We enjoy an action-packed family break in delightful Durham

We enjoy an action-packed family break in delightful Durham

We take our children on a fantastic short break to Durham city and county

There aren’t many places where you can enjoy an historic city, visit the beach and explore dramatic countryside all in one day.

But you can in Durham where we began an action-packed short break with a trip to the sea at Seaham.

A striking stretch of sand where the main attraction is what’s washed up by the incoming water.

Some of the sea glass we found at Seaham beach, Durham

Sea glass

The beach is famous for its sea glass with dozens of hunters at a time scouring the sand for tiny bits of the precious material.

We found searching for sea glass strangely addictive – within a few minutes all four of us had joined everyone else on our hands and knees looking for it.

It wasn’t so tricky to find the main attraction at another of our early stops – Locomotion railway museum.

This home to trains of all shapes and sizes in Shildon – Britain’s first railway town – is a free attraction.

Testing reaction times on railway signals at Locomotion.

Testing reaction times on railway signals at Locomotion.

Also free to visit – though you are encouraged to donate £5 per person – is the striking Durham Cathedral.

The incredible 11th century building stands over the city, its three towers regularly visible as you stroll the riverside and the cobbled streets.

Inside, you can learn about the history of the building and, if you’re fit enough and eight years old or over, you can climb the 325 steps to the top for views over the city.

The spiral staircase gets increasingly narrow at the top but makes for an exhilarating destination when you step out onto the roof.

Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral

The busy cathedral is also a great place for Harry Potter fans with several scenes from the first two movies filmed there. You can stroll the cloisters where Harry, Ron and Hermione walked.

Apparently, the scene where Ron’s spell backfires and he starts throwing up slugs was filmed here (find out more in our video below).

If the thought of this doesn’t put you off your lunch, you can buy something to eat and drink from the Undercroft cafe and eat it opposite the atmospheric square.

Thanks to its compact size, Durham is an excellent city to walk around – with riverside strolls and car-free cobbled streets. 

We even managed to get out on the water when we hired a traditional rowing boat from Browns Boats.

The hand-made boats fit a family of four and you can spend an hour exploring both directions on the River Wear.

A girl rows on a Browns Boat rowing boat hire on the River Wear in Durham

Rowing on the River Wear

The sweeping, wide waters of the river were visible from our hotel – the Radisson Blu – read our hotel review and guide.

The hotel is really well-positioned about 10 to 15 minutes from the city centre in a quiet spot next to the river.

Radisson Blu Hotel Durham on the River Wear

Radisson Blu Hotel Durham

It’s idea for families – our large, modern family room contained two TVs and excellent WiFi.

Its indoor swimming pool is a real bonus for children and we used it every day. And parents can enjoy the jacuzzi, sauna or a spa treatment if they’re lucky.

However, for us there was too much to do to spend long relaxing.

We even managed to take a trip back in time at Beamish – the living museum of the north.

This popular day out is great fun for all the family as you travel by tram or old bus to different eras.

An old bus on a cobbled street at Beamish Museum in County Durham


We visited the 1950s, 1940s, 1910s and 1820s with a cast of staff and volunteers in period costume manning traditional bakeries, sweet shops and hairdressers.

Particular highlights for us was our daughter getting a 1950’s hair-do and having a family photo in Edwardian outfits.

Our Edwardian family photo at Beamish museum in Durham

Our Edwardian family photo

The museum is on a large site in lovely countryside with woodland walks between some of the different attractions.

But we had to wait until our last day to fully explore County Durham’s countryside.

Heading inland, our destination was the Northern Pennines. On the edge of the hills lies Raby Castle – a beautiful castle with deer park to explore and a new play area called Potters Forest with a wooden assault course for adults and children to explore.

Our final stop was England’s highest waterfall.

A few miles outside the pretty village of Middleton-in-Teesdale lies High Force.

You can buy a ticket and snacks at a kiosk next to the High Force Hotel and then set off towards the waterfall.

An accessible 15-minute walk brings the gushing water into view. It is a spectacular sight and you can get right down onto the rocks near the waterfall.

High Force Waterfall

High Force Waterfall

Once you’ve enjoyed the sight and sound of High Force, the trail takes you through woodland back to the car park – but don’t forget to keep an eye out for the wooden carvings of people and animals on the route.

A visit to High Force makes for a suitably spectacular end to a wonderful mini-break with a little bit of everything.

More details on the all the attractions we visited here: Best places to visit around the English city of Durham and the wider county

This is Durham

For more great ideas, visit the county’s official tourism website This is Durham.

Telephone: 03000 26 26 26

Email: visitor@thisisdurham.com

RELATED STORY: Best places to visit around the English city of Durham and the wider county

RELATED STORY: Radisson Blu Hotel in Durham City Centre – review and guide

(We received complimentary accommodation and entry to attractions for the purpose of this review, all views are our own).

A family break in St Albans with our children proves a great mixture of old and new

A family break in St Albans with our children proves a great mixture of old and new

We explore the family-friendly attractions in the city of St Albans and eat at the oldest pub in Britain

As we climb up and up, twist after twist, turn after turn, the staircase gets narrower and narrower.

The top of the Clock Tower is a particularly tight squeeze, its 600-year-old roof can only take a few visitors at a time – but the view at the summit of the 93 steps is well worth it.

Stretching in front of us is St Albans – a city where the ancient and the modern sit side-by-side.

For example, the Clock Tower was built in 1405, but on the street below, people queue up outside Darlish, the UK’s first Persian ice cream parlour, whose speciality is a deliciously sweet baklava ice cream sandwich.

The city’s park contains both a modern splash pool and Roman remains. And pubs which played host to Oliver Cromwell now serve the latest culinary trends.

And that theme of ancient and modern is clear at our first stop, St Albans Museum and Gallery.

St Albans Museum and Gallery

St Albans Museum and Gallery

St Albans Museum and Gallery

Refurbished in 2018, the city’s main museum contains 2,000 years of history over three floors. Children are given an activity pack and trail to follow around.

You can visit the underground cells which used to be the city’s prison and then climb up into the former courtroom.

While your little ones pretend to be a judge or a villain in the dock, pensioners merrily sip away at cups of tea and tuck into slices of cake.

Our little magistrate sentences her big brother to life imprisonment

Upstairs there are more displays of the city’s history and on site is a tasty cafe. You can eat in the old courtroom or on the market square as we did, tucking into large sandwiches, varied salads and a wide range of excellent cakes.

Information: St Albans Museum and Gallery, Town Hall, St Peter’s St, St Albans AL1 3DH, open daily 10am to 5pm, 11am to 5pm on Sundays. Entry free.

St Albans Market

It is worth visiting on market day – Wednesdays and Saturdays between 8.30am and 4.30pm – if you can. There has apparently been a market in the city since the 9th century. 1,100 years on and the stalls are packed, stretching along the high street. You can buy everything from toys, to handbags, to Pakistani or Indonesian street food. It is a vibrant, colourful sight with more than 160 stalls.

Market day in St Albans, our view from the Clock Tower

Market day in St Albans, our view from the Clock Tower

Clock Tower

At the bottom end of the market and high street is the Clock Tower. The stairs to the top do get very narrow but it is fun to climb and you are rewarded with views across Hertfordshire and even London on a clear day. The friendly volunteers at the bottom of the tower let children help ring the city’s 600-year-old bell, which has been clanging away since the Wars of the Roses.

St Albans Clock Tower

The Clock Tower

Information: Clock Tower, High St, St Albans AL3 4EL. opening times vary. Entry £1 adults, children free. This is the only surviving medieval town belfry in England.

St Albans Cathedral

Even older than the clock tower is the building which dominates this city. St Albans Cathedral, known locally as The Abbey, is named after Alban, Britain’s first saint.

St Alban's Cathedral

St Albans Cathedral

It is a huge building and entry is free. Children can get an activity pack from the new welcome centre, which has a shop, cafe and toilets. The pack contains 12 questions taking you around the cathedral, encouraging youngsters to explore the whole site.

The quiz also explains to them some of the history of this building and the story of how Alban became St Alban and met a grizzly end at the hands of the Romans.

There are also tree trails to explore the cathedral’s gardens, which takes around 45 minutes to complete.

On certain heritage open days there are also graffiti trails where children can hunt for clues on the various etchings visitors have drawn into the stone around the cathedral.

All the trails cost £2 per child and include a badge when successfully completed.

Some churches can feel a little stuffy and unwelcoming to children but this felt like a site where little ones were actively welcomed.

Information: St Albans Cathedral, St Albans AL1 1B, open daily, entry free.

Verulamium Park

Verulamium Park in St Albans

Verulamium Park

A short walk down the hill from the cathedral brings you to Verulamium Park, a former Roman site.

It is named after the Roman city of Verulamium on which it stands. And there are Roman remains dotted around its 100 acres. It was full of families when we visited, there is lots of space to run around, you can stroll by the lake, feed the ducks and climb trees. There is also a playground, fairly new splash park open during the summer, football goals, cafe and indoor swimming pool.

Verulamium Museum next to the park grounds has artefacts, which explore everyday life in Roman Britain.

Information: Verulamium Park, St Peter’s Street, St Albans, UK.

Eating Out

St Albans has a wealth of options for eating out with almost every conceivable chain restaurant having an outlet around the city centre. We took a chance on something slightly different. Ye Olde Fighting Cocks is officially Britain’s oldest pub, the octagonal building dates back to the 11th century.

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks is officially Britain’s oldest pub

Britain’s oldest pub

It is well situated near the entrance to Verulamium Park and has a beer garden. Inside, the low ceilings and timber beams make the pub feel medieval. Fortunately, the food is most definitely modern. There are four children’s options (£8 each) including pasta, burgers and sausages. The quality was high, as were the adult meals.

The pub becomes less family-friendly the later into the evening it gets so I would suggest trying it for lunch or an early dinner.

Information: Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, 16 Abbey Mill Ln, St Albans, AL3 4HE.

As we stroll back from the pub where Oliver Cromwell once stayed the night, the beautiful cathedral is lit up and it’s easy to see why this is a city is a great place to introduce children to our country’s history.

Where we stayed – St Michael’s Manor

St Michael's Manor hotel in St Albans

St Michael’s Manor

Our hotel, St Michael’s Manor, is next to the park and has a lovely garden of its own – five acres to explore and its own lake.

The hotel’s original building dates from 1500, which practically makes it a modern development in St Albans.

This luxury hotel has excellent family rooms – our suite had two televisions and a huge bathroom.

Our hotel room at St Michael's Mount

Our hotel room, Sycamore

Breakfast is in a beautiful orangery-style restaurant.

It’s well-situated with lots of parking spaces, so we could walk to and from the city centre, read our full hotel review with pictures and video here: Review: St Michael’s Manor Hotel in St Albans

This was also the perfect base from which to visit Harry Potter Studios the next day – read our review of that here: The full guide to Harry Potter Studio Tour London with must-read tips and family review

Information: St Michael’s Manor Hotel, Fishpool Street, St Albans, AL3 4RY.

Breakfast at Lakeside Restaurant

Breakfast St Michael’s Manor

Disclaimer – Our hotel, food and attractions were provided to us in exchange for this review. All views are our own.