It is a cathedral city with a fine Norman Castle, dating from 1073 (currently a college of Durham University and the oldest student accommodation in the world) and lies within a loop of the River Wear, locally known as The Peninsula.
Bill Bryson was quite taken by Durham, writing in Notes from a Small Island (1995), "Why, it's a perfect little city. If you have never been to Durham, go there at once. Take my car. It's wonderful." The compliment was returned in 2004 when Durham University made Bryson its Chancellor.
Best arrive by train for breath-taking high view of the city. Trains run on the East Coast Main Line from London Kings Cross and York as far as Newcastle upon Tyne and Edinburgh. Trains also run from lots of other places including Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester. Durham train station is a short walk from the city centre and is connected to the Cathedral by the Cathedral Bus, which operates every twenty minutes from circa 0700 to 1740. An all-day ticket costs 50p.
By road, Durham is easily reached from the A1(M). From December 2005, a Park & Ride service has operated from three sites on the outskirts of the city centre. Most useful of which is the Belmont Park & Ride, located approximately 300 yards from junction 62 of the A1(M), towards Sunderland on the A690. A bus service operates every twenty minutes between the Park & Ride and the city centre, 0700 – 1900 hours. There is no free parking in the City Centre, although there are several car parks, and solar powered meters everywhere. There is free parking at all 3 Park & Ride centres, but the P&R bus is £1.70 per person. This includes use of all P&R buses for the day. The P&R is highly recommended as Durham was not built for today's traffic. As a result it is very congested, although cars are generally kept away from the main shopping areas with the help of the country's first congestion charge. The congestion charge is £2 and runs from 10:00 - 16:00 on exit (i.e. you may enter at any time without charge - you are only charged to leave the congestion charge zone between 10:00 and 16:00). Payment is by coin only.
Durham's Bus Station is served by National Express, Classic Coaches (on their Blackpool to Newcastle service; formerly Primrose Coaches) and some other Summer only services.
Durham is connected to the rest of the North East by plentiful bus services operated by Arriva North East and Go North East.
Travel times for buses from Durham are available from Traveline or 0871 200 2233.
North Shields ferry terminal is around 30 km distant and has daily services to and from Amsterdam and a number of Scandinavian ports, operated by FjordLine and DFDS. Travel time to Durham is approximately one hour using the free bus to Newcastle Central Station and a short train trip (around £5), or forty minutes for a taxiride (around £30).
Newcastle Airport is around 40 km North of Durham and is served by many carriers and offers many domestic and medium-haul routes. It is connected to Newcastle Central Station by the Tyne and Wear Metro. Journey time to Durham is around one hour and will cost around £7.
Durham Tees Valley Airport (formerly Teesside Airport as seen on many road signs) is around 40 km South of Durham and was renamed 'Durham' to attract more customers, however it is probably the least convenient option. It is served by mostly charter airlines in the summer only to European resorts, though there are year round services domestically and to Amsterdam. Trains run between Darlington and Durham up to four times an hour and a single fare is around £5. (Durham Tees Valley Airport has its own railway station, but as of 2006, plans to start a regular service have yet to get off the drawing board).
Manchester Airport around 230 km, but with a very efficient hourly train service direct from the airport to Durham. Manchester is one of the main airports in England, serving all of Europe, many domestic locations and some transatlantic and long haul routes such as New York, Atlanta, Chicago and Singapore. Single rail fare is around £45, 65€, but can be less than a third of this if booked in advance. Journey time approximately 3h.
The centre of Durham is compact, with small roads and the only congestion charge in the UK outside London (actually the first such charge [£2] in the UK, beating London by a few months). There is no need to drive, and parking away from the Park & Ride sites is expensive and in short supply. Traffic can also be extremely heavy in the City Centre at peak times, owing to Durham's cramped mediaeval town planning and, for the non-initiated, driving can be daunting.
For visitors with reduced mobility a Shopmobility scheme operates from the Prince Bishop's Shopping Centre Car Park, but disabled visitors should bear in mind that Durham's pavements are narrow, winding and in some places very steep and many roads are cobbled.
There are a number of sites worth visiting in Durham:
- Durham Castle - take a 1-hour tour conducted by current students (£5), some residing within The Keep, the oldest student accommodation in the world, dating from 1073. Forms part of a World Heritage Site
- Durham Cathedral - of striking Norman design, one of the most magnificent in the UK, boasting a 66 metre tower, with wonderful views of the entire city and surrounding countryside. The cathedral is open from 0700 to 2000 (1800 in Winter season), and the tower from 1000 - 1530 (closed during services, in inclement weather and all day on Sunday). Forms part of a World Heritage Site
- The Treasures of Saint Cuthbert, found within the claustral buildings of Durham Cathedral, housing hundreds of amazing artefacts, including the 7th Century coffin of Saint Cuthbert himself, and his 6th century pectoral cross (possibly even older).
- Walk along the attractive River Wear around the peninsula Durham is built upon.
- The Botanical Gardens
- The striking 1960's Kingsgate Bridge designed by Ove Arup although it is an acquired taste.
- The first sight of the cathedral from the railway viaduct coming from the South, looking right, without a doubt the most breathtaking railway view in the United Kingdom, if not Europe.
- The Durham Indoor Market, a wonderful Victorian covered market. Smoker or not, visit the amazing tobacconist and the sweetie shop in the corner, with hundreds of jars of real traditional sweets.
- Durham University Campus - tours of the historic campus run every Wednesday at 2pm from Old Shire Hall on Old Elvet and while geared towards prospective students for the university, they are fascinating nonetheless.
- The Durham Light Infantry Museum and Art Gallery, housing a small museum chronicling the History of the Durham Light Infantry and housing a small art gallery.
- Diggerland, Langley Park, Co. Durham, DH7 9TT (Exit A1 (M) @ J62. Head West, following all signs to Consett. After 6 miles turn left at roundabout, signed to Langley Park then turn right into Riverside Industrial Estate.), ☎ . Varies. Diggerland is a JCB-themed amusement park where visitors young and old can get behind the "wheel" of various items of construction machinery (Dumper Trucks, Mini Diggers, Giant Diggers, etc.) Events are also run by arrangement, such as JCB or Dumpster Racing. Ages 3-65 £15.00; Age 65+ £7.50; Under 3 Free - discount if booked online, disabled may bring a free carer..
- Walk the famous meander on the River Wear, for breathtaking views of the cathedral.
- Hire pleasure boats on the river, from Easter to Autumn.
- Watch a performance at the modern Gala Theatre complex, or ice-skate here in late December and early January.
- Visit the Durham Light Infantry Museum, behind Durham Railway Station. (See Durham Light Infantry Chapel in Durham Cathedral)
- Participate in a Ghost Walk, contact the Tourist Information Office within the Gala Theatre for dates and times.
- Durham Walking Tours, ☎ . 90 min walking tour through the heart of Durham City. Meet outside the tourist information office every week day at 2:00pm £4.
- There are some "one-off" shops near to the Cathedral which are definitely worth a visit.
- A local tobacco blend from the tobacconist in the indoor market.
- Fresh produce from the Farmers' Market, or the French Market (check dates with Tourist Information)
- Sweet Greetings Shildon, 4 Church Street, Shildon, County Durham, DL41DU (Centre of Shildon, near Bishop Auckland), ☎ . 9-5. Sells old-fashioned, retro sweets and chocolates. all.
Durham has all the eateries one would expect to find in any City: the usual burger joints and sandwich shops, but Durham has some hidden gems and supposedly the most restaurants per capita in the country. Particularly worth a mention are:
Tea, Coffee & Cakes
- Esquires Coffee.
- Saddlers, on Saddler Street, near the Market Place
- Vennels, opposite Saddlers, up an alleyway (or "vennel" in local dialect)
- Pancakes, on Crossgate, at the junction with Neville Street
- Café Continental, where Old Elvet meets New Elvet. Also serves light meals.
- Cathedral Undercroft Restaurant, 0900 - 1700. Serves traditional lunches too.
- Nine Altars Café (down the steps behind Cafe Rouge at the end of Framwellgate Bridge). Also serves light meals, beers and wine.
- Café Cenno, upstairs in the Durham Indoor Market, with a splendid vista of the railway viaduct and river on one side, and the market stalls on the other. Bacon and eggs, etc. Free Wi-Fi internet access is available when purchasing food and drink.
- The Garden House Pub, through the park behind the railway station, serving excellent Pub Grub and considerably cheaper than city centre pubs and restaurants.
- Romeo's on Elvet Bridge for a chintzy Italian restaurant.
- Wetherspoon's on North Road and Lloyd's opposite the Gala for basic but hearty pub meals: burgers, curries, etc.
- Stantons Fish and Chips, THE BEST fish and chips in Durham also crackin' pizza n pasta!
- Gregg'the Bakers or Peter's Cathedral Bakers, for pies, pasties, sandwiches, cakes and drinks. The Gregg's on Saddler Street has some seating upstairs.
- Ruby's Roast, cheap beef sandwiches and burgers. Great after a night out, but even more so at other times.
- La Spaghettata, for wonderful and very cheap Italian food. Prices around £6-8 for a main course.
- San Marco's, 47 N Bailey (slightly further up Saddler Street opposite Hatfield College). Budget Italian dishes similar to La Spaghettata.
- The Bridge Hotel, under the viaduct, for large portions.
- The Almhouses Restaurant, on Palace Green, between the Castle and cathedral.
- Michaelangelo's at Neville's Cross (approximately two kilometres from the cathedral) for a classy Italian restaurant.
- Bella Italia, Italian restaurant underneath Cafe Rouge (formerly Pizza Hut) in Silver Street at the end of Framwellgate Bridge. Ask for a table in the conservatory overlooking the River Wear.
- Court Inn, next to the Crown Court. Best to book a table, and look out for the prisoner peaking through the window in the dining room! Specials during the day.
- Kwai Lam, Chinese cuisine on Saddler Street
- Ché Vitas adjoined to the Travelodge at the foot of Gilesgate Bank. Yet another Italian, reasonably cheap and good food.
- Chiquito's, ASK, Nando's and Slug & Lettuce. Typical decent chain-restaurants in the complex next to the Gala.
- Oldfields, 18 Claypath. Very good quality traditional local food.
- Bistro 21, Aykley Heads (approximately three kilometres from the cathedral), ☎ . For good and expensive cuisine in Durham.
- Hide Bar and Bistro. Trendy food and cocktails in a contemporary atmosphere.
- Zen (off Court Lane near New Elvet). A trendy bar and Thai food.
- Fat Buddha, Unit 6B and 6C Walkergate, ☎ . Asian fusion cuisine and trendy bar
In general, it is only necessary to reserve a table on Friday and Saturday nights. However, around graduation and the start and end of University terms, things can get tight.
- Or, eat like a true citizen of Durham and have a mince pie and sticky bun from any of Durham's many bakeries.
Durham is equally as well-served when it comes to watering holes, with more than forty within a mile radius of the Cathedral. Drinking is a major pastime of Durham residents and students alike, and alcohol is very reasonably priced due to competition for student custom:
- For the cheapest pint in Durham try one of the College bars if you have student ID (£1.20/pint for lager).
- For the cheapest non-student pint in Durham, try the wonderfully unadulterated Colpitts Hotel at the top of Allergate, where you can pick up a pint of Samuel Smiths Old Brewery bitter for £1.28; the larger Swan and Three Cygnets also sells Sam Smith's at a slightly higher price, with a beer garden overlooking the River Wear.
- For the trendiest drink in Durham, try a cocktail at Hide on Saddler Street, or the newly opened Fabio's Bar, conveniently straight over the road.
- For the scariest pint in Durham, try The Shakespeare Tavern, the "most haunted pub in England" - drinks only.
- For the most interesting pint in Durham, try one of the plethora of local real ales on sale at The Woodman at the bottom of Gilesgate Bank (around one kilometre from the Market Place, past the Gala Theatre and up Claypath). Be warned that they will not be to everyone's taste and may be considerably stronger than your standard tipple!
- Try the Victoria Inn on Hallgarth Street (near Durham student's union) for a slice of Victoriana and raging fires in the winter. A fantastic range of whiskeys and real ales lead The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) to vote 'The Victoria' the best pub in Durham.
Durham isn't fantastically well endowed with nightclubs, but should this be your scene then worth a mention are:
- Fishtank, possibly the smallest club in the world (it is above Stantons Fish & Chip Shop on Neville Street, hence the name), but offering up an impressive programme of alternative music.
- Klute, think school disco every night of the week, voted the second-worst nightclub in Europe by FHM magazine, but currently the worst by default after an arson attack destroyed the previous holder of the title.
- Studio, the closest Durham has to a non-student nightclub.
- Loft, owned by the same people as Studio, and is next door.
- Loveshack, opened in October 2006, and located in the Gala Theatre complex, near the railway station. It is Durham's largest club and has a modest cover charge and reasonable music.
- Ebony (formerly Épernay), champagne bar, near the Gala theatre. Glass of champagne from £5, 7.50€. Bottles from £30, 45€.
Accommodation is in very short supply in Durham, with most being expensive hotel accommodation. During the university holidays, it is possible to stay in some of the college buildings, including the Castle. Accommodation is more plentiful in nearby Newcastle upon Tyne and Gateshead, with easy access to Durham by rail and road.
- The Royal County Hotel. A Mariott right next door with similar prices.
- Farnley Towers Guesthouse. Slightly further out but still with similar rates.
- The Travelodge. Situated on Gilesgate in a former stationhouse, with commanding views of the Cathedral, and within easy reach of the motorway. This is your best bet for "budget" hotel accommodation, with some good offers from time to time.
- The Bridge Hotel, under the viaduct offers accommodation for around £55.
- The Garden House, up the hill behind the railway station, offers B&B accommodation.
- Radisson SAS, Framwellgate Waterside, City of Durham, County Durham, DH1 5TL, ☎ . Situated on the opposite bank of the river from the Gala Theatre and Millennium Place complex, the Radisson SAS is located close to the city center, bus station and train station. 207 rooms are available of varying standards: Standard, Business, Suites and The Presidential Suite. All rooms are equipped with TV and free internet access. The hotel includes its own Italian restaurant and 2 bars and a health club. from £109.00.
- Durham Marriott Hotel Royal County, Old Elvet, Durham City (from A1 North/South follow signs to Durham then take A690 into City Centre, first roundabout straight over, second roundabout turn left, turn left at traffic lights, hotel is on the left), ☎ . Check-in: 2PM, check-out: noon. On the banks of the River Wear, offers sensational views of Durham Castle and Cathedral. Part of the hotel dates back to the 17th century, offers modern amenities while preserving historic charm and exquisite features such as antiques and original prints. Event facilities, catering services, meeting space for conferences or intimate gatherings and certified event planners. Elegantly furnished guest rooms feature a dedicated workspace, hair dryer, adjustable climate control, and high-speed Internet service. £110.
- Don't miss Beamish, the North of England Open Air Museum, near Chester-le-Street, a little to the north of Durham. A fabulous day out amid reconstructed buildings from around the northeast. It's directly connected by bus services from Durham city. About £15 for a day pass, cheaper if you can get someone from County Durham to pay for you. Take any bus to Chester-le-Street, then the 28, 28A, or The Lime, all towards Stanley.
- Visit the iconic (and huge) Angel of the North statue, Gateshead. Located at the intersection of the A1 and A167, or reached by bus services 21, X1 or X41.
- Go shopping at Gateshead's Metro Centre Mall, one of the largest shopping malls in Europe. Located on the A1, West of Newcastle, or reached by changing trains at Newcastle, buses in Gateshead or by direct X23/X24/43/44 bus (43/44 every fifteen minutes from the bus station. Every 20 minutes on Sundays and every 30 minutes in the evening).
- Visit Newcastle upon Tyne - the throbbing heart of the North East, with excellent shopping, clubbing and art. Due to expensive parking and heavy traffic, it's best to get to Newcastle by train (journey time 11 minutes). The last train back is at 2245 (2150 on Saturdays or 2140 on Sundays), but there is a 21 bus from Pilgrim Street at 2310. Night buses run from Newcastle, Gateshead and Chester-le-Street to Durham on route N21 on Friday and Saturday nights, until 3am. On Sunday - Thursday nights, the N21 night bus only goes to Chester-le-Street and you are advised to take the bus to Chester-le-Street, and thence take a taxi to Durham. A taxi from Newcastle might cost £30, whereas a taxi from Chester-le-Street costs around £10, and the night bus fare is £3 to Chester, £4 to Durham. One can also queue up to an hour for a taxi in Central Newcastle on a busy night, whereas from Chester-le-Street, taxis are plentiful. If you're out for an all-nighter, you might be better off taking the first train of the day south, which leaves at around 0430 (except Sunday mornings).
- Visit Barnard Castle, a pretty market town with eponymous castle overlooking the river Tees. (around 40 km South-West).
- Visit The Bowes Museum in nearby Barnard Castle (around 30 km South-West). Best to only attempt this one if you have access to a car, though infrequent services do operate between Bishop Auckland (easily reached by buses 5/5A, 21 and X24) and the museum itself.
- Visit High Force, an impressive waterfall (around 40 km South-West). Only accessible by car.
- Visit Locomotion in Shildon, if you're a train buff (around 20 km South). Use the A167 then the A689 and follow signs to Shildon. By bus use services 6 or 21 to Bishop Auckland and frequent connecting services to Shildon. Of course, if you're a train buff, you won't mind taking the slightly longer train journey to Darlington and changing to a Bishop Auckland train.
- Visit Whitby, a pretty North Yorkshire harbour town (around 100 km South-East). In Summer use the daily direct X60 Arriva service, or take the train changing at Darlington and Middlesbrough. (The railway line between Middlesbrough and Whitby is one of the most picturesque in the country and is probably worth the extra hour journey time).
- Visit Escomb Saxon Church, near Bishop Auckland where worship has been held since the 6th Century. (around 20 km South-West) Best reached by car, though services 85, 85A and 86 run between Bishop Auckland and Escomb.