The 8 Best Activities To Traverse Durham's Secret History

things to do in durham uk

Scroll on down and find out about the top 8 things to do in Durham.

Durham is a northern city in England, known worldwide for it’s deep history and beautiful architecture. But what is the best way to uncover Durham’s secret history? We’ve selected the best activities that Durham have to offer; each of which is dripping in the stories of a bygone era. So put down your travel guide, grab your camera and get ready for a whirlwind trip to the past…

1. Visit Durham Cathedral and Castle

The joint site of Durham Cathedral and Castle was donned the prestigious World Heritage Site title due to its architectural importance. Durham Cathedral was constructed during the late 11th century and still stands today as England’s largest and finest relic to Norman architecture. Located in the South part of Durham’s town it stands proudly next to the 11th Century Castle on a rocky promontory, gazing over what once would have been the cobbled streets of Durham. The Cathedral is open to public viewings every day of the year from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (5:30 p.m. on Sundays) and is free entry, albeit donations are greatly welcomed to ensure the continued restoration of this incredible site. For all of you movie buffs, you may recognize some of the architecture from the 2017 Avengers Film. Yes, that means you can touch the same wall that Tom Hiddleston once touched. Surely that’s a photo moment?!

The Castle, situated next door, is available to the public through guided tours only as it now hosts student activities with the local university. There are 4 or 5 tours per day, each lasting 50 minutes, but we recommend checking the times available online. You will need to purchase tickets at Palace Green or the World Heritage Site and then meet your tour guide outside of Durham Castle. The guided tours are both informative and at a good pace giving you plenty of time to ask questions and take those precious photos for the family album.

Durham Cathedral

Address: Durham Cathedral, The College, Durham DH1 3EH

Website: Durham Cathedral

Durham Castle

Address: Durham Castle, Durham DH1 3RW

Website: Durham Castle

2. Go shopping at the Indoor Victorian Market

things to do in durham uk | go shopping at the indoor victorian market

A visit to Durham wouldn’t be complete without popping to the Indoor Victorian Market with over 50 independent stores to peruse. Open from 9 a.m. Monday to Saturday it is the perfect place to while away a few hours. Many of the traders utilize locally sourced produce so you’ll be happy shopping and helping the local community. Drop in to the oldest traders: Garnham’s Pet Supplies, who have been situated at the market for over 60 years. Alongside the 14 food outlets be sure to check out the renowned ‘Akins Family Bakers’ to taste traditional artisan bread. Yum.

Indoor Victorian Market

Address: Durham Markets, Market place, Durham, DH1 3NJ

Website: Indoor Victorian Market

3. Have a round of golf or afternoon tea at Ramside Hall.

Editor's Note: Photo taken from the establishment's official social account

Would rather spend the day outside? Well, a round of golf at the 1820’s listed Ramside Hall would be perfect. Playing golf in the shade of this impressive Great House just on the outskirts of Durham can be enjoyed by everyone regardless of your golfing talents. Its two 18 hole championship golf courses, the Prince Bishops and the Cathedral are open to play for a green fee, from £50 ($65) per person. They do offer all-day unlimited golf discounts so be sure to check their website before booking.

Not interested in golfing and instead want to enjoy a more relaxing side to this exquisite location. Fear not, they also have on site a fully-equipped spa with treatments ranging from £80 ($104) upwards.

You can finish the day off with a lavish afternoon tea featuring homemade scones, cream cakes and sandwiches plus tea and coffee, or champagne. Available in many of the lounge areas Monday to Saturday from noon until 6 p.m. or on Sundays from 2 to 6 p.m. Price is a very reasonable £14.95 ($19.45). Perfect.

Ramside Hall

Address: Ramside Hall, Carrville, Durham DH1 1TD

Website: Ramside Hall

4. Take a stroll in Crook Hall Gardens

A hidden gem in the center of Durham; these quaint gardens are set to a backdrop of a 13th Century Medieval Hall. Popularity for this Hall and gardens are rising rapidly since the gardens became award winning in 2017. Country Life described the Hall as having “history, romance and beauty”, we can see why!

The Hall and Gardens are open Sunday to Wednesday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Entry prices for adults are £7.50 ($9.75) and includes access to both the Hall and the Gardens. However, you can visit the cafe in Gardens seven days a week for free and enjoy a selection of hot drinks, sandwiches and cakes.

Crook Hall also puts on a number of events throughout the year, including Medieval Banquets, perfect to really get into the spirit of things. Events are individually priced and tickets are available online. It is worth noting that Crook Hall and the Gardens are difficult to visit for those who have mobility issues due to the historic architecture.

Crook Hall and Gardens

Address: Crook Hall and Gardens, Frankland Lane, Sidegate, Durham, DH1 5SZ

Website: Crook Hall and Gardens

5. Attend an 'Empty Shop' event

Wait, before you think ‘this sounds dull, who wants to stand in an empty shop?’ let us explain. Empty Shop was the brainwave of two friends Carlo and Nick which found permanent residence in 2010 in a previously abandoned building, unused for a decade. This beautiful building is now the home to music gigs, art installations, theater performances, lectures and events every month. When you open the door to Empty Shop HQ you never know what this miraculous building will have in store for you.

If you have a few hours spare you can even volunteer to support an Empty Space event which focus on using empty shops, buildings and unused spaces to create galleries and venues. A fantastic way to experience the history of Durham through a modern lens.

Events at Empty Space vary in price but on average are £6-10 ($8-13) and all tickets can be purchased online.

The entrance to Empty Shop HQ can be difficult to find, but it is on the left hand side as you begin to walk into the shopping center at the Framwellgate Bridge entrance next to Ciao Ciao Mediterranean Bakery.

Empty Shop

Address: Empty Shop, 35c Framwellgate Bridge, Durham, DH1 4SJ

Website: Empty Shop

6. Explore treasures and collections from around the world at Palace Green Library

Just a short walk from Durham Castle is the Palace Green Library founded in 17th Century by Bishop John Cosin. The Library served as the Durham University’s core library for 150 years before focusing on archival and special collections in the 1980’s. It is now home to an impressive 70,000 books printed before 1850 including 300 incunables and 100 medieval manuscripts.3,400 meters of archives and artifacts and a huge 30,000 maps and prints and 100,000 photographs. Definitely enough to keep you busy for a few hours.

The Library regularly hosts exhibitions, predominantly regarding artifacts or information with a particularly strong local focus. These exhibitions range in prices so we recommend checking the website to see what is on before you visit. There is one permanent free exhibition ‘Living on the Hills’, which displays a range of archaeological finds from Durham and the surrounding early communities.

if you’re worn out from ingesting all that information we can recommend the handmade scones from the cafe inside the library. General entrance to the Library and cafe is free.

Palace Green Library

Address: Palace Green Library, Palace Green, Durham, DH1 3RN

Website: Palace Green Library

7. Experience history first hand at the Beamish Living Museum

Beamish Living Museum of the North
Source: Photo by Geograph user Richard Croft used under CC BY-SA 2.0

A fascinating place to visit for those with children or if you are an child-like-adult. You can spend hours getting lost in this working museum which will transport you through the ages from the 1820s through to the 1940s. That’s a lot of time to get through in one day so here’s a quick rundown of what to expect:

1820s Pockerley: Take a steam train ride at the Waggonway and visit the Old Hall which dates back to 1440s! 1900s Town: highlights are listening to the terrifying dentist tales in the surgery and of course visiting the old sweet shop before going crazy at the fairground 1900s Pit Village: take a trip back in time to school, find the communal bread oven where you may see some bread being baked live and learn how the miners of this small village would have lived. 1900s Colliery: Take a trip down into the Drift mine and experience life underground and see the 1855-built steam winding engine in action. 1940s farm: pop into the cozy cottage to discover life during wartime Britain

The Beamish Living Museum is open everyday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., but last entrance is 3 p.m. Adult tickets are from £19 ($25) although they have a range of family tickets available. It is worth noting that special or evening events may require the purchase of a separate ticket so be sure to check before you go on your time-travel trip!

The closest train station to Beamish Living Museum is Chester-le- Street, TransPennine Express run regular direct train services to Chester-Le-Street from Durham. Save over 50% on train tickets when you book in advance with

Beamish Living Museum

Address: Beamish Living Museum, Beamish, County Durham, DH9 0RG

Website: Beamish Living Museum

8. Unwind with a coffee at Flat White Kitchen

Editor's Note: Photo taken from the establishment's official social account

Posted by Flat White Kitchen on Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Located in a 17th century building, not only is Flat White Kitchen known for its incredible coffee and cakes, it also earns extra brownie points (excuse the pun) for its beautiful surroundings. With five floors to explore, you’re bound to find the perfect nook or cranny to enjoy your coffee in peace. Located just a short distance from Durham’s Cathedral this coffee is popular with both tourists and locals alike.

We love people that have taken the time to better understand the history of their location in Durham and the owners of Flat White Kitchen have done just that. They put a call out to their customers to research the building to discover what it was originally used for. A regular customer, Margaret Ray, responded and has been exploring the hidden secrets of this building ever since. It’s a long history so rather than regurgitate it here, head on over to their website and delve into their history yourself. Or, better yet, head on down to Flat White Kitchen first, buy a coffee and then delve in.

Flat White Kitchen

Address: Flat White Kitchen, 40 Saddler Street, Durham, DH1 3NU

Website: Flat White Kitchen

So, Our Advice? Pack your bag, sit in your Dolorian, and get ready to go 'Back To The Future.'

We only hope that everyone reading this article has seen ‘Back To The Future.’ If you haven’t, watch it; if you have, then you’ll understand. The best way to really appreciate Durham is to see its history in real life; to explore the cobbled streets, unearth secrets in the books of Palace Green Library, appreciate the 11th century backdrops and relax in the gardens imaging a past life. This city in northern England may not yet be on everyone’s travel wish list but we hope that you’ve seen that it actually has a lot to offer. Right, now where did I put the keys to the Dolorian?!

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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A full-time global wanderer and volunteer. Strong compass leading to random and remote pockets of Earth; exploring jungles, abandoned villages and the open seas. Passionate about documenting on my...Read more

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