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My city, my city! I was born and raised in Durham, NC and while I left for a brief time for college and starting my career, my husband and I definitely felt the pull to return home. Growing up, I definitely did not understand the appeal of Durham or even North Carolina. But I’ve come to appreciate this beautiful state and city so much and love sharing it with you all. The best part is I have only started to scratch the surface of everything to do in Durham!
Whether you live locally, are visiting for a day or a weekend, or are entertaining the thought of moving here, in this list you’ll find a TON of things to do in Durham. There is something for everyone of all backgrounds and ages. This article of things to do in Durham is sure to inspire you to start exploring… I know I’ve got quite a few things I want to check off and even revisit!
Here for the weekend? Check out this list of even more things to do and places to stay in Durham.
Without further ado, let’s talk about all the amazing things to do in Durham, NC.
Durham, North Carolina is a bustling city located near the center of the state. It forms part of what is known as “the triangle” encompassing Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill. What used to be a city you wouldn’t want to travel to has now become a lively place with art, a great food scene, and so much to explore.
Durham has been around far longer than it ever had a name, with 2 native tribes calling this area home. The Eno and Occaneechi tribes lived here until the European settlers began creeping in in the 1700s. After the revolutionary war, Durham was home to many plantations and grew in large part thanks to tobacco production. Following the end of slavery and tobacco production, Durham quickly became a hub for education and research with Duke University (formerly Trinity College) and many other universities calling the triangle home.
Today, Durham brings thousands of people here for the research triangle park, the large medical center at Duke University, and its unique culture. If you come to Durham, you’ll quickly understand… This place is something special!
WHAT TO DO IN DURHAM
Downtown Durham is extremely walkable and oh-so cute. With trendy restaurants, rooftop bars, and plenty of stores to support local you can easily spend a full day just meandering around! Some of my favorite restaurants are downtown, like Mateo for tapas, Bull City Burger, Pizzeria Toro for the most delicious wood-fired pizza, and Jack Tar and the Colonel’s Daughter for brunch!
Be sure to read the round up of my 8 favorite places to eat in Durham!
Walk around Duke’s campus
It pains me to even add this one because I am a UNC alum. But true is true, and Duke’s campus is beautiful. Originally named Trinity College, this campus opened in 1892 but was renamed Duke University in 1924. Since then, it has grown and become one of the most prestigious universities in the world. You will love strolling around to admire the gothic style architecture, beautiful grounds, and the famous Duke Chapel.
Stroll Ninth Street
Not too far from Duke’s campus, you’ll find Ninth Street. It’s known as a hub for Duke students and faculty but also many other locals! The street is packed with charming shops, boutique fitness studios, and delicious restaurants. You have to get the Greek grilled cheese at Elmo’s! Grab dessert at the Mad Hatter and a coffee at Triangle Coffee House.
Visit Sarah P. Duke Gardens
Back in the 1930s, a doctor working at Duke had the idea to turn the previously debris-filled ravine into a floral sanctuary. Thanks to a wealthy donor, Sarah P. Duke, over 100 flower beds were planted in 1935. Since then, the gardens have been relocated to a higher and drier area, but now boasts five miles of allées, walks, and pathways throughout the gardens.
Admission is free and the gardens are open 365 days per year. You may see suggested donation amounts near the parking lots, however.
Go to the Farmer’s Market
I love a good farmer’s market, don’t you?! The Durham farmer’s market is open year-round every Saturday at Durham Central Park. With over 65+ vendors, you’ll be sure to find something for you here! My favorite part is that they restrict vendors from further than 70 miles away, so you know it’s actually local goods you’re purchasing.
See hours of operation here.
Visit a brewery
Don’t quote me on this, but I’m pretty sure if you’re a beer lover visiting a local brewery is a MUST when in a new city. Lucky for you, Durham has lots of awesome options! Hi-Wire Brewing, Ponysaurus, and Fullsteam are a few of my faves.
Catch a show at DPAC
Theater lovers, rejoice! At the Durham Performing Arts Center, there is almost always a jaw-dropping show running. Even if you don’t call yourself a theater buff, you’ll enjoy seeing a show at the DPAC. I’ve seen Hamilton, West Side Story, Wicked, and Cabaret here and all were absolutely phenomenal. You can also see comedians and musicians here from time to time!
Check out their full season schedule here.
Cheer on the Durham Bulls at a baseball game
Ever heard of the movie Bull Durham? No? Honestly, neither did I until a few years ago (I know, its shameful… I’ve actually still never watched it.). I digress. Anyways, the movie was actually based on the Durham Bulls minor league baseball team! Durhamites rep this lil baseball team hard and the atmosphere is contagious.
If you’re visiting Durham during the spring or summer, heading to a baseball game is a must-do! Grab a hot dog, a Red Oak beer, and enjoy the glory that is America’s pastime!
Go on a hike at Eno River State Park
Eno River State Park has over 30 miles of hiking trails and covers approximately 14 miles of the Eno River. Go for a hike, kayak along the river, or take a float and relax in one of the many swimming holes!
Walk, run, or bike the American Tobacco Trail
Find even more ways to spend time outside by exploring the American Tobacco Trail. Measuring at 22 miles long, the trail runs from Cary to Durham and passes through beautiful forests, busy shopping areas, and downtown Durham. You can often find people walking, training for a race, biking, or even rollerblading when the weather is nice.
Durham has several amazing locally owned shops. Support these businesses and owners by checking out some of the awesome boutiques and stores around town. Vert & Vogue is an awesome high-end, sustainable clothing boutique or check out the Scrap Exchange if you’re in the mood to do some crafting! Feeling particularly in the mood for fun and local drinks? Check out the Trolley Pub Durham.
You can see a full list of locally owned stores here.
Look for bald eagles at Jordan Lake
Did you know that Jordan Lake is home to the largest population of bald eagles on the east coast? You will have the best shot at seeing them from The Bald Eagle Observation Platform at the north end of the lake. I do admit this area isn’t in Durham County but part of the lake is in Durham so we’re counting it!
Get your science nerd on at the Museum of Life and Science
Is this technically geared for children? Yes. Is it still fun for adults? DEFINITELY YES! On my most recent visit, we spent almost 4 hours walking around and playing in the Museum of Life and Science. The museum boasts a ton of interactive exhibits, local wildlife, and a huge outdoor space as well. It’s perfect to take kids for the afternoon… but if you don’t have kids, you can trust me that you’ll still have a blast!
Visit the lemurs at the Duke Lemur Center
Cute lemurs?! Count me in! During the late spring, summer, and early fall you can pay a visit to the Duke Lemur Center. This organization is dedicated to research and preserving these adorable mammals. You must have a prepaid reservation to take a tour but it’s so worth it!
Visit the Nasher Museum of Art
A part of Duke University (are you seeing a theme here?!), the museum has been home to exhibits of contemporary and visual art since 2005. If you enjoy art, you will very much enjoy the unique and various collections of the Nasher Museum of Art! The best part is free admission for all.
Catch a concert at the Carolina Theatre
See a favorite music artist, a kid-friendly show, or a local performance at the small, yet beautiful Carolina Theatre!
Eat NC BBQ
If you know anything about barbecue, you might be aware of the various styles across the country. And each state that has its own distinct style is very protective of it! It’s no different here in North Carolina. Try your own Eastern BBQ with vinegar style sauce–my recommendations are The Pit or Picnic.
If you’re not a barbecue lover, there are more than enough restaurants in Durham to try! Start with this list of some of my favorites!
Grab a drink at a rooftop bar
There is no better way to enjoy the Durham skyline than from a rooftop with a cocktail in hand. Head up to the Durham Hotel or the Unscripted to grab a yummy drink and enjoy the views!
There are so many amazing things to do while in Durham and hopefully this list has inspired you! From brewery hopping, to acting like a kid again at the Museum of Life and Science, to trying a new restaurant downtown you won’t find yourself bored during your visit.
Let me know what you are excited to do in the comments! Can’t wait to see my city through your journeys!