Durham is a historic city in the northeast of England just south of Newcastle upon Tyne. It is a lively and compact city and all the principal sights are easily covered on foot. If you are making the long journey from London to Edinburgh by road, bus or rail, it is well worth breaking your journey to spend one day in pretty Durham.
Things To Do In Durham
The first site any visitor to Durham should visit is the UNESCO World Heritage Durham Cathedral. It is located at the highest point of the city and dominates the city skyline.
There has been a cathedral on this site since 995 A.D but cathedral we see today was started in 1093 and took forty years to build.
Though smaller in comparison to other British cathedrals, Durham is a stunning mix of architectural styles.
Famous for its distinctive Romanesque rounded arches and huge carved Norman pillars that adorn the central nave, the cathedral also holds the relics of two saints – Saint Cuthbert and Saint Oswald.
Modern and ancient stained glass windows create a myriad of colours and patterns on the stone floor. Don’t miss the ornate high altar, the magnificent 18th century Rose window or the Gothic style 13th Century Chapel of the Nine Altars.
Exit the cathedral to the right of the nave to wander the multi-arched medieval cloisters which evoke a bygone era. Harry Potter fans will enjoy spotting which parts of the cathedral and cloisters were used in the Harry Potter films.
Lego lovers cannot miss the enormous lego model of the cathedral – complete with lego pews inside the model – located outside the cathedral shop. It is also possible to visit the Cathedral library or arrange access to the Cathedrals extensive historical artefacts.
Entry to the Cathedral is free but donations of £3 per person are greatly encouraged (donations go towards the upkeep of this magnificent building). Photography is not allowed inside the Cathedral.
Fee paying, one hour Cathedral tours are available daily and on Fridays and Saturdays you can climb 137 steps up to the top of the North West Tower for a birds eye view of the city.
Families can use ‘free to borrow’ backpacks with trails around the cathedral for children to follow.
Outside the Cathedral is the pretty Palace Green where you will find Durham University’s Palace Green Library, whose exhibits and collections are free to enter.
Further along Palace Green is the grand entrance to the imposing Durham Castle.
Once a fortress, then a palace and now part of Durham University, there has been a castle on this site since the 11th Century.
Entry is by a pre-booked, 45-minute tour which costs £5 for adults. Tickets are available from the Palace Green Library. Check the Durham Castle website before you visit as opening hours and days vary.
Durham City centre is compact and easily walkable though it can be hilly!
Wander down pretty, cobbled shopping streets to the central Market Place, towered over by the Victorian era St Nicholas church.
Adjacent to the church is the elaborate Victorian Guildhall and Durham Town Hall, both of which are open to the public. Don’t miss the indoor Victorian Durham Market with over 50 independent market stalls – an ideal place to visit if visiting chilly Durham in winter!
Durham is a lively, vibrant city – due in part to a large student population – and there are plenty of cafes, pubs and restaurants to choose from. Durham city centre can get noisy and lively at night!
Escape from the bustling city centre by heading down to the River Wear and joining the footpaths that run along either side of the river.
The paths are generally flat, quiet and wind past pretty weirs and under impressive stone arched bridges. It is a lovely walk at any time of the year.
If you decide to stay longer than one day, there is lots to do in the surrounding area.
However, the nearby Beamish Museum is unmissable.
This outstanding open air museum spans a huge site and is described as a ‘living history’ museum.
Stroll a Victorian cobbled street, enter the pub, shops and businesses to see how banks and bakers lived and worked in the past. You can explore fully furnished houses, meet the people who ‘live’ there, ride a steam train, tram and old style buses. Go into a mine, go back in time to a Victorian classroom or discover how a wartime kitchen garden was planted.
Agricultural and industrial life at different periods of British history is recreated and brilliantly presented. It is a fantastic family day out.
We have been to Beamish Museum several times and there is always something new to do – you will not cover the whole site even on a whole day visit!.
Check out the InDurham Loyalty Card before you visit Durham.
For just £5 for one year, the card gives you discounts and special offers at shops, cafes and restaurants across the city. If visiting with a group or a family, you may save more on one expenditure than it cost to buy the card. Check terms and conditons carefully.
How To Get To Durham
Travelling by car, Durham is accessed by the A1 (M) motorway and is approximately 5 1/2 hours from London, 3 hours from Edinburgh and 3 hours from Manchester. Newcastle is just 30 minutes away.
Train is the best way to travel to Durham. Whichever direction you travel from, the route passes through scenic British countryside.
If coming from the south – London is 3 hours away – sit on the right hand side of the train for fantastic views of the Cathedral and Castle as you enter Durham station.
Edinburgh is around 2 hours away and the train follows the stunning Northumberland coast for most of the journey.
Where To Stay In Durham
If you have just one day in Durham you need to stay as close as you can to the city centre and its major sights.
Whenever I visit Durham I stay at the excellent Radisson Blu Durham.
This immaculate riverside hotel is a five minute walk from Durham city centre and ten minutes from Durham rail station.
The rooms are large and spotlessly clean, plus there is a heated indoor pool, sauna, jacuzzi and gym. An onsite restaurant provides excellent food including a massive morning buffet breakfast that you should not miss!
The location, facilities and enormous breakfast that will keep you going all day combine to make this hotel excellent value for money. Check out availability and current rates here.
Have you visited Durham? What were your highlights?