Hidden gems in County Durham that can be enjoyed by the whole family

By Nicole Goodwin

From the countryside to the coast, County Durham has some stunning sights and captivating culture to enjoy.

Year after year, events such as Durham Lumiere, Durham Brass Festival and Bishop Auckland Food Festival attract visitors from far and wide.

And when the county is not playing host to a packed programme of entertainment, visitors and locals can enjoy the area's natural beauty and delve into its history.

Go here for more County Durham news and updates from County Durham Live

There is much to celebrate about County Durham, so it's no wonder Durham County Council decided to submit a bid to be named UK City of Culture 2025.

For the first time, groups of towns were able to work together to submit joint bids.

Therefore the council, along with Culture Durham, a partnership of organisations, including Beamish Museum, Durham Cathedral, Durham University and Locomotion, were eager to submit a bid and shine a spotlight being on the area's vast and varied landscape, heritage and culture.

The City of Culture 2025 longlist has now been announced and it has been revealed that County Durham has reached the final eight.

The winner will be announced next year and will be at the centre of the UK's cultural spotlight in 2025.

Here are some of County Durham's hidden gems.

John Heslop and Fred Thompson of the North East Theatre Organ Association with the Mighty Wurlitzer at the New Victoria Centre Howden le Wear (Newcastle Chronicle)

The Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Organ

New Victoria Centre in Howden le Wear is home to the only Wurlitzer theatre pipe organ in the North East.

The rare instrument is still regularly played and has been delighting audiences at the centre since March, 1986.

But its history dates back to June 20, 1930 when it was despatched from Wurlitzer's U.S.A. factory and shipped to Bradford's New Victoria theatre, where it made it's debut on September 22, 1930.

Following the formation of the North East Theatre Organ Association in October 1968, preparations began to transport the organ to the region as the Bradford theatre was due to close for major alterations.

And between March 1971 and October 1975, Cornforth's United Social Club was home to the organ, before it was finally placed at New Victoria Centre, where it remains today.

Audiences who have listened to the Wurlitzer theatre pipe organ live describe the experience as "amazing".

One review on TripAdvisor said: "I had only ever heard theatre pipe organ music on old films.

"To see a Wurlizter and hear it played in this small theatre is a one off experience. To hear 'Deadwood Stage' played, my daughters' favourite as infants, was true lump in throat stuff.

"Kids will absolutely love it - especially us big soft ones."

Durham Heritage Trail

Running 42 metres from St Nicholas' Church to the statue of Lord Londonderry, Durham Heritage Trail details major historic events and industrial developments which contributed to both the modern city and heritage of Durham.

Set in granite with bronze inserts, the artwork features a stylised river and tree flowing through the 1,000 years of time and history.

The ground-based timeline was installed in 2010 as part of a Market Place refurbishment scheme.

Durham heritage trail Durham market place (Newcastle Chronicle)

Potter's World

Potter's World in Lanchester is described as the North East's hidden gem and a place for the whole family to enjoy a day out.

The centre comprises of three interactive and educational spaces to explore - Potters Tropical Village, Potters Owl Adventures and Potters Play Tunnel.

Potters Tropical Village is the only registered Zoo in County Durham and showcases exotic free flying birds, reptiles, invertebrates, amphibians, insects and fish.

While Potters Owl Adventures is home to beautiful owls and birds of prey.

Potters Play Tunnel is outdoor educational space that allows children to explore and wonder at the world around them.

Finchale Priory

Finchale Priory ruins have stood in a meander of the River Wear for hundreds of years.

Tucked away on a small campsite in a beautiful wooded setting, Finchale Priory in Framwellgate is often described by visitors as a peaceful setting.

The priory was founded in 1196 on the site of the hermitage of St Godric, a retired sailor and merchant, who settled in Durham after a life of adventure and travel.

Finchale Priory an outpost of Durham Cathedral and functioned as a holiday retreat for the monks of Durham until its suppression in 1538.

Finchale Priory, in County Durham (Mirrorpix)

Eggleston Hall Gardens

Eggleston Hall Gardens is known as the secret garden of the north.

There have been Gardens at Eggleston Hall since the late 16th century and have continuously been care for and maintained.

Visitors to the garden can wonder through the gardens' four acres and enjoy the beautiful scenery, as well as spot the miniature Angel of the North which stands against one of the garden's walls.

One visitor posted on TripAdvisor: "Spotted the sign for Eggleston Hall Garden and popped in for a visit. A beautiful walled garden and nursery, small but full of interest.

"There's even a mini Angel of the North that make us feel at home!"

Another reviewer described the gardens as a "little gem". They added: "I love to stroll around the vast array of plants which have a country garden feel about it.

"The walk to the old church is well worth a visit as is a visit to the tea room. Love this place."

Wolsingham Circular Walk

There's plenty of hidden gems along Wolsingham Circular Walk, which journeys between the Wolsingham and Thornley war memorials.

The seven mile Memorial Walk offers some spectacular scenery whatever the weather - although treading through thick snow, as captured here, is probably not recommended.

Along the trek, walkers can find highlights such as the Heart Well, where it is believed young lovers, Jasper and Eva, tarried there with tragic results.

Some say Jasper's tortured soul still wanders around the Well pleading for forgiveness for his actions which led to the death of Eva and their unborn child.

Parking for Wolsingham Circular Walk is available at the popular Demesne Mill picnic area.

Snow between Wolsingham and Tow Law, County Durham, on a freezing cold day in North East England (Craig Connor/ChronicleLive)

Seaham Sea Glass

Finally, Seaham's beaches have been popular with treasure hunters for many years.

It is known as the best place to collect sea glass in the world and visitors to the beach will often be found digging for these real hidden gems, which can be found in a variety of sizes and colours.

Red and blue are among the rarest colours of sea glass worldwide. However, the North Sea regularly washes up gems of that colour on Seaham's shores.

Seaham and nearby Sunderland were home to many bottleworks and glass making factories during the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

Seaham boasted the largest glass bottle works in Britain – The Londonderry Bottleworks, operating from the 1850s to 1921, which produced up to 20,000 hand-blown bottles every day in different colours and designs.

The bottleworks would dump large amounts of waste glass straight into the North Sea, which have been shaped and smoothed by the North Sea for over 100 years.

For the latest County Durham news direct to your inbox every day, go here to sign up to our free newsletter


What is inkl?

Important stories

See news based on value, not advertising potential. Get the latest news from around the world.

Trusted newsrooms

We bring you reliable news from the world’s most experienced journalists in the most trusted newsrooms.

Ad-free reading

Read without interruptions, distractions or intrusions of privacy.