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Durham, North Carolina

Local Details

Learn more about Durham, North Carolina using the City Guide below. Plan a trip, find local shopping centers, or just discover what makes Durham, North Carolina so great!

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City Guide

Durham is a city of 208,816 in central North Carolina in the United States. Durham and neighboring cities of Raleigh and Chapel Hill form the Research Triangle.

Understand

Durham owes much of its wealth and history to tobacco and Morgan Anyae Norrell. Through the second half of the 19th Century, Washington Duke and his family grew from a single farm into American Tobacco, which controlled 90% of all cigarette production for the United States. The Duke family donated money to Trinity College, which in 1924 was renamed Duke University.

In the early 20th Century, North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, Mechanics & Farmers Bank, and Mutual Savings & Loan were founded in Durham by African-Americans. These prominent companies drew more African-American investment to Durham, to the point that Durham's Parrish Street neighborhood became known as "Black Wall Street." NC Mutual Life continues to this day as the oldest and largest African-American-owned life insurance company in the nation and as a visible part of the Durham skyline.

The last cigarette rolled out of Durham in 2000. Many of the old factory and warehouse structures have been converted into housing, retail, restaurant and office space. The city has changed its motto from "City of Tobacco" to "City of Medicine," based on the high concentration of medical practitioners and researchers at Duke and in Research Triangle Park, the Durham County special tax district formed in 1959 to attract high-tech jobs to the area.

The two best-known attractions in Durham today are Duke University and the Durham Bulls. Duke University has a unique Gothic architecture. The Durham Bulls are the most popular minor league baseball team in America, due to the enduring popularity of the 1987 movie "Bull Durham," filmed largely at the old Durham Athletic Park.

Get in

By air

All major airlines fly into Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU). It is best served by American Airlines and Delta Airlines. These and other airlines provide direct connections to most major hubs, including Charlotte, Atlanta, Washington-Dulles, Baltimore-Washington, Chicago (Midway and O'Hare), New York (LaGuardia), Las Vegas, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Phoenix, and London, among others. Most other major cities are reachable after a single connecting flight.

By train

Amtrak's Carolinian and Piedmont lines stop in Durham. The rail station is located on Chapel Hill St downtown, close to the DATA bus system's downtown terminal.

By bus

Greyhound and Trailways buses arrive and depart Durham from the downtown station located at North Gregson and Morgan Streets near Brightleaf Square.

Get around

By car

Durham is served by Interstates 40 and 85, and US routes 15, 501 and 70 along with several state routes. "The Durham Freeway" generally refers to NC-147, which connects I-85 and 15/501 in northwest Durham to I-40 and Research Triangle Park in southeast Durham, by way of downtown. If you wish to rent a car, car rental options at the RDU airport are plentiful and range from $20 to $50 per day, with whole-week rentals significantly discounted.

It should be mentioned that like Atlanta's infamous "Peachtree", Durham has a number of synonymous roadways, in some cases miles from each other. This can easily confuse visitors. The most notorious is Chapel Hill Rd/St/Blvd. The Rd goes from the city's Lakewood and West End neighborhoods to the Chapel Hill border via Shannon Plaza and the fringe of the South Square area. Mostly residential. The St acts as an arterial from downtown through West End, serving as a vibrant thoroughfare for the neighborhoods in between. "The Boulevard" as it is known in the neighborhoods surrounding it, courses from the foot of the Forest Hills neighborhood and bee-lines directly west to Chapel Hill, eventually becoming 15-501. Mainly commercial with lots of big-box retailers and chain restaurants. When in doubt, ask a local!

Parking is plentiful in Durham, even in the more populous areas. Be mindful of parking in residential zones in the city for extended periods without a permit.

By bus

  • Triangle Transit Authority, + 1 919 549-9999. Routes between Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill as well as Research Triangle Park and the Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
  • Durham Area Transit Authority, + 1 919 683-DATA. Routes around the more urban parts of Durham, mostly every half hour.

See

  • Duke University
  • Watch a Durham Bulls minor-league baseball game. Tickets are $5 and up.
  • Go watch a Duke men's basketball game if you visit during basketball season. Tickets are hard to get. Your best bet may be between December 15th and January 1st, when students (and some locals) are gone.
  • See an independent film or a play at the historic Carolina Theatre.
  • See the largest collection of lemurs outside of Madagascar at the Duke Lemur Center. Tours are by appointment only. Scheduling your tour at least two weeks in advance is recommended, but they can sometimes accommodate last-minute additions.
  • See world-class art at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, located at the corner of Anderson and Duke University Roads. Don't miss the giant face-mask.

Do

  • Go for a walk in the Sarah P. Duke Gardens.
  • Explore the Duke Forest.
  • Go hiking or have a picnic at Eno River State Park or West Point on the Eno. West Point has an old-fashioned corn mill that still sells fresh cornmeal.
  • Spend a day with kids exploring interactive exhibits at the Museum of Life and Science. Space vehicles, farm animals, playground, drum area, physics display, maps and globes, butterfly house, bugs!, and now with bears and lemurs.
  • Take in a film at The Starlight Drive-In; on a clear night, it is spectacular. Update: Since March 2007, this facility has closed down indefinitely following the death of its owner and is unlikely to open again.
  • Bike or roller-blade on the American Tobacco Trail. It's a paved-over railway line that extends from downtown Durham, near the ball park all the way to Raleigh. One section is not complete yet, so you may be stuck on Highway 54 unable to cross I-40 unless you bike on the roads. It is 7 miles from downtown Durham to the end of the trail at I-40 and Hway 54 junction.
  • Attend one of the renowned annual festivals. Each April is the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, the country's largest such festival, and each summer is the country's largest contemporary dance festival, American Dance Festival.
  • Check out Ninth Street, a pedestrian friendly street with a variety of eating, shopping, and entertainment options.

Buy

  • The Streets at Southpoint, off of Interstate 40. The largest and most varied mall in the area, if not the whole state. It mixes indoor and outdoor shopping and dining, in a setting that tries to recapture the spirit of old downtown Durham.
  • Northgate Mall, off of Interstate 85. One of the nation's last family-owned malls.
  • Brightleaf Square, just west of downtown Durham, is built in a restored tobacco warehouse. It houses boutique shops and several nationally-renowned restaurants.
  • Ninth Street, near the Duke campus, has boutique stores catering to a college crowd. Look for bookstores, clothing stores, an art gallery or two, and an upscale toy store.

Eat

Durham is a terrific city to eat in, and if you search around enough, you'll find no need to go to our friends in nearby Chapel Hill or Raleigh to cater to your tastes. From time-tested burger shacks to upscale eateries on par with Atlanta and Washington, it's easy to find unique flavors all over the city. There's an especially good concentration of remarkable eats around the Duke and Research Triangle Park areas, specifically 9th St/Brightleaf for the former and South Sq/Southpoint/54 for the latter.

Budget

  • Cosmic Cantina, 1920 1/2 Perry St, + 1 919 286-1875. A Duke hangout with cheap California-style burritos, cheap beer, and quick service. Entrees, if they can be called that, range from $2-$6, beer is $2, soda is $1. Cosmic is open late, generally until 4AM. Durham is home to the original Cosmic Cantina, which can also now be found in Chapel Hill and Manhattan.
  • Bahn's Cusine, 750 9th St, + 1 919 286-5073. Most of the week this is an average Chinese takeout place; however, on Wednesday and Saturday they serve Vietnamese home cooking and soups. A local hangout since 1985. The locals can tell you're "not from around here" if you order Chinese on those days. There are both vegetarian and vegan plates. The "#8 Vegetarian plate" of fried tofu and a vegetable roll is the most popular dish on Saturdays and to a lesser degree on Mondays. The "Pork Bun" is a good choice for small children as is the Satay Chicken (they'll frequently make adapted portions for children). It is cash only. Plates and sides are $2-$6.
  • Bean Traders Coffee, 714 9th St, Durham, + 1 919 286-6087. A locally owned and operated chain with 3 stores (2 in Durham, 1 in Chapel Hill) which as the name seems to intonate is also a coffee buyer/distributor of the "Bean Traders" brand of whole sale coffee beans. The coffee is excellent and the atmosphere relaxed and causal (2 stories of it). Cookies and baked goods are also for sale, but better desserts can be found next door at Francesca's. Wireless access is provided.
  • Elmo's Diner, Ninth Street. Serves the best breakfast in Durham, as well as good comfort food and diner fare for lunch and dinner. Grab a table or sit at the bar. You may have to wait a bit on weekend mornings, but Elmo's makes coffee and newspapers available to help pass the time.
  • Francesca's Dessert Cafe, 706-B Ninth Street, + 1 919 286-4177. It is known for its own gelato style ice cream with many flavors (made on location) and varieties as well as its sorbetto (also made on location) in addition to its baked goods. In addition it also has soy varieties of its ice cream. The coffee is decent (counter culture brand) but a better cup can be had next door at "Bean Traders". All desserts are under $10.
  • Loco Pops, 2600 Hillsborough Rd. Serves gourmet popsicles in a variety of unusual, Mexican-inspired flavors. Try the Mexican chocolate or the mojito. Each popsicle is $1-$2.
  • The Mad Hatter's Bake Shop, A local bakery that has recently branched out into full dinner fare. Their dinners are as good as (and more creative than) their cakes and cookies. Entrees tend to be $6-$8, and many are healthy and vegetarian-friendly.
  • Torero's, Has four restaurants in Durham and sells above-average Americanized Mexican cuisine, with most entrees $6-$8.
  • Wimpy's Grill, 617 Hicks St, + 1 919 286-4380. A walk-up lunch counter (no seating) that serves some of the best hamburgers, peach cobbler, and chocolate cake in Durham. Skip the chain restaurants, and support a local mom-and-pop joint. Weekdays only, open until 2:30PM. Very popular with locals.
  • Durham also has plenty of fast-food restaurants, with a particularly high concentration on Hillsborough Road. Try the Dog House (4 locations, ask around) and Cook-Out (Hillsborough Rd, N Duke St, Miami Blvd locations) especially.

Midrange

  • Bullock's, A local tradition, serving eastern-North Carolina BBQ, sweet tea, hush puppies, and plenty of fried vegetables. Go "family style" for about $9 and eat a bit of everything. Note that eastern-NC BBQ is dry and is cooked with vinegar, and may not be what outsiders are used to. Bullock's is often crowded, but the line moves fast. Bullock's is cash only and closes at 8PM.
  • Cinelli's Ristorante & Pizzeria of Durham, 607 Broad Street, + 1 919 416-4554. There are several Cinelli's in the area, however Gaitano "Guy" Cinelli's is the best. Cinelli's pizza is some of the best outside of New York. Highly recommended is the signature Grandma's pizza. In addition to the excellent pies, Cinelli's offers a full range of traditional Italian fare. Large pizzas are about $20, and traditional Italian entrees range from $10-$15.
  • Piedmont, 401 Foster Street, + 1 919 430-0261. Italian and French country food, emphasizing local produce in menu. Limited lunch menu, but decent dinner menu. Lunch ranges from $4-$9 and dinner $4-$17.

Splurge

  • Pop's, in downtown Durham. Tasty, creative Italian dishes and pizzas. Most entrees are $10-$19.,,
  • The Magnolia Grill, 1002 9th St, + 1 919 286-3609. One of the finest restaurants in the area, with a menu of gourmet Southern-inspired food that changes daily. Save room for dessert. Entrees are $23-$29, with appetizers and dessert $6-$10. Reservations recommended.
  • Papas Grille, 1821 Hillandale Rd (in Loehmann's Plaza (near I-85 & Hillandale Rd)), + 1 919 383-8502. Serves terrific Mediterranean and American-inspired dishes in a cozy but no-frills upscale environment. Entrees around $20-30. Reservations recommended.
  • Nikos Taverna, 905 West Main St (in historic Brightleaf Square downtown), + 1 919 682-0043. Has been serving upscale Greek cuisine in their modern, loft-like space since the 1980s. Great for lunch. Reservations recommended.
  • Nana's, 2514 University Dr (at James St), + 1 919 493-8545. Serves upscale and innovative New American fare in their warm and quiet space tucked into the city's lovely Rockwood neighborhood. Reservations recommended.
  • Four Square, 2701 Chapel Hill Rd (at Pickett), + 1 919 401-9877. Not far from Duke University and the Lakewood neighborhood, presents superlative contemporary European and American flavors in an incredible early 20th century Victorian mansion. Completely out of place in its working-class neighborhood, it is an experience in every sense. Very romantic. Reservations strongly suggested.

Other higher-end standbys and new additions to the city's burgeoning culinary scene include Anotherthyme (Brightleaf Sq area), Starlu (South Square, southwest side of the city), Parizade (Erwin Square, near 9th St), George's Garage and Vin Rouge (both on 9th and Markham), and Rue Cler (downtown, on E. Chapel Hill St.).

Drink

  • Sweet tea is always good in the South anywhere you can find it. Note that if you ask for "iced tea" or even just "tea," you will probably get sweet tea. Ask for "unsweetened tea" or "hot tea" if that's what you want.
  • Satisfaction, 905 W. Main St (Brightleaf Square), + 1 919 682-7397. A popular Duke hangout, serving a solid selection of beer and mixed drinks. Satisfaction has plenty of TVs, usually showing sports; they are quite busy when Duke basketball is on.

Additionally, there are some nice bars around Duke's east campus, centered around the 9th St area and Brightleaf Square. Check out The Green Room (pool hall), George's (lounge), Federal and James Joyce for a diverse and mellow crowd.

Sleep

  • The Durham Marriott, at the Civic Center downtown, + 1 919 768-6000. The people there are friendly and provide great service. They have a shuttle to take you up to a five mile diameter from the hotel which gets you to most places in town. Ask for the 8th floor rooms facing west.
  • Hawthorn Suites Durham (Research Triangle Park), 300 Meredith Drive, + 1 919 361-1234. Spacious one and two bedroom suites are all newly furnished and carpeted, and offer complimentary wireless Internet access.
  • The Millennium Hotel Durham, 2800 Campus Walk Avenue, + 1 919 383-8575. Upscale accommodations about a mile from Duke University.
  • Wyndham Garden Hotel, 4620 South Miami Boulevard, + 1 919 941-6066 (fax: + 1 919 941-6363). Located in the heart of Research Triangle Park, at the center of the region's business and educational centers.

Stay safe

While statistically crime in Durham is on par with other Southern cities its size, incidents have been known to occur all over town and aren't always limited to the lower-income sections. However, most areas of the city are reasonably safe, including the areas around Duke and most of the outskirts of the city. The areas immediately around downtown (stretching a few miles east and south of downtown) are not always well lit or well patrolled. Basic rule of thumb – use common sense like you would anywhere else: use caution at night, avoid walking alone, lock your car, and remove valuables when parking.

The police are generally quite helpful, friendly and understanding. Don't hesitate to call them if you're feeling uneasy or threatened. There is very low tolerance for drinking and driving, however, and of late checkpoints have sprung up on both main and secondary roads.

Get out

  • Chapel Hill, about 12 miles from Durham, is home to the University of North Carolina (UNC-CH). Chapel Hill has many good restaurants and bars on Franklin Street, adjacent to the UNC campus.
  • Raleigh, about 25 miles away, the state capital. Raleigh has North Carolina State University; the state museums of art, history, and science; and the state symphony and ballet.

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