Durham is a place steeped in historical significance, and you don’t have to go far to find it in this compact, beautiful city.
Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Durham Cathedral is one of the finest and largest monuments of Norman-style architecture in England. Cavernous and intricately beautiful, it has stood proudly above the River Wear since AD 1093. Its uppermost pinnacle, the Central Tower, reaches upwards of 217 feet and gives stunning views of the city below. The tower is currently closed to the public for vital conservation work but the rest of the cathedral is open for visitors and church-goers.
Entry to the cathedral is free but a donation of £3 is suggested. It holds Church of England services every day, as well as recitals by the Durham Cathedral Choir. You can hear the choristers every day except Monday and various holiday times throughout the year.
Fans of a certain boy wizard might recognise the cathedral’s ancient cloisters and if you would like to learn more about the history of the cathedral and its awe-inspiring architecture, a guided tour is available for a small fee. Alternatively, you can choose its Open Treasure programme for unprecedented access to previously hidden spaces, including the monks’ dormitory and the great kitchen, as well as a rolling programme of exhibitions.
Separated from the cathedral by the serene Palace Green, Durham Castle was originally built in the 11th century and is now the rather decadent home to 150 university students and professors of the University College, Durham.
The castle is open to the public with a guided tour detailing the fascinating background of the castle. Tickets can be purchased at the nearby Palace Green Library. Built as a residence for the Bishop of Durham during the Norman era and a fine example of the motte and bailey castles favoured at that time, the castle is anchored around the stunning Great Hall; a 14-metre-high, 30-metre-long grand room, which is now used as a dining room by the current castle residents.
What was once the university’s main library, the Palace Green Library is now home to the archives and special collections that once included the world-famous Magna Carta and Lindisfarne Gospels; the latter of which can be found today at the British Library in London.
Special exhibitions and events are held throughout the year, including the current 10,000 years of Durham retrospective running until 2020, where you can learn about the city’s fascinating past. Admission to exhibitions cost just a few pounds for adults but entry to the library itself is free.
For a quick pick-me-up after your visit, the library’s Courtyard Café is a bright and cheery eatery, serving up cakes, coffees and savoury snacks with a jaw-dropping view of the cathedral.
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