Located in the center of North Carolina, north-east of Charlotte, Durham is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state, receiving more than nine million tourists each year. Why? Durham is the perfect mix of historic 19th-century town and vibrant modern culture.
A settlement since 1823, Durham got its name in 1853 when a railway depot was built on the site to serve the tobacco industry, which then boomed in the area. As tobacco has waned in the second part of the 20th century, Durham has remained a vital city thanks to the presence of two of the country’s best universities, Duke University and North Carolina Central University. The result is a young community full of art and experimentation. There is never a dull moment in Durham.
This mini-travel guide will help you make sense of all the things to see in Durham, and places to eat during your trip.
Top Places to Visit
Durham has done an amazing job of integrating their historic buildings into the modern life of the city, without losing any of their charm. Any walk around the city is sure to be fascinating, but these sites should not be missed.
Any exploration of Durham should probably start with Duke University, one of the top colleges in the country. The various campuses are all characterized by green spaces and a mix of Georgian and Neo-Gothic architecture. It is all maintained by a tobacco-funded endowment from the Duke family, which is also used to fund the university’s considerable medical research. The most unmissable attraction is Duke Chapel, located on the West Campus. Built in the 1930s, it has a striking 210-foot tower and 77 colorful glass windows, each depicting different scenes from the Bible.
Also worth exploring is Duke’s botanic gardens, 55 acres of intricately landscaped nature in the center of the city. The gardens are world-renowned for the caliber and variety of the horticulture contained within. A teaching venue for the university and a public park, there are always fascinating educational activities taking place, or just relax for a walk and a picnic.
Take a walk through the areas of pre-Civil War history by exploring Stagville Historic Estate. This was one of the largest plantations in the South, with over 30,000 acres of property and 900 slaves. Today the site functions as an open-air museum. You can explore the 18th and 19th-century homes of the owners, and compare these with the living conditions of the Old Slave Quarters.
For your next historic site, visit Bennett Place and dive into Civil War history. This is the location where, in April 1865, the largest surrender of the Confederate troops took place, effectively ending the war. Confederate General Joseph E. Johnson met with General William T. Sherman and surrendered the armies of Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas. Today you will find classic re-enactments of these important historical events.
Black Wall Street
Complete your tour of Durham History by visiting Black Wall Street, an area of the city which gained a name for African American entrepreneurship in the early decades of the 1900s. African American businesses lined Parish Street, including the first African American bank, Mechanics and Farmers Bank. The area is also home to a gorgeous mural featuring key figures from the civil rights movement, and Durham’s community.
Bright Leaf Square
If you prefer your history delicious, then head to Bright Leaf Square, which is a perfect example of how the city has incorporated its historic buildings into the modern fabric of the city. Anchored by two old tobacco warehouses, these have been renovated and are now home to some of the city’s best restaurants, shops, and bars. It is a great place to spend a night out.
Where to Eat and Drink
Durham has a reputation for being a foodie city, with a lot of special dining experiences. Here you will find soul food, southern cooking, and internationally acclaimed chefs. The trend in the city is fresh, local and family-owned, with a farm to table mentality. There are a lot of good places to eat and drink in Durham, but these are some of the best.
When it comes to eats, start your day at the Guglhupf Bakery. You will find tasty bread and pastries, as well as scones, muffins, tarts, and other desserts. There is something for every taste.
For lunch, make your way to Foster’s Market, which focuses on homemade food from scratch. You will find soups, salads, casseroles, and sandwiches, as well as some impressive desserts such as Maple Walnut Pie.
Mateo Bar de Tapas and Vin Rouge
In the evening, head to Mateo Bar de Tapas, housed in the old Book Exchange building in the heart of downtown. It mixes traditional Spanish recipes with ingredients from the South. The food is accompanied by an impressive wine list and the largest range of sherries in the country.
Parts and Labor
Probably the most popular bar in the city is Parts and Labor, which mixes a great range of beers with some good bar eats including everything from cheeseburger sliders to eggplant chapati and other vegetarian-friendly treats.
If you are looking for good beer, head to Hire-Wire Brewing where they have a huge selection of beers, including some great IPAs and wild ales, as well as ping pong and shuffleboard tables to keep you entertained.
Bull City Ciderworks
You will completely forget that beer exists and become a cider fanatic after a few hours here at the Bull City Ciderworks. Sit at communal tables and pick at picnic-style food while sipping on ginger, pumpkin or even pepper-infused cider that you are sure to remember (no matter how much you drink).
The Roof @ The Durham Hotel
For a more serious night out head to The Roof, for some of the best cocktails in the city. The views of Durham are also spectacular and there is always a crowd looking to have a good time.
Planning to visit Durham in 2020? There’s always something new to discover at every turn in Durham. Get to know the city, explore its neighborhoods and areas, especially Downtown Durham and discover a host of attractions that are sure to entice anyone. Need accommodation? You can book an unforgettable stay in one of our Durham apartments.