

When the air turns crisp, the leaves swap their green hue for burnt orange, and the Carolina blue sky is just a little more blue than usual, you know it’s time for the North Carolina State Fair. 

The state fair kicks off on Thursday, Oct. 13, and ends on Sunday, Oct. 23. It is consistently considered among the top 25 state fairs in the country, according to the North Carolina State Fair. Some sites even rank it among the largest state fair in the country by attendance. 

There are few other occasions in our state where you can enjoy live music, Pepsi-glazed mini-donuts, good craft beer, and the thrill of riding Zero Gravity all in one place.

Our state fair has been a fall tradition since 1853 when it drew 4,000 visitors over four days. It has rarely missed a year, except for the Civil War, World War II, and 2020. 

Today, the state fair is 11 days long and about 800,000 people visit the fairgrounds in Raleigh each year. 

If you are going and did not already buy your tickets online, it is going to cost $13 for adults ages 13 to 64, $7 for youth, and free for children 5 and younger. Arrive early so you don’t miss out on the fun, because gates close nightly at 9:45 p.m., even though the fair fun lasts well beyond. 

The North Carolina State Fair offers free shuttle service from the Bandwidth Dogwood Lot at 4501 Reedy Creek Road in Raleigh or Hwy. 54 Cardinal Lot at 5766 Chapel Hill Road Road in Raleigh.

But you don’t have to drive if you don’t want to. If you are coming from Charlotte or Greensboro or points in between, one of the most relaxing ways to get to the state fairgrounds is by train.

You can take an Amtrak and it will drop you off at Gate 1 at the corner of Hillsborough Street and Blue Ridge Road, an option that means you don’t have to worry at all about parking. It doesn’t get much easier than that to get the fun started.

For more on transportation to the fairgrounds, go here.

The Midway

North Carolina State Fair
Photo courtesy of the North Carolina State Fair

The lines are always long at the Fun Slide, Zero Gravity, and the Gondola Wheel, and for good reason—these rides are classics.

The Pirate Ship is also not to be missed.

You can’t go to the fair and not partake in the rides on the midway. It’s a state fair must. While you are giving the favorites a whirl, don’t forget to try five new rides that have been added to this year’s lineup.

Air Max, Crazy Crabs, Techno Jump, Wave Swinger, and Wipeout are all new.

If you love the thrill of being perched high above the fairgrounds looking down below at your fellow fairgoers, be sure to bring your wallet. Tickets for the rides are $1 each. Most rides require at least five or six tickets. If you are planning to stay a while, your best bet is to spend $40 on an unlimited ride wristband. Just think of how many times you will be able to ride the ferris wheel. 

The New Fair Foods

Photo courtesy of the North Carolina State Fair

Sure, you can go for the traditional fair food, funnel cakes, sausage and peppers, pulled pork, a hot dog, or good old Carolina barbecue, but where is the gastronomic fun in that?

This year, fair organizers have added a whole host of new culinary delights. Adventurous fairgoers can try sparkling churros, honey butter chicken fries, Pepsi-glazed mini donuts, deep-fried Cuban rolls, loaded dill pickles, and fried North Carolina flounder tacos.

Bring an empty stomach. There are a lot of new foods to try. Make sure to hit the food stands after you’ve gone on the rides. 

Live Music

Photo courtesy of the North Carolina State Fair

If you love music, the North Carolina Fair has more than 60 live performances during the fair’s 11-day run.

This year’s acts include indie bands like Carrboro’s Slow Teeth and Durham-based hip hop, R&B band NiiTo. With so many acts, too many to list here, there is a band to fit everybody’s musical taste. The musical acts cover nearly every genre, including reggae, danceable funk jazz, country, and even military music.

For more on the fair’s live music options, go here.

NC Public House

Photo courtesy of the North Carolina State Fair

After a long day seeing shows, riding rides in the Midway, and eating great authentic Carolina barbecue, you are bound to have built up a thirst and The NC Public House is the place to be to take care of that.

The NC Public House offers beers, wines, ciders, and craft sodas made right here in our state. Fairgoers need to buy their $10 beer and wine tickets in advance or at the gate. The fairgrounds limit people to one ticket per visit. That ticket entitles you to two 8-ounces of beer or wine.

Craft soda tickets are $5. The ticket prices are worth it to sample the best beer and wine our state has to offer. Maybe you’ll find a new favorite beer or wine all thanks to your visit to the state fair. 

The Heritage Circle Cider House

Photo courtesy of the North Carolina State Fair

What better way to celebrate fall than with North Carolina–grown apples? You don’t have to drive out to Hendersonville to enjoy one of the apples Bright Branch Farms grows on its 100-acre orchard. You just need to stop by the Heritage Circle Cider House at this year’s state fair. 

If you arrive at 10 a.m. or 3 p.m., you will get to witness a cider pressing demonstration. If you like fresh apple cider, you must stop by Heritage Circle Cider House. We aren’t sure, but we think the cider might pair nicely with the Pepsi-glazed mini-donuts. 

The Fireworks

Maybe the best part of the state fair is the nightly fireworks display. Fireworks are a great way to end a day of rides, food, beer, craft soda, and fun. Cuddle up with your favorite person or hang with your best buddies and watch the fireworks display over the pond.

Bring a sweater or a hoodie because it just might be a little chilly when the fireworks go off at 9:45 p.m. each night. The fireworks display is the perfect way to end an incredible day at the North Carolina State Fair.