attractions in Durham

12 top tourist attractions in Durham

The old town of Durham, with its beautiful cathedral high above the River Wear, is a sight you will never forget. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the old city center offers 600 protected buildings, including Crook Hall, Kingsgate Bridge, Elvet Bridge and the Town Hall. Much of the city’s early prosperity stemmed from its strategic location on the route to Scotland, as well as the powerful appeal of the shrine of St. Cuthbert. At the same time, the beautiful surrounding landscape was divided into large estates on which feudal barons built beautiful castles. From the early modern period, the coal industry played an increasingly important role, and pitheads and chimneys soon dotted the landscape. In the 19th century the population swelled with an influx of immigrant workers, and as industrialists built large houses, working-class districts grew and unions were formed (the annual Durham Miners Gala is still an important event in the local calendar).

Today, Durham is one of the most visited of England’s many beautiful cities and offers plenty of fun things to do, from exploring its historic architecture to dining in its many restaurants, as well as shopping at locations such as the popular Covered market.

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1 Durham Cathedral

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 beautiful British Romanesque-style architecture. Whether you are approached from the narrow streets of the old town Palace Green or from the banks of the River Wear over Prebends Bridge, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is truly awe-inspiring. Completed between 1093 and 1133 (with a few 15th-century flourishes), the building is entered through the 12th-century north-west door once used by fugitives seeking sanctuary.

Inside, visitors are confronted with many beautiful sights to explore, including the Graceful Galilee Chapelthe Norman Nave with its huge pillars and columns, as well as the cathedral tower (it’s a climb of 325 steps to the top, so be prepared for a bit of effort). The cathedral also has the most intact collection of medieval claustral buildings in the UK, including the 14th-century cloister that was built in the first Harry Potter movie.

Tours of Durham Cathedral are offered daily and last 1.25 hours. The cathedral also has an excellent adult education program for visitors who want to learn more about the history of the area, offering lectures, workshops and tours of the surrounding woodlands and riverbanks. The Cathedral Library and Archives is also available for those interested in specific aspects of the cathedral’s history.

Location: The College, Durham

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Accommodation: Where to Stay in Durham

2 Open treasures

In the cathedral’s crypt, Open Treasures contains some of the cathedral’s most important collections and relics representing more than 900 years of history. The oldest exhibits include the 7th century wooden chest of St Cuthbert, a collection of silver plates once belonging to the Prince Bishops of Durham, numerous ancient books and the Conyers Falchion, an ancient sword used by Sir John Conyers to kill the legendary Sockburn Worm. Today the only action the sword sees is when it is first presented to each new Bishop of Durham on entering the diocese at Croft Bridge. This popular tourist attraction is also home to the original knockers used by shrine seekers in the Middle Ages, a replica of which now adorns the front door of the cathedral.

Location: The College, Durham

3Durham Castle

Durham Castle
Durham Castle

Durham Castle – also part of Durham UNESCO World Heritage Site – was built as a fortress in 1072 by the Earl of Northumberland and was presented by William the Conqueror to the city’s Prince Bishops. The most interesting rooms are the Norman Chapel, with its beautiful carved archaic capitals; the large 14th century dining room; the 16th century chapel; and 17th-century black staircases, complete with pineapple carvings. The castle is also home to University College, Durham University, along with over 100 students who live here, making this a truly unique building with over 900 years of living history.

Location: Palace Green, Durham

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4 Museum of Archeology in the Palace Green Library

The Museum of Archeology – relocated to the Wolfson Gallery in Durham University’s Palace Green Library – houses finds from the Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Norman periods. The museum also has an extensive collection of medieval objects, many of which were discovered in the old city center during important archaeological excavations in the late 20th century. The library also houses the university’s special collections, archives, and early printed books, including more than 70,000 volumes printed before 1850.

Location: Wolfson Gallery, Palace Green Library, Durham

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5 Oriental Museum

The University of Durham’s Oriental Museum on Elvet Hill, just a short distance from the old city centre, has excellent art and archaeological collections from the Near and Far East. All major Eastern cultures and periods are represented, from ancient Egypt and India to Tibet, China and Japan. Highlights include ancient pottery and jewelry, stone sculptures, and antique weapons and armor. If possible, try to coincide your trip with one of the museum’s special books” touch rides,” when visitors are given the unique opportunity to handle some of their most valuable items.

Location: Elvet Hill, Durham

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6Durham University Botanic Garden

Durham University Botanic Garden is worth a visit on a 25-acre site just south of Durham City. In addition to the many year-round programs and events, highlights include numerous plant collections from around the world, including China and South Africa, as well as a beautiful forest garden, an alpine garden and a bamboo forest. The garden’s impressive greenhouses are also worth seeing and include a collection of tropical rainforest plants, desert plants and more familiar plants from the Mediterranean, along with tropical insects, walking insects, scorpions and tarantulas. Afterwards, you can visit the visitor center with its cafe and gift shop.

Other notable gardens worth a visit include the English Gardens at the 13th-century Crook Hall, just a short walk from the cathedral, and Wharton Park, which covers 10 hectares on the hillside north of the city centre. (The latter is a great place to watch trains, including historic locomotives and rolling stock, over Durham’s famous viaduct).

Address: Hollingside Lane, South Road, Durham

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7 Durham Heritage Center and Museum

The Heritage Center and Museum in Durham contains many informative and educational exhibits about the city’s rich heritage. Housed in a medieval church, it offers excellent audiovisual shows, copper rubbings and a collection of beautiful stained glass windows. Another great place to gather useful information about the city’s past is the World Heritage Visitor Centrewhich connects the story behind the historic buildings through film and interactive displays.

Location: St Mary-le-Bow, North Bailey, Durham

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8 Beamish, the living museum of the north

Beamish, the living museum of the north
Beamish, the living museum of the north

Set in 300 acres of beautiful countryside just 10 miles outside Durham, this fantastic living museum offers a glimpse into the lives of those who lived in the area during the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian eras. Costumed characters bring the displays to life and tell the amazing story of how the Industrial Revolution transformed the region. Incredibly, all the buildings in Beamish were brought brick by brick from all over Durham County and rebuilt on site.

Beamish is also home to plenty of exciting ones eventsincluding The Great North Festival of Transport, a Georgian Fair and The Great North Festival of Agriculture.

Location: Beamish Museum, Beamish

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9 Durham Town Hall

The interior of the Grade II listed Durham Town Hall is definitely worth a look. The modest reception with a glass facade hides several period rooms, including the dramatic one Main hallwith its stained glass windows and hammerbeam oak roof, and the Crush Hallwith its fascinating memorabilia relating to the life of Count Boruwlaski, only 39 inches tall, who died in 1837 at the age of 98.

Address: Market Place, Durham

10 Durham Light Infantry Museum

Uniforms, photographs and weapons covering the history of the Durham Light Infantry regiment from 1758-1968, with an emphasis on WWI and WWII, are all included in this museum. The Medal room is one of the most beautiful in England and contains displays about war experiences with soldiers’ letters and diaries. The museum also offers an excellent research program for those wishing to delve further into the history of the regiment.

Location: Aykley Heads, Durham

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11 Finchale Priory

Finchale Priory is an English heritage site just minutes from Durham. The charming remains of this former 12th century priory lie next to it River Wear and are worth exploring. Built in 1196 on an even earlier pilgrimage site, it served as a place of rest and relaxation for monks from nearby Durham Cathedral for around 400 years.

Location: Finchale Priory, Durham

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12 Ivesley Equestrian Centre

Set in 220 acres of beautiful countryside just six miles from Durham, Ivesley is a must-visit for those interested in horses and equestrian sports. Highlights include an indoor school, show jumps and several cross-country ski courses that can be accessed through professional teaching and learning options or privately rented. A highlight of a visit is the chance to explore the many nearby bridleways. The center is approved by the British Horse Society and all instructors are BHS trained.

Location: Waterhouses, Durham

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