Our magnificent county town is a must see for any visit to the region. Even passing through on the train gives a sense of awe at the city, a visit will give you so much more. The city was founded around 995 on the spur surrounded by the River Wear, after St Cuthbert‘s body was brought here from Lindisfarne. Following Bede’s death he was also interred here and Durham became a place of pilgrimage throughout the middle ages.
The location made for an impregnable fortress, and more so, when the walls and castle were built. Durham, Dun Holme means ‘hill island’ in old Norse, hence the Dunelm alternative name you’ll still see in use. It is still easy when looking at the impressive cliffs topped with the defensive walls, to imagine the scenes portrayed in Bernard Cornwell’s Last Kingdom books.
The Cathedral is the jewel of the city standing majestically over the river and the rest of the city, and designated a World Heritage Site. The bishops are unique in being described as ‘Bishop by Divine Providence’ (as opposed to Permission for all others) and throughout the middle ages held enormous power in the North, second only to the Crown – hence the title of ‘Prince Bishops‘. They held their own courts, minted coinage and effectively ruled the North of England from 1071 to the mid 19th Century, when the legal powers were abolished. Weardale and the hills around Rookhope were all part of the Bishops’ estates.
The centre of the city today has changed little in essence since the 1700s, and is dominated by the Cathedral, University Colleges and the Market square. A walk around the centre is a must, taking in Silver Street and streets leading to the Cathedral close, where you can take in the sight of the 12th century cathedral building in all its glory!
We’ve written a blog post with a Durham riverside walk to take in a less travelled route to see the wonders of this amazing cit.
Attractions and Museums
- Botanic Gardens –
- Crook Hall – 13th century hall is the backdrop to the gardens, which also has a tea room and regular guided garden tours
- DLI Museum – the famous Durham Light Infantry has a splendid history, celebrated here
- Durham Castle – is usually only accessible by booking a guided tour, as it is also a student residence as the University College.
- Durham Cathedral – The finest romanesque cathedral building in Europe was founded in 1093, also has many of the monastic buildings around the cloisters still in regular use
- Gala Theatre – has a lively programme of concerts, plays and events worth taking in while you’re in the region.
- Oriental Museum – has fascinating and regular exhibitions on Japanese and other Eastern cultures
- Durham Brewery – open every Saturday for brewery tours and visitor centre daily, at Bowburn
Durham is a major shopping centre, with all the main high street retail chains represented, either in the Prince Bishops centre or around the market place and streets leading off it. There is also a Victorian ‘Durham Market Hall’ covered market off the main square which is worth a visit.
There is also a market in the main square each Saturday, and Farmers’ Markets each 3rd Thursday of the month and a Christmas Festival on the first full weekend in December.
There are plenty of cafés, pubs, restaurants and hotels from the chain brands to wonderful quirky places to make an afternoon tea stop a real pleasure.
Parking is reasonably easy though the car parks will be busy on weekends and market days. Follow the signs on your way into the City Centre. There is also a Park and Ride service available.
Events through the year
There’s always lots happening in Durham, and loads to see and do as you can see above – but if you’re looking for a highlight to add to your visit here’s a few for the diary:
- Durham Miners Gala – 12 July – details on the website
- Durham International Festival – July – 2 weeks of brass music
- Durham Streets Festival – August
- Durham Book Festival – usually during October
- Lumière Durham – November
- Durham Victorian Christmas Markets – December