Spending one day in Durham is a great choice for a day trip from York.
Durham is easy to get to with a short journey time whether you are travelling by road or rail.
The historic city of Durham is similar to York in many ways.
It is a lively, youthful city due to it’s large student population but it also has a rich historical heritage centered around the UNESCO World Heritage listed Durham Cathedral.
Durham is a compact city that can be covered on foot and, like York, much of the city centre is pedestrianised.
How to get to Durham from York
It is easier to travel to Durham from York by train rather than to drive there. The train is faster, more relaxing and provides a much more scenic route!
The train journey to Durham from York takes approximately 45 minutes and a return rail fare can cost as little as £14, even less with a Railcard.
Durham train station lies on the edge of the city and it is a well signposted, 15 minute walk to get to Durham Cathedral and just 10 minutes to Durham city centre.
Travelling by train not only avoids the less scenic driving route but also expensive car parking fees once you arrive in Durham.
More importantly, the train journey from York to Durham is beautiful, passing through the stunning North Yorkshire countryside. You will also get a magnificent view of the hilltop Durham Cathedral as you arrive into the city by train.
TIP – For the best views when arriving into Durham by train, sit on the right hand side of the train facing the direction of travel.
How To Spend One Day In Durham
Durham Cathedral was built at the highest point of the city and today, dominates the city skyline wherever you are in Durham.
This is where your one day in Durham should start.
Durham Cathedral was completed in the 12th Century but there has been a church on this site since the late 10th Century.
Durham Cathedral has long been a site of pilgrimage for Christians and was popular due the cathedral housing the relics of two saints – Saint Cuthbert and Saint Oswald. The relics are still held here today.
The cathedral may be small by some European standards but it offers many delights.
Marvel at the intricate stone carvings and sculptures on the exterior of the cathedral.
Make sure you visit the exterior cloisters at the back of the cathedral which doubled as the school grounds of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies.
Inside the cathedral itself, ,Romanesque rounded arches and thickly carved Norman pillars line the central nave which is a stone flagged floor.
Centuries old stained glass windows stands adjacent to colourful modern stained glass windows which together create a myriad of rainbow colours and patterns on the floor of the nave. For me, the most magnificent stained glass window is the 18th century Rose Window.
Explore the ornate High Alter or the Gothic style Chapel of the Nine Altars which dates back to the 13th Century.
Anyone with a head for heights can complete the challenging climb up 137 steps to the top of the North West Tower for a spectacular view of the city of Durham.
If you are travelling with children, children can borrow activity backpacks with age appropriate trails of the cathedral for kids to follow. Don’t miss the enormous Lego model of Durham Cathedral which is found near the cafe and toilets. The attention to detail in this model is impressive!
It is free to enter Durham Cathedral though donations (which go towards the upkeep of this historic building) are encouraged.
Palace Green Attractions
Durham Cathedral is located on the attractive Palace Green which has several attractions for your one day trip to Durham!
Housed in an old church facing the green, is the Durham Museum and Heritage Centre. The museum depicts the history of the city through displays and artefacts.
They also have a brass rubbing station which makes a great souvenir.
If you haven’t discovered brass rubbing yet, it is exactly what it sounds like – your rub a piece of brass! You put a piece of paper over an engraved brass panel (usually a historical figure) and rub wax crayon over the paper so the engraving shows through. Trust me, us English love it! Plus, it makes a great souvenir.
Tickets to the Durham Museum and Heritage Centre are £2.50 for adults, 50p for children.
Nearby the museum, also facing Palace Green, is the Palace Green Library which belongs to Durham University. The library houses a small Museum of Archaeology which charts the history of Durham through artefacts found in this area.
Plus, there are also interesting exhibits about the history of the Durham Light Infantry.
Both of these museums are free attractions.
Further along Palace Green is the arched gateway to the multi-angular Durham Castle.
Durham Castle today belongs to Durham University but in it’s past it served as a fortress and a palace.
Check the Durham Castle website before you visit as opening hours and days vary.
Entry to Durham Castle is by pre-booked tour only. The 45 minute tour costs £5 for adults and tickets can be purchased from the Palace Green Library.
Durham City Centre
From Durham Castle, descend down the charming cobbled pedestrianised streets of Durham. The narrow lanes are lined with boutique shops, cafes and restaurants.
Head towards the central Market Place, a square surrounded by attractive Victorian era buildings. There is often a small outdoor market here.
Lining Market Place is St Nicholas Church, the Guildhall and Durham Town Hall, all of which are open to the public with free entry to each.
The interior of Durham Town Hall is particularly beautiful and short films and audio guides provide the history of this 650 year old building.
Look out for the open doorway leading to the Victorian era Durham Market. This covered market houses over 50 independently owned stalls and is an ideal place to visit if you visit Durham on a rainy day!
The River Wear
If you are lucky enough to visit Durham on a clear day, make some time to escape from the bustling city centre to enjoy a tranquil walk along the River Wear which runs through the centre of Durham.
A flat, unpaved path runs alongside the river which is a popular spot for walkers and joggers. The path leads under arched stone bridges and past gushing weirs and is alovely place to spend a couple of hours on your Durham day trip.
This itinerary will easily fill one day in Durham but only scratches the surface of what Durham has to offer.
After one day exploring Durham on foot, you will have earned your rest on the train ride back to York.