What to do in Durham - here's my culture–packed weekend itinerary
You are about to find out what to do in Durham to have a culture packed weekend in this majestic county.
The culture of County Durham calls you from every corner to explore its rich and varied offerings. This culture packed weekend itinerary will take you to a mix of many well-known cultural hot spots and guide you to some hidden gems. Discover secrets that weave their way throughout the historic culture of this majestic county of Durham.
It is easy to see why Durham is a finalist of city of culture 2025. It is bursting with amazing offerings to support its bid and ultimately secure the winning title of City of Culture 2025.
In this itinerary you will travel across the county uncovering an historic landmark in Bishop Aukland to an arts and culture-rich French chateau in the historic town of Barnard castle. You will walk in magical movie spots and embrace the heights of an ancient cathedral tower.
Your overnight stays will be varied to replicate the varied culture of County Durham. You will sleep in a hotel nestled in a hidden hamlet with all the luxury of a county mansion and a modern eclectic Inn with themed rooms and private dining pods. Taste food that is fresh, locally sourced and cooked to the highest standards. If you fancy afternoon drinks in possibly the Wolds smallest Gin bar then read on, this jam-packed itinerary will squeeze in a quick visit and an even quicker gin. Pack your bag, jump in the car and let’s head to our first destination to find out what to do in Durham for a culture – packed weekend itinerary.
Friday afternoon in Durham
The first stop in your culture-packed weekend in the majestic County Durham is The Bowes Museum. As you approach The Bowes Museum you will be greeted by the grandeur of this French chateau in the ancient market town of Barnard Castle.
Begin your afternoon by reading the heartwarming story of John and Josephine Bowes, the founders of Bowes Museum. Immerse yourself in its glorious art, fashion and historical offerings. Take a tour of the house and see the 25 outstanding treasures that sit within the museum. Make sure you visit the well renowned and much-loved silver swan which is one of the most prized possessions and resident of the Bowes museum.
Enjoy a walk in the formal Parterre gardens, which gives a wonderful insight into the style and culture enjoyed by the Bowes when they designed these pristine, well-preserved gardens. Stroll in the woodland to complete your visit and if you have little ones in tow, make a stop at the adventure park complete with play area, stepping stones, swings and climbing frame.
Before you leave, take a quick trip into the historic town of Barnard Castle. If independent retailers are your thing, you’ll love this quaint town. Packed to the brim with vintage shops, art collectives, jewellery stores and locally made crafts, I can guarantee you won’t leave empty handed. Once voted by the Telegraph as being in the UK’s top 10 best small towns, it will nicely round off the first evening of your culture-packed weekend itinerary in the majestic County Durham.
Friday evening in Durham
As evening arrives it’s time to step into one of the most beautiful country hotels in rural County Durham. Tucked away in a tiny hamlet in Teesdale, this family run independent hotel is going to delight and cocoon you for a restful nights sleep. After checking in,walk in the beautifully manicured gardens and if the weather is kind, you might even fancy a game of tennis or croquet on the lawn before dinner!
As evening sets in, get dressed up and head down to your choice of restaurant for dinner. Choose between the historic library bar for a more relaxed meal or head to the light and airy orangery to dine in style. Offering delights such as baked smoked haddock or a delicious wild mushroom and local blue cheese orzo pasta dish, you are sure to be spoilt for choice. And for the desserts, all I can say is make sure you leave room – they are to die for!
Enjoy a little nightcap before you head back to your suite to wind down for the night. Be prepared for an epic nights sleep in these tastefully decorated rooms. All are situated in either the historic main hall or the old stables and barns which have now been renovated to the highest standards.
Saturday morning in Durham
Fill yourself up with a delicious full English breakfast at Headlam Hall before you leave. Then it’s time to go and uncover what to do in Durham on day 2 of your culture-packed weekend itinerary in the majestic County Durham.
The Auckland project is your next exciting venue. You are about to be immersed in culture, nature, art and history and also be a part of a huge regeneration project.
Start your visit by climbing the 29-meter-high Auckland tower. Step onto the large viewing platform at the top and take in the spectacular views spanning the whole estate. Make sure you have your camera with you – you won’t want to miss capturing these views to wow your friends and family!
Once your feet are firmly back on the ground, prepare to be blown away by the jaw dropping, beautiful Auckland Castle. Open seasonally March to October (check the website before you visit) it is thought to be one of the best-preserved bishop’s palaces in Europe. As you walk around the centre of the estate learn the intriguing history of the Price Bishops of Durham and how they helped to shape the England we call home today.
Take yourself off to the Spanish Gallery to view some of the fine 16th and 17th century art that is dedicated to the history and culture of Spain. Take the opportunity to view the largest collection of Spanish artworks outside of London.
Your final cultural delight this morning is the infamous deer house. Stroll around the 150 acres of park and woodland to view the majestic deer house which is a well-preserved example of rare 18th century Gothic architecture.
Saturday lunchtime in Durham
You must make room in your culture–packed weekend to discover what to do in Durham for a mouthwatering lunch. Broom House Farm is set high in the hills near Witton Gilbert. You will be served some of the best tasting and farm-fresh food in the area.
I recommend you try one of their burgers for lunch and a slice of homemade cake with a cup of local coffee to wash it down.
If the weather is good, sit outside enveloped in the stunning Durham countryside. Eat whilst enjoying rolling hills and acres of forest. Before you leave make sure you visit the farm shop and deli to stock up on local produce and gifts.
During the spring and summer there is the most fantastic wooden adventure trail in the forest. There are acres of tunnels, zip wires, slides and even a toboggan run. It will be a huge hit with the younger members of your family. Check the website before visiting for opening times and ticket information.
Saturday afternoon in Durham
Jump in your car and head to the city centre to find out what to do in Durham for a magical afternoon! Your weekend itinerary in the majestic County Durham is about to take you on a showstopping tour.
Before you head to the main attraction, there’s time for a quick visit to Durham’s smallest bar to enjoy a little lunch time tipple. Sit inside if you are lucky enough to find a seat or outside to watch the world go by on the historic Elvet Bridge before heading up to Durham Cathedral.
Step into the wonderful wizardry world of non-other than Harry Potter! Take a stroll around the outside of the cathedral and palace green and become fully immersed in the culture and history of this ancient building.
For real magic today head to the cloisters, the real heart of the cathedral, to walk in the footsteps of Harry, Ron and Hermione.
Tucked secretly away, these walkways will take you on a journey where the first two Harry Potter movies were filmed and where Harry, Ron and Hermione walked from lesson to lesson. Make sure you pause for a few shots – this is a visit to remember! Head to the Cloister Garth, the area between the cloisters, where Harry let his pet owl Hedwig fly free. Feel free to wear your wizard’s hat and cape to get fully immersed in the magical world of Harry Potter.
Walk beneath these historic arches, and view countless other spots that featured in the movie. All genuine film locations housed beneath the roof of the immense Durham cathedral. Head over to the gorgeous Undercroft café and have coffee in a stunning spot while you digest all you have seen so far. Talk to one of the knowledgeable guides to have all your history questions answered and maybe learn of a few more hidden gems within the cathedral.
Before you go pop to the central tower. Another climb today to burn off all those cakes and coffees! Your climb up the 325 steps will take you to the highest point in the cathedral. These really are the best views in Durham City showcasing this culturally rich and historic land. Dare I say it again …… cameras at the ready! It’s time to go to your evening nest – you’ll want to put your feet up after all that walking!
Saturday evening in Durham
Arrive at the eclectic South Causey Inn which stands among 200 acres in the Beamish valley. A haven of peace and quiet. Check yourself into one of the unique spaces – be it a red London bus, a themed hot tub suite, a rural escape or a pet friendly room, they are all equally stunning. With a warm northern welcome, it’s the perfect place to nestle down for the night.
Your evening meal is set to be a hearty, country offering of local produce. All freshly cooked and served in either the main restaurant, cosy snug or if you prefer, one of the private outdoor dining pods. I can recommend afternoon tea at the south Causey, it is delightfully presented on mini wooden picnic tables and offers just the right amount of both traditional and quirky foods.
Enveloped in the peace and quiet of the surrounding countryside, you are sure to enjoy to refreshing nights sleep. The perfect end to your second culture – packed day in the majestic County Durham.
Sunday morning in Beamish
Beamish is high up in the historic and cultural delights of County Durham and a must visit in your culture-packed weekend in County Durham .
The main part of your trip today is to the long awaited and newly opened 1950’s town. Discover what life was like in a typical 1950’s Durham town. Start your morning with a visit to the 1950’s Elizabeth’s Hairdressing Salon and get a stylish 50’s hairdo to fully embrace your day.
After this, visit the Welfare Hall and join in with the community spirit. Take part in many of the events and workshops that will take you further into the history and culture of the good old 1950’s. Head over for some tasty refreshments at John’s cafe and indulge in a traditional ice cream or sweet treat. John’s café is an exact re-creation of the once famous cafe in Wingate, County Durham.
Visit No.2 Front Street, the home of treasured local artist Norman Cornish. Read his fascinating story and join in with some of the arts and crafts activities in the community workspace.
Before you go, visit some of the other towns and farms within Beamish open air living Museum. I would recommend a trip to the sweet shop, a ride on a traditional tram and a visit to Davy’s Fish and Chip shop to fill up before you head home at the end of your culture – packed weekend itinerary in the majestic County Durham.
There is so much on offer in Durham to enrich your cultural knowledge of this beautiful county and I am sure you will want to return again and again.