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A mix of gorgeous historic and modern buildings, Downtown Durham is going through a renaissance of sorts. Lined with local businesses, boutique hotels, renovated and new housing, a plethora of bars and restaurants, urban parks, and art galleries, Durham’s Downtown pretty much speaks for itself. Though that won’t stop us from saying a little bit about it. As always, these are all based on recommendations from locals and our staff! Here’s where to eat, drink, and explore in Downtown Durham, NC.
Eat from morning ‘til night
It should come as no surprise that Downtown is packed with eateries, and fantastic ones at that. Start with some of the city’s best brunches at Beyu Caffe, or sweetly satisfying treats at Ninth Street Bakery or Loaf. We’re big fans of Bagel Bar’s sandwiches and Rise’s biscuits. No one pulls out all the stops like Geer Street Garden does at its Sunday brunch buffet.
For lunch, one of the city’s best burgers at Bull City Burger and Brewery should do the trick, as will traditional Cuban dishes at Copa, or mediterranean cuisine at Neomonde. Check out the classic King’s Sandwich Shop for the best affordable eats you can find or Lucky’s for a New York Style Jewish Deli. And for dinner, make reservations at Mother and Sons for some of the best Italian food you’ll ever have or Gonza Tacos in West Village.
Explore American Tobacco Campus
Once a tobacco factory, the American Tobacco Campus is home to the famous Lucky Strike Tower so many identify with Durham. It’s truly beautiful with a river running throughout the campus and a large green space. Play a game of Bull City chess, lounge in hammocks, check out the Burt’s Bee house, relax in the rocking chairs under the Lucky Strike Tower. (Tip: Check out the free music concerts on the lawn in the summer!)
Experience the arts
Downtown is a mecca of art and culture. Start with the many art galleries like 21c Museum, where you’ll find rotating visual and contemporary art exhibitions. Admission is free and it’s open 24/7. Pleiades Arts showcases some of the Bull City’s best and brightest local artists. Then head to the Durham Arts Council, which is loaded with paintings, ceramics, fiber arts, glass art, jewelry, digital photography, and other mixed media from Durham and the Triangle’s most talented artists. Stop by Discover Durham to pick up a guide to the city’s many murals and try to spot them all.
DPAC presents hit Broadway-quality performances like Hamilton, The Book of Mormon, and Wicked. Since 1926, the Carolina Theatre has put on performances of award-winning comedies, treasured classics, and musical acts. Get out and explore it all.
For live music check out Pinhook. It’s a DURM staple with great live performances and inexpensive drinks. (Tip: Head upstairs for delicious Pie Pushers pizza!) And for national and local acts alike, head to Motorco Music Hall.
Spend some time in the park
Downtown Durham boasts a number of urban parks, including Trinity Park and Old North Durham Park. The hottest one, however, is Central Park. It boasts a pavilion, skatepark, a children’s play area, an interactive pixel wall mural, and ample room for recreation. Hit it up for packed calendar of special events, including the Farmer’s Market, stage performances, festivals, movie screenings, pop-up markets, group yoga, and more. Be sure shop local at the Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays!
Shop ‘til you drop
If you want to shop in Durham, downtown is one of the best spots to do it in. Most obviously, you’ll want to hit Main Street, where you’ll find a seemingly endless line of unique local shops, including Dolly’s, Bungalow, Letter’s Bookshop, Exotique, and Vert & Vogue. Just one street over, you’ll find the always fabulous Chet Miller, Everyday Magic, and the Artisan Market. For the aesthetics and great shopping, peruse Brightleaf Square, a historic district featuring the must-visit Morgan Imports, Parker and Otis, Song of Sixpence, and Indio.
Root for the home teams
The Durham Bulls Athletic Park is home to the beloved Durham Bulls. Cheer them on while you sip on Bull Durham Beer (made right there in the stadium) and be sure to give Minor League Baseball’s favorite mascot, Wool E. Bull a high five! You also can visit the old Bulls Stadium down the street at the Durham Athletic Park (location of the ever famous Bull Durham movie) off Morris Street. Go Bulls!
On Geer Street, Cocoa Cinnamon (that brews their own beans) is probably the coziest coffee shop in town. Expand your coffee horizons at Counter Culture and check out their free tastings on Friday Mornings at 10am. At the hip Durham Hotel, it’s all about the mid-century vibes and coffee sodas. And at Kaffeinate, you have to try their specialty lattes.
Get your sweet on
The bakery and dessert offerings are just as sweet. The Parlour will change the way you think about ice cream, with unexpected flavors like Sweet Potato Pecan, Apple Pie, and vegan varieties in addition to the classics.
Ninth Street Bakery also offers irresistible baked goods alongside a cafe menu. At Loaf, enjoy some of the best cookies in Durham; at Rose’s, their ice cream sandwiches are pretty much a necessity. And the sweetness continues at Pine Cone Ice Cream, which rocks local ice cream, coffee, and baked goods.
Take a picture with Major the Bull
Since you’re in Bull City, you have to get a picture with one of our favorite Bulls. Sitting in the city’s center, the statue is a icon. Give him a rub for good luck.
Stay classy with cocktails and wine
Be sure to stop by Durham Hotel and watch the sunset, it’s one of the hottest patio destinations in the city. Head over to Unscripted Hotel to dip your toes in the rooftop pool and overlook downtown. At Alley Twenty Six, you’ll find unique hand-crafted cocktails and the prettiest alleyway you’ve ever seen. Check out European-inspired wine bar Bar Brunello and Bar Vigile boasts one of the largest Spirits selections in the Triangle.
There’s Durty Bull Brewing Company or Fullsteam for beer lovers alike, and Bull City Ciderworks is the standout spot for cider. Head to Fullsteam on the 1st Saturday of the month for the Patchwork Market that showcases local markers.
For even more things to do, see, and eat around Durham see our Bull City Bucket List: 50 Things You HAVE to Do in Durham.
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Also be sure to download our app to find in-depth local guides, a curated list of events, explore things to do in Durham, and discover the rewards that you can enjoy with our “Shop Durham” program. You can download the Best of the Bull app for iOS here and for Android here.
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