“Keep Durham Dirty”, “Durham, it’s not for everyone”, “Durm.”, “I’d rather be shot in Durham then bored to death in Cary”. These are all t-shirts you might run into while you’re downtown in the Bull City. For a long time Durham was the sketchy part of the triangle and, while that’s changed/changing, there are a lot of people who want to hold onto that image! I would never tell anyone that all the ‘grit’ has gone out of Durham, but somewhere along the way a cupcake bar got introduced, and I think that says it all. (The Cupcake Bar is actually pretty great, you should check it out.)
We owned a house downtown for 4 years, so I feel especially well qualified to write this recommendation! I love Durham and have seen it change a lot recently and I’m sure it will change more in the coming years, so this might be a post that needs to be rewritten periodically! I did focus my tips downtown, but there’s lots more to Durham, just maybe not time to squeeze it all in a single weekend!
I love this theatre and they get some great shows, so check out what’s happening during your visit! The best thing about DPAC is there really are no bad seats. I’ve sat in the nose bleeds several times and had no difficulty seeing (and my eyesight is rough) so feel free to scrimp on tickets here!
Walk around American Tobacco Campus
During the summer they have concerts on the lawn and during the winter they have ice skating on the basketball court. Year round the old factory is a nice place to take a walk, especially if you’re coming or going to DPAC/The Durham Bulls.
Walk around Duke Gardens
Spring is definitely going to be your best bet here, but it’s worth the walk year round. Plan on spending several hours and maybe even getting ice cream at the Terrace Cafe.
Attend the Farmer’s Market
You’ll find this in Durham’s Central Park every Saturday morning year round. All the local produce, meat, dairy, and flowers you would expect will be sold but there is also a whole block of food trucks, generally some wandering minstrels, a playground, and a large grassy field for picnics. Great for families, couples, and groups.
Durham Bulls game
Baseball isn’t my cup of tea, but it’s a Durham staple so I’d be remiss not to mention it! Even if you aren’t into America’s pastime, the tickets are cheap and there are hot dogs and cracker jacks!
Full Steam Brewery
This is one of my favorite spots on a weeknight because it’s so chill. Weekends are still good, but more crowded. They will always have at least one food truck, plus the option to eat across the street at MotorCo or next door at the Pit. Expect arcade machines, lawn games, lots of dogs, and lots of babies. It’s a very laid back fun and social place.
The Eno River State Park
For lover of the outdoors, the Eno River offers wonderful hiking trails and a fun spot to wade in the summers. It’s not downtown, but it’s only a short drive away.
Durham Museum of Life and Science
This is also not downtown, but it’s only 5 miles away and a fantastic place for children to spend the day. When the weather is nice you’ll want to spend most of your time outdoors on the playground or walking around the campus to see the bears, lemurs, and wolves. There’s also a little farm, a train, and a butterfly house!
Durham is known for it’s fantastic local restaurants. Narrowing down where to check out in Durham is quite a task, but I’ve listed my recommendations below. Assuming you travel like I do, you’d be in town Friday afternoon until Sunday afternoon and you’d eat at each of these Durham spots.
Beyu Cafe for dinner Friday
Expect music, check their website in advance to see who the live performer will be and the cost of tickets.
Everything on the menu is good here and they have a great bar, but I recommend skipping on their desserts. (If you can’t skip dessert, like me, head down the street to the Parlour for ice cream.)
If you had to twist my arm, I’d recommend the breakfast burrito with added sausage.
Pompieri Pizza for alternate dinner option Friday
This is an old fire station turned into a particularly good pizza place. It’s also my favorite spot to sit outside in the Downtown area. If you have children, there is a small play area with a bench and some toys.
Loaf for breakfast Saturday
You’ll want to grab some pastries to eat while you walk around or find a park bench. You can’t go wrong here, but I especially recommend their croissants and cheese puff pastries.
Dame’s Chicken and Waffles for Saturday lunch
You’ll need reservations, so call at least a full day in advance.
I recommend anything that comes with legs, especially the Light Brown Leghorns, because the chicken is the real star here.
Order a side of macaroni and cheese, yum!
Taberna Tapas for dinner Saturday
If you can get a group together, this is best enjoyed as true tapas, trying a couple bites of each dish. If there are only two of you, still make an effort to order as much diversity as possible.
If you have kids, I’d skip this stop. Through no fault of the staff, we have regretted taking ours. The intimate quiet atmosphere just makes our kids louder and messier.
Old Havana Sandwich Shop for Sunday brunch
Hands down my favorite downtown Durham spot! The atmosphere is casual, colorful, and fun and the food is fantastic.
I get the El Obrero for brunch, but all their sandwiches are good!
The Blooming Garden Inn
This is the only one of the “Stay” recommendations I’ve actually overnighted with. On the outskirts of downtown in the popular Cleveland-Holloway neighborhood, this is a fun place if you are looking for something with lots of local flavor. The proprietors, Frank and Dolly, can tell you everything about the history of Durham you’d ever need to know. I also recommend this as a great way to feel out the area if you are considering moving to one of the downtown adjacent neighborhoods.
The Durham Hotel
This is new and I haven’t checked it out, but it was created as the retro fit of a very rad and 70s esq building. They have a rooftop bar and even rooftop yoga sometimes! If we need a place to stay in downtown, this is where I want to check out!
21C Museum Hotel
This is also new, but I’ve eaten at their restaurant, The Counting House, and it’s very good. The museum is a little too cutting edge/artsy/weird for me to appreciate, but I’d definitely be down for checking this place out during a visit!
I hope you put Durham on your list of places to visit and I’d be even happier if you’d check it out as a place to live, we loved our time there!
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