Durham (North Carolina)

Duke Chapel, Duke University campus

Of the three cities that make up North Carolina's Research Triangle, Durham has traditionally been the grittier, more working-class one. A city of just over 200,000, Durham's early wealth was built on tobacco and textiles, with a vibrant African-American community that once made the city a center for Black culture.

These days, the tobacco warehouses and textile mills sit empty or have been converted to other uses, as Durham has taken on a different identity; best known now as the home of Duke University, a thriving health care and high tech industry has taken root in Durham. The city has also emerged as a cultural center for the region, with a lively theater scene and a trendy arts community that has begun to change Durham's gritty image. And while the city lacks the political clout of Raleigh or the college town atmosphere of Chapel Hill, some of the Triangle's most interesting and exciting attractions are to be found here.


Durham owes much of its wealth and history to tobacco. Through the second half of the 19th Century, Washington Duke and his family grew from a single farm into American Tobacco, which controlled 90% of all cigarette production for the United States. The Duke family donated money to Trinity College, which in 1924 was renamed Duke University.

In the early 20th Century, North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, Mechanics & Farmers Bank, and Mutual Savings & Loan were founded in Durham by African-Americans. These prominent companies drew more African-American investment to Durham, to the point that Durham's Parrish Street neighborhood became known as "Black Wall Street." NC Mutual Life continues to this day as the oldest and largest African-American-owned life insurance company in the nation and as a visible part of the Durham skyline.

The last cigarette rolled out of Durham in 2000. Many of the old factory and warehouse structures have been converted into housing, retail, restaurant and office spaces. The city has changed its motto from "City of Tobacco" to "City of Medicine," based on the high concentration of medical practitioners and researchers at Duke and in Research Triangle Park, the Durham County special tax district formed in 1959 to attract high-tech jobs to the area.

Durham has a liberal trendy arts culture. It is an eclectic blend of the high class with an unusual concentration of four star restaurants (part owing to a strange bit of local family history) to trendy cafés on 9th Street, the independent bookstore "the Regulator" which draws famed authors from former secretary of state Madeline Albright to expert on everything John Hodgeman. You'll find old hippies, bikers and families in generally happy co-existence. The area has a very active gay community which stages both a famed regional film festival and an annual pride march. Politically the area is dominated by Democratic politics in an otherwise Republican leaning state.

Get in

By car

Durham is served by Interstates 40 and 85, and US routes 15, 501 and 70 along with several state routes. "The Durham Freeway" generally refers to NC-147, which connects I-85 and 15/501 in northwest Durham to I-40 and Research Triangle Park in southeast Durham, by way of downtown. If you wish to rent a car, car rental options at the RDU airport are plentiful and range from $20 to $50 per day, with whole-week rentals significantly discounted.

By air

The nearest commercial airport is Raleigh-Durham International Airport (IATA: RDU), southeast of Durham in Morrisville, just off I-40. RDU has two terminals; Terminal 1 services budget carrier Southwest, while the more modern and architecturally impressive Terminal 2 services American Airlines/American Eagle, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, and United. RDU also has rental car services and overnight car parking. If taking public transit, Triangle Transit route #100 takes you from the airport to the Research Triangle Park, where you can then transfer to #700 to Durham.

By train

Amtrak's Carolinian and Piedmont lines stop in Durham. The Carolinian runs once daily north to New York City and south to Charlotte, while the Piedmont runs twice daily between Raleigh and Charlotte. The   Amtrak station is at 601 West Main Street downtown, close to the DATA bus system's new downtown terminal and in a historic and newly renovated building that once served as a tobacco warehouse.

By bus

Inter-city buses arrive and depart Durham from the   Durham Station Transportation Center, 515 W Pettigrew St, near the Amtrak station.

Get around

By car

It should be mentioned that like Atlanta's infamous "Peachtree", Durham has a number of synonymous roadways, in some cases miles from each other. This can easily confuse visitors. The most notorious is Chapel Hill Rd/St/Blvd. The road goes from the city's Lakewood and West End neighborhoods to the Chapel Hill border via Shannon Plaza and the fringe of the South Square area. Mostly residential. The St acts as an arterial from downtown through West End, serving as a vibrant thoroughfare for the neighborhoods in between. "The Boulevard" as it is known in the neighborhoods surrounding it, courses from the foot of the Forest Hills neighborhood and bee-lines directly west to Chapel Hill, eventually becoming 15-501. Mainly commercial with lots of big-box retailers and chain restaurants. When in doubt, ask a local!

Parking is plentiful in Durham, even in the more populous areas. Be mindful of parking in residential zones in the city for extended periods without a permit.

By bus

GoTriangle.org provides trip planning, route information, and realtime bus information for Triangle Transit, DATA, and other bus services in the Triangle, as well as walking and biking route maps.


Bennett Place


American Tobacco Campus



Durham is a terrific city to eat in, and if you search around enough, you'll find no need to go to nearby Chapel Hill or Raleigh to cater to your tastes. From time-tested burger shacks to upscale eateries on par with Atlanta and Washington, it's easy to find unique flavors all over the city. There's an especially good concentration of remarkable eats around the Duke and Research Triangle Park areas, specifically 9th St/Brightleaf for the former and South Sq/Southpoint/54 for the latter.




Other higher-end standbys and new additions to the city's burgeoning culinary scene include, Parizade (Erwin Square, near 9th St), George's Garage and Vin Rouge (both on 9th and Markham), and Rue Cler (downtown, on E. Chapel Hill St.).


Additionally, there are some nice bars around Duke's east campus, centered around the 9th St area and Brightleaf Square. Check out The Green Room (pool hall), George's (lounge), Federal and James Joyce for a diverse and mellow crowd.


Stay safe

Statistically crime in Durham is on par with other Southern cities its size. Most areas of the city are safe, including the areas around Duke and most of the outskirts of the city. The areas immediately around downtown (stretching a few miles east and south of downtown) are not always well lit or well patrolled. Basic rule of thumb – use common sense like you would anywhere else: use caution at night, avoid walking alone, lock your car, and remove valuables when parking. Most violent crimes in Durham, while not particularly frequent, are drug related or domestic and by avoiding the drug trade one can avoid these issues.

The police are generally quite helpful, friendly and understanding. Don't hesitate to call them if you're feeling uneasy or threatened. There is very low tolerance for drinking and driving, however, and of late checkpoints have sprung up on both main and secondary roads.

Medical care

For medical care, Durham has a large supply of physicians, and is also known as the "City of Medicine"

Go next

Routes through Durham

Greensboro Burlington  W  E  Cary Raleigh
Greensboro Chapel Hill  W  E  Cary Raleigh
Petersburg Henderson  N  S  Hillsborough Greensboro
Leesburg Farmville  N  S  Chapel Hill Southern Pines
Greensboro Hillsborough  W  E  Raleigh Morehead City
Buena Vista Lynchburg  N  S  Chapel Hill Southern Pines

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, March 10, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.