Durham Car Hire

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The city of Durham in the northeast of England is a beautiful and historic centre of religious significance which has World Heritage Site status for its iconic cathedral and castle. To the south of Newcastle-upon-Tyne on the River Wear, Durham has some 630 listed buildings (in fact, the whole city centre is a conservation area) and a top-tier university which is popular with students from many countries. It has a strong sporting legacy, particularly for rowing, with a number of regattas held throughout the year. Now is a great time to explore the cobbled streets and ancient charm of this city and county. Prices for hiring a car in Newcastle Airport —a popular and nearby entry point to the area— start at just £20.14 (€21.75) a day in the off-season for a mini-size, sporty Toyota Aygo when you pre-book. An economy car like a Vauxhall Corsa costs £20.56 (€22.20) per day, while a comfy car like a Ford Focus ̶ compact but spacious enough for family outings ̶ is only £20.97 (€22.65) per day. Also, if you’re travelling in a large group of family members or friends, hiring a large vehicle can also be economical by splitting the cost ̶ a roomy Seat Alhambra costs only £46.52 (€50.24) per day ̶ excellent value for money given its 7-seater capacity. Enjoy partners with trusted and established car hire providers like Alamo, Europcar, Green Motion, Keddy and Enterprise in Newcastle and Durham, so you can hit the road here and discover every hotspot with total peace of mind.

Guide to Durham

While not an obvious tourist choice among the UK’s more famous locations, Durham nevertheless has more than enough to offer visitors ̶ from the rolling Durham Dales to the thunderous magnificence of High Force waterfall, via fine dining and classic English pub grub, Durham is a surprisingly varied city which has been making its mark since the Norman period. It’s also within easy reach of some of England’s most verdant countryside – so you can switch up urban and rural delights whenever the mood takes you.

Island Hill Fort

The name ‘Durham’ is apparently derived from ‘dun’, the Celtic word for ‘hill fort’ and ‘holme’ meaning ‘island’ (which makes sense when you consider that the Norman castle and cathedral sit on a peninsula surrounded on three sides by the River Wear). Legend has it that monks from Lindisfarne carried the body of St. Cuthbert to be buried there in 995 AD (a milkmaid guide may also have been involved) and it’s also the final resting place of the Venerable St. Bede. Because of the sacred nature of its founding, Durham always enjoyed a far greater autonomy from the English Crown than the rest of England, but this position was also partly in reward for acting as a buffer against the Scots to the north. Durham Cathedral is still a site of religious pilgrimage and it contains the relics of St. Cuthbert, St. Bede the Venerable, and three copies of the Magna Carta in its library.

Cultural Durham

Naturally, a city with Durham’s long history and strategic importance is chock full of culture and art, and other activities besides. The Fire & Ice Exhibition is a tour of the magic of the old city lit by fire beacons, with ice sculptures guiding the route. There’s T20 cricket on at the Emirates Riverside, and while nearby Bishop Auckland and Seaham hold annual food festivals, Durham also hosts a book festival, Brass (instruments) festival and the North Pennines Stargazing Festival. Durham Cathedral also hosts live music events, as well as being a functioning place of worship, and the North Tower has been recently opened to the public ̶ climb the 325 steps for a stunning 360-degree panorama if you have sufficient stamina!

Sports and pastimes

Sports fans have plenty to cheer when visiting Durham. Home to Durham City RFC, founded in 1872, the city is also known for the Durham Regatta, founded in 1834. Durham College and Durham University both have strong rowing teams, and there is a keen amateur rowing scene too. Cricket and archery are also popular in Durham, and of course there’s more to sport in the North East than just spectating: horse riding, axe-throwing, flying a microlight and paintball are just a few of the family activities available.

What to do in Durham?

From the serene calm of Durham Cathedral to the botanic gardens and the observatory via adventure sports and pleasant day trips, you’ll never run out of things to do in Durham and County Durham.

Row your boat

Durham is built around the River Wear, which is a superb spot for some leisurely boating. You can either hire a row boat or, if you’re feeling lazy, take a river tour. Some boat owners even allow you to take your four-legged friends on board (but check first). The University of Durham has wonderful botanic gardens which are open to the public, and Hardwick Park is a leafy, natural retreat just 20 minutes’ drive from the city. Following a recent £3m investment, Wharton Park is one of the best outdoor days out within the city and has a putting green, miniature car track, junior play area and an outdoor gym. There are a number of walking trails in the area, especially around the castle and cathedral.

Out and About

Durham is an excellent base from which to explore the historic, friendly and varied Northeast. Bishop Auckland is also in County Durham and has a 12th Century castle and grounds, while Hamsterly Forest is on the border of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It’s the largest forest in County Durham and is perfect for family picnics and cycling. As mentioned, High Force is also close by, where the usually gentle River Tees plunges 69 feet (21 m) in an impressive waterfall. Another great way to explore Durham is a walking tour, which brings the city to life through its history, archaeology, geology and religion.

Family-friendly

When you’re travelling with kids you need to keep them entertained! Luckily there are plenty of family-friendly attractions in Durham. Diggerland is a theme park aimed at kids big and small, for all things digger- and dump truck-related. Meanwhile, the Beamish Museum is known as the ‘living museum of the north’ and offers an immersive look at Northern England’s communities from the early nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. For instance, kids can witness an 1813 steam engine in action, taste fish and chips cooked using traditional turn-of-the-nineteenth-century methods, or try their hands at blacksmithing, steamroller driving or wartime cooking!

Eating out in Durham

From traditional English pub grub to fine dining and modern flavours, Durham restaurants have something to satisfy any appetite. Here are a few choice gastronomical ideas.

Underground Michelin

The only options available at the Raby Hunt Inn are a dazzling 12- or 15-course menu, where each course explodes a single ingredient into different dimensions with delicious seasonal dishes served with a touch of theatre. It’s well worth the 30-minute drive south from Durham and, if possible, you should book a kitchen table so you can see the chef at work. No less impressive is the fine dining experience available at Cellar Door, housed in a renovated 13th-century cellar with stunning views of the Wear River and Elvet Bridge. The cooking is international with a north-eastern accent, with unique dishes like Northumberland gnocchi.

Café chic

No historic English town would be complete without the traditional complement of tea rooms and cafes, and Durham is no exception. Flat White Kitchen is known for gourmet coffee and popular brunches, but they also do after-hours small plates’ consisting of ingredients like Korean quail or buttermilk pana cotta. Flat White Café is the sister establishment and is well worth a visit too. The Altar’s Café is in the shadow of the cathedral ̶ sit on the terrace overlooking the river and enjoy the bells with afternoon tea. For a top burger in Durham go to Fat Hippo – it’s a hip joint with mile-high burgers (including vegan) and outrageously-sized cocktail shakes and slushies. Leave your diet at the door!

Eastern spices

Amaani at the Pumphouse is a converted pumphouse which is now a friendly Indian restaurant. The stylish interior dazzles, matched by equally special tandoori grill platters of juicy lamb tikka, sheesh kebabs and king prawns, as well as south Indian thali, Goan lamb and Bhuna-style chicken. Alternatively, for family-style feasting just minutes from the castle visit Akarsu Turkish Restaurant & Grill – some highlights include hot and cold meze including Muska boregi crisp feta cheese triangles, sucuk spicy Turkish sausage and clay-cooked prawn guvec.

Transport in Portsmouth

Airport

The nearest airports to Durham are Newcastle International Airport (NCL) and Teesside Airport (MME), which are both approximately 25 miles (40 km) from Durham. At the airports Enjoy partners with established and trustworthy car hire providers like Easirent, Keddy, Europcar, and Alamo, and car rental packages from such reliable operators usually include third party liability, 24-hour assistance, theft protection and collision damage waiver as standard in all hire packages. You can hire anything from a Ford Fiesta, which is ideal for nipping around Durham’s cobbled streets and is easy to park, to a roomy Seat Alhambra, perfect for exploring the lush green Northumberland and County Durham countryside with the whole family. Whatever your preference, you’ll get a great deal if you pre-book online with Enjoy.

Buses and Park & Ride

The major bus operator in Durham is Arriva, with Stagecoach and National Express services to other cities across the UK. The network across the city and into the county is extensive and usually efficient, and the best way to travel on public transport is to buy a PRESTO card, which you top-up then use to pay for your trips on all buses in Durham.

Alternatively, there are three Park and Ride sites on the main roads into Durham City ̶ Belmont, Sniperley and Howlands Farm. This service is useful if you don’t want to give up the freedom of your hire car but don’t need the hassle of city-centre parking.

Durham Railway Station is on the East Coast Main Line which runs from London to Edinburgh/Inverness and shadows the M1/A1 Northbound, the main trunk road on the East Coast.

Driving

You should always drive on the left-hand side of the road in Durham, as is the case everywhere across the UK. Speed limits are 70 mph (120 km/h) for motorways, 60 mph (100 km/h) on non-motorway main roads and 30 mph (50 km/h) or 20 mph (40 km/h) if you’re in busy city centre areas or close to buildings such as schools.

Seatbelts are compulsory for the driver and all passengers, drink driving is strictly illegal, and mobile phone use is prohibited (unless the system is truly hands-free and doesn’t distract the driver).

There’s some stunning countryside around Durham and the North East, with a number of towns and villages within convenient driving distance, as are the Dales and coast. Here are just a couple of selected road trips:

The Durham Heritage Coast is a popular drive (and walk) with locals and tourists alike. Starting at Horden, it continues along a variety of roads to the lovely seaside town of Seaham (where the above-mentioned Raby Hunt Inn is located) and there are plenty of scenic parking areas en route to stretch your legs and have a picnic. In Seaham be sure to stroll along the beaches and sample an ice cream sundae from the Lickety Split Creamery.

The Durham Dales also offer plenty of exhilarating driving boasting impressive views. Given that there are so many roads intersecting the area, it’s hard to put a time frame on the length of the journey. However, this allows for endless possibilities - whether a quick 20-minute drive or a full day's worth of exploration. Part of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, this vast stretch of landscape is located in the west of County Durham and boasts deep valleys, rolling hills and plenty of wildlife. The area itself covers around one-third of the county, so there’s plenty to do along the way. The Durham Dales are also home to two official 'Walkers are Welcome' Towns - Middleton-in-Teesdale and Wolsingham, which offer a number of cosy pubs and quaint tea rooms for hikers to warm up and refuel. For an easy Sunday afternoon drive, drive east along the A47 then up to Oakham (possibly via Tilton on the Hill) and the Rutland Water.

Thwaite to Hawes ̶ although you have to journey into North Yorkshire for this one (it’s 1 hr 25 minutes to Thwaites from Durham) it’s said to be one of the most spectacular routes in the North of England. The drive lasts just over five miles, yet offers an array of steep climbs, vast descents and scary corners which makes for a unique driving experience - not one for the faint-hearted! The Buttertubs Pass takes you past the massive limestone potholes of the same name, finally arriving in Hawes for a well-earned cuppa.

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FAQs about car hire in Durham

Most frequently asked questions about hiring a car in Durham

An economy-size car like a Vauxhall Corsa costs £20.56 (€22.20) a day in Durham, while a 7-seater Seat Alhambra costs £46.52 (€50.24) per day.
At the moment you can hire a Toyota Aygo for just £20.14 (€21.75) a day.
The minimum age for hiring a car in the UK is 21.
Not usually. Excess-free packages are standard with most car hire companies, and rental deals include road-side assistance, theft protection and a collision damage waiver.
This depends on your plans and the requirements of your party, but an intermediate -size car such as the Nissan Qashqai is just £31.88 (€34.43) per day and gives you 5-person comfort and flexibility over multiple terrains.
This depends on your plans and the requirements of your party, but a standard -size car such as the Honda CRV is just £20.60 (€22.52) per day and gives you 5-person comfort and flexibility over multiple terrains.
Tell your rental firm immediately if you have an accident. In the unlikely event you have a serious accident in Durham, please call 999 immediately for emergency services.