There are many things typically Americana and one of them is State Fairs. Spending a month in Raleigh, I got to see the famous NC State Fair 2019, which is a multi day fest of gluttony, theme park attractions and farm animal excitement on the expansive NC fairgrounds.
So here’s my personal first time ever NC State Fair attendance including handy tips with a heavy focus on the NC State Fair food I ate and wish I had had more space (and money) for. But that’s why it goes on for more than a week!
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Quick Q&A Raleigh State Fair
How long is the state fair in Raleigh?
The NC fair lasts 11 days in total.
What time does the state fair open?
The Raleigh State Fair 2019 opens October 17 at 9am.
When does the state fair close?
The Raleigh fair 2019 closes October 27 at 11pm.
See specific NC State Fair hours for booths, rides and exhibit halls here.
When is the best time to visit?
I visited shortly before sunset and stayed until the fireworks at 9:45pm, which was a great idea. I was told that during the day mostly families and senior citizens visits and it gets more exciting after dusk.
My visit fell right on the opening day of the North Carolina fair and surprisingly enough it wasn’t packed at all. Maybe because it was unusually cold. So it might be a good idea to check the weather and attend on a colder day, when many people chose to stay home.
On opening day there are many competitions but the program is pretty similar each day. If there’s something specific you want to see, I recommend checking the event calendar for the NC Fair.
How to get State Fair tickets for NC?
You can get special discounts if you order your tickets online in advance to the fair (August 1-October 17). With the Dizzy Pass, you can get FastTrack access plus unlimited rides for $33.
However, it’s possible to get your online tickets throughout the duration of the fair as well. Plus, it gets you in faster than buying onsite.
There are special discounts on certain days, such as for students, senior citizens or veterans, as well as family discounts online. See various ticket options and deals here.
How accessible are the Raleigh State fairgrounds?
The entire fair is located on even ground, there are no hills or stairs and there is plenty of space between the attractions and booths. Check out their accessibility guide.
What special NC fairgrounds events are there?
Remaining true to its roots, the North Carolina State Fair is centred around local agriculture. Therefore, a special attraction are the animal and youth shows, where you can see showmanship competitions of little owners and their animals, such as sheep and poultry.
Then, there are lumberjack log runs, pig races, milking demonstrations, pumpkin awarding ceremonies and more.
Is there WiFi at the State Fair in Raleigh?
Yes, in some spots there is. But honestly, I totally forgot all about it and didn’t even check.
Apart from animal husbandry and agricultural skill demonstrations and competitions, there are magic shows, acrobatic shows and live graffiti. Of course, there is live music as well, ranging from country and folk over to funk and emo. There’s something for every taste.
The program can be downloaded here and is avahilable as a free brochure on the Raleigh state fair grounds.
Let’s Talk about Fair Food in Raleigh
Let’s dedicate an entire section to food. Being in the South, of course the majority at the NC State Fair is fried food. So here’s a quick overview of (an incomplete) NC State Fair food list.
Meatlovers will enjoy the giant turkey legs, BBQ (including Korean BBQ items), sausages, hot dogs, chilis, lamb nachos, sloppy joes, hams, briskets etc.
For vegetarians, there are plenty of options as well, for example stuffed baked potatoes, egg rolls, corn on the cob, fried cheese fingers, hushpuppies and deep fried vegetables on a stick.
Not all food is typically southern (but typically with a Southern twist i.e. fried), there are many experimental and fusion items to be found. This includes Cuban sandwiches, Venezuelan alepas, Jamaican jerk chicken
Foodies with a sweet tooth (such as myself) will find themselves in wonderland. There are tons of powdered funnel cake, decadent s’mores, glazed donuts, well topped ice creams as well as fried cakes and candy bars, filled with Reeses, peanut butter & jelly and pumpkin, to name just two.
On top of that, there are plenty of iced teas, lemonades, ciders, milkshakes (even from cookie dough) for non alcoholics too. Alcoholic beverages feature local brews and tropical cocktail concoctions.
There are always new local food inventions presented at the fair and at the NC State Fair in 2019 this included the JoCo HoHo, a jalapeno pepper on a stick stuffed with cheese and brisket.
If you don’t shy away from mixing the sweet with the savoury, get your hands on the Chickenator, a chicken and bacon burger made from cinnamon rolls, topped with spicy pepper jack cheese and honey.
I highly recommend stopping by the tent near the entrance first because here North Carolinian producers put their creations on display. There are samples and you get a great overview of the local delicacies at your doorstep.
I particularly enjoyed the peanut butter bomb and creamy coconut chocolate fudge. The teas are absolutely great as well and you can sip muscadine juices (they look like wine). What else is there? Sausages, chips, condiments, honey, ice cream and candied applies.
Tip: It’s always a good idea to check the news and official new food list for new food creations prior to your visit of the State Fair in Raleigh NC. This way, you can beeline to the NC State Fair food vendors you are looking for instead of missing out in the sea of options and finding out later.
Here are some of the coolest new 2019 NC Fair foods:
- Cookie Dough Milkshake
- Red Velvet Cheese Enchilada Funnel Cake
- Smores Cookie Dough Cone
- Party Under the Sea
- The Spiced Apple Wobbler
- Reeses Donut
So What’s the State Fair in North Carolina like?
First and foremost, it was great fun! Even if you don’t eat your weight in food, you can easily spend your time just marvelling at the wonderful lights and smells and trying out the rides. There’s something going on all the time and if you’re a city kid like me, it’s really interesting.
I don’t usually get to see farm animals this up and close and wouldn’t necessarily visit just to look at them. But here you can see competitions on the most beautiful animals, watch demonstrations and see baby chickens hatch. I honestly found that really fascinating.
We got to watch a sheep showmanship and that was actually a little bit hilarious. A dozen kids per round enter the arena and present their precious lambs. As far as I understood, the goal is to keep the lamb still and show it off in perfect position, with the body perfectly in line, then legs symmetrically placed, the head and back parallel to the floor.
Imagine how hard that is with baby sheep who want to just move about and little kids who aren’t the strongest. Two times a lamb escaped and a wild chase ensued while the other kids tried to keep their lambs in place.
There are multiple halls with farm animals, for instance, poultry, cows, horses, pigs, goats and sheep. In the same hall we found the biggest pumpkins exhibited, already weighted. You could bring your own heavy pumpkin, too. Competition was still open.
However, the state champion for pumpkins and watermelons was already over and the biggest pumpkin in North Carolina 2019 weighed 1506.5 pounds/683,33kg! Imagine that! (Not sure if those pumpkins were edible and would even taste nice being this big. If you know, let me know in the comments.)
Afterwards, we roamed around the NC State Fair food vendors multiple times. There’s just so much to eat and it looks too pretty at night with the wonderful colours. Come hungry and in a party. This way, you can share portions and have more space for trying different foods.
This comes especially in handy when you only visited one or a few days. Remember, many of the food items are exclusive to the State Fair and might only appear that year.
Have you ever been to the North Carolina State Fair yourself? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.
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- What to see in Sleepy Hollow
- Bussing around Washington DC
- Where to go on Staten Island
- Planning a road trip around Florida
- Exploring NYC’s main attractions on a budget