Durham isn’t your average city. Thanks to the presence of Duke University, as well as the city’s position in the Research Triangle of North Carolina, Durham has always benefited from a near constant influx of new residents not only from around the country, but from around the world. The result is a diverse, multi-cultural town in the heart of North Carolina with everything from stellar restaurants to an almost inconceivably robust calendar of cultural events throughout the year. If you find yourself in this great city though for only a short stay, here are some places and experiences that are not to be missed during your 24 hours in Durham.
The Good Eats
Geer St. Garden – 644 Foster Street | Blue Note Grill – 709 Washington Street
Durham enjoys a proud tradition of rehabilitating older buildings around the downtown and that’s the case at Geer St. Garden, a popular lunchtime spot. Located inside the renovated former Fletcher’s Gulf gas station in downtown Durham, Geer St. serves casual Southern-inspired comfort food, my favorite of which was the pimento grilled cheese sandwich.
North Carolina is famous for its BBQ and that’s absolutely the case in Durham. For something a little different, be sure to stop by Blue Note Grill. This lively establishment that features live music and a bar in addition to its hickory smoked BBQ and ribs. With live music almost every night, the Blue Note Grill is known in the area as one of the best places for bluegrass, blues, jazz and even open mic nights.
Monuts Donuts – 1002 9th St | Guglhupf – 2706 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd | The Parlour – 117 Market St
For some reason Durham enjoys a wide variety of restaurants and bakeries producing amazing and unique donuts and pastries. For a classic donut with a twist, stop by the locally famous Monuts Donuts that serves both cake and yeast doughnuts in a variety of flavors that change daily including: plain glazed, toasted amaretto, chocolate peanut butter buttercream and more! For a classic European-style pastry, then start your morning at Guglhupf. Master bakers prepare freshly-made, German and French artisan breads daily and in addition to breads, cakes and pastries they also feature a full menu three times a day.
The Parlour – If satisfying your sweet tooth includes ice cream, then a visit to the downtown creamy Parlour is in order. Producing small-batch ice cream by hand using local ingredients and supporting local farmers and producers, enjoy your choice of ice cream, sorbets, coconut-based vegan ice cream and even their own homemade toppings.
Seeing The City
Brightleaf Square is an adaptive use facility includes turn-of-the-century brick tobacco warehouses that have been turned into a beautiful and vibrant town center. Here you’ll find world-class restaurants, art galleries, shops, jewelers and even the best fine foods store in town!
A highlight of any visit to Durham, the Duke Lemur Center is the largest of its kind in the world and it’s here where the most important research on these beautiful creatures has been ongoing for decades. Visitors of all ages can see more than 200 lemurs who call the center home or even go on a special, behind the scenes walk with the lemur keepers.
Spend some time getting lost in one of the most impressive botanical gardens you’ll ever visit. The Sarah P. Duke Gardens are recognized as being one of the premier public gardens in the United States. Renowned for its landscape design, the Gardens attract more than 300,000 visitors every year who come to visit the water features, walking bridges and other highlights of the 55-acre gardens.
Out and About
The American Tobacco Historic Campus is a great addition to Durham that was at one time the historic (and massive) one million square foot American Tobacco Manufacturing plant. Today it’s a vibrant live/work/play district that includes the Durham Performing Arts Center, Durham Bulls Athletic Park, a radio station, culinary school, documentary theater, restaurants, bars and event space with a man-made river. Check it out to see who is playing when you’re visiting.
The Roof – 315 E. Chapel Hill Street | Bar Virgile – 105 South Mangum St | Fullsteam Brewery – 726 Rigsbee Ave
After the show, hurry over The Roof at the Durham Hotel, a trendy rooftop bar watering hole on the 6th floor of the hotel. With amazing, panoramic views of downtown Durham and food and drink offerings from James Beard award-winning chef Andrea Reusing, this is definitely the place to see and be seen. Local chefs rule the bar and restaurant scene in town, like at the Bar Virgile where acclaimed restaurateur Scott Howell has created an intimate spot to enjoy upscale cocktails and fine French cuisine.
One of the top craft breweries in the nation calls Durham home, and you can visit to sample all of their famous brews. Fullsteam Brewery is devoted to a “plow to pint” philosophy of using local produce to make their beers. Using North Carolina ingredients like sweet potatoes, figs, and even basil, this is a beer experience you’ll never forget.
Where To Stay
Arrowhead Inn B&B – For something a little more classic, and romantic, this is one of the top rated establishments in town. Resting on 6-acres of gardens and lawns, the Arrowhead has the allure of a plantation estate with all the offerings you’d expect from a fine, luxury hotel.
There’s a lot more to Durham than tobacco and baseball and you can enjoy a fun-filled day exploring the areas in and around this great American city. Of course, if you can, spend a few more days in town and try some more of that amazing food if nothing else.