Of the three cities that make up North Carolina's Research Triangle, Durham has traditionally been the grittier, more working-class one. A city of just over 200,000, Durham's early wealth was built on tobacco and textiles, with a vibrant African-American community that once made the city a center for Black culture.
These days, the tobacco warehouses and textile mills sit empty or have been converted to other uses, as Durham has taken on a different identity; best known now as the home of Duke University, a thriving health care and high tech industry has taken root in Durham. The city has also emerged as a cultural center for the region, with a lively theater scene and a trendy arts community that has begun to change Durham's gritty image. And while the city lacks the political clout of Raleigh or the college town atmosphere of Chapel Hill, some of the Triangle's most interesting and exciting attractions are to be found here.
Durham owes much of its wealth and history to tobacco. Through the second half of the 19th century, Washington Duke and his family grew from a single farm into American Tobacco, which controlled 90% of all cigarette production for the United States. The Duke family donated money to Trinity College, which in 1924 was renamed Duke University.
In the early 20th century, North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, Mechanics & Farmers Bank, and Mutual Savings & Loan were founded in Durham by African-Americans. These prominent companies drew more African-American investment to Durham, to the point that Durham's Parrish Street neighborhood became known as "Black Wall Street." NC Mutual Life continues to this day as the oldest and largest African-American-owned life insurance company in the nation and as a visible part of the Durham skyline.
The last cigarette rolled out of Durham in 2000. Many of the old factory and warehouse structures have been converted into housing, retail, restaurant and office spaces. The city has changed its motto from "City of Tobacco" to "City of Medicine," based on the high concentration of medical practitioners and researchers at Duke and in Research Triangle Park, the Durham County special tax district formed in 1959 to attract high-tech jobs to the area.
Durham has a liberal trendy arts culture. It is an eclectic blend of the high class with an unusual concentration of four star restaurants (part owing to a strange bit of local family history) to trendy cafés on 9th Street, the independent bookstore "the Regulator" which draws famed authors from former secretary of state Madeline Albright to expert on everything John Hodgeman. You'll find old hippies, bikers and families in generally happy co-existence. The area has a very active gay community which stages a famed regional film festival and an annual LGBT Pride march. Politically the area is dominated by Democratic politics in an otherwise Republican-leaning state.
Durham is served by Interstates 40 and 85, and US routes 15, 501 and 70 along with several state routes. "The Durham Freeway" generally refers to NC-147, which connects I-85 and 15/501 in northwest Durham to I-40 and Research Triangle Park in southeast Durham, by way of downtown. If you wish to rent a car, car rental options at the RDU airport are plentiful and range from $20 to $50 per day, with whole-week rentals significantly discounted.
The nearest commercial airport is Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU IATA), southeast of Durham in Morrisville, just off I-40. RDU has two terminals; Terminal 1 services budget carrier Southwest, while the more modern and architecturally impressive Terminal 2 services American Airlines/American Eagle, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, and United. RDU also has rental car services and overnight car parking. If taking public transit, Triangle Transit route #100 takes you from the airport to the Research Triangle Park, where you can then transfer to #700 to Durham.
Amtrak's Carolinian and Piedmont lines stop in Durham. The Carolinian runs once daily north to New York City and south to Charlotte, while the Piedmont runs twice daily between Raleigh and Charlotte. The 1 Amtrak station is at 601 West Main Street downtown, close to the DATA bus system's new downtown terminal and in a historic and renovated building that once served as a tobacco warehouse.
- Bridge Bus. Privately owned and operated weekend night bus that links the downtowns of Raleigh and Durham. $9 one way; $16 round-trip.
- Greyhound. Direct service from Raleigh, Greensboro, Charlotte, other cities in North Carolina, and Richmond, Virginia, as well as connecting service to many other cities.
- Megabus. Service from Washington, D.C., Richmond, Charlotte, Fayetteville, Columbia, Athens, and Atlanta. Buses stop just outside the station near the Willard Street entrance. Fares from $1.
- GoTriangle, ☏ . Routes between Durham to Chapel Hill (routes #400 and #405) and the Research Triangle Park (#700), where you can transfer to Raleigh and RDU. Stops are marked by signs bearing the GoTriangle logo. Service is fairly reliable, with buses running all day on the weekdays and weekends, but there is no service on some holidays. $2.25 per trip, $4.50 for a day pass.
Like Atlanta's infamous "Peachtree", Durham has a number of synonymous roadways, in some cases miles from each other. This can easily confuse visitors. The most notorious is Chapel Hill Rd/St/Blvd. The road goes from the city's Lakewood and West End neighborhoods to the Chapel Hill border via Shannon Plaza and the fringe of the South Square area. Mostly residential. The St acts as an arterial from downtown through West End, serving as a vibrant thoroughfare for the neighborhoods in between. "The Boulevard" as it is known in the neighborhoods surrounding it, courses from the foot of the Forest Hills neighborhood and bee-lines directly west to Chapel Hill, eventually becoming 15-501. Mainly commercial with lots of big-box retailers and chain restaurants. When in doubt, ask a local!
Parking is plentiful in Durham, even in the more populous areas. Be mindful of parking in residential zones in the city for extended periods without a permit.
On southbound South Gregson Street immediately after West Peabody Street, too many tall vehicles would hit a railroad bridge notoriously nicknamed 11 foot 8 Bridge, which has been raised by 8 inches to 12 feet 4 inches as of early November 2019. Yet reopened South Gregson Street under the rail still requires caution around any large vehicle not to be followed too closely.
- GoDurham ☏
. Routes around the more urban parts of Durham, mostly every half hour.
- The Bull City Connector is a fare-free service operated by GoDurham with stops at Golden Belt, downtown, West Village, Brightleaf Square, Duke East Campus, Ninth Street, and Duke West Campus.
GoTriangle.org provides trip planning, route information, and realtime bus information for GoTriangle, GoDurham, and other bus services in the Triangle, as well as walking and biking route maps.
- Duke University. The university's West Campus has a unique Gothic architecture, with the centerpiece being 1 Duke Chapel, a cathedral-like structure that soars 210 feet high.
- 2 Nasher Museum of Art, 2001 Campus Drive (at the corner of Anderson St and Duke University Rd), ☏ . Tu-Sa 10AM-5PM (Th until 9PM), Su noon-5PM, M closed. The museum features world-class classical to contemporary works and has hosted some major names in art. Don't miss the giant face-mask. $5 adults, $4 seniors, $3 non-Duke students (free on Th evenings).
- 3 Sarah P. Duke Gardens. One of the premier public gardens in the U.S., and with more than five miles of walkways and paths.
- 4 Duke Lemur Center, 3705 Erwin Road, ☏ . Tours are by appointment only, gift shop open daily 9:30AM-4PM. See the largest collection of lemurs outside of Madagascar. Scheduling your tour at least two weeks in advance is recommended, but they can sometimes accommodate last-minute additions. Tours $12 adults, $9 children/seniors/students/military.
- 5 Museum of Life and Science, 433 W. Murray Ave, ☏ . M-Sa 10AM-5PM, Su noon-5PM. Spend a day with kids exploring interactive exhibits at this museum. Space vehicles, farm animals, playground, drum area, physics display, maps and globes, butterfly house, bugs, and now with bears and lemurs. $14 adults, $11 seniors/military, $10 children.
- 6 Bennett Place, 4409 Bennett Memorial Rd., ☏ . Tu-Sa 9AM-5PM, Su-M closed. This simple farmhouse was situated between Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's headquarters in Greensboro, and Union Gen. William T. Sherman's headquarters in Raleigh. In April 1865, the two commanders met at the Bennett Place, where they signed surrender papers for Southern armies in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. It was the largest troop surrender of the American Civil War, coming 17 days after General Lee surrendered at Appomattox. Free, donations accepted.
- 7 Historic Stagville, 5828 Old Oxford Highway, ☏ . Tu-Sa 10AM-4PM, Su-M closed. Comprises the remains of North Carolina's largest pre-Civil War plantation and one of the South's largest. It once belonged to the Bennehan-Cameron family, whose combined holdings totaled approximately 900 slaves and almost 30,000 acres by 1860. Today, Stagville consists of 71 acres, on three tracts. On this land stand the late 18th-century Bennehan House, four rare slave houses, a pre-Revolutionary War farmer's house, a huge timber framed barn built by skilled slave craftsmen, and the Bennehan Family cemetery. Free.
- 8 Duke Homestead, 2828 Duke Homestead Rd, ☏ . Tu-Sa 9AM-5PM, Su-M closed. Features the Duke family's mid 1800s home, tobacco barns and cigarette factory.
- 1 Durham Bulls, ☏ . The Durham Bulls are one of the most popular minor league baseball teams in America, due to the 1987 movie Bull Durham, filmed largely at the old Durham Athletic Park. They play now in the Durham Bulls Athletic Park which was designed by the architects of Baltimore's Camden Yards. Tickets are $5 and up.
- The Duke University Blue Devils and North Carolina Central Eagles provide lots of opportunity for spectators through their men's and women's sports programs. Go watch a Duke men's basketball game if you visit during basketball season. Tickets are hard to get. Your best bet may be between December 15th and January 1st, when students (and some locals) are gone.
- 2 Carolina Theatre, 309 W Morgan St, ☏ . A historic theater that hosts many independent films and plays.
- 3 Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St, ☏ . A frequent stop for touring Broadway shows, as well as many other high-end acts. Ticket prices range from $30-$120 depending on the show. Buy in advance.
- Check out the local art scene during Durham's Third Friday Art Walk, often featuring live music and a myriad of food trucks, in addition to open studios and galleries throughout downtown.
- Listen to live music at The Pinhook, Casbah, Motorco, Historic American Tobacco Campus or other local venues (the Independent Weekly is a good source of local happenings.
- 4 Sky Zone Durham.
- Watch a local live theater performance at Manbites Dog Theater.
- Explore the Duke Forest.
- 5 Eno River State Park. A wooded, hilly area centered around the Eno River. Go for a hike on one of the trails or for a canoe ride on the river. Campsites are also available.
- 6 West Point on the Eno. A city part adjacent to Eno River State Park. West Point has an old-fashioned corn mill that still sells fresh cornmeal.
- Bike or roller-blade on the American Tobacco Trail. It's a paved-over railway line that extends from downtown Durham, near the ball park all the way to Raleigh.
- Attend one of the renowned annual festivals. Each April is the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, the country's largest such festival, and each summer is the country's largest contemporary dance festival, American Dance Festival.
- Check out Ninth Street, a pedestrian friendly street with a variety of eating, shopping, and entertainment options.
- Play on many different golf courses from Hillandale Golf to Willowhaven to the Duke University Golf Club among many more.
- 1 The Streets at Southpoint, off of Interstate 40. The largest and most varied mall in the area, if not the whole state. It mixes indoor and outdoor shopping and dining, in a setting that tries to recapture the spirit of old downtown Durham.
- 2 Northgate Mall, off of Interstate 85. One of the nation's last family-owned malls.
- 3 Brightleaf Square. Just west of downtown Durham, is built in a restored tobacco warehouse. It houses boutique shops and several nationally-renowned restaurants.
- Ninth Street, near the Duke campus, has boutique stores catering to a college crowd. Look for bookstores, clothing stores, an art gallery or two, and an upscale toy store.
- 4 The Clock Depot, 3400 Westgate Dr (in Westgate Shopping Center), ☏ . 10AM-6PM. Family-owned clock shop featuring new grandfather clocks.
- 5 The Scrap Exchange, Lakewood Shopping Center, 2050 Chapel Hill Road, ☏ . Su–F 11AM–7PM, Sa 10AM–7PM. A non-profit selling all sorts of industrial and office surplus materials, ready to be recycled as supplies for crafts and other projects. A good place for creative people.
Durham is a terrific city to eat in, and if you search around enough, you'll find no need to go to nearby Chapel Hill or Raleigh to cater to your tastes. From time-tested burger shacks to upscale eateries on par with Atlanta and Washington, it's easy to find unique flavors all over the city. There's an especially good concentration of remarkable eats around the Duke and Research Triangle Park areas, specifically 9th St/Brightleaf for the former and South Sq/Southpoint/54 for the latter.
- 1 Bahn's Cuisine, 750 9th St, ☏ . Most of the week this is an average Chinese takeout place; however, on Wednesday and Saturday they serve Vietnamese home cooking and soups. A local hangout since 1985. The locals can tell you're "not from around here" if you order Chinese on those days. There are both vegetarian and vegan plates. The "#8 Vegetarian plate" of fried tofu and a vegetable roll is the most popular dish on Saturdays and to a lesser degree on Mondays. The "Pork Bun" is a good choice for small children as is the Satay Chicken (they'll frequently make adapted portions for children). It is cash only: plates and sides are $2-6.
- 2 Bean Traders Coffee, 105 W NC 54 Hwy #249 (in Homestead Market), ☏ . A locally owned and operated coffee shop which as the name indicates is also a coffee buyer/distributor of the "Bean Traders" brand of whole sale coffee beans. The coffee is excellent and the atmosphere relaxed and casual. Cookies and baked goods are also for sale. Wireless access is provided.
- 3 Cosmic Cantina, 1920 1/2 Perry St, ☏ . A Duke hangout with cheap California-style burritos, cheap beer, and quick service. Entrees, if they can be called that, range from $2-6, beer is $2, soda is $1. Cosmic is open late, generally until 4AM. Durham is home to the original Cosmic Cantina, which can also now be found in Chapel Hill.
- 4 Elmo's Diner, 776 9th Street, ☏ . Serves the best breakfast in Durham, as well as good comfort food and diner fare for lunch and dinner. Grab a table or sit at the bar. You may have to wait a bit on weekend mornings, but Elmo's makes coffee and newspapers available to help pass the time.
- 5 Loco Pops, 2604 Hillsborough Rd. Serves gourmet popsicles in a variety of unusual, Mexican-inspired flavors. Try the Mexican chocolate or the mojito. Each popsicle is $1-2.
- 6 The Mad Hatter's Bake Shop, 1802 W Main St, ☏ . A local bakery that has recently branched out into full dinner fare. Their dinners are as good as (and more creative than) their cakes and cookies. Entrees tend to be $6-8, and many are healthy and vegetarian-friendly.
- 7 Torero's, two locations; downtown location at 800 W Main St, ☏ . Sells above-average Americanized Mexican cuisine, with most entrees $6-8.
- 8 Wimpy's Grill, 617 Hicks St, ☏ . A walk-up lunch counter (no seating) that serves some of the best hamburgers, peach cobbler, and chocolate cake in Durham. Skip the chain restaurants, and support a local mom-and-pop joint. Weekdays only, open until 2:30PM. Very popular with locals.
- Durham also has plenty of fast-food restaurants, with a particularly high concentration on Hillsborough Road. Try the Dog House (4 locations, ask around) and Cook-Out (Hillsborough Rd, N Duke St, Miami Blvd locations) especially.
- 9 blu, 2002 Hillsborough Rd, ☏ . M-F 11AM-2PM, M-Sa 5-10PM. A casual, yet upscale restaurant focusing on regional and global classics with fresh fish.
- 10 Bullock's, 3330 Quebec Dr, ☏ . A local tradition, serving eastern-North Carolina BBQ, sweet tea, hush puppies, and plenty of fried vegetables. Go "family style" for about $9 and eat a bit of everything. Note that eastern-NC BBQ is dry and is cooked with vinegar, and may not be what outsiders are used to. Bullock's is often crowded, but the line moves fast. Bullock's is cash only and closes at 8PM.
- 11 Guglhupf, 2706 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd, ☏ . Eat great German fare and baked goods.
- 12 Piedmont, 401 Foster Street, ☏ . Italian and French country food, emphasizing local produce in menu. Limited lunch menu, but decent dinner menu. Lunch ranges from $4-9 and dinner $4-17.
- 13 Metro 8 Steakhouse, 746 9th St, ☏ . Upscale Argentinian steakhouse. Unusually great salad and stake with great service and a romantic atmosphere.
- 14 Nana's, 2514 University Dr (at James St), ☏ . Serves upscale and innovative New American fare in their warm and quiet space tucked into the city's lovely Rockwood neighborhood. Reservations recommended.
- 15 Parizade, 2200 W Main St (Erwin Square, near 9th St).
- 16 Rue Cler, 401 E Chapel Hill St (downtown).
- 17 Vin Rouge, 2010 Hillsborough Rd.
- Shooters II Saloon (behind Brightleaf Square), 827 W Morgan St. A wild-west themed bar and dance club popular with the college crowd, Shooters is famous for its mechanical bull and dancing cage. It is easy to find cheap drink specials and some new friends. Shooters is most frequented on weekend nights after 10PM.
- Satisfaction, 905 W. Main St (Brightleaf Square), ☏ . A popular Duke hangout, serving a solid selection of beer and mixed drinks. Satisfaction has plenty of TVs, usually showing sports; they are quite busy when Duke basketball is on.
- Dain's Place, 9th Street. A non-smoking bar with many types of beers. It draws more the post-grad and 25-35 crowd. Great burgers and also an unusually good salad.
- Fullsteam Brewery, 726 Rigsbee Avenue, ☏ . Local brewery serving their own plus other NC beers. Popular among locals, large amount of seating, and usually has food trucks parked outside.
Additionally, there are some nice bars around Duke's east campus, centered around the 9th St area and Brightleaf Square. Check out The Green Room (pool hall), George's (lounge), Federal and James Joyce for a diverse and mellow crowd.
- 1 Comfort Inn, 4507 NC 55/Apex Hwy, ☏ . Check-in: 3PM, check-out: noon. Offers guests an exercise room and a business center.
- 2 Comfort Inn Medical Park, 1816 Hillandale Road, ☏ . Check-in: 3PM, check-out: noon. Offers guests free shuttle service and a small meeting room.
- 3 Comfort Suites Raleigh Durham Airport/RTP, 5219 Page Road, ☏ . Check-in: 3PM, check-out: noon. Located by the Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
- 4 Doubletree Guest Suites Raleigh/Durham, 2515 Meridian Parkway, ☏ . All-suite atrium hotel lakeside near Research Triangle Park and ten minutes from the airport. Rooms feature refrigerator, microwave, and wetbar area.
- 5 Duke Tower Hotel & Condominiums, 807 W. Trinity Ave, ☏ , toll-free: , fax: .
- 6 Hotel Indigo Raleigh Durham Airport at RTP, 151 Tatum Dr., ☏ .
- 7 Durham Marriott City Center, 201 Foster St, ☏ . The people there are friendly and provide great service. They have a shuttle to take you up to a five-mile diameter from the hotel which gets you to most places in town. Ask for the 8th floor rooms facing west.
- 8 Millennium Hotel Durham, 2800 Campus Walk Ave, ☏ . Accommodations, meeting space, and dining venues about a mile from Duke University.
- 9 Quality Inn & Suites, 3710 Hillsborough Road, ☏ , fax: . Pet-friendly, free breakfast.
- 10 Sleep Inn, 5208 Page Rd (I-40 & Page Rd), ☏ , fax: . A pet-friendly hotel which offers free airport transportation.
- 11 SpringHill Suites, 5310 McFarland Drive, ☏ .
- 12 Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club, 3001 Cameron Blvd, ☏ .
- 13 Marriott at Research Triangle Park, 4700 Guardian Drive, ☏ . Check-in: 4PM, check-out: noon. Free parking, high speed internet and offers a complimentary airport shuttle.
Statistically crime in Durham is on par with other Southern cities its size. Most areas of the city are safe, including the areas around Duke and most of the outskirts of the city. The areas immediately around downtown (stretching a few miles east and south of downtown) are not always well lit or well patrolled. Basic rule of thumb – use common sense like you would anywhere else: use caution at night, avoid walking alone, lock your car, and remove valuables when parking. Most violent crimes in Durham, while not particularly frequent, are drug related or domestic and by avoiding the drug trade one can avoid these issues.
The police are generally quite helpful, friendly and understanding. Don't hesitate to call them if you're feeling uneasy or threatened. There is very low tolerance for drinking and driving, however, and of late checkpoints have sprung up on both main and secondary roads.
For medical care, Durham has a large supply of physicians, and is also known as the "City of Medicine".
- Duke University Medical Center, 2301 Erwin Road, ☏ . Duke University Medical center is a Solucient Top 100 Hospital, and named one of America's Best Hospitals by US News and World Report.
- Chapel Hill, about 8 miles from Durham, is home to the University of North Carolina (UNC-CH). Chapel Hill has many good restaurants and bars on Franklin Street, adjacent to the UNC campus.
- Hillsborough, the county seat, is a cute historic town 15 miles away, good for a day trip or to spend a night or two.
- Raleigh, about 28 miles away, the state capital. Raleigh has North Carolina State University; the state museums of art, history, and science; and the state symphony and ballet.
|Routes through Durham|
|Greensboro ← Burlington ←||W E||→ Cary → Raleigh|
|Greensboro ← Chapel Hill ←||W E||→ Cary → Raleigh|
|Petersburg ← Henderson ←||N S||→ Hillsborough → Greensboro|
|Leesburg ← Farmville ←||N S||→ Chapel Hill → Southern Pines|
|Greensboro ← Hillsborough ←||W E||→ Raleigh → Morehead City|
|Buena Vista ← Lynchburg ←||N S||→ Chapel Hill → Southern Pines|