If you’re thinking about visiting the south, a lot of people will automatically think of taking a trip to Atlanta, GA or even Charlotte, NC. However, if you are looking for an affordable city that bustles yet still has a small town feel, you should visit Durham, NC. Durham, NC also has a wealth of history for black people.
Durham, NC is the home of Black Wall Street, a thriving community full of black businesses and financial service companies in the 1800’s and 1900’s. It also home of one of the earliest Civil Rights sit-in’s which happened in 1957 at Royal Ice Cream Parlour where seven black men sat in an all-white booth. Martin Luther King Jr. also held a civil rights rally where he famously cried, “fill up the jails!” in 1960. And naturally, it’s home of Duke University, the greatest university in the South…and quite possibly the United States (full disclosure: I went there and yes, I’m biased).
While North Carolina has a lot of history of past, there’s a lot of great things to do there now. It’s a thriving city, which is quickly growing. Allegedly, Big Freeda recently bought a condo downtown. Keep on reading to find out everywhere you need to eat, everything you need to see, where you need to party, and more in Durham!
WHERE TO STAY
Durham, NC is a picturesque location with great hotels to stay at. Whether you want to stay somewhere with a Southern charm or a place with cool culture, #TeamBeautiful has you covered!
Washington Duke Inn is where I stayed on my most recent trip to Duke University. They are known for their well crafted, classic cocktails and charm. Staying here, you feel like you’re in your rich Southern Auntie’s mansion. The wallpaper and even the furniture in the rooms have a traditional feel. It has a pool that also has a hot tub and a gym. It’s a bit on the pricier side, but for the service, it’s well worth it. It also sits on an expansive golf course so you can get in a round or two with your bae. The lobby bar is also great for grabbing an after dinner drink or meeting up with a few friends by the fireplace.
21C Hotel is a modern hotel with an artsy feel. I’ve stayed at their location in Cincinnati, OH as well and this one (thus far) is my favorite. The hotel has rotating art. While I was there, I got to see pieces by Hank Willis Thomas, which made me extremely happy. They also have gender-neutral bathrooms in the lobby, but make sure you lock the door! If you don’t, the bathroom is actually see-through. This lobby bar also serves great drinks and food and has a lively feel. It’s a mixed crowd with the best of Durham and toursits that like to mix and mingle.
I’ve stayed at the Aloft Hotel in Durham several times and it’s consistently good. The hotel also boasts a pool which is perfect for when you want to get a little sun in. It’s a small pool, but a pool nonetheless and I’m always happy when I remember my swimsuit. They have all the features of a typical Aloft Hotel. It’s affordable (when booked in advance) and located in downtown Durham so you aren’t far from much. It’s within walking distance of the historical Tobacco District as well as the Durham Ball Park (making it the perfect place to stay if you’re coming for a baseball game). I’ve also stayed here when I had a wedding in Cary, NC. If you want to save some money, this is a nice central location (then you can just drive the 20-30m to Cary or Raliegh).
FOOD AND DRINKS
North Carolina is known for their food and Durham is no exception! We rounded up some of the best places to eat.
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Beyu Caffe is founded by Duke Alum, Dorian Boldon, who recently opened another location on Duke’s West Campus. The caffe has great southern food, boasts a fabulous brunch, and has live music that makes it great for a date night. It’s affordable, delicious, and best yet: it’s Black-owned.
This place opened up in downtown Durham and I’ve eaten here twice. Honestly, I have mixed feelings. The first experience was EVERYTHING! I had the lamb spaghetti (highly recommended) and my friend had the fried chicken and loved it. The second time, I got the catfish served with collards and mac and cheese. The catfish was delicious, but the mac and cheese and collards need some work. For the mac and cheese they use greuyere (I forgot the other cheese), but it’s really mild. There’s no cheddar. The collards were a bit salty and could use more flavor and less salt. This is an affordable place for lunch, with nothing on the menu (even for dinner) being over $17.00.
I’ve been going here since I was in college and I love this place. Foster’s Market is farm to table and everything tastes freshly made. They are perfect for a quick meeting a casual breakfast or lunch or even to have a cup of coffee and a pastry while you read the morning paper (or scroll through Instagram). This is definitely a local spot that’s well loved.
I’ve never been to Unscripted Hotel for a stay, but I have been to the bar. Durham’s boutique hotel is chic and a great rival for the 21C (which is located less than 300 yards away). The cocktails are made my mixologists and the low lighting makes it great for a date. When I went to the bar, it seemed more of a date spot vs a meeting spot, so you might want to head on over to 21C’s bar (less than a five-minute walk) if you’re trying to meet someone or have lively drinks with your girls. They also have a seasonal rooftop pool and that always brings out a beautiful crowd on a weekend in the Summer.
If you know me, you know my love for ice cream. I have it in every city I go to and Durham is no exception. The Parlour is one of my favorite ice cream shoppe’s in the world (no exaggeration). They have classic flavors and create their own as well. Lavender is one of my favorite untraditional ice cream flavors and they have great concoctions. It’s affordable, feels a little old school and the ice cream is super creamy (they use 15% butterfat). It’s a woman owned business, so I love that too!
Yes, I included a fast food place on this list. I’m not even someone who eats fast food on the regular, but I always make an exception for Cook Out. It literally tastes like you are having a burger from someone’s barbeque. If you like the dollar menu from McDonald’s or even the happy meal prices, then you are going to love a Cook Out tray. Cook Out tray’s give you the choice of a burger, chicken strips, bbq and more. Then you get fries or onion rings AND then you get another side, but it’s like a whole other side meal because it will be like a chicken wrap or chicken nuggets. Basically, I’m in big girl heaven when I’m here.
My favorite time of year in Durham, NC is undoubtedly the Fall. To see the leaves changing and the cool crisp air just brings a whole new life to Durham. If you are an outdoorsy person, Durham is perfect for you.
Durham is known for their academic institutions, with North Carolina Central, Duke University, and UNC – Chapel Hill being only fifteen minutes away from each other. Duke University is a beautiful campus with lots of offerings to not only students, but also the community. Take a drive to Central Campus and visit Sarah P. Duke Gardens. The Duke Gardens is a beautiful place to take a stroll, grab some photos, and even have a picnic. (I’ve done all three there). This is also a great place for people to get married.
This area is more for just walking around and seeing. It’s a historical area that has been renovated and transformed. It’s still beautiful and has an industrial feel making it a place that’s great for pictures and to learn a little history. Oh, one fun little fact: this area is no smoking (really!).
Also, since it’s in downtown Durham area, you are best off just exploring. The area has so much to see and do and has great street art as well.
The Durham Performing Arts Center opened in 2008 and is the largest arts center located in the Carolinas. It has a lot of great acts that come through and worth the visit. They currently have Hamilton there and even are providing an autistic friendly performance of Elf The Musical in December.
If you like museums and art, you definitely want to make a stop by at the Nasher. It’s open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 10AM to 5PM. On Thursday’s it’s open from 10A to 9PM and free general admission. Adult admission is $7.00, Seniors are $5.00, and students are $4.00. Duke students are free with their ID. Don’t think it’s just a “school museum.” They have housed well-known works from artists like Kehinde Wiley.
WHERE TO SHOP
When you think Durham, you might not think, “shopping,” however, there are some great finds in the area! Here are some great places to shop.
Vert and Vogue is a fashionable boutique featuring independent (and some well known) designers that are sure to upgrade your wardrobe. It gives me a NYC boutique feel and fits nicely in Durham. It’s moderately expensive (a blouse can cost $250.00). You don’t have to wait til’ you go to Durham, they have a great online store, too.
Southpoint is the “fancy” mall in Durham and has big box retailers like Nordstrom and Macy’s. If you feel like spending some money, definitely go here. However, they don’t house high end brands, so don’t expect Chanel.
Located less than four minutes from RDU is Tanger Outlets. I really only go here for Saks Off Fifth which seems to have some of the best deals out of all the Saks Off Fifths I’ve been too. I’ve been known to travel light and arrive a few hours before my flight so I have some time to shop!
Where are some of your favorite places in Durham? Share with us in the comment section. If you are a Durham owned business and would like to be reviewed, please reach out to me @TheIslanDiva on social media!