The city of Durham has many of the same attractions York has – a cathedral, a castle, old buildings, a river with some nice bridges and history. So why pay a visit, if on paper, it’s identical your hometown? There are still plenty of things to discover. You might like it for the same reasons you enjoy York. Durham is a mere 43 minute train journey from York. You can leave in the morning, see the sites, eat the food and be back in time for Bake Off. We went and found something for everyone’s purses and preferences.
Elvet Bridge, Durham.
Prior to visiting Durham, I had no local knowledge. Like Noah sending out a dove to locate a safe harbour, I tweeted for local recommendations. My dove returned with an olive branch in the person of Simon Boardman (@s_boardman), who praised Flat White. It’s a good job he did, otherwise we wouldn’t have found it. For breakfast, I ordered a sourdough bacon sandwich – risky move for someone who can be contrary about bacon – but my rashers were crispy and trimmed. I ordered a Piccolo coffee, a new one for me. Served in a small glass, 50% espresso, 50% milk. For mornings when your coffee needs a coffee. Because we enjoyed it so much, we returned and ordered exactly the same the following morning. I’d go there every morning if I could.
Sunderland Road, Durham.
Getting your 5-A-Day while on the road isn’t an easy task. Ciao Ciao sorts that. Full of genuine Mediterranean breads and salads, served in decent portions, there’s nothing not to like about Ciao Ciao.
Dark Matter is this issue’s wild card. Not a food place, but a ‘Comic Book Store, Café & Gaming Venue’. We visited on Monday night, a free gaming night. We battled at Connect4, sipped milkshakes and revived our childhoods saving Princess Peach on the Nintendo 64. We didn’t try the food, but the menu looked cheap and cheerful. If you have a spare hour, try it. If you’re into tabletop and video games, make an evening of it. And, because you’re on top of a hill, there’s a stunning view of the castle.
Back Silver St., Durham.
Esquires is a growing coffee franchise competing with the more well-known chains on service and cleanliness, but enhancing their offering by shouting about their values: paying tax, selling only Fairtrade coffee and being a community hub. The airy Durham branch timetables mums and babies mornings and open mic nights with an alcohol licence. The sandwiches and drinks we purchased weren’t anything special, but did the job. There were various discount offers, as well as the option of filter coffee, making Esquires a great value proposition.
The Head of Steam
Reform Place, North Road, Durham.
A danger of visiting a strange town is that you find yourself in the only visible pub, which is usually a Wetherspoons. Therefore, the morning of our departure to Durham, we nipped to York Explore to borrow The Good Pub Guide 2015. It did not fail us. It lead us to The Head of Steam. Like Flat White, The Head of Steam is a hidden gem. We arrived early and tucked into delicious, satisfying burgers. The Head of Steam is really about beer. Every table has an informative tome of a beer menu of mostly European beers. On busy nights, I’m sure this shortens queues rather than waiting for the guy in front to pick his pint at the bar. Since we arrived early evening, we planned to find somewhere else to go for a pud and a pint, but we loved being in The Head of Steam so much, we stayed there.
Durham Castle is only available for public access through hour-long guided tours. Running at quarter past the hour daily. Tours are five pounds per adult (concessions available) and are led by enthusiastic staff. The tour provides insight into the historical importance and architectural progress of the castle. Purchase tickets from the World Heritage Centre on the day, or over the phone in advance on 0191 334 2932 .
The College, Durham.
A beautiful cathedral home to the shrine of patron saint to the North of England, Cuthbert. Unlike a certain other cathedral we know about, Durham doesn’t charge entry. It is a serene space to mooch around and reflect in. The tower climb promises beautiful views of the city below is five pounds per person. The café may subsidise the free entry, but I didn’t complain. Homemade hot meals were available as well as sandwiches. Of course, there’s a gift shop, but the main draw for me was the fantastic Lego model of Durham Cathedral.
Flass Vale Nature Reserve
Flass Vale, Durham.
We stumbled upon a circular walk around this nature reserve; a welcome break to escape the city centre and find some peace. Bring the dog and keep your eyes open for the seasonal colours. Even on dry days, mud is unavoidable, so leave the Jimmy Choos at home for this one.
Millennium Place, Durham.
When we were looking at the upcoming show listings in Durham, we hadn’t heard of the musician who was playing on our night. Not because he wasn’t famous, but more because we weren’t clued up on the British jazz scene. We gave it a shot anyway, and enjoyed ourselves. The Gala is a modern concert venue and theatre, clean, airy and with a reasonably priced bar. If you are looking for an evening’s entertainment, try the Gala. It sees a revolving door of comedians, so you’re bound to catch someone good whenever you go.
- Take cash. Want to climb the cathedral tower? Fancy that independent café? Take cold, hard cash with you. Many places lacked card machines, even a few which had ‘We accept Visa’ stickers on their door.
- Wear comfortable shoes. Durham is the city of gradients.
- Check relevant websites for certain places you wish to visit.
More than just a day out?
We spent three days in Durham and stayed at King’s Lodge Hotel, Waddington Street. Double rooms start at £78 per night. Finbarr’s is their popular onsite restaurant.