We think we can all agree that 2020 was a year most of us would rather forget. With the new year comes a fresh start, and Durham is ready and raring to go in 2021 with an array of unmissable events, days out and overnight stays. 

With so much to look forward to in 2021 we’ve chosen 21 amazing experiences happening across the year in Durham to get excited about. 

left to right - couple walking in botanic garden, Durham Cathedral during Lumiere light Festival and couple walking in Durham Dales

Springtime parks and gardens 

Spring is a wonderful time of year to visit Durham, and as the weather starts top warm up and the days get longer, the county’s beautiful parks and gardens burst into new life. 

From beautiful flower gardens to grand country parks, there's plenty of natural spaces to explore and enjoy the first sights of spring. 

Lumiere Durham returns

Lumiere Durham - the UK’s largest and most successful light festival will return to Durham in 2021. Illuminating artwork by local, national and international artists is set to light up historic Durham City once again from 18 to 21 November 2021.  

Walk this way on the Northern Saints Trails 

Durham has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries, and in 2021 there’s even more reason to make your own pilgrimage with the new Northern Saints Trails

These six new walking routes tell the fascinating story of the Northern Saints - a remarkable group of men and women who lived during Northumbria’s golden age of the seventh and eighth centuries. And also lead pilgrims through some of North East England's most spectacular landscapes along the way.  

Left to right - starry night at high force waterfall, man serving sausages at food festival and bedroom at Seaham Hall hotel

Dazzling dark skies

On a cloudless starry night you’re guaranteed a dazzling display that’s ‘out of this world’ by Durham's dark skies. The Durham Dales and North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and UNESCO Global Geopark is the darkest mainland AONB in the country, and home to 16 Dark Sky Discovery Sites – more than any other part of the UK. The Durham Dales is also home to the UK’s newest observatory at Grassholme Reservoir. 

Time your visit right and you could witness amazing spectacle’s such as the Eta Aquarids meteor shower and supermoon in May, the Perseid meteor shower in August and the Geminid meteor shower in December, to name but a few.  

Delicious food festivals 

The region’s biggest food festival – Bishop Auckland Food Festival and Durham Coast’s seaside Seaham Food Festival will return, bringing with them a host of culinary delights – from top chefs and tasty demonstrations to fabulous traders and local producers. Dates are still waiting to be confirmed, but whether the festivals go ahead online or in person, there’ll be plenty to get your taste buds tingling. 

Overnight stays 

Fingers crossed this year you'll be able to escape the same four walls and enjoy a relaxing night away (you've earned it!). From quaint holiday cottages to cosy countryside inns, award-winning spa hotels and quirky campsites, across the county you'll find an amazing range of accommodation waiting to offer you a warm welcome back to Durham. 

Keep your eyes peeled for the 'Good to Go' mark - many Durham businesses have been awarded by VisitEngland, which shows they have clear processes in place to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable visit. 

left to right - man playing saxophone at Brass festival, people inside Open Treasure exhibition and couple at rockliffe hall hotel spa

Live music

Miss going to gigs? We know we are! Live music returns to Durham with a bang this year with an incredible line-up of acts heading to the county including Scouting for Girls and Aled Jones at Durham Cathedral, Michael Bublé at the Emirates Riverside, and unmissable intimate gigs at the Old Cinema Launderette.

Durham Brass Festival will get the summer in full swing with brilliant bands and musicians from across the globe coming together to celebrate all things brass (dates to be confirmed).  

Special exhibitions 

The county's award-winning museums and galleries will once again be able to welcome visitors, with incredible collections and exhibitions to explore including The Bowes Museum, Palace Green Library, Beamish, The Living Museum of the NorthLocomotion and Open Treasure at Durham Cathedral.  

Soothing spa breaks

We all deserve to relax and recharge after 2020, and there’s no better way to do just that than by including in some much needed ‘me-time’ at the county’s award-winning spas. Treat yourself to much-needed pampering spa day or go all out and escape with a loved one on a luxury spa break. 

left to right - friends eating at Tango restaurant, family bike ride and crowds watching cricket at Riverside stadium.

Eating out

We can't wait to catch up with friends and family over a good meal. And in Durham you'll be spoilt for choice with what's on the menu! From #tastedurham award-winning eateries and restaurants, to cosy countryside pubs and inns to having a good old chin wag over a delicious afternoon tea or warming drinks in a independent coffee shop or tearoom.  

Getting back to nature 

You may think you discovered all that Durham’s great outdoors have to offer during your 2020 lockdown exercise, but we guarantee there’s still plenty of hidden gems to discover.

Across the county you’ll find hundreds of lesser-known walks, rides and beauty spots waiting to be explored this year. 

International cricket returns to Durham

England take on Sri Lanka at Emirates Riverside 29 June in the first ODI of the Royal London Series. The game will be the first opportunity to watch the world champions on home soil since the ICC Cricket World Cup. 

left to right - woman standing inside Auckland Castle, Red Squirrel and Kynren finale fireworks

Auckland Castle re-opens 

Sadly, due to the pandemic Auckland Castle remained closed for the majority of last year, however the doors of the magnificent castle and other Auckland Project attractions are due to re-open in June. 

Follow in the footsteps of some of the most powerful men in history – The Prince Bishops of Durham as you explore the 900-year-old palace and deer park, as well as the Bishop Trevor Gallery and Mining Art Gallery

Wildlife watching 

No matter what time of year you choose to visit Durham, you'll find lots of furry and feathered friends to spot, alongside rare plants and flowers. From the famous Red Grouse, Red Squirrels and riverside Otters, to the rare Spring Gentian flower and Northern Brown Argus butterfly.   

Check out our interactive nature calendar to find out more. 

Kynren – an Epic Tale of England 

The UK’s most spectacular open-air live show - Kynren, voted one of the top 5 performances to see in the UK by Tripadvisor returns to Bishop Auckland. This live-action extravaganza will take you on a whistle stop tour of 2,000 years of history, myth and legend, every Saturday from 7 August to 11 September. 

For the 2021 season visitors can also experience the new 11 Arches Park, filled with immersive attractions and experiences including a new Maze of Fame, Viking Village, animal croft, adventure playground and gigantic fountain. 

left to right - tour guide talking to group outside Durham Cathedral, Dalton Park shopping centre entrance and man and boy reading at Durham Book Festival

Fascinating guided tours 

Have you been sat at home dreaming about Durham? Well this year you can actually visit all the amazing places you have been dreaming of and learn fascinating facts as you explore them with a tour guide. 

From uncovering the secrets of Durham Castle and Durham Cathedral, to self-guided tours of Durham Town Hall and insightful tours of locations across the county with dedicated local tour guides.

Shopping til you drop

Whether online shopping is your thing or you love indulging in some retail therapy, Durham has it all. 

There’s lots of ways to #lovelocal and #shoplocal, from visiting your favourite Durham business on-line to visiting the county’s many markets, independent retailers and shopping centres in person. Don’t miss Dalton Park – the region’s biggest outlet shopping centre or Durham City’s historic market hall, filled with incredible local producers and talented traders. 

Durham Book Festival

Founded in 1990, the annual celebration of all things book returns to take over the county in October. The North East’s biggest book festival is a booklovers dream with a host of household names, book-based discussions and interactive events to enjoy (dates to be confirmed)

left to right - family eating at Seaham Marina, durham dales landscape and Father Christmas with children at Beamish Museum

Summer seaside fun on the Durham Heritage Coast 

Summers were made for the seaside, and along the Durham Coast you'll find lots of seaside fun to enjoy. 

From hunting for Seaham's world-famous sea glass and heading to the county's one and only Harbour Marina. To taking in the view along the cliff top walks of the heritage coast footpath, admiring the rare Little Turn and other incredible wildlife or paying a visit to the new coastal hub at Crimdon (due to open summer 2021).    

Wide open space

Searching to get away from it all and lose yourself in wide open spaces? Well the Durham Dales has plenty of space to explore, dotted with wild activities and incredible natural attractions including the mighty High Force Waterfall, Hamsterley Forest and Derwent Waterside Park. Perfect places for socially distanced days out. 

Celebrating Christmas 

Lots of us missed out on our annual Christmas traditions in 2020. But in 2021 we've looking forward to celebrating Christmas in style. 

The panto at Gala Durham will get you into the festive spirit Oh no it won’t, Oh yes it will! Durham City will be transformed into a winter wonderland with the annual Christmas Festival and there’ll be many festive markets taking place across the county, as well as lots of opportunities to meet Santa in person. 

Plan ahead by booking now to enjoy later this year. Visit our staycation in Durham page to find out why Durham is definitely worth the wait. 

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