Passing through North Carolina on a road trip or flying in for a long weekend? Be sure to fill your itinerary with some of the best things to do in Durham, NC. With its long list of fun tourist activities, Durham is one of North Carolina’s biggest surprises for travelers.
Durham, NC, is a rapidly growing city with a rich history, a flourishing industrial core, and the distinguished Duke University campus sprawling across its suburbs. Among the top tourist attractions in Durham, you’ll also find a slew of cool microbrewers and distilleries like the Durham Distillery and Bull City Ciderworks popping up throughout the city.
Don’t get bogged down researching what to do in Durham. Plan the perfect trip with this complete guide to the best places to visit in Durham, NC.
Best places to visit in Durham, NC
Sarah P. Duke Gardens
All amateur botanists and gardeners visiting Durham, NC, need to plan a trip to the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. (And, of course, the average flower lover is welcome, too!)
Located on Anderson Street on the Duke University Campus, Sarah P. Duke Gardens is a great place to unwind and ponder nature’s secrets. Once you arrive, grab a tea from the onsite cafe and go for a stroll through the botanical garden. You’ll pass fields of native plants, giant annual blossoms, and even a few endangered species.
For a more educational experience at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, or to ensure accessibility, you can book a guided tour. Hop on a trolley, sit back, relax, and snap photographs of the garden’s most beautiful blooms.
Eno River State Park
Eno River State Park is one of the top points of interest in Durham for nature lovers. Choose between 30 miles of trails and spend your day looping past a historic mill, crossing a suspension bridge, or taking in the views from the top of a gorge.
If hiking isn’t your favorite outdoor pastime, you can also go fishing, canoeing, or kayaking at Eno River State Park. Want to avoid physical exertion altogether? The North Carolina state park also has a fairly sophisticated picnicking setup.
Each “site” is set apart from the rest for maximum privacy. The Cole Mill area has grills available for cooking your food on site. There are also two sites with wheelchair-accessible tables & ground so that everyone can enjoy the park to the fullest.
Nasher Museum of Art
The Nasher Museum of Art is one of Durham’s most extensive art galleries. In addition to a current rotation of exhibitions, the art museum boasts a permanent collection of over 13,000 works of contemporary art.
If you’d like to spread your visit out throughout the day, you can make a pit stop for lunch and a coffee at the museum’s cafe. The sophisticated menu and pretty outdoor terrace only stand to enhance your experience.
Located on the Duke University campus, a visit to the Nasher Museum of Art is easy to pair with visits to other top Durham attractions.
Durham Central Park
Durham Central Park may not be as famous as its NYC namesake. Nonetheless, the popular public park has an illustrious reputation within the local community.
In addition to its children’s play areas and expansive lawn, Durham Central Park is well-loved for its many gardens. A couple of the most popular are the butterfly garden and the “Garden of Eatin’,” where you can harvest and eat organic fruit.
Durham Central Park frequently hosts exciting local events. Be sure to check their event calendar prior to your departure. You don’t want to miss out!
Bull City Burger & Brewery
Looking for the best burger in town and a few libations to get you through the evening? Then a visit to the Bull City Burger & Brewery is a must! For beer lovers, it’s near the top of the list for where to go in Durham.
Of course, craft beer on draft is the name of the game at Bull City Burger & Brewery, but you can also find a few ciders on the taps. All you need to do is choose between a lively outing in the taproom or settle under the twinkling patio light for a relaxing evening.
Bull City Burger & Brewery works hard to have as minimal impact on the environment as possible, which should be a big selling point for all the naturalists out there.
The menu is crafted from local farm-to-table ingredients and 99% of all food waste is recycled as farm feed. The restaurant even serves veggie burgers, so every member of your traveler group will be able to grab some grub they’ll love!
Durham Athletic Park
For a fun outdoor outing, spend the afternoon at Durham Athletic Park, the official home of both the Durham Bulls and the North Carolina Central University Eagles. The historic park is the perfect place to catch a baseball game, chow down on classic American stadium hotdogs, and participate in a little fanfare.
Centrally located downtown, the Durham Bulls Athletic Park may also catch the interest of film fanatics. The stadium was used as the main filming location for the classic sports rom-com Bull Durham, whose plot centers around the Durham Bulls.
The Duke Lemur Center
Time to meet the cutest citizens of Durham: the residents of The Duke Lemur Center. Located just 11 minutes from downtown, the DLC is home to 14 species of lemurs, including the famous ring-tailed lemurs popularized by the children’s television series Zomboomafoo. Live out your childhood dream and get an up-close look at over 200 of these beauties from Madagascar.
Be sure to book your visit in advance; tours of the Duke Lemur Center are limited and drop-ins can’t currently be accommodated.
A trip to the DRC during your Durham, NC, holiday is also one you can feel good about: Admissions and tour fees help to fund their important research, conservation-led breeding programs, and external environmental protection projects.
American Tobacco Campus
Another top Durham attraction for your vacation bucket list is the American Tobacco Campus. Located in the most central part of Downtown Durham, the ATC used to operate as a tobacco factory and global shipping center in the early 20th century.
Now, the American Tobacco Campus is your source for all things entertainment in Durham, North Carolina. Here, you’ll find a seemingly endless selection of good restaurants and independent boutiques.
RELATED: Top Tourist Attractions in Raleigh
The campus is also home to a handful of other Durham points of interest including the Bulls Athletic Park and the Performing Arts Center.
Comprising 7,000 acres of forested land owned by Duke University, Duke Forest is has become one of the top places to go in Durham for a nice day hike. The property has been used for environmental research and stewardship efforts by the university. It’s best known, though, for its hiking and running trails, which are open to the public.
The Shephard Nature Trail is one of the most popular loops at Duke Forest. At just 0.8 miles, the hike is approachable for most physical fitness levels. The trail is flanked by interpretive signage to help you learn about the ecosystems and natural history of Durham, provided by the university.
If you and your crew have been known to enjoy the odd adult beverage, be sure to plan a stop at the Durham Distillery. Gin aficionados may recognize their prized spirit, Conniption Gin, but the distillery also produces canned cocktails, vodka, and coffee-based liqueurs.
During your visit to the Durham Distillery, you can take a behind-the-scenes guided tour dedicated to each of their three alcohol types, or do a self-guided tasting. The branded shot glass will be yours to keep as a token to remember your trip. You can also stock up on bottles to bring home.
Forest Hills Park
Located in East Central Durham, Forest Hills Park is impressive as far as urban parks go. If you’re looking for a home base to laze the day away, you can’t go wrong with this public park, sprawled across 46 acres of lush green space.
The main area at Forest Hill Park has a few good options for outdoor recreation including tennis courts, a public pool, and a splash pad. You can also reserve picnic shelters with grills for BBQing that have a view of a pretty water fountain.
Looking to hit the trails? Forest Hills Park has several Greenway Trail access points for day hiking.
Duke Homestead Historic Site
A visit to the Duke Homestead Historic Site is the perfect way to learn about Durham’s history of tobacco manufacturing. This State Historic Site is located on the farmland of Washington Duke, where his original home still stands.
Name sound familiar? Washington’s son James founded Duke University as a tribute to his father and the profound legacy he left in North Carolina.
During your visit to Duke Homestead Historic Site, you can take a guided tour to gain exclusive access to one of Duke’s tobacco factories, a tobacco packhouse, and a handful of other historic buildings.
You can also wander through the onsite tobacco museum, covering topics well beyond the personal history of the homestead.
Duke University Chapel
Though a university campus may not be the first place you think about adding to your North Carolina vacation itinerary, it’s worth swinging by this prestigious academy to take in the Duke University Chapel. Visitors are welcome to pop in for a worship service. Free tours are also offered after every Sunday mass.
Located on the west campus, Duke Chapel is revered for its striking architecture. With its tall peaks, intricate carvings, and opulent stained-glass windows, it’s certainly a sight to see.
From Monday to Thursday, a well-timed visit will let you listen to the melodious notes of the church organs filling the room.
Stagville State Historic Site
A visit to the Stagville State Historic Site is an important part of the Durham experience. This is no ordinary museum, but history buffs and social justice activists need to add this to their itineraries.
Historic Stagville is home to one of the largest plantations in North Carolina. The Stagville State Historic Site presents an interesting opportunity to learn about the civil rights movement and the history of enslavement that came before it.
At the house museum, you’ll learn the true stories of both enslaved and emancipated people of the plantation, and tour their living quarters. Most importantly, you’ll explore the context these lessons provide in the fight for human rights today.
Museum of Life & Science
The Museum of Life & Science is one of the best places to visit in Durham if you’re traveling with kids. And adults will love this playful attraction, too. During your visit, you’ll move through interactive exhibits including an insectarium, butterfly house, tinker lab, and weather-themed experiment zone.
Even though there’s plenty to do inside, it’s best to visit the Museum of Life & Science on a nice day, as their outdoor exhibits are also quite compelling.
Under the Durham sun, you can get up close to fluffy alpacas, make music in the sound garden, observe black bears, or dig for fossils. Choose one or do it all: This museum experience is fully customizable!
Bull City Ciderworks
Bull City Ciderworks is Durham’s happy-hour hotspot. With 24 different taps, of ice-cold craft ciders, you’re going to want to stay for more than one pint. Feeling peckish? No problem. BCC has a rotation of brilliant local food trucks parked outside nearly every day.
Though there’s indoor seating for colder evenings, it’s the patio space that makes Bull City Ciderworks such a gem. With hanging Edison bulbs, rustic picnic tables, and even a firepit, a visit to this local watering hole is picture-perfect and one of the best things to do in Durham, NC.
American Tobacco Trail
The American Tobacco Trail is where serious hikers in Durham flock to in order to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and spend some time forest-bathing.
Nestled between towering pine forests, the American Tobacco Trail offers some extraordinary wildlife viewing opportunities, with beavers, hawks, and deer among the most frequently spotted.
This 22-mile trail passes through two other counties in addition to Durham. It also links up with the 75-mile Greenway Trail network. Even if you’re not interested in overnight thru-hiking, there are plenty of smaller loops here that you can tackle in an afternoon on foot or by bicycle.