The university town of Durham, England, merits a visit not only for its beautiful setting (the historic center is encircled by deep, thick woods), but also for its cathedral and castle, both built in the 11th century. The castle now serves as a residence hall for students. The cathedral is one of our favorites in all of England—it's one of the earliest vaulted cathedrals in Europe, and the first to use rib vaults (don't miss its Treasures museum).

It's best to explore the city on foot, but a car is needed to make excursions to area sights, including Housesteads, a Roman fort built along Hadrian's Wall; Binchester, another well-preserved Roman fort near Bishop Auckland; Corbridge, an ancient Roman town with well-preserved granaries; and the Bowes Museum (beautiful tapestries) and the 11th-century ruins of Barnard Castle (also an attractive and well-preserved market town).

To absorb the true flavor of the social history of the area, visit the 300-acre/120-hectare Beamish Museum (about 10 mi/16 km north), where genuine cobbled streets, stores, houses, trams, steam trains, a colliery and much more have been re-erected into a living community that reflects 18th-century working life.

Durham is located 65 mi/105 km north of York.

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