Amy Lynch, a commissioning editor at Lonely Planet, shares a snapshot of a recent cozy getaway to Durham in northern England.

I just returned from three days in County Durham in northern England.

Having never ventured further north than London, I was eager to see more of the country that I’ve read, heard, and watched so much about, living as I do just across the water in Ireland. And my trip didn’t disappoint.

I spent time exploring the old city center, hiking the famous Durham Dales, wandering through centuries-old cathedrals and castles, and trying some of the wonderful local produce.

Here are a few highlights from my time in Durham.

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Start the day in Durham with…

A scone and a coffee. You can’t travel to this part of the world and not have a scone with clotted cream. Taking its name from the local word describing the city’s winding alleys, Vennels Cafe was my favorite place to indulge. It’s cozy, busy and very dog-friendly, with doggy bowls and treats and even ice-cream available for canine companions. And the scones! They’re huge, moist and delicious, with sweet and savory options. I couldn’t resist the fruit scone with jam and clotted cream.  

Durham Cathedral lit up at night
Durham Cathedral has stood in for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films © Amy Lynch / Lonely Planet

In Durham, you must try…

Climbing to the top of the Durham Cathedral tower. At 900 years old and counting, Durham Cathedral has stood in for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films and Asgard in Avengers: Endgame. Visible from anywhere in Durham city, the Romanesque monument defines the area – and you can climb the 325 steps to the top of the tower for spectacular panoramic views as far as the Dales.

As we regained our breath after the steep climb up the winding stairway, my guide Simeon Pallister filled me in on local folklore. For example, it is said that any student who climbs the tower before graduation day will fail their exams. A handy excuse to avoid the climb… 

Roast duck
Roast duck  at the Rabbit Hole © Amy Lynch / Lonely Planet

The top spot for a special meal in Durham is…

The Rabbit Hole. With decor so stylish and eye-catching that I found myself taking photos even of the bathroom, The Rabbit Hole is the perfect spot for a special meal in Durham. Slightly outside the city center, this modern speakeasy requires you to ring a doorbell to enter. With a broad range of cocktails, attentive staff and a menu of Asian fusion dishes to peruse in the low lighting, this restaurant has thought of everything. Be sure to order the honey-walnut shrimp.

Hotel room interior
The cozy interior of the Rose & Crown © Amy Lynch / Lonely Planet

In Durham, I stayed at…

The Rose & Crown. This charming inn lies outside the city, near Barnard Castle. An excellent restaurant with both a formal dining room and more relaxed bar (complete with fireplace) means you don’t have to venture far for hospitality. Sitting by the fire with a pint of local ale and a book beside a fellow guest’s snoozing dog was the perfect way to relax after a day of exploring the surrounding Dales. 

Durham waterfall
Hiking the High Force Waterfall Loop takes you away from the crowds and to some of the best sights in Durham © Amy Lynch / Lonely Planet

I got away from the crowds in Durham by…

Hiking the High Force Waterfall Loop. A gorgeous pastoral landscape, powerful falls and a relatively flat hike awaited me when I journeyed out to High Force Waterfall on the River Tees. Located within the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the trail took me through fields, over stiles, along riverside paths and past curious sheep. I went on a weekday and didn’t see more than a handful of people on this 8km (5-mile) looped hike.

Writer Amy Lynch wrapped up in her winter coat
Writer Amy Lynch wrapped up in her winter coat © Amy Lynch / Lonely Planet

The one item I recommend bringing to Durham is…

A rain jacket. Getting out and experiencing the famous Durham Dales is a highlight of any trip here: the views are unmatched, and it’s a soul-restoring place to explore. Yet you have to remember that this is the rather wet north of England, and you’re not going to be able to enjoy your time to the fullest if you’re drenched. Set out in sturdy walking boots, wear comfortable trousers and (above all) pack a rain jacket. No matter how fresh or dry the day feels when you set out, the rain clouds will drift in: I experienced the full gamut of seasons on a four-day trip to the region. Come prepared; you won’t regret it.

Nature trail with carved fox and stream
Sights along the High Force Waterfall Loop © Amy Lynch / Lonely Planet

Amy Lynch traveled to Durham at the invitation of Visit County Durham as part of the Durham Memorable Moments campaign. Lonely Planet staff members do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.

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