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Durham’s Best Date Ideas Got us Fallin’ in Love

Estimated Read Time:
3 min

Roses are red. Violets are blue. Discover these romantic spots in Durham for you and your boo.

Love is in the air, and couples are gearing up to celebrate their relationships. Whether you're preparing for a Valentine's Day date, brainstorming your next date night, meeting someone for the first time, or even thinking about where to propose, we are excited to celebrate love in all the right Bull City places.

To help set the mood and provide the perfect backdrop, we asked our Instagram followers to tell us their favorite date spots in Durham. Check out these dreamy ideas that will help spark the flame.

A couple poses for a selfie in front of the Durham sign at American Tobacco Campus.

Selfies in front of the Durham sign at American Tobacco Campus. Photo: Discover Durham

Get Outside for Serene or Adventurous Dates

There’s no better way to get to know someone than to take on an activity. These date ideas will have you frolicking with your love in no time.

Stroll through Durham Central Park

Enjoy a lovely green space perfect for recreation, enjoying nature, and people-watching right in the heart of downtown. There’s always something fun to do, whether it's watching a dance class under the pavilion or enjoying the skaters’ tricks at the skatepark.

Explore botanical beauty at Sarah P. Duke Gardens

Nothing sparks romance like a date in nature surrounded by the sweet-smelling flowers, chirping birds, and flowing fountains of Sarah P. Duke Gardens. Stroll through the garden and put your tu-lips together on one of the wooden benches before spreading out a picnic blanket on the lawn. We've seen weddings, proposals, and maternity shoots here, so we know your boo will be impressed.

A couple walking under blooming cherry blossoms in bloom at Sarah P. Duke Gardens.

Blooming cherry blossoms at Sarah P. Duke Gardens. Photo: Discover Durham

Enjoy miles and miles of trails at Eno River State Park

Capture the experience with a pic at the hanging bridge and explore the gorgeous scenery for an adventurous date.

Take your boo on a walk through American Tobacco Campus

Cozy benches and local shops and restaurants dot the walkway with numerous secluded spots to snuggle up by the river. Planning on bringing a photographer with you to capture the moment? Be sure to read these guidelines first.

A couple on a rock in the Eno River. One person gives the other a hand stepping up onto the rock from the water. Lush trees.

Eno River State Park. Photo: Jessie Gladdek

Meet up for a Drink

Show off your impeccable taste by planning a date at one of Durham’s celebrated cocktail or wine bars.

Sip spirits from their source

Visit Corpse Reviver, Durham Distillery’s adjacent sister bar, to try a cocktail made with six-time gold medal-winning Conniption Navy Strength Gin, or delight your date with a drink made with color-changing Kinship gin. Bourbon fans will love Weldon Mills, where you can sip a pour of their spirits or enjoy a cocktail with light bites and regular live music on Friday nights. At Liberty and Plenty, enjoy downtown people-watching from the patio with a cocktail made with the distillery's Slate Belt or Cap and Cane spirits.

Have an award-winning cocktail

Alley Twenty Six and Kingfisher, located just across the street from one another on East Chapel Hill St., are NC’s first two cocktail bars to be semifinalists for the prestigious James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar. A date at either (or both!) is sure to score you some points with your sweetie. Cozy up in a booth or at the bar and savor expertly made cocktails made using seasonal ingredients and homemade syrups and tonics.

Two women take a selfie before enjoying their cocktails at the bar at Alley Twenty Six.

Enjoy a Galentine’s Day at Alley Twenty Six Eric Waters / Discover Durham

What’s more romantic than splitting a nice bottle of wine?

Splitting a nice bottle of wine under twinkling lights and snug blankets on Killer Queen’s back patio. Don’t worry, the setting is equally intimate inside where you and your date can share a plush loveseat and pretend you’re the only ones in the room. The more casual Louella Wine Bar is the perfect spot for an afternoon or early evening date. Expand your knowledge with a Saturday afternoon wine tasting and stay for a glass and some people-watching on the Geer St.- adjacent outdoor seating. Pick up a bottle from the retail section to take home for your next date.

Enjoy a drink, a stroll and an activity in the social district

Downtown Durham’s social district makes an outdoor date possible without foregoing an adult beverage. Loosen up the conversation with a to-go glass from Brunello Wine Bar and browse the plants and gifts at The Zen Succulent before posting up on a bench in CCB plaza to chat with your boo.

If sober sips are more your speed, you’re in luck. Durham’s world-class coffee shop scene offers plenty of options for a tasty beverage and a serene spot for sitting.

A couple shares a bottle of wine at an outdoor table in front of a pink, blue and purple mural of wings.

Killer Queen Wine Bar. Photo: Eric Waters / Discover Durham

Get a Room with a (Rooftop) View

Wine and dine your sweetheart with drinks and spice and everything nice in a private igloo at Unscripted’s roof deck (available during the colder months), and then stay the evening in a room awash in mid-century design with a view overlooking CCB Plaza.

Treat your special someone to an unforgettable night out at The Durham Hotel. Start with drinks and sunset views on The Roof at The Durham Hotel, followed by dinner in the corner booth in the glass-walled dining room and a stay in a stylishly comfortable room.

The Roof at Unscripted. Photo: Eric Waters

Spend a Night at the Museum

Kick off your romantic getaway in a spacious room at the 21c Museum Hotel. With stimulating museum exhibitions – open 24 hours! – along with an underground bank vault, intimate spa services, and a variety of menu options from the adjoining Counting House restaurant, it's likely the two of you won't want to leave.

A couple at the bar at Counting House Restaurant in 21c Museum Hotel

Counting House Restaurant in 21c Museum Hotel. Photo: SP Murray

Get Tickets to a Show

This one is for you long-term couples. Sitting next to each other while wordlessly watching a show may not be the best way to get to know someone but treating your loved one to a coveted ticket and accompanying them to see the show is a wonderful way to show care and attention to detail. If your sweetie is an avid Broadway fan, you’re in luck. DPAC, consistently ranked among the top theaters in the country, gets all the best shows – Hamilton to Frozen. Nationally touring acts like Brandi Carlile and Trevor Noah make stops here as well. Trust and believe that your efforts will be appreciated.

For a more low-key show suiting more niche interests, check out The Carolina Theatre where you can score tickets to local and well-known bands and comedy shows or check out a film in the upstairs movie theater. Plan ahead for film events like retro double-features each Friday, August’s OUTSouth Queer Film Festival or Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in April.

To enjoy entertainment in a more intimate setting, check out a show at Missy Lane's Assembly Room, downtown's newest home for jazz and other musical genres. Grab tickets for a local or touring artist or join the steamy Old Havana Nights series on the last Wednesday of the month for latin music and salsa dancing.

Two women walk hand-in-hand outside. Behind them, there's a building with a lit sign for the Carolina Theatre.

A couple at The Carolina Theatre. Photo: Walk West / Remedy / Chris Facey

Have a pre- or post-show drink

Local favorite Bar Virgile serves delicious craft and classic cocktails alongside elevated bar food in a cozy atmosphere. The Waiting Room serves expertly made cocktails, snacks and desserts and is designed to be a stop before a dinner reservation or show or as a nightcap afterward. Plush furniture and intimate tables make it a perfect setting for a romantic date night. Enjoy the sunset with a cocktail at Durham's newest rooftop bar, The Velvet Hippo. With light bites, creative cocktails and a ski lodge vibe in the winter months, it's the perfect spot for an early evening drink.

Just steps away from Durham Performing Arts Center and Carolina Theatre, all of these spots are easy stops for a bit of one-on-one time before or after a show.

A man and woman in conversation while sitting at a bar. The woman has a white drink in a tall glass. They are smiling.

A date at Bar Virgile. Photo: Lissa Gotwals

Have a Low-Pressure First Date Meal

Let’s be real, you never know how a first date is going to feel. Threading the needle of a thoughtful location that shows your personality and taste without overcommitting your time or budget is ideal. Pizza is the ultimate crowd-pleaser, so meet your date at Hutchins Garage for a casual but tasty meal.

has established itself as a community hangout. With an affordable menu of tasty options that suit a variety of palettes, plus beer, wine, and cocktails, you can feel confident that your potential new boo will find something they like. And if the conversation lags, you can always join in on whatever the folks at the bar are discussing.

Cosmic Cantina
is a piece of Durham history at this point. Reliably filling, delicious, and cheap, it’s an excellent place for a quick bite or a late-night meal after a successful first-date conversation has lasted through a few drinks. And if it doesn’t work out, you’ll at least check an institution off your bucket list.

Keep Namu on your list as a perfect all-purpose date spot where you can meet for coffee, local beer, Korean street food and a beautiful, secluded back garden. Plan a quick first meeting with the option to linger by the water feature if things go well.

On the corner of Geer Street and Rigsbee Avenue, meet for a casual meal at Parts & Labor, Motorco's sister bar and restaurant, where nearly everything on the food menu is under $10. Enjoy a nice evening on the expansive patio and maybe catch a show next door.

Score some street cred by introducing your date to hatch chili pimento cheese on a hotdog at Accordion Club. The unassuming hole-in-the-wall is a local hangout with a pool table and an outdoor patio, so you’ll have plenty of things to do while you get to know each other.

Two words: street tacos. Lady Gold Tacos slings tacos al pastor, chicken tinga, birria, carnitas and chorizo in front of Remedy Room at Five Points, meaning it’s within the social district. Grab a drink from a participating business, including Remedy Room and its upstairs neighbor Rubies, and hang out at a nearby outdoor table. Check their Instagram for hours and availability as they change according to weather and staffing.

Second Date Bites & Conversation

You’ve made it through the first date, and you’re still interested, now it’s time to try a more intimate setting. Perhaps a meal with paper menus and a server.

Share a few flavorful dishes along with your optimism about the future of your relationship at Hillandale neighborhood hangout Bleu Olive. Count on locally sourced ingredients, friendly service, and time to linger as you gaze into each other’s eyes.

Feel things out with your prospective partner at Copa, where a beautiful atmosphere sets the tone, and you can choose between a meal at the expansive bar or at a more intimate table. Order a few Cuban tapas before you move to the next location or let the excitement of togetherness linger as you wait for a made-to-order paella to share.

You may recognize a theme here: small plates and tapas are approved second-date options for their versatility, the intimacy of sharing, and the sensory pleasure of bold flavors. Find all the above at Juju Asian Tapas + Bar, where you can also stick with the familiar taste of General Tso’s if you’re feeling less adventurous.

Who doesn’t like a meal with a theme? Plan a light-hearted date to It’s a Southern Thing and find out what the saying refers to. In this case, it’s Chicken n Biscuits, pulled pork barbeque, sloppy joes, Country Hamburger Steak plates, and fried pickles. Just promise to always tell your date if they have sauce on their face.

Make it Official* at Swanky Spots

It’s time to pull out all the stops and let your sweetie know how deep your feelings go. While these restaurants are comfortable enough for the foodies among us to aspire to “regular” status, they’re also special enough to make anyone feel your love.

Celebrate your rare love at NanaSteak in a lively, warm, and welcoming atmosphere full of natural light. Enjoy drinks and appetizers at the bar or sit at a table and take in that superb downtown Durham view. Situated between DPAC and the Aloft Durham Downtown hotel, “Durham’s best steakhouse” offers high-energy, upscale dining at its finest with an award-winning wine list.

Connect with your cutie at Plum Southern Kitchen & Bar, serving classic Southern food for the modern palate. Choose between small plates, like biscuits served with pimento butter or deviled eggs topped with buttermilk fried shallots and smoked paprika, or pick your own entrée inspired by local producers’ offerings. No matter your adventure, save room to share a slice of the weekly-changing Emma’s Cake.

Vin Rouge had us at merlot. With a heated garden patio, beautiful scenery, and French cuisine, Vin Rouge will instantly transport you and your date to the French countryside — even if it's just for a few hours. If the macaroni gratin is good enough to impress the stars of Food Network, you know your boo will swoon.

A pillar of Durham’s foodie scene, Mateo’s served tapas, pintxos, paella, and porron in the heart of downtown Durham since 2012. With a Spanish heart and a Southern soul, you’ll find treats like Cheerwine sangria, Pollo Frito (fried chicken stuffed with mahon cheese and serrano ham, pickles, and aioli), and Pan con Tomate complete with an option to add Duke’s mayonnaise. Choose Mateo for a bit of adventure, with just the right amount of familiarity and comfort to win a date with your sweetie.

An all-star date can balance quality time with quality food. Indulge in fresh fish flown in from Japan, Korea, and other parts of the U.S. at M Sushi. The emphasis on fresh ingredients and maintaining traditional Japanese cuisine ensures you and your partner will be talking about the meal for ages. You can’t go wrong with any of the a la carte options, but we promise any of the omakase options are worth the splurge. Choose the Grand Omakase to ensure that you both savor each flavor of the seven chef-picked courses as you linger in the sultry, tucked-away dining room.

A plate of orange pasta with a spoon on a table with a glass of white wine and a tealight candle.

Littler. Photo: Forrest Mason

Intimate atmosphere, check. Big-bulb string lights, check. Delicious food and drink? Yup, Littler has that, too. Bon Appetit magazine previously acknowledged that with the whole space lending a romantic glow, you may never want to leave. The chefs ensure a fresh, seasonal approach in the kitchen and promises that no meal is complete without a colorful, whimsical dessert.

For a date that's a nod to Durham's culinary history and proof of your foodie cred, book a table at Nanas in Rockwood. Matt Kelly's reimagining of the Durham institution pairs elevated bistro fare with a glamorous interior. Rock your best new outfit and make sure to save space and allow time for the spectacular chocolate soufflé, which is baked to order and takes 20 minutes. Your date is sure to be impressed.

No matter which direction you choose, we are sure you’ll fall in love with Durham as much as with each other. Here’s to you, your love, and learning more about each other in the Bull City!

*Disclaimer: Communication is key. If you go on a date to one of these restaurants, congratulations and enjoy a beautiful meal! We don’t know if you’re official.