Find out what life is really like at Durham University

Every season brings with it what I consider ‘quintessential experiences’. There’s swimming, having picnics, and anything that gets you out and under the sun to top up your vitamin D levels in summer. Winter may have snowy sports, sledging, or staying warm inside in front of a fire, and if you don’t go stomping through a pile of multicoloured leaves or drink a pumpkin spiced latte in Autumn, then you’re doing something wrong. Yes, these are all very cliched, instagrammable experiences, but sometimes that’s the best way to get into a season and just embrace all those overdone (photographic) activities.

That being said, experiences are also different everywhere you go. Sometimes each specific place has different seasonal expectations, experiences, places to go, and it helps to have that ‘local knowledge. As an international student (one from the Southern hemisphere, to clarify), spending winter in Durham has been a completely new experience that has taken some getting used to but has still been lots of fun. So today, I’d like to share with you all what it’s like in Durham in the winter, especially for an international student where your winter might look quite different…

Spending winter in Durham, as I said, is an entirely new ‘winter experience’ for me because I’m from South Africa. Even though our winters get cold, I think our coldest days could be considered a balmy autumn afternoon by Durham standards. Where we typically get clear blue skies and sunshine all year round, the weather in Durham starts to match the temperature, with the skies being a bit more grey, the visiting arctic wind and sometimes even snow (which is definitely not something we get in sunny SA).

That being said, there are still many great things to do in Durham during winter, and most of them focus on keeping warm, which is a key priority in my books!

Fun winter activities

One of the great things about Durham is there are always things to do no matter where you look. Colleges may hold special ‘wintery activities’ and socials like movie nights to keep out the cold, or mental health and well-being sessions so that the gloom doesn’t get you down, winter balls, formal dinners and concerts, and any other fun themed activities. Societies as well might host winter-related activities, like hot chocolate café crawls. However, if those don’t quite pique your interest, don’t worry. There are still other things to do.

Heading to a cafe for a cake break is a great way to keep warm

Taking a walk along the River Wear in winter, while being super frosty sometimes, is a stunning walk. Every two years, Durham hosts Lumiere the Light Festival in November (that counts as winter, right?!), play in the snow on Observatory hill if it does snow, or if you’re an indoor cat like me, go catch a film at the Gala theatre or one of the great performances at the Assembly rooms theatre. If the chill doesn’t get to you, you could even go stargazing since the sun goes down quite early. There’s even the Saturday outdoor market on the weekends, and I just adore wandering around all the stalls with a hot drink (I don’t drink coffee; I usually get hot chocolate). I know this may not sound interesting to some people, but I don’t get to experience winter in this way because we don’t really have these opportunities where I live.

Taking a walk by the frosty River Wear

If you find you’re looking for a bit more wintery adventure though, don’t forget that Newcastle is so close and easy to get to on the train – you could go ice skating, shopping, or anything else you fancy.

Winter eats and outs

Food is definitely the fastest way to my heart, and the great thing about spending winter in Durham is that there are so many restaurants and cafes around to keep you warm, hydrated and happy. One of my favourite things to do in Durham, especially during winter, is to try out all the different hot chocolates at the various cafes in Durham. My friends and I go to a different café and try out any seasonal treats they have on offer and, of course, a hot chocolate. So I’d say if you’re looking for something to do during winter in Durham, why risk the hypothermia? Go restaurant and café hopping, and not only is it super fun to try the different foods and drinks, but the places themselves are also always lovely and warm, you can get something hot to eat/drink, and it will undoubtedly put a smile on your face.

Enjoying a hot chocolate in the marketplace

Winter warnings

Although, as an international student who is certainly not built to withstand winters in England generally, there are a few key things to remember! Don’t be a hero and think that you’ll be warm with just one jumper on – temperatures do drop in the afternoons, and the wind can pick up, so I’d far rather say dress like an Eskimo because at least you’ll be warm. Pack your thermals, fluffy socks and blankets, because long hours of studying means not as much movement, so you start to feel the cold. And lastly, if and when it snows, please be careful! I am not a very coordinated person on a good day, so when you add ice to the mix… let’s just say I looked like a giraffe on ice, let alone Bambi on ice so take special care when walking on frosty surfaces.

A sprinkling of snow in Durham

Even though it’s a very new type of winter to the ones I’m used to at home, I’ve still found it really fun experiencing Durham in winter. There are still fun things to do around town, colleges and societies are just as busy and there for you to get involved with, there’s always an excuse for a cosy movie night in with friends, and … because I started off talking about this … it’s just so aesthetically pleasing so don’t forget about all the cute photo ops!

Discover more

About Durham University’s involvement in Lumiere here

Download our latest prospectus and college guide here.

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Tia van Loggerenberg

Hey everyone! I’m Tia van Loggerenberg. I’m a second-year international student doing Education Studies single honours in John Snow College. I’m the founder and president of the Disney Society, secretary for the creative writing society and chocolate enthusiast. I also run a lifestyle blog called Tall Blonde Tales, where I include stories and advice about university, so if you’re interested, you can check that out too! Today, I’m sharing some of my favourite places to eat in Durham - I hope you enjoy it! 

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