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The Ultimate First-Time Visitors Guide to Durham, North Carolina

The Ultimate First-Time Visitors Guide to Durham, North Carolina
Written by Duke Stewart

The Ultimate First-Time Visitors Guide to Durham

When Christina and I arrived in our new home—Durham, North Carolina—we had too many options to choose from. As part of the area’s famed Research Triangle, there is so much to do here and that made things overwhelming at first. All these wonderful things to see and do got me thinking about the need for a condensed guide for new folks like myself. I’ve written a 24-hour guide to Durham but thought I’d create something for the recently transplanted, and that’s what this ultimate first-time visitors guide to Durham is here for—people who’ve just arrived here and don’t know where to start!

Where to Drink Coffee

Holidays are for slowing down and enjoying over a hot cup. #coffee #art #organic

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When I go into town in the morning, one of my first choices for a pick-me-up was Respite before it closed. Their scones took me back to Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands but now that I can’t enjoy them, Mad Hatter’s is one of my one-stop shops for coffee refills and breakfast. Parker and Otis mixes a deli, shopping, and great food to go with super awesome coffee. Cocoa Cinnamon is another favorite and within earshot of our favorite watering hole (Fullsteam). If you’re in South Durham (SODU), I think Bean Traders has the best! I could go on about coffee in Durham. What did I leave out?

Where to Drink Beer and Other Adult Beverages

Laboring on Labor Day #drinklocal #travellocal #local @fullsteambrewery

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When we’re not out exploring more of the outdoors in North Carolina or the world, the area around Motorco Music Hall and Fullsteam is one of my favorite spots for music, games and a truly scientific brew. Bull City Burger is perfect when I want some in-house beer along with the best burgers found on this side of the Eno River. Sam’s Quick Stop has two locations and is my favorite place to explore new beers (and cigars) from all corners of the globe.

Where to Eat

When brunching in Durham, a sticky bun from @fostersmarket is a MUST! #noms #supportlocal #travellocal

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When I’m not gulping coffee by the gallon, I’m being social with family at Silver Spoon in North Durham for some of the best breakfast in history. I’m also big on Foster’s Market and could never go wrong with a sandwich, followed by a delicious cinnamon bun or something sweet! I could go on forever but can’t leave out Guglhupf Café’s bread that’s been on my mind ever since our first visit. Lunch means a trip to either Watt’s Grocery for some awesome po’ boys or Ninth Street Bakery for sandwiches.

Eating through the Durham Food Scene

You know I can’t mention food in Durham without talking about the weekly Farmers’ Market that happens every Saturday. The personal vibe here really keeps us coming back. There’s also that food truck gallery across the street where one can eat anything from breakfast pizzas to Korean fusion tacos. There are even a few Food Truck Rodeos here throughout the year! Let me just throw a few more names out there: Nana Taco, Toast, Hope Valley Diner. Please don’t crucify me if I left something out. Maybe I should create a food guide to Durham. Hmm, maybe I did! Check out my advice on how you can eat through the Durham food scene.

Going Out and Getting Around

Hoping to channel some Crash Davis here. Go Bulls! #milb #hitahomerun #baseball

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I initially fell in love with this town after hanging around the Durham Bulls Park and the American Tobacco Campus. That’s not the only thing to do in Durham though, thanks to a vibrant scene headed by the Carolina Theater, DPAC, and multiple other venues. There’s also Duke University, Duke Chapel, and Sarah P. Duke Gardens that everyone talks about. Both are an awesome sight if you’re fortunate enough to walk on campus towards Cameron Indoor or Wallace Wade Stadium.

Who has two thumbs and is ready for a night of laughs?!?!? 👍🏽👍🏽 @dpacnc #ronswanson #karenwalker #comedy

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Outdoor Stuff to Do

Hiking in the Eno River State Park, North Carolina

Durham is also awesome because of its abundance of the things you can do outside. Personal favorites include the Eno River State Park and Duke Forest but then there’s Sarah P. Duke Gardens that I already mentioned. Walk through that collection of trees and flowers that span the globe and the Japanese garden that takes me back to Kyoto. It’s no surprise that many people get married there. We personally sought out the Arrowhead Inn on the outskirts of town and you’ll see why after a walk through their beautiful garden.

What did I leave out?

Falls Lake State Recreation Area, North Carolina

If you’re somehow bored with all that Durham has to offer, then you can spend time enjoying the surrounding areas. Some of my favorites include the small town of Hillsborough and the relaxing Falls Lake. I love the small communities and parks accessible within a short drive of the city. It’s hard to get away from Durham but whenever you want, there are tons of things worth seeing and not far away.

Street Art, History, and Culture

NC Mutual Life Building in Durham, North Carolina

Walk around downtown Durham and you’ll see it’s full of awesome street art, history and culture that goes beyond the tobacco industry. Family-centered places like the Lemur Center and Life and Science Museum hold fun for all ages! For a history nerd like me, it’s moments staring the NC Mutual Life building that take me back to times when Durham’s “Black Wall Street” rose during the early 20th century. There’s much more but that one stands out above the rest.

Final Shoutout and Where to Stay in Durham

Some days you just gotta "wing it" 🐥 #supportlocal #eatlocal #durham

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With more visitors coming each year, there are multiple hotels popping up in Durham. I use to find the best hotels anywhere and Durham is no different. Take a look at the best places to stay in Durham, rated by price or by the customers who came here.

Is there anything or left out of messed up in this ultimate first-timers guide to Durham? Let me know in the comments section. If you’ve got an awesome suggestion to make, I’ll throw it along with the rest! Until then, enjoy my favorite city and all that it has to offer! 

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About the author

Duke Stewart

As a recovering Expat, I write about Life through Travel and want you there with me through captivating stories followed by guides on how to do the same. My work has been featured in various magazines throughout Korea and in online publications including the awesome I am also a nerd and love to point out a situation's similarities to any of my favorite movies, books, or tv shows. You've been warned:) Follow along on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for daily updates.


  • Just moved here and was overwhelmed at where to start with exploring things too! Thanks for the post 🙂

  • Honestly, Durham wasn’t even on my radar! But it sounds like a really cool place. I tend to enjoy ‘tech-hub’ cities, as they tend to have a lot of the cool coffee shops and eateries. I’d like to try some of those walks around the outskirts of town as well! Always love a good green spot in the middle of a city.
    Nathan Anderson recently posted…The Birth of a WandererMy Profile

    • It better be on your radar now, boy! But yeah, it’s pretty rockin’ here man. You’ll be seeing another slice of it in my next post, as I continue trying to blend posts about Southeast Asia and this new piece of heaven. Get out of “boring” New Zealand and come back to the eastern part of the states and my wife and I’ll show you around! That’s a promise.

      Anyway, thanks for stopping by Nathan. I hope you’re hanging in there and not working too hard. Take care, man.
      Duke Stewart recently posted…Five of the Best Cities in New EnglandMy Profile

  • I didn’t have the chance to explore Durham when I was living in NC, but wanted to explore Bennett Place and Duke Homestead.

    • I still haven’t made it to Bennett Place but really wanted to for their Christmas events. The weather here hasn’t really cooperated with outdoor types of things to do but hopefully spring will change that! I forget, where did you live when here? It’s such a big state so I understand not getting a chance to come this way. Thanks for commenting, Jeri! Always good to read your thoughts.
      Duke Stewart recently posted…A Newbie Guide to Durham, North CarolinaMy Profile