Top things to do in Durham, UK

Top Things to Do in Durham, UK

A beautiful city in the northeast of England, Durham is just south of Newcastle and has an incredible array of things to do. Situated on the River Wear, it boasts the impressive Romanesque Durham Cathedral, and its Norman Durham Castle. It’s now been a whole year since I moved back down south from Durham after studying at Durham University. The city was a wonderful place to study, all within a crazy yet stressful and satisfying year. Before living in Durham, I’d never travelled as far north in the UK, but as you’ll see from my Durham graduation, I became quickly taken with the city. Here are my suggestions of the top things to do in Durham.

Go rowing on the River Wear

If you’re lucky enough to have a sunny day, make sure you hop on one of Durham’s picturesque rowing boats. One of the top things to do in Durham, grab a picnic and cruise down the River Wear to soak up some of the city’s historical sites. Boats can be hired cheaply from Browns Boats, right next to the Boat Club. As you can see from my photos from last year with my friend Jo, we weren’t necessarily naturals but it was hilarious nonetheless. If rowing’s not your thing and you’d rather cruise down the river in style, pick the Prince Bishop River Cruiser. Similar boats are often in use for ‘booze cruises’ for Durham students, where a bar is set up on deck.

Top things to do in Durham: rowing on the River Wear

Visit Durham Cathedral

Arguably the most beautiful cathedral in the world, Durham Cathedral is a truly stunning spectacle that can only be enjoyed to its maximum beauty in the flesh. Wander around the beautiful UNESCO Heritage building, see where Harry Potter was filmed, walk the cloisters, and climb the tower for an amazing view across Durham. Rumour has it that if students climb the tower before they finish their degree, they will fail. So sadly I had to wait until I’d finished! When you’re finished exploring Durham Cathedral, another top thing to do in Durham is heading out on the lawn outside, known as Palace Green. It’s the perfect place for picnicking and people watching on a nice day. It really is a beautiful place!

Top things to do: visit Durham Cathedral

Snoop around Durham Castle

Just across Palace Green from Durham Cathedral is Durham Castle. The Castle currently provides student accommodation, and hosts The Undercroft, the oldest student bar in the world. Of course, one of the top things to do in Durham is to grab a drink from this impressive and historic bar. The Castle is open to visitors during off-peak seasons when students have gone home, and tours are available to take. Make sure you do it – it really is an incredible castle to explore. Discover the Great Hall, where Durham University students have formals in their gowns along with the other traditions. I’m always taken aback by the incredible architecture and history of the building.

Durham Castle

Haunt the many tea shops

Tea shops – Durham’s full of them! Each offers its own outstanding plethora of scrumptious looking cakes and choices of tea from around the globe. I’ve visited a fair few of them, and I can share some great recommendations. Tealicious is a twee little pastel blue tea room, filled to the brim with dainty bunting, gorgeous china, and cake stands supporting towering cakes. Head to Chapters Tearooms for the biggest red velvet cupcakes you’ve seen, and hot chocolates brimming with marshmallows and cream. My favourite is Leonard’s Coffee House. Set out of town alongside the River Wear, it has a lengthy and delicious menu of paninis, soups, sandwiches, and cakes – I’ve never not left full.

Tea rooms

Go on a Durham college bar crawl

Durham is home to 14 independent colleges as part of Durham University. Every single student is assigned a college and uses it as a hub. Each college proudly features its own bar, and is unique with its own pricings, special drinks, and atmosphere. One compulsory act of every student before they leave university is to complete a bar crawl of each and every single one of these colleges. Maybe you don’t fancy all of them, but it is fun and easy to see how many you can get through. The best spot is Durham’s Bailey, where the bars are pretty much next to each other. Particular highlights include The Undercroft Bar at University College in Durham Castle, St. Chads Bar, St. Cuthberts, and my old local, Ustinov College.

Top things to do in Durham: college bar crawl

Visit the High Force Waterfall

High Force is a waterfall near Durham that crashes down from an impressive height of nearly 70 feet. It’s a spectacular waterfall and attraction near Durham, at Forest-in-Teesdale. Located in the Durham Dales countryside, the River Tees plunges into the gorge, and has done for thousands of years. There’s a lovely woodland walk to take to reach High Force, meandering through the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Here, you can see a variety of wildflowers, ferns, deer, and rabbits. It’s within the grounds of medieval Raby Castle, which is another of the top things to do in Durham.

High Force waterfall

Enjoy excellent fish and chips

Now I know I plugged Bells Fish Shop when I blogged about my Durham graduation, but I’m mentioning it again. I honestly wouldn’t if I didn’t think it was worth it, but my word it is! Known locally simply as ‘Bells’, it’s a fish and chip shop in the city’s Market Square. It prides itself on its chips cooked in beef dripping. You can either sit in the classy restaurant area in the centre of the city or have a traditional takeaway and eat them by the River Wear. They’re genuinely some of the best fish and chips I’ve tasted, and they even have a restaurant (with a fish tank which I always found a little amusing). I highly recommend a visit for a tasty lunch or dinner.

Fish and chips from Bells in the Market Square

Visit the Botanic Garden

Durham’s Botanic Garden is owned by the university on the outskirts of the city, and features 10 hectares of beautiful scenery and woodlands. It’s perfect for a pretty stroll – you can meander through woods, fields, past baby goats and through beautiful flowers. I used to love having picnics and barbecues there in the summer months. There’s also an educational centre for those of you with little ones you’d like to take along. They’ll love learning all about plants and insects. You’ll find an alpine garden, a winter garden, glasshouses, a bamboo grove, and much more. You can explore something new in the Durham Botanic Garden with every season.

Top things to do in Durham: Botanic Garden

Have you done any of my top things to do in Durham? Or maybe you live there, or have done something different? Let me know if you have!

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