City of Durham on a Budget

Durham UK : a budget guide to help you save

The historic university city of Durham is a north-eastern gem. Found in County Durham, built on the banks of the River Wear, it’s a cultural delight and is home to many a stunning landmark, not least the imposing Durham Cathedral and the Romanesque Durham Castle.

This fabulously compact but enduringly historic city is a wonderful place for a short break. Because many of the top attractions are managed and owned by the University, it’s also a surprisingly cheap place to sight-see. On top of this there are numerous cheap eats and places to drink, as well as plenty of budget accommodation options.

It’s a great city for a short break destination, whether you’re visiting someone at the county’s third most prestigious university or just fancy heading somewhere a bit different. The great news is that it can also be done on a shoestring budget. Here are our top tips to a cheap Durham weekender.

Getting to Durham

The cheapest way to get to the city is by coach or by train, but if you choose the latter you need to book in advance though a third party provider to take advantage of cheap seats.

Those arriving from abroad will find that flying to Newcastle Airport and then getting a train from Newcastle to Durham is a fairly cheap option as many low cost carriers fry there from European cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, Dublin and Geneva. You can also fly with a low cost carrier to Newcastle from Southampton, Bristol, Belfast and Exeter.

Getting around Durham for less

The cheapest (and possibly most rewarding) way to get around the city is on foot. Durham is a small city, with a compact centre, comparable in size to Canterbury or St Albans.

For those with reduced mobility, getting to the cathedral the south of the city may be a struggle, but the City Cathedral Bus is a low cost option at just £1 for an adult fare and free to concessions.

Durham Castle, Cathedral and Framwellgate Bridge

Free or low cost attractions

UNESCO on a budget
The historic centre of Durham, the area from the Cathedral to the Castle, technically incorporating the Palace Green Library, is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Palace Green Library
The library is free to enter and is home to numerous exhibitions, both permanent and temporary.

Permanent free exhibitions include the Durham Light Infantry and the Museum of Archaeology, which is run but the University of Durham.

Durham Cathedral
Just next door is Durham Cathedral, arguably one of the best and most well-persevered examples of Romanesque architecture in Northern Europe.

Entrance to the Cathedral Church and Cloisters is free and well worth it.

Durham Cathedral and the River Wear in England

Durham Castle
Durham Castle does charge entry, but it’s just £5 an adult (the city’s University students go free).

This price includes a guided tour so if you choose to pay for one thing during your time in the city, make it this. Alternatively take a wander around the outside and stop for coffee at a nearby café to enjoy the views of this splendid castle.

Botanic Gardens
Lying on the outskirts of the city centre are the beautiful Botanic Gardens, also managed by the university. There is a small entrance fee of a few pounds, although concessions pay less and students are free.

The real budget choice is to visit the cafe and shop and stop for a coffee; you can then enjoy some views of the garden but not be charged for entrance. The café also displays the work of local artists, changing throughout the year.

Oriental Museum
The Oriental Museum, the only one of its kind in Northeast England, is completely free to enter and makes for a fascinating morning or afternoon.

Artefacts hail from Ancient Egypt to the Himalayas and new exhibitions include pop culture of Japan and Korea.

Where to stay on a budget

Cheap accommodation options include hostels such as the Durham YHA which is opposite the cathedral. Hotels in the city range from budget to very pricey.

Look out for the cheaper chains such as Travelodge or Premier Inn (both of which have a number of options in and around the city) and get a more competitively priced room by making reservations well in advance on the saver rate. Another budget option is book a room at Durham University. Rooms range from dorm beds with breakfast to private apartments.

If you’re visiting the city in summer a truly low cost option is to camp. Just four miles from the city centre is the (adult only) Finchale Abbey Park, which offers caravan touring pitches and a camping pods.

top view of Durham city from the tower

Eating and drinking on a budget

As a university town it’s always easy to find somewhere cheap to eat. Those on a budget but with breakfast included at their hotel should fill up in the morning. If not, head to one of the two Wetherspoon’s for a full English under a fiver. For a more refined but still budget breakfast, Leonards Coffee House in Fowlers Yard serves up muffins and breakfast sandwiches from just a couple of quid.

Provided you’ve filled up at breakfast, lunch can be light, so go to the city’s famous scone house, Vennels Café, where you can enjoy a light snack for under £2. If you want a bit more for lunch had to the Ciao Ciao Bakery on Framwellgate Bridge and take out a Greek Pastry for less than £2.

For a seriously cheap dinner the Dun Cow pub at Old Elvet can serve up a filling meal for under a £5. Many chain restaurants in the city offer discount meals from 5-7pm during Happy Hour.

When it comes to drinking, the cheapest option is to start during Happy Hour time, when student-friendly bars offer 241 cocktails and cheap pints. A dependably cheap place to drink later on is again Wetherspoon’s and the main Durham option, The Water House enjoys a perfect city centre location and is housed in a historic building.

guys drinking beer in UK pub

Cheap Accommodation in Durham