10 free things to do in Durham

The picturesque city of Durham is blessed with historical charm and a whole host of exciting free things to discover!

Durham is a popular destination for families looking for a great day out. But what can you get up to without a trip costing the earth? Whether you fancy a wander in the great outdoors, discovering some fascinating facts or marvelling at magnificent lights, check out our top 10 free things to do in Durham on your budget staycation.

1. Durham Cathedral & Palace Green

Durham CathedralAttracting over 700,000 visitors every year, no trip to Durham is complete without taking in its stunning cathedral. Discover previously hidden spaces and artefacts, enjoy make-and-take craft sessions with the kids and learn all about the produce within the herb garden, to name just a few of the activities within this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Outside, the lush green grass of Palace Green is the perfect spot to enjoy the Durham Castle’s historical architecture. You might even recognise this gorgeous outdoor space and its outstanding gothic architecture from the Harry Potter franchise! 

2. Enjoy a riverside stroll


If you’re a fan of peaceful walks away from the buzz of the city, why not check out Durham’s riverside walk? Follow the meandering path of the River Wear as you pass the beautiful local scenery such as Prebends Bridge, St Oswald’s Church and, of course, Durham Cathedral on this 3-mile walk. While the city centre is still within easy walking distance, you’ll feel worlds away within the natural surroundings.

3. Durham Market Hall

Durham Market HallWe all know that the Great British weather can sometimes be unpredictable, but don’t let it rain on your parade. Why not take shelter in Durham Market Hall? Built in 1851, this Victorian venue is home to 40 independent traders, some of which have traded here for decades.

A warm and friendly welcome from all stallholders will soon warm your extremities as you browse the interesting items on offer. Grab a hot drink, a bite to eat or even some handmade gifts for your loved ones. By the time you’ve finished perusing, it may be nice enough to venture back outside and visit the nearby Marquess of Londonderry statue.

4. Wharton Park

Wharton ParkTake a leisurely wander through the foliage at Wharton Park. Handily located adjacent to Durham Railway Station, it’s the ideal spot for everyone to stretch their legs before or after a long journey. Study the array of sculptures and statues, test your mettle on the putting green or take a well-deserved rest as the kids let off some steam in the nearby play areas. There’s plenty of parking on-site and a café for those in need of a refreshing beverage.

5. Durham University Oriental Museum

Durham University Oriental MuseumLooking to explore the world without leaving Durham? Take a journey across continents and cultures at The Oriental Museum, a hidden gem in the heart of Durham University. This museum boasts a collection of over 36,000 artefacts, from ancient Egyptian mummies to delicate Chinese porcelain. Wander through endless galleries brimming with treasures from across North Africa and Asia, including Japan, Korea and India.

Whether you’re a history buff or simply curious about other ways of life, the Oriental Museum has something to spark your imagination, all for the price of nothing!

Stay nearby

6. Historic Libraries & Archives at Palace Green Library

Love history and magnificent architecture? Then head to the Palace Green Library, smack dab in the middle of Durham’s World Heritage Site! Palace Green Library is home to special book-worm collections, with archives and historic libraries dating back to the 15th century.

Imagine stepping into a scene from a Harry Potter movie, surrounded by towering bookshelves crammed with ancient texts. You can explore over 700 individual collections, from massive historic libraries to tiny personal diaries. It’s a treasure trove of knowledge waiting to be unearthed, all for free!

7. High Force Waterfall

High Force WaterfallHeading outside of the centre of Durham will lead you to more of the county’s geological riches. High Force Waterfall is one of the most spectacular visions of the Durham Dales! Situated in the North Pennines, High Force Waterfall sits amongst a breathtaking area of outstanding natural beauty.

Starting from humble beginnings at the top of North Pennines, the River Tees picks up momentum and culminates in a 21-metre drop into the plunge pool below and is well worth checking out. The scenery can be explored by car, bike or on foot but each makes for a worthwhile journey.

8. Finchale Priory

Finchale PrioryDiscover the idyllic setting of Finchale Priory, previously the remote hideaway and final resting place of St Godric. Formerly a holiday retreat for monks, the 13th-century ruins provide a step back in time for explorers young and old.

Learn about Finchale’s history from its original build to a later revamp, or simply take in the historical wonders on offer. Whether you’re a budding historian or an architecture pro, you’re guaranteed a relaxing wander through the wooded Finchale Priory.

9. Locomotion – National Railway Museum

Locomotion National Railway Museum, ShildonKeep your day chugging along with a stop at Locomotion, the National Railway Museum at Shildon. Holding over 1,000,000 objects from over 300 years of railway history, this is a train enthusiast’s heaven, boasting iconic machines from years gone by.

Take a free guided tour with a knowledgeable expert or simply wander at your own pace through stunning exhibits. With regularly changing displays coming from across the country, who knows what mechanical gems you will discover on your visit?

10. Explore the east coast

Sunset at Crimdon Dene BeachIn the sunnier months, Durham’s east coast is a must-visit for any visitor. Crimdon Dene Beach is located a half-an-hour drive from Durham and has been a popular family seaside destination for centuries.

Seaham Beach is also beloved with a 1950s-themed Lickety Split ice cream parlour serving a tasty selection of pancakes, sundaes and ice cream for all ages. So grab your swimwear and your sunglasses and soak up those rays.