Whether you’re looking to spend a day out shopping with the girls, you want a romantic date night with your partner or a fun day out with the kids, Darlington and its surrounding areas are perfect for exploring. Travel there for the day or use it as a base for a weekend or longer as you discover what this fascinating corner of the North East has to offer.
1.Take in a show
Darlington has long been a cultural tour de force and whatever you enjoy, from traditional theatre to the cinema, you can take your pick here. Spend the evening watching a show with the family or enjoy a romantic night out with your loved one. Before the show, why not grab a bite to eat at one of the many local restaurants that cater to the theatre crowds?
Darlington is home to one of the grandest theatres in the region, the Darlington Hippodrome, which has recently been refurbished to its former glory. This incredible turn-of-the-century building has been brought into the present age with a sensitive reconstruction and will now host modern theatre performances and classic favourites. This winter, it’s home to a family-friendly pantomime and it promises to have a rich and diverse programme moving forwards.
The Darlington Hippodrome is conveniently located just a short walk from the centrally-located station, perfect for those arriving by train.
In times gone by, Darlington was famous for having the highest ratio of cinema seats per capita in the UK and today it’s home to some of the best value cinemas in the country. Choose between two great locations and two well-known names: Odeon and Vue. For those looking for something independent, why not drop by the Forum Music Centre? If enjoying a gig isn’t your thing, this unique location also offers regular film screenings and comedy clubs.
The Forum Music Centre is just up the road from the Hippodrome, a short 7-minute walk from the station.
2. Indulge in some retail therapy
Whether you’re shopping with the girls or indulging in some solo retail therapy, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for in Darlington. Thanks to its compact size, it’s easy to traverse Darlington. Whether you want to browse high street favourites, shop for tasty, local produce or explore bespoke boutiques for retro and vintage styles - there’s something for everyone in Darlington.
Despite its small size, Darlington is home to two shopping malls; Cornmill Shopping Centre and Queen’s Street Shopping Centre. Both centres are indoor, so you can browse to your heart’s content whatever the weather. They are also within easy reach of each other, providing you with hours of uninterrupted shopping potential. The town has over 500 stores to choose from, so make sure you’re wearing some comfortable shoes!
If you’re looking for something a little different, Darlington will really deliver. Over half the shops in the town cannot be found elsewhere and there are plenty that sell beautiful hand-crafted items. Darlington is also a great place to find pre-loved items, with a wide range of excellent quality second hand and charity shops. Plus, some amazing establishments that specialise in retro, vintage and antique items. Those with an interest in bygone eras may want to visit the covered market, which has been running since 1863. Here you can pick up everything from groceries to jewellery at a great price and after you shop till you drop, why not rest your weary legs at one of the charming eateries that encompass the exterior?
3. Visit a museum
Darlington is known as the home of the modern railway. It is in this unlikely location that one of the world’s first public train lines connected Stockton-on-Tees and Shildon via Darlington. Darlington and the surrounding areas built much of their wealth on the manufacturing of steam trains. It is this proud history that inspired two of the best museums in the area.
The Head of Steam museum in Darlington is a great place to spend a day out with the children, but it’s also a haven for those with an interest in the history of trains. Even if you’re not a ferroequinologist (the name given to train experts), there’s lots of fascinating things at the museum. Everyone will enjoy looking around the fascinating vintage trains and learning about the history of the area.
The Head of Steam museum is a 30-minute walk from Darlington Station. Alternatively, hop onto a Northern Railway service and take a short 10-minute train to North Road Station, which is just around the corner from the museum.
The Shildon Locomotion Museum is another excellent museum to visit. With plenty of space to run around and a large child-friendly adventure playground, this is a favourite with families. However, adults can enjoy the many captivating exhibits, such as Tim Peake’s spacecraft. This awe-inspiring exhibit includes an opportunity to experience the International Spacestation for yourself through VR technology. Definitely a once in a life-time experience not to be missed!
Take the Northern Railway train to Shildon Station. From there it’s just a short 3-minute walk to the museum.
4. Visit an historic and religious anomaly
County Durham is one of the most interesting historic areas in the country and much of its history can be seen in and around Darlington. Check out the beautiful architecture in the town, including the bell tower, which houses a bell that is a sister to Big Ben in the Houses of Parliament.
Just outside Darlington, in the quaint town of Bishop Auckland, is Auckland Castle. This is a great place to visit to gain a sense of the history of the area. Auckland Castle has been the official home of the bishops of Durham since the 1800s and is still a working palace. The castle is now open to the public and is a firm family-favourite, while its religious nature also makes it a wonderful place to escape the bustle of modern life.
To reach Bishop Auckland from Darlington, take a Northern Railway train. The castle is a 15-minute walk from the town centre or you can take a short bus ride.During the lead up to Christmas, the castle is home to one of our favourite Christmas markets. Thanks to the beautiful location and religious connotations to the Bishop’s Palace, this is a particularly unique way to immerse yourself in Darlington’s history. Find out more in our round-up of the UK’s best Christmas markets.
5.Get out and about in the great outdoors
Darlington lies in the centre of one of the most picturesque regions of England, with rolling hills, open spaces and plenty of beautiful greenery. It would be a shame to come to this region without exploring the wonderful bounty that nature affords. Whether you’re exploring with the kids or want a long walk in the countryside, there’s so much to enjoy in the region.
Located just outside Darlington town centre, the Rockwell Nature Reserve is a wonderful place to visit to take in some fresh air. This tranquil park found along a stretch of the River Skerne is a wonderful place to see some of the wildlife that calls the area home. The park is a peaceful oasis on the outskirts of town and lucky visitors might catch a glimpse of the park’s elusive residents, including kingfishers and otters.
Rockwell Nature Reserve is easily accessible from the town centre. Although for easier access, you may choose to take a Northern Railway service to North Road Station.
For those who want to explore the countryside surrounding Darlington, we recommend visiting the nearby market town of Richmond. Right on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, this is a wonderful place to explore the countryside from. Younger visitors will enjoy winding their way along the Richmond Treasure Hunt Trail, while older visitors can take advantage of the excellent hiking in the area.
A regular Arriva Bus connects Darlington Station to Richmond, taking just 30 minutes to reach the town.
Written by Julia