Durham is a city brimming with history, from a majestic cathedral and world-renowned University to museums of archaeology and Asian culture. A popular destination for family trips away, there are plenty of things to see and do in the City of Durham – many of them free of charge. Whether you’re searching for things to do on a weekend staycation or a Durham local planning a day out, here are ten free things to do in Durham.
Durham Indoor City Market Hall
We may be seeing more empty retail spaces as shopping moves online, but this establishment is still going strong over 150 years after it first opened. This Victorian Indoor City Market Hall is bustling on Saturdays, with over 50 traders selling all manner of products. Browse local produce or purchase a unique gift you won’t find anywhere else. In between stalls, grab a quick bite and a coffee at one of the independent food traders for a complete afternoon out.
This UNESCO World Heritage site attracts over 700,000 visitors every year, making it one of Durham’s most popular free attractions. Durham Cathedral is open to all for museum tours, kids’ craft sessions, cathedral tours and more. 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 – also the perfect place to spot Durham Castle.
Durham may be best-known for is history and architecture, but its east coast is littered with some of the most fabulous beaches in the UK. Seaham is half a mile of sandy beach, with a promenade backed by low rise cliffs and grassland. It’s one of the best beaches in the UK to spot multi-coloured sea glass, while glass stones, fossils and shells often appear on the shoreline. Make sure to visit “Tommy”, the city’s famous sculpture of a World War I soldier.
Durham Riverside Walk
If you’re looking for a free thing to do in Durham away from the hustle and bustle at home, few walks can rival the riverside walk. This 3-mile walk follows the winding River Wear through some of the city’s most stunning sights, including Durham Cathedral, Oswalds Church, and Prebends Bridge. It’s close enough to the city centre that you’ll know you’re still in Durham, but it feels anything but a city walk.
The only museum in the North of England dedicated to North African and Asian archaeology, Durham’s Oriental Museum is a must-visit. It opened in 1960 to house the Oriental School’s growing collection of art and archaeology but has continued to expand into an established museum. Discover jade and porcelain from ancient China, figurines from India, and bronze accessories from past Korean dynasties.
Durham has a history that goes back well over 1,000 years, and its castle is testament to that. Now home to the University’s students, Durham Castle has been lived in since the 11th century, making it one of the oldest occupied castles in the UK. Take a tour and experience what life was like 1,000 years ago compared with today. Discover fine art, arms and armour, and artifacts in this Norman fortress.
Lumiere Durham Light Festival
Over four nights in November, Durham lights up spectacularly with the Lumiere Festival . Spellbinding projections and artwork illuminate across the city, reimaging Durham’s history, politics, and society. Thousands attend every year to witness works by leading artists, including musicians and poets in what is now a staple festival in the Durham calendar. Tickets are free, so make sure you attend if you’re visiting at the right time of the year.
Boasting a Green Flag for its facilities and upkeep, Wharton Park is the perfect respite from Durham’s bustling city centre. With beautiful foliage, plenty of kids’ activities, and a magnificent view of the cathedral, the park offers something for all the family. It’s just a short walk from Durham train station, so it’s ideal for getting some fresh air after a long journey.
Spread over 10 hectares of luscious greenery, Durham’s Botanic Garden is a must-visit for nature fanatics. It’s one of the city’s leading attractions for good reason: the alpine garden, winter garden, bamboo grove, glasshouses and wildflower meadow offer a unique insight into plant life. You’ll find something new each season within the ever-changing gardens, so make the most of the free entry and visit whenever you’re in town.
If you haven’t had enough of Durham’s long history, we have one more site for you to discover. Finchale Priory was founded in 1196 and its remains still exist today, free for all to visit and admire. It’s been many things throughout its long history, from the remote hideaway and burial place of a retired sailor named St Godric to a holiday retreat for monks. Now, it’s a place to experience Durham’s cherished history while having a relaxing stroll around the stunning ruins.
There are so many free things to do in Durham that you’ll be soon be visiting for more. If you’re travelling by train, don’t forget to book an Advance ticket via our website or our Train Tickets app. You can also find information on how to get cheaper train tickets via our special offers page. If you need more information, you can contact us here.