With World Heritage sites to revolutionary museum concepts that take a hands-on approach to history and exhibits that date back several millennia at the Oriental Museum, Durham has a vibrant and varied museum offering that is one of the finest in the country.
Start off your museum tour with a trip to the World Heritage Site Visitor Centre in Owengate. It’s free to enter and gives an excellent overview of Durham and its World Heritage Site. It also provides information on what else there is to see and do in the city (beyond reading our extensive city guide, of course). Comprising Durham Cathedral and castle, and the buildings between them, the site was given World Heritage protection in 1986 and is awash with history. The cathedral is one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in Europe, and the University is the third oldest in the country behind Cambridge and Oxford.
From there, head to the Durham Museum and Heritage Centre, which takes you through the city’s rich history. Detailing the rise of Durham, its medieval importance and its place in England’s religious history, the museum has four back-lit stained glass windows dating back to the 18th century and a recreated Victorian prison cell if you feel like experiencing a criminal trip back in time.
Another time-travelling museum, the Durham Museum of Archaeology includes exhibits and remains from throughout the city’s history, including excavations from Hadrian’s Wall. With exhibits including stone tools dating back to prehistoric times, as well as ancient Greek and Roman finds, the museum provides a fascinating look at the region’s history going as far back as 7000 BC. As befits a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the museum has a strong medieval collection, including pottery, early textiles, bone and wooden artefacts crucial to understanding how medieval Durham became one of the most important cities in England.
Detailing the region’s rich coal-mining heritage, the Durham Mining Museum in nearby Spennymoor is tucked away on the second floor of the town hall. Despite its cramped location, it gives fascinating insights into life in the pits with a mock-up of a coal mine including a miner’s lamp and pit pony.
With nearly 30,000 objects dating back several millennia, the Oriental Museum in Durham University has a wide range of artworks and artefacts from northern Africa and Asia. With exhibits dedicated to China, Egypt, India, the Himalayas, Japan, Korea, the Middle East and south east Asia, the museum includes jewellery, glass, musical instruments, textiles, ceramics, arms and armour dating back thousands of years from some of these most important nations throughout civilization.
For a full rundown of what’s on offer at Beamish Museum, the amazing living history museum, check out our dedicated page.
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