10 of the best places to stay in County Durham

Destinations

Posted by Clare Willcocks on 25th April 2022

Durham castle on the river

County Durham in the North of England is a place where history and culture collide with amazing attractions and vibrant festivals. Add to that a generous helping of glorious countryside, and fantastic transport links across the UK, and you’ve got the recipe for the perfect holiday.

The beautiful, cultural city of Durham is a must-visit destination while you’re in the county. Steeped in history and set around a scenic river, it’s packed with cafes, chic boutiques, galleries and museums. Besides the city itself, there are many places to stay in Durham, all with their own character and charm.

Enjoy family days out at some of County Durham’s outstanding attractions, or step into the slow lane with a rural break amidst breathtaking countryside. Read on for some of our favourite County Durham destinations, or have a browse of our fantastic collection of holiday cottages in the county.

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North Pennines AONB photo montage

North Pennines AONB – best place to stay for wildlife

Unlike our suggestions of other places to visit in County Durham below, the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty covers a vast swathe of the county, encompassing moorland, peatland, meadows, woodland and communities.

Lace up your walking boots and head out on the trails to take in tumbling waterfalls, remnants of industrial heritage, fascinating wildlife and more. There are regular events for adults and children to learn more about nature, so keep an eye on their website.

Highlights

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Barnard Castle

Barnard Castle – best place to stay for history buffs

If you’re wondering where to stay in Durham and you’d like a little history on your doorstep, the market town of Barnard Castle is your perfect destination. Its eponymous castle, perched above the River Tees, steals the show, but the town’s independent boutiques and antique shops also offer a little slice of history for you to take home.

Watch a live show at the Witham Arts Centre, pick up some wonderful fresh produce at one of the traditional independent shops, or save yourself the washing up with meals in one of the outstanding eateries. Walk off your lunch in the surrounding countryside; it’s a great base for ramblers.

Highlights

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Newton Cap Viaduct, Bishop Auckland

Bishop Auckland – best place to stay for walking

Bishop Auckland is one of the best towns in County Durham for walkers, with the stunning grounds of Auckland Castle, the traffic-free Auckland Way and 74-mile Weardale Way providing scenic rambling opportunities.

More than 200 shops will keep you busy in the town centre, while other attractions include the distinctive viaduct, castle, galleries, town hall arts complex and a host of events throughout the year. Bishop Auckland is positively brimming with culture!

Highlights

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Beamish photo montage

Beamish – best place to stay for learning about north-east England history

The village of Beamish is best known for its world-famous open-air museum, which looks, to all intents and purposes, like a genuine town, frozen in time. Different areas show what life was like for people across the 19th and 20th centuries. There’s a station, tramway, colliery, farms, streets, shops and eateries, with a wealth of interesting things to engage adults and children alike.

As well as the museum, the Beamish area has a golf club with a challenging course, and a lovely woodland for walks and picnics.

Highlights

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Tunstall Reservoir

Wolsingham – best place to stay for exploring the Durham Dales

Set in Weardale, the small town of Wolsingham is an officially designated ‘Walkers are Welcome’ town. There are routes for all abilities, through scenic forest, around nearby Tunstall Reservoir, along the Weardale Way, and through the rolling Durham Dales.

Sitting on the River Wear, it’s one of the quieter towns to visit in County Durham, but the annual Wolsingham Agricultural Society Show sees it come alive on the first weekend of September.

Highlights

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river at Stanhope

Stanhope – best place to stay for a riverside escape

If you’re searching for places to stay in Durham where you can enjoy a balance of relaxation and action, Stanhope is the town for you. It sits in a tranquil location alongside the River Wear, which you can cross on foot via its iconic stepping-stone bridge.

If you’ve got a penchant for fossils, don’t miss the fossilised tree in the churchyard which was moved there from a nearby quarry. The town is also home to the Durham Dales Visitor Centre, where you’ll not only find information about the Dales, but also a tearoom, gift shops, craft shops and gardens.

Highlights

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Chester-le-Street

Chester-le-Street – best place to stay for cricket

Chester-le-Street, also known simply as Chester, is a market town packed with heritage. The home of Durham cricket, the grand Riverside Cricket Ground hosts over 50 days of cricket across the season, making it the top spot to catch a fixture in the county.

The town is almost equidistant between Durham and Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, so city day trips are sure to be on your itinerary. For lazy days without the car, amble around pretty Riverside Park, or work on your handicap at Chester-le-Street Golf Club.

Highlights

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Darlington photo montage

Darlington – best place to stay for steam trains

Darlington is a large market town, whose claim to fame is that it was the first place in the world that steam-powered passenger trains were used. Delve into this history of the railway in the town’s Head of Steam Museum and admire Stephenson’s shiny Locomotion No. 1.

Enjoy a spot of retail therapy in the pedestrianised town centre, and don’t miss the fabulous covered market where you can pick up fresh produce and much more.

Highlights

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Hamsterley

Hamsterley – best place to stay for activities in the forest

Just a few miles from Bishops Auckland, the County Durham village of Hamsterley is best known for the nearby forest which bears its name. Hamsterley Forest is County Durham’s largest, and is a hive of activity for everyone including cyclists, families, mountain bikers, horseriders, and stargazers.

The forest has play areas, a café and a bike park – more than enough for a couple of exciting days out surrounded by nature. Meanwhile, one of many nice villages in County Durham, Hamsterley itself has a lovely country pub, The Cross Keys, but little else – cue rest and relaxation!

Highlights

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Derwent Reservoir

Allensford – best place to stay for waterside relaxation

If you’re looking for Durham places to stay which are off the beaten track, Allensford could be the ideal destination. A little hamlet with a small country park, it’s on the edge of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and within easy reach of some wonderful rural walks.

Allensford Country Park lies along the river, and offers a children’s play area, plenty of picnic areas and a cafe. If you’re feeling energetic, you can put your best foot forward on the 12-mile Derwent Walk which can be joined by the park.

Highlights

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Stay in a holiday cottage in County Durham

If these places to visit in Durham have piqued your interest, we’ve got a lovely range of holiday cottages across County Durham, whether you’re planning to spend an action-packed week with your family or enjoy a quiet getaway as a couple. Maybe you’ve got a celebration coming up and only a large property will do; we’ve got some extra special houses perfect for group getaways.

Visit County Durham

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.