Find out what life is really like at Durham University

Durham CityStudent experience

Location, location, location

Moving to a new place can be a very daunting experience, but when you’re coming to a great place like Durham it makes things a little easier! Durham City is diverse in its range of opportunities, including cafés, shops and its own market hall by day, and a wide range of bars, restaurants and clubs during evening hours (in more normal times). There are also historic sights and monuments to visit, and lots to see out of the city and in the surrounding countryside or coast.

When I first came to Durham, over a year ago, I definitely didn’t make the most of the surrounding area, and it was only when my parents came to visit me later in the term that I realised how often I walked the same route and visited the same places. If I could change one thing about my first year, and especially in the wake of covid this year, I would have ventured further, visited more places and done a lot more exploring of my surroundings! Hopefully, this guide will allow you to get an idea of the broad experiences Durham can offer and encourage you to start making memories of your own.

Café culture

One of my favourite times last year was when cafes were open because there are a number of cafes in Durham that allow you to go and study whilst you eat and drink. Vennels is particularly good for this, and they offer a 10% student discount if you show your campus card too – plus their scones are to die for. For more aesthetic café trips (you might spend more time taking pictures than actually studying) try either Flat White or Cafedral, which are both on the Bailey near the Cathedral.

Markets

Durham City Centre hosts a local farmer’s market every Saturday which is great fun to look around, or just an excuse to have a wander in town. Pre covid there was also a monthly street food market which I hope will return. This is supplemented by the Market Hall, which is open every day and has a number of small businesses, including a Turkish lighting and homeware stall called How Bazaar which is a personal highlight – most of my housemates have bought beautiful lamps from there. In addition to this, there is a Christmas market that runs every year (except 2020) that really gets you into the festive spirit should things be allowed to operate as usual this December.

The Market Place which hosts food and farmer’s markets and other events

History

There’s plenty of history to be seen around Durham, the most famous of which is definitely the Cathedral, which can be seen from many spots around Durham – top spots for looking at the Cathedral from a distance include Wharton Park, Observatory Hill and Prebends Bridge. The building of the Cathedral started around 1093, which gives it a huge history: if this is something that interests you, you can find more about this on the Durham Cathedral blog site here. For Harry Potter fans out there, the Cathedral was featured as part of Hogwarts, including the famous cloisters that you can walk around so you have the claim to fame that you matriculate and graduate in Hogwarts, especially when you wader around in your gown!

A day trip to the beach

Further afield

Finally, getting outside of the city and into the surrounding areas is well worth it. Again, this is something I’ve done a lot more of this year, mostly through taking up running, but these are all walkable routes too. My favourite place to run is to Finchale Priory, an old Abbey ruins from the 12th century that is really interesting to look around, plus provide great picnic opportunities. There are also some alpacas that live very close to the college of St Hilde and St Bede along the river, which can then lead on to the Old Durham Gardens I can’t wait to explore more in the summer months. My grandma is really looking forward to a trip there, and to the café nearby. Public transport can take you out of Durham into Newcastle for big city attractions and there are a number of beaches that are around half an hour away, Seaham and Blast Beach on the Durham Heritage coast to name just two. Edinburgh and York are also fairly close on the train making them ideal places for a day trip, I hope to go for the day to Edinburgh Christmas market this year (fingers crossed)!

These are just a selection of personal highlights, so I truly recommend going for a wander or a train journey and finding new spots of your own to enjoy as well as these classics.

Find out more

About the local attractions in and around Durham

Blogs from our students about exploring in and around the city.

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Ruby Tomlinson

Hi, I'm Ruby, a second-year English Literature Student from Van Mildert College. Over lockdown, I've been putting my running shoes on to get out and about around Durham city and the surrounding countryside. The student ambassador team has been working really hard to make video content for you to hear from real students, so please don't be shy: have a look at our vlogs and feel free to get in touch with any questions.
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