25 Best Things to Do in Durham, NC
By VacationIdea Staff on April 28, 2023 - Updated
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Durham, North Carolina is a vibrant city that offers couples and families an array of things to see and do. What is Durham NC famous for?
Don’t miss a visit to the beautiful Sarah P. Duke Gardens, the The Nasher Museum of Art and the Durham Performing Arts Center.
How to spend a day in Durham NC?
Best things to do in Durham, NC with kids include the Museum of Life + Science, the Duke Lemur Center and Eno River State Park.
1. Sarah P. Duke Gardens
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Located on Anderson Street on the campus of Duke University, Sarah P. Duke Gardens is a 55-acre public garden that features both wooded and landscaped areas. The garden is a memorial to Sarah Pearson Duke who was the wife of Benjamin N. Duke, a benefactor of Duke University.
There are five miles of trails and walks that wind their way through the garden, which is divided into four main areas. The garden offers tours and programs such as Nature Adventures Camp, Japanese Tea Gatherings, Summer Internships, and many more. Sarah P. Duke Gardens is one of the best romantic places to visit in Durham, North Carolina.
Duke University, 420 Anderson Street, Durham, North Carolina, Phone: 919-684-3698
2. Museum of Life and Science
© Museum of Life and Science
Located on West Murray Avenue north of downtown Durham, the Museum of Life + Science is a natural science museum that features many hands-on exhibits. Formerly known as the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science, the museum sits on 80 acres of land and consists of several buildings and attractions.
Some examples are the main building, a butterfly house, dinosaur trail, farmyard, and a train, and there are both indoor and outdoor exhibits. One of the best things to do in Durham, North Carolina, the museum is known for its Aerospace exhibit that displays many early NASA space program artifacts on loan from the National Air and Space Museum. The three-story glass Magic Wings Butterfly House is one of the museum’s most popular exhibits. Browse weekend getaways in NC
433 West Murray Avenue, Durham, North Carolina, Phone: 919-220-5429
3. Duke Lemur Center, Durham, NC
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Sitting on 80 acres of land, the Duke Lemur Center is the world’s largest sanctuary for rare and endangered prosimian primates. It is located on Erwin Road close to Duke University, and it is open to the public. One-hour tours are offered but require advance reservations. The Center had its beginnings in 1966 when 90 primates were relocated from Yale University to Duke University.
Since then, the Center has housed and taken care of almost 4,000 primates including lemurs, lorises, and tarsiers. Currently, there are approximately 250 primates representing 21 species. The Center hosts events such as Lemurpalooza, when visitors bring blankets and picnics and are introduced to some of the primates. If you are wondering what to see in Durham with kids, this is a fun place to visit with the whole family.
3705 Erwin Road, Durham, North Carolina, Phone: 919-489-3364
4. Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University
© Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University
Located on Campus Drive, the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University is an art museum that contains more than 13,000 works ranging from antiquity to contemporary art. The museum’s collection includes 3,300 Pre-Columbian art objects, works on paper, medieval art, and much more. Opened in 2005, the museum is housed in a building designed by architect Rafael Vinoly.
In addition to the museum’s permanent collection, the Nasher Museum of Art hosts temporary exhibits and events such as music concerts and Free Family Day. The Nasher Museum of Art is one of the must-see Durham attractions for art lovers. Public tours are held on Thursday and Sunday, and private group tours are also available. The museum can be rented for corporate events, parties, and weddings.
2001 Campus Drive, Durham, North Carolina, Phone: 919-684-5135
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5. DPAC - Durham Performing Arts Center
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With a capacity of 2,700, the Durham Performing Arts Center is the largest performing arts center in North and South Carolina. The Center is located on Vivian Street and hosts over 200 performances per year. It is a highly praised establishment that serves as the venue for touring Broadway shows, comedy events, music concerts, the American Dance Festival, family shows, and many other kinds of performances.
The Center opened in 2008 with a sold out concert by B.B. King. If you are looking for date night ideas in Durham, watch a performance at the Durham Performing Arts Center. Owned by the City of Durham, the Center has proved to be a great success for the city, as evidenced by the new business it has generated; several new restaurants have opened in the vicinity of the Center. Public tours of the Center are held once a month.
123 Vivian Street, Durham, North Carolina, Phone: 919-680-2787
6. Stagville State Historic Site, Durham, NC
© Stagville State Historic Site
Stagville State Historic Site is a historic house museum made up of buildings from the Stagville Plantation, one of the largest plantations in the American South. The Bennehan-Cameron family originally owned the plantation, and the buildings date from the late 18th century to the mid-19th century.
The Bennehan House, built in 1878, and Horton Grove, an area that holds slave houses built in 1850, are both listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Located on Old Oxford Highway, the historic site offers guided tours three times a day. There are summer programs for school children and special events like the Harvest Festival Pie Auction.
5828 Old Oxford Highway, Durham, North Carolina, Phone: 919-620-0120
7. American Tobacco Historic District, Durham, NC
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Located on Blackwell Street, the American Tobacco Historic District is a tobacco factory area consisting of 17 historic structures. Listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 2000, the structures were built between 1874 and the 1950s. Some of the most noteworthy buildings include the Italianate style W.T. Blackwell and Company Building, the Hill Warehouse built in the Romanesque Revival style, and several structures in the Art Moderne style including the Crowe, the Fowler, and the Strickland buildings.
The district was formerly the home of the American Tobacco Company, and the redevelopment of this historic area was a part of a large urban renewal plan to revitalize downtown Durham. Today, the district is known for its many restaurants and shops.
318 Blackwell Street, Durham, North Carolina, Phone: 919-433-1566
8. Metro 8 Steakhouse, Durham, North Carolina
© Metro 8 Steakhouse
How can you make a classic American steakhouse even better? You add an Argentinean touch to it. At Metro 8 Steakhouse, the Argentinean touch is the chef and owner Francisco Pirillo. He mixes elements like shrimp and simple filet mignon stuffed with crabs or turns your steak into a churrasco and serves it with chimichurri. For dessert, try the soufflé or the decadent crepes filled with dulce de leche.
With such amazing food, the menu does not have to be extensive and complicated. The restaurant is also as simple as it is perfect, and features soft colors, clean lines, rich hardwood floors, and a large inviting bar. There is also a nice outdoor patio if you want to enjoy the fresh air while you dine.
1116 Broad St, Durham, NC 27705, 919-416-1700
9. Durham Central Park
© Durham Central Park
There’s a lot to see and do in Durham, and a great number of those things can be found at Durham Central Park. A hub for recreation, special events, and even great eats, Durham Central Park is a five-acre green space that is beloved for regularly hosting farmers' markets, movie screenings, food truck rodeos, and concerts at their 9,000-square-foot pavilion. The park is also home to an interactive play area for children called Mount Merrill, and a gorgeous grove of trees filled with species from other countries like a Japanese Higan Cherry Tree, and a Russian Red Maple. Recreational activities at the Great Lawn are absolutely enjoyable, while other features include the 10,000-square-foot skate park, the free-pick public garden, Garden of Eatin’, and several other manicured gardens to rest in.
501 Foster Street, Durham, North Carolina 27701, Phone: 919-794-8194
10. Eno River State Park, Durham, North Carolina
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Eno River State Park consists of 4,200 acres of land and, along with the West Point on the Eno City Park, preserves more than nine miles of the Eno River. Located northwest of downtown Durham, the park is a popular place for outdoor activities such as camping, canoeing, and fishing, and there are also 24 miles of hiking trails. If you are wondering what to do in Durham with kids, this is a great park to explore.
The area was home to several Native American tribes. Once the settlers arrived, they built over 30 gristmills on the river. The park was created in 1972 to protect the area from development. The park is known for its natural beauty including its springtime wildflowers and its animals such as beavers, birds, deer, fish, and turtles, among others.
11. Guglhupf Bakery, Cafe & Restaurant
You do not have to be able to pronounce its name to fall in love with Guglhupf. This exciting café, patisserie, and bakery located on a commercial strip of the Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd will take you by surprise: it features modern touches with exposed beams, lots of steel, a waterfall feature, at the entrance and yet the dining room and patio areas are incredibly cozy. The wonderful aromas are perhaps reminiscent of a different era. You’ll be struck by the smell of homemade hot bread, fresh brewed coffee, and vanilla cake cooling on the windowsill.
This incredibly popular German-influenced eatery offers Central European delights like pork schnitzel and house-smoked sausages, but most people come for the cakes and breads. Once you try their guglhupf, you will find the word much easier to pronounce because you’ll never forget the wonderful taste.
2706 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd. Suite #1, Durham, North Carolina, Phone: 919-401-2600
12. Only Burger
© Only Burger
We often want life to be simple. For example, sometimes all we want is a burger, but at the same time, we want that burger to be absolutely perfect. This intense desire for the perfect burger drove the owners of OnlyBurger to come up with such a tasty burger that they had to open two more shops to satisfy their happy customers. OnlyBurger started as a food truck serving burgers made of Certified Piedmontese beef free of hormones, antibiotic, and steroids; they are freshly ground every day and served on a toasted bun.
Add fried green tomatoes and pimiento cheese and you end up with the burger that tops all burgers. When the customers got tired of chasing the truck all over Durham, the company opened two restaurants downtown. They also offer turkey and veggie burgers for those who prefer lighter fare.
3710 Shannon Rd., Suite 118, Durham, North Carolina, Phone: 919-937-9377
13. Brightleaf Square
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Housed in two historic tobacco warehouses in downtown Durham, Brightleaf Square is a bustling area full of restaurants, shops, and a venue for special events. The two historic brick warehouses, the Watts and the Yuille tobacco warehouses, were built in the early 20th century and are located at 905 West Main Street in the American Tobacco Historic District.
Opened in 1981, Brightleaf Square has been a part of the urban renewal plan to revitalize downtown Durham. The restaurants offer a variety of cuisine including Italian, Japanese, Mexican, and many more. Shops sell items such as antiques, books, and clothing. Events include music concerts including performances by the Durham Symphony Orchestra String Ensemble.
905 West Main Street, Durham, North Carolina, Phone: 919-682-9229
14. Museum of Durham History
© Museum of Durham History
Come to the Museum of Durham History to hear incredible tales and learn the interesting histories of the city’s people, places, and simple things that create and foster curiosity. After all, the museum is dedicated to helping the community and visitors alike understand the history of Durham and its community, while promoting an understanding of the city’s diversity. The museum proudly displays an exhibit on Durham’s historic timeline, a gallery on Durham stories, and it also has plenty of information on Durham’s historical sites. The museum is also the host of 150 Faces of Durham, a traveling exhibit that features the familiar and perhaps lesser-known personalities of Durham’s past. Admission is free.
500 W. Main Street, Downtown Durham, North Carolina 27702, Phone: 919-246-9993
15. Forest Hills Park
Built by James O. Cob and Fuller Glass in the 1920s, the 45.8-acre Forest Hills Park and its surrounding neighborhood stands on what used to be farmland. Today, it is a picture of rest and recreation with its towering trees, beautiful curving streets, and spacious spaces to relax and just enjoy the sun and air. At the Forest Hills Park, guests can tee off on its nine-hole golf course, splash around the pool, or spend some time at the parks’ colonial revival-style clubhouse. Forest Hills Park is also home to a sprayground – the water park equivalent of a playground, a picnic shelter, several athletic rentals, and four tennis courts.
1639 University Drive, Durham, North Carolina 27707, Phone: 919-560-4355
16. Things to Do in Durham, NC: West Point on the Eno
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Located on North Roxboro Street north of downtown Durham, West Point on the Eno is a 404-acre city park on the Eno River. The park is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and is home to several preserved buildings, including the 1850s McCown-Mangum farmhouse, West Point Mill, which is a museum housed in a reproduction of a colonial mill, and the Hugh Mangum Museum of Photography, a museum with historic 19th and 20th photos in a restored tobacco pack house.
In addition to these historic buildings, the park features a children’s play area called Natural Play Space, five miles of hiking trails, and an amphitheater. Popular activities include canoeing, hiking, and kayaking.
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17. Honeygirl Meadery and Tasting Room
© Honeygirl Meadery and Tasting Room
Sip on award-winning, tummy-warming mead at the Honeygirl Meadery located at the center of Durham’s downtown area. Specializing in small-batch and seasonal meads, Honeygirl Meadery primarily uses ingredients related to the hardworking honeybee to make their meads such as flowers, seasonal fruits, herbs, and of course, honey. The meadery’s tasting room is open every weekend and welcomes craft beverage enthusiasts and mead aficionados to come by and sample their uniquely made and flavorful offerings. Guests can also get an insider's look at how fermenting with honey is done at Honeygirl. Be sure to try their signature meads like the Blueberry Mead, the Farmhouse Wildflower Mead, the Orange Blossom Mead, as well as the Spiced Apple Cyser.
105 Hood Street, Durham, North Carolina 27701, Phone: 919-399-3056
18. Durham Bulls Athletic Park
© Durham Bulls Athletic Park
The home to the Durham Bulls, Durham Bulls Athletic Park opened in 1995 in downtown Durham. It was expanded to fit 10,000 seats in 1998, when the Bulls started playing in the Triple-A International League.
The stadium was designed so that all fans can have a great view of the field in total comfort. A roof covers about 2,500 seats. All seats are extra wide with extra legroom, and most have cup holders. The ballpark, called the Blue Monster, has many similarities to Fenway Park – the Green Monster.
The structure’s characteristics follow architecture of today’s Durham’s downtown and those of many old-time athletic parks. The park's most famous feature is the Snorting Bull sculpture that stands above the park, and it was featured in the popular movie Bull Durham.
409 Blackwell St, Durham, NC 27701, 919-687-6500
19. Duke University Chapel
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Located on Duke University’s West Campus, Duke Chapel is a magnificent example of neo-Gothic architecture. Built in 1930 and designed by Julian Abele, the structure features huge stone piers, ribbed vaults, pointed arches, and flying buttresses that create a vast interior open space without the need for columns.
The result is an awe-inspiring structure that inspires reverence and a sense of wonder. The chapel is built with volcanic stone the University bought for its West Campus. The stone, called Hillsborough bluestone, was brought from a Hillsborough quarry and plays a big part in the beauty of the building with its range of colors, from rust to gray, in 17 different shades.
Duke Chapel is a Christian church of interdenominational purpose and character. It welcomes people of all faiths and any circumstance with its music and worship. It is a symbol of the University’s goal of bridging learning and faith.
401 Chapel Dr, Durham, NC, Phone: 919-681-9488
20. Cameron Indoor Stadium
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Cameron Indoor Stadium is a 9,314-seat indoor arena located on the West Campus of Durham, North Carolina’s Duke University. It is the home of the Duke women's volleyball team and women's and men's basketball teams. It is also the main indoor athletic venue for the Duke Blue Devils.
It was named Cameroon Indoor Stadium from 1940 when it opened until 1972, when it was renamed Duke Indoor Stadium in honor of Eddie Cameron, the legendary coach of Duke’s men's basketball team. Cameron is considered the crown jewel of classic college basketball's venues.
It was renovated in 1980 when its seating capacity was increased to 9,314, and in 2009 with the installation of the new video scoreboard. The Blue Devils won 817 games in Cameron and the Duke women’s team won 411. Many of these victories have been attributed to the special atmosphere of the Cameron halls.
115 Whitford Dr, Durham, NC, Phone: 919-684-2633
21. Things to Do Near Me: Carolina Theater
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Located in the Carolina Theatre complex of downtown Durham, Carolina Theatre has been the city’s most popular and most loved art institutions for more than 20 years. The theatre presents Durham’s art lovers with more than 60 concerts every year, new and classic films daily and several annual film festivals.
The Carolina produces the North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, as well as the Nevermore and Escapism film festivals. The theatre’s popular Arts Discovery educational program serves 15,000 of Durham’s school children.
The facility is frequently used by a number of not-for-profits and other organizations for their events. The Carolina Theatre historic building was constructed in 1923 in the Beaux-Arts style.
309 West Morgan St., Durham, NC, Phone: 919-560-3030
22. Bennett Place Historic Site
© Bennett Place Historic Site
Bennett Place or Bennett Farm in Durham, North Carolina, is a small, simple farmhouse where Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston and Union General William T. Sherman met in April 1865 to sign the surrender of Southern states armies in Florida, the Carolinas, and Georgia.
It was the biggest surrender of the American Civil War troops. The original Bennett family farmhouse was carefully reconstructed in the 1960s using original sketches and photos in order to show the farmer and his family’s way of life during this tragic period of the nation's history. This historic site has a well-organized Visitor Center and the extensive Everett-Thissen Research Library, which contains over 1,000 books and documents relating to the Bennett family and Civil War.
Visitors can also see the short very informative film Dawn of Peace. The farmland has many scenic trails visitors can enjoy during their visit.
4409 Bennett Memorial Rd, Durham, NC, Phone: 919-383-4345
23. Duke Homestead State Historic Site
© Duke Homestead State Historic Site
Duke Homestead is the site of the early farm and 1852 home of the Duke family and factories where Washington Duke started growing and processing tobacco. Duke's sons founded The American Tobacco Company, the world’s largest tobacco company.
The tour of the homestead includes a visit to the Duke family's home with four furnished and restored rooms, two tobacco factories, a tobacco packhouse, and a curing barn. The Tobacco Museum, which is part of the Homestead, contains 5,500 square feet of historic exhibits that tell the story of tobacco, ranging from the times of Native Americans to today.
The museum also shows a short film Legacy of the Golden Leaf on the history of tobacco and the Duke family.
2828 Duke Homestead Rd, Durham, NC, Phone: 919-477–5498
24. Wallace Wade Stadium
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Duke Stadium is a football stadium that opened its doors on October 5, 1929. The stadium is designed in a horseshoe shape and is surrounded by the towering green pines of the Duke forest.
The stadium changed its name in 1967 in honor of the legendary Duke coach Wallace Wade, who led the Blue Devils to two appearances at the Rose Bowl and a 110-36-7 record. The stadium was upgraded in 1984 when a new lighting system was added, making nighttime football games possible.
There are 64 lights on four 110-foot-high poles, providing great illumination not only for the stadium but also for walkways and parking. A video board was added in 1998, and the Wallace Wade Stadium was the first North Carolina football stadium to have this feature.
110 Frank Basset Dr, Durham, NC, Phone: 919-684-4112
25. Urban Axes Durham
© Urban Axes Durham
Test your arm strength and your aim at Urban Axes Durham, a fun and exciting activity to participate in for a great night out with friends, co-workers, or family. Open to legal adults, Urban Axes Durham is a refreshing break from the monotony and stress of everyday city life. Visitors can enjoy the oddly and deeply satisfying act of hurling an axe at a wooden target and hearing it stick to the board with a delightful thunk. At the same time, guests can grab their preferred beverage to sip and chat with companions as each person takes their turn at throwing the axe. First-time visitors need not worry as trained specialists will be there to help you get a hang of things.
619 Foster Street, Durham, North Carolina 27701, Phone: 948-377-3697