Find out what life is really like at Durham University

Durham CityStudent experience

Exploring Durham

Coming to a new city for the first time can be daunting, even when the city is as small as Durham. As well as getting to grips with a new style of learning and new flatmates, make sure to take time out in your first term to explore!


What Durham lacks in size, it makes up for in cafes. If you are a fan of brunch you’ve come to the right place! This is just a small selection of my favouraite cafés in Durham – you should try to visit them all over your time here. There are many more, I simply can’t mention them all.

  • Flat White: Perhaps the most infamous café in Durham, Flat White owns Flat White Kitchen, Flat White Café and Whitechurch. Wherever you are in Durham, you’ll never be more than five minutes away from rustic interiors and perfectly formed latte art. The cakes are a particular highlight here, and Whitechurch is the perfect location to relax after a gruelling morning in the library. All of the locations are busy however, so be prepared to queue!
  • Riverview Kitchen: Quite new to the Durham scene, Riverview has quickly become a student favourite due to its incredible pancakes and smoothies. Sitting underneath Framwellgate Bridge, you’ll have a quaint view out over the river and often see swans while you’re eating.
  • Esquires Coffee: Perfect for a studying brunch date, Esquires has cheap and cheerful coffees and snacks, as well as the all-important Wi-Fi access and plug sockets. It has been adopted by students as a café library, and they have embraced their reputation by turning off their music upstairs to provide a quiet space to study.
  • Leonard’s Coffee House: Whilst you may have to use Google Maps to find Back Silver Street or Fowler’s Yard, it’s well worth it for Leonard’s amazing hot chocolate and muffins!
  • Cafédral: Decorated with mismatched furniture and plants, Cafédral is an Instagram dream. Focusing more on lunch than brunch, there’s an amazing selection of healthy food (and cakes to off-set anything healthy you might eat).
Pancakes from Riverview


As well as classic chain restaurants like Nandos, Pizza Express, Chiquitos and Zizzis, Durham is home to some amazing independent brands. From Deliveroo on nights in, to eating out on a social, you’ll always be eating well.

  • La Spaghettata: Colloquially known as ‘Spags’, this budget Italian sits underneath a bar and club and is a common location for socials due to their amazing deals. With great food ranging from vegan options to literally having spaghetti on your pizza, there will be something for everyone. There’s also a free salad bar!
  • Lebaneat: Lebaneat’s wraps are iconic: delicious, great value and very filling – I challenge you to finish any meal without getting a massive food baby. At their Claypath restaurant, you can also bring your own drinks during the week for a small corkage fee.
  • Tia’s: An often-overlooked Mexican restaurant on Claypath, Tia’s is a small, family-run business. The food is mouth-watering and there is an entire vegan menu.
  • Zen: This Thai restaurant is lit by a giant pink fairy-light covered tree and offers high-quality food and drinks. Perhaps a little too expensive for the average student budget, this is a perfect place to take your parents in the hope that they’ll indulge your Pad Thai obsession.


As Durham is not as heavily built on as other cities, you’ll have great access to the local flora and fauna.

  • Wharton Park: Sitting behind the train station, Wharton Park is a great place to sit and relax. It has lovely views over the Cathedral and lots of picnic spots.
  • The River: Alongside the river runs a small forest area, with paths that connect the viaduct to Lower Mountjoy (science site). While you may not use this much in your first year, it may be a short-cut once you’re living out of college. It’s perfect for getting away from thinking about work for ten minutes, and also has great views.
  • Observatory Hill: Behind Trevs and Aidan’s is the best view of Durham you’ll get. The panoramic view is amazing for watching the sunset, and it is a popular picnic location in the summer.
  • Botanic Garden: With free entry for students, you have no excuse not to visit. The forest land and wildflower gardens feel far away from essays and the library, and there are even greenhouses for those classic candid photos with the cacti.
  • Old Durham Gardens: Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, try to pass through the Old Durham Gardens if you’re exploring the forests past Hild Bede – they are very well kept and a real hidden gem.
The River Wear near the College of St Hild and St Bede


Once you’ve finished eating your way around Durham, there are plenty of attractions in the history-packed city. The main ones are below, but there are plenty of smaller museums and places to visit.

  • Durham Cathedral: Home to the picturesque cloisters that were featured in Harry Potter, the Cathedral is the focal point of the whole city. It is full of history and beauty and has recently relaxed its photography policy so you can take photos all over! The main tower was closed for repair for 3 years, you now can climb the central tower again for great panoramic views. Read Katie’s blog here.  
  • Durham Castle: Yes students live in here! There are regular tours around the castle for students and visitors alike – or if you have any friends in University College, make sure to get them to show you around.
  • Oriental Museum: With many artefacts from all over northern Africa and Asia, the museum also regularly hosts interactive events and talks.
The Cathedral in the snow is magical

Beyond Durham

With Newcastle on your doorstep and public transport all around the North East, there are plenty of things to see outside of the Durham bubble.

  • South Shields: A small beach town accessible by driving or using the Newcastle metro, South Shields is a perfect beach spot for summer day trips as it has several lovely beaches.
  • Beamish Museum: Accessible via bus, the living museum features replicas of the North East in the 1820s, 1900s and 1940s. Perfect for a wholesome day out with friends, there is even a Victorian sweetshop that makes its own sweets and a coal-fired fish and chip shop.
  • Raby Castle: Featuring a castle, deer park and walled gardens, Raby Castle is a 14th century castle. Perfect for history buffs, it is a worthwhile day out.
Longsands beach – it’s long and sandy

Astrud Turner

Hi, I'm a Hild Bede student who has recently graduated in Law. While at Durham I loved spending my time volunteering, doing theatre (I don't act - I was a technical director!) and travelling! The majority of my student loan was spent in cafes and on stationery, which is 100% money well spent. You can find me on Instagram

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