Plan an Art-filled Trip to Durham
Calling all art lovers. Come to Durham to explore and leave with something more.
Museums, galleries, public art, and talented local artists. Visual arts, performance arts, ceramics, filmmaking, and sculpting. Durham is a living, breathing art exhibit, waiting to be explored. Have a few days to refuel your soul? Here’s your headstart to finding the best of Durham’s art scene.
Day 1 – Experience Downtown Art, Venues, and Galleries
Durham is often easier to explore by foot than by car. If you are unable to or prefer not to walk, there are plenty of other convenient transportation options.
Every journey to Durham should start at our Visitor Info Center in the heart of downtown at 212 W. Main Street. Once inside, knowledgeable destination Experience Experts will welcome you with friendly faces and personalized advice on how to discover the local creative community. The Visitor Info Center typically opens at 10 a.m., so take time to fuel up on coffee or breakfast first. Around the block from the Visitor Info Center in CCB Plaza, you’ll find our iconic Major the Bull statue, a massive bronze statue that’s perfect for a first photo op in the Bull City.
In addition to maps and itineraries, be sure to pick up a Public Art & Inspiration Guide. With spectacular public art woven throughout, it’s designed with convenient routes to help you explore. During your first morning, you could easily budget an hour (if not two or three) to cover the Downtown Durham section by foot.
Can’t-miss spots include the Durham Arts Council, a local hub for arts and culture. Stroll through award-winning exhibition galleries and their sculpture garden with seasonal floral plantings. Steps away, you’ll find the two-story Durham Civil Rights Mural that was painted by more than 30 community members, illustrating the stories of change-makers and historic moments from Durham’s history in the Civil Rights Movement. Scan the QR code on the left-hand side of the mural wall to learn each of the featured trailblazers’ stories via augmented reality.
Explore downtown, strolling across painted crosswalks toward Durham Central Park and Cecy’s Gallery & Studios, a multi-artist art gallery with a diverse array of artwork, home goods, jewelry, and most importantly, souvenirs for loved ones. Durham Food Hall sits conveniently down the street and is the perfect stop for lunch. Place your order to go, eat in the urban park and marvel at the adorning public art as little ones burn energy climbing kid-friendly sculptures and playing with the interactive pixel wall.
We highly recommend art enthusiasts come to enjoy Third Fridays, a monthly art walk on the third Friday night of each month throughout downtown. Peruse the galleries you might have missed earlier, like the beloved 5 Points Gallery that regularly hosts thought-provoking exhibits with art from artists in the community or wander through art in the 21c Museum Hotel with a craft cocktail from Counting House. Open free of charge 24 hours a day, the 21c Museum Hotel is North America’s first museum dedicated solely to collecting and exhibiting the art of the 21st century. The more than 75,000 square feet of exhibition space invite you to get lost.
Third Friday also extends to the Golden Belt Art Studios, located one mile away from downtown’s core. Golden Belt is a revitalized mixed-use space that offers food and drink options, as well as a home for a collection of fine artists who create, show, and sell their work from studio spaces.
The Bullpen, Durham’s social district, extends from Golden Belt through the heart of downtown and stretches to include Brightleaf, so you can park once and enjoy an alcoholic beverage to-go from a participating business as you take in Third Friday attractions.
If your trip does not align with a Third Friday, there is plenty of compelling content available to you from the stacked schedules of the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) or the Carolina Theatre of Durham. Each season, the stage at DPAC — one of the highest-ranked performing arts venues in the country — comes alive with spectacular touring Broadway productions. In between, book tickets to nationally touring musicians, comedians, and other performing arts shows.
The Carolina Theatre showcases Durham’s deep filmmaking roots as the premier venue for the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, the Nevermore Horror Film Festival, and the OutSouth Queer Film Festival. If your schedule doesn’t happen to align with these annual events, try catching a flick from the Carolina Theatre’s regular Retro Film series or an arthouse film in the theater any day of the week.
Day 2 - Explore Unique Murals and Instagrammable Spots
Start the morning with a trip to Satellite Park, a unique one-of-a-kind community mural project that turned eight decommissioned satellites into an outdoor masterpiece and public park. Each satellite was painted by a different local artist and represents a range of artistic styles and backgrounds. The finished murals range from birds in a spaghetti nest to a tribute to a local African-American artist. The public space is open from sunrise to sundown.
Next, head about a mile away to The Scrap Exchange, an organization with a mission to promote creativity, environmental awareness, and community through reuse. Choose from screen printing classes, sewing classes, and other creative programs, or check out the Artist’s Marketplace, where local artists sell and showcase their offerings to the public. Families with kids will enjoy complimentary beverages, snacks, and free art-making in the Make-N-Take room on the third Saturday of the month.
If the kids need to run around for a bit, Notasium, a music-based play space and music school is a few miles away. Kids can drop in and burn some energy in the 3,000-square-foot play space before lunch.
University Hill has 40,000 square feet of massive murals — one of the largest concentrations of murals in the Southeast. It’s also home to numerous food & drink establishments from some of the best in the Carolinas. Grab lunch and explore one of Durham’s most Instagrammable spots. View huge murals created by over 40 different artists, like the J. Cole mural, brought to life by North Carolina-based artist JEKS, and the Betty Davis mural, created by Scott Nurkin. And take a moment to see the ode to renowned Durham architect Phil Freelon, created by local artist Candy Carver.
Round out the evening with a trip to Boxyard RTP. Inspired by Boxyard Tulsa, the 15,000 square-foot shipping container park full of restaurants is the first of its kind in North Carolina. Durham resident Gabriel Eng-Goetz created Rebirth, a breathtaking mural on the northwest side of the property, to represent the vitality and innovation that exists within RTP. Spanning roughly 12,490 square feet and wrapping around four walls and two stories, the vibrant installation is a must-see.
Enjoy live local talent on the stage every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Boxyard also provides a unique year-round dining and shopping experience, so carve out a few hours to explore.
Day 3 - Visit Art Museums & Creative Venues
Start the day at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, a major center for the arts in Durham and the surrounding region. Since opening in 2005, the museum has organized and presented leading-edge exhibitions that travel worldwide. View rotating installations like The Collection Galleries, which showcase extensive holdings of historical art. Eight of the museum’s galleries are dedicated to the history of human creativity from different times and parts of the world. Browse the current exhibits or attend an Artist Talk, and then pop over to the Nasher Museum Café for lunch.
Keep the museum visits going, and make your way to the North Carolina Central University Art Museum, a cultural institution that houses one of North Carolina’s leading collections of works by African-American artists. The museum’s permanent collection contains works by three major 19th-century African-American artists: Robert S. Duncanson, Edward M. Bannister and Henry Ossawa Tanner.
Afterward, head nearby to the Hayti Heritage Center, a cultural and educational venue that houses a community room, classrooms, a dance studio, the Lyda Moore Merrick Gallery, and a performance hall. With art exhibitions, concerts, and events, the center is dedicated to showcasing contemporary art and preserving and advancing the African American experience.
If you’re looking to get immersed in the art scene, and rub elbows with the city’s creatives, check out the schedules for pop-up galleries and DIY art spaces. Perfect Lovers is an art space and coffee shop on N. Roxboro Street where you can take part in regular performances, exhibits and events. Pop Box Gallery brings zero-commission visual art exhibits and multidisciplinary arts programming to unexpected places. Check the website to find out where it’s popping up when you’re in town. Observable Universe hosts community art events in partnership with artists in residence in a charming space within a storage rental complex-turned-creative hub.
Listen, we haven’t even talked about the way chefs, pastry chefs, and mixologists make art of their craft here in the Tastiest Town in the South. Check out our Food & Drink page to finish out your trip with places that intrigue you most.
No worries if you don’t visit every artsy spot on the itinerary. The Durham art scene is always evolving, and we’ll help you plan another trip.