Things to do in Durham NC include a vibrant art scene, local cuisine & craft beverages, historic preservation & recognition, & all things Duke University.
While Durham CVB—and various properties, attractions, and restaurants—hosted Julie and I, please be certain that my message is carefully crafted for my awesome audience so that you can make informed decisions in order to Travel Happy on future trips.
Fantastic Things to Do in Durham North Carolina
1. Durham Bulls Athletic Park
More than just a place to watch a baseball game, the magnificent Durham Bulls Athletic Park is the centerpiece of a downtown revitalization and hosts meetings almost every day of the year.
The Durham Bulls baseball team is pretty good, though, as they won the Triple-A championship last year. Like in the movie Bull Durham, when a player hits the bull in the outfield, the bull snorts and the player wins a prize (a gift certificate to a local steakhouse).
— Charles McCool ✈️ (@CharlesMcCool) January 29, 2018
2. American Tobacco Campus
Like it or not, the tobacco industry once dominated the Durham landscape. The Duke family, namesake of the great university, earned their fortune in tobacco. The huge factory, once owned by the Duke family and their partners, across the street from the Durham Bulls Park has been repurposed. American Tobacco Campus now houses a eclectic mix of start up tech companies, local eateries, art shops, and more.
ATC serves as corporate HQ for Burt Bees, and Burt’s cabin from Maine was actually moved here. Throughout the year outdoor music and other events are hosted in the courtyard.
3. Downtown Durham Art
Snap an Instagram worthy photo with the iconic bull statue in downtown Durham.
A few steps away is 21C Durham, an art museum with an attached hotel. You gotta see it and definitely visit the bank vault room in the basement.
The Durham Hotel and Unscripted boutique hotels are a homage to midcentury modern design and are hip and cool additions to downtown Durham. Public bicycles are more than just a way to get around town. Single or batches of brightly colored bicycles randomly appear throughout Durham because the bikes do not have to be returned to a station.
Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) is nearby and has the largest performing arts theater between Washington, DC and Atlanta. If you score an extra ticket for Hamilton, let me know and I will meet you there!
4. Nasher Art Museum
For a more traditional fine arts experience, head to the Duke University campus and visit the Nasher Art Museum. I was surprised to see my high school in a photo during a recent exhibition. So, I can truly say that you never know what you will find. Also nearby is Sarah P. Duke Gardens. The Nasher Art Museum Cafe serves wonderful fresh and tasty dishes.
5. Duke Homestead
Learn about the history of the tobacco industry and the involvement of the Duke family at the Duke Homestead State Historic Site and Tobacco Museum. Free guided tours cover the Duke family history while exploring the property, where they lived before and after the Civil War and during the formative years of their business.
6. Places to Eat in Durham NC
Sampling tasty local food should be high on your list of things to do in Durham North Carolina. The city has a hopping foodie scene with a great range of experiences from artisanal donut shops to swank, romantic venues. We recommend these spots on the casual side of the restaurant spectrum.
Donuts are not the only treat at Monuts, but they are definitely worth a try (the lavender was yummy). This popular breakfast and lunch spot also offers sandwiches, salads, coffees, and beer.
Continue the treats at one of three Cocoa Cinnamon locations in Durham. The Chapel Hill location combines artisanal coffee roasting with authentic, house-made churros, in a bright and airy communal space.
— Charles McCool ✈️ (@CharlesMcCool) January 30, 2018
Nasher Museum Cafe
As mentioned above, Nasher Museum Cafe is an excellent stop for lunch with a side of art. They serve fresh salads, sandwiches, and daily specials including a wonderful butternut squash ravioli special on the day of our visit.
Jack Tar and the Colonel’s Daughter
When dinner time rolls around, head to the downtown area and you’ll have your pick of several excellent restaurants. We loved the elevated comfort food and luxe diner feel at Jack Tar and the Colonel’s Daughter. Our favorite Southern staple, shrimp and grits, is on point.
See also our article about Great Places to Eat in Charlotte North Carolina
7. Craft Beverages and More Food in Durham NC
Craft beer leads the menu at Fullsteam Brewery, bolstered by an inventive bar menu. This Durham staple offers a wide selection of excellent brews, 10% local ingredients in every beer. Deliciously unique flavors include the Brumley Forest, featuring black walnuts from the local namesake forest, and Deep Chatham, a paw paw flavored ale. Read an interview with Sean Wilson, Fullsteam Brewery’s owner.
— Charles McCool ✈️ (@CharlesMcCool) January 29, 2018
The Bullpen Restaurant
NOTE: as of September 3, 2018, The Bullpen only hosts events.
Elevated ballpark food, crisp brews, and a space right next to the Durham Bulls ballpark welcome guests to The Bullpen Restaurant. The menu features standards like delicious grilled cheese and bbq sandwiches, then goes beyond with excellent fried green beans and a bulgur-based Grain Bowl salad. The beer is also a star, and it comes from the only brewery in an American ballpark.
Black Twig Cider House
Sample from the largest hard cider menu in the southeast, with 80 to 110 ciders at any time. For a special experience at Black Twig Cider House, try Txotx—a Basque cider that spurts from a barrel that participants catch in their glasses. A lot of fun! Owner Mattie Beason also serves delicious food items from an artisan menu including delicious locally sourced sausage.
Inspired by a lifelong love of gin, the Conniption Gin and Navy Strength gins at Durham Distillery are both multiple award winners. In fact the Navy Strength, a 114-proof style, has been the highest rated in the world since 2015. The custom-made, all electric German still turns out up to 1000 bottles of consistent and pure bottles a day.
8. Where to Stay in Durham NC
In addition to the above mentioned boutique properties, Durham offers many other lodging options. Stay at the Aloft Durham attached to the Durham Arts Center after May and you might see Lin-Manuel Miranda (McCool Travel disclaimer: maybe not).
On this trip, we stayed at the King’s Daughters Inn across the street from Duke University. The property earned a AAA Four Diamond Award and locals voted it best in the area for five straight years. The King’s Daughters Inn is a popular venue for weddings. No two rooms are alike and our large, comfortable room has a fireplace and cool, art deco tiled bathroom.
NOTE: unfortunately, King’s Daughter Inn is now closed.
See our video of our room at The King’s Daughters Inn.
The made-to-order breakfasts at King’s Daughters Inn are fantastic.
For more information about things to do in Durham North Carolina:
- The Ultimate Durham Travel Guide
- Best Things to Do in Durham, NC with Kids (or without)
- Fun and Cheap Things to Do in Durham, North Carolina
Have you been to Durham NC? What other things to do in Durham would you suggest?