As Durham’s bid to become UK City of Culture 2025 continues, Blog Squad member Sol Noya experiences the incredible cultural experiences on offer at the heart of historic Durham City - Durham Cathedral and Castle UNESCO World Heritage Site.

On Palace Green, you can spend a whole day delving into the history of Durham City. And if you have the Durham History Hunt app, you can look at the sometimes-surprising history of the buildings around the city centre which you wouldn’t tour, while also learning more about the buildings that you can visit as tourist attractions.

Durham Castle and Cathedral

Durham’s skyline is dominated by the castle, home to Durham University’s oldest college, and its magnificent cathedral, beloved by many including Sir Walter Scott and Bill Bryson. Both are fairly cheap in terms of entry. In fact, entry to Durham Cathedral is completely free, though entry to the tower or taking a tour of its museum does require buying a ticket. Other than that, all they ask for is a donation towards the costs of maintaining the Cathedral. (Suggested donation cost is £5 per person).

At Durham Castle, you can currently take a self-guided tour. When you enter, you are handed a nifty map that details the one-way system in place. However, if guided tours are re-introduced, I highly recommend taking one! The guides always know loads of fun facts about the castle’s history and the many personalities who lived there. In the meantime, make sure to approach the guides and stewards posted in each part of the castle and ask them to tell you more about the room you’re in. Chances are you’ll learn something new, such as the reason for the design of the Black stairs near the dining hall, or about the history of mermaid carvings.

Durham Castle

Durham Castle

The castle is also just gorgeous as a building. From the subterranean Norman chapel with its many carvings to the huge windows in the Great Hall, you’re sure to be left awe-struck by the architecture of it. Looking out of its windows provides lovely views of the river and the Cathedral, especially when you get to the Tunstall Gallery and the top of the Black Stairs. You might even get to see what some of the college rooms in the Castle look like if you’re lucky!

Palace Green Library

Once I’d thoroughly explored the castle (I literally stayed until closing time), I headed to the Museum of Archaeology and the Durham Light Infantry exhibition in Palace Green Library, next to the castle. Small but mighty, these exhibitions showcase the depth of research into the history of county Durham and link them to the wider world. The Durham Light Infantry exhibition has objects from pretty much every war the DLI has fought in, including uniforms, weapons, and day-to-day things the soldiers owned and used. It’s a lovely tribute to the soldiers of the county.

The Museum of Archaeology

The Museum of Archaeology highlights a less discussed but vital era in Durham’s history: prehistoric times up to the Roman empire. It’s a good exhibition for all ages, as it has lots of objects that would catch the attention of little ones as well as a few activities designed for children. You can see the things left behind by Durham’s first residents and imagine how different their reality would have been. The exhibition also highlights how, during the rule of the Roman empire, the area developed a distinct Romano-British culture, and the ways in which this was different from other parts of Great Britain and the Roman empire. From pottery to jewellery to weapons, the exhibit has a bit of everything to give as complete a picture of people’s lives back in those days. The quality of the research shown is truly astounding.

Inside Palace Green Library you'll also find the World Heritage Site Visitor Centre

Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral

Of course, no tour of Palace Green would be complete without visiting Durham Cathedral. As with the Castle, I recommend taking a guided tour if possible and asking the volunteer stewards questions about the history of all the different nooks of the Cathedral! You’re likely to be surprised by the stories behind the beautiful stained-glass windows and the different parts of the building.

Currently, there’s the Light exhibit to see in the Galilee Chapel as well (until 12 September), and it’s a very ethereal experience. You can also brave the 325 steps up the Central Tower for one of the best views in Durham – on a clear day, you can see all the way to Sunderland. It’s breathtaking and going up it reminded me of just how much I’ve loved living in Durham.

view of Durham Cathedral, River Wear and Durham City from cathedral central tower.

I was also able to take a tour of the Cathedral Museum, which is currently the only way you can see the Chapter House and many of the Cathedral’s treasures. The guides are really knowledgeable, and they make sure to make the tour entertaining and approachable. Having graduated from St Cuthbert’s Society, I loved getting to see St Cuthbert’s famous cross as well as some of the other artefacts that came to Durham with him. You get to learn how the monks of the Cathedral used to live too – I know I was surprised by some of the details of their lives!

All that walking and learning is bound to make you hungry, so I enjoyed lunch at the Undercroft Restaurant. I’d heard quite good things about it, and they turned out to be true. The quiche and homemade salad were fresh and delicious, and they always have a selection of homemade cakes and hot drinks to enjoy if you’re just after a snack. You can take your food out to the tables by the Cloisters and look out over them. I don’t think you can ask for more in terms of a day exploring Durham City’s history!

durham 2025 logo

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Palace Green Library
Museum
Palace Green Library Durham

Palace Green Library, in the heart of Durham city, holds Durham University's special collections. Our galleries are open to all and display treasures spanning millennia and the globe.

Durham Cathedral
Cathedral / Minister
Durham Cathedral riverside walks

Thought by many to be the finest example of Norman church architecture in England, with the tombs of St Cuthbert and The Venerable Bede. Please check opening times before travelling.

Museum of Archaeology
Museum
Museum of Archaeology

Living on the Hills - 10,000 years of Durham. This permanent exhibition uses objects from Museum of Archaeology, alongside objects from across Durham University and other regional museums to explore the last 10,000 years of Durham.

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