Durham is a city in County Durham in North East England. The name probably derives from "Dun-holme", or hill-island, because it's set on a ridge above a tight loop of the River Wear. On this "Peninsula" lies the well-preserved old core of the city, with an imposing Norman Cathedral and Castle. The castle is part of University College Durham, while the modern University has expanded south of the river.
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.
The Tourist Information Centre is next to the castle, at 7 Owengate DH1 3HB, open daily 09:30-17:00.
Newcastle Airport is around 25 miles north of Durham and 6 miles north of Newcastle itself. Most international destinations are Med holiday resorts, but year-round flights include Amsterdam, Brussels, Dublin, Dusseldorf and Paris CDG. Emirates fly to Dubai, with global onward connections. Domestic flights from Newcastle are to London Heathrow, Aberdeen, Belfast, Cardiff, Exeter and Southampton. Tyne & Wear Metro trains run from the airport to Newcastle main railway station every 12 mins, taking 24 mins. The overall journey time to Durham is an hour and costs around £16.
Manchester Airport is some 150 miles south, but it has a much greater choice of destinations, more competitive fares, and an hourly direct train to Durham (2 hours 30 mins). Other trains, almost as quick, have a change at York or Manchester Piccadilly. Single walk-up rail fare is around £62 but advance fares can be less than a third of this.
The various London airports have little advantage over Manchester, and they all involve getting from the airport into central London, before travelling north from Kings Cross.
1 Durham Tees Valley Airport (MME IATA, formerly Teesside Airport). You're unlikely to use this airport. The only regular flights are two or three per day Mon-Sat from Aberdeen and Amsterdam Schiphol. Departing passengers are charged a facility fee of £6 adult, children 3-15 £2. And the airport is 25 miles south, off the A66 between Darlington and Middlesbrough. Simplest is to take a train to Darlington then a taxi, because the airport public transport options are simply disgraceful. Arriva bus 12 takes two hours to cover the six miles between Darlington and airport (45 minute rides at the beginning and end of the day are timed for local workers not airport passengers). And the airport station is only served by that British peculiarity, the Parliamentary Train. The company wants to axe the service but there's a tedious legal process to do so. So instead they run the minimum service required by law, once or twice a week, the more inconvenient the better; then they can prove that nobody uses it. But let's be positive: there's ample car parking right next to the airport terminal.
Durham is on the East Coast Main Line and has excellent train services. Direct trains run hourly from London Kings Cross, taking just under 3 hours; other services with a change at York (50 mins away) are almost as quick. These trains continue north to Newcastle upon Tyne (frequent, 15 min) and Edinburgh Waverley (at least hourly direct, 2 hours). Other cities with a direct train at least hourly include Birmingham (3 hr 30), Leeds (75 min) and Manchester Piccadilly and Airport (2 hr 40).
2 Durham station is half a mile west of city centre. It's quite small: there's a cafe, toilets and ATM but no left-luggage facilities. It's linked to the scenic old town by the Cathedral Bus, which runs every twenty minutes from 07:00 to 17:40. An all-day ticket costs £1.
Follow A1(M), exit at jcn 62 and follow A690 into town. For the University campus south of town, a short-cut from the south is to exit at jcn 61 and follow A177 through Shincliffe.
If you're just here on a day-trip, use the edge-of-town Park & Ride [dead link] service; the old city centre was designed neither for driving nor for parking. The most convenient P&R is Belmont DH1 1SR, just off A1(M) jcn 62 and clearly signed. You park for free then pay £2 (concessions apply) for the bus which runs to city centre every ten minutes, Mon-Sat 07:00 – 19:00. The other P&R sites, with the same terms, are Howlands Farm on South Road DH1 3TQ close to the University, and Sniperley DH1 5RA, north of town on A691 near the hospital.
The main cluster of city-centre car parks are on or just north of A690, called Leazes Road as it crosses the centre onto the river bridge. Don't even think of trying to park in the old centre or "Peninsula". Durham was the first city in Britain to apply a congestion charge, just ahead of London. It's an exit charge of £2 - you can enter the zone any time for free, but you pay if you exit the zone from 10:00 to 16:00.
National Express connects Durham direct to London Victoria, three per day (NX425) and one overnight (NX435), 7 hours. They also run to Newcastle (once daily, 30 min) and Leeds (3 per day, 2 hr 30).
Angel Bus 21 runs between Durham and Newcastle every 10 mins or so, taking an hour. These run daily via Gateshead, Birtley (for "Angel of the North") and Chester-le-Street, between 05:00 and 23:00. Arriva North East bus 7 runs between Durham and Darlington every 20 mins, taking 70 mins. Arriva bus X1 runs between Durham and Middlesbrough, Mon-Sat every 30 mins and hourly on Sunday, taking 80 mins.
Durham bus station is on North Road 200 yards west of the river, just south of the railway station.
Overnight ferries ply between North Shields (near Newcastle) and IJmuiden near Amsterdam. They're operated by DFDS and take 16 hours. Ferries no longer run to Scandinavia.
See Newcastle page for how to reach the ferry terminal: in brief, take the train between Durham and Newcastle, then the free shuttle bus to the ferry.
Walk. The centre of Durham is compact and congested, driving is tedious and parking (other than P&R) is worse.
Durham Cathedral Bus runs Mon-Sat between Durham train station and the cathedral, with stops at Durham University, city centre and Durham Castle. Tickets are £1.00 for adults and 50p for children 13 years and under, concessions apply, and a P&R ticket is also valid for this bus.
For visitors with reduced mobility there's a Shopmobility scheme from the Prince Bishop's Shopping Centre Car Park. But bear in mind that Durham's pavements are narrow and winding, and the streets in places cobbled or steep.
Most of Durham's sights are concentrated on or near the neck of land called The Pensinsula. This is the oldest part of the city, dominated by the Castle and Cathedral.
- 1 Durham Cathedral. Mo-Sa 07:00-18:00, Su to 17:30, late July-Aug daily til 20:00. Durham bishopric was founded in 995 AD by monks from Lindisfarne, fleeing Viking raids, and bringing their holy relics with them. Early Norman bishops were of royal status - hence their title "Prince Bishop" - and they built the present cathedral from 1093. It's a magnificent structure, part of a World Heritage Site, with a soaring nave and 66 metre tower. (In summer 2018 it looks as if it's nursing a head injury, as the top of the tower is bandaged for repairs.) The relics of Saint Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede, and hundreds of ancient artefacts, are on display in the Open Treasure exhibition (Mo-Sa 10:00-17:00, Su from 12:30, adults £7.50). The northwest (or "Galilee") tower can be climbed on Fridays & Saturdays, adult £5, 137 steps and a fair bit of pigeon poo. The cathedral is a working church, please respect services and private prayer, and there may be part-closures at short notice eg for funerals. Suggested donation £3.
- 2 Durham Castle. Tours most afternoons. Originally Norman, but much altered in the 19th C, and part of a World Heritage Site. It's now part of University College Durham, and can only be visited on a one-hour tour, conducted by current students. Some of them reside within The Keep, the oldest student accommodation in the world, dating from 1073. Adult £5.
- 3 Durham Indoor Market. M-Sa from 09:00. 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. Extends outdoors across the market place.
- 4 Kingsgate Bridge. A striking 1960s concrete span designed by Ove Arup although it is an acquired taste
At the south tip of the Peninsula, a footbridge crosses the River Wear. Continue south into the modern University area.
- 5 Botanic Garden, South Rd DH1 3TN. Mar-Oct daily 10:00-17:00, Nov-Feb 10:00-16:00. 10-hectare gardens run by Durham University. Adult £4.
- 6 Oriental Museum, Elvet Hill Rd DH1 3TH (1 mile south of centre), ☎ . M-F 10:00-17:00, Sa Su 12:00-17:00. Attached to Durham University, this museum displays artefacts from far east (China, Japan, Korea), central Asia (Tibet, Nepal, Mongolia, Afghanistan), South Asia (India), Southeast Asia, Near and Middle East, and Egypt. Search their data base for material not on display. Adult £1.50, concs 75p.
- Walk the scenic meander on the River Wear, for great views of the cathedral. There are footpaths both sides.
- 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.
- 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.
- 1 Durham University Campus. If you or a family member might want to study at Durham, there are three ways to find out more. Best are the Open Days, with a chance to interview staff and current / recent students. Next best are the Discover Durham campus walking tours, held in Oct & Nov. And for a taster, take the virtual campus tour.
- 2 Diggerland, Langley Park, Co. Durham, DH7 9TT (Exit A1(M) at Jcn 62. 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..
- Watch cricket at Riverside Stadium in Chester-le-Street, 8 miles north. This is home to Durham CCC, who play in Division Two of the County Championship. County matches normally last 3-4 days. The stadium also frequently hosts international or "Test Matches", lasting up to five days. The stadium is 200 yards from the railway station, frequent trains take less than ten minutes from Durham or Newcastle.
- There are some "one-off" shops near to the Cathedral which are definitely worth a visit.
- Fresh produce from the Farmers' Market, or the French Market (check dates with Tourist Information)
- Local people do their "big shop" at Gateshead's Metro Centre, one of the largest shopping malls in Europe. It's on the A1 west of Newcastle, or change trains at Newcastle for Metrocentre, or take hourly direct bus X22 from Durham.
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
- 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.
Traditional local cuisine
- Durham Indoor Market. , located in the city's main square, offers traditional local food such as pease pudding (most traditionally used in a ham and pease pudding stottie bread sandwich).
- Fish & Chips are common traditional local food due to the proximity to the North Sea and its cod fish. Some long-standing fish & chips stalwarts of Durham are Stanton's on Neville Street, Bell's in the market place and - outside of the city centre - K.S. Davison in Bowburn.
- 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's or Cooplands Bakery, for affordable pies, pasties, bread, sandwiches, cakes and drinks. Various locations across the city, on Saddler Street, North Road and New Elvet.
- 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.
- The Bridge Hotel, under the viaduct, for large portions.
- The Almhouses Restaurant, on Palace Green, between the Castle and cathedral.
- Bella Mamma at Neville's Cross (a mile west of the railway station) for a classy Italian meal.
- 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.
- Zen, Court Lane DH1 3JS (off New Elvet), ☎ . Su-Th 11:00-23:00, F Sa 11:00-00:00. A trendy bar and Thai food.
- Fat Buddha, Unit 6B and 6C Walkergate DH1 1SQ, ☎ . Su-Th 12:00-21:00, F Sa 12:00-22:00. 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 £2 and play a game of pool or darts; 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 [dead link], 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€.
As well as places listed below, it's possible during the university holidays to stay in the college buildings, including the Castle, if they're not booked out to a conference. If Durham is booked up, consider staying in nearby Newcastle upon Tyne or Gateshead and coming in by rail and road.
- 1 Farnley Tower Hotel, The Avenue, DH1 4DX, ☎ . 13 bedroom hotel in converted Victorian mansion, 1 mile west of city centre. B&B double from £80.
- 2 Travelodge, Station Lane, Gilesgate DH1 1LJ (A690 half mile east of centre and a mile from the present railway station). Durham used to have four railway stations: this one was Durham Gilesgate, whence the last passenger train departed in 1857. The former station house is now the Travelodge, a reliable budget chain. B&B double from £50.
- Premier Inn on Freeman's Place DH1 1SW is another chain budget choice.
- 3 The Bridge Hotel, 40 North Road, DH1 4SE (under the viaduct). Hotel established in 1864 from £50.
- 4 The Garden House, North Road, DH1 4NQ (up the hill behind the railway station). offers B&B accommodation
- Radisson Blu, Framwellgate Waterside DH1 5TA (West bank of river, north of bridge), ☎ . Reliable 4-star chain with 207 rooms: 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. B&B doubles from £125.
- 5 Durham Marriott Hotel Royal County, Old Elvet DH1 3JN (From A690 in city centre cross New Elvet bridge, hotel is on the left), ☎ . Check-in: 2PM, check-out: noon. 4-star hotel, part dates back to the 17th C, modern amenities plus historic charm. Rooms have work-space, hair dryer, a/c and high-speed Internet. B&B doubles from £90.
Durham University and some businesses in downtown Durham offer free WiFi through "TheCloud@Durham" network.
- Beamish is the North of England Open Air Museum, five miles west of Chester-le-Street, north of Durham. Extensive "skansen"-type museum with reconstructed buildings from around the northeast, big enough to host its own tram network. Waggonway bus 28/28A runs here from Newcastle via Gateshead and Chester-le-Street, M-Sa every 30 mins, hourly Sunday.
- You're bound to see the colossal Angel of the North statue as you travel north by road or rail from Durham into Gateshead and Newcastle. By road exit A1(M) onto A167 and follow the footpath. Or take Angel Bus 21 north from Durham, the bus stop is at the foot of the statue.
- Newcastle upon Tyne is the throbbing heart of the North East, with excellent shopping, clubbing and art. Take the train, see "Get In".
- Locomotion is a branch of the National Railway Museum in Shildon, near Bishop Auckland, 20 miles south of Durham. The collection is mostly Victorian steam era from around the north of England. By car follow A167 then A689 then signs to Shildon; buses also run via Bishop Auckland. Shildon has its own railway station: travel to Darlington and change to a local train towards Bishop Auckland.
- York, 60 miles south, is a must-see.
- The Durham coastline is often industrial or muddy. The coast improves at Whitby, a pretty North Yorkshire harbour town noted for crab-meat, Goths and vampires. It's 60 miles southeast, in summer use the daily direct X60 Arriva bus. Or take the train changing at Darlington and Middlesbrough: the line between Middlesbrough and Whitby is very scenic. The North Yorks coast south of Whitby has cliffs and fishing coves all the way down to Scarborough and Bridlington, but you'll need a car to explore them.
You'll also need a car to reach attractions out in the County Durham countryside:
- Barnard Castle is a pretty market town with its ruined castle overlooking the river Tees. It's on A688 about 25 miles southwest of Durham. The stand-out attraction here is the Bowes Museum Newgate DL12 8NP, in a vast French-style mansion.
- High Force is a 71-foot waterfall, where the River Tees plunges over Whin Sill, the hard band of rock that elsewhere underpins Hadrian's Wall. It's 15 miles northeast of Barnard Castle along B6277.
- Escomb Saxon Church, one mile west of Bishop Auckland, has been in use since the 6th Century.
|Routes through Durham|
|Newcastle-upon-Tyne ← Chester-le-Street ←||N S||→ Darlington → Leeds|