Last Updated on September 8, 2021
Last Updated on September 8, 2021
If you plan to visit Western NC, please check beforehand to see if the area is safe following the recent flooding. Officials have closed some sections of Pisgah National Forest (including Forest Heritage Scenic Byway and Blue Ridge Parkway stops) to keep visitors out of danger. Please respect signage and local guidance.
If you’re looking for FREE things to do in Durham near downtown or outside its city limits in the county, this guide has you covered. After many days and nights exploring North Carolina‘s Bull City, we’ve found quite a few fun attractions that don’t require admission and want to share some of our favorites.
They include unique dinosaur-lined paths, hiking trails, quirky museums, and more. So whether you’re spending the day inside or out, with kids or without them, we hope this collection of activities helps you toward an awesome time in Durham.
This guide is a part of our series on Durham and other awesome places to visit in Central North Carolina. If you’re looking for a fun place to stay in the area, these Durham Airbnbs will get you started.
Free Things to Do in Durham NC
To keep things organized, here’s how we’ve broken down the attractions mentioned in this guide:
- Free Everyday
- Free Some Days
- Map of Free Things to Do in Durham
21c Museum Hotel
111 N Corcoran St
21c Musuem Hotel is the first of the awesome free things to do in Durham that we’ll share. I mean, why would you NOT want to take a photo with a giant pink penguin or hide in an old bank vault?
There are eight 21c Museum Hotels in the US and they are known for mixing modern art collections with a cozy place to stay. And 21c’s Downtown Durham location is one of the best. Browse the rotating and permanent collections for free every day at any time!
American Tobacco Campus
300 Blackwell St
American Tobacco Campus Historic District was one of the first places we visited before moving to Durham. And today, it’s one we suggest to first-time visitors because we fell in love with the place!
Here, you can walk along stream-lined sidewalks and stare up at Durham’s Lucky Strike Tower. The tower and its surroundings are especially cool during Christmas when lit up!
Finally, when the hive is buzzing, check out the activity happening around the Burt’s Bees HQ.
American Tobacco Trail
One of the easiest ways to get active in Durham is along the American Tobacco Trail. 22-plus miles snaking Downtown Durham and through Wake and Chatham counties means there’s a lot of ground to cover!
Hop on any of the trail’s entry points and walk, bike, or run through this beautiful greenway. Our favorites include Solite Park (4704 Fayetteville Rd) and CM Herndon Park (511 Scott King Rd).
We also included the ATT in our guide to hiking trails near Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill!
4409 Bennett Memorial Rd
You’ll find tons of history and a beautiful open green space at Bennett Place! With restored historic structures, living history events and tours, feel like you’re with General Joseph E. Johnston and General William T. Sherman during the largest surrender of the American Civil War.
Black Wall Street
Durham’s Parrish Street is also known as “Black Wall Street,” which you can better understand its place in history when visiting. A national historic landmark that commemorates the area remembered as the city’s African-American commercial center.
Not Free Bonus Tip: You can learn even more about African-American history in Durham from a seat on the Bull City Laughs tour bus. While this is not free, learning about Durham from local comedians while riding a bus is totally worth admission.
Black Wall Street and Bull City Laughs are two of many important ways to learn about Black history in North Carolina.
With green spaces everywhere, one of the best free things to do in Durham is through one of the many parks. Whether you’re hitting the monkey bars at the aforementioned Solite Park (4704 Fayetteville Rd) or looking to take the stage at Burch Ave Park (816 Burch Ave), there’s always a place to play in Durham.
Duke Forest is officially managed as a living laboratory and outdoor classroom for students. However, we couldn’t leave its paths out and will include it here among our favorite free things to do in Durham.
There are six designated areas within this 7,000 acres of forest and we’re big fans of the Durham Division. You can access that section off Highway 751 near Constitution Drive.
Bonus: The nearby Al Buehler Trail (3001 Cameron Blvd) is also managed by Duke Forest and has a bit of incline, making it great for hikes and mountain bikes.
Duke Basketball Museum and Hall of Fame
306 Towerview Dr
Check out trophies, memorabilia, and learn about the history of the Blue Devils at the Duke Basketball Museum and Hall of Fame. Over 20 ACC tournaments and one of the most famous basketball programs in the country means there’s a killer museum to celebrate the legacy.
Duke University Chapel
401 Chapel Dr
A stroll through the neo-Gothic campus of Duke University is a must when in Durham. But your walk must include a stop at the 210-foot soaring beauty that is Duke University Chapel. With a Flentrop Organ (5,200 pipes) and 50-bell carillon, setting foot inside the chapel and looking around will leave you awestruck.
Eno River State Park
You can access this state park throughout North Durham and go camping and swimming there, too.
Some of our personal favorite hiking spots include Cox Mountain (really cool footbridge), Cole Mill (nice river views), and Pump Station (wildflowers).
Eno River State Park is also included in our guide to outdoor fun in Durham.
5828 Old Oxford Hwy
As one of the South’s largest plantations and once spanning 30,000 acres with 900 slaves, Historic Stagville is a preserved slice of history. The site is now used to teach about the lives and work of the enslaved population, with free tours available.
Major the Bull
237 Corcoran St
No matter how long you’re staying in Durham, you have to stand in front of Major the Bull for a selfie. This bronze statue is probably the easiest of free things to do in Durham, and it’s also one of the most “local.”
The statue was created and built locally, in true Durham spirit. He remains something of a mascot and offers good lucks to those who rub his sides. Just no riding, as Major has retired.
Mural Tour in Downtown Durham
Start at 212 W Main St #101
The street art in Durham is not just beautiful, but also bountiful! And you can go on a self-guided mural tour. All you have to do is pick up a Mural Finder booklet.
They are available in the Durham Visitor Info Center. Or, you can hop on one of the monthly mural bicycle tours with Preservation Durham!
Museum of Durham History
500 W Main St
The Museum of Durham History is truly one without walls, as advertised. However, you can stop by for info about their “History Groves” scattered throughout the city.
Old Oxford Rd
Penny’s Bend is a nature preserve that’s managed by the NC Botanical Garden. It’s home to plants (blue wild indigo) and soils not typically found in Central North Carolina. There’s also a loop trail (2.8 miles) which will take you along the Eno, which surrounds the preserve on three sides.
Sarah P Duke Gardens
420 Anderson St
Sarah P Duke Gardens is a 55-acre planned garden, filled with open space, ponds, and scenic beauty around every turn. It’s the perfect place to stroll and there is something blooming all year round. We suggest stopping by the Garden Center and buying some duck food and fish-counting in the Koi pond!
Note: Parking is not free ($2/Hour) but there is no charge to enter Sarah P. Duke Gardens!
Visit Duke Gardens any time and you’ll see why it’s one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in North Carolina!
414 Gattis St
We shared murals earlier but wanted to mention Satellite Park, too, because this is an awesome collection of murals in Durham that many folks don’t know about, yet. It’s a small park that sits on the grounds of the Duke Arts Annex and here, you’ll find eight decommissioned satellites painted by local artists.
West Point on the Eno
5101 N Roxboro Rd
Shallow waters downstream from a beautiful dam along with five miles of scenic trails mean there’s a lot of reasons to spend the entire day here!
V & E Simonetti’s Historic Tuba Museum
1825 Chapel Hill Rd
Love tubas? Or maybe just interested in them? The Vincent and Ethel Simonetti Historic Tuba Collection houses over 300 of the large bellowing brass instruments from 1830 to current models. The museum is free to visit on Tuesdays and Thursdays by appointment.
Free Some Days
Counter Culture Coffee
812 Mallard Ave
Sustainable, delicious, and notable are words that come to mind when thinking of Counter Culture Coffee. You might have already seen their exceptional coffee served elsewhere in the US, so why not head to the source?
Tour their roasting room and learn more about where the magic, every Friday at 10 am.
123 Vivian St
Want to see where all the magic happens at DPAC? Well, you can, thanks to monthly behind-the-scenes tours every second Monday. You’ll have a chance to walk the stage like your favorite performers and see where the stars prepare for showtime.
The Museum of Life of Science
433 W Murray Ave
We promised dinosaurs and we’ll raise you with some lemurs, a giant treehouse, and more at The Museum of Life of Science. You might see lots of kids running around, but this is THE place to play for all ages.
The museum’s 84 acres include indoor interactive play, one of the largest butterfly conservatories on the East Coast, and endangered red wolves. Plus, it’s free for Durham residents two times a month.
Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University
2001 Campus Dr
With incredible visiting exhibits and an impressive permanent collection, a trip to the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University is a must. There are admission fees most days but the museum is free to the public on Thursday nights from 5 to 9 pm.
What Are Your Favorites?
We hope you’re able to enjoy these free things to do in Durham. If you’ve gotten the chance to hang out in Bull City, which of these fun activities have you gotten to experience? What’s the first thing that stood out to you as THE thing to do out of them all?
If you also live here or have a lot of experience in Bull City, we’d love to know about your favorite free things to do in Durham, too! Just let us know in the comments section and tell us all about it!
Map of Free Things to Do in Durham
Our map shows all the free things to do in Durham that we mentioned in this article.