Your Bull City Wedding Weekend Guide: Where to Stay, Where to Eat and What to Do in Durham NC
It’s no secret that Durham NC is on the national radar for travelers and foodies, as well as a top place to live, get a college education, or start a business. So it’s no surprise that Durham is an amazing wedding destination as well. This post is for all of the couples who are planning a Durham wedding from afar and want their guests to enjoy a weekend experience. It’s also for locals who have guests traveling to NC for their wedding and need a cheat sheet on what to do in Durham.
Southern Bride & Groom magazine is the Triangle Area wedding resource and we’ve been based in the Bull City for 31 years, so we’re pretty confident in our recommendations. We are sharing the scoop on the best places for your wedding guests to stay in downtown Durham and beyond, as well as some of the must-visit Durham restaurants, sights, and even where to get a blow out.
An Ideal Destination – Durham NC Weddings
For some couples, it is the alma mater connection that brings them back to Durham. They fell in love over strolls across Duke University campus, and they just HAVE to say “I do” in Duke Chapel. For others, it is a logical middle point between their families who reside up north and way down south. And for many who grew up in Durham and moved away for school or work, now that they are engaged simply want to come back to their hometown to celebrate their wedding. No matter what the reason is for a wedding in Durham, one thing is for certain – you will want to show off this electric city to your out-of-town wedding guests. It’s all about that Durham wedding weekend experience!
As you read, imagine that the lovely couple you see is attending a Durham wedding and exploring Bull City together. One of our SB&G preferred wedding photographers, Robin Lin Photography, followed these two around on a local adventure and captured some wonderful shots to show case what to do in Durham for a fabulous wedding weekend experience.
What to do in Durham: Where to Stay
Figuring out the best hotel for a Durham wedding weekend is only challenging because there are so many fantastic choices. When it comes to hotel room blocks, we advise to go with one budget-friendly option, and one to two swanky hotels. All of these Durham hotels will offer a group room block for a wedding.
The most classically elegant Durham hotel is the Washington Duke Inn and Golf Course. Their property includes a four star restaurant, the Fairview Dining Room. It also has a gorgeous golf course, so if your friends would be interested in a group golf outing, this is a wonderful option. It’s located alongside Duke University West Campus, with walking trails connected to its backyard. The Washington Duke’s brand-new sister property is another excellent choice that is located nearby, also on Duke Campus. The JB Duke Hotel is a very modern and chic Durham property. When it comes to wedding room blocks, this is a fabulous choice because of their great gathering space in the spacious bar lounge. Near Duke University East Campus on the outer edge of downtown, you’ll find a special historic bed and breakfast called The King’s Daughters Inn. The owners did a “green” renovation of this property before opening, which has a unique color scheme and design in each of its 17 rooms. Its small size lends itself to being able to serve as a wedding headquarters. They’ve even been known to allow a late night party when you’ve booked the entire property!
There are choices aplenty if you would like your guests to stay in downtown Durham. There are a wide range of styles and price points including the Aloft Durham Downtown, located on American Tobacco Campus (they even have an open-air indoor pool with a view of the water towers), the Durham Marriott (centrally located), 21c Museum Hotel Durham (yes, with a real museum inside – more on them and that and their restaurant later), Unscripted Hotel Durham (hello summer weddings – this place has a rooftop pool bar!) and The Durham Hotel (with an amazing lobby restaurant and a classy rooftop bar).
Feeling overwhelmed? Contact the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau for help – they offer complimentary services to help you gather quotes for this purpose.
What to do in Durham: Sights and Entertainment Ideas
BEST PLACES TO SIGHT-SEE AND EXPLORE DURING THE DAY IN DURHAM NC
I always take it for granted that everyone must know of Durham’s fame in the movie of my childhood, Bull Durham. The likelihood that today’s millennial travelers have seen this flick are few and far between, but the original is still there for the fans to admire. The newer Durham Bulls stadium is also an impressive place to send your wedding guests who are in Durham for a weekend or longer.
The Durham Bulls is located on American Tobacco Campus, which is located in the heart of downtown Durham, and in addition to a manicured lawn and lots of nooks and crannies including waterfalls with light installations, life sized checkerboard games, and public art to explore, boasts the signature Durham Lucky Strike Water towers. They also have a music series all summer long, if any of your guests are traveling on a Thursday and would like some free entertainment in Durham (who wouldn’t!). And here’s another tip – whether you’re visiting American Tobacco Campus for a show or just to explore, you can bring a bottle of wine to sip on the lawn (not that you need to with all of the bars and eateries that are located there, but BYO-wine always feels exciting).
If your wedding ceremony isn’t taking place at Duke University Chapel or the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, these destinations are an obvious must to share with your guests. Duke Gardens is a marvel that your wedding guests should carve out an hour or two to explore. Just a quick walk through lovely Duke University Campus, will lead them to the breathtakingly exquisite Duke Chapel.
BEST MUSEUMS IN DURHAM
Upon leaving Duke Gardens, the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University is about a block down Anderson Street, and another great place to spend a couple of afternoon hours, including lunch at their on-site cafe. Another modern art gallery in Durham is located inside of the 21c Museum Hotel, in downtown. If your wedding guests are not staying there already, you must send them here to explore – any time of day as the galleries are open 24/7! Instruct them to stop by Counting House bar to start their art tour and pick up a glass of wine, and then wander through all the open floors – from the bank vault basement, to the lobby level galleries. The rotating exhibits are often provocative and always amazing conversation pieces.
And if you have guests with friends in tow, the Museum of Life & Science will keep them entertained for hours! The whole family will love it so much they may plan a return trip to Durham just to do it again.
BEST HAIR SALONS AND BLOW DRY BARS IN DURHAM
One of the most fun things about attending a wedding is dressing up, and it’s not just bridesmaids who are eager to get a nice blow-out or hair styling! 140 Salon and Drybar has a giant and beautiful location on Ninth Street (among a strip of restaurants and shops), and secondary locations on Erwin Road (both convenient to Duke University area), and at the Streets of Southpoint mall. Bella Trio has a full service salon and spa near Southpoint, as well as a second location in downtown Durham with plenty of chairs for blow-outs, a couple of spa service rooms, and a mani-pedi room. The best part is, you can get your service while looking out at American Tobacco Campus! If your hotel is in downtown Durham, you can walk to this salon.
BEST PLACES TO SHOP IN DURHAM
A trip to Ninth Street to wander and shop clothing, home goods, jewelry, or even artsy gift items, is a day well-spent. Another historic district that is fun for shopping (and eating and drinking) is Brightleaf Square. You can even walk to Brightleaf from the downtown Durham hotels.
If you are staying in downtown Durham and looking for a local gift shop, check out Dolly’s Vintage or Runaway on Main Street. Both carry “Durm” t-shirts and souvenirs. Around the block is one of the best gift shops in Durham – Chet Miller. This shop is a haven for classy gift items – some Durham themed, and many home gifts – even featuring locally NC authored cook books. Their sister shop and next door neighbor, Tiny, is devoted to incredible children’s gifts.
What to do in Durham: Where to Drink
DAYTIME DRINKING AND BREWERIES IN DURHAM
If it’s a beautiful day in Durham, the number one choice for an afternoon cocktail is absolutely The Durham Hotel rooftop bar. With unmatched views of Durham, enjoy the breeze, fresh oysters, and perhaps some live music depending on the day. Then again, if it’s a hot summer day, a glass of bubbly by a pool might call to you, and if that’s the case, head next door to the Unscripted Hotel. Or if you like to sit among the hustle and bustle, pour your own beer at Pour Taproom, and lounge with your brew on the sidewalk. Another casual day drink location is Bull McCabe’s, a killer pub and soccer bar, with plenty of indoor and outdoor space. This is a great Durham bar option for the whole family.
Durham is well-known for its beer scene. Local Durham brewery Fullsteam paved the way and has a fabulous taproom in the warehouse district of downtown. You’re sure to find a food truck parked outside, or you could pop across the street to Motorco for a bite of food from Parts & Labor and a game of corn-hole. Newer to the scene and another favorite is Ponysaurus Brewing Co. They are located on the outskirts of downtown Durham and have a beautiful indoor taproom with a large grassy outdoor area that is welcoming to children and dogs. Grab a tasting flight, some Swedish fish, and bask in the sunlight. If you’re gluten intolerant or simply a cider fan, you’ll want to add Bull City Ciderworks to your daytime tour as well.
DURHAM NIGHTLIFE AND COCKTAIL BARS
Cuban Revolution (American Tobacco Campus) and Beyu Caffe (downtown – coffee by day, nightlife by night) both have Thursday night salsa that is hot hot hot! The latter also has jazz nights and spoken word depending on the night.
The Durham Hotel and Alley Twenty-Six are both known for their excellent cocktails and occasionally host live music. Another idea for a chill night out is the West End Wine Bar, which has pool, bocce ball and even a basketball hoop!
If you are having a wedding during baseball season and aren’t doing a formal pre-wedding gathering, take note that the Durham Bulls Stadium has a fireworks show every Friday game-night. If the game is too big of a commitment, they can catch the second-best view of the fireworks at Tobacco Road Sports Cafe, which overlooks the Durham Bulls stadium. This is hands down one of the coolest things to do in Durham! Your guests will not forget it if your give them this tip.
What to do in Durham: Where to Eat
When you are in the Bull City for a quick weekend, you need to have your game face on and plans in place. For a wedding weekend, typically your meal is taken care of for the Friday night rehearsal dinner and Saturday night wedding. So your meals will likely be focused on daytime, but we’re giving suggestions for each meal.
BEST BRUNCH IN DURHAM
We have to give a shout out to our local, famous chicken and waffles spot, Dame’s Chicken & Waffles. Be forewarned, though, you need to show up early to get a spot (disclaimer: they are moving locations soon – still within downtown footprint – but plan for wait time either way). Another indulgent brunch eatery is Monuts. Yes, their donuts are ALL THAT, and don’t leave without at least a couple. But do not write off the brunch and lunch menu which is equally scrumptious. Another local spot that has classic Southern biscuits and donuts is Rise (think- Bojangles but WAY better)… Although you might see them in your out-of-state location soon, as this local Durham company recently franchised.
For a classic French brunch, Vin Rouge (on 9th Street) and Rue Cler (downtown) never disappoint. For an awesome Sunday send-off in new American style, Counting House (at 21c Museum Hotel) or The Durham Hotel are also amazing choices right downtown. (Check The Durham’s online schedule – some Sundays, they host a Moogfest-sponsored Disco Brunch complete with oversized punch bowls!).
BEST LUNCH IN DURHAM
If you’re out and about in downtown Durham and need a quick eatery, Lucky’s Delicatessen is a fabulous choice. It’s style is that of a 50s diner, and your sandwich will come loaded with a pile of meat as thick as your Grandma’s Bible. Pick up a NC-made Cheerwine, sit in the window, and enjoy some good-old-fashioned people watching! Another tip is to pop in on their sister restaurant (and the original Matt Kelly establishment), Mateo bar de tapas, for the lunch special (weekdays only) and enjoy some great deals like two tapas for $10.
On the same strip you’ll find Toast, another great sandwich and soup joint. And Viceroy offers Indian food in a British pub style atmosphere. Across the way is Pizzeria Toro, the best place for artisan pizza in Durham. And down the block from there you’ll find Dashi, which serves up delicious ramen for every season (yes, that means a cold option for summertime). And around the block from there, Dos Perros (Mexican) and Bull City Burger and Brewery (totally local everything!) are two more great lunch eateries.
For a good Southern meal, The Pit Authentic Barbecue is a fantastic choice. They have plenty of room, a great looking restaurant with various BBQ styles. You will not leave hungry!
BEST DINNER IN DURHAM
If you do have the chance for a dinner out in Durham, there are many restaurant ideas for your foodie friends. Parizade is a Durham classic. This Mediterranean restaurant has a beautiful ambience, amazing pasta and seafood dishes, and the best part is, it is quiet and peaceful, so you can enjoy good conversation while you dine. Two other choices with exquisite and creative menus are The Durham Hotel (mentioned above) is headed up by James Beard-Award Winning Chef Andrea Reusing, who won Best Chef of the Southeast for Lantern in Chapel Hill, and Counting House, led by Chef Thomas Card. Juju is a more out of the box option – a swanky Asian tapas restaurant. (Each of these restaurants are open for brunch or lunch as well – check each site for hours).
NanaSteak is the place to go for an upscale steak dinner (they serve weekend brunch, too!) – and to view American Tobacco Campus at night. You’ll need reservations in advance but they do have a bar where you can usually find a seat. Matt Kelly’s Mateo bar de tapas is of course a local favorite for dinner, but you’ll definitely need reservations unless you’re happy to sit at the bar at happy hour. Kelly’s two other restaurants, Mother & Son’s Trattoria (Italian) and Saint James Seafood are wonderful experiences worth checking out too. M Sushi is an exquisite Japanese seafood and sushi restaurant that is a personal favorite. A quick drive from downtown, The Boot offers Italian-American eats in a great setting, and affordable, filling meals.
BEST DESSERT SPOTS IN DURHAM
If you have a sweet tooth, Durham has a few gems you’ll want to get on your agenda. If pie is your jam, East Durham Pie Company is on the verge of opening a storefront. On the outskirts of downtown, The Mad Hatter’s Cafe and Bakeshop is a classic Durham that serves brunch and lunch, as well as a host of pastries, sweet treats and even wedding cake. Gugelhupf is another long-standing Durham favorite. It’s famous for its German bread and pastries. Right down the street from there, Miel Bon Bons specializes in chocolate delicacies. And for a downtown Durham dessert, your best bets are The Cupcake Bar (yes, it has cocktail inspired cupcakes!) and The Parlour, which is the most creamy and delicious ice cream in rotating seasonal flavors.
Sponsor Thanks – The Durham CVB
We want to give a big thank you to the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau, which made this What to do in Durham Wedding Weekend Guide blog post possible. The amazing team at Durham CVB and the support they offer to our local businesses contributes to the greatness of Durham as a community and a destination. If you are local to “Durm” you might already follow them on Instagram, or be familiar with their awesome storefront on Main Street in downtown Durham, but you might not know that they also help with weddings and events. Their events department is happy to help engaged couples make plans for their special day including finding hotel room blocks, wedding venues, and even creating wedding welcome bags with Durham maps and local Durham wedding favors inside. And these services are FREE, y’all! So check out Durham CVB, an amazing local resource.
Thanks for reading along! We hope you’ll share this link with your out-of-town guests so they’ll know what to do in Durham during your NC wedding weekend.