Top 10 things to do in Durham

26 February 2022

— More than 12 million yearly visitors come to Durham, and for good reason. With its extensive hiking trails, parks and cultural events, Durham is a true gem of the southeast. Durham is home to Duke University, the Museum of Life + Science and several historic Civil War sites.

So if you’re visiting North Carolina and want to know the 10 best things to do in Durham, keep reading.

1. Durham Central Park

Located in the heart of downtown, Durham Central Park is a five-acre oasis for relaxation and community engagement. Take part in a fitness class on the Pavilion or catch one of the local markets.

The Melanated Creatives Market celebrates Black businesses and creators. And the Winter Market is your one-stop shop for fresh flowers and produce.

The park is also home to multiple trails, gardens, a skate park and a children’s playground. Take in an outdoor movie or make art on the Pixel Wall. The park is open from sunrise to sunset, and you can bring your dog on a leash.

2. Duke University

Durham is, of course, where you’ll find Duke University, currently ranked #9 in top US colleges. Duke’s alumni have gone on to become CEOs, Olympic medalists and Nobel Prize winners. Step into their shoes by touring Duke’s stunning Gothic and Georgian-style buildings.

Campus tours are available or you can walk along the East Campus Trail. With over 8,600 acres of land, the Duke campus has over 250 Great Depression-era buildings to explore.

Duke University’s chapel is one feature you won’t want to miss. Open to visitors each day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., the chapel offers guided tours and a place to meditate and reflect. Built in 1932, the chapel’s Gothic architecture and towering stained glass windows are something to behold.

On the east side of campus, the Baldwin Auditorium hosts performances by classical, jazz, and solo artists. The Fitzpatrick Center is another great sight to see. There, students study engineering, medical and applied science disciplines.

3. Sarah P. Duke Gardens

One of the best activities in Durham is a trip to the Sarah P. Duke Gardens on the east side of the Duke University campus. Walk through acres of lush flora in this botanical garden originally built in the 1930s.

There are four sections to the gardens. First, you can visit the original terraces, part of the Historic Gardens. See the Mary Duke Biddle Rose Garden and catch a glimpse of what the gardens were like when they first opened.

Duke Gardens

Then, the Garden of Native Plants is home to all the best of the southeastern US. There’s also the Arboretum that displays eastern Asian flora. Finally, there are the Center Gardens and Discovery Garden.

Though tours are on hold because of the pandemic, you can still visit the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. It is open every day from 8 a.m. to sunset; admission is free and parking is only $2.

4. Museum of Life + Science

If you’re visiting Durham, make sure you schedule a time to see the Museum of Life + Science. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the museum has 24 interactive indoor and outdoor exhibits.

Inside the Magic Wings House, discover hundreds of species of butterflies. They’ll flutter around you as you learn about dozens of nectar-producing plants. On the Dinosaur Trail, encounter life-size dinosaurs in the “wild” and take part in a fossil dig.

You can also learn about how sailboats work at Catch the Wind. Or, spot black bears, wolves, and lemurs through Explore the Wild.

For kids interested in health and science, Investigate Health! is a great option, too. The museum also features train rides and weekly community events.

5. Bennett Place

Visiting Bennett Place is one of the best things to do in Durham, as it’s a significant part of Civil War history. In 1865, Generals Joseph Johnston and William Sherman met there to sign the surrender of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, one of the largest surrenders of the Civil War. The farm sits 10 minutes from downtown Durham, making it a great day trip for visitors.

The on-site research library has a large collection of Civil War books to explore. Or, you can take a walk down one of the surrounding trails.

If you’re curious about other Civil War sites near Durham, consider visiting the Bentonville Battlefield, too.

6. Durham Distillery

Travel up Morris Street past the Durham Athletic Park to get to the Durham Distillery. This distillery is famous for its custom Conniption gins and cocktails. Sign up for a behind-the-scenes tour of how it’s made or pick up a bottle from their shop.

The Durham Distillery blends traditional gin-making methods with new, innovative techniques. Using vapor-based distillation, they brew their drinks in a custom-made still. Try the Conniption Dry or Navy Strength Gin or grab a bottle of their Damn Fine Chocolate Liqueur.

For other distilleries near Durham, check out the Mystic Farm and Distilling Company or the Graybeard Distillery.

7. The Carolina Theater

On West Morgan Street in downtown Durham, you’ll find the historic Carolina Theater. At this 100-year old venue, you can take in a movie, catch a concert or snag tickets for a play.

Kids can take part in the Arts Discovery Educational Series. For 25 years, the theater has used the arts to share stories and spark discussion in young people.

You can see the Russian Ballet Theater put on Swan Lake. Or, listen to the stylings of contemporary musicians and comedians. If you’re into older films, check out the Retro Film Series.

The theater sponsors many film festivals each year. And event facilitators can rent the Fletcher Hall and the Connie Moses Ballroom. Two small cinemas are also open to parties ranging from 49 to 226 guests.

8. The Duke Lemur Center

Just west of the Duke University Golf Club and 11 minutes from downtown Durham is the Duke Lemur Center. This research center is home to 13 species of lemur and brings in more than 35,000 visitors each year.

Duke Lemur Center hosts Earth Day open house

The center offers onsite tours, but you must have a prepaid reservation to attend. Because lemurs aren’t well-suited to the cold, they limit tour availability in the winter.

Their general tour takes you through the Lemur Center to learn more about its history and mission. And, of course, you’ll get to see the lemurs! The general tour can be self-guided or you can book a private group.

For a more immersive experience, take their Walking with Lemurs premium tour. Walk through one of the center’s nine lemur sanctuaries and see their first feeding of the day. You’ll feel like you’re deep in the jungles of Madagascar.

9. Eno River State Park

Head northwest on the Durham Freeway to find one of the best places to visit in Durham: Eno River State Park. Eno River has nearly 30 miles of trails ranging from half a mile to six miles in length. For more of a challenge, you can also hike the Occoneechee Mountain.

For a more leisurely trek, try the Cole Mill Trail, which starts near the parking lot at the Cole Mill picnic area. You’ll hike one mile beside the Eno River, ascending slightly into beautiful forestland.

Hiking trails on the Eno River.

If you’re up for an adventure, take on the Laurel Bluffs Trail. This 6.1-mile trail has three sections you can choose from. The longest is the central Cabelands Trail, 2.5 miles long.

Besides hiking, Eno River State Park offers camping, picnic areas, and ecological events. You can learn from park rangers how to hike safely or identify local flora.

10. The Refectory Cafe

The Refectory Cafe sits off of Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd. Voted one of Durham’s best restaurants in 2021, it’s open daily at 9 a.m.

The Refectory offers brunch, dinner and drinks with plenty of healthy options. Since it opened in 2005, the cafe has garnered 23 different culinary awards.

The Refectory is a quick 10-minute drive from Duke University or downtown Durham. Their Challah Cinnamon French Toast is a local favorite or you can try their one-of-a-kind Crab Cake Burger. On colder days, pop in for their Hoison Beef Short Ribs and a hot toddy or select from their beer list.

Top Things to Do in Durham, NC

If you’re looking for things to do in Durham, start with these top ten picks. Whether you’re up for a six-mile hike or want to take it easy with a day at the museum, Durham has something for you.

Explore theaters, distilleries and top-ranked universities all within 15 minutes of downtown. Make sure to include a stop at some of the restaurants and businesses chosen by the public in the WRAL Voters Choice Awards!

This post was originally published on this site

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