Castles, cathedrals and coastline – Durham has it all.

The elegant cathedral city can be traced all the way back to the 12th century and is just brimming with fascinating legends and history.

The lively local community is bolstered by some 20,000 students at Durham University and the centre is full of vibrant independent bars, restaurants, cafés and shops.

With the dramatic sandflats of Seaham Beach to the east and the rolling countryside of the North Pennines to the west, Durham is perfectly placed for exploring the north-east.

Seaham Beach
Take a quiet stroll on the sands at Seaham Beach

Where to stay in Durham

Durham Grange CAMC Campsite is a family caravan park, just three miles from Durham’s centre, and offers spacious pitches near woodland walks.

If you’re looking for an adults-only site instead, Finchale Abbey Touring Park is around four miles outside Durham, and is home to the ruins of Finchale Abbey.

Another option is Strawberry Hill Farm, pretty site, 15 minutes’ drive from the city, has a tea room, a children’s play area and a shop.

Getting around in Durham

Durham has three Park & Ride options, all within a short bus journey of the town centre.

Choose from Belmont and Sniperley to the north and Howlands to the south.

There are also several multistoreys in the town centre, including Prince Bishops car park, which is a few minutes’ walk from the cathedral.

What to do in Durham on Day 1

9am – Cathedral city

Steeped in history, Durham is studded with interesting heritage sites. A great way to start your trip is with a visit to Durham Cathedral, in the heart of the River Wear’s loop.

Dating back to 1093 and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the cathedral is home to unique architecture and artifacts.

Durham Cathedral
Durham’s magnificent medieval cathedral houses the Shrine of St Cuthbert

Harry Potter fans will recognise The Cloister from the first two films, and visitors can enjoy a bird’s eye view of the city from the cathedral tower.

11am – Going to market

In the nearby town centre is Durham Market Place, where you can get a taste of local life in the Market Hall. Grab coffee and cake at one of the tempting stalls and stop to admire the attractive town square.

Market Place
Wander among the shops and stalls of the bustling Market Place

1pm – Lunch break

Tucked away off Saddler Street, Cafédral is a firm favourite among locals and tourists. This charming café serves a simple menu of paninis, soups and salads, as well as coffee, homemade cake and scones.

3pm – Norman castle

A short walk away on cobbled streets is Durham Castle. This spectacular Norman structure, built for William the Conqueror, dates back to 1072.

Durham Castle
The Norman castle, former home of the bishops of Durham, now houses university staff and students

The castle is home to many lucky Durham University staff and students. Guided tours (£5 for adults, free for under-16s) reveal the fascinating history of the beautifully preserved castle.

5.30pm – Over the bridge

Stroll across the 15th-century Framwellgate Bridge to the Curious Mr Fox, where you can enjoy an early dinner. This cosy restaurant offers modern European food, alongside an excellent choice of cocktails.

7.30pm – Curtain up!

Head back into the old town to the Assembly Rooms Theatre, an intimate performing arts centre. This 17th-century former ballroom hosts touring productions, and often has performances in the evenings.

What to do on Day 2

10am – Serene gardens

Time for a breath of fresh air in beautiful Crook Hall Gardens. This house has been a part of Durham’s story since the 1300s. Now, visitors can view parts of the mediaeval hall and wander the network of gardens, each with its own distinctive style.

Changing with the seasons, there is plenty to see, including the serene moat pool, walled gardens and a maze. Open for winter weekends, adult tickets cost £8, children, £4.

12pm – Pause for a pint

A 10-minute walk downriver is The Head of Steam, a vibrant pub specialising in local craft beer and ale. The menu here is as diverse as the pub itself, with fantastic vegan options and plenty of choice.

2pm – Afternoon stroll

If you found yourself unable to resist The Head of Steam’s extensive beer offering, you could always walk it off along the city’s riverside footpath.

Link up with the trail at Framwellgate Bridge, a few minutes away, then wander along by the river, taking in views of the cathedral and the weir. Cross Prebends Bridge and follow the path around to the right, and you’ll soon stumble across The Count’s House, a small Grecian-style folly built in the 1820s.

4pm – Historic museums

Continue along the path up to Kingsgate Bridge and you’ll be in a great place to visit Durham Museum and Heritage Centre and Durham University Museum of Archaeology.

Between them, these two small museums chart the city’s history from prehistoric times to the 20th century, with fascinating exhibits and artifacts.

6pm – Buon appetito!

Now that you’ve worked up an appetite enjoy an indulgent dinner at La Spaghettata.  This Italian restaurant is full of charm, offering a menu of pasta, pizza and specials.

Afterwards why not head to Durham’s smallest bar, Tin of Sardines, for one of its specialist gins.

Head to our Best of British: Weekends Away section for more great touring ideas.

Lead image: Getty

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