4 Must Sees In Durham, England

September 5, 2013 Kristance Harlow

Durham is a small city located in North East England. Situated on the River Wear, the name Durham comes from the Old Norse word for island (holme) and the Old English word for hill (dun). The River Wear bends around the old city centre which creates an island like effect where the centre is reached by a series of bridges. Home to two UNESCO heritage sites, a castle and an ancient cathedral, Durham is arguably one of the most beautiful little cities in the United Kingdom. Archaeological evidence points to early settlements in the area as early as 2000 BC. With all of its fascinating history, it’s no wonder that Durham is a popular tourist destination and home to one of the top universities in the United Kingdom. I spent a year studying for my graduate degree there and can tell you, unequivocally, that if you visit Great Britain you must put Durham on itinerary.

Durham, Cathedral
Durham Cathedral in the snow

A view like this + a Ciao Ciao sandwich = heaven.

I’m feeling nostalgic for my Alma-mater, so there’s no better time for me to flashback and share four of my personal favorites in Durham:

1. Eat at Ciao Ciao

Ciao Ciao is a Mediterranean bakery and deli on Framwellgate Bridge at the edge of the Gates Shopping Centre in the heart of Durham. They offer traditional Mediterranean food, like Greek Moussaka. They make everything in store from hearty soups to delectable pastries. My favorite thing to get at Ciao Ciao is a sandwich. You can choose from four types of fresh baked breads and pick your own fillings, but I suggest going for one of their custom sandwich concoctions. Named after locations along the Mediterranean, go for the Madrid (cheddar cheese, chicken, bacon, and roasted peppers), the Cyprus (marinated chicken, tomato, roasted onions, and Greek yoghurt), or the Crete (tomato chutney, lettuce, and goat’s cheese). Eat in the cafe or if you’re there on a nice day, take it to go (be sure to say you want it “take away” and not “to go”) and walk along the River Wear and eat at one of the benches lining the pathway.

The Cathedral is still in operation as a church.

2. Climb the Durham Cathedral Tower

Durham Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the best examples of Norman architecture. The current cathedral was founded in 1093 AD as a place to house St Cuthbert’s relics. St Cuthbert was a monk and saint in the early English Church who evangelized Northumbria. While the current building dates to the early 11th and late 12th centuries, other religious structures stood in the same spot with the first stone structure replacing a wooden building in 998 AD.

Courtyard in a cathedral

The cloisters.

sign in Durham Cathedral Tower

Almost to the top.

At the Durham Cathedral (UK) with a door knocker (age 24)

Give me sanctuary, please.

The door knocker on the Cathedral’s north door has its own fascinating history. In medieval times, a person who was looking for asylum could knock on the door and be granted 37 days of sanctuary in the cathedral. Hence the aptly named Sanctuary Knocker.

For those of you who aren’t interested in history, you might like knowing that Durham Cathedral was used in the Harry Potter movies. Those of us who attended Durham University are welcomed into the new school years in the hallowed halls of Durham Cathedral, graduation takes place there as well. The cathedral, like nearly every other Church of England place of worship, does not allow photographs to be taken inside the church, although feel free to snap some shots in the Cloisters.

View of English town

Sweeping views of Durham from the top of the Cathedral Tower.

What you really need to do at the cathedral is climb the tower. It costs £5 for adults but is half that for kids under 16. It takes 325 winding steps up an increasingly narrow staircase to reach the top. It’s a real trek and legend says that it’s unlucky for students to climb the tower before they graduate. I had many discussions with fellow Durham students before deciding to climb the tower pre-graduation, we decided that the legend only applies to undergraduates. Although…I did have some seriously bad luck after doing that. I think I’ll be avoiding walking under ladders for a while. Either way, the panoramic view of Durham makes the climb worth it.

Durham castle entrance

Durham Castle entrance (part of Durham University).

3. Visit Durham Castle

Another example of fine Norman architecture, Durham Castle was built in the 11th century. It is home to University College, a part of Durham University and is only open to visitors through guided tours because students live there. It’s also a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the only Norman castle to never suffer a breach. Students can go to the Castle at night and drink in the Castle Bar. University College students stand watch at the small opening in the large castle gate and take student IDs as collateral before allowing them into the bar. It was one of my favorite places to start a night out, if you’re not a student at Durham you can’t go to the bar but you still can visit during the day and pay a small fee for a guided tour.

Durham castle outside

The Castle is next to the Cathedral, so it’s easy to find!

4. Stroll Around Durham Centre

There is no better way to see Durham than to get to the centre of the old town and simply walk around, meander through small side alleys and pop into any of the number of pubs that line the cobbled streets. Swan and Three Cygnets is a favorite of mine, serving British brews and tasty pub food. My favorite restaurant is a fabulous Asian food place called Fat Buddha. I tell you, the food there is to die for. Look into it if you’re wanting an upscale and mouthwatering-ly delicious restaurant to fill up on before a night out. Durham is truly a place that you must explore, you never know what you might find. From a Scottish bagpiper playing on a bridge, to a hidden archaeology museum, to a sale on high quality shoes, Durham may be small but it has a lot to offer and is one of my favorite places in Great Britain.

Cobblestone street in Durham

The beautiful cobblestone streets of Durham.

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  1. Anonymous on June 15, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    I am the very same piper you mention here, still play on Framwellgate Bridge. Durham is such a magical city, it is the jewel in the crown of the Northeast of England and the people are so friendly.

    • Kristance Harlow on June 15, 2014 at 10:59 pm

      You are the piper? That’s excellent! How did you come across Digging to Roam? How often do you play, so readers can know when to catch you on the bridge?

  2. Rose L on September 6, 2013 at 7:11 pm

    I never went to that area when I was on a tour but sounds so nice.

    • Kristance Harlow on September 6, 2013 at 8:06 pm

      It’s worth the visit, I loved it, and it’s one of the safest cities in Britain.

  3. mplanck on September 6, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    What a great place to visit. You've sold me on that! Love the photos and the historical information told in such a clear and easy manner.

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