Located slightly south of Newcastle, Durham is the capital city of County Durham and noted in particular for its stunning cathedral. But the city isn't just the cathedral, it encompasses the castle, the cobbled streets, the students of the university and, of course, the locals. The student body makes up a third of the population of Durham and therefore the city feels a little deserted during university holidays! Some might call Durham too small or uninteresting, but in actual fact, there is plenty to keep you occupied in this magnificent yet quaint city. Although it can be bitterly cold in winter (we are up north after all), when the sun shines in Durham, everybody comes out of hibernation and makes the most of it. When it comes to shopping, eating out, having a drink and spending the night in Durham, the city has a small but neat selection of hang-outs, from cute coffee shop Leonards to the attractive Botanic Gardens.
The first thing on your list of places to visit should undoubtedly be the cathedral. Hailed as a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture, it is indeed spectacular and you can even climb to the top, which gives amazing views over the city and surrounding countryside. Although, there is a superstition that if you're studying at Durham University and you climb the cathedral tower, you won't achieve a first class degree. However, if you want some stunning views, simply climb up the hill near St Mary's College. There is also the castle, part of which makes up the student accommodation for University College (one of the 13 colleges in Durham) and is the oldest student accommodation in the world. If you venture out of the city centre, up towards the hill colleges, you'll find the Botanic Gardens. Hidden away beside Grey College at the end of what looks like a dead-end road, the Botanic Gardens comprises ten hectares of plants, trees and flowers and there is even a greenhouse where you can be terrified by the tarantulas in glass boxes.
Wander the old flag stoned streets of Durham and you'll find some unique boutiques and places to sit and eat. In June, you could check out the Durham regatta, an annual rowing event held on the River Wear. Equipped with a glass of Pimms and an ice cream, the event is particularly enjoyable on a nice sunny day. Another way to pass the time is at the cinema or at the theatre. Go and see a student theatre production or watch a foreign film at the Gala cinema.
+ Small and compact, but more to do than you might think.
If you want to get out of Durham, there are numerous places nearby which will let you escape the Durham bubble (sometimes it's as if you're trapped in a small town, where you're bound to bump into someone you know every 200m). Although this is mostly a good thing, if you want a bigger, more action-packed experience, Newcastle is a 15 minute train journey away. Here you have a thriving cosmopolitan city with fantastic shopping facilities and walks along the quayside. The seaside is not so far away either, the best being Tynemouth, which you can reach by train from Newcastle.
If you're after a trendy night out with massive clubs and sophisticated clientele, probably best to give Klute a miss. Voted the second worst nightclub in Britain, Klute is a bit dire it has to be said. However, it is beloved among the students and most would say it makes for a fun night out (that is if you want to drink and dance until 2am surrounded by breeze block walls, a sticky dancefloor and plastic tumblers).
There is a superb assortment of coffee shops, bars, pubs and restaurants in Durham. A favourite amongst the student population, The New Inn serves great bar food, including the New Inn bird burger, consisting of Cajun chicken, onion rings, bacon, salad and BBQ sauce, complete with a side of curly fries. If that doesn't whet your appetite, there's the Italian restaurant La Spaghettata, or Spags, as the students of Durham refer to it as. Servings are generous and the food is nice and certainly good value for money. On the floor above is Fabio's, a cocktail bar under the same ownership as La Spaghettata, and another student favourite. A hidden gem of a cafe, tucked away behind the indoor market, is Leonards, which is perfect to sit down with a coffee and a slice of cake in hand. There's also Vennels, Flat White, Saddlers and Café Continental if you're after a cosy chat among friends.
To bring back
There's not exactly a quintessential Durham souvenir, so either bring back some random items from the market (there's an assortment of fancy dress stalls which are very popular amongst Durham students who incidentally love to dress up for nights out) or you could return with some peace of mind. Both work well.