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).

Best places to visit around the English city of Durham and the wider county (plus video guide)

Best places to visit around the English city of Durham and the wider county (plus video guide)

All you need to know about the top family attractions in Durham

Durham is a wonderful county in north-east England, with loads for families to do, stunning scenery and excellent food and drink.

It’s the perfect place for a family getaway with city, coast and countryside all within one county.

Here are some of the best places to visit if you are visiting Durham City and the wider county and don’t miss our video too.

Durham Cathedral (Durham City)

Durham City is lovely to walk around and at its heart is this magnificent cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site, which has been in use for almost 1,000 years.

But Durham Cathedral has also been used in several movies including the first two Harry Potter films – the Philosopher’s Stone and the Chamber of Secrets.

Durham Cathedral exterior landscape front
Durham Cathedral

The Cloisters served as Hogwarts’ quadrangle and outdoor corridors including the scene where Ron has a spell backfire and pukes up slugs.

And the Chapter House was used as McGonagall’s Transfiguration class.

This part is usually closed but we managed to see a bit of it by peering through the keyhole!

If you are eight and over, you can buy tickets to climb the cathedral tower – there are 325 steps to get to the top where there are great views of the city.

Food: The cathedral has a nice restaurant, the Undercroft, serving light lunches including sandwiches, cakes, baked potatoes and quiche, plus they do meal boxes for children.

Cathedral entry cost: Free, £5 suggested donation.

Tower cost: £5.50 adults and £2 children.  

Address: Durham Cathedral, Palace Green Town Centre, Durham, DH1 3EP.

The Undercroft restaurant at Durham Cathedral
The Undercroft restaurant at Durham Cathedral

Palace Green Library (Durham City)

Also in the city, near to the cathedral’s main entrance on the Green, is this small museum.

It contains treasures detailing the history of Durham dating back more than 2,000 years. There are also rooms dedicated to the history of the Durham Light Infantry and another with information about Durham’s UNESCO World Heritage status.

Palace Green Library, Durham

Palace Green Library

And there’s a children’s trail you can collect at reception for them to do.

Cost: Free.

Address: Palace Green Library, Palace Green, Durham, DH1 3RN.

Riverside walks (Durham City)

There are some beautiful riverside walks around Durham. We started from Framwellgate bridge along the River Wear in the city centre and headed towards Prebend’s Bridge.

Once there you can head up the hill towards the cathedral or for a longer stroll, keep going alongside the water around the bend in the river and take the Elvet Bridge into the city centre.

It is a one-mile flat walk from Framwellgate Bridge to Elvet Bridge.

Walking by the River Wear in Durham
Walking by the River Wear

There is also this Durham Riverside Walk plus lots of trails around Durham Cathedral along Woodlands and Riverbanks.

Our hotel the Radisson Blu Durham was on the river and was a great base to explore from: Radisson Blu Hotel in Durham City Centre – review and guide

Browns Boats (Durham City)

You can hire traditional, hand-made rowing boats to explore the River Wear from Browns Boats. The river is nice and wide so ideal even for novice rowers. 

Browns Boats on the River Wear in Durham
Browns Boats on the River Wear

The team at Browns will give you advice and guidance on where to go and how to row safely before you get on board.

The boats have one seat at the front and two at the back with the oarsman in the middle.

In an hour you have time to head in both directions along the river. 

Cost: Adults £8, children £5 (plus £10 refundable deposit).

Address: Browns Boats, The Boathouse, Elvet Bridge, Durham, DH1 3AF.

Dig for Sea Glass at Seaham Hall beach (Durham Heritage Coast)

It’s a strange sight to arrive at the beach at Seaham Hall, everyone is either stooping over as they walk or sitting and digging at the sand.

They are hunting for sea glass and it’s strangely addictive.

So, what is sea glass? It is coloured gems found along the shore.

They are formed from bottles, jars and other discarded glass which have been weathered, smoothed and rounded into frosted glass.

Our haul was mostly green and white in colour but there was the odd blue, yellow and even pink find.

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

Parking: There are steps down to the beach from the free car park above.

Address: Seaham Hall Beach Car Park, SR7 7AF.

Locomotion railway museum (South Durham)

Locomotion museum has all sorts of different trains from the national collection of railway vehicles.

It’s in the town of Shildon, which was the world’s first railway town.

Highlights include peeking inside a Royal Train which carried Edward VII’s wife and a game where you test your reaction times on railway signals.

Looking at the royal carriage at Locomotion railway museum

Looking at the royal carriage

There are locomotives from different eras from the 1830s onwards with a huge variety including cattle carriages, 19th century fire engines and more.

Food: There is a small cafe but you can also bring picnics to eat inside or out.

Cost: Parking and entrance to the museum is free.

Address: Locomotion, Shildon, County Durham, DL4 2RE.

Beamish (North Durham)

Beamish is a living, working museum, where the staff are dressed up to bring to life people and places from the past.

You can experience life in the 1820s, walk around a 1900’s town, a 1900’s pit village, a 1940’s farm and a 1950’s town.

Our highlights included dressing up for an Edwardian family portrait and our daughter having her hair styled in a 1950’s hair salon.

Having her hair done in a 1950's salon at Beamish museum, Durham
Having her hair done in a 1950’s salon at Beamish

You can get around the sprawling site by tram or old-fashioned bus and buy food from places like an Edwardian bakery or a 1900’s sweet shop.

Tickets are booked in time slots at 10am, 11am and 12noon, try to get 10am as it seemed to get busier later. If you arrive after 1pm you don’t need to reserve a timeslot. We were among the first to enter and went straight to the hair salon first for our daughter and managed to get an appointment straight away.

Food: There are various takeaway and sit-in places to eat, we bought some delicious savoury pastries from a takeaway in the mining village.

Cost: Payment includes membership for a year, it costs £21 per adult, £15.50 for students and seniors aged 60 plus and £12 for children (aged 5 to 16). Family reductions start at £37 for one adult and two children.

Address: Beamish Museum, Beamish, County Durham, DH9 0RG.

Raby Castle (Durham Dales)

This is one of England’s best medieval castles and was built in the 14th century.

The grounds of Raby Castle include a scenic deer park with lakes.

A real highlight here is The Plotters’ Forest, a woodland adventure playground for children.

Raby Castle gv

Raby Castle (Credit: Visit County Durham)

Food: Take a picnic or enjoy lunch or a snack at the Yurt Cafe.

Cost: Raby Castle opening times and prices

Address: Raby Castle, Staindrop, DL2 3AH.

High Force Waterfall (Durham Dales)

This spectacular waterfall drops 21 metres (70 feet) into a pool below, in the Durham Dales.

A girl at High Force Waterfall

High Force Waterfall

It’s a relatively short and well-maintained woodland walk for the reward you get at the end.

The sight and sound is spectacular although be careful with children as the viewpoint is down steep steps and on rocks in the River Tees.

We parked at the High Force Hotel, paid at the kiosk in the car park and the children took part in a dinosaur trail too.

We took a longer, steeper, circular walk back round and didn’t see anyone else this way at all.

Cost: Adults £2.50, children under 16 £1, children under five free.

Parking at hotel: £3.

Food: There is a kiosk in the car park selling snacks and drinks or you can have breakfast, lunch or dinner at High Force Hotel.

Address: High Force, Forest-in-Teesdale, DL12 0XH.

Where to stay

With so much to see and do around Durham, you will need a good base to stay. We stayed at the Radisson Blu Hotel in a great location in Durham City on the River Wear: Radisson Blu Hotel in Durham City Centre – review and guide.

And read all about our Durham trip here: We enjoy an action-packed family break in delightful Durham.

Radisson Blu Durham hotel

Radisson Blu Durham

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: We enjoy an action-packed family break in delightful Durham

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

*We enjoyed complimentary accommodation and access to attractions for the purpose of this review, all views are our own.