View of Durham Cathedral UK from Prebends Bridge

What To Do In Durham: 21 Local Favourites & Hidden Gems 🇬🇧

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LOOKING FOR BRILLIANT IDEAS FOR WHAT TO DO IN DURHAM? WE’VE GOT YOU COVERED!

Beautiful, historic Durham in the north of England captivates visitors with its winding river, characterful streets, and its UNESCO World Heritage Cathedral and Castle. This buzzing university city in the Northeast of England also has memorable Harry Potter film locations to discover amongst all the historical sites.

As a total history nerd, I love my trips to Durham to poke around all the attractions, wander the atmospheric streets and browse for bargains in the markets. It’s a magical city!

Keep reading this guide for everything you need to know about what to do in Durham, where to eat and stay in the main areas, and some of the great things to do in the wider local area to complete your visit. You’ll also discover fun things to see and do in Durham for free.

PS Make sure your camera is fully charged – you’ll soon discover Durham is ridiculously pretty!

Ready to get started? Let’s dive into all that Durham has to offer ⤵️

Durham Cathedral cloisters

🏆 BEST OVERALL TOUR OF DURHAM

Don’t have time to read the whole article? The hands-down best Tour of Durham is this one that includes a tour of the Cathedral and Castle in Durham, with hotel pick up.

What to Do in Durham: 19 Best Things to Do in Durham

Durham’s steep and winding medieval streets beg to be explored if you love history. The entire peninsular area encompassing the towering cathedral and the castle is so unique that it’s been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1986, thanks to its incredible historic structures.

1. Explore Durham Cathedral

Visiting Durham Cathedral - discovering what to do in Durham

Dating back more than 900 years, Durham Cathedral is steeped in history and inextricably linked to the introduction of Christianity to the north of England.

Durham Cathedral is England’s best example of Norman church architecture and the city’s #1 tourist attraction – perfect for history buffs and family days out.

Visiting Durham Cathedral - discovering what do in Durham

Highlights of Durham Cathedral

  • The 7th century Lindisfarne Gospels – handwritten on vellum
  • Incredible stained glass windows, including the contemporary Illumination Window
  • The awe-inspiring Chapel of the Nine Altars.
  • The shrine of the Venerable Bede, one of the greatest Anglo-Saxon scholars, which has been in the Cathedral’s Galilee Chapel since the 14th century. 
  • The Durham Cathedral Museum with the awe-inspiring Monks Dormitory, the Great Kitchen, and the Pilgrim’s Gallery
  • The spooky Undercroft and Crypt
  • Harry Potter film locations (see below ⤵️)

The Best Ways To Explore Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral Undercroft
Durham Cathedral Undercroft
  • Join a cathedral tour with an expert guide.
  • Climb the 325 steps in Durham Cathedral Tower for the ultimate rooftop view of Durham (if you’re fit enough!)

Top Tip: Harry Potter fans love discovering the Cloister and Cloister Garth. Both feature in the movies Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets!

Visiting Durham Cathedral - one of the best things to see and do in Durham
, Durham Cathedral Cloisters – location for the famous for the Harry Potter “Eat Slugs” scene!

Top Tips For Visiting Durham Cathedral:

  1. The Cathedral is popular – aim to be there before 11 am when the biggest crowds arrive
  2. Prebook your tower tour – they sell out very quickly.
  3. While visiting the cathedral is free, it relies on donations to fund running costs and ongoing conservation efforts. Please be generous if you can. 

2. Call into Durham Castle

View of Durham Castle from Palace Green Durham
Durham Castle viewed from Palace Green

Durham Castle dates back to 1072 and this original building was once the home of the Prince Bishops of Durham. Since 1837, it’s been occupied by University College, Durham. Can you imagine a more incredible place to live and learn as a student?

You get a good view of the castle from the outside, but the best way to understand its size and explore properly is to book a 45-minute guided tour.

Public tours are guided by enthusiastic and well-informed university students and cost £5 per adult (concessions are available). Book your castle tour here.

Entrance gate to Durham Castle
The entrance gate to Durham Castle

From the moment you walk along the cobbled Barbican, and through the Gatehouse into the Courtyard, you’ll be impressed by the 1,000 years of architecture.

The beautiful Norman Chapel, with its lovely sandstone pillars, is the oldest building in Durham, while the Tudor Tunstall Chapel is where you can discover delicate carvings of pipe-playing pigs!

Durham Castle Exterior min 2 min 1
Durham Castle viewed from Framwellgate Bridge

Don’t Miss: The amazing carved archway, fabulous 13th-century Great Hall, or the famous wonky Black Staircase!

3. Browse Durham Market

Street scenes from Durham market Places, including street with colourful umbrellas and old stone church

With medieval origins, Durham Market Place is at the heart of the city. The thriving indoor market has over 40 independent traders. Outside the market, you’ll see an imposing statue of Neptune, the mythical Roman god of the sea, and one of the Marquis of Londonderry astride his horse.

There’s an impressive Victorian Town Hall and Guildhall where you can discover the history of Durham, which received its first Royal Charter in 1179.

At the eastern end of the marketplace, you’ll find St Nicholas Church (known locally as St Nics). This pretty Victorian building replaced the original 12th-century church that was in disrepair.

Fun fact: The marketplace was actually built over part of the former church’s cemetery!

4. Follow the Durham Peninsular Walk

Riverside Walk Durham UK

Durham’s location on a bend in the River Wear lends itself perfectly to a self-guided tour around the city’s main attractions. The Durham Peninsular Walk will take you around the city, along the riverside and takes a couple of hours at a gentle pace.

If you’re looking to stretch your budget, this enchanting walk, where you can admire all the different species of trees growing by the river, is one of the best cheap things to do in Durham.

5. Admire “The Journey” sculpture

The Journey Statue in Durham UK
St Cuthbert arrives in Durham. The Journey Statue. CC BY-SA 2.0

This imposing 1.8 metre-high sculpture by English sculptor Fenwick Lawson was unveiled in Durham’s Millennium Square in September 2008 by Princess Anne.

The sculpture depicts the arduous journey taken by the six monks who carried the body of St Cuthbert to Durham from Lindisfarne in the 9th century.

6. Wonder at The Storyteller’s Chair

The Storytellers Chair Durham Riverside min
The Storyteller’s Chair, Durham Riverside

The Storyteller’s Chair or Stone Gargoyle Chair is a curious-looking stone sculpture along the banks of the River Wear, between Prebends Bridge and the Old Fulling Mill.

Created by the artist Colin Wilbourn, who called it “Kathedra”, the chair is where many local teachers sit when teaching children about the river and the history and wildlife of the city.

7. Cross Ancient Stone Bridges

Medieval Framwellgate Bridge in Durham, leading up to the city
Beautiful Framwellgate Bridge over the River Wear in Durham

The ancient bridges in Durham are stunning, and you’ll definitely want to include them in your Durham itinerary!

The oldest of the arched medieval stone bridges is Framwellgate Bridge, which was originally built in 1127!

Top Tip: Pause for a brew in one of the alfresco coffee shops and take in the gorgeous views of the River Wear, Durham Castle and Durham Cathedral.

Elvet Bridge in Durham UK
I loved seeing the early morning rowers out near the medieval stone arched Elvet Bridge in Durham

Prebends Bridge and Elvet Bridge are equally attractive and unique!

8. Step Back in Time Along Historic Durham Streets

Wandering through Durham’s streets, away from the main tourist attractions, is one of the best things to do in Durham! The quaint higgledy-piggeldy architecture and steep cobbled streets are a photographer’s delight.

These ancient thoroughfares, including The North and South Bailey and Dun Cow Lane, have centuries of history to discover and fascinating stories to tell. I loved this part of the city!

9. Visit The Church of St Mary the Less

Visiting the pretty stone church of the Mary the less is one of the quirky things to do in Durham
Have you ever seen such a pretty ancient church?

You’ll notice a pretty Anglican church set back from the street as you stroll along the South Bailey. This 12th-century church was originally a garrison chapel for the soldiers stationed on Durham’s city walls.

Today, the church is the peaceful chapel for St John’s College.

Look out for the 13th-century sculpture of Jesus Christ and the quaint memorial to Joseph Boruwlaski (1739-1837). This Polish dwarf, known as the “Little Count”, entertained European courts and lived near to the church.

👑 Royal Connection: King Charles III is connected to the church through his seven-time great-grandmother (!) Dame Elizabeth Bowes who is buried in a vault in the chapel alongside her daughters, Elizabeth and Jane.

10. Learn About The Old Fulling Mill

Riverside Mill Durham
Riverside Old Mill Durham

The Old Fulling Mill in Durham was one of many used to process woollen cloth in England. These mills cleaned and thickened raw wool by pounding it with wooden hammers or “fulling stocks”. The labour-intensive work took hours, with water added to help soften and remove impurities from the wool.

This mill was built in the early 18th century and was a bustling hub of activity, with workers busy loading raw wool onto carts outside the building while others tended to the machines and monitored the fulling process. The sound of pounding hammers would have echoed all around!

Technological advances in the mid-19th century made traditional fulling mills obsolete, and many fell into disrepair or were repurposed for other uses. Thanks to its location, this particular historic mill has survived intact, although exploring inside the mill is no longer possible.

11. Relax at Durham Botanical Gardens

The splendid Durham University Botanical Gardens cover a 10-hectare woodland site about 30 minutes from Durham City Centre.

The alpine garden, winter garden, bamboo grove, and glasshouses provide plenty to discover, and the newly developed woodland garden and wildflower meadow are lovely serene places to wander, with many native plants to enjoy.

Top Tip: The visitor centre has a coffee shop, and the gift shop is crammed with unique and interesting gifts you won’t find anywhere else in the city. It’s a great spot to pick up souvenirs 🙂

➡️ Here’s a handy map of the beautiful Durham Botanical Gardens to help you plan your visit.

12. Durham Museum

Hidden behind the mighty cathedral, the Durham Museum and Heritage Centre is located in the redundant church of St Mary-le-Bow. But don’t let its tucked-away location fool you into not visiting!

This museum of Durham history takes you on a fascinating journey through the rich history of Durham from medieval times to the present day.

Highlights of the Durham Museum

  • A reconstructed of a Victorian prison cell
  • The model of the market in medieval times
  • The beautiful “Rose of Raby” – a stunning early 19th-century stained glass window originally from Brancepath Castle.

13. Visit Crook Hall Gardens

I loved pottering around these delightful National Trust gardens and how the gardens are themed as different “rooms”. Everywhere you turn, it feels like there’s a new gate to be opened and explored.

14. Enjoy Afternoon Tea in Durham

a fabulous afternoon tea in Durham with pretty crockery and tasty cakes

You simply cannot visit Durham without indulging in one of the most quintessentially English traditions – afternoon tea! Luckily, Durham has many places where you can stop for a “brew and a bun”, and you’ll find the prices incredibly reasonable.

Two of the best places for afternoon tea in Durham are:

The Undercroft Restaurant

Head here for bucketloads of atmosphere, as the restaurant is located in the cathedral’s undercroft! You can get homemade snacks and light lunches, and I can vouch for the very good cakes!

Vennels Cafe

If you’re looking for beams, crooked ceilings and original fireplaces, complemented by quirky old sewing machine tables, and plenty of pretty pictures and plants, head into Vennels for their internationally renowned home bakes scones.

The Garden Gate Café at Crook Hall Gardens is superb too. You don’t need to pay to visit the gardens if you’re only visiting the cafe 🙂

15. Go on a Food Tour

Food tours are my absolute go-to for the perfect way to discover a different side to a new city!

This 5-star rated food tour of Durham starts with a leisurely walk along cobbled streets and the riverside. You’ll sample tasty fares from independent traders in the Durham market before trying an eclectic mix of dining styles and working your way through courses.

➡️ Book your space on this foodie tour now

16. Follow The Northern Saints Trail

The Northern Saints Trails are walking routes based on ancient pilgrimage routes, positioning the North East of England as the “Christian Crossroads of the British Isles”.

There are six pilgrimage routes, each reflecting the journeys of the saints, their connections with the North East, and recognising the significance of Durham Cathedral as a destination for pilgrims for centuries.

There are routes for all ages and abilities, whether you want a walking challenge, to get back to nature, discover stunning landscapes, uncover fascinating history, enjoy family time in the great outdoors or focus on your wellbeing.

17. Check Out Durham University’s Museums

imposing entrance gate to the Durham museum of Archaeology

The Oriental Museum

Previously known as the Gulbenkian Museum of Oriental Art and Archaeology, the oriental Museum is devoted entirely to the art and archaeology of the great Northern African and Asian cultures.

The collection includes more than 23,500 artefacts from China, Egypt, India, Korea, Japan and other Asian and North African countries.

Top Tip: This glorious little museum is never busy and worth visiting!

The Museum of Archaeology

Located within the Palace Green Library in Durham, the Museum of Archaeology has a splendid collection of archaeological material excavated within the city, which helps to tell the story of Durham through the ages.

18. Row Along The River Wear

Durham riverside rowing boats

One of the most romantic things to do in Durham is to rent one of the traditional little wooden rowing boats and wend your way along the beautiful tree-lined River Wear.

Hire your rowing boat from Brown’s Boats, who have been in business in Durham since 1900!


Special Events in Durham

Durham isn’t all about history! There are plenty of live entertainment events too in this strong community.

19. Sample Craft Beers at the Durham Beer Festival

Craft breweries. Craft beer. The perfect place. What more could you ask for? Durham’s Beer Festival is one of the best community events in the city!

20. Enjoy The Spectacle of The Durham Regatta

Durham Regatta has been a firm fixture in the calendar for sports fans since 1834. In fact, it’s the UK’s 2nd second oldest regatta and five years older than the better-known Henley Royal Regatta.

The first regatta commemorated the victory of the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo!

Today, the Durham Regatta attracts almost two thousand competitors, most of whom race on the short course from Pelaw Wood to just past Bath’s Bridge. The thrilling longer 1800m course from Pelaw Wood runs through the historic arches of Elvet Bridge down to the finish near Prebends Bridge.

Around ten thousand spectators enjoy the rowing, plus other activities along the riverbank, including a classic car rally and live music. There’s live entertainment and tasty local food and drink too.

21. Get Festive at Durham Christmas Festival

Best Christmas Markets Around the World - Chicago

What could be better than doing your Christmas shopping in an atmospheric old city that feels like something from a Dickens novel, especially when all the Christmas lights are twinkling? Durham Christmas Festival is not the biggest Christmas Market in the UK, but it’s one of my absolute favourites.


Where to Stay in Durham

Our Pick
Lumley Castle Hotel geograph.org .uk 1188877
Lumley Castle

Located just outside Durham, 14th-century Lumley Castle provides a unique experience with exceptional service and is close to the best things to do in Durham.

Pick cosy rooms in the castle or quieter rooms in the castle mews with a contemporary, modern twist. All are beautifully decorated, with unique touches and all the facilities you would expect.

Lumley Castle’s excellent restaurant serves a hearty breakfast and superb evening meals.


Where to Eat in Durham

Here are some of the best places to eat in Durham – all within a stone’s throw of Durham Cathedral:

Cafedral Durham looking down Saddler Street
Cafedral Durham, Looking down Saddler Street
  • Cafedral: An uber-pretty little family-run café with the best honeycomb mocha I’ve ever tasted. It’s dog-friendly and seriously good value for money too! Nip into 1 Owengate and try their signature marmalade cake – we loved it!
  • Flat White Kitchen: This 17th-century townhouse in the centre of Durham has been sympathetically renovated into a fabulous eatery. Drop in for the excellent coffee, and stay for the cakes! Find it at 40 Saddler Street.
  • Cellar Door: Tucked away down narrow steps in a quirky 13th-century building, you’ll find great river views and fine dining with dishes made from local ingredients. The Jerusalem artichoke risotto with black truffle is ridiculously tasty, and Sunday lunch here is incredible! Find Cellar Door at Saddler Street on the way up to the cathedral.
  • Go Waffle: Love decadent ice cream? Head to 33 Saddler Street for delicious bubble waffles and sweet bubble tea 🙂

Where is Durham?

Map of Durham UK
Durham UK Map

Located in the North East of England and close to two beautiful British National Parks (the North York Moors and the Yorkshire Dales), Durham is also on the doorstep of the incredible North Yorkshire Coast, moments away from the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and only three hours from London by train.

How to Get to Durham

If you’re visiting the UK from the United States or anywhere else outside the UK, you’ll likely fly into one of London’s International Airports or Manchester International Airport.

From London

🚗By Car

The journey from London Heathrow Airport to Durham is 270 miles, and will take around 4 hours and 30 minutes. The easiest route is via the M25, M1 and A1(M) motorways. It’s a great road trip if you enjoy UK motorways!

➡️ Planning to rent a car in the UK? Find the best deals at Rentalcars.com where you can compare prices from all the top brands in one place.

🚆By Train

Trains from Heathrow Airport to Durham take around 4 hours. You will need to change trains at least twice, so it’s a good idea to travel without cumbersome luggage! The fastest route is by Heathrow Express to Paddington Station, London Underground to Kings Cross Station, and then the LNER train to Durham.

➡️ It’s usually cheaper to purchase train tickets in advance. Check price and availability here.

From Manchester

🚗By Car

The journey from Manchester Heathrow Airport to Durham is 150 miles and should take around 2 hours and 40 minutes. The easiest route is via the M62 motorway to Leeds, then the A1(M) motorway onward to Durham.

🚆By Train

Trains from Manchester Airport to Durham take from 3 hours; however, you should only need to change trains once – in York.


Best Day Trips From Durham UK

Durham is a great base for visiting the stunning North of England. Here are just a few ideas for places to visit near Durham:

Newcastle

Just 15 minutes from Durham on the train, Newcastle is a great place for a day trip or a longer city break. Newcastle is well-known for its love of football and exuberant nightlife, but there’s much more to discover.

York

York is compact and easy to explore, making it perfect for a short break. If you arrive in York by train, start with a walk along the York City Walls, which date back to Roman times, and are some of the best-preserved city walls in the UK.

The North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)

To escape the city and get some fresh air in a wild and beautiful place, the North Pennines AONB is where to go.

A UNESCO Global Geopark since 1988, the North Pennines AONB is Britain’s second-largest AONB at 2,000 square kilometres, with miles of nature trails, walking routes and places to enjoy if you’re an outdoor sports enthusiast.


There are so many amazing places to visit outside Durham I wrote a whole post about it! Check out these 21 best day trips from Durham.


Durham FAQs

I’m hoping you have a better idea of what to do in Durham and can see what an incredible city it is! In case you need some more persuasion information, here are some of the questions that people often ask about Durham and its top attractions:

What is Durham famous for?

Durham is most famous for its incredible cathedral, Durham Castle and its world-renowned University.

Is Durham UK, safe to visit?

While County Durham is one of the poorest places in England, the City of Durham is relatively affluent – largely thanks to the influx of university students every year. Durham is a really nice place to visit.

Can you walk around Lumley Castle?

Yes. There are miles of trails in the area. One easy 7-mile circular walk will take you past Lumley Castle on the way from Chester-le-Street to Great Lumley. It’s a great way to see the castle without staying there 🙂

What is the prettiest street in Durham?

Saddler Street – complete with its own haunted pub (The Shakespeare) – is often regarded as the most attractive street in Durham.

Is Durham walkable?

Absolutely! Walking is the best way to get around Durham – although you will need walking shoes for all the cobbles and hills.

What is the oldest street in Durham?

Several ancient streets in Durham vie for the title of the oldest street in the city, from Dun Cow Lane, to Silver Street, Allergate and Cross Gate. Most date back to medieval times.

What is there to do in Durham for the day?

In addition to the well-known attractions in Durham, including Durham Cathedral, Durham Castle and the riverside, there are plenty more things to discover in this ancient city and fabulous places to eat and stay.

What is the oldest pub in Durham?

The atmospheric Dun Cow at 37 Old Elvet is the oldest pub in Durham.

What is the old name for Durham?

Durham is so ancient it’s had several names! The original Nordic name of Dun Holm was changed by the Norman invaders to Duresme, while the Romans called it Dunelm.

Which day is market day in Durham?

Durham’s market day is each Saturday.

What days in Durham Indoor market open?

The indoor market in Durham is open from Monday to Saturday each week.

What food is Durham famous for?

Floddies were a traditional breakfast dish around Durham when shipyard workers and miners needed quick, cheap and substantial meals after work. Made from grated potato, bacon and onion, these tasty bites were bound with flour before cooking.

Does Durham have a park-and-ride?

Yes. Durham Park and Ride operates from three locations, from Monday to Saturday (except UK Bank Holidays), including Belmont (DH1 1SR), Sniperley (DH1 5RA) and Howlands (DH1 3TQ). Frequent buses connect th parking to the city centre.;

Is Durham Cathedral free to visit?

Yes. Unlike many other major cathedrals around the world, it’s free to visit Durham Cathedral.

Do you have to pay for Durham Castle?

Yes, there is an entrance fee payable to visit Durham Castle. Tickets are available from the Palace Library.

What is the population of Durham in the UK?

The Durham UK population is 23,175 (as at 2021 census)

Where does Durham University rank in the UK?

Durham is a prestigious university, ranked 92nd in the QS World rankings. It’s one of the UK’s elite “Russell Group” universities. Durham University ranking in the UK is 6th – according to the Complete University Guide 2023.

Where is Durham in relation to London?

Durham is in northeast England, around 270 miles north of London (depending on which part of London you’re in).

Is Durham in Newcastle?

No. Durham and Newcastle are two separate cities in England’s northeast, around 20 miles apart.

What is the best time of year to visit Durham?

As Durham is in the northeast of England, it gets pretty chilly in the winter!! The best and warmest time to visit is from late April until mid October, although the city is wonderful for Christmas.

RELATED ARTICLE 🇬🇧 21 Best Day Trips from Durham

Final Thoughts: What To Do In Durham UK

In conclusion, Durham is a historic city full of diverse experiences waiting to be explored and unique things to do. This English gem has something for everyone, from cultural landmarks and ancient sites to outdoor activities and delicious food options.

Whether you’re a solo traveller looking for adventure or planning a family vacation, Durham has it all. So why not plan your next trip to this charming destination and discover the many hidden treasures that make Durham truly one-of-a-kind?

Hope you have an amazing time!

Coralie xx

Travelling to England?

Here’s a quick list of what to pack!

✔️ Refillable Water Bottle: UK tap water is safe to drink, so you can always have water on the go and avoid buying plastic bottles 🙂

✔️ Worldwide Travel Adaptor: because the mains voltage in the UK is 230V. I love this one as you can charge up to five devices simultaneously, and it has an automatic cut-off if you overload it!

✔️ Travel Umbrella: It rains a lot in England!

Looking for more information on England?

If you’re planning a trip to England and looking for more information, you might find these other posts helpful:

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