County Durham is quite a small county in North East England if you’re going to compare it to more sprawling neighbours of Yorkshire and Northumberland. It’s also sometimes overlooked as a travel destination which I personally think is a shame as this county sure packs a punch in terms of historic treasures and truly beautiful landscapes dotted with pretty traditional villages, impressive cathedrals, perfectly preserved castles, and quintessentially English places to take afternoon tea. From a unique deep valley to a sea glass-strewn beach, here are the best and most beautiful places to visit in County Durham…
North Pennines – one of England’s most special places and easily the most stunning place to explore in County Durham
Described by many tourists as one of the most special places in England, the North Pennines are located in the northernmost part of the Pennine range. Also known as the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB), it also holds a UNESCO accolade for outstanding geology, the very special UNESCO Global Geopark status.
It is made up of a large part of the Durham Dales and includes jaw-droppingly beautiful landscapes made up of moorlands and tumbling rivers. The North Pennines are open all year round from January to December. The Bowlees Visitor Centre is owned and run by the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Partnership and is definitely worth a visit to find out all the local information before you get stuck into exploring.
High Cup Nick – a unique and deep chasm located on the Pennine fellside
High Cup Nick is also known as the High Cup Gill or just the High Cup is another interesting landmark to visit in County Durham. The classic U-shaped valley is located deep into the Pennine Scarp to the northeast of Appleby-in-Westmorland in Cumbria and it is barely a stone throw away from the North Pennines Area of Outstanding beauty AONB.
This entire valley is enclosed inside a unique area and is thought to be a glacial valley. It’s listed as ‘open country’ under the Countryside and Rights of way Act 2000 so walkers are free to roam all over the area. Definitely one of the best and most beautiful valleys to visit in England.
Barnard Castle – one of the most popular places to go in County Durham
The 12th Century castle located on a rock was founded by Bernard de Balliol, the castle was then developed by the Beauchamp family before being passed on to Richard III. The castle offers fantastic views and is located right near a functional market town that got its name ‘Barney’ from the castle.
The best sights for tourists and visitors who come to Barnard Castle are the Richard III’s boar emblem located above the inner ward and the magnificent sights of nearby River Tees Gorge. Barnard Castle is open daily to take visitors from 10am to 5pm.
Durham Heritage Coast – beautiful views and dramatic landscapes
The Durham Heritage Coast is easily one of the most beautiful places to visit in County Durham. Here you can expect colourful and dramatic views of the coast, rugged cliffs, and long, wide unspoiled beaches as well as stunning imposing headlands. The coast as the name implies is truly one of Durham’s heritage and it offers some amazing views to visitors! It’s a great place to visit with your family, your dog, or your loved one and go walking along the 11 mile Durham Coastal Footpath which goes from Seaham to Crimdon.
Also, visit nearby Castle Eden Dene which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and National Nature Reserve in the Easington district of this beautiful English country. It offers protected semi-rural forest land with many beautiful walking trails along Castle Eden Burn.
Seaham – a seaside town with a gorgeous beach strewn with sea glass
This lovely harbour town is located at County Durham located on a beautiful seaside location on the Durham coast. It’s also home to one of the oldest churches in the UK, St. Mary the Virgin Church, and one of the prettiest parts of this area is the harbor and the beach. The beach also attracts many collectors of ‘sea glass’ which washes up on the shores here. Yes, it’s a marine pollutant but it’s a very pretty and highly collectible pollutant!
At the south of Seaham, another famous landmark is the wonderful Blast Beach, which was once known as the most polluted beach in England but has since been cleaned up and turned into a beauty spot.
Overall in this stunning area to explore in Country Durham you can poke around in rock pools, gaze at the clifftop views, pay a visit to the easy-on-the-eye Seaham Harbour Marina, take a bracing/refreshing walk along the coastal footpath, visit the local heritage and lifeboat centre, take a photo with “Tommy” the WWI statue, while away a few hours in one of the many great bars, cafes, or restaurants or just enjoy the laid back peace and tranquility.
Stanhope – and is a hub for outdoor activities located in the beautiful Durham Dales
Located on the northwest of Durham, Stanhope is a small market area located in the very scenic Durham Dales near the River Wear and Eastgate. Stanhope is known for having the largest parish area in England, a total of 221sq. Aside from this, Stanhope is home many great sites to visit in Durham, including The Durham Dales center that offers local tourist information and a crafts shop, Stanhope Castle which was built in 1798 by Cuthbert Rippon but now turned into a unique hotel. It’s a great place to base yourself for outdoor activities and to go walking in the beautiful surrounding County Durham countryside.
Also take a trip on the wonderful 18 mile long Weardale Heritage Railway which takes a journey from Bishop Auckland, Witton-le-Wear, Wolsingham, Frosterley, and Stanhope. Another nearby attraction to visit is Auckland Castle which is open to the public, has a neo-gothic castle style, and is the official residence of the Bishop of Durham (replacing Durham Castle).
Durham Dales – a large area which is one of the most beautiful places to visit in County Durham
Easily one of the most beautiful places to visit in Country Durham, the beautiful and very tranquil Durham Dales (which incorporate Teesdale and Weardale) are known for its lush green countryside, wonderful moors, rolling hills, clear rivers punctuated with pretty traditional villages and market towns. People flock here to walk, hike, go cycling, or try exploring with an electric bike.
To make the most of your visit here, definitely try and visit the local visitors centre located in Stanhope where you can find out all the great local walks in the area. There are also some charming gift and crafts shops, tearooms, award-winning museums, galleries, and traditional pubs located in this beautiful area.
Chester-Le-Street – a charming market town with a long history
Chester-Le-street is a district market town and parish made up of 16,000 acres of land and is located in the Vale of Durham. It has a long history that goes back to Roman times and is a lovely place to visit in County Durham.
The town has some great bars, restaurants, and other attractions that attract people from miles around, and sport is also a draw here as well as the towns is home to Emirates Riverside Cricket ground, one of the locations used by the English cricket national team matches.
This town is also home to a historic church and Lumley Castle, Lumley Castle is a 4-star luxury hotel located in Chester-le-street and a fantastic place to stay for tourists as it’s a well preserved 14th-century castle set in lovely grounds.
High Force and Low Force – often said to be the most spectacular waterfalls in England
One of the best places to visit and explore in County Durham are these two famous waterfalls set on the River Tees are often said to be the most spectacular waterfall in England. This 5-mile circular walk to the falls takes you past the magnificent view of the landscape of the Upper Teesdale inside the North Pennines area of outstanding natural beauty.
The walk around the falls will enable you to see up-close England’s largest waterfall, the High Force. The curtain style waterfall is seriously beautiful. The 8-foot high set of falls otherwise known as the Low Force resides further downstream but are equally worth a visit!
Durham – a beautiful cathedral city which is one of the best places to visit in County Durham
Durham, the home of one of the poshest universities in England, and if that’s not enough to draw you in, there are other fantastic features and landmarks that has made the city one of the greatest preservers of the old English culture.
Situated in the northeast of England, the lovely city is surrounded by the River Wear and is home to the particularly stunning Romanesque Durham Cathedral, and Norman Durham Castle which is famous for being the final burial site of two saints – Saint Cuthbert and Saint Bede the Venerable. Overlooking the cathedral is another great place visit, South Street. South Street is a wealthy residential area known for its Grade II terraced houses built in the Tudor Revival architecture style.
Beamish – a world-famous open-air museum
The Beamish Museum is a renowned open-air museum that focuses on narrating the story of how life was in the 19th and 20th centuries, from the 1820s to the 1950s. The unique interactive museum uses its collections to describe to tourists and visitors the life of the 19th-century people.
One of the best open-air museums in the world, Beamish was an idea carved by Dr. Frank Atkinson in 1958 after one of his travels. Beamish is a fantastic site for understanding the culture and values of how England was – a really interesting and fantastic place to visit in Country Durham!
Seaton Carew Beach – one of the most beautiful beaches in County Durham
This is a particularly beautiful beach to visit in County Durham. Seaton Carew beach is located in Hartlepool and is home to a long wide sandy beach a mile long filled with golden sand and dotted with rock pools as well as peaceful scenery.
This is a great place to spend with your family or your loved one and offers beautiful views, a chance to sunbath (in good weather of course)! Also make use of the oceanfront bars, cafes, and restaurants that are also located here.
Witton Castle Country Park – a vast state that extends to over 330 acres of beautiful green spaces
Image by Oliver Dixon
County Durham is home to many lovely castles and while there have been many alterations to this 15th-century castle, it still remains the focal point of the holiday and caravan country park at the Witton Le wear. The entire park itself is located in beautiful surroundings and offers good quality accommodation and caravan holiday homes depending on your budget. The park was designed to create the best holiday experience with cinemas and Go-kart tracks adding a bit of family fun!
Witton Castle Country Park’s vast estate extends to over 330 acres of beautiful green spaces, from mature woodland and nature reserves to stunning open rolling dales.
Teesmouth National Nature Reserve – a stunning Wetlands that offers fantastic bird-watching opportunities
Image by Mick Garratt / Teesmouth National Nature Reserve
Another beautiful landmark located in Hartlepool (on Tees Estuary) is the Teesmouth Nature Reserve which is a local and tranquil beauty spot located near industrial factories. The Wetlands reserve is divided into two sections of a total of 350 hectares with the Hartlepool power station coming in between.
This site is highly regarded in England because it shows the ability of nature to blend in with man-made surroundings. The protected area offers beautiful diverse habitats and landscapes as well as plenty of bird-watching opportunities.