Have you already booked your visit to see Father Christmas? Or perhaps your little ones are scared of Christmas grottos? 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 seven magical activities and events across the county you can enjoy this year that don’t involve Santa. 

The Flying Scotsman steam engine surrounded by white bright snow

All aboard the Flying Scotsman! 

Enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience with the most famous steam engine ever, Flying Scotsman at Locomotion this Christmas. Feel the wonder as you see the locomotive in light steam for a truly atmospheric experience. Take the rare chance to climb aboard into the cab, see the firebox alight and imagine being the driver!

This is a free event from 16 December to 7 January 2024, however tickets must be pre-booked in advance.

boy and girl admiring the view of Christmas trees and twinkling lights at The Plotter's Forest, Raby Castle

Enchanting Outdoor Trails

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

Embark on an enchanting journey through The Plotter’s Forest, where twinkling lights and festive music guide your path through a captivating winter wonderland. Walk through sparkling tunnels of light, and see trees lit up with vibrant colours at Beamish Hall's Forest of Light. Enjoy a wintery walk to High Force Waterfall through magical woodland and help Father Christmas recover his misplaced presents. And at Hamsterley Forest, follow the forest trail to collect clues and help crack the Zog Christmas code on the Christmas Zog Trail

Honourable mention – AGLOW at Auckland Castle – one of longest light trails in England, is a must-visit this festive season which includes an enchanting Santa’s village. 

group of women smiling at camera and holding up Christmas wreaths they have made.

Get creative this Christmas

You’ll find lots of ways to get creative this Christmas across the county. From a wreath making workshop at Lumley Castle, to decorating ceramic Christmas decorations at Durham University’s Oriental Museum and making your own lino-cut cards and hand-painted glass baubles at the Mining Art Gallery

two Christmas trees twinkling in the low light of St Cuthbert Chapel at Ushaw Historic House, Chapels and Gardens.

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree...

See Ushaw Historic House, Chapels and Gardens in a new light as the historic halls of Ushaw are transformed into a yuletide wonderland at the annual Christmas Tree Festival.  

Showcasing over 30 Christmas trees designed by local artists, staff, volunteers and more, you’ll see Christmas trees made from all different kinds of materials. Entry to the Christmas Tree Festival is free with an Ushaw Annual Pass or Day Pass, no pre-booking required.

group of men and women singing and dancing as part of the annual Durham City Pantomime

Panto Season Returns 

Christmas shows and pantomimes have returned to theatres across the county 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!

Step into the magical world of Cinderella at Gala Durham, marvel at the adventures of Aladdin at Bishop Auckland Town Hall, and you’ll be in for lots of  Fe-Fi-Fo-Fun at Jack and the Beanstalk at Consett Empire. 

The choir of Durham Cathedral singing by candle light at a traditional Christmas carol service

Traditional Christmas Celebrations

Experience the joy of the festive season at Durham Cathedral with Advent and Christmas services. Hear some of the best-loved carols sung by the Choirs of Durham Cathedral alongside the EverReady Band on Saturday 9 December. See the lights on the cathedral’s giant Christmas tree turned on at the Lighting of the Tree and Blessing of the Crib - Sunday 10 December, and soak up the atmosphere at the Festival of the Nine Lessons on Friday 22 December.

Market stalls covered in twinkling lights and people browsing the stalls in Durham Market place, part of the annual Durham Christmas Festival.

Wonderful Winter 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 (1 – 3 December), browse stalls overflowing with delicious local produce and amazing handmade gifts at The Bowes Museum Winter Market (15 – 17 December), or head to Raby Castle, where the castle’s grounds will be overflowing with festive goodies at their seasonal market (2 - 3 December). 

View a full list of festive events happening in Durham on our dedicated 2023 Christmas events page.

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