text overlaying blurred background of fairgrounds

A Pocket Guide to the North Carolina State Fair

Fall Break might be just around the corner, but we all know fall is really here when the North Carolina State Fair comes to town. Lucky for us, that’s only a couple of weeks away!

What to See, Do, and Taste at the 2017 NC State Fair

The 2017 North Carolina State Fair (which is celebrating its 150th anniversary — wow!) will take over the fairgrounds on Hillsborough Street and Blue Ridge Road from Thursday, October 12th through Sunday, October 22nd. If you’ve never been, cancel all your plans and go buy tickets — the NC State Fair is a true Raleigh tradition.

Regardless if you’re a stranger to the experience or a State Fair aficionado, there are quite a few things that every visitor must do each time they stop by. So without further ado, here are the top 10 things to do at the North Carolina State Fair!

nc state fair heritage circle

10. Take a Step Into Yesteryear

It’s totally possible to time travel — just stop by the Village of Yesteryear. The round Holshouser Building is where you’ll find artisans hard at work (and many in period dress) carving wood, spinning yarn, weaving baskets, and more.

While you’re there, don’t miss out on the food and history at the Heritage Circle. Be sure to grab a hush puppy while touring the Grist Mill, too!

pumpkins and gourds at nc state fair agricultural exhibit

9. Visit the Agricultural Exhibits

The North Carolina State Fair is first and foremost an agricultural fair, so you’ll find some cool exhibits throughout the fairgrounds.

Take a peek at old farm machinery near the Village of Yesteryear, shop local at the Got To Be NC Agriculture tent, see the winners of the livestock competitions, and take a picture with the fair’s biggest pumpkin at the Expo Center. Here are a few more activities to try!

research van at nc state fair

8. Earn Money for Taking a Survey

This one’s a best-kept secret. Researchers with Duke University’s ResearchMobile, which is typically set up behind the Village of Yesteryear near the Grandstand, pay participants a couple of bucks to fill out a questionnaire and participate in a study.

monster made out of construction barrels

7. Take a Picture with NC State’s Own Barrel Monster

The Barrel Monster is the stuff of Raleigh legend. In 2009 when Hillsborough Street was just beginning its rebirth, an NC State student named Joseph Carnevale repurposed some white-and-orange-striped construction barrels into a 12-foot statue that was part horror, part modern art.

Though he was arrested and sentenced to community service, his fame skyrocketed; Carnevale was named to Time‘s “Top 10 Guerrilla Artists”, but better yet, people around NC State University liked his artwork so much that they had him make more.

The Barrel Monster (and his new wife) popped back up on Hillsborough Street and at the North Carolina State Fair that same year. Now, the Barrel Monsters are fixtures of the State Fair.

(If you’re looking for more street art by Joseph Carnevale, his Street Knight sculpture now guards the staircase in Cameron Village Library.)

ski lift ride over the midway

6. Ride the New Fair Flyer Over the Midway

Okay, so it’s not brand new; the ski lift-like Fair Flyer made its debut in 2016 and became the first permanent ride at the fairgrounds. But considering the North Carolina State Fair is celebrating more than a century of heritage, it’s pretty new.

the fountain at the nc state fair

5. Stop By the Iconic Fountain

Big, massive, and centrally located within the fairgrounds, this fountain serves as both a popular meetup spot and a scenic picnic area. This iconic fountain is located in front of the Dorton Arena. Seriously, you can’t miss it.

guitar player at a concert

4. Catch a Concert from a Local Band

Looking to expand your music palate without spending money? The North Carolina State Fair has just what you need. At the Homegrown Music Fest, you can take your pick of three different stages and a full calendar of concerts, from single artists to musical groups, from country to hip hop, and from up-and-coming to well-known stars.

popular place for fried food at nc state fair

3. Eat Something Fried (Bonus Points for a Krispy Kreme Burger)

It’s not true fair food unless it’s been deep fried, skewered, or smothered in chocolate. But despite all these options, the North Carolina State Fair is best known for its fried foods — even vegetables are fair game!

Second only to concoctions like the bacon-wrapped grilled cheese sandwich (a new item in 2016), one of the weirdest foods at the State Fair has to be the Krispy Kreme Bacon Cheeseburger. It’s just what you think it is: a beef patty with bacon sandwiched between two original glazed Krispy Kreme donuts, not to mention all the traditional burger condiments in between.

The Krispy Kreme Burger was so popular that variations of it, including a Krispy Kreme Sloppy Joe, soon popped up on the fried fair food scene.

nc state university ice cream

2. Wait in Line for Howling Cow Ice Cream

NC State students can’t get enough of Howling Cow — that’s the university’s own brand of ice cream, made with milk from the school’s cows and produced right on campus.

Normally you can only buy Howling Cow ice cream from various spots around campus, but when the State Fair’s in town, that’s a different story! You can find the Howling Cow tent along the Grandstand.

new food stand at the state fair
Home of the bacon-wrapped grilled cheese sandwich, a new item at the 2016 State Fair

1. Try the New Things Everyone’s Talking About

Every year, the North Carolina State Fair has something new, from you-absolutely-have-to-try-these fried foods to don’t-you-dare-miss-these thrill rides. Here’s what’s new to the 2017 State Fair:

  • Cheap admission: Since the fair is celebrating 150 years, it’s kicking off the event with $1.50 admission on Thursday, October 12th. That day, the first 15,000 visitors will get a commemorative button, which is the ticket to possibly winning free ride passes and other prizes.
  • Unlimited fair rides: For the thrill-seekers, unlimited ride wristbands are available online for $25 until October 12th. Wristbands will be $35 once the fair starts.
  • The coolest ski-lift: Back after its debut at the 2016 State Fair, the State Fair Flyer will once again soar over the fair rides on the Midway. It’s also a scenic way to get from one end of the fairgrounds to the other.
  • New thrills: The Air Raid, F5, and Dodgems Chop Shop are the latest adrenaline-pumping rides, while the Fun Time Railroad is a gentler thrill for kids.
  • New tastes: A beer garden’s coming to the 2017 State Fair! The Our State Public House features craft beer and wine from all across North Carolina, and visitors will be able to buy a flight of four samples.
  • Amazing entertainment: From a phenomenal mural painter to a head-turning ostrich rider, the 2017 State Fair has some intriguing entertainment on this year’s lineup.

What are you most excited for at this year’s fair? Leave us a comment below!

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