By Sol – Blog Squad member

different pottery on display in Durham University's Oriental Museum

Durham University's Oriental Museum

My first piece of advice for a visit to these two hidden gems, is to wear comfortable shoes! I walked up to them and, this is Durham, the trip involved climbing a hill. However, it’s well worth it, especially since visitors can pay once and visit as many times as you wish all year with a season ticket. Plus entry to both attractions is free for all Durham University students and staff. 

My friend and I started our day in the Oriental Museum. I must admit that in my three years here, I hadn’t done a full visit of the museum yet, though I’d gone in before as I used to have lectures and seminars in Elvet Hill House next door.

The word 'Oriental' tends to conjure images of East Asia, but the museum’s contents range from North Africa to the Himalayas. Each floor is dedicated to a different culture or group of cultures and packed with artefacts from the prehistoric to the modern. The staff at the museum recommended that we started from the lowest floor and worked our way up, so we followed their advice and started with the China exhibit.

This was the biggest collection dedicated to a single country, and it shows you how impressive Chinese art was even hundreds and thousands of years ago. In our time here, neither my friend nor I had taken any modules that focused on China and its culture, so looking through this gallery was a great learning experience. For example, a panel contrasted how Chinese artefacts were valued by Western and Chinese collectors in the 18th and 19th centuries. Another favourite was the replica of what the famous terracotta warriors would have looked like when they were freshly painted.

Indian display inside Durham University's Oriental Museum

Up on the next level, we got to see the relics from India, the Himalayas, Korea and Japan. As we worked our way up, we realised that the aesthetics of each floor are also really well thought-out! For example, the sections on India use colours that are also often found in Indian drawings and textiles, and on the next floor, the Korean exhibit matched the distinctive blue-green colour of the pottery. It showed just how much care and detail has gone into putting the museum together. And many of the panels show a lot of awareness about the way that Western approaches to other cultures have been damaging even when valuable cultural exchanges took place. Though China is the only country to have a whole floor to itself, these other floors were also packed with historical artefacts and they also all included some modern art (such as my one of friend’s favourite pieces, the Selfie Queen in the Indian exhibit).

Ancient Egypt room inside Durham University's Oriental Museum

We were completely surprised to find two rooms devoted to Egypt on the top floor! Though small, there were still classics such as a mummy and a number of cat figurines. We ended up spending over two hours wandering the museum because every piece in it was so impressive that we didn’t want to miss anything. And it was really lovely to do it with a friend to break up some of the seriousness.

group of people walking past pond in the grounds of Durham University Botanic Garden

Durham University's Botanic Garden

After the museum, and starting to get hungry, we walked five minutes to get to the Botanic Garden. The best way to get into the gardens is through the road between Grey College and Collingwood College, as this is where the ticket office and snacks are sold. It wasn’t quite warm enough for the ice cream on offer, but I did buy a lovely muffin. There are picnic tables where you can sit and, being summer, bumblebees gently buzzing in the flowers. 

We walked through the entire garden, which you could certainly spend as much time exploring as you wanted. On a sunny day, it’s a lovely place to go with a picnic and a book – you can sit in the shade of one of the many trees, ranging from Californian redwoods to oaks. The greenhouse was unfortunately closed, but from the outside it looked lovely. 

View of different coloured flowers outside the greenhouse at Durham University's Botanic Garden

One of our favourite spots was walking through the bamboo woods and a set of huge leaves. I also really enjoyed the South African garden and the friendship garden. I think they’d be really lovely spots to sit in and just look at the gardens and listen to the birds for a while. As a student in Durham, I loved finding peaceful spots to escape to for a few hours on some weekends, and I wish I’d made more use of the Botanic Garden while I was here. 

I would completely visit the Oriental Museum and the Botanic Garden again, and encourage anyone who’s wondering if it’s worth the walk to go and have a look!

trees, grass and plants in the grounds of Durham University's Botanic Garden


Durham University Botanic Garden
Botanic Garden
Durham University Botanic Garden

Set in countryside and mature woodland. Plant collections from North America, Himalayas and China, glasshouse rainforest and desert plants. Six Colin Wilbourne sculptures in landscaped garden.

Durham University Oriental Museum
Entrance to Durham University Oriental Museum

Explore Ancient Egypt and Western Asia, the Himalayas, China, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia all in one museum.  The Oriental Museum is devoted to the art and archaeology of the great cultures of North Africa and Asia.



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