With our guide on how to spend 48 hours in the historic Vale of Durham, we'll help you plan a whistle-stop tour of this incredible part of the county. 

Immerse yourself in history and enjoy the tranquillity of the great outdoors as you explore the historic Vale of Durham on a short break or weekend getaway. 

exterior view of Bishop Auckland Town Hall

Day One

Bishop Auckland is a great place to begin experiencing all the Vale of Durham has to offer. You can easily spend a morning, afternoon or full day exploring this historic market town.  Start your day at the newly refurbished Bishop Auckland Town Hall. Sip delicious coffee in the Town Hall Café as you admire Norman Cornish’s famous Miners’ Gala mural, get a close-up view of fascinating collections and art inside the gallery, or grab a ticket for live drama, music and comedy performances. 

Another unmissable event is the Bishop Auckland Food Festival. The annual event attracts foodie fans from across the region for two days of food-filled fun, including live cookery demos from celebrity chefs, tasty street food and local producers, live entertainment and more! 

exterior view of Auckland Castle

Bishop Auckland is also home to The Auckland Project, a collection of galleries, gardens, parkland and events, all based around Auckland Castle. Here visitors can follow in the footsteps of some of the most powerful men in British history – the Prince Bishops of Durham. Auckland Castle is one of Europe’s best-preserved Prince Bishops' Palaces, and inside you can journey through time as you explore uniquely themed rooms, inspired by each of the Prince Bishops. The castle is also home to Francisco de Zurbarán’s famous series of paintings Jacob and his Twelve Sons and The Bishop Trevor Gallery

Surrounding the castle is the ancient deer park, which is open all year round, with many family-friendly walking trails to explore. And just outside the castle grounds is the Mining Art Gallery, which contains the works of many prominent mining artists, and the soon to be opened Spanish Art Gallery. 

Exterior view of roman ruins at Binchester Roman Fort

From the grounds of Auckland Castle Deer Park you can follow part of the Way of Life – one of the six Northern Saints Trails to Binchester Roman Fort. Here you can discover what life was like for the Romans who lived in Durham thousands of years ago. Known to the Romans as Vinovia, the fort was founded around 80AD and was once one of the largest Roman military installations in Northern Britain.

family walking past an historic engine at Locomotion railway museum

A short drive from Bishop Auckland you’ll find Locomotion, in Shildon – the world’s first railway town. Here you can get an up-close view of engines and vehicles from the national collection and discover the fascinating story of early days of the rail industry. It’s a must visit for anyone who’s a little loco about trains.

exterior shot of Lumley Castle Hotel, bedroom inside South Causey Inn and two women inside Ramside Hall Spa

Where to stay?

Situated pretty much in the centre of the county, the 600 year old Lumley Castle Hotel stands proudly overlooking the River Wear and surrounding countryside. The castle has over 70 unique bedrooms to choose from and is famous for its entertaining medieval banquet evenings. 

Known locally for its delicious homecooked food and indulgent afternoon teas, South Causey Inn is the perfect place for a relaxing (and truly unique) escape. Take your pick from fabulously themed hot tub suites, enjoy a late-night tipple at the hot spot bar, made from an old fire engine, take a tour of their on-site brewery and distillery, and indulge in some proper tasty food and drink.   

If you prefer to be amongst the trees, opt for a night at Ramside Hall Hotel’s luxury Treehouses, located on the outskirts of Durham City. Each luxury Treehouse is individually decorated and are located in the hotel’s peaceful woodland, complete with private hot tub and sauna – perfect for relaxing after a day exploring. The hotel is also home to an award-winning spa, incredible on-site restaurants and championship golf course. 

View more accommodation in the Vale of Durham on our dedicated page >

view of hardwick country park with autumn colours in the trees

Day Two 

Why not start your day with a refreshing stroll at one of the county's beautiful Country parks? The Vale of Durham is home to two of the county’s most popular parks – Hardwick Country Park and Chester-le-Street Riverside Park. Enjoy an early morning walk through the dew-covered fields and woodland trails at the18th century Grade II listed Hardwick Park, take in the view across the park’s lake, see how many of the park’s gothic ruins you can discover.

At Chester-le-Street Riverside Park you can wander along the banks of the River Wear and see what resident wildlife you can spot, explore grassland meadows, or take a seat and relax in the park’s gardens, each of which reflects a different star or planet. Both parks also have plenty to keep the kids entertained, from play areas and woodland trails, to an exciting programme of family-friendly events happening throughout the year. 

family looking in the sweet shop window at Beamish, The Living Museum of the North

No visit to the county is complete without stepping back in time at Beamish, The Living Museum of the North. The award-winning open air museum tells the story of life in North East England during the 1820s, 1900s, 1940s and 1950s. Here you can truly experience what everyday life was like for people of the past as you explore the vast 300 acre site. Go underground at the 1900s Colliery, take a steam train ride through the glorious Georgian landscape at 1820s Pockerley, look out for the land girls at the 1940s farm, take a tram ride to the 1900s town or see what community life was like in the 1950s welfare hall. No matter what time of year you visit, there’s always something the whole family can enjoy at Beamish Museum.

the colourful grounds of Ushaw Historic House, Gardens and Chapels

Only a ten minute drive from Durham City you’ll find Ushaw, Historic House, Chapels and Gardens. Founded over 200 years ago as a Catholic Seminary, visitors can now enjoy a day exploring the majestic 500-acre estate. Soak up the atmosphere as you step inside the amazing nineteenth-century chapels and admire the stunning Georgian and Victorian Gothic architecture, follow the trails through beautifully landscapes gardens and parkland, view incredible art exhibitions, and enjoy a spot of lunch in the rather grand tearoom.

crowd of people watching cricket at Durham Cricket Club

Time your visit right and you can enjoy amazing events at the Emirates Riverside. Throughout the year you'll find an incredible line up of world-class sporting events alongside live music happening at the riverside stadium, Chester-le-Street. See Durham Cricket team in action or dance the night away at an incredible open air concert.   

For more information visit our dedicated Vale of Durham page. 

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