Things to do in Durham

Alexander Iles

A trip to Durham can feel like travelling back in time. As you journey down winding roads through green landscape and valleys, the hills peel away to reveal the grand Romanesque cathedral at the heart of the city. Durham Cathedral and Castle sit on top of a rocky outcrop, the very reason for Durham’s construction on this site. Brimming with history, Durham is packed with narrow medieval streets and some lovely independent shops offering everything from bespoke jewellery to designer fashion.

Every year Durham is transformed by the power of light for Lumiere, the hugely popular festival of light packed with family-friendly installations and groundbreaking artistic commissions. And it’s not just this huge event that draws visitors to the region; Barnard Castle is home to the Bowes Museum – a wonderful collection of art, sculpture and curiosities housed in the majestic splendour of a grand chateau. To the North is Beamish, a popular living history museum, which shows how the people of the North East of England lived over the last three hundred years. Equally, an impressive collection of railway vehicles can be found at Locomotion (part of the Science Museum Group) in nearby Shildon, the world’s first railway town.

County Durham itself also draws in visitors with its beautiful landscapes and rolling green hills. With the North Pennines to the west, and the Derwent Valley with its Land of Oak and Iron Heritage Centre to the north, you will discover wild beauty and land reclaimed and revitalised after centuries of heavy industry. From cathedrals and industrial heritage to beautiful rolling landscapes, a visit to both city and county has something for everyone.

Our top picks

Auckland Project

Auckland Project, Auckland Tower Market Place, Bishop Auckland, DL14 7NJ - Visit now

The Auckland Project brings to life the old land and property of the Bishop of Durham in Bishop Auckland. Formerly the site of the Bishop of Durham’s Palace at Auckland Castle, the town is now benefiting from one of the best examples of philanthropy in the North East – the Auckland Project.

Auckland Project
Auckland Project

Kynren

Kynren, Flatts Farm, Bishop Auckland, DL14 7SF - Visit now

Kynren is an epic outdoor live-action show that takes you through 2000 years of British history via a theatrical story by Eleven Arches.

Kynren
11Arches Park

Bowes Museum

Bowes Museum, Newgate, Barnard Castle, DL12 8NP - Visit now

The Bowes Museum is the North of England’s Museum of Art, Fashion and Design. Found in Barnard Castle, the museum has a huge collection of art, ceramics, textiles, costumes, and eccentricities that make any trip to it informative and interesting.

Bowes Museum
Bowes Museum

Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral, The College, Durham, DH1 3EH - Visit now

Travelling to Durham by train, one of the first things that you will see is Durham Cathedral majestically overlooking the city, standing on a prominent rocky outcrop above the town and River Wear. Its foundations date back to the establishment of an Anglo-Saxon cathedral in 995AD by the community of St. Cuthbert, who moved St. Cuthbert’s body from Chester-Le-Street to Durham to protect it from renewed Viking assaults on England.

Durham Cathedral
Durham Cathedral

Durham Castle

Durham Castle, Palace Green, Durham, DH1 3RW - Visit now

Opposite the cathedral is Durham Castle. It was constructed initially because of the dangerous conditions following the Norman Invasion. The Anglo-Saxon population of England were not pleased at the idea of being invaded by a small group of French-speaking Vikings and were doing their best to try to drive them out of England.

Durham Castle
Durham University

Beamish – The Living History Museum of the North

Beamish – The Living History Museum of the North, Regional Resource Centre, Beamish, DH9 0RG - Visit now

Beamish is the Living History Museum of the North, where a huge collection of artefacts has been gathered together to allow you to discover life as it used to be. The world-famous museum was started by Dr Frank Atkinson – who was the director of the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle – and wished for the history of the North-East of England to be preserved during a time where he witnessed a great deal was being demolished or removed.

Beamish – The Living History Museum of the North
Beamish – The Living History Museum of the North

Assembly Rooms Theatre

Assembly Rooms Theatre, 40 North Bailey, Durham, DH1 3ET - Visit now

In the heart of Durham, a stone’s throw from the cathedral, is the Assembly Rooms Theatre. This historic building showcases theatre throughout the year and specialises in creating a body of plays and works as well by hosting touring shows throughout the year. The building itself started as a ballroom for the entertainment of Durham’s population. As any fans of period drama know, this would have been a key location for the social life of the town during the period. It only became a theatre in 1869 after the old Theatre Royal in Durham burnt down in a fire.

Assembly Rooms Theatre
Assembly Rooms Theatre Durham

Raby Castle

Raby Castle, Raby Castle, Staindrop, DL2 3AH - Visit now

Not far from the North Pennines and Bishop Auckland, Raby Castle is an ancient fortress which has Viking roots. The Great King Cnut (one-time King of England, Denmark, Norway and parts of Sweden, Scotland and Ireland) held the estate and gave them their name, with ‘Ra’ meaning boundary and ‘Bi’ or ‘By’ a settlement in old Danish.

Raby Castle
Raby Castle

Locomotion

Locomotion, Dale Road Industrial Estate, Shildon, DL4 2RE - Visit now

Locomotion is a railway museum found in Shildon, a town in County Durham, which is known as the world’s first railway town. Shildon was the location where, in the 1820’s, the Stockton and Darlington Railway started from and it was key in the creation of the railway across the whole of the UK. In fact, it could be argued without the success of railway trials like the ones conducted by George Stephenson with his Locomotive (on the 27th September 1825) the railways would never have developed like we know them today.

Locomotion
Locomotion

Land of Oak and Iron Heritage Centre

Land of Oak and Iron Heritage Centre, Spa Well Road, Winlaton Mill, Blaydon upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear, NE21 6RU - Visit now

The Land of Oak and Iron Heritage Centre provides a starting point for your exploration of the 177 km² landscape around Whickham, Prudhoe, Rowlands Gill and Consett. There you can plan your route, purchase local artists and creators work and enjoy a coffee before discovering this landscape.

Land of Oak and Iron Heritage Centre
Courtesy of the Land of Oak and Iron

Fat Hippo

Fat Hippo, 36 Saddler St, Durham DH1 3NU, DH1 3NU - Visit now

Founded in 2010, Fat Hippo began in Jesmond, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and grew in popularity as more people discovered their fantastic food. Fat Hippo expanded to Durham in 2016, with their Saddler Street venue a short distance from Durham Castle and Cathedral and an easy walk to the River Wear. The signature burgers and flavours of Fat Hippo became much loved by the student population and visitors to the city alike, so their brand was quick to grow in size and reputation.

Fat Hippo
Fat Hippo

Tango

Tango, 96 Elvet Bridge, Durham, DH1 3AG - Visit now

Walking down from central Durham and crossing into Elvet, you will no doubt enjoy the historic surroundings of the city. Built into Old Elvet Bridge, with the building having served as the bridge house for collecting tolls on entering Durham and parts of the building dating back to the middle ages as a Chapel, Tango already has a great deal of character in just its bricks and mortar. Tango is an independent restaurant that provides the best in comfort food with a modern flavour.

Tango
Tango

Nadon Thai

Nadon Thai, 69-70 Crossgate, Durham DH1 4PR, DH1 4PR - Visit now

Found on Crossgate just below St. Margaret’s Church is Nadon Thai. A part of an independent chain of restaurants, with the first one being founded in Morpeth in 2010, and Durham’s own restaurant opening in 2014. With six years of experience in Durham and a lifetime from the owners, the restaurant has gone from strength to strength. This is likely due to being a family-owned business with a passion for Thai food.

Nadon Thai
Nadon Thai

The Cellar Door

The Cellar Door, 41 Saddler St, Durham, DH1 3NU - Visit now

The Cellar Door is a premium restaurant built into an old 13th century baker shop enjoying wonderful, wooded views over the River Wear.

The Cellar Door
The Cellar Door

Vennels Café

Vennels Café, 71 Saddler St, Durham, DH1 3NP - Visit now

Vennels Café is a fantastic venue in the heart of Durham, steeped in the charming history of the city. The word “vennel” comes from a corruption of the French word for an alleyway and the vennels in Durham are the alleyways that date back to the medieval city. The building itself dates from the 16th century and it is truly special as an old English house in its own right. Entering the building you will notice the old ceiling beams that are bent by age that would fit into any BBC period drama. The interior is also outfitted with the original fireplaces and appropriate furnishings to highlight and enhance the surroundings. Eating at the Vennels you are in for a treat, all the produce is made on site and has that exceptional homemade quality – from their internationally famous scones, which are freshly made each day, through to their soups, pies and cakes.

Vennels Café
Vennels

The Mugwump

The Mugwump, 37 Saddler Street, Durham, DH1 3NU - Visit now

The Mugwump is a unique boutique on Saddler Street. With a history stretching back to 1966, when it was founded by two art school graduates, it has grown to have something for everyone. The ambition of The Mugwump is to find the most wonderful clothing, glassworks, ceramics, and gifts that can be purchased and bring it together under one roof for all to enjoy and be owned by you.

The Mugwump
Mugwump

The People’s Bookshop

The People’s Bookshop, 70 Saddler St, Saddlers Yard, Durham, DH1 3NP - Visit now

The People’s Bookshop sits one of the alleyways that comes off Saddler Street and is a hidden gem and a treat for the book lover. Away from the bustle of the main streets, it is a treasure trove of books from all areas and periods and encourages those to enter to discover a whole new theme of knowledge through the book that they have purchased.

The People’s Bookshop
The People’s Bookshop

Gavin Shelley Jewellery

Gavin Shelley Jewellery, 72 Saddler St, Durham, DH1 3NP - Visit now

Within the side alleys of Saddlers’ Yard, there is a small shop that many would pass by, but holds a wonderful surprise for those who go in. Going to Gavin Shelley Jewellery you will be able to see a fantastic range of items from rings to pendants, and earrings, it is likely that the piece you are looking to buy has been made by him. Discovering this little jeweller could be the highlight to your trip to Durham and you may go away with something that you will love for years to come.

Gavin Shelley Jewellery
Gavin Shelley Jewellery

High Force Hotel

High Force Hotel, lston Rd, Forest-in-Teesdale, DL12 0XH - Visit now

Situated in beautiful Teesdale, High Force Hotel is in a picturesque spot surrounded by the beauty of County Durham’s rolling green hills and luscious scenery.

High Force Hotel
High Force Hotel

The Kingslodge Inn

The Kingslodge Inn, Waddington Street, Flass Vale, Durham, DH1 4BG - Visit now

In the deceptively rural setting of the Flass Vale, but still near central Durham with its historic attractions, you can find The Kingslodge Inn – which blows away any unappealing associations with city centre hotels. In being so close to a UNESCO world heritage site, Durham Cathedral, and the other historic attractions of Durham city, it really is a treat to have the combination of comfort and convenience. It is under ten minutes’ walk from Durham train station for those travellers who want to leave the car behind for the weekend.

The Kingslodge Inn
Kingslodge Inn

South Causey Inn

South Causey Inn, Beamish Burn Road, Stanley, Durham, DH9 0LS - Visit now

In the Beamish Valley, an area of incredible beauty, you will be able to find the amazing South Causey Inn. Easily described as a luxury experience, South Causey Inn is one of the best places to stay in County Durham. It is known for its range of beautiful alternative accommodation, incredible food and amazing events space that is renowned across the region. With a hundred acres of land to explore, you will be wanting to return time after time to discover more.

South Causey Inn

More North East events

Where to go in North East

North East
Shop
Bookwyrm

This LGBTQ+ bookshop, nestled in the heart of Durham’s city centre, is more than a business but rather is a community hub.

North East
Museum
Museum of Archaeology

Durham University’s specialist museum showcases an exhibition which ranges from the prehistory to modern times, charting the history of Durham.

North East
Museum
Oriental Museum

Durham University displays a devoted exhibition, looking at the art and archaeology of the great cultures of Northern Africa and Asia.

North East
Theatre
The Durham

A home for theatre in Durham, showcasing many talents such as those of the Durham Dramatic Society at greatly affordable prices.

North East
Restaurant
Boquerones Tapas and Cocktails

Beautifully rustic Mediterranean interiors, animated atmosphere and mouth watering food all work in happy unison to make a visit to Boquerones Tapas and Cocktails always agreeable.

North East
Bar or Pub
Think Tank?

This live-music venue in Newcastle fundamentally was born out of a desire to host local talent.

North East
Restaurant
Little Buildings

One of Newcastle’s most well loved gig venues, Little Buildings is open 7 days a week and remains a local favourite.

North East
Gallery
Hatton Gallery

The diverse collection includes over 3,000 works from the 14th – 20th centuries, available through Newcastle University grounds.

North East
Gallery
The Biscuit Factory

A converted Victorian warehouse, with over 250 collections of work on display at any given time, as well as The Factory Kitchen Café.

North East Visitor Guides

Walks in Sunderland
Walks in Sunderland

A cultivated array of walks and cultural spaces to visit, with nods to local history, sporting events, landmarks and heritage.

Walks in Durham
Walks in Durham

A curated guide on where to walk in Durham, featuring riverside routes, easy ambles, sought-out hikes and marked cultural stopping points.

Walks in Newcastle
Walks in Newcastle

A guide to the most attractive, rewarding and beautiful walks in central Newcastle and the landscape beyond.

The Kingslodge Inn
Hotels in the North East

To make life easy when it comes to booking your stay, here’s our guide to the best hotels in the North East of England.

The Grainger Market
Shopping in the North East

Our guide to the best shops in the North East of England, including independents, boutiques and markets in Durham, Newcastle and Sunderland.

actor with pig puppets The Three Little Pigs at Waterside Arts
Spotlight on

Things to do at February half term

Looking for things to do with the kids in the February half term holidays? Check out our guide.

Take me there

Culture Guides

Music in Manchester and the North

Fresh concert seasons, forward-thinking festivals and a revolving door of amazing gigs. Things are looking bright as spring comes into view.

Exhibitions in Manchester and the North

February is a month of love so art lovers in the North - rejoice! There is lots to choose from: two photography festivals, gorgeous crafts and shows celebrating local talent.