Last Updated on September 10, 2020
Last Updated on September 10, 2020
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If you’re looking for fun things to do in Durham —including special events—this guide has everything you’ll ever need. Just keep in mind that you’ll have to come back because there’s enough stuff to do for more than a couple of days.
So with the challenge laid out, let’s see exactly how you can enjoy this awesome city in the North Carolina Research Triangle.
Things to Do in Durham NC
If you need to find something specific in this guide, we’ve organized it into the following sections:
- Seasonal Events in Durham (January to December During a Typical Year)
- Things to Do in Durham EVERY Weekend
- Hotels, Food, and Drink
- Indoor Fun
- Outdoor Places to Go
- More Things to Do in Durham (Related Posts)
Seasonal Events in Durham
If you have a specific time you plan on visiting Durham or getting out for the weekend, these fun events should keep you busy throughout the year.
Note: Any dates that have been confirmed will be posted.
January to March
January: KwanzaaFest closes out the seven days of Kwanzaa and is half at the Durham Armory. Doors open at noon and the African American Dance Ensemble’s performances begin at 2:00 pm. More info is available here.
February: The Hayti Heritage Film Festival’s main goal is to “keep Black film alive,” with an emphasis placed on creators from the South. Durham’s historic Hayti community and the city’s African-American legacy also remain at the forefront during this annual festival.
April to June
Panel conversations aka “The Speakeasy” give attendees access to filmmakers and industry leaders in an informal setting at the Durham Hotel.
May: Bring a lawn chair for a day of fun at Durham’s Bimbe Cultural Arts Festival. This FREE event celebrates African and African-American history, culture, arts, and more at Rock Quarry Park. Some events are weather-dependent, so keep tabs on Bimbe here.
June to July: The American Dance Festival remains connected to Durham’s community throughout the year, but June and July (dates here) are their biggest months. For the multiple classes and performances held, hundreds of dancers will descend upon Bull City in a Modern Dance takeover hardly seen anywhere else.
We also can’t leave out the Beaver Queen Pageant and NC’s Juneteenth Celebration, also in June!
July to September
July: Festival for the Eno brings over 70 bands, arts and crafts vendors, and food vendors to West Point on the Eno for an awesome two-day celebration in July.
Usually held on July 4 and the closest weekend date to Independence Day (2021 Dates TBA), this event is presented by the Eno River Association to raise awareness and money to protect our natural region.
August: The OutSouth Queer Film Festival is the second largest of its kind, bringing thousands of attendees to downtown Durham every year. Along with providing films from worldwide makers, guests get an eye into modern gay, lesbian, and transgender life.
The Audience Awards gives those in attendance a voice and vote for “Best Film” in a variety of categories.
Note: The event was formerly known as the NC Gay & Lesbian Film Festival.
September: Downtown’s CenterFest Arts Festival takes over the city with juried artists from all over. Many from Durham and surrounding spots in the Triangle. Music on multiple stages and a Creative Kids Zone are surrounded by these vendors and those serving food that you won’t always find downtown.
September is a busy month and here are a few more events you shouldn’t miss:
October to December
October: World Beer Festival happens at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, with two sessions available for attendees (Afternoon and Evening). Local beers join forces with national and international ones and if your hungry, amazing food will be there, too!
November: NC Comicon & Comiquest Film Festival invites guests and comic book enthusiasts to the Durham Convention Center for exhibits, cosplay, and more fun. This two-day event brings together creators that include illustrators and writers behind the best comics. Carolina Theatre hosts the Comiquest Film Festival that’s a part of the fun, too.
December: Christmas in Durham kicks off with the Tower & Tree Lighting during the first week of December. A week later, the Christmas Parade & Fun Fest packs downtown with floats, Santa Claus, and more things to do for everyone.
A couple of more can’t-miss December events include Christmas by Candlelight at Duke Homestead and Christmas at Historic Stagville. The latter focuses on the lives of both the enslaved population and the plantation’s owners.
Many of these events feature in our monthly “things to do” posts. Now, let’s get to all the fun you have in Durham, no matter which weekend you decide to be here.
Things to Do in Durham EVERY Weekend
Hotels, Food, and Drink
Hotels in Durham
To kick off our weekend in Bull City, check out The Durham Hotel. It’s an amazing representation of our city and its rooftop hosts one of the city’s best views.
21c Museum Hotel is just down the street, too, and home to a really cool and quirky art collection.
The Durham food scene is one of North Carolina’s best and hard to encapsulate in one small section. That’s why we’ve broken it down into guides to casual restaurants and international restaurants, along with our favorite pizza joints!
If you’ve got some time and want to dig into Durham, here’s a quick rundown of places to eat and when:
Coffee: Cocoa Cinnamon (Lakewood Location), Bean Traders, or Parker & Otis (we featured more coffee shops in Durham here)
Breakfast: Rise Biscuits, Silver Spoon, Beyu Caffe, and True Flavors (the latter two featured in our guide to black-owned Durham restaurants)
Lunch: Picnic Durham, Toast, or Ninth Street Bakery
Brunch: Grub, Hope Valley Diner, or Vin Rouge
Dinner Out: M Sushi, NanaSteak, or Nana’s
Dinner In: Twisted Noodles, Randy’s Pizza, or Mediterra Grill
Food Trucks: Sympathy for the Deli, Pie Pushers, or Chirba Chirba
Dessert: Locopops or The Parlour
Breweries and Taprooms
Of course, we can’t leave out Bull City Burger and Brewery, which combines organic and local eats with delicious beers.
Oh, and don’t forget about Dirty Bull Brewing Company. There, you’ll find a nice and cozy place to sit while admiring their immense collection of Simpsons memorabilia.
And if you are specifically into sours of fruit inspired beer, then Barrel Culture Brewing and Blending is where you will want to drink in Durham. Located towards the RTP area of the Triangle, Barrel Culture makes an incredible line up of non traditional beers.
Further from downtown you’ll find The Glass Jug, and eclectic mix of bottle shop and artfully crafted beer. Sit in their beer garden and escape the city life for a bit!
The Wine Feed
And if you thought we were only focused on beer and spirits, think again. The Wine Feed mixes a nice selection of bottles for sipping at the bar and a shop where you can take something home. Either way, it’s a great Downtown spot.
We know many of Durham’s restaurants and bars make nice cocktails, but we think you’re missing out if you don’t visit Alley Twenty Six for a hand-crafted drink.
Bar Virgile also makes a fine cocktail, as do The Durham Hotel and Counting House inside 21c Museum Hotel. But for an all round incredible experience, check out Kingfisher next to The Durham Hotel. Incredibly unique cocktails and handmade ceramics make it a drink to remember.
Distilleries in Durham
You’re bound to notice Durham Distillery in every restaurant you walk into in the Bull City. And not only is their gin delicious but touring the place where it’s all made is one of the most interesting things to do in Durham, too!
You can also visit Mystic Farm and Distillery for gin, but amazing bourbon, too. And then you can’t forget about the truly unique Brothers Vilgalys, whose Krupnikas will keep you coming back for more.
Visiting any of these distilleries in Durham is a fun date night activity, especially on the weekend!
We also included Durham Distillery, Mystic Farm and Distillery, and Brothers Vilgalys among our favorite distilleries in North Carolina.
And we couldn’t mention Durham bars without giving Pinhook a shout. Bands come from all over to play there and it’s also a great casual spot for hanging out.
Looking for a non-alcoholic option? Dakine’s Kava on Old Chapel Hill Road near Duke East Campus serves up delicious kava drinks in a cool and inviting atmosphere. Seriously, not only will the drinks chill you out but the owners are some of the nicest people you will ever meet!
If you want a massive variety to choose from, Durham’s bottle shop scene can help. Like all the others we’ll mention here, Beer Study is primarily a bottle shop, and you can also hang and drink from their taps.
The Glass Jug Beer Lab should fall into our “Breweries” section but they also have a wide selection of taps, cans, and bottles that are made elsewhere.
And in case you wanted to up the ante for your weekend in Durham, hang out at the city’s barcades. Boxcar is making waves across the state, especially in Durham, with its ever-expanding space.
Quarter Horse has a more retro feel inside, with a fun assortment of games from back in the day. Social Games and Brews mixes arcade favorites with console classics, playable from the bar’s TVs. It’s the perfect spot to get your Goldeneye on if you know what I’m talking about.
And at The Atomic Fern, you can chill and play board games with friends while sipping your drink.
Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours
Another great weekend thing to do in Durham is to sample the Bull City food and drink scene. And you can do that by joining a Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tour.
It’s a great way to eat, learn about the city, and meet like-minded foodies! For more about our experience joining a Durham food tour a la Taste, check here.
Indoor Fun (Shopping, Escapes, and Sports)
Art Galleries in Durham
While Durham is home to research and innovation, there’s also a wonderful art scene here. Whether you are browsing the curated works at PS118 Gallery & Event Space after a lovely meal downtown or shopping the shelves at The Artisan Market at 305, it is clear that browsing art is one of the best things to do in Durham!
Pop into 5 Points Gallery and see a diverse exhibit featuring 10 local artists. The works rotate every two months and there is always one of the artists in the gallery that can offer you even more insight into the works.
PS118 Gallery & Event Space is owned by Dave Wofford, who also runs an award-winning studio that specializes in graphic design, letterpress printing, and book production. The gallery allows people to engage with art in a meaningful way, but also an event space.
With artists talks, history lectures, and acoustic music, this is truly a unique space and an excellent showcase of Durham.
Another great place to peruse is The Artisan Market at 305. Featuring more than 40 artisans and makers, we always walk out of there with something fun and special.
Cameron Indoor Stadium
Seeing the men or women play against UNC made our bucket list of things to do in North Carolina.
Bonus Fun Fact: Don’t assume everyone is a Duke basketball fan because you’re in Durham. You’re still in the state of North Carolina, where most people root for the Tar Heels and even Wolfpack over Blue Devils.
And we can’t forget about Carolina Theater, either. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places and one of 13 original theaters that remain standing today. Enjoying a show at Carolina Theater is one of the best things to do in Durham for a date night.
Rain or shine, DPAC (Durham Performing Arts Center) is one of the best weekend things to do in Durham. Among its 2,700 stadium-style seats, I still haven’t found a bad one.
And with over 200 performances a year, you’ll most likely be in luck if you’re in town and don’t have anything planned.
You can read more about why we love catching shows at DPAC here!
Duke University Chapel
Duke University Chapel is an over 80-year-old church that lies at the center of campus. If you visit, just stand inside and admire the grandeur and beauty that makes up the place.
Maybe you’ll be there when the pipe organ is going, which is an awesome added effect.
If you really need a getaway, try out one of Durham’s escape rooms—I’m sure you’ve never heard that one before.
Outdoor Places to Visit
American Tobacco Campus
A big part of Durham’s 2000s revitalization started around the American Tobacco Campus, which is a treat if you get a chance to walk around. This is usually the first place we take friends and family when they come to Durham for the first time. You’ll see why when visiting.
Black Wall Street
Stop by the NC Mutual Life building and take yourself back to times when Durham’s “Black Wall Street” rose during the early 20th century. On West Main Street, the Museum of Durham History can also give you insight into the city’s origins through modern times.
Bull City Laughs
Of all the things to do in Durham, I’d call Bull City Laughs the most unique. This comedy history tour takes place on a bus of all places (still outdoors!) and will whisk you around the city.
This is not a PG-rated show, which is a good thing. Audience participation is encouraged, and topics include African-American history, the city’s best burgers, and more.
Check out our interview with owner Brandon Wright, on our podcast, NC Travel Chat!
We also found a secret gem of a park near Duke University. Satellite Park features old satellites that have been painted alongside some beautiful murals.
If you’re a Durhamite or know the city well, what’s your favorite park to visit?
Duke Forest‘s nice and flat nature walks within its 7,000-acre university-managed living laboratory and outdoor classroom.
We’ve spent lots of time walking Duke Forest trails but love the Durham Division (off Highway 751 near Constitution Drive). The nearby Al Buehler Trail is also nice for hiking and mountain biking, with a bit of an incline, too.
You’ll find quite a few beautiful places in Durham, but Sarah P. Duke Gardens is up there among the prettiest. It houses a gorgeous collection of trees and flowers and hosts quite a few events and weddings throughout the year.
Seeing the cherry blossoms in early spring makes this one of our favorites then, but you can hardly go wrong any time of year. Taking visitors to Sarah P. Duke is one of our favorite things to do in Durham!
Duke Wall is a nice path that takes you around the university’s East Campus. It’s a wonderful walk throughout the year, but spring and fall are when the blooms and foliage make this one of Durham’s prettiest spots.
Durham Bulls Athletic Park
If you’re around during baseball season, please catch a game at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. It’s a beautiful stadium and there’s hardly a bad seat in the house.
Honestly, I prefer sitting somewhere on the third-base side but also like ditching my seat for a bit. That’s when I walk around and take in a pitch or two from various parts of the outfield.
Eno River State Park
We’ve started many weekends in Durham exploring all the things to do at Eno River State Park. This is where you should start when exploring the outdoors in Bull City, even if you’re searching for a hike near Raleigh or Chapel Hill.
Our personal favorite paths there include Cole Mill, Cox Mountain, and Buckquarter Creek.
The Eno features among our favorite places to go hiking in North Carolina!
Downtown Durham’s buildings host some of the coolest street art, centering on the civil rights era like the one pictured above, which you’ll find at 120 Morris Street.
There are also some cool murals dedicated to civil rights leader Pauli Murray throughout the city.
Museum of Life and Science
There are also quite a few family-friendly places to go during a weekend in Durham but start with the Museum of Life and Science.
Personally, I think you and the kids (or just you) can explore for hours. We can easily think of things to love about MLS and also included it in our guides to children’s museums throughout the state and North Carolina’s awesome museums.
Duke is not the only school in town, as North Carolina Central University is also here.
Known as the nation’s first public Liberal Arts institution for African-Americans, NCCU is known as a campus that gives back, as all students are required to perform community service before graduating.
Check their campus calendar for more info if you’re interested in stopping by or doing a tour.
Wallace Wade Stadium
It’s also the answer to an interesting trivia question: what site served as the Rose Bowl in 1942, due to security concerns during World War II?
Ready to Explore Bull City in Style?
After writing all of this, I now see there are so many weekend things to do in Durham. I can now understand when visitors don’t get to see and do everything in Bull City.
If you had to choose, what would you do first? And if you regularly visit Durham, hail from the area, or live here now, we’d love to know your favorites, too!