Durham’s Top 12 Attractions & Things to Do

Durham’s ancient town, with its majestic cathedral standing high above the River Wear, is a sight not to be missed. The historic city centre, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has 600 listed structures, including Crook Hall, Kingsgate Bridge, Elvet Bridge, and the Town Hall.

Durham is one of England’s most visited cities and has a plethora of exciting things to do. Highlights include visiting its historic architecture, dining at one of its numerous restaurants, and shopping at places like the renowned Indoor Market.

Read our list of the top attractions and things to do in Durham to discover more about why this is one of the greatest locations to visit.

1. Go on a Tour of Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral, or, to give it its full title, The Cathedral Church of Christ, Blessed Mary the Virgin, and St. Cuthbert of Durham, is known for its stunning British Romanesque-style architecture.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is incredibly breathtaking, whether reached from the tiny lanes of the Old City across Palace Green or from the banks of the River Wear across Prebends Bridge.

The edifice, which was completed between 1093 and 1133 (with a few 15th-century flourishes), is accessed by the 12th-century northwest door, which was originally utilised by fugitives seeking asylum.

Inside, guests will find a plethora of fascinating sites to explore. The beautiful Galilee Chapel, the Norman Nave with its gigantic piers and columns, and the Cathedral Tower (it’s a 325-step walk to the top, so come prepared for some effort) are all highlights.

The cathedral also has the greatest complete collection of mediaeval claustral structures in the United Kingdom, notably the 14th-century cloister shown in the first Harry Potter film.

Guided tours of Durham Cathedral are available every day and last 1.25 hours. For tourists interested in learning more about the history of the area, the cathedral also offers an outstanding adult learning programme that includes lectures, workshops, and tours of the surrounding woodlands and riverbanks.

Those interested in certain areas of the cathedral’s history can also visit the Cathedral Library and Archive. There is a café and gift shop on the site for those who wish to stay longer.

Durham University’s The College

2. St. Cuthbert’s Treasures

The Treasures of St. Cuthbert, housed in a section of Durham Cathedral that was previously a monks’ dormitory, houses a number of the attraction’s most notable treasures and relics, reflecting almost 900 years of history.

The 7th-century wooden coffin of St. Cuthbert, a silver plate collection previously owned by the Prince Bishops of Durham, and countless antique texts are among its earliest displays.

The Conyers Falchion, an old blade used by Sir John Conyers to slay the mythical Sockburn Worm, is of particular importance. The sword now only sees action when it is delivered to each new Bishop of Durham upon entering the diocese for the first time at Croft Bridge.

The monks’ lodgings are worth seeing in and of themselves. The monks’ kitchen, with its exceptionally well-preserved octagonal roof and no less than eight fires, is a highlight. The intriguing exhibitions showing the lives of the monks are well worth seeing.

This renowned tourist attraction also includes the original knocker used by mediaeval asylum seekers, a facsimile of which now graces the cathedral’s main door.

Durham University’s The College

3.Durham Castle.

Durham Castle, which is now part of the Durham UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built as a castle by the Earl of Northumberland in 1072 and was handed to the city’s prince-bishops by William the Conqueror.

The Norman Chapel, with its magnificent carved archaic capitals; the vast 14th-century dining-hall; the 16th-century chapel; and the 17th-century Black Stairs, replete with pineapple carvings, are the most noteworthy chambers.

University College, Durham University’s founding college, is also housed in the castle. More than 100 students reside here, making this a really one-of-a-kind structure with over 900 years of living history.

Consider booking one of the castle’s distinctive B&B stays for a really unforgettable experience (during student vacations only). Tours of the castle are included in the price of your stay.

Durham’s Palace Green is the location.

4. Archaeology Museum at Durham University

The Museum of Archaeology, housed at Durham University’s Palace Green Library, includes Roman, Anglo-Saxon, and Norman artefacts.

The museum also has a substantial collection of mediaeval items, many of which were unearthed during extensive archaeological investigations in the old city centre in the late twentieth century.

The library also houses the university’s special collections, archives, and early printed books, which number over 70,000 volumes printed before 1850. Admission to the museum and library, as well as talks and educational events, is free.

Durham’s Palace Green Library is the location.

5.The Oriental Museum

The Oriental Museum of the University of Durham is located on Elvet Hill, just a short distance from the ancient city centre, and houses exceptional art and archaeology collections from the Near and Far East.

From Ancient Egypt and India through Tibet, China, and Japan, all of the main eastern civilizations and periods are covered.

Ancient ceramics and jewellery, stone carvings, and antique weaponry and armour are among the highlights. If at all possible, plan your visit to coincide with one of the museum’s special “touch tours,” during which visitors get the rare chance to hold some of the museum’s most valuable objects.

If you wish to remain longer, there is a shop and a café on-site. Also, keep an eye on the museum’s website for updates on visiting travelling exhibits and special events.

Durham’s Elvet Hill Road and South Road

6.Durham University Botanic Garden.

Durham University Botanic Garden, located on a 25-acre property immediately south of Durham City, is definitely worth a visit.

Highlights include several plant collections from throughout the world, including China and South Africa, in addition to its many year-round activities and events. There’s also a beautiful forest garden, an alpine garden, and a bamboo grove to discover.

The spectacular glasshouses at the garden are especially worth seeing. There are collections of tropical rainforest plants, desert plants, and more common Mediterranean species.

The exhibitions of tropical bugs, stick insects, scorpions, and tarantulas are very fascinating. After that, explore the tourist centre, which has a café and a gift store.

The English gardens of 13th-century Crook Hall, just a short walk from the cathedral, are well worth a visit. There are tours and talks available, and they are highly recommended.

Durham’s address is Hollingside Lane, South Road.

7.Durham Museum and Heritage Centre.

The Durham Museum and Heritage Centre houses a number of interesting and instructive displays on the town’s rich history. It is housed in a mediaeval church and has superb audio-visual displays, brass rubbings, and a collection of stunning stained glass windows.

The World Heritage Site Visitor Centre is another excellent resource for learning about the city’s history. Here, you’ll discover a range of displays and exhibitions that, via video and interactive displays, tell the narrative of the city’s numerous historic structures.

St. Mary-le-Bow, North Bailey, Durham is the location.

8. Travel Back in Time at Beamish, The Living Museum of the North

This fascinating living museum, located in 300 acres of lovely countryside only 10 miles outside Durham, provides an insight into the lives of individuals who lived in the region during the Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian eras.

Costumed figures bring the exhibits to life and aid in telling the incredible narrative of how the Industrial Revolution altered the region.

All of the structures at Beamish were imported brick-by-brick from all across Durham County and reconstructed on-site. Beamish is also home to a number of fascinating events, such as the Great North Festival of Transport, a Georgian Fair, and the Great North Festival of Agriculture.

If you plan on making a day of it (which you should! ), you may have a snack or supper at any of the many various eateries at Beamish, as well as some wonderful shopping possibilities.

9.Durham Town Hall.

The inside of Durham Town Hall, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is definitely worth seeing.

Its modest, glass-fronted lobby gallery conceals a number of historic chambers, notably the magnificent Main Hall, which features stained-glass windows and a hammer beam oak ceiling.

The Crush Hall is also worth visiting. You’ll find some intriguing mementos from Count Boruwlaski’s life here. The formerly famous Count died in 1837 at the age of 98, standing just 39 inches tall.

Durham Market Place is the address.

10.Wharton Park is a great place to take the kids.

Wharton Park, which spans 10 acres, is ideal for families travelling with children who need to burn off some energy. Wharton Park, located between Durham Cathedral and the city’s main railway station, offers a range of activities for families to enjoy.

Its perch on a hill, established in the mid-18th century, provides it the ideal vantage point for watching trains arrive and go, including ancient locos and rolling equipment as they pass over the famed Durham viaduct.

It’s also a terrific spot for shots of the cathedral and other local landmarks, which is much more enjoyable when accompanied with a picnic! Look for the faux battlements for the greatest views. A variety of well-placed viewing platforms may be found here.

The amphitheatre here is also worth photographing, especially while it’s in use (for more information on plays, concerts, and other events, visit the facility’s website).

There’s also a fantastic tiny race track where youngsters may drive their own electric car. There are also educational workshops for both children and adults.

Durham’s address is 10 Princes Street.

11.Priory of Finchale

Finchale Priory is an English Heritage site just minutes from central Durham. The lovely ruins of this once-grand 12th-century priory are located by the River Wear and are well worth investigating.

Built in 1196 on an even older pilgrimage site, it functioned as a haven of rest and recreation for monks from neighbouring Durham Cathedral for over 400 years. There is no admission fee.

Finchale Avenue in Framwellgate Moor, County Durham

12.Ivesley Equestrian Centre.

Ivesley, located on 220 acres of gorgeous countryside just six miles from Durham, is a must-see for horse and equestrian enthusiasts.

An indoor school, show jumps, and various cross-country courses are among the amenities available, which may be accessible through professional teaching and schooling options or hired out individually.

The opportunity to explore the various surrounding riding paths is a highlight of a vacation. The British Horse Society has authorised the centre, and all instructors are BHS-certified.

There are several riding vacations offered, including stays at the center’s B&B-style lodgings.

Waterhouses, Durham is the location.

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