Students’ guide to Durham

durham city guide

By Emma Nash,


Durham is an old city, most famous for its iconic cathedral and castle, both key parts of university life. Durham is a fairly small city but the larger Newcastle is just a short train journey away, ideal if you’re after that ‘big city’ feel.


See theunipod’s student nightlife guide to Durham for details of club nights.


Chiquitos/Ask/Zizzi/Pizza Express

Durham is home to the usual variety of chain restaurants which are popular with students. These tend to offer a variety of vouchers and special offers, especially on week days, making these restaurants a popular treat.


Known commonly as Spags, reasonably priced good Italian food make this a popular choice for socials, birthday meals and the occasional date.


These are value for money meals, which are particularly popular breakfast and lunch locations for those needing to recover from the night before.

La Tasca/Cafe Rouge

Slightly more up market, but still affordable. Always a popular choice when the parents come to visit.

Vennels - cake shop

Popular with students and OAPs. The perfect old-fashioned tea and cake shop, offering delicious home-made cakes, scones and pies. Tucked up a small alley, it has a great little sun-trap garden, perfect for afternoon tea in the summer.


Sports at Durham is a huge deal both at college-level and university-wide. With one of the highest participation rates in the country the successes speak for themself. Proof of this is evident from walking around the city, where sports attire (stash - in particular hoodies) are a popular choice.


Each college has sports teams for the "typical" sports such as rugby, netball, football, hockey, lacrosse, rowing etc. These teams then play each other throughout the academic year in a variety of leagues and knock out trophy matches. Typically rugby and football finals attract large college support and make an excellent evening out.

As with traditional universities Oxford and Cambridge, rowing is hugely popular. Crews can be seen on the river most days at both college and university-level.

University level

For sports that are not catered for at university-level as they are less popular, or for those of you that are extremely talented at your sport, you will play for Durham university (DU). These teams then compete in the BUCS university championship against other universities. Currently Durham University rugby team are BUCS champions, winning the final played at London's Twickenham Stadium.

Art and culture

With a whole host of musical and arts societies, student performances are both cheap, entertaining and frequent.


SCA - student community action, helps clean up rivers and such while being a valuable addition to your CV.


The city is host to the typical range of choices such as TOPSHOP, New Look and the popular Jack Wills (popular clothing choice for the Durham Students) There are also some vintage shops, for those of fancying a browse for a bargain.

As mentioned, Newcastle city centre and the Metro Centre are just a short train journey away if you are looking for something special or for a day of window shopping. It is also home to a whole range of restaurants and cafes such as Nandos.

What’s On

The cathedral is one of Britain's first world heritage sites. Building began in 1093, making it an integral piece of history. Visiting the cathedral is almost compulsory as a Durham Student as you will begin your academic life with Matriculation and graduate from the Cathedral. However, it is also a beautiful place to visit on a rainy day.

Escaping for the weekend

If you are looking for a weekend away, the Lake District isn’t too far from Durham.
Alternatively, booking in advance, you can get a train to London for a fairly reasonable price which is about 3 hours away - this is particularly popular with international students.

Staying Fit

Some colleges have their own gyms with highly discounted membership. If you’re after something different, Durham University's Maiden Castle has a top of the range gym with all the machines and weights that you could ever desire. Alternatively there are local sports facilities such as Freeman's Quay in the heart of the city which offers classes, a fully-equipped gym and a swimming pool.


Your student campus card gains you free access to the X1 bus. The X1 runs from the bus station in the city centre to the main Bill Bryson Library to Maiden Castle sports centre (5-10 minutes) then on to Queens Campus with the final destination of Middlesbrough (another great location for some bargain shopping or a night out) .

Student Accommodation

Student accommodation is hugely varied in Durham due to the college system. Almost everyone lives in their college Halls in first year. The details of the rooms vary for college to college - en-suite, catered, shared bedrooms; each college is different. So it's best to refer to the individual websites and factor this in when deciding on a college.

Second and third years sometimes choose to remain in Halls or move back to college; it entirely depends on what the college offers and individual preference. However, student housing is readily available across the city centre, with price ranges depending on location and house size. Living in a house tends to be the cheaper option but lacks the atmosphere of Halls, and poses alternative issues such as budgeting, bills, etc. The most important thing is to carefully consider who you are going to live with and don't rush to make the decision at the end of Fresher’s week!

Durham University offers an approved Landlord service to ensure a minimum standard of accommodation and reasonable contracts -


In the heart of Durham City centre there is a Marriott and Premier Inn Hotel to suit all budgets. However, these do get quickly booked up around graduation times, so be sure to secure your room for popular times well in advance.