Moving to Durham? Here’s What You Need to Know

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Durham at a Glance

Nestled into the pine forests of North Carolina’s understated interior, Durham has grown into a prominent city in the Tar Heel State’s gorgeous Piedmont understory. And out of this woodwork have come some of the most important American innovations and contributions to its culture.  

The Occaneechi and the Eno were the first to establish the region as an important hub for trade, hundreds of years before the Europeans ever descended on North Carolina’s coasts. But when Dr. Bartlett Durham contributed land for the railroad in 1849, the city became an industrial hub of the Southeast. Durham is where the Civil War officially ended, where denim was first milled and where tobacco made the region into an empire.  

This historic agricultural capital earned its bovine moniker from the Blackwell Tobacco Company, who peddled their product with an image of an unflappable bull, and their smoky blend eventually became known as “Bull” Durham Tobacco. Incongruously, the Bull City’s other soubriquet is the salubrious City of Medicine, bestowed for the renowned healthcare facilities at Duke University (founded by tobacco farmer Washington Duke) and the now booming medical, pharmaceutical and biotech industry.  

Durham is also known as the home of “Black Wall Street”. It’s a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit of pioneers like John Merrick, who laid the foundation for African American prosperity. Merrick not only established the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company but also co-founded the M&F Bank, standing for Mechanics & Farmers. This groundbreaking institution wasn’t just about big business; it focused on empowering individuals with smaller loans, a legacy that continues to thrive nearly 120 years later. 

Cigarettes, textiles and trains may have put Durham on the map, but high-precision sectors like advanced manufacturing have overtaken the city’s industrial roots. UNC, NC State and Duke University — the three pillars of the Research Triangle — have long amplified the cultural quotient of the Bull City and the Tar Heel State. But arts and entertainment aren’t to be overlooked in this Southern city either. Durham is, after all, the birthplace of the Duffer Brothers, and one long walk through the North Carolina woods will give you a glimpse at the inspiration for Stranger Things.  

As Americans search — often in vain — for affordable, culturally exciting cities to relocate to, central North Carolina has been looking better and better. Durham has grown more than 27% since 2010, and its population now stands at just under 300,000. The Bull City’s popularity has grown, in part, because of the diverse job market, which draws career-climbers from academia to insurance. But families love the scale of this city. Durham has plenty of cosmopolitan amenities, but it occupies a kind of Goldilocks zone of metropolitan life — it’s hard to feel overwhelmed by urban existence when suburban conveniences and the spoils of nature are all at your fingertips.  

If you think living in Durham sounds right for your family, learn more about the city’s cost of living, job market and lifestyle below. And be sure to check out our Guide to North Carolina, too.  

Cost of Living in Durham 

With low unemployment (2.8%) and an affordable cost of living, Durham is an attractive place for families to relocate. Residents in the Southern region generally spend less than their U.S. counterparts on regular household expenditures — including housing, transportation, food, healthcare and insurance/pensions — but life is a bit more expensive in the Research Triangle.  

The Bull City has the lowest cost of housing among this academic trifecta, where the median home value ranges from $316,600 in Durham to $537,100 in spendy Chapel Hill. But the price of real estate in these three cities far exceeds the state average of $234,900 and tops the U.S. average of $281,900. Rents in Durham, though — which average $1,296 per month — are more closely aligned with U.S. average, but they still exceed the state average of $1,093 by a sizeable amount.  

To soften the blow, Durham residents do earn more than their statewide counterparts — bringing home a median of $74,710 per household compared to the $66,186 the average Tar Heel earns — but fewer Durham residents own their own homes. Only 52% of Durham residents are homeowners, compared with 66.2% of North Carolina residents, which may be, in part, a reflection on the transient population of college students. 

Education and Job Opportunities in Durham

Durham’s business landscape has undergone a remarkable transformation in the 21st century, moving away from its past association with Big Tobacco. Much of this shift can be credited to the presence of area colleges. Take Duke University, for example, nestled just west of downtown Durham. Renowned globally for its excellence in higher education and healthcare, Duke has earned Durham the moniker “City of Medicine.” Teaming up with other esteemed institutions like UNC in Chapel Hill and NC State in Raleigh, Duke forms part of the Research Triangle, a powerhouse for innovation in the nation. Across this 15-county area, academic pursuits intersect with commercial ventures, fostering a thriving ecosystem with over 7,000 companies calling the Piedmont region of North Carolina home. And it’s not just the “Big Three” universities making waves—Durham boasts a total of 12 colleges and universities, including four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). 

So, where do people work in Durham? Well, 13,000 residents earn their living in advanced manufacturing at companies like 3M, GE Aviation and Caterpillar. A whopping 27,000 work in Cleantech, employed by Delta Products, Strata Solar and Triliant, which moved its global headquarters out of Silicon Valley to Durham in 2017. 24,000 people work at life sciences giants like GSK, Pfizer and Merck. More than 60,000 residents working in Technology at IBM, Epic Games, Oracle, Google and Microsoft have given the region a new moniker — the Silicon Triangle.  

The largest single industry in the city is education and health services, which grew 5.7% between 2022 and 2023 and now employs nearly 80,000 people. And it’s no surprise that the government has a strong presence in this capital-adjacent city, employing 66,300 individuals. But professional and business services are close on its heels, growing by almost 6% in 2023 to 63,700 employees.  

Wondering what you can expect to earn in Durham? Check out the average wages in the Triangle.  

Bull City Lifestyle

Downtown Durham is a lively, central hub for the city, connecting Duke University’s sprawling campus with neighborhoods like Old West Durham, Trinity Park and Old North Durham. Old tobacco warehouses have been turned into hot new condo and loft buildings, and new additions like the Durham Food Hall give everyone an easy place to gather for lunch, coffee and cocktails. You’ll find artsy spots like the 21c Museum Hotel Durham and the Carolina Theatre amongst laid-back breweries like the Fullsteam Durham Taproom Company. Don’t pass up the Crystal Coast shrimp burger, which is slathered in comeback sauce, and wash that good thing down with an icy Biscuit wheat beer or a pint of their Humidity hazy IPA.  

If you’re a Bull City newcomer, there’s no better place to get acquainted with your new hometown than at the Museum of Durham History, where you can meet the city’s VIPs from past and present in the Faces of Durham exhibit, study the architectural transformations of the area and even record your own experience with the city in the Story Room. 

Families will love the Museum of Life + Science, featuring engaging exhibits indoors and out. From interactive demonstrations to outdoor adventures like rope bridges and treehouses, there’s endless fun to be had. Animal lovers won’t want to miss the Duke Lemur Center, home to over 200 lemurs from various species. 

Foodies will rejoice at the American Tobacco Campus, offering a diverse range of cuisines from around the world. Indulge in Puerto Rican and Caribbean delights at Boricua Soul or savor South African flavors at Ekhaya. And for breakfast, Bull & Bean serves up delicious dishes like brioche French toast and cheesy grits bowls. 

Durham may not have an MLB team, but the crowds grab baseball by the horns at Durham Bulls games. Fans fill the 10,000-seat ballpark to watch this minor-league feeder for the Tampa Bay Rays, and the team’s stellar 2023 performance earned them the winningest record of any team in either league. And, let’s not forget the madness of college sports, which really nullifies the need for pro teams in basketball, football or any other game. Durham Residents are hardcore Duke Blue Devils fans, and the rivalries between the NC State Wolfpack and the UNC Tar Heels are pricklier than a Carolina swamp rose. 

Durham has got the civilization aspect of the city down pat, but the great outdoors offers an equal measure of wonderment. In-town spots like Central Park are great for midday escapes, but Eno River State Park is a place to really get away. Only 10 miles outside of town but worlds away, this riverine oasis attracts birders, anglers, hikers, campers and picnickers. The park is also on the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail, which reaches from the Smokies all the way to the Outer Banks, so you may well meet some hikers who have traveled a fair piece to get here.  

Those looking for watersports and mountain biking will want to travel east to the Falls Lake State Recreation Area. The Drop Zone Mountain Trail is challenging enough for advanced riders, but the Sandling Beach Lake Trail is perfect for those who are still figuring out life on two wheels. In the spring and autumn, Falls Lake draws large crowds of migrating monarch butterflies as well as eager lepidopterists in almost equal number. As the temperatures creep up in the summer months, Falls Park becomes a destination for boating and swimming.  

Relocating to Durham Soon? Let Mayflower Get You There 

When you’re ready to move to and from Durham, Mayflower will be there to get you on your way.  
For nearly a century, Mayflower has been America’s most trusted mover, offering unsurpassed long-distance moving services to make moving a breeze. We can provide you with customized, full-service moving packages, including packing and unpacking, storage, car shipping, debris removal and more. If you are moving cross-country to Durham, Mayflower can handle your relocation from anywhere in the country.  

If you’re moving from another part of the Bull City or the Tar Heel state, Mayflower’s interstate North Carolina movers can help you locally under their own businesses and brands. 

Mayflower’s moving resources can help you avoid common moving mistakes so you can focus on settling into your new home. No matter how you move, this moving checklist is the only one that you’ll need to keep your move on track. 

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