Exploring Durham UK: The Best Things To See And Do

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Things To Do in Durham, England

Durham is a city located in the North East of England. It is the county town of County Durham, and is situated on the River Wear. This city has a long and rich history, with its origins dating back to the 11th century.

In the past, it was a centre for coal mining and shipbuilding. Today, it is a popular tourist destination, and is home to Durham University, one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the UK.

Durham is a great place to explore, whether you’re visiting for a day or staying for a few days. There are plenty of things to do and see, from historical sites to outdoor activities. Here’s a look at some of the best things to do in Durham.

Visit Durham’s Historical Sights

Durham is home to some of the most impressive historical sites in the UK. From Durham Castle to Durham Cathedral, there’s something for everyone to explore.

Durham Castle

Durham Castle is a 11th-century castle located in Durham. Situated in the centre of town, the castle is a must-see not just for its history but also for it’s architecture. The castle was once the seat of the Prince-Bishops of Durham, and its history dates back almost one thousand years. 

Today, the castle is open to visitors. It has a variety of rooms and features to explore, including a chapel, a library, and a great hall. The castle is also home to the University of Durham, and visitors can explore the buildings and grounds.

Durham Castle Tour Times:

Tours are available in the afternoons during term time and both morning and afternoons during the university holidays. Afternoon tour times are 1:15pm, 2:15pm, 3:15pm and 4:15pm. Morning times for holidays are published on their website. 

Entry Fees:

  • Adults are£5.00
  • Concessions £4.50
  • Children (16 and under)Free
  •  Free
  • Durham University Campus Card holders FREE
Durham Castle

Durham Castle

Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral is a UNESCO heritage site located in Durham. It is one of the most impressive cathedrals in the UK, and is a must-see for anyone visiting Durham. The cathedral was built in the 11th century and is a great example of Gothic architecture. Formally known as The Cathedral Church of Christ, Blessed Mary the Virgin and St Cuthbert of Durham, the cathedral is open to visitors and is still a working church for the local community. 

Today, the cathedral is open to visitors. It has a variety of features to explore, including a chapel, a library, and a great hall. Visitors can also explore the gardens and grounds, and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of the cathedral.

!! Did you know that some iconic scenes from the first two Harry Potter movies were filmed at Durham Castle?  Scenes of Ron, Hermoine & Harry walking between classes were filmed in the cloisters of the Cathedral.  The green in the middle of the cloisters (officially called the Cloister Garth) was also used in a few scenes from the Chamber of Secrets. 

The Avengers End Game movie also had scenes filmed at the Cathedral and you are able to visit most of the area’s from filming as a visitor. 

What to see at Durham Cathedral?

  • The filming locations mentioned above

  • Climb the 325 steps of the tower for amazing views over Durham city

  • Cathedral museum

  • The main church and stained glass. 

Opening Hours for Durham Cathedral

The cathedral is open daily from 8am to 6pm for worship. 

Tourism is encouraged between 10 am and 4pm Monday to Saturday (Sunday the church is dedicated to worship only, however the cafe and shop are open from 11am. 

There is no entry fee for the cathedral but they do encourage a donation for the maintenance and up keep of the church.

Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral

Day Tours That Include Durham Cathedral

Sometimes it’s just easier to get a day tour and see more than one location. These tours include visits and entry to Durham Castle

Crook Hall and Gardens

Crook Hall and Gardens is a 12th-century house located in Durham. It is a great place to explore with its beautiful gardens, orchards, and a variety of animals. The gardens are particularly impressive, with a variety of plants and flowers. There are also a variety of animals, including rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens, and other small animals.

The house itself is steeped in history. It was once owned by a wealthy family, and the gardens are open to visitors most days. The opening times do vary so check the National Trust’s Crook Hall page to be sure. 

The gardens change with the season and feature a variety of locations each with its own style and character. There is a maze on site, a secret garden, a fruit orchard and a pool stocked with fish. 

Spring is the best season to visit to make the most of the traditional English gardens and flowers Crook Hall is known for. 

There is a café and facilities on site which welcome dogs on a leash. Assistance animals are permitted in the other areas, but private dogs must be taken only into the café and terrace areas. 

Entry Fee For Crook Hall

Adults are £8 with Children £4

Crook Hall and Gardens Durham

Crook Hall Gardens

Finchale Priory

Finchale Priory is a 12th-century Augustinian priory located about 5 miles outside of Durham. The priory was founded in 1154 by the Benedictine Order. It is a great example of Gothic architecture, and its remains are a must-see for anyone visiting Durham.

It is a great place to explore, with its ruins and beautiful grounds. It has a very interesting history which you can read about on the English Heritage website, but one item that I loved was that during the first half of the 14th century it became a holiday retreat for the monks of Durham. Who knew monks needed a vacation spot?

While the ruins are very photogenic the grounds are also lovely and a great place for a lunch picnic or afternoon laze. You probably only need an hour or so, it is free to enter and is open daily from 10am to 5pm in the summer (April to October) and 10am to 4pm in the winter months. 

Finchale Priory

Finchale Priory

Jenny Marsden - Charge The Globe
About the author

Meet Jenny, a passionate Australian travel blogger who has explored 103 countries to date. With over 30 years of travel experience, Jenny has a wealth of knowledge to share with her readers about the cultures, landscapes, and people she has encountered on her journeys. She’s always battling unfashionably frizzy hair and you will never catch Jenny in anything but comfortable shoes. Learn more about Jenny and her travels.

Ushaw Historic House

Ushaw Historic House is a 19th-century house located only about 3 miles from central Durham. It is a great place to explore, over 20 acres for formal gardens and 500 acres of park and farm land. 

The house is home to events throughout the year ranging from Car Shows, to Brass Band Performances to plant and garden fairs and even regular movie nights and live performances. 

The main house and buildings are open to all guests with the world renown library being a major draw card. The grounds have formal gardens, woodlands, grass quadrangles for the little ones and is even dog friendly. There is a great 3 mile walking path through the woodlands that is a great way to loosed up your legs. 

Originally a school for priest training it became a healing home for WW2 survivors to recuperate and convalesce. Hundreds of red roses and clematis were planted in the gardens in honour of all those who fought and died in WW1 and during the spring flowering season it is a very impressive sight.  They even have a selfie frame for taking the perfect social media image. 

Ushaw House Opening Times

The gardens are open daily from 11am – 4pm and tickets are £8 for adults and £5 for children (5-18) with under 5’s free. 

House and chapel tours take place on Saturdays and Sundays every week and are easily booked via Ushaw’s Website

Durham’s Historic Centre

Durham’s main shopping area is home to cobbled streets and historic market halls. The city has done a great job of integrating the old buildings that have historic significance with more modern facilities and services.

Wander the streets of the old town, grab a coffee or a wine or just sit yourself down in the square and people watch for a while. There are a wide range of great eating houses and restaurants in the city centre and you can find cuisines from Japanese, Turkish and even some more traditional English tea houses.

Durham town center

Durham City Centre

Outdoor Activities In Durham

Durham is a great place to get outdoors and explore. From the Durham Riverside Walk to Durham Falconry, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

Riverside Walk

The Durham Riverside Walk is a great way to explore the city, with its stunning views of the River Wear.

You can walk both sides of the River Wear for quite a way and for the most part it is beautiful tree lined paths. The pic below shows you two paths you can take to enjoy the outdoors and the river walks.

Some suggestions for walking the River Wear in Durham

Durham Falconry

Falconry is a long practiced sport in the UK and Durham Falconry allows you to experience this first hand. From half day experiences, to full day adventures and even falconry courses, this family run business is well run and very professional.

Their Hawk Walk experience allows you to fly a hawk in their over 450 acres of farm land. You can extend this time frame by doing the half day experience which will give you 3 hours with the birds.

If you are a local to the UK and would like to learn how to fly various birds of prey, consider doing their beginners course. The course is around 10 hours long and is taken over multiple days so you learn one on one with a qualified handler.

Their Hawk Walk starts at £39 with the half day experience starting at £59. They are only just over a mile from Durham city so easy to access. Get in touch for their birds of prey experiences.

Durham University Botanic Gardens

Durham University Botanic Gardens is a beautiful botanic garden located on the southern outskirts of Durham. It is a great place to explore, with over 10 hectares of a variety of landscapes, woodlands and flowers. The Botanic gardens has various displays depending on the season and their website has comprehensive info on what is currently on display. There are many art installations through out the gardens and the cactus glasshouse in particular is well worth a visit. 

Opening Hours

10am-5pm March-October
10am-4pm November-February

Entry is £5.00 for Adults and £4.50 for concession holders. Children are free.

There is a small gift shop and a café on site.

Museums and Galleries in Durham

Durham is home to a variety of museums and galleries, from the Oriental Museum to the Durham Museum.

Oriental Museum

The Oriental Museum is a great place to explore, with its collection of artefacts from the Far East. The museum was founded in 1975, and is home to a variety of artefacts from Japan, China, and other Asian countries.

The museum is open to visitors, and guided tours are available. Visitors can explore the museum’s collection of artefacts, as well as the gardens and grounds. They have various workshops available year round and also do twilight openings at various times. 

The exhibitions are dedicated to the art and archaeology of many cultures from Africa and Asia. The museum works closely with the languages department of Durham university and runs various projects through the course of the year. 

The collections range from Egyptian artifacts, to Japanese weaponry, photographic displays and ceramics from both Korea and Japan. 

Oriental Museum Opening Hours

  • Tuesday – Friday between 10am-5pm* (Thursday evening opening until 7pm on selected dates)
  • Saturday – Sunday between 12pm-5pm

Durham Museum

The Durham Museum showcases the history of the area with artefacts from medieval times right through to modern day sculptures by local artist Fenwick Lawson.

There are 4 beautiful stained glass windows that have been restored in full. Created in 1824 they are fabulous examples of the skills that existed in that period. 

Situated close to the Cathedral the museum has an entry fee of £5 however it does close for different periods so please check their website for opening times. 

Old town Durham from over the river

Central Durham and the River Wear

Festivals and Events in Durham

Durham hosts a variety of festivals and events throughout the year, from the Durham Regatta to the Durham City Jazz Festival.

The Durham Regatta

Going for over 190 years, the Durham Regatta is a popular event, with its rowing races and other activities. Held in June each year it is extremely popular with over 10,000 spectators last year. You will need a ticket to enter the regatta enclosure but they are only five pounds for adults and two pounds for children (5-16). They have a wide range of entertainment and facilities such as food stalls and a classic car display on offer over the regatta which make it a great outing. 

Tickets and info.

Durham Fringe Festival

Only new to Durham, the fringe festival is fast becoming one of the premiere events of the year. Running in July each year, the festival is a curation of  a wide variety of performers. From comedy to dance, theatre and even childrens shows, the Fringe Festival has something for all performance lovers. With each show set at £8 it is an affordable way to check out some new and known talent. 2023 will see 6 venues offering shows over the 4 days from 26th to 30th July. Check out their website for more info. 

Classic Car Show

Held over the summer Durham city centre plays host to a classic car show for one day only. The 2023 date is 28th August from 11am-4pm in the city centre. 

The Durham Book Festival

Held later in the year, the festival takes place at Gala Durham and Clayport Library. A range of writers and performers are scheduled to appear and many events are live-streamed to make it accessible for more attendees. The Gordon Burn Prize is announced at the festival each year and honors new writers who are bold and adventurous in their writing. Their website showcases the talent you can see during the 4 day festival. 

Conclusion: What To See And Do In Historic Durham

Durham is a vibrant city located in the North East of England. It is full of things to do and explore, with a variety of historical sites, restaurants, shopping opportunities and outdoor activities. Whether you’re looking for a weekend away or a day trip, Durham has something for everyone. From historical sites to outdoor activities, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in Durham. So, if you’re looking for things to do in Durham, England, make sure to explore all that this vibrant city has to offer!

Couple canoeing on the River Wear Durham

The green riverside of the River Wear in Durham


Accommodation Options in Durham

Durham can get very busy during the popular festivals over the summer, so be sure to book well in advance if you are planning on spending time in the city when it will be popular. Check out this map box to find accommodation that suits your budget and location. 


1 thought on “Exploring Durham UK: The Best Things To See And Do”

  1. Oh we loved Durham. I was very surprised at how much there was to see and do. We missed Finchale Priory though:(. Next time.

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