The 20 Best Things to Do in Durham, NC for First Timers
Durham is a city in the Research Triangle Region of North Carolina The city is known for its scholarly institutions and technology companies. Therefore, Durham attracts both leisure travelers and people who are visiting the area on business. If you are visiting this city, then you will find a vast array of activities and attractions to enjoy during your stay. Therefore, you will find plenty of varied activities to keep you entertained, along with some great places to eat and many options for shopping. To help you plan your vacation itinerary, here are the 20 best things to do in Durham, NC for first-timers.
20. Take the Mural Tour of Downtown Durham
There are many free activities that you can enjoy in Durham if you have a limited budget, and NC Tripping recommends taking the mural tour of Downtown Durham. This is a self-guided tour of the area that you can enjoy after picking up a free copy of the Mural Finder booklet. This guides you around the area and tells you where you will find the best outdoor murals.
19. Go to the Duke Basketball Museum and Hall of Fame
If you are interested in basketball, then a fun place to visit is the Duke Basketball Museum and Hall of Fame. The exhibits in this museum include photographs, memorabilia, and trophies. A particular focus of the museum is the Blue Devils, and visitors can learn more about the history of this team during their visit.
18. Explore Duke Forest
Duke Forest is officially an outdoor classroom and living laboratory. However, it is also a great place to spend some time outdoors during your time in this city. It covers seven thousand acres of forest that are divided into six designated areas. There are miles of hiking paths and trails through the forest to explore.
17. Try the Local Beers at Fullsteam Brewery
While you are in Durham, you should sample the beers at Fullsteam Brewery, says Trip 101. This brewery serves a range of traditional and experimental beers with a focus on Southern sensibility and that use seasonal and local ingredients. They also serve snacks to enjoy with your drinks, or you can visit one of the food trucks that are parked outside the brewery.
16. Enjoy a Day at Brightleaf Square
There has been a lot of focus in Durham on bringing the historic parts of the city up to date while preserving their historic charm. One of the best examples of this is the Brightleaf Square District. This area stretches along Main Street, and it is anchored by two historic tobacco warehouses. These warehouses have now been converted and restored to create modern shops, bars, and restaurants. Not only is this a fantastic place for shopping and dining, but it is also historically and architecturally interesting, hence it is on the National Register of Historic Places.
15. Watch a Game at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park
Even if you are not a sports fan, you should consider watching a game at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. This ballpark is home to the Durham Bulls minor league baseball team. If there is a game on during your visit, then you should try to get tickets as the atmosphere is electric as the fans get behind their team. In addition to watching the game, there are food stalls that selling something a little different to the typical hot dog stands you find at ballparks.
14. Enjoy the Museums at West Point on the Eno
Vacation Idea recommends enjoying the museums at West Point on the Eno. You will find West Point on the Eno on North Roxboro Street in downtown Durham on the Eno River. It is a 404-acre city park that is home to several preserved buildings and is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Some of the preserved buildings in the park include the McCown-Mangum farmhouse, the Hugh Mangum Museum of photography, and the West Point Mill, which is a reproduction colonial mill that contains a museum. Other features of the park include five miles of hiking trails, an amphitheater, and a children’s play area called the Natural Play Space. As it is by the river, people also enjoy kayaking and canoeing.
13. Dine at the Piedmont Restaurant
Although there are many outstanding restaurants to try during your trip to Durham, one of the top restaurants in the city is the Piedmont Restaurant. This modern and spacious restaurant is housed in a former 1930s Nash car dealership in the downtown area of Durham. Chef Greg Gettles is at the helm of this establishment, and he favors a farm-to-table ethos and changes the menu daily. He works in collaboration with several local farms so that he has the best local and seasonal ingredients to create stunning dishes. Many of the ingredients come from Coon Rock Farm, which is the restaurant’s sister company. The inventive menu features innovative and colorful dishes. They also serve a nice selection of beers from North Carolina, and the wine list is extensive.
12. Go to the Falls Lake State Recreation Area
If you want to get close to nature during your visit to Durham, then the Falls Lake State Park Recreation Area is a good choice. This 12-thousand-acre reservoir boasts over 300 campsites. The main feature of the park is Falls Lake, and this has five swimming beaches and various boat ramps. The lake is the perfect place to take to the water by kayaking or boating, and you can also enjoy fishing and swimming. If you prefer to stay dry, you can enjoy the trails through the forested areas around the lake.
11. Hike the American Tobacco Trail
The American Tobacco Trial runs for 23 miles through the Research Triangle in North Carolina. It is a Rails-to-Trials project that is built from the abandoned railroad tracks from the 1970s that were used by the American Tobacco Company. It begins near New Hill and ends close to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Although most people walk the trail, you can also cycle, run, or ride on horseback.
10. Visit Duke University and Duke University Chapel
A visit to Durham University is recommended by The Crazy Tourist. Duke University is one of the most significant landmarks in the city, and it is also one of the top colleges in the United States. Until 1924, this educational establishment was Trinity College, which was endowed by the fortune of the Duke family, who made their money through the cigarette industry. It is possible to take a tour of this building, which boasts neo-Gothic architecture in the West Wing, and Georgian architecture in the main campus. While you are at Duke University, you should visit its chapel. It was designed by Julian Abele, built in 1930, and shares the same impressive neo-Gothic architecture of the West Wing. Some of the features of the chapel include stone piers, ribbed vaults, pointed arches, and flying buttresses.
9. Go to Stagville State Historic Site
An interesting attraction to visit if you want to learn more about the history of the area is the Stagville State Historic Site. This former plantation is the largest of the three historic sites in North Carolina. The focus of this historical attraction is the history of slavery in the area, and there are slaveholding records available for people to conduct family research. The preserved plantation has several buildings to see. These include Bennehan House, the Great Barn, and Holman House at Horton Grove. A highlight of the tour for many people is the preserved slave quarters.
8. Explore Eno River State Park
One of the best outdoor spaces to explore in this city is the Eno River State Park. Durham is an expanding city that is becoming increasingly urbanized. However, the Eno River State Park is a fantastic outdoor space that offers more than 30 miles of trails and natural scenic areas. It is the most popular outdoor space in Durham, and people enjoy hiking, cycling, wildlife-watching, and picnicking. The river that runs through this state park is also a natural playground for a variety of water activities, such as fishing, canoeing, and kayaking.
7. See the Animals at Duke Lemur Center
Animal lovers should set aside some time to visit the Duke Lemur Center during their visit to this city. This attraction is home to the largest collection of lemurs outside Madagascar. Lemurs are a threatened species, and this center focuses on the research and conservation of the animals. When you visit the center, you can take a guided tour. There is also the option to enjoy the habitat experience if you make a reservation in advance.
6. See the Exhibitions at the Nasher Museum of Art
Art enthusiasts should include a visit to the Nasher Museum of Art in their vacation itinerary as this is one of the top art museums in North Carolina. It is located on the Duke University campus, and it features various galleries of sculptures, classical paintings, photography, contemporary pieces, African masks, and Meso-American artwork. In addition to seeing the art, you can enjoy classes, lectures, and films as this is an educational establishment. You can also grab a bite to eat at the Nasher Café.
5. Go to the Museum of Life & Science
One of the top attractions for all the family in Durham is the Museum of Life & Science. There is something for people of all ages at this attraction, as it is filled with interactive exhibits and hands-on experiments. Some of the topics covered by the exhibits include math, space exploration, weather patterns, and health. There is a section that houses live animals that are native to North Carolina, such as screech owls and barred owls. There is also an outdoor area that is home to various native animals, including black bears, lemurs, and a butterfly conservatory.
4. Visit Bennet Place Historic Site
Those who are interested in history should consider a visit to the Bennet Place Historic Site. This is the site of the largest troop surrender of the American Civil War. It is an attraction that chronicles the end of the war in 1865, and visitors can take a guided tour. This is a free attraction to visit, so it is a good option for those who are visiting the area on a tight budget.
3. See a Performance at the Durham Performing Arts Center
If you want to see a performance while you are in Durham, NC, then the best place to do so is the Durham Performing Arts Center. This venue has a diverse program of performances throughout the year, ranging from musicals to live bands and from comedy performances to plays. Before visiting Durham, you should check what is on and book your tickets in advance.
2. Enjoy the Shops and Restaurants in the American Tobacco Campus
The American Tobacco Campus is an area of Durham that has a vast array of shops and restaurants. Therefore, it is one of the best areas to enjoy some retail therapy and dining out. There are shops selling all types of goods, and the restaurants range from casual eateries to fine dining establishments. In this area, there are also entertainment venues, green spaces, recreational sporting cages, and water features to enjoy.
1. Explore the Sarah P. Duke Gardens
According to Planetware, the best things to do in Durham, NC for first-timers is to explore the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. These gardens are considered some of the best in the United States. They over 55 acres, and they are divided into sections including Native Plants, Historic Gardens, and Asiatic Arboretum. In addition to the lawns and flowers, you will see koi ponds, fountains, and elaborate landscaping. The gardens are located within the Duke University campus, and they are free to visit.