24 Best Things to Do in Durham, NC: Food, Museum, Shopping, Parks, & More

Duke University Chapel in Durham North Carolina

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Ready to spice up your travel itinerary with a dash of Southern charm? Durham, North Carolina is the place to be! 

Tucked right in the heart of the Research Triangle, this city boasts a captivating blend of history, culture, and innovation.

Maybe you’re itching to dig deep into Durham’s fascinating past and soak up its vibrant culture.

Or maybe your inner foodie has a hankering for some lip-smacking, finger-licking creations.

Our comprehensive guide to things to do in Durham will take you deep into the fun activities and must-see spots of this lovely North Carolina city.

Whether you’re looking to explore museums or art galleries, indulge in culinary delights that earned the city its reputation as a foodie’s paradise, or venture into the great outdoors, Durham has something to offer on your visit.

Looking for more places to explore in North Carolina? Check our Burlington, Raleigh, Charlotte, and Wilmington guides.

For your summer adventure, try these best beaches in NC that are perfect for families.

Best Things To Do In Durham NC 

Our list of Durham attractions and activities starts from places around downtown and heads out from there so you can plan your itinerary accordingly.

Wander Through Sarah P. Duke Gardens 

Escape into nature at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens (420 Anderson Street), a stunning oasis spanning 55 acres.

Take a peaceful walk through beautifully landscaped gardens, admire the impressive blooms, and unwind by the tranquil ponds.

And the best part is, this is one of the best things to see in Durham that you can access for free!

Sarah P Duke Gardens in Durham North Carolina

Walk Around Duke University

Duke University, located in Durham, NC, is a renowned private research institution known for its exceptional academic programs, world-class faculty, and beautiful campus. 

One of its most iconic landmarks is Duke Chapel, a stunning architectural masterpiece that features a Gothic-style structure, intricate stained glass windows, and rich history.

You can visit Duke to immerse yourself in a vibrant intellectual community or walk around to take in the stunning architecture and lush gardens around the campus.

Duke University Chapel in Durham North Carolina

Visit the Nasher Museum of Art (2001 Campus Dr)

Art enthusiasts shouldn’t miss the Nasher Museum of Art (2001 Campus Drive).

Explore diverse collections of contemporary, modern, and classical art from around the world, and catch rotating exhibitions and events.

There are many creative artsy things to do in Durham, but a visit to the Nasher Museum of Art shouldn’t be skipped.

Shop for Handmade Crafts at The Scrap Exchange

A true paradise for DIY enthusiasts, The Scrap Exchange (2050 Chapel Hill Rd) offers an extensive assortment of recycled materials, art supplies, and vintage items.

The Scrap Exchange is a creative reuse center that encourages eco-friendly practices while inspiring your artistic side.

Unleash your imagination and discover hidden treasures to upcycle into unique creations.

Immerse Yourself in History at the Museum of Durham History

Learn about Durham’s fascinating past at the Museum of Durham History (500 W Main St).

Discover the city’s tobacco heritage, civil rights movement, and notable residents through engaging exhibits and interactive displays.

Indulge in Culinary Delights at Durham Food Hall 

When it comes to delicious things to do in downtown Durham, head over to Durham Food Hall (530 Foster Street), a culinary hotspot featuring a variety of local food vendors.

Satisfy your tastebuds with everything from gourmet burgers and authentic tacos to artisanal pastries and craft cocktails.

Take a Stroll at Durham Central Park

Visit Durham Central Park (501 Foster Street), an urban park that hosts various family-friendly events and activities throughout the year.

Enjoy food truck rodeos, farmers’ markets, and open play areas for kids.

Food enthusiasts will delight in those food truck rodeos!

Another one of the highlights of Durham Central Park is its diverse lineup of outdoor concerts.

The open-air setting adds to the ambiance, creating a memorable experience for attendees of all ages.

Shop at Downtown Durham 

Discover the vibrant energy of downtown Durham (Main St, Parrish St, and Chapel Hill St).

Explore its unique boutiques, art galleries, and eclectic shops.

After some retail therapy, savor a diverse culinary scene offering everything from farm-to-table fare to international cuisines.

A pedestrian mall of retail shops converted from old tobacco warehouses in Durham, North Carolina

Cheers to a Brewery Tour 

Downtown Durham is a hub for craft breweries, offering a vibrant beer scene waiting to be explored. Embark on a self-guided brewery tour, discovering the unique flavors and styles of Durham’s local brews.

Some notable breweries in the downtown area include Fullsteam Brewery (726 Rigsbee Avenue), Ponysaurus Brewing Co. (219 Hood Street), and Durty Bull Brewing Company (206 Broadway Street).

Sip on a variety of handcrafted beers and soak in the lively atmosphere of Durham’s brewing community.

Close-up of four small beers as a sampler

Catch a Live Performance at the Durham Performing Arts Center 

Experience world-class entertainment at the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) ( 123 Vivian Street), one of the country’s premier theaters.

From Broadway shows and musical performances to comedy acts and ballets, DPAC offers an array of exceptional performances.

Learn at the Museum of Life + Science

Explore the Museum of Life + Science (433 W Murray Ave), an interactive museum that features a butterfly house, a dinosaur trail, and even a train ride.

The Museum of Life + Science is renowned for its hands-on exhibits, where visitors can engage with science, technology, and nature in a fun and interactive way.

From exploring the wonders of outer space to delving into the depths of the ocean, these exhibits provide a unique learning experience that sparks curiosity and encourages discovery.

Children can conduct experiments, manipulate objects, and engage in scientific exploration, fostering a love for learning while having a great time.

Go Axe Throwing at Urban Axes 

Axe throwing at Urban Axes (619 Foster St) makes for a fun and exciting day!

Tap into your inner lumberjack and test your aim by throwing axes at targets in an entertaining and competitive environment.

Urban Axes is certainly among the fun places to go in Durham as they provide a unique experience where you can participate in axe throwing games, learn different throwing techniques, and enjoy friendly competition with your friends or fellow axe enthusiasts.

Catch a Game at Durham Bulls Athletic Park 

Among all of the fun downtown Durham activities, catch a baseball game at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park (409 Blackwell St).

Cheer for the home team, enjoy ballpark snacks, and experience the excitement of America’s favorite pastime with the whole family.

No baseball game is complete without indulging in classic ballpark food.

From hot dogs and nachos to popcorn and peanuts, the Durham Bulls Athletic Park offers a wide array of culinary delights that cater to every taste.

Feast at The Original Q Shack  

The Original Q Shack (2510 University Dr) is a delicious way to spend your afternoon.

The Q Shack prides itself on offering an authentic taste of the South where you can feast on mouthwatering barbecue and Southern comfort food.

Whether you choose to sit inside and enjoy the cozy rustic decor or opt for outdoor seating on their charming patio, you’ll feel right at home.

Savor the Saltbox Seafood Joint 

Saltbox Seafood Joint (608 N Mangum St) is a beloved local spot known for its mouthwatering seafood. 

This casual eatery specializes in North Carolina-style seafood, offering an array of delights such as fried fish sandwiches, shrimp po’boys, oysters, and daily seafood specials. 

The focus here is on simplicity and quality, with the seafood sourced from local waters and prepared to perfection.

Picnic at Eno River State Park 

Spend a day immersed in nature at Eno River State Park (6101 Cole Mill Rd) — it’s one of the best places to see in Durham.

Explore the park’s hiking trails, have a picnic by the river, splash in the shallow pools, and enjoy the peaceful surroundings with your family or friends.

Spread out a blanket, unpack your picnic basket, and savor delicious homemade treats while listening to the soothing sounds of the flowing water.

On warm days, the shallow pools along the riverbanks beckon visitors for a refreshing splash.

Children especially love the opportunity to dip their toes or take a playful swim in these shallow pools.

The peaceful surroundings of Eno River State Park provide an excellent opportunity to unwind and reconnect with nature.

Go Mad at The Mad Hatter’s Cafe & Bakeshop 

The Mad Hatter’s Cafe & Bakeshop (1802 W Main St) is quite the experience in Durham.

This is an enchanting establishment and haven for food enthusiasts seeking to indulge in delectable sandwiches, flavorful soups, and an array of mouthwatering baked goods.

The decor is inspired by the whimsy of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” with vibrant colors, quirky artwork, and whimsical decorations adorning the walls.

You can also find the staff dressed in outfits reminiscent of the beloved characters from the story, adding to the magical ambiance.

So, if you are looking for unique things to do in Durham, don’t be late for your very important date at the Mad Hatter!

Explore Eclectic Shops at Ninth Street

Ninth Street (9th St) is the place to visit in Durham if you want a vibrant and eclectic shopping district that offers a mix of independent boutiques, specialty stores, and locally-owned businesses.

From trendy clothing boutiques to gourmet food shops, vintage stores, and quirky gift shops, Ninth Street has something to cater to every taste and style.

This place is more than just a shopping destination — it’s a hub of creativity, entrepreneurship, and local pride.

By supporting the independent businesses that call Ninth Street home, you’re not only indulging in a unique retail experience but also contributing to the growth and vibrancy of Durham’s community.

Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth at Ninth Street Bakery

Ninth Street Bakery (136 E Chapel Hill St) is a local gem that has been serving the community since 1981. 

The bakery has become a go-to destination for residents and visitors alike who crave delicious baked goods and a warm, inviting atmosphere.

As you go in, you’ll be greeted by the enticing aroma of freshly baked bread, pastries, and other delectable treats. 

The rustic and cozy ambiance creates a comforting setting, making it an ideal spot to unwind and enjoy a moment of indulgence.

The bakery takes pride in using high-quality, organic ingredients sourced from local farms and suppliers.

Their commitment to sustainability and supporting local producers shines through in every bite. 

Whether you have a sweet tooth or prefer savory delights, Ninth Street Bakery has something to satisfy every craving.

Drink at the Durham Distillery 

Go on a tour of this award-winning distillery, located on Foster Street.

Known for its handcrafted gin, vodka, and other spirits, Durham Distillery (711 N. Foster Street) offers guided tours that take you through the production process and allow you to sample their exceptional creations.

Discover the art of distillation while sipping on their signature cocktails.

Enjoy Game Night at Boxcar Bar + Arcade 

Unleash your inner child and enjoy an evening of arcade games, pinball machines, and craft beer at Boxcar Bar + Arcade (621 Foster Street). 

This lively venue combines nostalgic gaming with a wide selection of craft beers on tap.

When looking for fun things to do in Durham, NC, challenge your friends to classic games like Pac-Man, and Street Fighter, or try your hand at pinball machines for an entertaining night out.

Hit the Greens at Hillandale Golf Course 

Tee off at Hillandale Golf Course (1600 Hillandale Road), a scenic 18-hole golf course that offers a picturesque setting for golf enthusiasts of all skill levels.

Enjoy well-maintained fairways, challenging greens, and beautiful landscapes as you navigate through the course.

Golf ball on a tee in front of a golf club

Climb at Triangle Rock Club 

Looking for exciting stuff to do in Durham?

Triangle Rock Club (1010 Martin Luther King Jr Pkwy Suite 400), is a premier indoor climbing facility where you can challenge yourself with indoor rock climbing and bouldering.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced climber, the state-of-the-art climbing walls and expert instructors provide a safe and engaging environment to push your limits and improve your skills.

Play Paintball at Xtreme Park Adventures 

Gear up and immerse yourself in heart-pumping paintball activities in Durham to battle it out at Xtreme Park Adventures (7460 Wake Forest Rd).

Strategize with your team, engage in friendly firefights, and experience the adrenaline rush as you navigate through thrilling game scenarios on their expansive outdoor fields.

If you’re into paintball, you can’t miss Black Ops Paintball near Fort Bragg; it’s one of our top things to do in Fayetteville.

Final Thoughts

As we wrap up our guide on the best things to do around Durham, we hope this has given you some exciting ideas for your next visit.

Do you have any personal recommendations or experiences to share during your trip to this city? Drop us a comment below. 

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