When it comes to Durham, no one knows the county better than the people who live here. That's why we asked Durham's residents to share with us what they love about our amazing county, to uncover Durham's many hidden gems. 

If you're planning a getaway to Durham? Check out the list below of the top 50 things you must see, do and experience when exploring Durham - according to the locals.

Auckland Castle in Bishop Auckland, County Durham

Auckland Castle

Uncover the fascinating story of the Prince Bishops of Durham, once the most powerful men in Britain as you explore one of the best-preserved medieval Prince Bishop Palaces in Europe. No visit to the castle is complete without getting a close-up view of the magnificent paintings of Jacob and his Twelve Sons by Francisco de Zurbarán, and following the many family-friendly trails through the castle’s surrounding deer park. Please note the castle is now closed for the winter and will reopen March 2022. 

Barnard Castle

If you’re exploring the Durham Dales be sure to make a pit stop at the bustling market town of Barnard Castle. Locals love the monthly farmers market, cosy coffee shops, dog-friendly eateries, and the town’s many independent boutiques and famous antique shops.  

Beamish, the Living Museum of the North

Journey through time and experience the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the past at the multi award-winning world-famous open-air museum. Hop on a tram and meet costumed folk from the past as you find out what life was like in the North East in the 1800s, early 1900s, 1940s and 1950s.

Durham Book Festival

Founded in 1990, the annual celebration of all things book related takes over the county every October. The North East’s biggest book festival is a booklover’s dream, with a host of well-known and up and coming author events and book-based discussions and activities to enjoy.

Durham Brass Festival

Get in the swing of things during the summer and celebrate all things brass at this popular county-wide festival, with brilliant bands and musicians from across the globe descending on Durham.

couple walking past durham cathedral

Durham Cathedral

Step inside the magnificent Durham Cathedral, the county’s most iconic landmark to discover an amazing world of incredible heritage. Explore the cathedral’s grand architecture, where kids will love re-enacting their favourite scenes from Harry Potter and Avengers: Endgame, enjoy a bite to eat in the Undercroft Restaurant, or uncover the treasures of St Cuthbert on a guided tour of the Cathedral Museum.

Durham City Christmas Festival

On the first weekend of December, Durham City is transformed into a winter wonderland as the Christmas Festival takes over the city with over 400 indoor and outdoor stalls, local producers’ market inside the stunning Durham Cathedral Cloisters, street entertainment, children’s lantern parade, live music and lots more! 

Durham Miners Gala

The annual Miners Gala gathering has been held on the second Saturday of July in Durham City since 1871. Known as the world's greatest celebration of community, international solidarity, and working-class culture. Visitors and locals alike descend on Durham City for the ‘big meeting’ to behold the amazing sight of banner groups and brass bands marching along the medieval streets, browse stalls, enjoy the fun fair, soak up the carnival atmosphere, and listen to the platform speeches.

Durham Mining Museum

Spennymoor Town Hall is home to the Durham Mining Museum, a dedicated memorial to the works and lives lost during the mining period across the county. Visitors can view mining artefacts and models of mining machinery, as well as experience working conditions of miners in a simulated underground coalface and tunnel. The Town Hall also hosts a large permanent collection of Spennymoor’s most famous artist’s work; Norman Cornish. 

Durham Town Hall

Nestled in the corner of the bustling Durham City market place you’ll discover one of the city’s top historic hidden gems, and one of the city’s oldest buildings - Durham Town Hall. Learn about the powerful Prince Bishops who ruled the county, and the fascinating history of this ancient little city.  

family walking through oriental museum

Durham University Oriental Museum

The North of England’s only museum devoted entirely to the art and archaeology of the great cultures of Northern Africa and Asia.

Durham Wildlife Trust Nature Reserves

Across the county you’ll find many beautiful places and wildlife havens but by far, the most popular of these is Low Barns and Rainton Meadows Nature Reserve. Locals love visiting for peaceful walks, family-friendly outdoor events, and of course for wildlife watching and bird spotting.  

El Pincho

Locals love to grab a bite to eat and a tipple or two at El Pincho, a Mediterranean Bar in the heart of Durham City. Enjoy traditional tapas, Greek appetizers and Moroccan specialities alongside tasty cocktails, craft ales and luxury liquors.  

Enjoy the View from the Top.

Take on the 325 steps leading to Durham Cathedral’s Central Tower and you’ll be rewarded with unparalleled views of the historic city below and surrounding countryside. We promise it’s worth the climb.  

Farmers Markets

One of the best ways to get a real taste of Durham is by treating yourself to some delicious local produce. And at the county’s many farmers markets, you’ll certainly be spoilt for choice. Barnard Castle’s farmers market takes place on the first Saturday of every month, and Durham City farmers market takes over the whole of the market place on the third Thursday of every month.   

Finchale Priory

Finchale Priory

On the banks of the River Wear, and only a short drive from Durham City, you’ll find the tranquil setting of Finchale Priory. Founded in 1196, this once grand priory was used as a holiday retreat for the monks of Durham Cathedral. Now the ruins and surrounding woodland are open for all to explore.  

Gala Durham, Durham City

No matter what time of year you visit, you’re certain to find an exciting line up of stand up comedy, dramatic performances, and many family-friendly events to choose from. 

Gavin Shelley Jewellery

Follow the cobbled streets of Saddler Street in Durham City to Gavin Shelley Jewellery, who creates beautiful bespoke jewellery for visitors and locals alike.  Take home beautifully hand-crafted jewellery, from rings to pendants, all stamped with Gavin’s Durham Cathedral mark.  

Gibside

Sitting on the border of Durham and Newcastle, The National Trust's Gibside makes for a great family day out. Explore over 600 acres of woodland trails, stunning Georgian landscaped gardens and countryside, offering fine views of the surrounding Derwent Valley. 

Guided Tour of Durham Castle

Uncover the fascinating history of Durham Castle on a guided tour, as you explore hidden places and incredible architecture, hear unbelievable stories, and see first-hand how this working castle operates today. 

little girl and boy having donkey ride at Hall Hill Farm

Hall Hill Farm

A firm favourite with local families, Hall Hill Farm is definitely worth a visit, especially with little ones. Meet and feed the friendly farm animals, enjoy donkey rides, and get hands on with plenty of farmyard-themed rides, events, and activities. 

Hamsterley Forest

For an outdoor adventure like no other, Hamsterley Forest is the place to be. It’s the county’s biggest forest with over 2000-hectares of wonderful woodland to explore, filled with well-marked walking and cycling trails, and adventure play areas. You never know, you may even spot the elusive Gruffalo!

High Force Waterfall

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. 

Killhope Lead Mining Museum

High up in the windswept moorlands of the Durham Dales you’ll find Killhope, where you can experience firsthand what life was like for Victorian lead miners and their families. Please note Killhope is now closed for the winter season and will re-open on 1 April 2022.  

Kynren and 11Arches Park

Travel through time and watch legends come to life before your very eyes, in a thrilling tale told on an epic scale - 2,000 years in the making. Kynren – An Epic Tale of England is a multi-award winning live caption evening outdoor show which takes place every summer in Bishop Auckland. Plus visitors can extend their day and explore the newly opened 11Arches Park, a 45 hectare filled with immersive attractions and exhilarating live action shows, including the Viking Village, animal croft, and amazing Fina and the Golden Cape stunt show.

family walking through exhibits at Locomotion museum

Locomotion

If you’re loco about trains, Locomotion is the place for you. Uncover the county’s fascinating heritage at Locomotion in Shildon – the world’s first railway town, and get up close to legendary locomotives and incredible heritage vehicles from the national collection. 

Long Walks by the River Wear

As the River Wear winds its way across the county, you’ll find many miles of riverside walks to enjoy. Some of the popular Wearside walks locals love include the Durham City Peninsular Trail, Wolsingham Circular in the Durham Dales, and Chester-le-Street Riverside Park.  

Low Force Waterfall

A short walk from Bowlees Visitor Centre you’ll find Low Force Waterfall. It's not hard to see why this beautiful waterfall was chosen as the backdrop for blockbuster movie 1917 and Netflix's The Witcher. Home to important flora, rare birds and wonderful wildlife, it’s a great place for a picnic and wildlife watching.

Lumiere Durham

The UK’s leading light festival returns bi-annually to transform historic Durham City into a wonderful night-time art trail. Across four magical nights you can see Durham’s famous landmarks in a totally different light, as artworks designed by national and international light artists transform the city’s streets and buildings into dazzling illumined displays. 

Marco Pierre White’s Steakhouse Bar & Grill

Treat yourself and a loved one to a date night with a difference at Marco Pierre White’s Steakhouse Bar & Grill, inside the beautiful Hotel Indigo. Enjoy a signature steak or a timeless French classic, from the menu exclusively curated by Marco himself. 

view of the cinema inside Odeon Luxe Durham

Odeon Luxe, Durham City

Relax and recline in luxury surroundings at Durham City’s Odeon Luxe cinema, where every seat, in every row, is the best seat in the house. Every single seat within the state-of-the-art cinema has been handmade, giving film lovers a truly immersive experience.   

Palace Green Library

Found in the heart of Durham City’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, this historic library is home to Durham University's special collections, Heritage Site Visitor Centre, and an ever-changing programme of fascinating exhibitions. 

Picnic on Palace Green

Sit back, relax, and enjoy the view of Durham City’s UNESCO World Heritage Site as you tuck into delicious food. 

Prince Bishops River Cruiser

See historic Durham City from a different perspective as you cruise along the River Wear on the grand Prince Bishop River Cruiser. Sit back, relax, and admire the city’s many spectacular views during this peaceful hour-long scenic cruise. 

Raby Castle, Park and Gardens

No matter what time of year you visit, there’s always something to see and do at Raby Castle, pick a spot to watch the resident Red and Fallow Deer and mighty Longhorn Cattle. Grab a bite to eat in the cosy Stables Café, take a guided tour around the spectacular rooms housed within the might castle’s walls, or admire the view from the 18th century walled garden. 

Riverview Café, Durham City

A great spot to sit back with a coffee and admire the view of the River Wear below.

couple rowing boat in River Wear in Durham City

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Have you even been to Durham City if you haven’t took to the water on the famous Brown’s Rowing Boats? Great fun for the whole family or romantic boat ride just for two.  

Say Hello to Tommy at Seaham

The magnificent 1101 sculpture, known locally as Tommy, can be found on guard duty in the harbour town of Seaham. Recently crowned the UK's best piece of outdoor artwork in a national public vote, Artist Ray Lonsdale designed the sculpture of a WWI soldier, named 1101, to reflect the first minute of peace.

Seaham Harbour Marina

A definite must-visit spot on the Durham Heritage Coast. Here you’ll find an amazing range of local shops and boutiques, alongside quaint seaside cafes, restaurants and a lively marina, where you can try out different water sports. 

Serenity Spa at Seaham Hall

A great place to relax and recharge, whether you’re enjoying an indulgent overnight stay at the award-winning seaside hotel or enjoying a well-deserved pampering spa day.  

Summerhill Force Waterfall

Hidden in Gibson’s Cave, just a short walk from Bowlees Visitor Centre you’ll under one of the county’s most beautiful but lesser known waterfalls.

girl in wheelchair in gallery at Bowes Museum

The Bowes Museum

The North's Museum Of Art, Fashion & Design, home to incredible collections of fine and decorative art, just as impressive as the building itself. 

The Cellar Door, Durham City

Home to fine food and friendly service, soak up stunning riverside views at The Cellar Door restaurant, set in a 13th century cellar conversion just off the bustling cobbled streets of Durham City. 

The Riverside Walk, Durham City

No visit to the city is complete without stepping down to the riverbanks and admiring the view of the historic peninsular, Durham Cathedral and Castle UNESCO World Heritage Site, as you wander along the riverside trail.  

The Rose Tree Inn

Family run pub and restaurant found in the picturesque Shincliffe village, overlooking the River Wear on the outskirts of Durham City. 

Ushaw, historic house, Chapels and Gardens

Ushaw, Historic House, Chapels and Gardens

You’ll find an incredible programme of exhibitions and events to enjoy throughout the year at Ushaw, as well as beautifully landscaped gardens to explore, woodland trails to follow, and many spectacular chapels and unique rooms to discover housed within the former 19th century Catholic Seminary. 

Vennels Café, Durham City

Taking its name from the ancient alleyways leading to the unique 16th century building, Vennels is truly a café unlike any other in the city. 

Walks on the Beach

From Seaham in the north, to Crimdon in the south, you’ll find many beautiful beaches dotted along the county’s 11 mile stretch of Durham Heritage Coast. Go sea glass hunting at Seaham Beach, play hide and seek in the impressive sea caves at Blackhall Beach, or enjoy a peaceful walk along the beautiful sandy beach at Crimdon Dene. Plus all the county’s beaches are dog-friendly too! 

Watch Durham Cricket in Action

The county caught cricket fever after hosting the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup in 2019, and throughout the year cricket fans can cheer on the county’s team as they battle it out during explosive matches at the Emirates Riverside, Chester-le-Street.

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