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Free Things to do in Durham

Thursday 13 July 2023

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Durham is a quaint English city brimming with history – from the majestic cathedral and world-renowned university to the museum of archaeology and Asian culture, there is so much to explore. A popular destination for days out and staycations, there are plenty of things to see and do in the city of Durham, and many of them come free of charge. Whether you’re searching for ways to fill a weekend or just a couple of hours, here are our favourite free things to do in Durham.

Getting to Durham by train

Getting to Durham by train is super easy with CrossCountry, as Durham station is connected directly to a wide range of stations across our network. From Penzance and Exeter all the way to Newcastle and Aberdeen, with plenty of stops in between! Hop on board and travel in comfort and style to Durham.

Shopping at the Indoor City Market Hall

Durham has a bustling high street with plenty of great shops, but none of them can compare to the Indoor City Market Hall. More than 150 years after it first opened, this Victorian market hall is a thriving retail space, with more than fifty traders selling everything from hand-stitched textiles to vinyl records. Browse local produce and purchase unique gifts – you’re sure to find something unique! In between stalls, make sure to grab a quick bite and a coffee from one of the independent food traders.

Visit Durham Cathedral

This UNESCO World Heritage Site attracts over 700,000 visitors each year, and you could be one of them! With so many people flocking to see the cathedral, it is one of Durham’s most popular free attractions. Durham Cathedral is open to all for tours and community activity sessions alike, so if you’re local make sure to keep an eye on their events. Discover the secrets within the cathedral or take some private time for reflection and prayer. Enjoy the majesty of the building’s architecture from the Palace Green, where you can also find Durham Castle!

Durham Cathedral viewed from the side, from Palace Green. A long gothic cathedral with towers at the end and in the centre and spires.

Walk along the River Wear

With such picturesque scenery, one of our favourite ways to spend a day in Durham is walking along the River Wear. Whether you’re seeking shade from the summer sun or enjoying the crisp leaves of autumn, this riverside walk is a secluded haven in the city. Around three miles long, it follows the winding river through some of the city’s most stunning sites, with local history featured on signs along the route. Durham has some gorgeous walking routes, and this might be our favourite.

Paddling at Seaham Beach

Durham may be known for its historic architecture, but it is situated right near to the east coast, where you can find some of the most beautiful beaches in the UK. Seaham is just over ten miles away from Durham city centre, but visiting Seaham beach is one of the best free days out county Durham has to offer. With sandy beaches and a promenade to enjoy, you can spot fossils along the shoreline.

Learn at the Oriental Museum

Durham is known for having a world-leading university, so while you’re visiting the city you have to get some learning done! One of the most interesting museums in Durham is the Oriental Museum, which is the only museum in the North of England dedicated to North African and Asian archaeology. Opened in originally in 1960 to house the Oriental School’s growing collection of art and archaeological finds, it has continued to expand over the years. Their collection now includes jade and porcelain from ancient China, figurines from India, bronze accessories from Korea, and much more!

Tour Durham Castle

Visible from below on the riverside walk and above from Durham’s surrounding hills, Durham Castle is undoubtedly a landmark of the city. It has been lived in since the eleventh century, now housing university students of Castle College, so it is one of the oldest occupied castles in the UK. Visitors may take a tour and experience what life was like a thousand years ago, and discover fine arts, armour, and artefacts in this Norman fortress.

Durham Castle entryway, with a stone path leading through a gate into the Norman fortress style castle.

Glow at the Lumiere Festival

To enjoy the Lumiere Durham Light Festival, you have to make sure to visit Durham at the right time. Over four nights in November each year, Durham is lit up spectacularly with projections and illuminating artworks that reimagine Durham’s history, politics, and community. Thousands attend each year, making it a veritable staple in Durham’s calendar. Tickets are free, so make sure to attend to take in the spectacle!

Seasonal delights at the Botanic Garden

Spread over ten hectares of luscious green space, Durham’s botanic garden is a must-visit for nature lovers. It is one of the city’s leading attractions, and for good reason. The alpine garden, winter garden, bamboo grove, glasshouses, and wildflower meadow offer unique insights into plant life across the globe and throughout the changing seasons. With each area, you can find something new to discover – so make the most of the free entry.

Admire Finchale Priory

If you’re still eager to dive into Durham’s long history, we have one more site for you to discover. Finchale Priory was founded in 1196 and its remains exist today as a haunting historical site to admire. It has seen many events through the course of its history, from acting as a hideway to being the burial place of St Godric. Now it is the perfect placed to admire Durham’s unique history and enjoy a stroll around the ruins.

Finchale Priory ruins viewed from over a river, with green grass surrounding the stone ruins and water in the foreground.

If you’re planning a trip to Durham, don’t forget to book an Advance ticket via our website or the CrossCountry app. If you need more information, you can contact us here.

Written by Julia

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