Home Travel 15 Best Day Trips From Durham NC in 2023

15 Best Day Trips From Durham NC in 2023


In this article, I’ll list 15 of the best day trips from Durham, NC. I recently spent three beautiful months in Durham and its surrounding areas and loved my time there. There’s so much to do and see, from significant historical sites to excellent mountain hikes and river walks.

There are many things in the city itself. Still, North Carolina means many other towns, and excellent opportunities are nearby. While you’re here, be sure to visit some incredible small towns and neighboring big cities during a trip to ‘Bull City.’

Whether you like beaches or mountains, oceans or lakes, history or distilleries, there’s an abundance of excellent day tours from Durham and many fun attractions to keep everybody occupied.

Best Day Trips from Durham NC

I’ve compiled this list based on some of the excellent Durham day trips I enjoyed there. I did a bit of everything, from hiking mountains to chilling by the ocean so I’m sure you’ll find plenty in this list that you’ll love too.

1. Raleigh, NC

highway sign showing durham to the left and raleigh to the right

The first of my day trips from Durham has to be a visit to the state capitol of North Carolina – Raleigh. It’s only 30 minutes away by car, but there are also good public transport connections between the two cities. It’s undoubtedly one of the more accessible day trips from Durham, NC.

Raleigh is a fantastic city in its own right, steeped in history and boasting an excellent reputation for food, bars, and nightlife. A significantly higher population than Durham means Raleigh has much more of a big-city vibe, but it maintains a small southern city’s hospitality and welcoming nature.

Raleigh is known as ‘The City of the Oaks’ due to its many beautiful oak trees that line its streets and parks. It’s also home to interesting museums and historical sites such as the NC Museum of Art and the 180-year-old North Carolina State Capitol building.

Location: 25 miles and 35 minutes southeast of Durham. Click here for directions.
Getting There: As well as driving yourself, regular buses and trains run between the two cities.
Must-Do Activities: I highly recommend getting to know the Raleigh bar scene with the Trolley Pub Tour. Click here to find out more about this fun, pedal-powered activity.
Where to Eat: Gravy – Highly rated Italian/American cuisine in a relaxed and cozy setting. Click here for directions.

2. Wilmington, NC

Wilmington, NC Riverwalk at Dusk

One of the best day trips from Durham, NC, is to Wilmington, NC. It’s around 2.5 hours away by car and well worth the journey. The historic downtown area with cobblestone streets, vintage American storefronts, and buildings is like stepping back in time.

Situated on the Cape Fear River is an excellent 1.75-mile riverwalk known as the Wilmington Riverwalk. It leads you along the banks, taking in numerous parks and sights such as the USS North Carolina – a WW2 battleship on the river. The USS North Carolina is now an excellent museum and war memorial.

You’ll find many great shops, bars, and restaurants in Wilmington. A walk around the former Cotton Exchange building, now a shopping and dining complex, is a great way to spend a few hours.

Location: 2.5 hours southwest of Durham. Click here for directions.
Getting There: By car
Must-Do Activities: Charter a sailboat and cruise along the Cape Fear River, take a ghost walk through historic Wilmington, or stroll along the beautiful Wilmington Riverwalk.
Where to Eat: The Fork ‘N’ Cork – Awesome burgers and sandwiches in a fantastic building. Click here for directions.

3. Carolina Beach

A pathway going to the beach of carolina

Just 15 minutes from Wilmington is the stunning Carolina Beach, one of my favorite day trips from Durham, NC. This small beach town is home to beautiful sandy beaches, the blue Atlantic Ocean, and a ton of cool bars and fun things to do.

The wooden boardwalk along the beach has swing seats to sit for hours watching the waves. Many bars look out over the horizon with some offering great happy hour deals. During the warmer months, a semi-permanent fairground with a giant Ferris Wheel is set up right in the center of town.

Carolina Beach is a great place to relax and chill, but you can also party here. I recommend you do both!

Location: 2-3 hours south-southwest of Durham. Click here for directions.
Getting There: By car
Must-Do Activities: Spend time chilling on the beautiful sandy beach by the ocean, book an island-hopping cruise, and hit the happy hours on the boardwalk bars after a day of sun and sea.
Where to Eat: The Dive Food & Spirits – Great bar food in a casual dive bar setting. Click here for directions.

4. Roxboro, NC

A retro theatre with empty seats

If you like small southern towns in the US, Roxboro is the place for you. I found this place via a volunteer website and ended up helping a lady with her gardening a few times a week during my stay. It’s one of the more leisurely day trips from Durham by car, as it’s only around 40 minutes away.

Roxboro is a cute little town that I got a kick out of. I loved the old slices of Americana that can be seen everywhere, from the vintage houses and the retro theater to the old-school diners and cafes. It’s a local town where everybody knows everybody, but I was always greeted warmly as an ‘out-of-towner.’

The Butcher’s Daughter Deli and Incorrigible Cafe are great places to eat lunch and are worth the short trip alone. If you’re after a slice of small-town southern hospitality, head for an afternoon in Roxboro.

Location: 40-50 minutes north of Durham. Click here for directions.
Getting There: By car
Must-Do Activities: Enjoy walking the streets of Roxboro and admire the vintage Americana architecture. Eat at one of the local diners, cafes, or delis.
Where to Eat: Incorrigible Cafe – Delightful brunch and lunch spot with friendly staff and exceptional sandwiches.

5. Danville, VA

A scenic view for Dan River

One of the more fun day trips from Durham, NC, is to head across state lines into Virginia. Danville is a small town just across the North Carolina state line with a historic downtown area on the Dan River. The journey there is a delightful drive through beautiful countryside. It takes just over an hour to reach from Durham.

There are several great lunch spots and cafes where you can easily while away an afternoon. The Dan Daniel Memorial Park is great for hiking trails or chilling by the river.

Ceasars Virginia opened in 2023 and is a large casino, and soon-to-be hotel, in Danville. It’s one of the closest places to Durham for a true casino experience if slots, cards, and dice are your sort of thing.

Location: 1 hour 15 minutes north of Durham. Click here for directions.
Getting There: By car is most straightforward. Greyhound buses will get you to Danville, but you’ll need to change at Greensboro, which takes much longer.
Must-Do Activities: Walk along the river in the historic downtown district of Danville, home to various well-preserved historic buildings and architecture. If you’re feeling lucky, chance your arm at Ceasars, one of the closest casinos to Durham.
Where to Eat: Golden Leaf Bistro – Relaxed neighborhood restaurant serving a modern twist on American cooking. Click here for directions.

6. Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill

One of the more accessible day trips from Durham by bus is a short hop down to Chapel Hill. The neighboring town to the south is just 12 miles away, with regular daily transport links from Durham. Chapel Hill makes up the third region of the area known as the Research Triangle, along with Durham and Raleigh.

Chapel Hill is home to the University of North Carolina, which significantly influences the town. The presence of the college campus brings a youthful vibrance and speaks to the artsy atmosphere and concentration of culture that can be felt here. There are many art galleries, theaters, and music venues.

Franklin Street is the central hub of Chapel Hill and is a fantastic place to hang out. There are many bars, restaurants, and cafes to be found here, and it has a great social vibe.

Location: 12 miles south of Durham. Click here for directions.
Getting There: Easily accessible by car or by bus
Must-Do Activities: Enjoy an afternoon of eating and drinking on Franklin Street, or soak up some culture and visit the Ackland Art Museum.
Where to Eat: Blue’s on Franklin – Family-run restaurant serving outstanding barbecue. Click here for directions.

7. Asheville, NC

Skyline View with Green Space

One of the best weekend trips from Durham, NC, is a journey west to Asheville. It’s 225 miles away and 3.5 hours (on a good day) by car, but it’s worth the trek if you have the time.

Known as ‘Beer City USA‘ due to the number of quality craft breweries that operate in Asheville, it’s become a hub for beer enthusiasts. It’s also a city with a thriving arts and music scene; the River Arts District is known for having a concentration of art galleries and studios.

If you like the great outdoors, Asheville offers fantastic hiking opportunities, as well as the Blue Ridge Parkway, often called ‘America’s Favourite Drive.’ The 469-mile parkway runs partly through Asheville and offers breathtaking views of the natural beauty and some fantastic scenic overlooks of Linville Falls – a multi-tiered waterfall.

Location: 225 miles east of Durham. Click here for directions.
Getting There: By car is undoubtedly the most accessible. A Greyhound bus will get you there with a connection, but it takes much longer.
Must-Do Activities: Take a guided hiking tour of 3 waterfalls along the stunning Blue Ridge Parkway trails. Click here to book your guided hike. Take a night-time ghost walk through the city, and of course, when in Beer City, get your beer on!
Where to Eat: Tupelo Honey Southern Kitchen – All-day southern comfort food with exciting twists. Click here for directions.

8. Falls Lake

Falls Lake in North Carolina in early autumn

A few great day trips around Durham can be found at Falls Lake. Look no further if you like chilling out on a beach, toes in the water style. Falls Lake offers several significant recreational areas within a 20-30-minute drive from Durham.

My favorite thing to do at Falls Lake is to visit Sandling Beach. Lounging by the beautifully maintained sandy beaches and clean water is a fantastic way to spend a sunny day. There are numerous areas shaded by the trees, ample picnic benches, and permanent barbecue stations.

Easy parking and excellent clean toilet facilities are bonuses. The beaches around Falls Lake can get busy on weekends, so I advise heading out early. The admittance fee is $5-$7 per car (cheaper if you have seniors with you) and is accessible seven days a week from Labor Day to Memorial Day, excluding weekends in April, May, and September.

Location: 25-30 minutes to the east of Durham. Click here for directions.
Getting There: By car only, as it’s pretty rural once you get to the lake.
Must-Do Activities: Catch some rays on the beach, take a swim in Falls Lake, and spend an afternoon looking over some beautiful scenery.
Where to Eat: Take your own food as there’s nothing in the way of restaurants at the lake. Note – alcohol is strictly prohibited.

9. Charlotte, NC

City view of Charlotte NC

Amtrak offers some great day trips from Durham, NC, by train. Charlotte, NC, is only a 2.5-hour rail journey away and is another vibrant city worth checking out in North Carolina. It’s considerably more cosmopolitan than Durham, with a bustling downtown area (known as Uptown) filled with tall skyscrapers and towering buildings.

Charlotte is the second biggest banking city in the US based on assets, but this doesn’t mean it’s all business. With a population close to 1 million, it’s a city filled with great bars, restaurants, and many things to keep you occupied. South End is renowned for having several excellent craft beer breweries.

Location: 2.5 hours to the west of Durham. Click here for directions.
Getting There: By car or train is equally as quick and easy.
Must-Do Activities: Check out this excellent brewery tour, walk through the bustling streets of Uptown, and explore Charlotte’s rich history via a guided golf buggy tour.
Where to Eat: Potbelly – Awesome sandwich shop in Uptown.

10. Eno River State Park

Hanging bridge at Eno River State Park

Eno River State Park is one of the best places to visit near Durham. It’s only 11 miles outside the city and is a beautiful part of North Carolina with many recreational opportunities to indulge in.

The 4319-acre park sits along its namesake river – The Eno – and is home to some of my favorite hiking trails in Durham. Five access areas have features that include twenty-four miles of trails, recreational areas, and historic structures.

The Holden Mill Trail leads along the river and by the remains of a 19th-century gristmill on a 3.85-mile trek. It’s a great way to add a slice of Durham history to your hike, making it one of the best things to do in Durham.

Location: 11 miles north-northwest of Durham. Click here for directions.
Getting There: By car.
Must-Do Activities: Enjoy any number of the great hiking trails, swim in the river (if you’re visiting in the warmer months), or spend a day relaxing by the banks of the Eno River.
Where to Eat: Enjoy your own picnic at any benches and recreational huts around Eno River State Park.

11. Outer Banks

Outer banks of NC viewing the dock

Four hours to the east of Durham is a 200-mile stretch of barrier islands known as the Outer Banks. The peninsula sits along a large chunk of the NC coast and has vast expanses of open beachfront facing the Atlantic Ocean.

Commercial fishing was the prominent source of income on the Island for many decades, but the miles of beautiful beaches have led to a booming tourism industry in recent times. There are excellent water sports activities, such as kayaking and paddle-boarding, all over the Outer Banks.

I love the history of the area and some iconic locations are well worth visiting. The Wright brothers trialed their first flight at Kill Devil Hill in 1903. It was also the last stand of the pirate Blackbeard, who was shipwrecked and killed at Ocracoke in 1718.

Location: Around 4 hours to the east of Durham. Click here for directions.
Getting There: By car
Must-Do Activities: Explore some of the historic spots on the Island, take a 2-hour wild horse tour of the Outer Banks by 4WD truck, or go kayaking through Kitty Hawk Nature Reserve.
Where to Eat: Black Pelican – situated in a 19th-century building with ocean views and great seafood. Click here for directions.

12. Bryson City, NC

A smoky mountain of bryson city NC

Bryson City is a beautiful place to visit in the Great Smoky Mountains. As day trips from Durham go, you’ll want to spend the night or even the weekend visiting Bryson City, as it’s a 4-hour drive from Bull City. But the hiking here is fantastic, and the scenery is some of the best you’ll find in North Carolina.

If hiking isn’t your thing, take a train ride up the Great Smoky Mountains – the views are breathtaking. The town is also a hub for fishing enthusiasts, with opportunities for fly fishing along the Nantahala River. The river is also a popular spot for white-water rafting and kayaking adventures.

The small-town vibe of Bryson City, mixed with the stunning scenery and numerous recreational activities, is well worth a day trip from Durham. If you have time, I recommend you even make a weekend of it.

Location: 4 – 4.5 hours west of Durham. Click here for directions.
Getting There: By car
Must-Do Activities: Take a train journey through the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains, or go white-water rafting on the Nantahala River.
Where to Eat: Everett Street Diner – A tremendous classic American diner. Click here for directions.

13. The Yadkin Valley Wine Region

Grape vineyard in yadkin valley NC

It’s obvious why this one made the list! A few hours from Durham is the Yadkin Valley wine region, the first federally approved American Viticultural Area. It’s said that the soil here is similar to that of Tuscany and that the climate mimics wine-growing areas in France, meaning the Yadkin Valley produces some exceptional European-style wines.

Wine tourism is a massive part of the Yadkin Valley’s appeal, with over 40 wineries in the region. Visitors can explore the picturesque vineyards, enjoy the scenery, and taste the many wines. A lot of the wineries also have restaurants or picnic areas too.

Divine Llama Vineyards is a pretty unique place where you can take a wine tour and go Llama trekking. What’s not to love?

Location: 2.5 hours west of Durham. Click here for directions.
Getting There: By Car
Must-Do Activities: Visit as many vineyards as time allows, enjoy the beautiful scenery, and sample some excellent wine. Go llama trekking and wine tasting at Divine Llama Vineyards.
Where to Eat: Tumbleweeds Steakhouse – Relaxed restaurant with great steaks.

14. Richmond, VA

Richmond Virginia night City skyline along the james river

It’s pretty easy to tick off two state capitols in one day. As well as Raleigh, Richmond (the State Capitol of Virginia) is only a few hours’ drive from Durham.

Richmond played a significant role in American history as the capital of the Confederacy during the American Civil War. The city has numerous historic sites and museums, including the compelling American Civil War Museum. The Virginia State Capitol building, designed by Thomas Jefferson, is another iconic historical site worth a visit.

As well as plenty of history, Richmond has a great arts and culture scene, too. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is one of the largest and most comprehensive art museums in the US. The city also boasts a lively music and theater scene, with numerous live music venues and theaters hosting performances year-round.

Location: 2.5 hours northeast of Durham. Click here for directions.
Getting There: By car is most accessible, but Greyhound buses go direct from Durham with numerous daily services. Amtrak will also get you there, but with a connection that takes significantly longer.
Must-Do Activities: Visit the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and The Virginia State Capitol building, take a food tour of the Arts District, or take a guided walking tour of Downtown Richmond to learn about the city’s history.
Where to Eat: The Patio Thai Restaurant – Excellent Pad Thai in a cozy setting with a lovely patio. Click here for directions.

15. Cary, NC

A bicycle trail in the park

Cary is one of the most charming day trips from Durham, NC. It consistently ranks as one of the best places to live in the United States and is known for its low crime rates, extensive greenway system, and well-maintained parks and recreational spaces. Located just 20 miles south of Durham, it’s a top place to visit for a day trip.

The Cary Arts Center is a hub for many cultural activities in the town, hosting art exhibitions, theater productions, and music concerts. Cary is also home to the Koka Booth Amphitheatre, a 7000-capacity outdoor venue that regularly brings touring performers and bands to Cary.

The Fred G. Bond Metro Park is a great place to spend a few hours relaxing. It features a beautiful lake where you can go paddle boating/boarding and fishing. There are also some nice playgrounds, picnic areas, and hiking trails. On a nice day, there’s nowhere better to be.

Location: 20 miles south-southeast of Durham. Click here for directions.
Getting There: By car is easiest but there are regular bus services, as well as Amtrak trains to and from Durham that get you there just as quickly.
Must-Do Activities: Head down to Fred G. Bond Metro Park for a relaxing afternoon or to hike some trails, go to the Koka Booth Amphitheatre to watch a concert, or visit the Cary Arts Center.
Where to Eat: Academy Street Bistro – Stylish bistro-style restaurant serving a modern twist on traditional American dishes. Click here for directions.

Day Trips Around Durham: FAQs

Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about day trips from Durham, NC:

What is the most popular day trip from Durham?

There are several great day trips from Durham, but a trip to Carolina Beach and Wilmington is the most popular. It’s a 2.5-hour drive southeast, and you can find yourself sitting on the beautiful Carolina Beach in a cool town on the Atlantic Ocean. Wilmington is close to the beach and is a great city filled with culture and history, I love spending the day here.

How many days do you need in Durham?

Ten days to 2 weeks for a vacation would give you enough time to explore Durham and the surrounding areas. There are many excellent day trips from Durham, NC, so it’s a great place to use as a hub for exploring more of North Carolina.

What are the best day trips from Durham with a car?

You could explore many of the excellent day trips from Durham with a car. Historic Wilmington and Carolina Beach are just 2.5 hours away. Charlotte is a vibrant city, a few hours in the other direction.

Two state capitols are within reach, too, with Raleigh (NC) close by and Richmond (VA) a 2.5-hour drive away. You could quickly tick off both on the same day with a car.

What are the best day trips from Durham by train?

There’s an Amtrak station in the center of Durham, so day trips from Durham by train are easily possible. A trip to Charlotte, NC, would be a great option as regular daily trains run between the cities. Charlotte is a bustling, vibrant city worth a visit and is just 2.5-3 hours away via train.

What is the most beautiful place near Durham?

Eno River State Park is very close to Durham and is a stunningly beautiful part of North Carolina. With hiking trails, recreational areas, water sports possibilities, swimming spots, and historic ruins, a trip to Eno River State Park is a great way to spend a day. It’s one of the best day trips from Durham, NC and I highly recommend adding it to your itinerary.

How far is Chapel Hill from Durham NC?

Chapel Hill is around 12 miles to the South of Durham and is one of the best day trips from Durham that you can take. The vibrant city has a ton of culture and history and an excellent student vibe. It is the home of the University of North Carolina.

In Conclusion

There are many great day trips from Durham, and it’s a fabulous location to visit and use as a hub for exploring more of North Carolina. Though having a car may be necessary for visiting some of the places in my top 15, there’s still a significant number of top spots that can be accessed via bus, train, and even taxi with relative ease.

Durham is situated in a beautiful part of the world and has plenty to offer in its own right. But the advantage of having so many great day trips close by is a huge attraction. You’ll find plenty of day trips from Durham, NC, to fill your travel schedule quickly.


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