Answering some of the most popular State Fair questions

With over 220,000 Facebook followers, 12,400 Twitter friends and 36,000 Insta fans, you can imagine a lot of questions come across the N.C. State Fair’s social platforms. We’ll try to answer some of the top ones in this blog.

The N.C. State Fair runs Oct. 14-24.
  1. When’s the fair/What’s the fair dates? Believe it or not this is one of the top questions, answered many hundreds of times leading up to the State Fair and sometimes dozens of times in the same thread. This year’s fair dates are Oct. 14-24. Tip: If you are hunting for the fair dates, look for the logo. It is typically incorporated into the annual State Fair logo. (See logo in graphic for proof!)
  2. Where does the fair go next? This is an interesting question because the N.C. State Fair and the State Fairgrounds stay right here in Raleigh — never picks up and leaves. Likely what people really want to know is where does the carnival company go after the State Fair? Powers Great American Midways is our midway provider. According to its website, the carnival travels next to Wilmington for the Cape Fear Fair & Exposition Nov. 1-10. That is the company’s last stop for 2021.
  3. Can I bring my dog? Service animals – yes; pets – no. Unless they have been specially trained for service, the fair environment could be especially overwhelming and stressful for a pet.
  4. Can you turn down the fireworks? Fireworks are a popular feature at the fair, launching nightly at 9:45 p.m. While they don’t come with a volume knob, the firework show typically last only about 5-7 minutes
  5. How do I get out of here? It’s easy to get turned around on the fairgrounds and then try to remember what gate you came in. Information silos located around the fairgrounds and near entrances are great places to pick up a State Fair program with a map that can help you find your away around and help you get back to the gate you came through. Once you have a map in hand, look up for easy-to-ID buildings and orient yourself by them. Dorton Arena looks a bit like a Pringles potato chip, the Expo Center has a red tin roof, the Holshouser Building is round. Also, when you come in to the fair, it is important to note what gate you came in or have an idea where you parked; for example Carter-Finley Stadium.
  6. Where can I park for free? Parking is always at a premium at any event and that is no different for the N.C. State Fair. Guests can find free parking on State Fair, Carter-Finley Football Stadium and PNC Arena properties. In addition, fairgoers can park at the Reedy Creek Dogwood Lot and ride the free shuttle to the fairgrounds. Drop off and pick up will be at Gate B of Carter Finley Stadium.
  7. Can I ride my bike to the fair? Sure! Bike racks are stationed near Gate 1 outside the Commercial and Education Building that runs along Hillsborough Street. You can leave your bike locked up there, as they are not permitted on the fairgrounds.
  8. Are you having a state employee day? There is a common misconception that the fair holds a state employee day every year and this typically generates a lot of questions. As state employees ourselves, we love for state employees to attend the fair, but there isn’t a special day for that. Come join the fun whenever you want, as many times as you would like! Buy your tickets in advance to save time and money.
  9. Can I come to the fair the day before it opens and eat lunch? No. Because so much work activity is happening on the grounds, access to the fairgrounds is restricted to people involved in setting up and preparing for the fair’s opening day.
  10. Can I bring my own food and water? Yes, you can bring food and drinks with you, but not in glass bottles or containers.
  11. Where can we eat as a group? Picnic tables and seating are scattered throughout the grounds including ones in the Flower and Garden area, in front of the Expo Building and in Heritage Circle.
  12. Are you doing the lunch pass? Yes! We started this program in response to suggestions by local businesses to allow their staff to come over for lunch without having to pay admission. It’s been a popular program since we started it. How does this work? Pretty easy. 1. Go to Gate 9 off Trinity Road of Gate 1 off Hillsborough Street after 11:30 a.m. on weekdays. 2. Purchase a lunch card at the gate for $10 cash. Don’t lose the card! 3. Come in and buy your lunch. 4. Return the lunch card to the gate by 1:30 p.m. 5. Get your $1`0 back!
  13. Is there a train, you ask? Yes, there is a train for guests coming from the west. During the State Fair, AMTRAK offers the NSF stop, also known as the North Carolina State Fair stop across from Gate 1 on Hillsborough Street. The train departs from Charlotte with stops in Kannapolis, Salisbury, High Point, Greensboro, Burlington, Durham and Cary.
  14. Where is the beer? One of the new things at this year’s fair is the movement of the N.C. Public House, which features samples of beer, wine, cider and craft sodas, from Heritage Circle to the South Side Lobby of Dorton Arena. The Got to Be NC Pavilion, which features North Carolina made products, will move into Dorton Arena, so bringing all North Carolina food and beverage products into one space makes sense. Hours for the Pour House are noon to 10 p.m. on the opening Thursday, noon to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday.
  15. Where can I buy State Fair merchandise? We won’t be having a store in the lobby of the Expo Center this year, but guests can still find some North Carolina State Fair merchandise in the Got to Be NC Pavilion. There will also be two t-shirt vendors on the grounds selling officially licensed State Fair t-shirts.
  16. Why don’t you have big name music? Costs. Simply put, booking nationally known recording artists has become prohibitively expensive. Lucky for us, North Carolina is well known for producing outstanding musical talent in a variety of genres and we have the American Idol, The Voice and Grammy winners and runner-ups to prove it. Nearly 100 North Carolina acts are slated to perform during the fair on the Live and Local Waterfall Stage powered by Curtis Media and the Heritage Circle Stage. Stop and check out a show. You just might catch a rising star.
  17. Are there size restrictions for rides? Yes, rides have height requirements to ride and some also have additional size requirements for safe operation. Look for the “Measure Up” signs posted on the entrances to ride to see if everyone in your group meets the height requirement.
  18. Is there a day when I can come to the fair for free? Yes! Anyone can gain free admission with a donation of six canned goods on Smithfield Foods Hunger Relief Day, which is Thursday, Oct. 21. Additionally, on Tuesday, Oct. 19, senior citizens 65 and older are admitted for free.
  19. I’m bringing a class (or group). What fun and educational activities would you suggest for us to do together? We have a great page of suggested activities that you can print at home and bring with you. Under the Education heading at the top of the page, there is a dropdown list. Click on Scavenger Hunts and Games and that will show you fun activities that include grade appropriate scavenger hunts, a kids and adult Flower Show Bingo card, a Deep Fried Scavenger Hunt and a State Fair Selfie Challenge.
  20. Can I eat healthy at the fair? While we like to joke that calories don’t count while at the fair. We do have many vendors that sell salads vegetarian options or low-calorie treats. A good example of this is Neomonde, which features a Mediterranean menu.
Play Deep Fried Bingo while you are making your way around the fairgrounds or the State Fair Selfie!
Bring six canned goods and get in free on Smithfield Foods Hunger Relief Day Thursday, Oct. 21.
Bring six canned goods and get in free on Smithfield Foods Hunger Relief Day Thursday, Oct. 21.

About Merrie Go Round

Merrie Go Round is the midway alter-ego of Andrea Ashby, who has officially spent 252 days during the past 24 years at the N.C. State Fair. That's perfect attendance in case you were wondering. In addition to promoting the Fair, looking for untold Fair stories and working on various special events, I also spend a great deal of time roaming the grounds taking photos for the Website and State Fair publications. I like to keep my eyes and ears posted for the unusual and different things that make the State Fair such a great celebration of North Carolina people, traditions and history. I look forward to sharing with you the things I come across on my journey.


  1. In past years, senior citizens were admitted without paying. Do they now have to pay (other than Tuesday Oct 19)?

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