A visit to Durham in North East England offers so much! I recently spent a weekend in Durham because it has been shortlisted for the U.K City of Culture 2025 which is an extremely prestigious and exciting award.
The winning location will be decided and announced later in May 2022 and after visiting many of the top Durham attractions across the county, plus hearing about many events that have been put on in the area recently, I can certainly see why it has been shortlisted and it fully deserves the award!
From food festivals, historic monuments and museums and natural beauty, Durham really does offer visitors from near and far a lot to do whether it’s for a short break or a longer getaway.
In this post, I’ll share everything I got up to in Durham whilst visiting with Durham 2025 to help you if you are wondering what to do in Durham and to help you plan your day out in Durham or short stay in Durham.
Things To Do in Durham
Durham Travel Vlog
If you want to see my 2 days in Durham, check out my Durham travel vlog on YouTube here:
Durham Attractions Map
Here is a map to help you plan your trip to Durham, especially the things to do around Durham so you make sure you do activities in Durham in the same area on the same day so you’re not going back on yourself.
Things to do in Durham City
1. Durham Cathedral
The most well-known place to visit in Durham is Durham Cathedral!
Built-in 1093 it has been a place of pilgrimage for over 1000 years. It is open to the public to view inside for free and if you want to get a deeper understanding of the area and 2000 years of history you can book tickets to visit Durham Cathedral Museum.
The design of Durham Cathedral is stunning inside and out and Harry Potter fans will recognise parts of the Cathedral because it was a location for the filming of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone making it a Durham attraction for all!
2. Durham Castle
Opposite Durham Cathedral is Durham Castle, another one of the top places to visit in Durham City! Durham Castle and Durham Cathedral are both located in a lovely part of Durham City Centre with a green outside and lots of quiet cobbled streets surrounding them.
Tickets for a guided tour need to be purchased to enter and look around Durham Castle. On the tour, you will learn about 1000 years of history and how the castle has been in continuous use since the 11th Century, because today, the Castle is part of Durham University which is really cool!
Things to do around Durham
3. The Bowes Museum
The Bowes Museum was the first place I visited during my weekend in Durham. It was the perfect place to stop first en route from Manchester to Durham and I would also go as far as saying it was my favourite place in Durham!
Many of the top places to visit in Durham are stately homes and castles as you’ll see on this list of Durham attractions but if you only have time for one on your day out in Durham, make it The Bowes Museum!
The Bowes Museum is absolutely stunning from the outside, it’s a French-style Chateaux built in the 19th Century and is worth visiting to see the outside and the pretty gardens alone.
Inside is incredibly impressive too. It’s totally full of treasures and collections including paintings, textiles, furniture, ceramics and sculptures spanning five centuries and covering the world.
There really is something inside the museum for everyone and each room is so varied.
When you visit, as you show or buy your ticket at reception, be sure to pick up a visitor information guide to help you explore the museum. The other option is booking a 30-minute free gallery talk or the daily 1-hour tour to help learn more.
When looking for things to do in Durham for children and indoor activities in Durham, The Bowes Museum is a great choice!
4. Auckland Castle
I visited Auckland Castle in the small town of Bishop Auckland after visiting The Bowes Museum which was a great plan as it was en route to Durham city centre for me which is where I spent the night.
Auckland Castle is part of The Auckland Project and in Bishop Auckland, you can visit a few places that are part of The Auckland Project so give yourself a few hours to stop and explore.
Auckland Castle recently reopened after undergoing major conservation work and it is easily one of the top things to do in Durham and places to see in Durham as it offers a fascinating way to explore over 1000 years of history within one of the best-preserved bishops’ palaces in the whole of Europe!
This is another family-friendly place to visit in Durham and great indoor activity in Durham since most of the Castle is inside.
What I loved is how much the castle offers and this is what makes it one of the top places to go in Durham in my opinion.
As you walk in you visit the old chapel on the right which is still a working chapel, then you can watch a short video about the history of the castle before heading upstairs and visiting room after room. These rooms seem to never end I couldn’t believe the size of the castle which I didn’t expect as we approached it from the outside.
Each room has a different use and is decorated as it was in different eras. It’s pretty interactive as there are staff in some of the rooms who give an explanation and we found it was nice to be able to touch some items and have a seat in the office or bedroom etc whereas usually castles and renovated rooms like this have barriers and you can’t get close to items.
Towards the end of the castle route, there is a cafe and we were told by a staff member on the way out that the scones are amazing!
If you have time and the weather is on your side, part of Auckland Castle includes the gardens where deer can be seen and these gardens can be accessed for free.
5. Auckland Tower
Auckland Tower is a unique looking building close to the entrance of Auckland Castle which you can’t miss.
This is a Durham tourist attraction that requires just a quick visit as the main purpose is to take the stairs or lift to the viewing platform 15m high and from here there is a great 360 view of the castle, grounds and Bishop Auckland, and it’s free!
We had a lovely member of staff chat with us and tell us more about the area. If you visit here first it will help you get your bearings on the places to visit in Bishop Auckland.
6. The Spanish Gallery
The Spanish Gallery is the UK’s first gallery dedicated to the art, history and culture of Spain. This isn’t to be confused with the Spanish Gallery inside Auckland Castle, this is a totally separate place to visit in Bishop Auckland and is across the road from Auckland Tower and the Mining Art Gallery.
We, unfortunately, did not have enough time to visit, but the team member who chatted to us at Auckland Tower said this place is not to be missed, it’s absolutely stunning inside, and there is a Tapas restaurant inside for a taste of Spain in Durham.
7. Mining Art Gallery
One of the great things about visiting Durham is all of the places to visit near Durham and things to do around Durham.
As you can see the small market town of Bishop Auckland offers enough to do to cover a full day out, and if you are focusing on Bishop Auckland and The Auckland Project, one final place you can visit is the Mining Art Gallery.
This is a small but impressive and moving gallery showing how so much of the life, culture and community we see today in the North-East comes from the mining up here.
8. Raby Castle, Park & Gardens
On my second day in Durham, we started our day at Raby Castle. We had driven past the Castle on the way from Auckland Castle to Durham City Centre the day before and as we passed the large grounds and saw deer roaming in them I was looking forward to visiting in the morning.
If you have just one day in Durham, this is another one of the great places to visit in the Durham region and Durham attractions on the way into the city.
Raby Castle offers a lot! There’s the Castle, Grounds, Garden and an Adventure Playground so again it’s a great Durham day out and places for families to visit in Durham.
Weather-wise, walking around the Castle is inside making it a good indoor activity but the extensive grounds and gardens (200 acres in fact) make it one of the great outdoor activities in Durham when the weather is good.
If you want to see some grandeur and see how times change, you’ll see it inside Raby Castle. The castle was built as a Viking settlement in the 11th Century and in the 14th Century, it was built as a Castle for the mighty dynasty of the Nevills and is how we see it today.
The rooms inside are incredibly detailed and very ‘lived in’ which I found really impressive and there are friendly members of staff to explain what the various rooms were used for.
9. High Force Waterfall
After Raby Castle, we drove 30 minutes into the stunning Durham Dales and North Pennines to the car park for High Force Waterfall.
High Force Waterfall is known as one of the most impressive waterfalls in England and the car park is located at the High Force Hotel.
A ticket needs to be purchased to access the footpath from the road to the waterfall but a ticket is just £2.50 for adults and £1.00 for children and helps to keep the path maintained which has been done really well.
A short 5-minute walk through the woods along a well-kept path takes you to High Force Waterfall. Here you’ll see the River Tees plunging from 21m high into this gorge as it has been doing for thousands of years!
What I loved about High Force waterfall is its ease of access, the path isn’t too long and is fairly straight making it accessible for many to see this waterfall. Secondly, you can choose how long you spend, we walked there and back quite quickly but there are many footpaths going along the river and you can also walk down to Lower Force waterfall.
Going into the water is not allowed due to safety but from the main path, there is easy access to the rocks at the base of the waterfall pool which children were enjoying playing on when I went!
10. Grassholme Observatory
The attractions in Durham are really varied and there is something for everyone! Visiting Grassholme Observatory to gaze into the universe is another one of the great things to do in Durham and things to do near Durham.
Grassholme Observatory is located 1 hour away from Durham city centre on the edge of the North Pennines and not far from High Force Waterfall.
There is a range of events on offer like an Introduction to Astrophotography, Family Astronomy, Moon and Planets Nights and so much more!
I hope these top things to do in Durham and Durham attractions have helped you plan what to do in Durham!
This post is in collaboration with Durham 2025, all opinions, thoughts and experiences are my own.