21C Museum Hotel Durham is the city’s best attraction (REVIEW)

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21C Museum Hotels is one of my favorite boutique chains, and I recently stayed to review 21C Museum Hotel Durham in Durham, North Carolina.

What makes 21C hotels stand out is that each hotel is a museum — that’s the hotel’s brand, and it’s truly unique. In my Top Travel Trends for 2022 story, I discuss why art is going to be huge, but 21C Museum Hotels was way ahead of the curve. I had the pleasure of staying at 21C Museum Hotel Louisville, the first hotel in the chain in 2006, and more recently at 21C Museum Hotel Nashville when it opened in 2017 (during the major eclipse in the US).

I love how the 21C hotels open in small cities you typically can’t find MOMA-level, contemporary art. 21C introduces great art to those who are not always fortunate to make trips to NYC, Chicago, San Francisco and Boston, and the art is exceptional at 21C Museum Hotel Durham.

Also, we spent three days exploring Durham, mostly known for being home to Duke University. Durham is quiet and clean, and there’s great restaurants and attractions, but 21C Museum Hotel Durham is perhaps the best attraction in the city. Not only is it a free museum for great, rotating modern artwork on several floors, it has one of the best restaurants and bars in the city: Counting House.

That’s the beauty of 21C Museum Hotel Durham. You don’t have to actually stay here to check out the art, and you can experience elevated dining, craft cocktails and spa services (with steam and sauna), too. Check out my review and photos below.

21C Museum Hotel Durham Review

I love a good, mirrored check-in desk (and so does Ruby!). 21C Durham is a dog friendly hotel, and the staff loves pets. The colorful check-in lobby is on the second floor of a 17th-story landmark building in Downtown Durham.

My friend Daniel and I booked the Terrace Suite. The bedroom is spacious, with modern art on the walls, and windows that overlook the downtown area. The suite is 595 square feet with 115 square feet of private terrace space.

The private, outdoor terrace is the best part of this suite. The private terrace is right off the spacious bathroom with rainshower. I love getting fresh air in a hotel, and we had more space to check out the amazing views off the 13th floor. Also, from what I’ve researched, 21C Museum Hotel Durham is the only hotel in Durham with a private, outdoor terrace, so book away!

Here’s the separate living area. It’s equipped with comfy sofas, flat-screen TV, a glass table, and of course, amazing views.

The living space also has windows that look out into the private terrace. That’s a lot of natural light!

Speaking of light, it was incredibly sunny on our visit in the last week of December. If the weather was warmer, we would have spent a lot more time outside. The private terrace is perfect for spring/summer if you want to chill out with a glass of wine.

Here’s another view of the living area. We had a walk-in closet (with the famous pop-up penguin art), a bar, and a separate dining table and sofa.

The views of the room faced west, so we experiences incredible sunsets over Durham. Note: there’s no obstruction with the view.

The hotel is known for great art on select floors, but we found the hallways also embraced visually engaging design and art, as seen on our floor. I love how the piece is backlit, offering warmth to the hallway.

Here’s a view at night from our window. I love how Durham is lit up, and you can actually see stars and… is that Venus?

Counting House on the ground floor is chockfull of great wall art. We couldn’t stop looking up and taking photos. We also had a great dinner guest: the purple penguin!

The contemporary bar was packed. From what I know, it’s a hot spot for locals, and again, it’s visually impressive with ceiling art, wall art, and a warm, open space that’s super cozy.

Also, here’s the host stand. You feel like you’re entering a museum. I love everything about the design of this space, and after visiting several restaurants in Durham, Counting House definitely takes design to the next level with tons of thought and direction.

Speaking of design, loving this window to an extension of the dining room. Counting House is definitely photogenic.

For guests staying at 21C Museum Hotel, there’s a spa with steam and suana, as well as a nice sized fitness center. We didn’t use the gym at all (we should have since we ate 24/7) but it was nice to know the hotel had a great one!

We spent a good hour wandering the museum space and checking out the art. Art ranges from paintings, sculptures, multi-media and other surprises. 

Remember, the front desk check-in is part of the museum. Here’s Daniel taking photos of a piece he loved.

As you can see, the designers put a lot of thought into the hotel, like this purple, back-lit mirror, which was one of my favorite parts of the hotel suite. You can see the sunset in the backdrop. Honestly, I’ve never spent so much time in a hotel bathroom before— and of course it was worth it.

To book 21C Museum Hotel Durham, click here.


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