What to do in Durham

what to do in barnard castle

What do you want to do in Durham today?  How about visiting the Vale of Durham which offers some truly fantastic things to do for all the family.

What to do in Durham today?

If you are looking for something free to do with the kids you could head over to the National Railway Museum in Shildon or visit the castles and deer park at Raby and Barnard Castle or perhaps you want to explore the Durham dales and Teesdale and enjoy the scenic walks, rivers and fells.

The Vale of Durham offers so many great things to see and do that you will want to come back time and again to enjoy everything it has to offer.

So sit back, make yourself comfortable and lets discover some fun things to do in Durham for all the family.

Locomotion, the National Railway Museum

The Locomotion national railway museum is a fantastic free day out for all the family.  The world’s first ever steam-hauled passenger train left from Shildon in 1825 and now you get to explore Timothy Hackworth’s famous locomotive, the pioneering Sans Pareil, and discover how and why the Vale of Durham is the true home of the railway.

Timothy Hackworth's Locomotion train at the National Railway MuseumWhy not take the time to see the locomotives built during the great age of steam as well as guest engines which are on display at the biggest changing railway collection in the North East.

Enjoy the free tours which give you the chance to peak inside the buildings in a once in a lifetime opportunity, where you will see the historic buildings at the west of the museum site, hear the stories of the historic coal drops, Timothy Hackworth’s house and much much more.

Locomotion: The National Railway Museum at Shildon houses over 70 vehicles in its ‘Collection Building’, for which admission and parking are free. Learn about the fascinating history of the railways and so much more!

Although the ‘Collection Building’ is perhaps the main attraction for many, the museum also hosts special guided tours to the heritage end of the site. On these tours guests are taken to see railway pioneer Timothy Hackworth’s house, the Soho shed, and so much more. The tours are free of charge and last approximately one hour.

Timothy Hackworth locomotion national museumDuring special events the museum also hosts steam and diesel train rides. These rides take visitors on a journey between the ‘Collection Building’ and the heritage buildings, before returning. They have a small charge, but under 5s ride free!

Spectacular events, free activities, full wheelchair and pushchair access, and a fantastic range of facilities (including a café & shop) make the museum the world class attraction that it is.  Free admission and free parking mean that Locomotion is a ‘must-see’ museum.

Explore the history of the railways and so much more at Locomotion: The National Railway Museum at Shildon.

The museum also offers steam driver experiences for as little as £80!  Please contact the museum for more information and to arrange this amazing experience.

Address: Dale Road Industrial Estate, Shildon, County Durham, DL4 2RE
Contact: 01388 777999; http://www.nrm.org.uk/planavisit/visitshildon
Prices: Free admission and free parking
Opening times: Open daily, 10:00-17:00 during summer ( 10:00-16:00 in winter). Closed 24-26 Dec and 1 Jan. Limited opening at the Welcome end of the site during the Low Season.


Kynren – an epic tale of England’ takes you on a captivating journey through 2,000 years of British history, myth and legend.

kynren bishop auckland
Beginning in the Roman times and taking you all the way through to World War II, via the Viking and Norman invasions of Britain, revelling in medieval banquets, the lavishness and madness of the Tudors, the greatness of Victorian Britain and the Industrial Revolution and then dancing into the swinging Twenties.  Your Kynren adventure takes you on an action packed adventure you will never forget.
On an open air, landscaped stage, the size of several football pitches, the story unfolds before your eyes as you are treated to a steam train, combat, ships, mass choreography, fire, dazzling pyrotechnics, dance and astonishing lighting and water effects.

volunteer actors at bishop auckland kynrenWith a huge cast of 1500 volunteers who have been trained by performance experts in theatrical combat, dance, pyrotechnics and guest management, as well as a supporting cast of goats, geese, horses, ducks, sheep and cattle, this truly is a unique and spectacular display.

Beginning just after sunset the 90 minute show blazes it trail set against the fantastic backdrop of
Auckland Castle in Bishop Auckland. With special effects that amaze and enhance the performance and a sound track composed by Nathan Stornetta who is an award winning composer, the hairs on the back of your neck will be standing on end all night!

Take a journey through more than 2,000 years of British history with an exciting live outdoor night show taking place in an open-air amphitheatre in Bishop Auckland in the Vale of Durham.

the kynren fireworks at bishop aucklandSet against the backdrop of Auckland Castle, Eleven Arches presents ‘Kynren – an epic tale of England’ a live action-packed show on a dazzling scale, delivered by 1,000 local volunteers and rolled out as 14 action-packed and movie-like performances across the summer of 2016.

Prepare to be amazed as this epic show is performed on a 7.5 acre stage which includes a lake, pyrotechnics and stunning lighting and water effects. And don’t miss the chance to explore more of this fascinating market town including Auckland Castle, which was the palace of Durham’s Prince Bishops for more than 900 years and is now home to priceless Spanish art and the largest private chapel in Europe.

Address: Flatts Farm, Toronto, Bishop Auckland DL14 7SF, UK
Contact: 0333 300 3028 Booking line – 01388 311813 local; https://elevenarches.org

Ticket Type Adult Child
 Diamond  £55  £41
 Platinum  £47  £35
 Gold  £40  £30
 Silver  £32  £24
 Bronze  £25  £19

Show Dates: 17 shows in Bishop Auckland running from July to September 2017, please check the web site for more information.

Hamsterley Forest

hamsterley forest

Hamsterley forest is set between the Wear and Tees valleys on the edge of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is 2000 hectares of mixed woodland. Hamsterley is a jewel of County Durham with its woodland sprawling along the sides of a sheltered valley. There are so many things you can do, no matter what your fitness level is.  From horse riding, walks of varying degree, bike hire and numerous cycle routes including some of the most challenging you will find, you are bound to enjoy your visit.

Cycle hire is available on site – www.woodnwheels.org.uk

the gruffalo at hamsterley forest play areaThere is also a forest play park which is open all year round. A Discovery Pass is available to buy which gives free parking all year round plus other benefits for only £43.00 per annum.

Hamsterley Forest is a magnet for mountain bikers with fantastic sections of exhilarating single track.  Families are also well catered for with a multi-user trail along the tranquil Bedburn Beck with exciting play areas to keep the children active and occupied for hours! Relax at the end of your visit with some homemade cake at the Hamsterley Forest Cafe and courtyard.

Address: Hamsterley, Bishop Auckland, County Durham, DL13 3NL
Contact: 01388 488312; https://www.forestry.gov.uk/hamsterleyforest
Opening times: (1 Oct 2017 – 31 Dec 2017) daily 8am-5pm
Prices: Forest Drive Toll Per Car £5. £10 per mini bus. £15 per coach. Annual Discovery Pass available.
Directions:  Nearest major road is the A68.  Follow the brown ‘Hamsterley Forest’ signs from the A68 north of Bishop Auckland.

Auckland Castle

Explore artistic treasures in Auckland Castle, home of the Prince Bishops of Durham for 900 years, and set to host a spectacular new show from 2016.

auckland castle bishop auckland

Uncover the intriguing stories of the Prince Bishops of Durham, men of great power, wealth, faith and passion, who for centuries were equal in power to the kings of England. This palace was their home and hunting lodge.

auckland castle entrance gateNot bad for a hunting lodge!  Take your time to visit Europe’s biggest private chapel and see the beautiful stained glass windows and amazing ceiling and of course the paintings, especially the many paintings of Jacob and his 12 sons by the Spanish master, Francisco de Zurbarán, which have hung inside the castle for 250 years.   Once you have taken this all in, head out to the grounds and stroll through the Medieval deer park.

Significant investment has been made in Auckland Castle and the surrounding area as part of the Eleven Arches Kynren events which brings to life over 2,000 years of Britain’s history in an amazing night show, complete with firework finale.

Address: Market Place, Bishop Auckland DL14 7NR, UK
Contact: 01388 743750http://www.aucklandcastle.org
Road Directions: Nearest major road is A1(M). From the A1(M) take the A689 to Bishop Auckland.
Public Transport Directions: The nearest train station is Bishop Auckland Train Station. Head down Newgate Street to the Market Place and the castle is in the far left corner of the square through clock tower gate .


A walking architectural history lesson.

view of the castle at barnard castle from the river tees

In Barnard Castle you can take a walk through over a thousand years of English history, in one rather gorgeous market town. In our opinion the best place to begin is the ruins of the eponymous castle itself, which has been keeping watch over the place since 1125.

barnard castle original castle designAs well as surviving centuries of sieges and North East weather, there are cracking views of the gorge from up here, with the River Tees drifting past, below. Why not take a stroll into the town after this; it’s like an architectural history lesson – awash with gorgeous buildings from Medieval, to Georgian to Victorian times. Head to The Bank, for example, and you’ll find a bunch of antique shops tucked away in beautiful 16th- and 17th-century buildings, which are great for a browse – even if you’re not buying. One of our favourites is White’s Antiques, which is crammed full of porcelain, glass and silver treasures.

Once you have taken in the ancient splendour of the castle, you now need to head to nearby Bowes Museum. Situated in beautiful landscaped gardens, within walking distance from the town centre (though driving is easy and there is plenty of free parking), the French style house itself is magnificent and a work of art on its own. Inside the Museum you can enjoy the artwork, with paintings by the likes of El Greco, Goya, Canaletto and many others, as well as magnificent textiles, clocks, tapestries and costumes.  With a rolling exhibition programme you really do get to see history at its most beautiful, every visit.

Address: Barnard Castle, County Durham, DL12 8PR
Contact: 01833 638212; http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/barnard-castle/

Ticket Type Ticket Tariff
Adult (including gift aid) £5.60 per ticket type
Child (5-15 years) (including gift aid) £3.40 per ticket type
Concession (including gift aid) £5.00 per ticket type
Family (including gift aid) £14.60 per ticket type

Free admission for English Heritage members. Adults (excluding gift aid) £5, children (excluding gift aid) £3, Concessions (excluding gift aid) £4.50, Family (excluding gift aid) £13.

Opening Times:

2017 Summer (25 Mar 2017 – 30 Sept 2017)
Monday – Sunday 10:00  – 18:00
Bank Holiday 10:00  – 18:00
2017 Autumn (1 Oct 2017 – 31 Oct 2017)
Monday – Sunday 10:00  – 17:00
Bank Holiday 10:00  – 17:00

* Last admission 30 minutes before closing. Closed 24-25, 31 Dec, 1 Jan.

Road Directions: Nearest major road is the A1 which is about 20 minutes away and the A66 is about 10 minutes from Barnard Castle.
Public Transport Directions: Nearest rail station at Darlington.

The Bowes Museum

bowes museum barnard castle

Bowes Museum sits in the heart of the beautiful historic market town Barnard Castle, in the fantastic Vale of Durham countryside.  The Museum was purpose built in the 19th century by businessman John Bowes and his wife Josephine who was a French actress. Their romantic story is revealed as you wander around this graceful and elegant Grade I Listed building.

Bowes museum GalleryThe diverse collections begun by this amazing couple are constantly being added to and currently span three floors of this magnificent French-style chateau.  Enjoy the fashion exhibits from the 16th – 20th century, the delicate porcelain or paintings by the likes of Van Dyck, Goya and Canaletto.

Bowes Museum has also received Designated status from the UK Government in recognition of the quality and diversity of its amazing collections so visitors will not only learn of John and Josephine’s beautiful story and enjoy the unique objects on show but can also look forward to an exciting and full rolling programme of exhibitions which includes photography, fine art and fashion and fine art.

Be sure to ask about the guided tours and gallery talk which are sure to enhance your experience.

silver swan at bowes museum barnard castleFollowing a £12m makeover, the legacy that John and Josephine Bowes left to the people of Barnard Castle has been lovingly transformed so as to retain its charm and intrigue as the couple intended whilst protecting the museum for future generations to enjoy.
One of the star attractions has to be the Silver Swan musical automaton, built in 1773, this amazing exhibit runs daily so be sure to check the timetable so you do not miss it .

With all that there is to see, you are bound to need a break but don’t worry, Bowes museum has you covered.   Grab a delicious snack, lunch or even afternoon tea in Café Bowes, or pickup a gift, books, some original art and jewellery at the gift shop, so you never forget your visit.

The Bowes Museum gardens and groundsBowes museum sits within 22 acres of parkland with formal gardens, a picnic area, woodland walks  and children’s play facilities it really is a great family day out.

Address: The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, Co Durham DL12 8NP
Contact: 01833 690606; http://thebowesmuseum.org.uk


Ticket Type Ticket Tariff
Adult £10.50 per ticket type
Concession £9.50 per ticket type
Students (on production of Student Card) £6.00 per ticket type

Children under 16 free. Six month admission pass £16, Students (on production of Student Card) £6. Groups or 12+ £7 per person

Opening Times:

2016(1 Jan 2016 – 31 Dec 2017)
Monday – Sunday 10:00  – 17:00
Bank Holiday 10:00  – 17:00

* Closed 25 & 26 Dec, 1 Jan. Cafe opening 1000-1630. Shop opening 1000-1645.

The BBC wrote a guide on free things to do in Durham Dales which you might find helpful, they also have the latest news as to what is happening in the city and surrounding area, so be sure to check this out if you get a chance.

More Information

If you are still unsure of what to do in Durham, why not take a look at more of the attractions and events on our other Durham pages: