Things to do in Durham

Planning a visit to Durham? Read this visitor's guide to find the best things to do.

If you were in New York City and a local asked you where they should visit during their stay in England, you’ll certainly say London; for busy urban areas, you’ll likely say Manchester and Birmingham; for vibrancy and scenic seaside qualities, you might say the Westcountry or Brighton. One place that doesn’t necessarily spring to mind, however, is Durham.

Well, we hope we can change that. There are plenty of great qualities and attractions up in the North East, and it’s about time that some of Durham’s were shouted from the rooftops. So, if you’re thinking of heading in that direction, here are just some of the great things you can do in Durham.

Durham Castle and Cathedral​

On opposite ends of the Palace Green surrounded by the River Wear sit the spectacular Durham Castle and equally impressive Durham Cathedral. The castle, originally built in the 11th century, was once the home of the Bishop of Durham, appointed by the reigning king to be a royal presence in the area. It’s an incredible building that has been occupied by University College, Durham, since 1840 as is subsequently the home of more than 100 students. It’s still open to the public for guided tours.

The Cathedral dates back to AD 1093 and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the Castle. Many people visit the Cathedral as it’s considered one of the finest examples of Norman architecture. You won’t regret a trip to these two historic buildings.

Beamish Open Air Museum

Doting parents, history-nuts, and fantasists all unite at this fantastic place described as “the living museum of the north”. Beamish Open Air Museum is well worth a visit, especially if you’re taking the whole family along. It really is like going back in time; there’s ‘the town’ designed to look like a typical North Eastern market town in the years leading up to the First World War, the Edwardian railway station, and the 1940s farm which shows how farming saved the nation from starvation during the war.

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Walworth Castle Birds of Prey

This attraction gives visitors the chance to get up close and personal with some of the world’s beautiful birds of prey. Situated in the pretty grounds of Walworth Castle, the award-winning birds of prey centre offers an array of experiences from hawk walks to owl encounters and the daily falconry morning. With expert bird handlers on hand to make sure you have a fantastic experience, this a must for nature enthusiasts. A family ticket costs just £20 for the whole day.

HMS Trincomalee

Another fine chunk of history located in Hartlepool near Durham, the HMS Trincomalee is an astounding vessel and can claim to be the oldest British warship afloat. It was built in Bombay in 1817 out of Malabar Teak wood, and is a multi-award winning heritage attraction. A day here will see you climb aboard and explore the decks, or if you time it right there may be an event taking place that day. Visiting hours are 10am to 5pm daily from April until October.

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Emirates Durham International Cricket Ground

Cricket matches are a great way to spend the day; you’re out in the open with a nice refreshing beverage watching an exciting game unfold in front of you. The Durham Emirates International Ground is a perfect venue for this, and hosts regular matches throughout the summer. If you can time your trip to coincide with a game, we definitely recommend it. Tickets are available on the website.

The Bowes Museum

The Bowes museum is an outstanding place to drop by for a visit – a beautiful French château planted in the North of England. There’s a lot to see to do here, ranging from fine art exhibitions, collections of period furniture and ceramics, plenty of silver and local history artefacts, and acres of gorgeous parkland that’s perfect for an afternoon stroll. The Café Bowes will keep you refreshed, and you can pick up a souvenir at the gift shop when you’re heading off. All in all, a great day for the whole family.

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Spa breaks

One thing Durham knows how to do is relax, and for this there up to 13 different spas for you to choose from. The one leading the way in customer reviews on TripAdvisor is the Rockliffe Hotel Spa in Hurworth-on-Tees – a luxury establishment with 50,000 square feet of top-notch facilities. You don’t have to be staying at the hotel to take a spa day here, so why not go ahead and treat yourself?

Other spas rated highly in the area include The Garage Spa in Greta Bridge, The Serenity Spa in Seaham, and the Spa at Wynyard Hall in Billingham.

Peterlee Parachute Centre

From relaxation mode, we’re now going to the other extreme. Jumping out of a plane at up to 15,000ft isn’t necessarily everyone’s idea of a good time, but adrenaline junkies will certainly appreciate the Peterlee Parachute Centre offering skydiving experiences in County Durham. The tandem skydiving option allows first-timers to have a once-in-a-lifetime thrill ride and enjoy some breathtaking views, whilst an expert takes care of the technical stuff. Located at Shotton Airfield, it’s sure to be a day to remember.

Now that you know what Durham has to offer, we’re sure you’ll take a visit and then encourage others to do the same. Durham should expect an influx of New Yorkers very soon!