Culture, history, art and more: 25 things to do in County Durham

County Durham is rich with history and spoilt with beauty.

From world-renowned landmarks to top-flight sport and sites rich with history, County Durham boasts something for everyone.

Durham is a visitor's paradise but there is far, far more to explore beyond the city's boundary.

Take a look at some of the incredible things to do, see and explore in our wonderful part of the world:

  • Hunting for sea glass on the seafront at Seaham

There is nothing better than getting an ice cream when you are at the coast. Grab a cone and take a wander along the shores on the hunt for precious gems.

People from all over the world visit this coastline to do the 'sea glass stoop'. With each new tide, you can find unique treats, washed up from the historic Londonderry Bottleworks, which operated from the 1850s to 1921. 

You can find a treasure trove of glass on Seaham's shoreline. Credit: Donna Wakefield
  • Take some time out, with Tommy

Continue your walk along the seafront and take a photo of the "Tommy" war memorial statue.

Sculpted by artist Ray Lonsdale and displayed close to Seaham war memorial, Tommy stands a proud 9ft 5in tall on Terrace Green. The corten steel statue weighs 1.2 tonnes and is a permanent fixture on the bay to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.

Soldier "Tommy" during a glorious sunset. Credit: Simon C Woodley
  • Marvel at the trees in Hamsterley Forest

Visit County Durham's largest forest and relax in nature, exploring the comprehensive network of trails. Walking, cycling, riding routes, play areas and a bike park are some of the features to enjoy.

During your visit, you can spot a variety of wildlife that live in the woods or hunt for wooden sculptures from Julia Donaldson's much loved children's book, The Gruffalo.

If you are more of a night owl, make the most of Hamsterley Forest as a dark sky discovery centre and participate in one of the Forestry Commission's stargazing events. The lack of light pollution offers the opportunity to see the Milky Way.

Hamsterley Forest offers breathtaking views in every season. Credit: PA
  • Observe the natural beauty of High Force Waterfall

Located in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural beauty, High Force provides visitors a with the dramatic view of the River Tees falling 21 metres into a plunge pool below.

A woodland walkway from the High Force Hotel takes you to the waterfall, where during your walk you can see all sorts of wildlife.

The walkway to High Force is open all year round, but is said to be at its most powerfully breathtaking after heavy rainfall. During cold spells, the waterfall has been known to freeze over. Admission fees are charged to maintain the woodland walkway.

The dramatic crash of water at High Force Waterfall can be heard from a distance. Credit: PA
  • Reel it in at Blackton Reservoir

Take a time-out and fish for trout at Blackton Reservoir. It is one of the best wild brown trout fisheries in the country, offering fantastic scenery of the North Pennine Grouse Moors.

Four miles west of Cotherstone, it joins the River Balder and the River Tees. It is owned by Northumbrian Water and supplies water for Teesdale. 

  • All aboard: Take a journey through history on the Tanfield Railway 

Prepare for the whistle to blow on the Tanfield Railway which connects Gateshead with County Durham.

Built in 1725, you can ride the six mile round route in a unique Victorian carriage while taking in the views or even enjoying an afternoon tea experience. The railway, which is thought to be one of the oldest in the world, is celebrating its tricentenary in 2025 - the same year Durham is bidding for City of Culture.

A volunteer cleans Agecroft No.1 - one of two classic Newcastle-built steam locomotives that returned to the North East. Credit: PA
  • Go underground at Killhope Lead Mining Museum

Step into the shoes of a Victorian lead miner and explore their dark world below. This Upper Weardale attraction also allows you the chance to experience life as a washer boy above ground and discover what minerals you can find. The 19th century mining museum is known for its working waterwheel and is home to wildlife including red squirrels.

  • Get up close to Durham's very own Bambi at Raby Castle

Like a scene from a Disney movie, you can watch the majestic families of deer wander in the wilderness.

The Deer Park at Raby is home to two species of deer; Red Deer, the largest British wild land mammal and the smaller Fallow Deer. Both herds include the descendants of deer which have been here since Norman times. With 200 acres to explore, visitors can discover walking routes and meet herds of deer and Longhorn Cattle.

Why not explore Raby Castle while you're on? And while you're on disappear into the dense woodland of The Plotter's Forest which promises exhilarating views, sky-high turrets and treetop tunnels for all.

Deer roam at Raby Castle near Barnard Castle. Credit: PA
  • Placards at the ready - it's the annual Miners' Gala

The County Durham Coalfields may no longer be in use, but the community spirit and trade union heritage is still alive, and no more evident than at the annual Durham Miners' Gala - or Big Meeting. Soak up the atmosphere as colliery bands make their way from different areas of the county, like they did years ago, towards the city centre's Market Place.

From there, you can follow the procession to the County Hotel and on towards the racecourse where union leaders and invited guests make speeches to the crowd. You can look at a variety of the miner's lodge banners on display and keep the children occupied with rides and stalls at the racecourse.

The 136th Durham Miners' Gala will take place on Saturday 9 July 2022.

The Durham Miners' Gala has been hosted by the Durham Miners Association (DMA) since 1871. Credit: DMA
  • Visit the best spa in western Europe

The Sereneity Spa at Seaham Hall hotel won in the 'Hotel Spa of the Year: Western Europe and Scandinavia' category at the World Spa and Wellness Awards in London. It comes as the hotel gets ready to celebrate its 20th anniversary later this year.

Among other facilities, the spa has a pool, plunge pools and an ice fountain, and is connected to the main hotel by a subterranean walkway.

The pool at the award-winning Serenity Spa at Seaham Hall hotel. Credit: Seaham Hall
  • Come on and do the Locomotion

It is hard to move for industrial heritage in County Durham, and Shildon's railway museum Locomotion is the perfect example. It has an impressive 70 rail vehicles on show including icons like the APT-E and Deltic prototype.

Known as the Cradle of the Railways, Shildon's railway history dates back to the 1820s, when the new Stockton & Darlington Railway chose the town for its engineering headquarters. In 1825 George Stephenson’s Locomotion set off from the town and hauled the first train to Stockton.

Locomotion has more than 70 railway vehicles on show. Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees
  •  Hit the slopes in Weardale

Pull your cold weather gear on and give skiing or snowboarding a go at Weardale Ski Club. Thirty miles west of Durham, it claims to offer the longest lift-served ski run in England and is open when conditions are right - with real snow - which is usually between five and 45 in a season.

  • Culture overload in Bishop Auckland

Staking a firm place on the tourist map is Bishop Auckland - with more than a thousand years of history, art, culture and faith to explore. Discover the history of the Prince Bishops at Auckland Castle, climb Auckland Tower and take in the works at either the Spanish Art Gallery or Mining Art Gallery.

Auckland Castle is just one of many places to explore in Bishop Auckland. Credit: PA
  • Centuries old gardens on the edge of Durham

Dating back more than 350 years and less than a mile from the city centre is Durham Old Gardens. Accessed through woodland and riverside walks, they promise a "charming public space for everybody to enjoy". They have been owned by Durham County Council for more than a decade - managed jointly with the Friends of Old Durham Gardens.

  • All eyes on Durham Cathedral

It is one of those places that hardly needs a mention, or an introduction. Durham Cathedral appears to rise up above the city and is the undeniable jewel in its skyline crown. It was built in 1093 and has been a place of pilgrimage and worship for almost a millennium.

In recent years it has captured the attention of the world's film makers - appearing in Harry Potter and Avengers movies. It even has the seal of approval from none other than American-British travel author Bill Bryson.

Durham Cathedral dominates the city's skyline from near and far. Credit: PA

  • 3...2...1... Horn blows on the next Durham Regatta

This year marks the 189th Durham Regatta. Crowds are not only drawn to the main racing event, but also a variety of attractions for the family. Entertainment from bands and performers is on offer along with a great selection of stalls to browse. The next event takes place on the 11 - 12 June 2022.

Make provisions early, as last year 10,000 spectators and more than 1,400 competitors experienced the Durham Regatta.

And they're off! Experience the thrill of a world-class boat race. Credit: This is Durham
  • Get lost in the skies at Grassholme Observatory

It is Britain’s newest observatory - and at Grassholme Reservoir, you can delve deep into the dark skies of the universe from the Durham Dales. Educational and accessible for all, it offers the whole family a magical evening.

  • Experience the extravaganza that is Durham Lumiere

Since the launch of the first Lumiere in 2009, the light festival has transformed the city with a programme of light installations created by local and international artists who reimagine buildings and public spaces.

The event takes place every two years and attracts visitors from far and wide who descend on Durham as night falls. Last year, more than 140,000 people enjoyed the attractions, as the event branched out from the city centre across the county.

Durham Lumiere first launched in 2009, attracting 75,000 visitors. Credit: Artichoke/Durham County Council
  • Shhh... Can you hear Jimmy Allen, the Gypsy Piper?

Stand on Elvet Bridge in the city centre at midnight and you might just hear the eerie music of Northumbrian piper Jimmy Allen.

In the 18th century, he was brought to Durham for trial and sentenced to death for stealing horses. Jimmy was imprisoned in the House of Correction beneath the bridge, where he died just four days before a pardon from the Prince Regent arrived. Fast-forward to the modern day and, as the tale goes, you might still hear jailed Jimmy playing his beloved smallpipes.

Or if that's not your thing, there is an aptly-named bar to grab a drink.

Do you believe in the tall tales of Jimmy Allen? Credit: PA
  • Clickety clack...the Consett and Sunderland Railway Path

If you don't want to cycle the trail, explore it on foot and following the line of the old Stanhope and Tyne Railway - Britain's first commercial railway. Staying in County Durham, start from Consett, wind your way past Stanley and onto Beamish. If you fancy the challenge of the 24 mile route, travel on past WWT Washington Wetland Centre, continue along the riverside in Sunderland, through the marina and finish the beach in Roker.

  • Kynren: An epic tale of England

From daylight to starlight watch "a thrilling tale told on an epic scale" - 2,000 years in the making.

The world-class performance takes place on a 7.5-acre outdoor stage complete with its own lake. Get lost as you travel through time and watch legends come to life. From Boudicca’s battles with the Romans to two world wars, via Vikings, Tudors and the fate of Charles I... "Kynren is a spellbinding, family-friendly experience delivering thrills, shocks, tears, laughs, goosebumps and gasps on a truly cinematic scale". All on Durham's doorstep, in Bishop Auckland.

Observe history before your very eyes at Kynren. Credit: Kynren
  • Feel like Royalty for the day (and night) at Lumley Castle

Situated pretty much in the centre of the county, 600-year-old Lumley Castle Hotel stands proudly overlooking the River Wear and surrounding countryside. The castle has more than 70 unique bedrooms to choose from and is famous for its entertaining medieval banquet evenings. 

Lumley Castle is a 14th-century quadrangular castle at Chester-le-Street. Credit: PA
  • Witness world-class sport at Durham County Cricket Club

The Emirates Riverside is a renowned venue which regularly attracts visitors from all over the world. Situated in the heart of Chester-le-Street, you can bask in the sunshine and watch the biggest names in cricket take to the field. International matches are returning to the ground in the summer of 2022.

Cricket played before the backdrop of Lumley Castle, in Chester-le-Street. Credit: PA
  • Take the plunge in Stanhope's open air pool

One for the kids. Stanhope has one of those rarities in the UK - a heated outdoor swimming pool. The water is a warm 27 degrees and you can jump into it from another uncommon feature - a springboard. For little ones there is a smaller heated pool with a slide. And if you really want to treat yourself why not book the sauna?

  • Take a drive to Barnard Castle

Yes, you read that right. If you’re exploring the vast dales of Durham Dales, be sure to stop by the market town of Barnard Castle, and see for yourself what it has to offer.

Despite making the headlines in recent times, this hidden hotspot has always proudly boasted antique stores, historic walks, coffee shops and a farmers market to explore. It is also home to The Bowes Museum - a majestic building with a nationally renowned art collection. Among it are two of Canalettos’s "largest and finest works" and The Silver Swan, a mechanical, moving life-size swan dating from 1773.

There's more to Barnard Castle than meets the eye. Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees