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Bars in Durham – Best Places to Drink in Durham 2024

I’ve been fortunate to travel all over the country, frequenting bars, pubs, and eateries. For me, and I may be biased, the bars in Durham are some of the best I’ve been to. For a city shy of 24,000 people, it packs a punch.

In this guide, I will show you a locals view of the best places to drink in Durham. I’ve created a list of bars you can visit for every taste, including pubs, sports bars, cocktail bars, nightclubs, gin bars, beer gardens and more.

Top 3 Bars in Durham for April 2024

In a rush? Below, I’ve listed a quick overview of my best recommendations for bars in Durham for April 2024:

  • The Victoria – A proper pub. Dog friendly, great beers, reasonably priced, open fires. What’s not to like? 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • Curious Mr. Fox – Shabby chic cocktail bar with something for everyone. Serves great food as well. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Old Tom’s Gin BarProbably the best gin bar in the North East. The cheeseboard is an absolute must! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Bars in Durham Map

The map below outlines where the best bars in Durham are located. You can use this to set out a route or to dive into ones that you’re close to. They each offer something a little different, making the city so appealing.

The Best Bars in Durham 2024

One of the best things about being in Durham is its diversity. There’s literally something for everyone. You’ve got your lazy Sunday afternoon old-man boozers, fancy gin bars, creative cocktail bars, cheesy nightclubs, and everything in between.

Crowning one or two places as the best bars in Durham is highly subjective and very difficult at the same time. So, I’ve decided to break down each of the bars into categories and tell you what I like and dislike about each. You can make your mind up from there.

Use the categories below that best suit the types of places you want to visit and go from there.

Best Pubs in Durham

When I think of a “pub”, I think old school, original features, open fire, multiple arrays of hand-pull, a friendly welcome, and a great place to meet and chat with friends. These places aren’t trying to be something they aren’t, and most are a home from home if you like.

There are the best pubs in Durham right now.

Ye Old Elm Tree

A typically cosy, warm and friendly atmosphere awaits in the Elm Tree (as it’s known to locals). Come packed with a great range of real ales and a quality selection of gins. The recently renovated decking out the back makes it great in the summer, and the roaring fire in the main bar is a must during the colder months.

Location – 12 Crossgate, St Margarets Garth, Durham DH1 4PS

Vibe – Traditional English pub

Socials – Facebook | Instagram

The Shakespeare

Located in the middle of Saddler Street, this unassuming pub can be easily missed, but miss it at your peril. Famous for being Durham’s most haunted pub, the 12th-century building is a throwback to a “proper pub” on the ground floor while offering a range of excellent spirits on a slightly more modern first floor.

Location – 63 Saddler St, Durham DH1 3NU

Vibe – 12th-century modern

Socials – Facebook | Instagram

Dun Cow

The Dun Cow is one of my favourite bars in Durham. It’s a little out of the main centre of “town”, but only a couple of minutes walk from the marketplace. You walk through an alleyway and have the option of two bars to choose from: the snug and the long bar. They’ve always got a great range of cask ales, and the staff couldn’t make you feel more at home.

Location – 37 Old Elvet, Durham DH1 3HN

Vibe – Whitewashed country inn

Socials – Facebook | Instagram

Durham Sports Bars

As a big sports fan, if there is one thing I’d say Durham lacks, it’s dedicated sports bars. When you head to major cities like Newcastle or Liverpool, a handful of bars are dedicated to sports, with dozens of screens and plenty to do.

In Durham, you need to work a little harder to get your sports fix. That’s not to say there aren’t any Durham sports bars, but they’re limited for my liking.

Half Moon

The Half Moon is not what you’d call a traditional sports bar, but few have as many viewing areas or sports coverage as they do. The recently renovated courtyard to the rear has half a dozen TVs and a big screen, all with covers. Inside, you’ve got four more TVs, and they show everything from football to boxing. Sky Sports, TNT Sports (formerly BT Sport) and most PPV events are live down the ‘Moon.

Location – 86 New Elvet, Durham DH1 3AQ

Vibe – Grade 1 listed plasma screen

Socials – Facebook | Instagram

The Library

The Library Durham

One of the best places to watch live sports in Durham has to be The Library on Saddler Street. It’s one of those places that ticks a lot of boxes and, even though there are plenty of TVs, also hosts good pub grub, bottomless brunches, happy hour, and well-priced cocktails. It gets busy on weekends, but that adds to the atmosphere.

Location – 46 Saddler St, Durham DH1 3NU

Vibe – Modern, Chill, Jack-of-all-trades

SocialsFacebook | Instagram

The Three Bridges

The Three Bridges at the bottom of North Road is a bit like a Weatherspoon’s but with live sports. I mean this in a good way in that the drinks are reasonably priced, there is a strong cocktail menu, and the décor is modern with a great atmosphere. The option to book tables to watch sports makes this a popular spot, with the recent addition of booths with a private TV where you can choose what you watch.

Location – 80 North Rd, Durham DH1 4SQ

Vibe – Weatherspoon’s: but good!

Socials Facebook | Instagram

Babylon

Technically, it’s a nightclub, but in the loosest form possible. The old cinema, now Babylon, has a huge viewing area with a massive drop screen for sports and multiple TVs dotted throughout. Drinks are cheap, it hosts multiple student nights throughout the year and attracts some of the best local DJ talent in the area. What’s not to like?

Location – 15 North Rd, Durham DH1 4SQ

Vibe – Sports bar by day, nightclub by night

Socials – Facebook | Instagram

Cocktail Bars Durham

The range of cocktail bars (and bars serving cocktails) has grown dramatically in Durham over the last few years. Gone are the bog standard Sex on the Beach out of a can, and in are long-stirred Old Fashioned and en-vogue French Martinis.

What’s been apparent is that most, if not all, of the new bars in Durham have a cocktail menu of some sort. Heck, even traditionalists like the Elm Tree can knock you up a Gin Sling.

These are the best cocktail bars in Durham right now.

Curious Mr. Fox

Curious Mr Fox Durham

One of the newest recruits to the best bars in Durham is the Curious Mr. Fox. This shabby chic establishment has an exceptional range of cocktails and mocktails, all made fresh from the main bar downstairs. Take your drinks and head up into one of the many themed rooms to sample with friends in one of the livelier spots in Durham.

The two for £12 offer runs Sunday to Thursday and includes Espresso Martini (my go-to), Strawberry Daiquiri, amaretto Sour and Baileys Martini, amongst others. If you’re feeling adventurous, opt for The Rouge from their specials.

Location – 35a The Riverwalk, Durham DH1 4PW

Vibe – Beautiful, contemporary design

Socials – Facebook | Instagram

Whiskey River

The Whiskey River is rarely out of our loop on a day/night out in Durham, and it’s the cocktails they are best known for. It’s often got live, acoustic music on the weekends, and there’s always a drinks offer of some sort to take advantage of. Try and catch it on a warm summer’s day, where you can sit in the courtyard, drink a cocktail or two and people-watch. Bliss.

Location – Riverside, Elvet, Durham DH1 3UJ

Vibe – Laid back, easy listening

Social – Facebook | Instagram

Mixology

There are few better bars in Durham that provide a warm, dark intrigue that Mixology offers. It’s one of the newest bars in the city and their niche…. Cocktails. These guys know their stuff, and even though they are a little more expensive than some, you get what you pay for here. It’s small, intimate, and welcoming, but the star of the show is the cocktails.

Location – 93 Elvet Bridge, Durham DH1 3AG

Vibe – Dark, cosy, and modern

Socials – Facebook | Instagram

El Pincho

If you like your cocktails with a side of atmosphere, then El Pincho is the place to be. This place is rocking from lunchtime on a Saturday until well after sunset. The Mediterranean vibe is unique for Durham, and the team are on hand to make a fantastic range of cocktails priced from £8.50 with Happy Hour rates of two for £12.

Location  – 16 The Riverwalk, Durham DH1 4SJ

Vibe – Mediterranean, modern, lively

SocialsFacebook | Instagram

Bar 33 Durham

It’s a hidden gem, quite literally. Bar 33 Durham is located on Neville Street, but you’d be forgiven for not knowing it was there. In fact, even if you spot it, you will need to follow them on Instagram or Facebook, as a door code is posted every week for entry. The extra hassle is more than worth it as you walk up the stairs to be pleasantly greeted by one of the best cocktail bars in Durham. The team are mixologists in the truest form, so get talking and let them recommend something you’ll love. It’s worth noting that it is open until 2 am every day.

Location – 33 Neville St, Durham DH1 4EY

Vibe – Premium speakeasy

Socials – Facebook | Instagram

Dog Friendly Pubs in Durham

We all love to take the pooch with us for a drink. Some places are more welcoming to our canine friends than others, but luckily, there’s a good range of dog-friendly pubs in Durham.

The result of lockdown means that the number of people who have dogs has soared, forcing the hands of many places to be more accommodating. As part of our guide on bars in Durham, I’ve listed the best spot to take the pooch for a drink and even some food in the best restaurants in Durham.

We’ve spotlighted bars in Durham that haven’t already been spoken about, but also included a list of sites you can take your dog into that we’ve already mentioned below:

  • Half Moon
  • Head of Steam
  • Whiskey River

The Victoria

The Victoria is one of my absolute favourite pubs in Durham, regardless of whether the dog is with me or not. It’s as old school as it gets, with three bar/lounges for the dogs to chill out. It’s great all year round, but when the three fires are roaring in winter, there is nowhere better in the city. The landlord often brings snacks around for the dogs, and you just need to ask to get a water bowl. Plus, a huge and ever-changing range of hand pulls, if that’s your thing.

Location  – 86 Hallgarth St, Durham DH1 3AS

Vibe – Cosy, warm, welcoming

Socials – Facebook

The Kingslodge Inn

The Kingslodge is located at Flass Vale and is easily missable, given that it’s off the beaten track. However, the pub has a great beer garden (two, in fact), a good range of beers and wines, and some great homemade food. It’s one of the bigger pubs in the city and has plenty of space for dogs to have their own space if they’re a little fussy around other dogs.

Location – Waddington St, Flass Vale, Durham DH1 4BG

Vibe – Peaceful, spacious, classic food

Socials – Facebook | Instagram

Nightclubs in Durham

Durham has a great late-night scene, with multiple options to head to when the sun goes down and, in the summer, to see the sun come up. They aren’t necessarily the classic nightclubs you’d find in San Antonio or London Town, but more late-night spots with banging tunes and great vibes.

Most of the nightclubs in Durham are frequent as regular bars through the day and crank up the volume late at night. Weekends are your best bet to party late, but some places are open through the week, mainly accommodating the large student scene in the city.

One of the best things is that most are free to enter, which makes it an ideal free thing to do in Durham City on a night.

Osbournes

Osbournes is one of the coolest nightclubs in Durham. It’s only open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays until 2 am daily. They attract some of the best DJs in the area but also have live bands throughout the day and a great cocktail menu to work through. The site is just off Elvet Bridge, so they are right in the middle of the city for easy access.

Location – 21A Elvet Bridge, Durham DH1 3AA

Vibe – Energetic, fun, great music

SocialsFacebook | Instagram

Klute

Klute is a Durham institution. It’s been open for more than 40 years (in some form) and doesn’t take itself too seriously, with the tagline on their website “wipe your feet on the way out.”. If you know, you know! It’s cheap, cheerful, and cheesy, and even though it is more of a student bar these days, it is open until 2 am on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

Location – Elvet Bridge, Durham DH1 3AF

Vibe – Iconic, cheap, cheerful

Socials – Facebook | Instagram

King Pong Durham (Formerly Wiff Waff)

King Pong has taken over from the infamous Wiff Waff bar. It’s a Durham nightclub that’s open early until late, but its party trick is the multiple tables where you can play beer pong. It’s one of the most fun spots in the city, and hitting it up with a group of friends and hiring a beer pong table is a great laugh. Most nights include a live DJ and multiple drinks deals to get yourself in the mood.

Location – Back Silver St, Durham DH1 3RA

Vibe – Beer pong, DJs, good times

Socials – Facebook | Instagram

Fabios

Another iconic spot in the heart of Durham City Centre is Fabios. This place has the best tunes in the city, and if you’re looking for somewhere to dance the night away, then this is it. They have multiple live bands throughout the day, with more of a chillout vibe, but at night, the place is bouncing. It’s worth the hike up multiple flights of stairs to get there.

Location – 66 Saddler St, Durham DH1 3NP

Vibe – Intimate, edgy, something for everyone

Social – Facebook | Instagram

Durham Gin Bars

Durham is famous for its gins, mainly down to the success of the local distillery, Durham Gin, brewed in the heart of the city centre. Most of the bars stock it, and I can confess, it’s excellent gin, so make sure you have a try when you’re visiting.

There isn’t a huge amount of Durham gin bars, but what we do have is second to none. There are many places in the city to get a great gin and tonic, but the places I’ve listed below are what I would call a “dedicated” gin bar.

Old Toms Gin Bar

Old Toms is situated in a 17th-century building, and they’ve done a great job of maintaining the history while giving it a warm and welcoming feeling. It has an incredible range of gins to choose from, but the best thing is the staff, who are super-knowledgeable and will talk you through what they think you might like based on your palette. I recommend letting them choose something you’ve never had before, as they rarely miss.  

Location – 33 Riverwalk, Durham DH1 4SL

Vibe – Quirky, original, imaginative

Socials – Facebook | Instagram

Tin of Sardines

Reported to be the smallest gin bar in Europe, Tin of Sardines is everything you could want from a quirky Durham gin bar. Inside, you’re not fitting more than a dozen people in; even then, it will feel cramped. But in the summer, there is outside seating, so you get more of an opportunity to try some of the best gin and tonics in the city. There is a vast selection of gins to choose from around the world, with exceptional ginologists on hand to help you pick.

Location – 18 Elvet Bridge, Durham DH1 3AA

Vibe – An experience, unusual, must-try

Socials – Facebook | Instagram

Pubs in Durham with Beer Gardens 

There’s nothing better on a warm sunny day (Yes, we occasionally have them in Durham) than sitting in a beer garden with a cold glass of your favourite tipple. Luckily, there are some great spots to sit and relax in the city.

Before I dive in, there are some notable pubs in Durham with beer gardens that I’ve already mentioned (or are about to in later categories) that I’ve listed below.

  • Elm Tree
  • The Library
  • The Kingslodge
  • Half Moon

The Angel

The Angel’s beer garden was renovated during lockdown, and it’s now one of the biggest and best in Durham. The pub is iconic for live music and has a fantastic jukebox with everything from Black Sabbath to Tina Turner. You’ve always got a great range of drinks to choose from, and if the music gets a little loud, pop across the road to their sister pub, The Elm Tree.

Location – 53 Crossgate, St Margarets Garth, Durham DH1 4PR

Vibe – Alternative, laid-back, friendly

Socials – Facebook | Instagram

The Woodman Inn

One of the forgotten pubs of Durham for me is The Woodman Inn. Given its location at the top of Claypath, many don’t bother with the long walk up the bank, but it’s worth it as they’ve got a cracking beer garden following the refurbishment in 2022. It’s a traditional pub hosting live sports, live music, karaoke, quiz nights, a pool table, good pub food, and dog-friendly. What’s not to like?

Location – 23 Gilesgate, Durham DH1 1QW

Vibe – Local, summer-ready, great craic

Socials – Facebook | Instagram

Swan and Three Cygnets

The famously cheap Swan and Three Cygnets is located just over Elvet Bridge. It’s two-tier beer garden offers tons of space in the summer to sit up the top, and people watch or down the bottom by the river for a bit of calm. This is a Samuel Smiths pub, so prices are cheaper than even the local Wetherspoons (you get change out of a fiver for two pints and a packet of crisps). Try catching it on a Saturday afternoon when it’s busy, and it creates a great atmosphere inside and out.  

Location – Elvet Bridge, Durham DH1 3AF

Vibe – Cheap, cheerful, character

Socials – Facebook | Instagram

Head of Steam

One of my favourite spots in Durham and a very underrated beer garden. The Head of Steam is a must-visit for beer lovers. Plenty are dotted around the country, but Durham doesn’t have that “chain” feel that most do. Outside seating is around the top balcony (prime spot) and the courtyard below. Upstairs inside has live music, a pool table, and seating for food, but it’s the beer menu I love the most, working through some exotics you can’t get elsewhere.

Location – 3 North Rd, Durham DH1 4RZ

Vibe – Craft beer, vibrant, hidden gem

Socials – Facebook | Instagram

Durham Pubs with Play Areas

For me, the pub should be a family affair. Throughout the day, it needs to be accommodating for little and bigger ones, so I’ve taken the time to create a list of Durham pubs with play areas.

If I’m being honest, there’s not an awful lot outside of the brands we know. I wanted to point out that these are sites specific with play areas for the kids and not necessarily the only ones that allow children. In fact, I think all the bars in Durham allow children, at least up to a specific time.

Durham Ridge Brewers Fayre

Sometimes, the chains are the easiest when it comes to taking the family, and Durham Ridge Brewers Fayre is no different. It’s a little bit out of the city centre, located just a short walk from the Arnison Centre, but ideal if you’ve had a hectic few hours shopping and need some refreshments and space for the kids to blow off steam. The outdoor play area includes swings, slides, climbing frames, and a rocking horse, all within a fenced space.

Location – Arnison Retail Centre, Pity Me, Durham DH1 5GB

Vibe – Family friendly, classic food, quick and easy

Newton Grange

When we say, “play area”, the Newton Grange in Brasside has a climbing frame, and that’s about it, so it’s a loose association at best. But the pub is excellent and is ideally suited for families inside and out. They’ve good pub food, which is reasonably priced in a setting that will be pleasant enough to pass a few hours with the little terrors. A great family-friendly pub, located just outside of the city centre with a large Durham car park for easy access.

Location – Brasside, Durham DH1 5SA

Socials – Facebook

Happy Hour Durham

Everyone loves a happy hour. The price of drinks these days is extortionate in most places, so getting a little something back feels like a small win in what’s otherwise going to be an expensive night out.

There’s a good range of pubs that do happy hour in Durham, and some of them provide exceptional value. Most of the sites are chains, but I’ve visited most of these in multiple cities around the UK, and I must admit, the Durham locations are as good as any I’ve tried.

Turtle Bay

Turtle Bay is about as vibrant as it comes in Durham. It’s one of few places that have managed to strike a balance between great food and great drinks. One of the biggest compliments I can pay is that it doesn’t feel like a chain at all, largely due to the amazing décor and incredible staff. Happy hour runs every day until 7 pm and then again from 9:30 pm until close, getting two for one on cocktails and mocktails. It’s also one of the best restaurants in Durham, serving authentic Caribbean food.

Location – Unit R07 The Riverwalk, Durham DH1 4SL

Vibe – Vibrant, fun, boozy

Socials – Facebook | Instagram

Revolution

Revolution is one of the biggest bars in Durham and caters for everything from hen dos to comedy nights. It’s got a great range of drinks to choose from, with happy hour Durham running until 9 pm Sunday to Friday, getting two for one on selected cocktails. On a nice day, get in early and sit upstairs on the covered roof terrace.

Location – 1-4 North Rd, Durham DH1 4PW

Vibe – Creative, river views, party time

Socials – Facebook | Instagram

Slug and Lettuce

The Slug and Lettuce is like happy hour on steroids. There are loads of offers to take advantage of, but the main one is two-for-one cocktails that run daily. The cocktails are more than decent as well. Other offers include discounted shots, lunch dates, sharing plates and drinks, and Spirited Thursdays, where you get two spirits and a mix for £12. What cost of living crisis.

Location – 7 Walkergate, Durham DH1 1SQ

Vibe – Youthful, late-night, contemporary

Socials – Facebook | Instagram

Craft Beer Bars in Durham

I’m a confessed craft beer lover. There’s something about trying different flavours from businesses that are, more often than not, local to Durham that I love. Luckily for me, there are craft beer bars in Durham to choose from.

The places I’ve listed below are what I would craft beer “experts”. Many places in the city have craft beer available, but these guys bleed it and, in some cases, make their own. I want to give a quick shout-out to the Head of Steam as they aren’t in this section (see Beer Gardens) but do a killer job with craft beer coverage, so check them out as well.

Holy GrAle

The best place for craft beer in Durham has to be the Holy GrAle. They’ve usually got around a dozen on tap and then a huge range of bottles and cans in the fridges to the back of the pub. It’s such a chilled vibe and one of the coolest little basements to sit and chill out in. They cater for everyone, with student nights, quiz nights, live comedy, and live music on most weeks.

Location – 57 Crossgate, St Margarets Garth, Durham DH1 4PR

Vibe – Great beer, great staff, generally wonderful

Socials – Facebook | Instagram

The Station House

“Come for the beer. Stay for the community”. I can’t sum up the Station House in Durham much better than the tagline from their website. It’s such a brilliant little spot with owners who are devoted to craft beer and making people smile. They’ve won multiple CAMRA awards for beer and cider, and one of the biggest compliments I can give it is that it’s one of the places I recommend the most for craft beer in Durham.

Location – Station House, North Rd, Durham DH1 4SE

Vibe – Family, community, welcome

Socials – Facebook

Final Thoughts on Bars in Durham

I’ve covered over 30 bars in Durham in this guide alone, and what’s great about each of them is that they all offer something a little different. It may be a small city compared to Newcastle, Manchester, and Liverpool, but I dare bet that I could put at least one bar up against the best in each category from Durham, and they would go head-to-head with the best.

The only negative is the need for more new bars in the city. It would be great to have fresh digs to try every other week, but instead, we settle for refurbs and visits back to the ones we love. Some niches are stronger than others, granted, but so many boxes are ticked in Durham, and it’s incredibly underrated for a day or night out.

Hopefully, you’ve found this guide on bars in Durham useful, and I’ll keep this up to date as new sites open their doors.

FAQ

What are the best bars in Durham?

If you’re after a traditional pub, Elm Tree and the Victoria are the best. If you’re looking for a modern twist, The Curious Mr. Fox and Bar 33 are great bars. For sports, try the Half Moon or The Library. The best for student nights is Klute and Osbournes.

Are there any rooftop bars in Durham?

The one thing Durham needs is rooftop bars. The Head of Steam has a balcony, which could be classed as a rooftop, and The Angel is situated on the top of a hill, so it has good views from their beer garden. Aside from that, there are no rooftop bars in Durham.

Can you recommend some sports bars in Durham?

The best sports bar in Durham is the Half Moon on New Elvet. It has tons of TVs, Sky Sports and TNT Sports and shows most of the PPV boxing and sporting events. Alternatives to this include The Library, The Three Bridges and Babylon.

What are the popular cocktail bars in Durham?

Durham has a vast range of cocktail bars; most do bottomless brunch. The best ones to try are the Curious Mr. Fox, whiskey River, Mixology, El Pincho and Bar 33. They all do great but very different cocktails, and most have offers, such as two for one, that run throughout the day.

Are there any bars with live music in Durham?

Yes, lots of bars in Durham have live music. Katie O’Brien’s is one of the best for live music, with singers and bands on every weekend. Other places with live music in Durham include the Holy Grale, The Head of Steam, The Three Bridges and Revolution.  

Do any bars in Durham offer happy hour specials?

Yes, a wide range of bars in Durham offer happy hours. The most common is two-for-one cocktails, which can be in Turtle Bay, Revolution and the Slug and Lettuce. The Half Moon also runs happy hours throughout the week.  

Which bars in Durham have outdoor seating?

Most places in Durham have outdoor seating. However, some are more accommodating than others. Durham’s best beer gardens and outdoor seating areas are The Angel, The Woodman Inn, Swan and Three Cygnets, Head of Steam, Elm Tree, Library, The Kingslodge and Half Moon Inn.

What’s the nightlife scene like in Durham?

The nightlife scene in Durham is excellent. It’s one of the best places in the North East to come for a night out and can even rival that of the Geordies up the road in Newcastle. It’s best to arrive late afternoon as the city shuts down at 2 am, which is late enough for most. You’ve got a great mix of bars, pubs, cocktails, gin bars, nightclubs and sports bars.

Are there any 24-hour bars in Durham?

No, Durham doesn’t have any 24-hour bars. Bars open the longest are usually the chains, such as Turtle Bay, Revolution, Slug and Lettuce and Weatherspoon’s.

Where can I find the top-rated craft beer bars in Durham?

There are three notable and excellent craft beer bars in Durham that you must try. The first is the Station House located at the top of North Road, just at the entrance to the train station. Next is Head of Steam, about halfway down North Road, and the third is the Holy Grale on Crossgate Bank.