Durham’s the sort of place to settle down with a pot of tea and a slice of cake, watching the world go by – handy, as you can do just that at Chapters Tearooms, the award-winning Vennel’s Café, and Leonard’s Coffee House. If you prefer avo on toast to toasted teacake, head to Flat White Café: hipster heaven. Descend the stairs of The Cellar Door into a 13th century bakery, or head to Tango KGB where (whisper it) the burgers are the rival of Fat Hippo Durham.
Bedding down for the night in Durham? Radisson Blu Hotel is the first choice for many, but the smaller, non-chain hotels provide a certain charm that the big boys can’t match. The Town House is a bijou wonder, with 11 individually designed rooms in a Georgian Grade II-listed townhouse, while The Kingslodge Inn just outside the city centre is cosy. Alternatively, pretend you’re royalty and stay in the opulent Bishop’s Suite or Chaplain’s Suite at Durham Castle.
Durham’s twisting cobbled streets groan under the weight of its independent shops – a good number of which are in the indoor Victorian Market Hall. The Mugwump is chock-full of homeware, fashion and gifts. Fashionistas should rifle through the rails at Ding Dong Vintage on Milburngate Bridge, before heading to Moon Jewellery for glittering accessories. Men meanwhile should pop into Woven. Pick up something for the wall from The Kemble Gallery, and for the mantlepiece from Fowler’s Yard, Durham’s home for crafty creatives.
Make sure you check out the cathedral that dominates the city (it’s home to several Magna Cartas until September), before you head to the river bank, and wander along. Secluded, ever-so-slightly overgrown and tranquil, it’s the ideal spot for promenading. A short walk south on Durham’s outskirts is Durham University Botanic Garden, 10 hectares of glorious nature, with plant collections from as far afield as New Zealand and Chile. If your hayfever’s playing up, stay central and see a show at the Gala Theatre.
Around the Corner
Venue for many a North East schoolchild’s day out, Beamish Museum’s a living, breathing recreation of a Victorian pit village. Less well-known, but just as fun, is Beamish Wild, where you can reconnect with nature. The ruins of Finchale Priory are a great playground for young and old – as is Auckland Castle. Stanhope and Woolsingham are favourites with the locals for a day trip, as is Wharton Park, which has just undergone a multi-million pound redevelopment.