Durham is a famous city in County Durham in North East England. It is also one of the UK’s most renowned university towns hosting students from the world over. If you are looking for fun things to do in Durham, you won’t be disappointed. The riverside city of Durham is a vibrant, young city that’s seeped in history. Durham most likely gets its name from ‘Dun-holme’ or hill island due to its setting on a ridge on the River Wear.
With breathtaking scenery, winding streets and soaring towers, Durham is a less explored English Eden, inspiring for poets and writers. There’s plenty for travellers and tourists alike. You’ll find a lot of diversity, much to explore, events to experience, and fun things to do in Durham City. It’s also perfect for a food tour, offering an array of wining and dining choices, from quaint cafes to lively restaurants and bars. What adds even more to the place is its genuinely warm and friendly people.
Durham is small and perfectly walkable through and through. The riverside walks, in particular, are spectacular, with picturesque views of the cathedral tower and castle. We’ve enlisted some of the best things to do in Durham City:
Time travel at the magnificent Durham Cathedral
Durham City is home to one of the most recognisable landmarks in the UK – the majestic Durham Cathedral. Built in 1093 as the Shrine of St Cuthbert, the Cathedral has seen worshippers for nearly a millennium. It is renowned for spectacular views and exquisite Romanesque architecture at the heart of the city. The highlights include the 12th-century Galilee Chapel, its original medieval wall paintings, and the stunning Rose Window in the Chapel of the Nine Altars. From the Cathedral’s central tower, you’ll have unparalleled views over historic Durham City and the surrounding countryside. A guided tour of Durham Cathedral is highly recommended to discover its remarkable stories and hidden history.
Harry Potter fans will be thrilled to know that many of the scenes from The Philosopher’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets were filmed at various locations throughout this Cathedral. You too can have your Potter moment – get a selfie in the cloisters and other spots to recreate your favourite scenes!
See the treasures of the Durham Museum and Heritage Centre
Located near Durham Cathedral and Castle, The Durham Museum and Heritage Centre has models, artefacts and audio-visual displays tracing its history from medieval times to the 20th century. You’ll see models of the medieval city, a 19th-century market, and a Victorian prison cell. Enjoy learning about Durham’s past through exhibits on the powerful Neville family of Raby and Brancepeth. Another highlight of the museum is the four stained-glass windows by William Collins. It’s definitely a treat for history buffs.
Witness 1000 years of living history at Durham Castle
Durham Castle has been at the heart of local and national history, be it the Norman Conquest, the Tudor Reformation or the English Civil Wars and eventually the establishment of a university. This is one of the most unique castles in the world, not just for its past but the present. Once the stronghold of powerful and wealthy Prince-Bishops, this thousand-year-old castle is home to university students. Durham Castle is a living museum that blends into the present without losing its power to impress. During the Victorian period, the castle was transformed into a place of learning, the founding college of Durham University. Together with Durham Cathedral, Durham Castle forms one of the most stunning panoramas in all of Europe. It is a renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site and accessible only through guided tours. Don’t miss this one-of-its-kind immersive experience.
Visit the spectacular historic Town Hall
The Town Hall has been the centre of life in Durham city for more than 650 years and hence a rich keeper of the city’s heritage. Also referred to as the Guildhall, this hidden gem is located on the west side of Durham’s historic Market Place. Since the 14th century, the beautiful medieval building has been the seat of Durham’s civic administration. On the Town Hall’s walls are portraits of former Mayors and plaques commemorating Freemen of the City of Durham. Among them are Archbishop Desmond Tutu, football manager Sir Bobby Robson and author Bill Bryson. The impressive building alone is worth visiting.
Explore eastern treasures at Oriental Museum
The Oriental Museum was founded to house an increasing collection of Oriental artefacts used by the University of Durham’s School of Oriental Studies. Formerly known as the Gulbenkian Museum of Oriental Art and Archaeology, Oriental Museum is devoted to the art and archaeology of the great cultures of Asia and Africa. It has a collection of more than 23,000 Chinese, Egyptian, Korean, Indian, Mongolian, Japanese and other far east and Asian artefacts. Objects on display range from prehistoric to contemporary artworks. You’ll see an impressive treasure trove of ancient Egyptian mummies, Japanese woodblock prints, Chinese porcelain created for the imperial court, head-hunting swords from Borneo and more. Experience some of the great cultures of the world and know their fascinating stories.
Discover plants from the world over in the beautiful Botanic Garden
Set amongst marvellous, mature woodlands on the outskirts of Durham city, the 10-hectare Botanic Garden has a wide variety of landscapes to explore. You can wander through the bamboo grove, alpine garden, winter garden, glass houses, recently developed woodland garden and wildflower meadow. Popular with guests young and old, Durham University’s garden is open to visitors throughout the year. It’s ideal for a picnic and there’s plenty to see. They also have fun activities for children like puzzles and hunts. The lovely cafe and gift shop with a nice indoor and outside seating area is perfect for that brief pause and refuelling.
Savour the flavours of Durham
Fantastic food and drinks are the hallmarks of a great travel experience. Durham has a wealth of eateries with diverse cuisines – English, Turkish, Indian, Italian, French, Viennese and more. You’ll be spoilt for choice. Treat yourself to hearty country pub lunches, fine dining restaurants, cosy cafes and tempting tearooms. Feast on artisan delicacies and fresh produce at farmers’ markets, attend gastronomic events and dine at award-winning eateries.
Go on scenic river walks
In Durham, the river Wear meanders around the cathedral, castle, and medieval city. It gives the city several riverbanks and natural woodlands with fascinating trails to explore. If you’re a photographer, this is highly recommended! The many benches along the public path are great to stop and take in the views or read a book amidst alluring scenic beauty. The setting of the river makes it suitable for leisure activities including rowing, kayaking and canoeing. It’s lovely for picnics in summer.
Fancy some extra direction? Check out one of Durham’s private walking tours.
Thanks for reading. We hope you found it helpful to plan your itinerary and pick the most fun things to do in Durham. Here’s a little information about ways to get there.
Getting to Durham
By plane, you can fly to Newcastle Airport (UK), located 25 miles from Durham and take a short trip by train, bus or car.
The train journey to Durham from Edinburgh takes around 1h 50m. It will take you about 2h 30m from Manchester or around 3 hours if you’re coming from London. The train station Durham is located 0.2 miles from the city centre.
If you’re driving to Durham, you can get a car rental from your city or town. Durham is 120 miles away from Edinburgh and 270 miles from London.
Several bus services, including National Express, FlixBus, and Megabus, offer trips to Durham from Edinburgh, Glasgow, and other cities.
Durham is an excellent destination. It is a delight for solo travellers, an ideal romantic getaway for couples and a fun holiday for families.
Pro tip: Try staying in a family-run inn or a homestay instead of a hotel to experience the old-world English charm. The rooms are neat and comfortable, the hosts gracious, the breakfasts sumptuous, and the vibe quintessentially English! An immersion in Englishness at a family-run in or homestay is one of the most fun things to do in Durham.
By Samar Hafeez
Samar is a Marcoms specialist and freelance writer. She has a master’s in marketing and creativity from ESCP Business School. Samar is an avid traveller and likes to write about technology, travel, non-profits, wildlife and sustainability. She likes quizzes, poetry, coffee and minimalism.