Durham, located at the apex of North Carolina's famed "Research Triangle," has recently undergone a transformation. What once was a neglected town is now on its way to becoming one of the state’s most attractive urban landscapes. Yes, it is a college town, and yes, sports do dominate here—really, they dominate the entire state—but Durham is adapting to popular culture by welcoming funky hotels, hip lounges serving craft cocktails, and small boutiques that are quickly filling up the once-abandoned streets. But just because the city might be upping its coolness factor, it’s still holding on tight to its Southern charm, hospitality, and history. So next time you’re in town supporting either Duke or UNC, or are oddly enough not there for basketball, take some time to visit these seven must-see spots in Durham.
Right in the heart of downtown Durham, occupying the historic Hill Building, the 21c Museum Hotelis one of only five 21c’s in the country. The 125-room boutique hotel doubles as a contemporary art museum and is home to Counting House restaurant, spearheaded by chef Josh Munchel, who offers a global take on regional dishes with a menu that showcases North Carolina’s seafood heritage. The museum portion of the hotel is open to the public; make sure to head all the way down to the lower level and enjoy the old bank vault, which has been converted into a mini lounge.
This live/work/play district known as the American Tobacco Historic Campus was developed from the historic one million square-foot American Tobacco Manufacturing plant. Creatively repurposed, the tobacco warehouses which were once the backbone of Durham’s economy, are now used to house the Durham Performing Arts Center, Durham Bulls Athletic Park, a radio station, culinary school, documentary theater, shops, restaurants and bars, and even has a man-made river. The transformation of this area is indicative of the transformation of Durham itself.
Best known for being featured on the popular PBS series “Zoboomafoo,” the Duke Lemur Center is an 85-acre sanctuary for rare and endangered prosimian primates. Housing the world’s larges collection of lemurs outside of Madagascar, the center advances science, scholarship, and biological conservation through interdisciplinary research and public outreach, which includes community-based conservation. Plus, it’s hard to resist the cuteness of a lemur, so imagine being surrounded by cuteness in the world’s largest sanctuary for prosimian primates.