What are the best things to do in Durham? | A guide to life as a Durham student

External view of durham cathedral

The University of Durham is one of the most renowned universities in not just the UK, but globally as well. As of 2023, Durham University is ranked 92nd in the QS World University Rankings, with a score of 60.9. This score is based on several factors including academic reputation and the number of international students.

However, deciding to study at Durham should not just be based on the university’s merit. Students should consider how they will be living in the city, and the various accolades Durham is famous for.

This guide will explore the best things to do in Durham for students, including cultural and artistic attractions.

Durham landmarks

Compared to its larger and more popular neighbour Newcastle, students may be surprised to learn that the small city boasts an impressive array of significant landmarks. In 1986, the collective area of Durham Castle and Durham Cathedral was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to their historical importance:

Durham Castle

Looking over the River Wear, Durham Castle’s earliest surviving parts date back to William the Conqueror’s reign in 1072. Since then, the castle is now used as part of Durham University and has various guided tours available.

Tourists will have to pay a short entry fee; however, Durham University cardholders may enter free of charge. This is a short bus ride from our Durham student accommodation in Gilesgate.

At Mansion Student, we provide purpose-built accommodations for students. Ernest Place has a variety of amenities, including a gym, cinema, roof top terrace and resident lounge.

Find out more about our Durham student accommodation here.

Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral is one of the most iconic landmarks of the city and receives hundreds and thousands of visitors every year. The cathedral is free to enter, but it is recommended that visitors donate £5 per person to help support its conservation.

External view of durham cathedralDurham Cathedral is also a popular filming location for both film and TV; recently, it doubled as Asgard in Avengers Endgame (2019). Notably, Durham Cathedral was used as inspiration for the design of Hogwarts, and many Harry Potter fans will recognise the Cloister, where Quidditch was played, and the Chapter House that doubled as Professor McGonagall’s classroom.

For the University of Durham, it is important to find suitable student accommodation that is close to the necessities.

Find out more about the local amenities in Durham’s most popular areas here.

River Wear

The River Wear is known for running throughout County Durham and is one of the region’s longest rivers. Durham city centre is built alongside the River Wear and many restaurants and cafes have outdoor seating so that you can sit by the riverside.

Rowing boats below elvet bridge durhamFor a closer look, you can book a rowing boat to go over the River Wear in the heart of Durham city, or there is a completely free walkway.

At Mansion Student, our Durham student accommodation is in Gilesgate, which is a short drive from the city centre. For our tenants, we provide a free bus pass to travel around Durham city, making travelling much easier and affordable.

Find out more about student offers here.

Food and drink

As there is a strong local community, there are many restaurants, pubs and cafes that locally produce their food and drink across Durham County.

Riverside Kitchen

After visiting Durham Cathedral or its castle, one popular place to sit down and have a coffee is the Riverside Kitchen. The café looks over the River Wear for picturesque views and is open every day serving breakfast, lunch and alcoholic beverages.

Akarsu Turkish Restaurant

If you are in the mood for something different, the Akarsu Turkish Restaurant & Grill is tucked away on Silver Street and serves authentic Turkish cuisine.

Flat White Kitchen

The Flat White Kitchen is one of the most acclaimed coffee shops in the city; it was recently featured in The Northern Independent Coffee Guide. Based on Saddler Street, the building is a 17th century townhouse and is spread across five floors, including underground rooms, cosy hideaways and a secret garden.

If you are more of a night owl, Durham also has a range of pubs, bars and nightclubs that are open till late.

Find out more about the Durham nightlife available.


Durham’s history dates to back 995 AD when a group of monks chose the high peninsula as a burial place for the body of Saint Cuthbert. Nowadays, St Cuthbert’s remains and treasures are kept in Durham Cathedral and are on display to visitors at the historic site.

Crook Hall & Gardens

Just a short 15-minute walk from the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Crook Hall is a grade I listed building that has recently been acquired by the National Trust. It has a series of interlinked gardens, a café and a maze, which can be explored for prices starting at £4.

Beamish Museum

Unlike other museums, the Beamish Museum is an immersive experience where visitors can walk through the northeast’s history; from the early nineteenth century up to WWII. The Beamish living Museum is a short 15-minute drive from Durham city centre and has discounted student admission.

Given its impressive structure, the museum is also a sought-after filming location and was featured in the last ever episode of Downton Abbey and its 2019 film.

Art, music and film

Gala Theatre

The Gala Theatre is the main place to go in Durham for art, music and film. The purpose-built building is located on the banks of the River Wear and hosts a variety of events, including some of the biggest names in comedy, the most popular musicals and the latest blockbusters on their cinema screens.

Theater seats from the stageThe Assembly Rooms

Situated on North Bailey, The Assembly Rooms is a 175-seat theatre based in the heart of Durham city centre. It is primarily used for Durham University productions, touring theatres and professional productions.

For both The Gala Theatre and The Assembly Rooms, there are typically concessionary tickets for students. Make sure to check this beforehand and remember to take your student ID upon ticket collection.

At Mansion Student, we provide student accommodation in Durham. Our purpose-built facilities are at Ernest Place on Renny’s Lane, which is closely located in Durham city centre and Durham City Retail Park.

Ernest place student accommodation bedroomContact us today to arrange a viewing or to find out more information about our Durham student accommodation.

How Mansion Student can help

Since 2007, Mansion Student has acquired, developed and maintained modern student accommodations throughout some of the most popular student cities in the United Kingdom. We prioritise your welfare during your stay, and will help you through every stage of the booking and tenancy period. Browse through our different student accommodation locations below:

If you are interested in staying at any of our student accommodations, arrange a viewing here to ensure you are completely happy with the property before booking.

Browse through our student offers here.

Contact Mansion Student today for more information about booking accommodation, or call us at 0800 652 7844

Frequently asked questions

What sporting facilities are available in Durham?

In 2023, the University of Durham was named Sports University of the Year and has one of the UK’s largest student participation in sports. For students, there is a variety of sport facilities across the campuses; including an indoor sports centre and outdoor football and rugby pitches.

Cricket is the most popular sport in Durham, and hosts world class shows such as Durham County Cricket Club, World Cup Cricket, and Durham T20.

Is Durham Cathedral worth visiting?

In most tourist guides, Durham Cathedral is the number one attraction in the city and worth visiting whilst in the city. Durham Cathedral is perfect for exploring during the day and hosts Durham University graduations, or “Congregation” in January.

After accepting your offer at the University of Durham, it is important to find and book your student accommodation as quickly as possible.

Find out more information about our Durham student accommodation here.

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