The handsome city of DURHAM is best known for its beautiful Norman cathedral – there’s a tremendous view of it as you approach the city by train from the south – and its flourishing university, founded in 1832. Together, these form a little island of privilege in what’s otherwise a moderately sized, working-class city. It’s worth visiting for a couple of days – there are plenty of attractions, but it’s more the overall atmosphere that captivates, enhanced by the omnipresent golden stone, slender bridges and glint of the river. The heart of the city is the marketplace, flanked by the Guildhall and St Nicholas Church. The cathedral and church sit on a wooded peninsula to the west, while southwards stretch narrow streets lined with shops and cafés.

Brief history

Durham’s history revolves around its cathedral. Completed in just forty years, the cathedral was founded in 1093 to house the shrine of St Cuthbert, arguably the Northeast’s most important and venerated saint. Soon after Cuthbert was laid to rest here, the bishops of Durham were granted extensive powers to control the troublesome northern marches of the Kingdom – a rabble of invading Picts from Scotland and revolting Norman earls – ruling as semi-independent Prince Bishops, with their own army, mint and courts of law. At the peak of their power in the fourteenth century, the office went into decline – especially in the wake of the Reformation – yet clung to the vestiges of their authority until 1836, when they ceded them to the Crown. They abandoned Durham Castle for their palace in Bishop Auckland and transferred their old home to the fledgling Durham University, England’s third-oldest seat of learning after Oxford and Cambridge.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

England features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

8 things you didn't know you could do in the UK

8 things you didn't know you could do in the UK

So you've gawked at the guards of Buckingham Palace, hiked up Snowdon and hit the beach – what next? From lethal motorcycle races to mountain towns that …

31 Jul 2015 • Rough Guides Editors insert_drive_file Article
This summer you can hire a sandcastle butler

This summer you can hire a sandcastle butler

You’ve dug a moat, successfully sculpted a mound higher than your knees and managed to drizzle a viscous mixture of sand and salt water over the château spir…

16 Jul 2015 • Colt St. George insert_drive_file Article
The best hostels in Europe

The best hostels in Europe

Taken from the Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget, here's our pick of the best hostels in Europe. Europe presents an irresistible challenge to the budget trav…

04 Mar 2015 • Site Editor insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month