Have you already been to see Father Christmas? Or perhaps your little ones are scared of Christmas grottos? Because let’s be honest, some little ones just aren’t that happy to meet Father Christmas. There’s still plenty of festive fun to be had in Durham, even if you don’t meet the main man himself. 

We’ve chosen six magical activities and events you can enjoy with friends and family this festive season across the county, that don’t involve Santa.  

Advent Carol service at Durham Cathedral

Carol Services at Durham Cathedral 

Experience the joy of the festive season at Durham Cathedral with Advent and Christmas services. Throughout December there are many wonderful concerts and services the whole family can attend. See the lights on the 25ft tall Norwegian Spruce tree turned on at the Lighting of the Tree and Blessing of the Crib, soak up the atmosphere as Durham Cathedral Choir perform at Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, or celebrate the birth of Christ as Christmas Eve becomes Christmas Day at the traditional Christmas Eve Midnight Eucharist

You can view the full listings of Christmas services and events on the Cathedral's website. 

view of Bowes Museum with market stalls and fair ground ride outside for Christmas market

Christmas Markets 

Throughout December you’ll find plenty of opportunities to #shoplocal with magical Christmas markets and fayres popping up across the county. Durham City will be transformed into a winter wonderland for the Durham Christmas Festival (3-5 December), browse stalls overflowing with delicious local produce and amazing handmade gifts at The Bowes Museum Christmas Market (17 – 19 December), or head to Raby Castle’s Coach Yard, which will be overflowing with festive goodies at their seasonal market (4 – 5 December). 

group of actors on stage for Gala Durham panto Robin Hood

Christmas Shows and Pantomimes

Christmas shows and pantomimes have made a welcome return to theatres across the county this year, to spread cheer and laughter this festive season. For many the annual trip to the panto has become a family Christmas tradition, and in Durham you’ll be spoilt for choice of which show to see. Oh no we won’t… Oh yes you will!

Join Robin Hood and his merry men at Gala Durham, search for hidden treasure at Consett’s Empire Theatre, see Cinderella and her Fairy Godmother at The Riverside, or go on a Christmas adventure with the three mice at The Nutcrack Re-miced.

Gibside Neon tree by Culture Creative mychristmastrails 2020 photo by Richard Haughton Sony Music.GS

Enchanting Outdoor Trails

Wrap up warm, pull on those winter boots and head out to explore Durham’s beautiful landscapes and attractions after dark at wonderful sparkling light trails and winter illuminations. 

The grounds of Ushaw Historic House, Chapels and Gardens will be filled with colour and joy at Illuminating Ushaw. Walk through sparkling tunnels of light, and see trees lit up with vibrant colours at Beamish Hall's Forest of Light. Follow the illuminated trail lit by lanterns, flickering flames and majestic sculptures through Gibside’s 18th century gardens. Or explore the magically lit Walled Garden and collect the Christmas clues at Raby Castle’s Enchanted Festive Forest Trail.  

festive afternoon tea at The South Causey Inn

Festive Afternoon Tea

Tis the season to treat yourself, and in Durham you’ll find there’s plenty of the menu, as indulgent Afternoon Teas take on a festive twist. Catch up with friends as you dig into a luxurious afternoon tea at Radisson Blu Hotel or in the grand surroundings of Wynyard Hall or Ramside Hall. Or head to South Causey Inn, and combine Christmas cocktails with festive pastries, Christmas cake and turkey sandwiches.

View of early morning frost and sunrise at the Beamish Museum 1900s town during Christmas season

Magical Attractions

Durham’s many award-winning attractions are transformed over the festive season, as decorations take over, alongside special events and activities - perfect for fun family days out.

Experience Christmas of the past at Beamish, The Living Museum of the North, follow the Elf Trail and see if you can spot the naughty elves hiding around the museum, try traditional delicious yuletide treats, and see how Christmas was celebrated throughout history (pre-booking essential). Visit The Bowes Museum after dark at their popular Christmas late evenings, try out Christmas crafts, and follow the 12 days of Christmas trail around the museum’s collections. Throughout the Christmas holidays Locomotion will have a series of festive activities to try out, alongside festive science shows and Treasure Hunt Trail.    

View a full list of festive events happening in Durham on our dedicated 2021 Christmas events page >

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