Home to ancient castles, wild windswept moorland and incredible natural wonders, the Durham Dales is the perfect place to lose yourself on a short break.

Below are some of the best ways you can spend two days exploring the beautiful Durham Dales.

the rolling hills and Durham Dales countryside with a gate in the foreground.

Day One

The Durham Dales, part of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and UNESCO Global Geopark, is a must-visit destination for nature lovers. No matter what time of year you choose to visit, every season brings something new to see and do.
Across the dales you’ll find a colourful patch work of heather moors, winding rivers, and dramatic views, filled with wonderful walks, rides and activities to enjoy. 

If you want to experience the wilder side of life, the Durham Dales is the place for you. Throughout the year you’ll find plenty of wildlife watching opportunities, from catching a glimpse of the rare red squirrel, to springtime boxing hares and the annual autumn rutting season. Check out our interactive Nature and Wildlife Calendar for more wildlife watching opportunities. 

As well as an abundance of wildlife, you’ll also find an amazing range of wild activities to get the adrenalin pumping. Spend the morning rock climbing, take in the view as you kayak along the River Tees, or learn bushcraft skills. You’ll find lots of adventure activities the whole family can enjoy. 

High Force Waterfall during sunset

No visit to the Durham dales is complete without seeing the spectacular sight of High Force Waterfall – one of England’s largest waterfalls. You’ll hear the roar of the mighty waterfall long before you see it, as the River Tees plunges 21 metres into the gorge below. Many visitors to the dales take on the High Force and Bowlees Geo Trail – a fantastic five-mile circular walk which takes in High Force, Low Force and Summerhill Force Waterfalls, and Bowlees Visitor Centre

family - man, woman and two children stood looking at Summerhill force waterfall

After a morning exploring the great outdoors, why not head to the bustling market town of Barnard Castle? Spend the afternoon exploring the town's famous antique shops, market and independent boutiques, or grab a bite to eat. Set on a high rock, overlooking the town is the ancient ruins of Barnard Castle, where you can enjoy stunning views of the town and surrounding countryside.

Exterior view of The Bowes Museum and surrounding landscapes gardens

Barnard Castle is also home to The Bowes Museum - the North's Museum of Art, Fashion and Design. Throughout the year you'll find an ever changing programme of amazing exhibitions to explore and outstanding collections of fine and decorative art, which are just as impressive as the Grade I French-style chateau which houses them. 

The milky way visible at night time over Rookhope Arch in the Durham Dales

As night falls across the dales, Durham's dark skies come alive, especially during the winter months which is peak stargazing season. Across the dales you'll find official Dark Sky Discovery Sites where you can feast your eyes on thousands of stars, distant planets, and galaxies, including the Milky Way. Grassholme Observatory offers you the opportunity to gaze into the vastness and beauty of the universe with expert astronomers using high tech instruments and computers. Or join Star Safaris and explore Durham’s landscapes under the cover of darkness on ‘out of this world’ stargazing and astrophotography evenings.

bedroom at headlam hall hotel, dog sat on bench at High Force Hotel and exterior of Rose and Crown  Romaldkirk

Where to stay? 

Surrounded by beautiful walled gardens and rolling countryside, Headlam Hall makes for the idyllic rural retreat. This 17th century country house hotel has 38 rooms to choose from, plus an award-winning spa and 9 hole golf course. 

Surrounded by miles of stunning countryside walking trails and just a stone's throw from the magnificent High Force Waterfall, High Force Hotel is perfectly placed for exploring the Durham Dales. 

The Rose and Crown at Romaldkirk is an historic 18th century coaching inn, and is a great base for those visiting with their furry friends in tow. Take your pick from elegant dog-friendly rooms and treat yourself to award-winning food and drink, made from delicious locally sourced produce. 

You’ll find an amazing range of accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets across the dales, from friendly B&B's, to hot tub hideaways and cosy cottages. View more Durham Dales accommodation >

family riding past Raby Castle in the surrounding deer park

Day Two

Raby Castle is one of England’s finest medieval castles and is surrounded by 200 acres of lush green parkland, where herds of red and fallow deer live wild. The castle, parkland and walled gardens are a great place to spend the morning or a full day exploring. See what wildlife you can spot as you wander around the parkland, step back in time in the 18th century ornamental walled gardens, or take a tour inside the castle and explore the many impressive rooms filled with an impressive art, textiles and furniture dating from the 17th Century.

You’ll also find a Woodland Adventure Playground for the kids to let off some steam, bike hire, Stables Café and Gift Shop.  

man and woman walking dog at Hamsterley Forest

For an outdoor adventure like no other, Hamsterley Forest is the place to be. Whether it’s exhilarating mountain bike downhill courses, quiet cycle rides or peaceful woodland walks, Hamsterley Forest has something for all visitors to enjoy. The county’s biggest forest with 2000-hectares to explore, Hamsterley is Durham’s biggest forest and is filled with well-marked walking and cycling trails, and adventure play. You never know, you may even spot the elusive Gruffalo!

sunrise over Derwent Reservoir in the Durham Dales

At Derwent Reservoir and Waterside Park you’ll find lots of fun outdoor activities to enjoy. Take a bike ride or relaxing walk around the reservoir, learn to fish, see what migrating birds you can spot, or sit back, relax and enjoy the view with a picnic. Derwent Sailing Club offers a range of water sports to trey out to try out, including sailing and windsurfing. And Derwent Reservoir is also an official Dark Sky Discovery Site, meaning you can return after dark to enjoy Durham’s dazzling dark skies.

For more information visit our dedicated Durham Dales page. 

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