School may be out for the summer, but that doesn’t mean that campus is off-limits. In fact, the slower summer months, when most students are away, are an ideal time to pay a visit to Duke University’s historic and beautiful campus in Durham. The hotels on Duke’s campus offer luxury accommodations at lower summer prices, and between golf, basketball history, music, art, nature, and lemurs — yes, lemurs! — there’s something for everyone. (And Tar Heel fans, though it might pain you to set foot on enemy territory, you just may find yourself pleasantly surprised!)
Step inside the iconic Duke Chapel
The neo-Gothic Duke Chapel, with its 210-foot bell tower, stands proudly as the centerpiece of campus. Built in 1932 (and renovated in 2016), it’s worth a visit to see the vaulted ceilings and stunning stained-glass windows. The imposing Benjamin N. Duke Memorial Organ in the nave has more than 5,000 pipes and rises 40 feet off the floor. On a much smaller scale, two little wooden mice are hidden in the chapel (inquire at the information desk for a hint and to hear their story). Organ tours and demonstrations can be arranged in advance, as can tours of the chapel itself. An ecumenical Christian worship service is held on Sundays at 11 a.m. and is open to the public.
Stop and smell the roses
A 55-acre respite from the world can be found at Sarah P. Duke Gardens, a must for any visitor. Don’t miss the Terrace Gardens, filled with a variety of seasonal flowers, the picturesque arched bridge in the Asian Arboretum, the carnivorous plants in the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, and the rose garden near the entrance. Bring a picnic or stop for local Maple View ice cream at the Terrace Café.
Sarah P. Duke Gardens 420 Anderson Street Durham, NC 27708 (919) 668-5100 gardens.duke.edu
With more than 55 acres to explore, Sarah P. Duke Gardens is a worthwhile way to spend a day. photograph by Alena Todd/Getty Images
Take in a world-class performance or see a local band
Duke Performances is one of the jewels in the university’s crown. During the summer, Duke Performances hosts the popular Music in the Gardens, an outdoor concert series that often features North Carolina bands, and each year, the organization brings close to 100 diverse and international artists to venues on campus and around Durham. Recent highlights include a partnership with the American Ballet Theater; the Black Atlantic series, featuring everything from gospel lap steel guitars to traditional Mauritanian instruments; exceptional piano recitals; and garage rock sung in Farsi.
Indulge your inner art critic
Current and upcoming exhibits at the Nasher Museum include explorations of Latin American pop art and Native American art since the 1950s. Works by artists Amy Sherald and Kehinde Wiley are on display among an impressive slate of contemporary paintings, sculptures, and installations. African; medieval; and ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian pieces round out the collection. Stop by the café for lunch or a caffeine pick-me-up, and browse the well-stocked gift shop.
Nasher Museum of Art 2001 Campus Drive Durham, NC 27705 (919) 684-5135 nasher.duke.edu
The Nasher Museum of Art is filled with a groundbreaking collection of contemporary art. photograph by J Caldwell
Enjoy afternoon teatime — or tee time
Pinkies up! You’ll be transported back in time at the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club with a pot of tea and a luxurious array of sweets and tarts, scones made in-house, and dainty tea sandwiches. Afternoon tea is served in the hotel’s elegant Fairview Dining Room, which also offers exceptional weekend brunch and a seasonal, upscale dinner menu. Afterward, hit the links at Duke University Golf Club’s beautiful 18-hole course, which is tucked away in the woods and overlooks the stately inn.
Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club 3001 Cameron Boulevard Durham, NC 27705 (919) 490-0999 washingtondukeinn.com
Pay tribute to the Cameron Crazies
Love ’em or hate ’em, you can’t visit Duke without having some opinion about the men’s basketball team. If you’re a fan, be sure to stop by the Duke Basketball Museum, a veritable shrine to all things Blue Devil, including player jerseys and other memorabilia, trophies, videos, and the team’s five NCAA tournament trophies. The museum is closed on Sundays.
Duke Basketball Museum Schwartz-Butters Athletic Center 306 Towerview Drive Durham, NC 27708 (919) 613-7500 discoverdurham.com
Experience the history behind the Duke Blue Devils, four-time NCAA champions in men’s basketball. photograph by Duke Basketball Museum
Visit the world’s largest collection of lemurs outside of Madagascar
It’s not exactly what you might expect to find in Durham — or even North Carolina — but Duke houses an exceptional collection of nearly 240 endangered lemurs for noninvasive research and conservation. And luckily for us, the Lemur Center is open to the public. You can only meet the cuddly, wide-eyed primates on a tour, and they fill up fast, so book a few weeks in advance. General tours highlight the 17 species of lemurs at the center, and more specialized tours let you roam with lemurs in the forest or even make art with them (you can also pick up some of their abstract paintings at the gift shop).
Duke Lemur Center 3705 Erwin Road Durham, NC 27705 (919) 401-7240 lemur.duke.edu
Blue-eyed black lemur Leigh eats breakfast in the trees at the Duke Lemur Center. photograph by Sara Clark/Duke Lemur Center
Dine at JB Duke
Some of the best food in the area can be found at the JB Duke Hotel. Grab a table in the Lobby Lounge — a chic spot outfitted with a contemporary fireplace and velvet couches — and order exceptional, and generously portioned, dishes from the seasonal menu. The five-spice pork spareribs will melt in your mouth, and the beet and goat cheese salad features local cheese and strong flavors. Other standouts include the crispy duck confit with butternut squash farrotto and the fried chicken sandwich served between two sweet Belgian waffles. Make sure to save room for dessert: The hazelnut financier is a dream come true.
JB Duke Hotel 230 Science Drive Durham, NC 27708 (919) 660-6400 jbdukehotel.com
End your day in style
Treat yourself to a night at one of the two upscale hotels on campus, the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club or the JB Duke Hotel. The Washington Duke is elegant and historic, with its variety of rooms and suites furnished in a classic style evoking an old, well-appointed home. Rooms have views of the golf course or Duke Forest, and a number of special offers let you customize your stay. The inn’s Fairview Dining Room and more casual Bull Durham Bar are excellent options for dining and cocktails. The JB Duke Hotel, renovated in 2017, has a sleek, contemporary vibe across its guest rooms, amenities, and dining areas. Its close proximity to campus and the athletic complex makes it an ideal home base for visiting Duke, as well as a perfect retreat at the end of the day.
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