Once coal mining country, County Durham has edged back to its pastoral roots over the last three decades. The green views are still dotted with the relics of coal, but they're less obvious than the pretty villages and unspoiled market towns with their medieval hubs. Beautiful Durham is one of the most visited centres, but many of the best places to stay in County Durham are old manor houses turned wonderfully warm country house hotels.
County Durham also incorporates the Teesdale hills and the North Pennines, so it has some of the UK's highest public highways - this is a spectacular spot for a drive! But to the east are stretches of long, sandy beach, so it's also a great place for windswept coastal walking.
Durham's main sight is its Anglo-Norman cathedral, a beautiful structure built in the Romanesque style with England's first stone-rib vaulted roof - it's a sight to behold. As is the Galilee Chapel, last resting place of the Venerable Bebe, the 8th Century monk and historian, and home to a series of wonderful 12th Century paintings.
Durham Castle comes a close second - depending on your tastes for architecture. Built in the 11th Century, this castle has been added to and remodelled extensively over the ages, and today is home to the University of Durham.
If you're interested in castles, you should also look up Barnard Castle, one of the UK's largest, covering almost two hectares of land overlooking the Tees, and Raby Castle, which has beautiful gardens.
County Durham also has the ruins of a Roman fort, a number of impressive churches and abbeys and numerous niche museums. One of the most interesting museums is the Beamish Open-Air Museum, a fabulous warts-and-all, living museum portraying industrial life in the north east. There's a replica of Stephenson's Locomotion 1, an opportunity to explore a mine head and actually go underground, there's a working farm and a school, and a pub, and rows of tiny pit cottages. And when you've been to Beamish you'll know another side to this peaceful and picturesque county.
Our selection of the best places to stay in County Durham are ideally situated to make the most of this beautiful part of the country.
Still not sure? Browse through our list of all the best places to stay in County Durham, or contact one of our friendly Gurus for advice. Alternatively widen your search and check out our recommendations in Newcastle and Northumberland.
Set in a Grade II listed Georgian townhouse in the heart of Durham, this hotel has 11 individually designed, luxury bedrooms. Some rooms feature a private terrace or hot tub. The hotel has a vibrant cocktail bar and a traditional restaurant serving steaks and seafood. The perfect romantic getaway.
Barnard Castle, County Durham
A handsome, creeper-covered coaching inn, set back from a main road and surrounded by fields. Some rooms are decorated in dark wood four posters and thick textiles, others are modern, light and airy. All are comfortable. Reviving weary travellers with its excellent restaurant and quirky spa.
Chester-le-Street (County Durham)
A picture-book castle that oozes atmosphere, from the tower bedrooms to the vaulted dining room. Expect thick walls, lavish decorations, four-poster beds, plus a touch of drama with the costumed staff and evening banquets.
Croft-on-Tees, County Durham
Nestled in pretty Darlington this farmhouse is unquestionably unique. A labour of love, the rooms have been described as "theatrical" and include everything from chandeliers to larger than life Audrey Hepburn paintings. Much of the food is homemade with produce from their 100 acres of farmland.
Durham, County Durham
Located in the picturesque village of Blanchford, hanging basket heaven and the heart of walking country. A bounty of outdoor pursuits await you on the doorstep which is reflected in the hearty, better than gastro pub menu (think locally sourced salmon and game) and the country casual room decor.
A large, family-friendly, resort-hotel with a swanky spa and fitness area, championship golf courses and a choice of dining areas to suit all pockets. Bedrooms are generous; the newest ones with a hint of bling. Scrumptious meals can be enjoyed in your choice of restaurants.
A smart, 18th century former coaching inn that has lost none of the essentials of a good village hostelry: a warm welcome extended to dogs too, award winning good food, real ales, comfortable surrounds and quietly stylish bedrooms. All the creature comforts plus splendid walks on your doorstep.
Gainford, County Durham
A relaxed country house hotel with a spa, golf and tennis or just chill out with books and newspapers. Rooms are large and uncluttered with a fresh, country style, and there’s a choice of dining options.
Tees Valley, County Durham
A Georgian stately home, with everything on a grand scale, and surrounded by parkland, this is a place to indulge with woodland walks, tea on the terrace and a wallow in the spa’s hot tub. Charming rooms are decorated with floral prints are effortlessly elegant. A gourmet restaurant, too.
Darlington, County Durham
A grand 18th Century country house situated on the largest Golf Course in the UK, with an extensive luxury spa and gym. Bedrooms are large with contemporary furnishings. Guests have a choice of three restaurants and private dining can be arranged. A glamorous country break.
Darlington, County Durham
This grand country estate offers a champion golf course and award-winning spa resort, nestled in the peaceful countryside of County Durham. Rooms are contemporary and elegant, offering king-size or super king-size beds. Woodland apartments are also available - the ultimate countryside getaway.
With a modern sense of glamour, this Georgian country house knows how to spoil, from the super-large suites to the Asian-inspired spa. Plus there's parkland to wander and a choice of eating options. Receive the celebrity treatments in large suites and modern bathrooms. A stylish stay.