10 Can’t Miss Things to Do in Durham, NC

Make lifelong memories when you book a vacation home in the vibrant city of Durham, North Carolina. Known for being the home to historic Duke University and a number of research, technology, and cultural institutions, Durham is a fantastic destination for those looking for a peaceful and unique getaway.

Durham is located in what is known as the “Research Triangle” of North Carolina, named for its numerous universities and technology companies. This also makes for some excellent museums and learning experiences. The 4th most populous city in the state, Durham is only a short drive from Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina.

The “Bull City” is a fantastic destination for travelers interested in fantastic museums, trendy restaurants and bars, and a unique art and music scene. From up-close encounters with endangered species to navigating the Eno River by kayak, there is plenty to see and explore!

Our list of the best things to do in Durham and information on when to visit is a great place to start when planning your unforgettable Durham getaway.

Explore the Grounds of Duke University

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One of the most famous universities in the country, Duke University, is located in Durham. Even those who aren’t interested in attending the university can enjoy a visit to the stunning grounds. Known for awe-inspiring Gothic architecture and the expansive Duke Forest, this destination is well worth a visit.

Check out the picturesque Duke University Chapel at the center of the campus before grabbing lunch at one of the many delicious nearby restaurants like Guasaca for custom made arepas, bowls, and salads.

Learn at the Duke Lemur Center

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As far as Durham attractions go, you can’t miss an opportunity to get up close and personal with one of the most endangered mammals on earth! Schedule a visit to the Duke Lemur Center, where expert keepers will tour the facilities and teach you about the fascinating life of lemurs.

The Lemur Center was founded in 1996 and is home to over 200 lemurs of 14 different species, making it the world’s largest and most diverse population of lemurs outside of Madagascar, their native home.

Visits to the Duke Lemur Center must be scheduled in advance for the health and safety of the animals. No walk-ins are accepted. Tours are offered seasonally, from May through September, with occasional dates in the off-season depending on the weather. Lemurs are not adapted to cold-weather climates, so this tour schedule is best for their comfort.

Peruse the Nasher Museum of Art

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Found on the Duke University campus, the Nasher Museum of Art is a cultural institution that is a perfect stop for the whole family. The museum offers a variety of exhibitions, such as Art of Peru, Andy Warhol: You Look Good in Pictures, and Spirit in the Land.

Admission to the museum is free, and it is open Tuesday through Sunday. An onsite cafe serves brunch, lunch, and dinner for those who work up an appetite while exploring the museum.

Cruise Through Eno River State Park

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Conveniently located 10 miles northwest of downtown Durham is the peaceful Eno River State Park. Comprising 4,319 acres, the state park is perfect for anyone interested in hiking, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, or simply enjoying beautiful views with a picnic lunch.

Eno River State Park offers five access points to the Eno River, allowing boaters numerous options for put-ins and take-outs. The river is fast-moving but tends to be shallow, meaning you might have some technical and rocky rapids to navigate if there hasn’t been a lot of rainfall.

Hikers can enjoy the peaceful and quiet hiking trails crisscrossing the park. There are 13 miles of trails from the Fews Ford access area and 6 miles at the Cole Mill access. Bring your camera to capture the stunning, peaceful scenery and binoculars if you want to try birdwatching.

Eno River State Park has no entrance fees and is perfect for families and solo travelers alike. Dogs are welcome at the park but must stay on a leash and cannot enter any buildings. The park is generally open from dawn until dusk year-round, only closing on Christmas Day.

Stroll Through the Sarah P. Duke Gardens

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Enjoy a peaceful walk at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, located on the Duke campus. This 55-acre botanical garden consists of a quiet wooded area and beautifully landscaped sections, including a large native plant garden and a butterfly garden. Over five miles of paths and trails are winding through the garden, allowing visitors to see each section of this stunning destination.

The Sarah P. Duke Garden is open from 8 am until dusk all year. The entrance is free, though parking at the garden’s university lot is $2 per hour. Leashed dogs are welcome before 10 am and after 5 pm.

Explore the Museum of Life + Science

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The Museum of Life + Science is a can’t-miss location for anyone visiting Durham. Suitable for guests of all ages, the museum has numerous educational and interesting exhibits that are sure to delight.

Outdoors, you will find amazing exhibits such as the Dinosaur Trail, the Wetland Boardwalk, a 2-acre wooded play area, and unforgettable animal exhibits where you can see beautiful black bears, lemurs, tortoises, and red wolves. You can even board the Ellerbe Creek Railway for a fun train journey through the museum grounds.

Perfect for a rainy day, the indoor exhibits at the Museum of Life and Science are just as exciting and widely varied to capture the whole group’s attention. Check out the Aerospace Exploration Area with real Apollo artifacts, the interactive Butterfly House, the Carolina Wildlife Exhibit, and the TinkerLab, where children can learn how to build interesting contraptions.

For those traveling without children, the museum offers 21+ after-hours events. Grab a drink and enjoy entertaining exhibits and events such as Bear Awareness Week and the Science of Beer.

Go Back in Time at the Bennett Place State Historic Site

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History fanatics will love visiting Bennett Place, a location of great historical significance. This former homestead and farm is the location of the largest surrender of the American Civil War. In 1865, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered to Union General William T. Sherman, effectively ending the war.

The Bennett farm was chosen for its location, which was on the route halfway between each army, and for its privacy. After falling into disrepair, it was reclaimed in 1960 and donated to the state.

Today, visitors can enjoy a day exploring this site on a self-guided tour with the provided informational brochure or on a guided tour that takes place every hour. Admission to the historic site is free.

Take in a Game at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park

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Enjoy the “Great American Pastime” when you catch a Minor League Baseball game at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park in downtown Durham. This 10,000-seat ballpark is home to the beloved Durham Bulls and two college teams; the Duke Blue Devils and the North Carolina Central Eagles. A day at the ballpark is the perfect addition to your Durham vacation!

Enjoy a Show at the Carolina Theatre

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The Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham is a beloved historic institution. Opened in 1926, this performing arts and cinema complex offers numerous events and performances throughout the year. Enjoy a wide variety of concerts, musicals, plays, and films, with options for all age groups. An evening at the Carolina Theatre is a wonderful way to elevate your Durham getaway.

Tour Durham’s Wineries and Breweries

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The foodie culture in Durham extends to a thriving wine and beer culture as well. There are numerous fantastic wineries and breweries in the downtown area, providing delicious and unique craft brews and locally grown and produced wines.

Check out some of these award-winning spots, such as Melanated Wine, Honeygirl Meadery and Tasting Room, ZinHouse Winery and Brewery, and Durty Bull Brewing Company. Many of these destinations double as hip eateries as well!

When to Visit Durham

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Durham benefits from a fairly mild climate, making a vacation here wonderful at any time of the year. There are festivals and events sprinkled all through the year, so check the Durham event calendar before your trip for all the can’t miss activities.

Consider your interests and what you intend to do during your time in Durham to choose the best season for your trip!


Spring in Durham brings warmer weather, sunny days, and plenty of beautiful spring flowers. While you still might experience some chilly evenings and rainy days, spring is a fantastic season for outdoor activities such as hiking, visiting the Duke campus and gardens, and exploring the nearby vineyards.

The daytime temperatures hover in the 60s, sometimes getting into the 70s later in the season.

Springtime in Durham is a great time for outdoor festivals and events. Check out these anticipated March and April events:

  • Bull City Food and Beer Experience
  • St. Patrick’s Day Parade
  • Hayti Heritage Film Festival
  • Mid-Town Square Spring Festival
  • Spring Daze Arts and Crafts Festival
  • French Market and Seafood Festival


The summer days in Durham are long, sunny, and ideal for outdoor recreation! This is the season for outdoor patio dining, kayaking, canoeing and hiking. Head over to the Eno River State Park for a refreshing swim or to spend an exciting afternoon paddling the rapids.

In the evening, the temperatures drop from the upper 80s to a comfortable temperature in the 60s and 70s, perfect for grilling out or enjoying fireworks over the holidays.

Summer brings many special events and festivals as well.

  • Durham Pride Festival
  • Juneteenth Celebration
  • American Dance Festival
  • Fourth of July Celebrations


Visit in the autumn months for an incredible show of fall foliage in and around Durham. Whether you intend to hike down a trail or stroll downtown, it is a beautiful season with tons of fantastic scenery, festivals, and events. Head over to the Sarah P. Duke Gardens for an amazing show of colors, or simply relax on a bench at the Duke campus and appreciate the crisp, cool weather.


Peak fall colors in the Durham area tend to be in late October, but you will find plenty of vibrant-colored trees starting in mid-September at higher elevations and extending well into November at lower elevations.

Autumn is a great season for festival lovers as it boasts more festivals and community events than any other season.

  • Brewgaloo: The Beer, Bourbon, and BBQ Festival
  • World of Bluegrass
  • African American Cultural Celebration
  • NC Wine, Cheese, and Chocolate Festival
  • Triangle Oktoberfest


The winter months may be outside of the typical tourist season for Durham, but there is so much to see and do! Enjoy the charming holiday decorations around town and warm up with a coffee or hot chocolate in one of the many cafes.

Winter is a wonderful time to enjoy a hike without worrying about heat or bugs. Durham’s seasons are fairly mild, and winter temperatures range from lows in the 30s to daytime highs in the 50s.

Some winter festivals include:

  • Christmas by Candlelight
  • Durham Art Walk Holiday Market
  • Kwanzaa Fest
  • Nevermore Horror and Gothic Film Festival

Live Life to the Fullest in Durham

Durham is an exciting, vibrant town that is a haven for anyone interested in art, history, and culture. Offering great museums, state parks, historic sites, and more, there is something for everyone here. Booking a vacation home rental in Durham is sure to be an unforgettable experience filled with fun for the whole family.

Featured Image Credit: Bryan Pollard