Durham (North Carolina)

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Travel Guide North America USA Southern United States North Carolina Durham

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Introduction

Durham is a city in North Carolina with around 225,000 inhabitants. 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.

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Sights and Activities

  • Nasher Museum of Art, 2001 Campus Drive (at the corner of Anderson St and Duke University Rd), ☎ +1 919 684-5135. Tu-Sa 10AM-5PM (Th until 9PM), Su Noon-5PM, M closed. The museum features world-class classical to contemporary works and has hosted some major names in art. Don't miss the giant face-mask. $5 adults, $4 seniors, $3 non-Duke students (free on Th evenings).
  • Sarah P. Duke Gardens. One of the premier public gardens in the U.S., and with more than five miles of walkways and paths.

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Events and Festivals

Holidays

  • New Year’s Eve - The US celebrates the outgoing of the old year and incoming of the New Year quite dramatically. Every state boasts its own parties to ring in the New Year, but none is more extravagant than New York’s Time Square, which sees people overflowing into the neighboring restaurants, bars, parks, beaches, and neighborhoods.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day (officially Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. and sometimes referred to as MLK Day) is an American federal holiday marking the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, which is around King's birthday, January 15. The holiday is similar to holidays set under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. The earliest Monday for this holiday is January 15 and the latest is January 21. King was the chief spokesperson for nonviolent activism in the Civil Rights Movement, which successfully protested racial discrimination in federal and state law.
  • St Patrick’s Day - March 17 celebrates the US’s large Irish population. Many cities around the country boast boisterous parades and Irish-themed parties, especially New York and Chicago, where the river is dyed green. Be wary of the drunkenness that dominates as this is definitely a party-day.
  • Memorial Day - Memorial Day is an important holiday throughout the United States, but not for crazy festivities. Parades commemorating wartime heroes are often held and the day is also the ‘unofficial’ start of summer. Most visitors follow the crowds to parks and beaches, which are capped off with informal BBQs.
  • Independence Day - Also known as the Fourth of July, Independence Day celebrates the US’s break from the British during the 18th century. Barbecues, street parties, beach trips, and weekend getaways are commonplace to appreciate freedom.
  • Labor Day is a public holiday celebrated on the first Monday in September. It honors the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, laws, and well-being of the country. It is the Monday of the long weekend known as Labor Day Weekend. It is recognized as a federal holiday. Beginning in the late 19th century, as the trade union and labor movements grew, trade unionists proposed that a day be set aside to celebrate labor.
  • Halloween - Halloween is a fun holiday on October 31 for all generations to dress up in costumes and relive their youth. Children walk around the neighborhood trick-or-treating for candy, while adults attend parties. Other seasonal events include haunted houses, pumpkin farms and carving, and corn mazes.
  • Thanksgiving - On the fourth Thursday in November, Thanksgiving is held in almost every home in the US. Tourists will have a hard time finding anything to do as the country essentially shuts down in observation. A typical Thanksgiving meal consists of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie commemorating the original Pilgrim’s feast at Plymouth Rock.
  • Christmas - On December 25, Christians celebrate Christmas as the pinnacle of their calendar by attending church and opening gifts from Santa Claus. Almost everything shuts down to promote family togetherness. The northern regions hope to experience a “white Christmas,” with trees and festive lights blanketed by snow.

Sport

  • Super Bowl Sunday - the world’s most watched sporting event and one of the highest grossing TV days of the year, Superbowl Sunday is a spectacular extravaganza. Held the first Sunday in February, the Superbowl is the final playoff game between the NFL’s top two teams. The venue rotates every year around America, yet the local parties seem to remain. Pubs, bars and restaurants are great places to enjoy the Superbowl or locals throw their own parties with different variations of betting.
  • The World Series is the annual championship series of Major League Baseball (MLB) in North America, contested since 1903 between the American League (AL) champion team and the National League (NL) champion team. The winner of the World Series championship is determined through a best-of-seven playoff, and the winning team is awarded the Commissioner's Trophy. As the series is played during the fall season in North America, it is sometimes referred to as the Fall Classic.

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Getting There

By Plane

Raleigh-Durham International Airport (IATA: RDU, ICAO:KRDU) is one of the major airports in the state operating more then 400 flights a day. This airport has pretty good domestic service and limited international service. One nice feature is that the budget airline Southwest operates in and out this airport making for cheaper flights to neighboring areas or across the country.

Triangle Transit offers scheduled, fixed-route regional and commuter bus service between the airport and the principal cities of Raleigh, Durham and town of Chapel Hill (where TTA connects with the respective local urban transit systems), as well as to and from Research Triangle Park and several of the region's larger suburban communities.
Taxis, shuttles and rental cars are all widely available at the airport as well.

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 1 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 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 Bus

Inter-city buses arrive and depart Durham from the 2 Durham Station Transportation Center, 515 W Pettigrew St, near the Amtrak station.

  • Bridge Bus. Privately owned and operated weekend night bus that links the downtowns of Raleigh and Durham. $9 one way; $16 round-trip.
  • Greyhound. Direct service from Raleigh, Greensboro, Charlotte, other cities in North Carolina, and Richmond, Virginia, as well as connecting service to many other cities.
  • Megabus. Service from Washington, D.C., Richmond, Charlotte, Fayetteville, Columbia, Athens, and Atlanta. Buses stop just outside the station near the Willard Street entrance. Fares from $1 and up.
  • GoTriangle, ☎ +1 919 485-RIDE (7433). Routes between Durham to Chapel Hill (routes #400 and #405) and the Research Triangle Park (#700), where you can transfer to Raleigh and RDU. Stops are marked by signs bearing the GoTriangle logo. Service is fairly reliable, with buses running all day on the weekdays and weekends, but there is no service on some holidays. Fares cost $2.25 per trip, with $4.50 for a day pass.

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Getting Around

By Car

Many international rental companies have a wide selection of rental cars and these include Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, Budget and Alamo/National. Most companies will require you are at least 25 years of age, although younger people might be able to rent cars at slightly higher rates and with some insurance differences as well. A national driver's license is usually enough, but an additional international one is recommended. Also note that it usually costs more to include lots of other extra things. For example extra drivers, GPS, the first full tank, SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance), PAI (Personal Accident Insurance, usually covered already at home), road assistance/service plan, and drop-off costs for one-way rentals.
If you want to book a car, it is recommended that you book your car before arriving in the USA. This is almost always (much) cheaper compared to just showing up. Also, try and book with a so-called 'broker', which usually works together with a few or many car rental companies and can offer the best deal. Some examples include Holidayautos, Holidaycars and Sunny Cars. Some of the cheapest deals to book from Europe, includes Drive-USA, which also has a German version.

For more information and tips about renting cars and campers, additional costs, insurance, traffic rules, scenic routes and getting maps and fuel it is advised to check the USA Getting Around section.

By Public Transport

The Bull City Connector is a fare-free service operated by GoDurham with stops at Golden Belt, downtown, West Village, Brightleaf Square, Duke East Campus, Ninth Street, and Duke West Campus.
GoTriangle.org provides trip planning, route information, and realtime bus information for GoTriangle, GoDurham, and other bus services in the Triangle, as well as walking and biking route maps.

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Keep Connected

Internet

There is a very small internet bar/cafe culture in the USA. Even then most of the internet bars/cafes tend be located in major urban centers. Accessible WiFi networks, however, are common. The most generally useful WiFi spots are in coffee shops, fast-food chains, and bookshops, but also restaurants and hotels more and more have a network to connect on. Some of them might require you to buy something and you might need a password too, especially in hotels.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

The general emergency phone number is 911. The USA has a great landline phone system that is easy to use. The country code for the U.S. is +1. The rest of the telephone number consists of 10 digits: a 3-digit area code, and a 7-digit number. Any small grocery store or pharmacy has pre paid domestic or international phone cards. These phone cards are very cheap and offer good rates. The once ubiquitous pay phone is now much harder to find. Likely locations include in or near stores and restaurants, and near bus stops. The cellphone network in the states is slowly getting better but is still not as good when compared to other western countries. Cell phones tend to operate using different frequencies (850 MHz and 1900 MHz) from those used elsewhere in the world (2100 MHz). This used to prevent most foreign phones from working in America. Phones must be tri- or quad-band to work in the U.S. Fortunately, technology has meant that most phones should now be able to pick up one of the U.S. networks. Prepaid phones and top-up cards can be purchased at mobile phone boutiques and at many discount, electronics, office supply and convenience stores. A very basic handset with some credit can be had for under $40.

Post

The US Postal Service is a very good and well priced mail system. There are post offices in every small and large town for sending packages internationally or domestically. Although some might keep longer hours, most are open at least between 9:00am and 5:00pm. If wanting to send a letter or postcard it is best just to leave it in a blue mail box with the proper postage. First-class international airmail postcards and letters (up 28.5 grams) cost $1.10. There are also private postal services like FedEx, UPS, TNT and DHL, which might be better value sometimes and are generally very quick and reliable too.

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This is version 8. Last edited at 8:30 on Jun 21, 19 by Utrecht. 6 articles link to this page.

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