NC Explorer: Fun things to do in Durham NC

From Durham Bulls website

Durham NC

Today on American Nomad we’re traveling to Durham North Carolina. Twenty-five west of The Capital City of Raleigh off I-40, Durham is a city anchored in history and culture. In addition to being home to Duke University, Durham’s Research Triangle Park is one of the leading areas for science and technological research in the world.

In the last decades, Durham was known more for its crime than must see attractions, but in the past decade downtown Durham has had a Renaissance, anchored by the continued popularity of the Durham Bulls as well as the building of the state of the art Durham Performing Arts Center.

Whether you are looking for a fun night out at DPAC, a baseball game or catch a ACC rivalry game in Cameron Indoor Stadium (Duke) – Durham has a lot to offer.

  • College basketball fans are probably familar from Durham from the annual meeting of Duke vs. UNC at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium. Full transparency, I’m a died in the wool Carolina Tar Heel fan and while my dad is a Duke alum, I am a Tar Heel fan (Chapel Hill), but that being said, I am going to be unbiased in this article, because I can see the value in my rival even if I pray UNC beats Duke every year. As a huge college basketball fan I have to admit that Cameron does rock in terms of a venue to watch a game.

Quick Facts about Durham:

  • Founded on April 16th, 1853, when the U.S. Post Office was established. It was officially incorporated on April 10, 1869 by the NC General Assembly
  • The town was named after Dr. Bartlett Snipes Durham, who in the 1840s offered the NC Railroad a four-acre tract of his land to build a station. The town was originally known as ‘Durhamville’
  • It became known as “Bull City” in the late 1800s where the Blackwell Tobacco Company named its product “Bull” Durham Tobacco
  • For years Durham was a tobacco capital of the world, when cigarettes and chewing tobacco were still not seen as unhealthy (hard to comprehend). The Duke family that founded Duke University made their fortune in Tobacco
  • Ironically the Tobacco City has shifted to a city for health as ‘The City of Medicine’ with over 300 medical practices and companies in Durham.
  • Durham has a rich African American history and used to be home to Black Wall Street when Durham was a banking center in the Southeast.
  • Durham is home to Duke University and allow the historical black college of North Carolina Central University as well as community college Durham Tech.
  • Current population: 255,000 and rising (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Metro area is over 1 million souls)

Fun things to do in Durham:

Catch a Durham Bulls Baseball Game

Founded in 1902, The Durham Bulls has been a beloved NC baseball institution for over 120 years. It is always fun to take in a ballgame at The Durham Athletic Park, where top baseball Triple AAA league players compete for championships. The Durham Bulls make the game fun with themed nights like Star Wars Game Night or Stranger Things Baseball Night (the creators of Stranger Things show are from Durham).

  • Fun Fact: The Durham Bulls were featured in the 1988 Kevin Costner hit Bull Durham

The stadium is conveniently located in the heart of historic Durham surrounded by The American Tobacco Campus (historic tobacco factories that now have shops, restaurants and offices). Catch an afternoon game before grabbing a bite to eat at nearby restaurants like Mellow Mushroom or Tobacco Road Cafe.

Get your Durham Bulls tickets here.


The Durham Performing Arts Center is one of the premier performance venues in the southeast. With 2700 seats, The DPAC hosts hundreds of shows each year from Broadway to recent concerts by Ben Rector, Frankie Valli and more.

Find your DPAC show here.

  • Grab a bite to eat at Nana Steak before the show (my favorite) and after the show you can check into the nearby Aloft Hotel and enjoy a drink at the bar

Duke University:

Even this Tar Heel fan enjoys touring Duke’s campus where you’ll discover beautiful grounds and a multitude of musical events. Here are a few university highlights:

  • Duke Gardens: 55 Acres of Landscaped and Wooded Acres – beautiful flowers!
  • Duke Cathedral: Feels like a Gothic Cathedral from England or France
  • Duke Lemur Center The Duke Lemur Center is an 85-acre sanctuary for rare and endangered strepsirrhine primates, located at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. It is the largest sanctuary for strepsirrhine primates in the world. The center is open to the public through tours, for which visitors must make an appointment.
  • Cameron Indoor Stadium
  • Duke Concerts

Nasher Art Museum:

A word-class collection of art from Medieval and Renaissance masters and beyond. Part of Duke University*

Plan your visit here.

From Nasher’s Medieval Collection

Museum of life and science

A must see for all ages – The Museum of Life and Science in Durham features interactive exhibits to learn about earth and life sciences. Take a train ride through wildlife refuge with black bears and wolves. Learn about Lemurs and other animals. This is one of my favorite spots to visit and always offers something new to discover.

Learn more here.

Bennett Place:

The largest surrender of American Civil War occurred here when Confederate General Johnston and Union General Sherman met at a humble farmhouse owned by James Bennett in April 1865 to sign the surrender papers for the southern armies in the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida – essentially ending the war between the states (along with Lee’s Surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in VA).

Today visitors can tour the reconstructed farmhouse, kitchen and learn about life in the era of The Civil War.


Duke Homestead

Visit the home of Duke empire founder, Washington Duke and his family…they lived on the property from 1852 until 1874. Learn about early family life of the Duke family and the beginnings of their tobacco manufacturing business on the property after the Civil War.

Learn more here.

Eno River State Park

Durham residents can get out of the hubbub of the city and I-40 Traffic with an escape to Eno River State Park. Halfway between Durham and Hillsborough NC, this amazing park has over 4,319 acres of wilderness to enjoy…from hiking trails to river access you’ll find peace and quiet amid the towering pines and rambling river.

Eno River State Park hosts Festival for the Eno Arts Festival (EnoFest) every July Fourth – a fantastic day of music, arts and crafts and great food.

Plan your Eno State Park adventure here.

Jordan Lake:

Roughly 10 miles from downtown Durham is this a fun spot to enjoy a day at the lake. With 14,000 acres, enjoy camping, boating access and fishing!

Learn more here

Brightleaf Square Shopping Center

Not far from Downtown Durham, Brightleaf Square is a historic, urban shopping center with amazing restaurants, local shops and character.

Plan your Brightleaf adventure here.

credit: Brightleaf; view from Downtown Durham

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