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One of my favorites types of travel recently has been going off the beaten path. It sounds like such a cliché, but as a millennial, I feel it's all about doing something different to stand out on social media. Sure, you can travel far and wide to find the most exotic destinations around the world, but there are also tons of awesome spots in our own backyards that travelers ordinarily would have never thought of visiting. Durham, North Carolina is one of those places, and it's a gem of a city to spend a weekend in.
Location-wise, it's certainly not out of the way of anything. Durham is just a 15-20 minute drive from North Carolina's capital city of Raleigh and the international airport, a part of a bustling Research Triangle area that's exploding with start-up companies. With more businesses being brought to town, there seems to be a pattern of tourism that is following it.
According to research conducted by Longwood's International, a national consumer research firm, and Tourism Economics, an Oxford Economics Company, 12.2 million visitors came to Durham County in 2018, a 3.4 percent increase over 2017. Out of those 12.2 million, 7.3 million (70.4 percent) visited Durham for the day and 4.9 million (29.6 percent) stayed overnight. The research found that 90 percent of all visitors came for leisure and 48-hours in this city offers travelers of all kinds quite the experience.
Where to Stay
One Durham property that combines the best of many worlds-location, amenities, food and drink and overall comfort-is The Unscripted, which is their debut and only property right in Downtown Durham. Boasting a fun mid-century design with all of the new-age things a traveler needs, this boutique hotel offers 74 rooms and suites and features a seasonal rooftop pool and lounge, a big social area they call The Studio and even a bar that produces creative craft cocktails and draws quite the party at night with a DJ. Guests will love unlimited free coffee in The Studio 24/7, as well as free champagne from 3-8pm.
This is certainly one of few cities where staying in a boutique or locally-owned accommodation would give the most authentic stay. But for those that love raking-up and utilizing their points, Durham has quite the Marriott/Starwood footprint. The city center offers a 190-room Marriott property as well as a 134-room Aloft near the Durham Performing Arts Center and Durham Bull Athletic Park.
Where to Eat and Drink
With the city absolutely thriving on their foodie scene, it's not hard to find quality food and drink amongst the many choices. Personally, I love the fact that there are next-to-none of the corporate-branded, chain restaurants and bars that are littered throughout your favorite metropolis; it gives way for passionate chefs, mixologists, food truckers and business owners to flourish in a smaller city jam-packed with travelers looking to try local flavors and new things.
You simply cannot visit North Carolina without having chicken and waffles. The go-to spot in Durham has to be Dames Chicken & Waffles, which is just a 10-minute walk from the city center in the Central Park district. They pride themselves on being a scratch kitchen, and the 30-40 minute wait for fresh and delicious food is well worth it.
Their large menu offers many options and combinations, but the signature Shmear is what you'll want to shoot for. Flavors like baby-blueberry, vanilla-almond, orange-honeycomb and more are paired perfectly with one of their different types of chicken, and the staff is more than happy to make personalized recommendations for newbies as well.
Located in the Brightleaf district within an old butcher shop lies Rose's Noodles, Dumplings & Sweets, which I found to be quite the hotspot for a mid-weekday lunch. Don't completely fixate on the Asian Fusion style-though their different pairings of dishes are delicious, they're also part bakery with amazing treats for those with a sweet tooth for pastries, ice cream and more.
The south is known for BBQ, and Durham is known for putting a modern, unique twist on things. Together, you get Picnic. A few miles outside the city, Picnic offers a variety of BBQ starters, sandwiches and plates, ranging from pulled pork and brisket to fish and spare ribs. The owner is a lawyer turned pitmaster who knows how to add a distinctive flair to their barbequing methods, which can also be seen through the overall atmosphere of their space. You can't go wrong with an order of hush puppies either.
The nightlife in Durham is surprisingly quite active. With Duke University just two miles away and other major college campuses in the area, there's a big draw for a younger crowd, but all ages of partygoers can be seen throughout the streets. Travelers can always count on a solid Irish pub in most big cities, and Durham gladly offers the same. Bull McCabes Irish Pub is as classic as Irish pubs get, and it's easy to have a good time with the fun crowds they draw on weekends.
What to Do
Just two miles down the road is Duke University, where travelers who enjoy walks and nature will fall in love with the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Duke Lemur Center, the Duke University Chapel and more. Sports success is what the average person may know them for, and every basketball fan-no matter who they root for-should experience the mecca of college basketball at Cameron Indoor Stadium at least once. But don't sleep on their other athletics teams-the Blue Devil football program has come a long way and brings in national powerhouses to the recently-renovated Wallace Wade Stadium every season alongside many other top Division I programs.
One of the best parts about Durham is not only how clean the streets are, but also how walkable the city is. This makes it an ideal destination for a solid walking tour. There's a lot of beauty and Instagrammable sights to see such as the American Tobacco Campus area where the Lucky Strike factory once operated, the HQ of Burt's Bees, and of course, a large bull sculpture right in downtown.
If you're looking for something completely unique to Durham while supporting local artists, going on the hunt for murals throughout the city is a fun way to spend a few hours. You can pick-up a small mural finder booklet from the Visitor Info Center and use visual clues to find them, post them on social media under #MuralDurham, tag the artist, and enjoy their stunning work. Finding and posting five will earn you a prize, too!
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