Durham is a fantastic place to visit, steeped in history with some of the UK’s most spectacular old buildings. When someone asks What to do in Durham we find ourselves turning to some of these fantastic attractions.
Firstly to answer that question you need to clarify whether you mean Durham City itself or the surrounding Durham County area, we have put together a list of attractions and activities for both in this article so if you are visiting you should be able to build a nice itinerary.
What To Do In Durham – Durham City
Durham Cathedral is one of the jewels of the entire region never mind just Durham, a spectacular building that is absolutely unmissable once you get into Durham. The Cathedral itself is free to enter though they do ask for donations on the way in to help with the upkeep. I believe that every single person who visits can find something they love about Durham Cathedral, whether it be the architecture, the religion or the historical significance, it is a must visit attraction.
For fans of history the draw of Durham Cathedral should pretty self-explanatory, for film fans there is the added draw that some scenes from the Harry Potter movies were filmed here (see if you can spot the locations).
If you happen to be in Durham on a night you also get the opportunity to see it lit up which just further accentuates it’s dominance over the City below.
Further proof, if any were needed, that the Cathedral is a must visit in Durham is the fact that is was voted number 5 in the Top 10 UK Landmarks by TripAdvisor.
The Gala Theater is a relatively new addition to Durham having opened in 2002. It is a lovely, intimate theater and cinema. The Gala Theater is a 2 minute walk from the Durham Market Square so is very central and easily accessible, it is set among the “newer” restaurants and bars and right next to a Premier Inn hotel. The theater itself has a seating capacity of 500 people and there are 2 small cinemas within the building too (with capacities of 136 and 80 people).
When discussing what to do in Durham it is worth noting that there is a wide range of shows/acts available to see at the Gala and I recommend visiting the Gala Theater website to see what is showing while you are in town, everything from stand-up comedy, musicals, plays and orchestral music.
Prince Bishop River Cruiser
The Prince Bishop Cruiser is a boat, built in 1989, that travels up and down the River Wear. Now don’t get me wrong this isn’t a cruise down the River Seine taking in the sights of Paris but if you catch the weather right the Prince Bishop River Cruiser is an excellent way to get spectacular views of Durham.
The standard one hour cruise costs £8.00 for an adult and £5.00 for a child and includes full live commentary during the cruise. The Cruiser is also available for private hire for weddings or party nights and holds a capacity of 150 people.
The Prince Bishop River Cruise is well worth an hour of your day, particularly if the sun is shining!
Crook Hall and Gardens
Crook Hall is a little hidden gem in Durham, tucked away yet still walking distance from the market place. This medieval manor house and it’s beautiful gardens provide a relaxing oasis away from the hustle and bustle of Durham itself.
The gardens are spectacular, i’m no gardener but I doth my cap to the people responsible for Crook Hall Gardens, they really are worth seeing. I had the privilege of attending a wedding here in the height of summer and it was a glorious venue with the Cathedral providing a stunning backdrop.
If you are looking to get away from the busy Durham streets and unwind then walk along the river to Crook Hall and enjoy a Sparkling Afternoon Tea for £22 per person including entry to the Hall and Gardens, it is recommended that you pre-book though.
Durham Light Infantry (DLI) Museum
The DLI museum is a small building telling the story of the The Durham Light Infantry, from it’s formation in 1758 to it’s absorption into The Light Infantry in 1968. The exhibits on display pay particular attention to the two World Wars and the pieces on display include uniforms, weapons, photographs, equipment and relics.
The museum is child friendly and there are a lot of exhibits that can be picked up and held, clothing that can be worn and vehicles that can be sat in. The fact that a lot of the artifacts are from fallen soldiers or memories from the families makes the exhibit quite humbling and moving.
Durham Castle is a Norman castle, built in the 11th century, that is occupied by University College Durham and is home to over 100 students. It is open to the general public for visits but only by guided tour. The castle stands on top of a hill above the River Wear on Durham’s peninsula, opposite Durham Cathedral. Together with Durham Cathedral the Castle was awarded the status of a World Heritage Site back in 1986 and is definitely worth a visit. The castle is a wonderful building with a rich and interesting history which the tour guides do a great job of sharing.
Tour times vary depending on whether it is University term time or not, your best bet is to check the timings here, prices for the tours are:
- Adult £5
- Concessions: (Senior Citizens, Students, Children up to 16) £3.50
- Family Ticket £12
- Group Rates: (for 10+) Adults £4.50;
- Child/Senior Citizen £3.00
Lumiere is fantastic BUT if you are visiting Durham you are going to have to time your visit to coincide with this fabulous event. Lumiere last took place in 2013 and will take over the centre of Durham again from the 12th to the 15th of November 2015.
Lumiere is a festival of light, local and international artists, lighting designers, and community groups come together to transform the city with a fascinating series of lightworks.
Be warned it will get very busy and there is a ticketing system for the priority exhibits so book ahead and plan plenty of time to see everything. For more information and updates on exhibits and tickets visit the Lumiere website.
What To Do In Durham – County Durham
Beamish Open Air Museum
The self-titled “Living Museum of the North” is one of our favourite places to visit, it is great for adults and kids of all ages and has a fantastic combination of education and fun. It is quite a large museum but there are old trams and buses running that will take you to any part of the museum, which is not only convenient but really fun and interesting too.
There is almost too much to do in one day, which makes the fact that your admission gets you a pass for the entire year all the better! It doesn’t feel like a museum when you are there because it so immersive, it feels more like a trip back in time, helped in no small part by the staff who are knowledgeable and all seemed to really get into the roles.
From the Pit Village to the Town and Colliery this museum is a fantastic experience and we thoroughly recommend it, if you are looking for something to do in Durham then this is should be near the top of your list.
If you are looking for something to do in the Durham area for kids, particularly younger kids then Adventure Valley is a great choice. Situated about 5 miles from the centre of Durham Adventure Valley has enough activities to keep the kids entertained for hours.
There are soft play facilities, pedal go-karts, the biggest jumping pillow in the UK, a farmyard with plenty of animals for the kits to see and pet and much more. Head over to the Adventure Valley website for more information.
Be aware the last time we visited the pricing was £9.50 for each adult and child and while we were left in no doubt that the entrance fee for the child was worth the money it seemed a little steep to charge £9.50 per adult when there is very little for the adults to actually do.
Broom House Farm and Forest
Broom House Farm in Witton Gilbert is a working farm that has developed some fantastic facilities for a family day out as well as a butchers selling locally reared meats. They offer a Broom House Forest Adventure which, if you get the weather right, is fantastic for kids of all ages. Tje Forest Adventure has nature trails, zip lines, slides and woodland challenges.
Back on the farm there are plenty of animals to see, a cafe selling locally sourced food and a play area for the kids. Entry to the farm itself is free though the Forest Adventure as a fee of £4.50 per person and is open on Saturdays and Sundays.
If you are looking for something to fill an Afternoon, particularly if you have young kids, then Broom House Farm is a good bet. Oh and the full english breakfast is lovely if you decide to go early!
Finchale (pronounced Finkle) Abbey is a hidden gem on the outskirts of Durham City, a really beautiful setting on a meander of the River Wear. A 13th century Benedictine priory built by the monks of Durham Cathedral, the priory later served as a summer retreat for the monks, an escape from the busy life of Durham city.
The Priory itself (or what is left!) is stunning as are the grounds it is set in. Its a lovely, peaceful place to just escape for a while, with nice walks around the surrounding area.
It doesn’t take long to drive there from the center of Durham (10 mins maximum), if you’re a tourist in Durham, and you’ve seen the Cathedral and Castle, a trip to Finchale Abbey will repay your effort. Finchale Abbey is in the care of English Heritage, but the site itself is on private land, beside a camping and caravanning site with a gated entrance system. Parking is £3.
A little further north from Durham City, up into Chester-le-Street is the fantastic Lumley Castle. Built more than 600 years ago the castle dominates the local landscape, with beautiful grounds that overlook the River Wear and Chester-le-Street. Close to the vibrant centers of Newcastle and Durham, Lumley Castle is perfectly situated to explore the North East of England.
Lumley Castle takes its name from its creator, Sir Ralph Lumley, a well-known and popular soldier, renowned for his bravery in battles. In 1388 he played a key role in the defence of Berwick-on-Tweed and led the attack at the Battle of Otterburn.
The castle offers 73 unique and individual bedrooms, all furnished to the highest of standards, and it is believed to be one of the most haunted places in County Durham!
What Do You Do in Durham?
Have we missed one of your favourite places off our list? Tell us all about it in the comments below. Had a recent experience at one of the attractions above that you’d like to tell us about? Again use the comments section below to let us know.
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