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The Ultimate 2024 Durham Bucket List

Estimated Read Time:
5 min

We’ve got a blueprint for a year of exploration and discovery in Durham. How will you do it in Durham?

Posted By Kristin Bedinger on Dec 12, 2023

Foodies. History buffs. Outdoor adventurers. Music lovers. Broadway fans. Nightlife enthusiasts. Sports fanatics. Intellectuals. Artists. Durham welcomes travelers of all types with diverse experiences to pique interest and stoke curiosity. Whatever your passion, you can find it here. We’re resolving to have an unforgettable year in Durham by exploring the must-sees as well as the hidden gems and visiting everything from historic sites to brand-new attractions.

Whether you’ve lived here your whole life, you’re embarking on your first year in a new home, or you’re planning your first (or fifth) visit, you’ll find new reasons to love Durham by the time you make your way through our Ultimate 2024 Durham Bucket List. And if you consider yourself an expert on all things Durham, we have the tools to create your own list. In exchange, we hope you’ll show us your adventure by tagging us along the way @durhamnc.

1. Check out Durham's Social District

Durham’s Social District invites us to socialize outside and get creative as we mix and mingle with other visitors and Durhamites. Go ahead, plan a picnic in Central Park with sanctioned to-go beers from The Glass Jug. Take a walking cocktail from West Main St. to East Main St. Make a custom terrarium at Zen Succulent’s DIY Terrarium Bar with a glass of wine from Brunello Wine Bar next door. Lounge on the lawn at American Tobacco Campus with burgers, fries, and cocktails from Queenburger. Take a to-go beverage on a walking mural tour. Experience more of downtown however it appeals to you. Before you go, check out our guide to making the most of The Bullpen.

If you want to explore Durham's incredible craft beverage scene, first stop by the Visitor Info Center at 212 W. Main St. to pick up our pocket guide: Durham Drinks. It has all the info you need to experience the best cocktails, brews, spirits and more.

2. Brush up on Durham History

This is your year to visit all three of Durham’s state historic sites – see firsthand the site of the negotiations that marked the beginning of the end of the Civil War at Bennett Place, learn how the South’s Industrial Revolution began in tobacco and textiles at Duke Homestead and find out how Historic Stagville centers the experiences of enslaved people at the site of one of the largest plantations in the South. And that’s just scratching the surface of how you can learn about Durham’s rich history. Durham is also where the civil rights movement gained significant traction and is where one of the nation's premier Black universities made its home. Learn the full story. Pop into the Museum of Durham History. Walk Black Wall Street. Explore the Hayti Heritage Center. Gain context around all those old tobacco warehouses.

3. Stay at a Four Diamond Hotel

With all there is to explore in Durham, you will want to stay a while. If style and comfort are at the top of your list, a stay at one of Durham’s AAA Four Diamond-rated hotels is guaranteed to impress. For the urbanite looking to stay amid the energy of downtown and wander downstairs to check out some art in a 3 a.m. fit of insomnia, 21c Museum Hotel will fit the bill. If a vacation is not a vacation without a golf outing followed by an afternoon cocktail on the patio, the sprawling property at the Washington Duke Inn is the right choice. Arrowhead Inn offers luxurious amenities and modern comforts along with the intimacy of a historic bed and breakfast. Comfort and convenience in the heart of Duke’s West Campus, spa-like guest rooms and an onsite barista bar are some of what the JB Duke Hotel delivers. Durham’s lodging properties don’t stop here.

Looking for a rooftop pool? Sweeping views? Pet-friendly rooms? Meeting spaces? Find your perfect fit.

4. See a show at DPAC or Carolina Theatre

Whether you just have to see the year’s hottest Broadway tour, national headlining musicians, and top comedy shows, or if local events, up-and-coming acts or the latest indie film are more your speed, there are plenty of reasons to check out Durham’s top venues. Consistently ranked among the top theaters in America, DPAC, Durham Performing Arts Center, offers the chance to see iconic shows in a mid-size theater conveniently located downtown. Less than a mile away, the historic Carolina Theatre hosts more than 200 live events per year in Fletcher Hall and indie and retro films in the upstairs movie theatre. A low-key matinee and a walk to dinner might just be an ideal Sunday, while you can plan a trip around tickets to The Lion King, dinner at NanaSteak, and a stay at Aloft without taking your car out of the parking deck.

If you're looking for a more intimate setting to get involved in the local music scene, you can explore all of Durham's concert halls, restaurants and bars with live music and more.

5. Check out a Bulls Game

You don’t have to be a sports fan to have a great time at a Bulls Game, but if you are, here’s your chance to see the most famous team in the Minor League. With local restauranteurs running concessions, an onsite brewery, plenty of peanuts and crackerjack, the best bat dog in the biz, Friday night fireworks, and the chance to be called to the field for a game of Simon Says during the seventh-inning stretch, there’s a reason the whole city shows up for games. Opening Night starts the season in early April, and with 75 dates slated for home games, weekly themed nights, and local concessions, you'll be singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" all summer.

6. Get Outdoors

Lace-up for a trail run, give your bike a tune-up or pack a picnic. Opt for a quick spin around the Al Buehler trail, a dip in a secluded swimming hole, or an escape into the woods in Eno River State Park or one of Durham’s 67 other parks. Take advantage of 22 miles of well-kept, paved trail through urban and wildlife areas on the American Tobacco Trail, you can find new ways to explore the outdoors all year long. And with its temperate winters, gorgeous spring, long summer days and colorful fall, there's no better place to take in nature's beauty all year round.

7. Try a New Hobby

Durham's diversity of interests and activities means that its reputation as a creative, artistic city is equally important as its nickname as the "City of Champions." When it comes to developing new skills and experiencing new activities, all you need to bring is your curiosity. This year, why not take on a new creative medium, make connections through improv comedy or find community through an unexpected new sport. Here are a few ideas –

  • Triangle Curling Club has been expanding the sport’s reach outside its traditional home in frigid settings for more than 25 years and offers leagues, learn-to-curl sessions, and pickup curling at their 15,000 sq. ft. southeast Durham home.
  • Triangle Rock Club boasts the largest indoor climbing facility in a five-state radius with spaces for rope climbing and bouldering as well as cardio and yoga, a gear shop and private areas for events and conferences.
  • Channel your inner ninja warrior at OC Aerial’s indoor adventure park, which includes a ropes course, a zip line, 18- and 21-foot slides and the terrifyingly-named Leap of Faith, among many other attractions.
  • Night School Bar is Durham's newest hub for community, classes and cocktails committed to democratizing education through a wide range of courses taught by expert instructors. Sign up for a seminar-style course to connect with other like-minded individuals across age, race and gender demographics. And, if you're out of town, virtual classes are also offered.
  • Mettlesome produces comedy and live shows across Durham, and is primarily based in their own black box community theater in the Golden Belt Campus. If you're visiting for a weekend, score tickets to a show and if you're here for longer, improv and sketch comedy classes and workshops are offered through the Improv Lab.
  • The pasta experts behind Melina's Fresh Pasta are sharing the wealth of their pasta-making skills beginning in early 2024. Sign up for a class that will pay dividends in your dinner party hosting skills.

8. Experience campus as a tourist

College campuses are notoriously inspiring and abundant with the majesty of architecture, the beauty of manicured public spaces, the excitement of student activities and athletics, and the inspiration of campus museums. Durham’s two historic campuses – North Carolina Central University (NCCU) and Duke University – capture the imagination of students and tourists alike. Take in the energy of the nation’s first public liberal arts institution for African American students by visiting the Eagles’ campus, starting with one of North Carolina’s leading collections of work by Black artists at the NCCU Art Museum. Learn about the history of the university and its founder at the James E. Shepard Memorial Library. Get caught up in the energy of student life by cheering on the Eagles at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium and getting in on the tradition of a post-game social at the Greek Bowl.

At Duke, appreciate the wonder of collegiate gothic architecture in the midst of Duke Forest starting with Duke Chapel in the center of West Campus. Make your way to Sarah P. Duke Gardens, a beautifully maintained public botanical garden in the heart of campus for a stroll along native and Asiatic landscapes and historic gardens. No campus visit is complete without a visit to a museum. Duke’s Nasher Museum of Art houses some of today’s best contemporary art, with a focus on work by artists of African descent, along with influential temporary exhibits. The Basketball Museum and Athletics Hall of Fame offers a chance to relive the history of Duke Sports adjacent to the must-see Cameron Indoor Stadium.

9. Try Foodie Stalwarts

Hitting the highlights of Durham’s dining scene is a year-long project in itself, but a few new and old classics are essential if you want a real taste of Durham. If you haven’t tried James Beard Award Winner Ricky Moore’s famously fresh NC seafood at Saltbox Seafood Joint, take our word for it and get in line now. Durham’s downtown neighborhood bar, James Beard Award Finalist Alley Twenty Six, just happens to be one of the state’s premier spots for expertly made classics and innovative seasonal cocktails. Saltbox, Alley Twenty Six and downtown favorite Mateo Bar de Tapas all recently celebrated their tenth anniversaries, so you’ve got yet another reason to add them to your list. Two words: Chicken Hut. Some might say you haven’t really experienced Durham if you haven’t tasted the shatteringly crisp fried chicken, among the best in the nation, and the home cooking that has made Chicken Hut’s Tapp family famous for more than 60 years.

In our humble opinion, Chef Michael Lee hasn’t received enough praise for the restaurants he’s brought to downtown Durham. Try his OG spot, M Sushi, and experience a fresh new take every time by splurging for the omakase. Chef Lee was doing omakase right before the word was cool enough to be one of 370 new words added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2022.

La Monarca Michoacana is a tucked-away treasure in a North Durham shopping center, and with dozens of flavors of homemade ice cream and paletas, it’s a crowd-pleasing favorite that can’t be missed. Ice cream lovers will never stop frequenting The Parlour for perfectly creamy scoops made with hand-picked seasonal ingredients throughout the year.

Leave space in your stomach and on your agenda for the return of the historic Nana’s Restaurant, rebranded as Nanas and reopened in late 2023 under the ownership of Chef Matt Kelly, who has honored the legacy of Nana’s as a neighborhood gathering space and Durham institution.

10. Take a Distillery Tour

It’s time to get to know Durham’s spirits. A trip downtown will take you to three of Durham's distilleries, and a bit farther out of town, you can get an immersive look at a grain-to-glass bourbon distillery.

  • Durham Distillery – learn about how Melissa Katrincic uses modern techniques to expand on traditional pot still distillation to create her award-winning Conniption Gins with zero extracts or artificial ingredients. Stop by the downstairs sister bar Corpse Reviver (yes, named after the classic cocktail and the business that previously inhabited the spot – a coffin factory) after the tour to try a cocktail using spirits made upstairs.
  • Liberty & Plenty, Durham’s second woman-owned distillery, offers cocktails in its tasting room that's directly adjacent to the distillery itself. Try Durham-made spirits including Bronze Bull Spirits Bourbon and Slate Belt Vodka.
  • Weldon Mills makes award-winning small-batch spirits. The downtown Durham distillery and cocktail bar sells bottles, serves cocktails and hosts events in their space and adjoining patio.
  • Outside of town, Mystic Farm & Distillery is a farm-to-flask distillery and the world’s largest solar-powered bourbon distillery. A visit to the farm gives you the chance to see the farm and fields, tour the distillery, and taste their award-winning handmade bourbon and other spirits.

Once you’ve got a few local tours under your belt, deepen your knowledge with an educational tasting with Durham’s Black Bourbon Guy. Join him at his Alley Twenty Six residency the first Wednesday of each month or schedule an in-person or virtual private class and hear about his favorite spots to take friends for a cocktail in the video below.

11. Get to Know Durham by District

Sure, you can have a great time getting to know Durham broadly, or according to your interest, but what if you thrive on feeling like a local in a brand new place? Exploring Durham by district will give you the inside scoop on what it feels like to live here. Park the car and explore on foot to see tree-lined residential streets, find tucked-away retail districts with mom-and-pop storefronts, discover hidden histories and find out what makes Durhamites tick. We've created guides to each of Durham's eight distinct districts to help you get started.

Explore the guides.

12. Make Your Own Bucket List

Ok, so we’ve told you how we want to spend our time this year, but what do YOU want to do? Our website has a wealth of resources to help you discover more of Durham and compile a handy dandy list you can refer back to along the way. You’ll find the businesses we’ve mentioned at the bottom of this page. Click the heart by the business listing to save the ones you want to try, and read through a few of the blog posts we’ve linked to help build out your list. The links on business names throughout our site will take you to individual page listings where you’ll find that same heart button. Once you’ve made a sufficiently ambitious agenda, you can click the heart at the top right of the screen to see your selections and email them to yourself, print, or share with a friend. Give us FOMO and inspiration by posting your list to social media and tagging us @durhamnc. Happy hunting and cheers to your best-ever year in Durham!

About the Author

Kristin Bedinger - Sr. Manager of Content
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Lover of plants, books, wine, cooking for my friends and hanging with my pup, Arlo. Find me trying every new bar and restaurant in Durham the moment it opens.