With an earned reputation as one of the best places to live, work and play, Durham welcomes over nine million visitors, every year, who come to see what the fuss is all about. This city is up to the challenge and provides a wide range of attractions so that everyone can find what they are looking for: from historic sites that were the scenes of one of the most important moments in American history, to landmarks that tell Durham’s own particular story, one with deep roots in the tobacco industry. Check out this selection of the best activities in town and get ready to fall in love with Durham.
1. Bennett Place
One of the most important events in American history was the end of the Civil War. Today, you can go back in time, to April 1865, when Major General Sherman and General Johnston negotiated the terms of peace that effectively ended years of conflict. In this official North Carolina State Historic Site, visitors have access to restored historic structures, a museum and visitor center, special living history events, including a commemoration of the anniversary, and tours – all available without any admission fees. Nature trails and a picnic area are also open to the public.
Address: 4409 Bennett Memorial Rd Durham, NC 27705
Website: Bennett Place
2. Duke University
As one of the most prestigious colleges in the United States, a visit to Duke University is an opportunity to marvel at the gorgeous buildings and the amazing legacy. Originally named Trinity College, it was renamed in 1924, after a 40 million USD endowment by James Buchanan Duke. Visitors can walk through the main campus to appreciate the Georgian style, and then directly to the west to enjoy neo-Gothic architecture.
The main attractions here include the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, the 7,060-acre (2,857 hectare) Duke Forest and the Duke University Medical Center. You can visit the campus with a self-guided tour or take the student-led campus tours that are conducted through the admissions office.
Address: 2138 Campus Drive, Durham, NC 27708
Website: Duke University
3. Duke University Chapel
With a striking 210-foot (64-meter) tower and 77 colorful glass windows, Duke University Chapel is the most visible point of the university. It is located in the west part of the campus and is worth a visit, not only for its stunning Neo-Gothic style but also because of the music that is played, during services, on its 5,200 pipe Flentrop organ and 50-bell carillon. The chapel works as a venue for concerts and other events, making it a centerpiece of the religious community of Duke, and of Durham as a whole.
Duke University Chapel
Address: 401 Chapel Dr, Duke University West Campus, Durham, NC 27708-9974
Website: Duke University Chapel
4. Nasher Museum of Art
Also within the orbit of the Duke University system, is the Nasher Museum of Art, which has one of the best university collections in the United States. The contemporary museum features a growing list of artists, especially those of African descent. It has also a magnificent selection of European medieval art, European and American paintings, outsider art, classical antiquities and African and Pre-Columbian art. For a 7 USD adult fee, you can join the 1 million people that have visited the museum, since it opened in 2005 and also appreciate the stunning building: a 65,000-square-foot (6,039-square-meter) futuristic cube, designed by architect Rafael Viñoly.
Nasher Museum of Art
Address: 2001 Campus Drive, Durham, NC 27705
Website: Nasher Museum of Art
5. Eno River State Park
Located only 10 miles (16.1 km) from downtown Durham, Eno River State Park is a favorite spot to enjoy nature. It has nearly 30 miles (48.3 km) of trails, camping and picnic areas and serves as a space for water activities, too, like fishing, paddling, canoeing and kayaking (with a bit of difficulty, due to shallow water). West Point, on the Eno River, features an amphitheater and West Point Mill has been rebuilt and is working, so you can buy local products at the shop.
Eno River State Park
Address: 6101 Cole Mill Road, Durham, NC 27705
Website: Eno River State Park
6. American Tobacco Historic District
What once was the Lucky Strike cigarette factory is now Durham’s entertainment district, with restaurants, shops, an amphitheater and on-site parking garages. It is used as a venue for events, like art shows, pop-up shops and free concerts in the summer. It offers the chance to have nice evening while you stroll in a place with deep roots, since much of Durham’s growth is attributed to the thriving tobacco industry, after the Civil War.
American Tobacco Historic District
Address: 300 Blackwell St, American Tobacco, Durham, NC 27701
Website: American Tobacco Historic District
7. Duke Lemur Center
With 250 individual animals from 21 different species, the Duke Lemur Center has the largest collection of lemurs anywhere in the world outside of Madagascar, their original home. It is a very popular attraction for families and general visitors, who wish to get a deeper appreciation of biodiversity and an understanding of the power of scientific discovery. Visits are with previous reservation only, and the center offers three different tour options that accommodate different ages, interest levels and budgets.
Duke Lemur Center
Address: 3705 Erwin Road, Durham, NC 27705
Website: Duke Lemur Center
8. Brightleaf District
Another of Durham’s historic places, that is a great example of urban revitalization, is Brightleaf District. It is anchored by two warehouses that were built in the early 20th century, as part of an aggressive building campaign by the American Tobacco Company and were used for storing, aging, and fermenting tobacco, during cigarette manufacturing. Nowadays, visitors can find some of the region’s most noted and acclaimed restaurants and retailers there.
Address: 905 West Main Street, Durham, NC 27701
Website: Brightleaf District
9. DPAC - Durham Performing Arts Center
DPAC is a state-of-the-art entertainment theater, part of the American Tobacco Historic District. It has a 2,800 seat capacity, which allows the public to attend shows and events of incredible magnitude, like touring Broadway productions, high-profile concert and comedy events, family shows and the heralded American Dance Festival.
It is advised to book tickets in advance if you wish to attend a performance. If you want access to the backstage magic, you can do so on the second Monday of each month, at the behind-the-scenes tour of DPAC, hosted by the staff. Reservations in advance are required for this activity, as well.
Address: 123 Vivian Street, Durham, NC 27701
Website: DPAC - Durham Performing Arts Center
10. Fullsteam Brewery
If after a day of activities in Durham, you’re sure to get thirsty and you have the chance to get some authentic Southern beer at Fullsteam Brewery. They take pride in brewing traditional and experimental beers, with a “Southern sensibility”, by using local and seasonal ingredients.
While you try the different flavors and varieties of beer, make sure to pay attention to the excellent food-trucks, stationed outside. Fullsteam Brewery offers a few snacks to have with your drinks but welcomes customers to bring their own food from outside, as well.
Address: 726 Rigsbee Avenue, Durham, NC 27701
Website: Fullsteam Brewery
All you need in one location
Ready to go? Durham has an outstanding variety of attractions, which allows everyone to get immersed in the city’s personality and history. Plan your itinerary, book your accommodation and prepare to be delighted by Durham. Have a great trip!
Frequently asked questions about best things to do in Durham
1. What are the top attractions to visit in Durham?
If you’re visiting Durham and you only have a limited time for sightseeing, then you better not miss these top attractions: the Duke University and its University Chapel, Nasher Museum of Art, and American Tobacco Historic District.
2. What are the best outdoor activities in Durham?
Some of the best outdoor activities you can do in Durham include camping at the Eno River State Park, hanging out with lemurs at the Duke Lemur Center, and exploring the Brightleaf District.
3. What are the best day trips from Durham?
After you’re done exploring everything Durham has to offer, now is the time to consider going on a day trip. In case you want options, these are best day trips from Durham: Charlotte, Lexington, Smithfield, and Concord.
4. What are the most popular things to do in Durham with kids?
One of the most popular kid-friendly and also family-friendly activities you can do here is picnicking at the Eno River State Park. There are also plenty of things to do for kids here, including water activities, like fishing, kayaking, and swimming.
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