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The Ultimate Guide to Ninth Street & Duke University

West of downtown, Duke’s iconic campus and attractions offer entertainment, beauty, and relaxation for students and visitors. The adjacent, Ninth Street shopping and dining district charms with original building facades and a college-town vibe.

Duke University attracts visitors from all over the world to Durham — and not just for its world-renowned education, healthcare, and college basketball. Located just west of downtown Durham, visitors can explore the famous sights on Duke’s campus like its neo-Gothic cathedral, world-class art museum, stunning gardens, and historic basketball stadium. And don’t forget the Ninth Street shopping and dining district, an area that is a highlight for visitors and a hotspot for the local community.

The History of Duke University

Duke University began as Trinity College in 1838, founded by Methodist and Quaker communities in North Carolina. The school moved to Durham in 1892 and was renamed Duke University in 1924, after tobacco magnate and influential Durhamite Washington Duke. The campus was located on the site of Duke University’s current East Campus and grew from there thanks to the establishment of the Duke Endowment by Duke’s son, James Buchanan Duke.

Today, Duke University is known for consistently ranking as one of the top institutions of higher learning in the United States. More than 17,000 students come to Durham each year to learn, research, and seek greatness in their fields of study. Duke professors and faculty include Nobel-prize-winning scientists and Pulitzer-prize-winning writers.

Washington Duke statue on Duke's Campus

Washington Duke. Photo: Duke University / Discover Durham

The History of the Ninth Street District

The Ninth Street district was originally the location of a mill village. This business district was adjacent to Erwin Cotton Mill, a manufacturer of muslin tobacco bags, which opened in 1893. The first shops on Ninth Street opened in the late 1800s and included a bootmaker, two grocers, a general store, a drugstore, and a watchmaker. Even though the mill closed in 1986, the Ninth Street district has continued to thrive and reinvent itself.

Today the mill has been converted into space for living and working, the original structure preserving the historical feel of the area. Many of the buildings on Ninth Street retain their original 1920s storefront facades, and several businesses, including Barnes Supply Co., The Regulator Bookshop, and Vaguely Reminiscent, have been in operation for more than 45 years.

The Regulator Bookshop on Durham's Ninth Street

Zelda Lockhart posing with her book at The Regulator Bookshop. Photo: Mica Murphy

Duke’s Impact on Durham

The impact of Duke University can be seen and felt throughout Durham. Duke is the largest employer in Durham County, owning over 8,600 acres of land. Additionally, Duke manages more than 200 leases across Durham using about 2.5 million square feet of space throughout the city. Durham’s “The City of Medicine” moniker is named in part for Duke Medicine, consistently ranking top of its field in areas of healthcare, education, research, and nursing. Duke University Hospital is also regularly ranked as one of the best hospitals in North Carolina and the United States, drawing patients seeking specialty care.

As you walk through downtown Durham and the surrounding areas, you will see Duke offices nestled between startups and restaurants. You may notice Duke staff and students around town. But they generally blend in with the rest of the Durham residents outside of the Ninth Street and Brightleaf areas, where you may see more at nightlife spots and restaurants with cheap eats.

Duke University Hospital

Duke University Hospital. Photo: Discover Durham

What to Know Before You Go

You can explore Duke University’s two campuses: the original East Campus and the newer West Campus, which is adjacent to the medical campus. Duke has a truly “Southern Ivy League” ambiance with towering oak, pine, and magnolia trees lining the West Campus entrance as the neo-Gothic Duke Chapel comes into view. Walk past buildings with gargoyles, arches, and parapets distinctive of the collegiate gothic style, and see modern glass buildings that blend old-world charm with new-world sensibilities. On East Campus, walk winding pathways to see brick buildings and stately columns that are the hallmark of Georgian architecture. East Campus is the home to all first-year undergraduate students, while West Campus is a bustling center for all Duke students.

Parts of the Duke campuses are walkable, but visitors should be prepared to drive or find alternate transportation when traveling to and from campus and around Durham. Duke University and GoDurham operate buses that connect the campuses to each other and to Durham.

There is garage and visitor lot parking on Duke’s campuses, but check their website for complete and current information. Start with the Karsh Alumni and Visitor Center at the corner of Chapel Drive and Duke University Road for the latest tips on planning your day around campus. One-day visitor parking is complimentary across the street from the center in a gravel lot. Ninth Street has street, garage, and lot parking. Download the Passport Parking app to pay for street parking in Durham.

Duke Chapel

Duke Chapel. Photo: Duke University / Discover Durham

Duke’s West Campus

Duke’s West Campus is the bigger of the two campuses and is home to the showpiece of the campus, Duke University Chapel. This breathtaking cathedral soars 210 feet above the campus and was designed in a neo-Gothic style by Black architect Julian Abele. It features four pipe organs that perfectly suit the arched stone acoustics. The chapel opened in 1930 and visitors can experience worship services, concerts and gatherings in this magnificent space. Tours are regularly available.

Less than a half-mile from Duke Chapel, visitors will delight in Sarah P. Duke Gardens, a 55-acre curated garden designed to display year-round blooms that is free for visitors. Walk picturesque paths that connect four distinct garden areas: the Terraces & Historic Gardens, the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum, and the Doris Duke Center Gardens. Pass blooming cherry trees, calming koi ponds, or cross-over water features using picture-perfect bridges.

Cherry Allée at Duke Gardens. People walk down a patch lined with lush plants and trees.

Sarah P. Duke Gardens. Photo: Discover Durham

Near Duke Gardens, visitors can experience the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University for free. The Nasher is a 65,000-square foot contemporary art museum, showcasing both an impressive permanent collection from Europe, Africa and the Americas, as well as traveling exhibitions displaying works from diverse artists. Public and private tours are available. The Nasher Museum Cafe offers delectable shareables, salads, and elevated plates to round out your experience with a lunch or dinner on-site. A short walk from The Nasher, check out the Rubenstein Arts Center, “The Ruby,” Duke’s hub for artistic production where students, faculty, visiting artists, and collaborators develop their skills and create new work. You can find public performances, film screenings, and exhibitions scheduled through the year.

Cameron Indoor Stadium is perhaps one of the most famous (or infamous) places on campus. Often a bucket-list place for visiting sports fans, Cameron is home to the Duke University Men’s and Women’s Basketball programs, among other sports. The Blue Devils boast a rabid student fan base called the “Cameron Crazies.” With five NCAA tournament wins and dozens of tournament appearances, Duke has had a notable collegiate basketball program for more than 60 years. The stadium opened in 1940 and has only 9,100 seats, which makes for an intimate arena by modern standards. If you aren’t lucky enough to attend a game, plan on visiting the Duke Basketball Museum & Sports Hall of Fame to see memorabilia and learn about famous moments in Duke’s basketball history. Shop for apparel at the Duke Team Store or the University Store on Duke’s campus.

Duke diehards can stay the night near or on Duke’s West Campus. Find accommodations near the medical center at the AC Hotel by Mariott Durham near Duke University Hospital or the new, boutique-style Lodge at Duke Medical Center. For on-campus options, stay at The JB Duke Hotel or The Washington Duke Hotel & Golf Club, two of the highest-rated properties in Durham. In the morning, don’t miss locally-made donuts, biscuits, and breakfast sandwiches from Early Bird Donuts on Erwin Road.

Ninth Street

Ninth Street is known as the area in Durham with the Duke “college town” feel, but is loved by locals and visitors alike. Ninth Street is both the name of a street and an area of interest on Ninth Street stretching from West Main Street to West Knox Street. This area blends a historic shopping and dining district with contemporary buildings and amenities.

Durham excels at local dining and the Ninth Street district is no exception. You’ll find cheap eats, fine dining, and late-night options along the street. Discover Vietnamese and Chinese dishes at Banh’s Cuisine, which has been a Ninth Street staple since 1990. Take cash so you can devour a plate piled high with crispy tofu and black bean sauce. At Dain’s Place, take a seat at the neighborhood bar. Order the burger, get the tots, and try a locally-brewed beer. You’ll wish you had a bar like Dain’s back home.

For fine dining, Ninth Street has several places to slow down and savor a meal. Find classic French cuisine at Vin Rouge, where seasonal farm-to-table offerings complement the extensive French wine list. Sit outside in the garden and savor soup a l’oignon or moules frites with a glass of champagne. For an Asian fusion experience, indulge in small plates at Juju Asian Tapas + Bar. Share dumplings, noodles, or seasonal vegetables in a warm-toned mood-lit space. Or savor the spices of India at Lemon & Lime Indian Grill & Bar. With dishes from many different regions of India, your tastebuds will be singing songs of praise in their brightly colored dining room.

Vin Rouge: classic French cuisine backed by an extensive wine list in an intimate, upscale atmosphere.

Vin Rouge in Durham’s Ninth Street neighborhood. Photo: S. Hughes Imaging / Discover Durham

For dessert, take a quick trip from Ninth Street and head east on Hillsborough Street to LocoPops where you can enjoy Mexican-style popsicles and ice cream in flavors like strawberries and cream and Mexican chocolate. If you like to stay out late, stop by Cosmic Cantina (open until 4 a.m.), where burritos and quesadillas can satisfy late-night cravings.

Find something to remember your trip to Durham as you peruse the retail shops on Ninth Street. Find colorful clothes, accessories, or home goods at Bull City Fair Trade. Feel good about helping those in need with your purchase by shopping at a place with a commitment to fair trade standards and gifts in support of numerous causes. Coo over cute things for kids at Tiny, a shop for children. They have adorable accessories, toys, and clothes that will delight both kids and adults. Browse books at The Regulator, a local favorite bookstore for more than 45 years. Find treasures from local authors and get hand-picked recommendations from local readers. Don’t miss Vaguely Reminiscent, a quirky purveyor of women’s clothing and gifts, which has been proudly serving Ninth Street since 1982.

Stay the night close to Ninth Street at the Hilton Garden Inn, which is only a block away from Ninth Street. In the morning, grab bagels and donuts at Monuts or have breakfast any time at old-fashioned, family-friendly Elmo’s Diner.

Buying paletas at Durham, NC's Locopops.

Paletas at Locopops. Photo: Discover Durham

Broad Street & Duke’s East Campus

Duke’s East Campus is nestled near the Trinity Park neighborhood. The campus is surrounded by a walking path that is ideal for exploring on foot. Make sure to visit Baldwin Auditorium, a 685-seat theater designed in 1927. This domed-roof venue was recently renovated and now hosts classical, jazz, and orchestral artists. For a more informal experience, visit the Duke Coffeehouse, a student-run music venue and study space that has been operating since 1967.

The western side of East Campus is bordered by Broad Street, which has many dining options and points of interest. Coffee and treats from Cloche Coffee or Mad Hatter Cafe + Bakeshop will fuel your mornings. Find pool at The Green Room, featured in the cult-favorite film Bull Durham. And crisp wings and waffle fries from Heavenly Buffaloes for lunch or dinner.

Students on Duke's East Campus.

Students on Duke’s East Campus. Photo: Megan Morr / Duke Photography

Stay the night near Duke’s East Campus and book a room at the Residence Inn by Marriott Durham McPherson/Duke University Medical Center Area. It was once the site of Durham’s first hospital.

When you visit Durham, don’t miss the sites, shops and restaurants at Duke University and the Ninth Street shopping and dining district.

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Heather Darnell-Freelance writer, editor, and public relations consultant
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If eating in Durham were a sport, Heather Darnell would be on the winning team. She craves omakase meals at M Sushi, the barbacoa tacos at Taqueria La Vaquita, and the gingersnaps at Rose’s. She also loves to see shows at the Durham Performing Arts Center and the Carolina Theatre. Heather enjoys freelance writing and spending time with her husband and two young children.