A Weekend in: Durham, NC
The Bull city is home to many wonderful restaurants (too many to squeeze into a weekend), fun activities, and unique spots that make it a fun place to be. It’s got a character unlike any other city, and it’s really done a great job at establishing its identity in a state full of similarly-sized cities. I called Durham home for four years while I was in college at Duke, but it’s been a part of my life for far longer than that.
As a child I would come to Duke with my family every so often and I still have fond memories of the fun things we would do while we were there. Though the city has changed so much and gained so many nice hotels, restaurants and shops, it’s still the same old “Dur-home.” I hope to make a trip back sometime soon; it’s only been since March but that’s way too long to be away.
Where to Stay
The Durham Hotel is a relatively new spot with a trendy, mid-century modern vibe. The exterior is really striking and it offers a restaurant and a rooftop bar for the nice evenings of the year. It’s conveniently located downtown near lots of great restaurants, cafes and shops. It’s really become a hotspot for the Durham hotel scene since it’s so close to so many things to do. This opened later in my Duke years so I never got the chance to really explore it besides the rooftop bar, but it’s a really fun place to hang out.
If you’re looking to stay off the beaten path, The Washington Duke is situated on Duke’s campus and has beautiful, stately interiors and offers an incredible hotel experience. The restaurant serves wonderful food and the golf course makes for stunning views from all angles of the hotel. There’s also a 3.5-mile trail looping around the property which makes for a great workout, even if you’re just walking (it’s extremely hilly). They have a wonderful breakfast every morning and you can walk over to campus any time for sports events, dining, or just a stroll through campus.
The 21C Hotel fits into the artsy Durham scene seamlessly, with its pink bathroom lights illuminating the skyline in an old bank building. The “vault” of the bank has even been converted into a speakeasy for an additional cool hangout spot. This hotel is full of artsy features, from the floors of gallery space featuring all sorts of different styles of art to the lobby bathrooms, which feature see-through glass doors that fog when you lock them.
Cocktails: Bar Virgile has an unbeatable vibe and is a cozy, intimate space where you can enjoy creative and delicious cocktails and appetizers before hitting your next destination. It’s great for smaller groups since the space is very small itself.
Dinner: For some real delicious Italian food, you have to try Mothers and Sons Trattoria downtown. It has everything from delicious pastas to meat and seafood, and they’ve got fancy wines to pair with whatever you choose.
Breakfast: A spot I grew up going to every time I was in town was Foster’s Market, which I didn’t come to fully appreciate until I was in college. It’s got that mom-and-pop vibe of a cafe that’s been around for ages. The menu is huge and they offer such a wide variety of breakfast and brunch options. They have extensive outdoor seating, as well, so it’s a perfect place to go on a beautiful day. It’s a place I was always guaranteed to run into friends on a Saturday morning. My family loves it, too, so it’s a spot we always head straight for whenever we visit.
Morning: Not too far away is the Eno River State Park, which offers hiking, swimming and more outdoorsy activities. If the weather is nice, it’s worth the trip to go explore. There are a variety of trails and a quarry to go swimming in, too!
Lunch: Even if you’re still stuffed after breakfast, you have to stop by Parker & Otis, even just for the gift shop. It’s got excellent food, but so many cute little things to browse as well. It’s where I always went whenever I needed a gift for someone (including myself).
Afternoon: Head over to Duke’s campus to visit the Nasher Art Museum, which houses incredible collections of all types of art, from traditional to very modern. I’ve seen artists from Joan Miro to Kehinde Wiley. After you get all the culture you can handle, go reflect on everything you saw over coffee at the best independent coffee shop, Cocoa Cinnamon.
Dinner: For an unbeatable farm-to-table experience, hit Local 22 for dinner. It’s got a great, cozy vibe and the food is delicious and upscale without being fancy. They have a slight twist on southern food, but really offer such a wide variety you often can’t even tell. When you walk in, the first thing you see is the specials board, written huge on the wall in chalk, with features that change every day. They even have a mac and cheese of the day, if what I’ve said isn’t enough to persuade you.
After dinner: Durham’s got some great breweries you can try as an evening activity. Ponysaurus Brewing and Motorco are just a few. They often offer live music and there’s plenty of outdoor space to enjoy nice evenings at these breweries. They’re scattered all across town but mostly near the outskirts of the downtown area.
Brunch: If you do nothing else during your time in Durham, you MUST go to Monuts. Aside from the best donuts in town, it’s really got an unreal amount of amazing things to offer. The menu is brunch-focused, so you can get everything from build-your-own bagel sandwiches to yummy vegetable salads and baked goods. Everything Monuts does is divine, so make this a priority on your itinerary while you’re in town.
Morning: After a big brunch, head over to Duke’s campus and explore the Duke Gardens for a while. With winding trails, beautiful flowers and a koi pond, there’s tons to see, and on a nice day the big grassy field will be full of kids and dogs running around playing. It’s a great cap on a perfect weekend spent in Dur-home. You can even wander up to the iconic Duke Chapel and see some of the beautiful Gothic architecture that makes the campus so unique. They’re probably done with all the construction I had to deal with during my four years, so go see what amazing masterpieces they’ve built in the meantime! And pick up a snack for the road at the West Union, the mother of all university dining experiences.