Updated July 2023
There’s no shortage of things to do with kiddos in Bull City. The city is impressively kid-friendly and we tote our toddler with us to most activities and restaurants (unless it’s past his bedtime). For a family that appreciates both urban and natural outdoor adventures, the possibilities in Durham are endless.
Indoor, outdoor, and by the season. We’ve got you covered.
Whether it’s your kiddos or you’re hosting visitors, these activities are sure to be crowd pleasers, for both them and you. Here are some of our favorite family-friendly activities in Durham!
Ride the train at the Museum of Life and Science
The Museum of Life and Science is a great interactive science park on 84 acres. It includes a two-story science center, a large butterfly conservatory, and 60 species of live animals in its outdoor exhibits.
Pro Tip: Wear some walking shoes if you are going to see any of the larger outdoor animal or nature exhibits! Also be sure to purchase tickets at the front if you would like to ride the train.
Make some furry friends at the Duke Lemur Center
The Duke Lemur Center houses the world’s largest and most diverse collection of lemurs – Earth’s most threatened group of mammals – outside of Madagascar. Note: You must have a reservation in order to see the lemurs, check out some of their tour options on their website here.
We like going to their annual Lemurpalooza event which usually occurs in the Fall. It costs only one $75 Adopt a Lemur donation per car and it comes with a lemur adoption.
Spend the day at the Eno River State Park
A 4,200-acre North Carolina state park, it’s only 10 miles from downtown Durham but it’s one of the best places in Durham to get away from it all. The hiking trails are well-marked and there are some very nice hikes from flat trails as well as hilly areas. Take the kiddos canoeing, fishing, hiking, and even camp overnight!
Play a game of giant chess and lounge in the hammocks at 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 Bees house, relax in the rocking chairs under the Lucky Strike Tower. Check out the free music concerts on the lawn in the summer!
Explore West Point on the Eno together
West Point on the Eno is free 404-acre park along the Eno River. Tour three historic buildings, a rebuilt operational grist mill on the site of what was once the largest mill on the river, the house of the one-time mill owners, and the old tobacco packhouse is now home to the Hugh Mangum Museum of Photography.
Explore nature too with five miles of scenic trails along the river for hiking and fishing, an amphitheater used for festivals and concerts, and the river itself, with a natural play space and rapids.
Go for a family bike ride on the American Tobacco Trail
Hop on American Tobacco Trail for 22+ uninterrupted miles. It was once a railroad track that was converted into a beautiful trail for biking, walking, and running. You can even ride horses on the trail! See more about American Tobacco Trail here.
Feed the ducks at Sarah P. Duke Gardens
Named one of the top 10 public gardens in the U.S. by TripAdvisor, Sarah P. Duke Gardens is open everyday of the year and is free to all!
Be sure to check out free concerts in the spring and summer. Adult and youth programs like nature storytime and urban farm tours are also available for free.
Test your skills at the Discovery Low Ropes Course
The 13-element low ropes course is located in the wooded area adjacent to the historic Spruce Pine Lodge and Lake Michie in northern Durham County.
At the low challenge course, staff facilitators use a variety of natural and man-made elements, games, and initiatives to help groups and individuals develop trust, cooperation, teamwork and leadership skills. The minimum age for participation at the low challenge course is 10 years of age.
Shop at the Durham Farmer’s Market then climb Mount Merrill in Durham Central Park
Saturdays at the Durham Farmer’s Market is one of our favorite activities. We pick up dinner for the weekend, try lots of local goodness, grab coffee from Caballo Rojo, donuts from Rise, and browse vendors at the Art Market. Then you can let them run some of that energy out at Mount Merrill and play with the interactive pixel mural.
Play at one of Durham’s 65+ parks
There’s definitely not a shortage of parks in Durham, that’s for sure. You can find a sprayground at the Forest Hill’s park, a performance stage at Burch Avenue Park, and a community garden at Orchard Park. A few favorites are Forest Hills Park, Trinity Park, and Cornwallis Road Park. Check out all of Durham’s 65+ parks here.
Stroll through Brightleaf Square and grab some ice cream at Scoops Local
Brightleaf is a great place to spend an entire afternoon. You have some great options for lunch and dinner including Clouds Brewing and Nikos. You can shop at spots like Indio and the new Mill and Meadow then grab some ice cream from Scoops Local.
Climb the blocks in front of the Durham Arts Council
There’s a lot to do downtown, check out our guide of places to eat, drink, and explore. When you need a little break from exploring there’s some climbing blocks in front of the Durham Art Council for the kids while you get 5 minutes to rest and drink that coffee.
Explore Bennett Place
Home to the biggest surrender of the American Civil War troops, Bennett Place Historic Site offers guided tours. Along with the museum, there are walking trails, outdoor exhibits and a picnic area for you to enjoy.
Play at the kid’s area at Southpoint Mall
The play area at Southpoint is geared towards younger kids. There’s a small slide and some low-to-the-ground climbing objects, plus benches line the area so you can take a load off. The mall does have free wi-fi so you bring your laptop and work a little while the kiddos play. One of the negatives is there’s not a gate so kids can tend to want to wonder off in the direction of the escalators (aka my kid) so be sure to keep an eye on them.
Play together at Notasium
Notasium is an indoor music-based play space. There’s a climbing wall, interactive music exhibits, and a bounce house. Free wi-fi for you and a small coffee bar.
Visit the Duke Basketball Hall of Fame
Check out decades of Duke University’s athletic achievements showcased with visual and audio exhibits, theatre and trophies of national championships at the Duke Basketball Hall of Fame.
Make-n-Take something together at Scrap Exchange
The Scrap Exchange is a true treasure. They have a retail store, classes, an art gallery. Drop in and check out the Make n Take Room, make anything you want using the materials in the space, and take it home!
Pick out some books at the Durham County Library
Our favorite branch is the Southwest Regional. They also have a train table and coloring station for the kids. Most Durham County Library branches offer storytime for babies, toddlers and families. These aren’t your traditional book-only storytimes, instead they incorporate music, puppets, toys and learning throughout the session.
Catch a play or movie at Carolina Theatre
Check out the Arts Discovery Series at Carolina Theatre for kids
Pick out some plants at Durham Garden Center
Have them pick out a plant they can take care of! Whether you’re a gardener or a plant enthusiast that can’t keep anything green alive, Durham Garden Center is for you. Not only are they super friendly and helpful when you pop in, they also host educational workshops and many of them are FREE!
Find something unique at Parker and Otis
Life would be much duller without Parker & Otis. I always find something so very ‘Durham’ here and a greeting card that makes me laugh out loud. They have a great toy section that will keep the kids busy. I always let my little guy have a special treat like a giant cookie and pick out a book.
Visit Duke Chapel
Duke Chapel is at the very center of the Duke University. You have to see its breathtaking beauty in person to truly appreciate it. It’s doors are open for you to visit 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Walk over to the Brodhead Center afterwards for lunch or dinner. It’s food court style with tons of great options. Not just for students!
Explore at the Duke Gardens Classroom
Sarah P. Duke Gardens has a classroom with a variety of programs for kids and families. They have a open class in the learning laboratory for ages 3 and up on Tuesdays 1pm-3pm and other classes available like a free drop in Nature Storytime for ages 3-5.
By the Season
Pick out pumpkins at Ganyard Hill Farm
Grapes at Herndon Hills Farm (August til October)
Celebrate Christmas by Candlelight at Duke Homestead
Children’s choirs performances at Duke Chapel (If they can sit still!)
Pick strawberries at Waller Family Farm
Waller Family Farm is a real working strawberry, vegetable and beef cattle farm, located in Durham County.
We love coming here to pick our own strawberries. Picking starts around the last week of April, through May and into June. They provide cardboard flats to pick in, or you can bring your own containers.
Check their site often for dates, times and availability of berries during the strawberry season.
Put on your baseball gloves and cheer on the Durham Bulls
Cool off at one of Durham’s 5 spraygrounds
Pick your own blueberries at Herndon Hills Farm
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