The North East is full of art and creativity, everywhere you look there are memories of the heritage of our shared past in industry, the incredible natural surroundings that shape us as well as the voices of the present day. Although sometimes it can feel frustrating that all of the big arts and cultural events seem to be happening elsewhere, in this blog series we want to outline some of the fantastic art, cultural and creative events, landmarks, galleries and such that the North East have to offer right NOW!

To celebrate Museums Week (13th-19th June) we thought we would share some of the fantastic museums that are right here in County Durham! Below we have a mixture of museums in East Durham and beyond, some with free admission and some with paid entry, so we really hope there is something for everyone…


Wheatley Hill Heritage Centre


Wheatley Hill Heritage Centre is a small museum that was originally a Chapel of Rest and houses a permanent exhibition of a traditional East Durham colliery home, set in 1919 and a temporary exhibition which changes every six months.

The building of the Chapel of Rest was made possible by the hard work on behalf of the East Durham mining communities of Peter Lee, who opened the chapel in 1907.  The Heritage Centre celebrates the times and life of Peter Lee.

Entry to Wheatley Hill Heritage Centre is free and there is a small on-site café. The centre is open Tuesday-Thursday 10.00 – 12.00 and 14.00 – 16.00 and on Saturdays from 14.00 – 16.00.  Learn more about Wheatley Hill Heritage Centre here.


Beamish, the Living Museum of the North


Of course, no list of museums in County Durham can miss off Beamish, the Living Museum of the North, which is the biggest open-air museum in Britain and world famous!

Beamish tells the story of life in North East England during the 1820s, 1900s, 1940s and now 1950s by immersing visitors in a historical world. Sites include a 1900s North East Town in the years leading up to the First World War with shops including a Bakery, Garage, and much-loved Sweet Shop! Most recently, a 1950s town has been opened which includes a Welfare Hall, Coronation and Recreation Park and Fish and Chip shop! Beamish has something for everyone and is a lot of fun for the whole family.

Beamish is paid entry, but once you’ve bought a ticket, this provides you with an Unlimited Pass for a year…and it is definitely worth visiting Beamish throughout the seasons as they have various celebrations and events throughout the year. You can learn more about Beamish here.


Horden Colliery Heritage Centre


Horden Colliery Heritage Centre’s displays show a complete history of Horden Colliery, from the beginnings of the local manor house, Horden Hall, built in the early 17th century, to the creation of one of the largest coal mines in Europe and then moving into the decline of the mine.

Everyone is very welcome at the Centre and admission is free. The site is open Wednesdays and Fridays from 10.30 – 3.00pm from March to October.   Volunteer staff are on hand who have a wealth of knowledge on Horden and are happy to offer a guided tour of the centre. There is even a Vintage Tea Room where you can stop by for a cream tea! Learn more about Horden Colliery Heritage Centre here.


Durham University Oriental Museum


This fantastic museum offers the chance for visitors to explore Ancient Egypt and Western Asia, the Himalayas, China, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia in one place!

The Oriental Museum is devoted to the art and archaeology of the great cultures of North Africa and Asia. Objects on display range in date from prehistoric to contemporary art works. Visitors can see ancient Egyptian mummies, Chinese porcelain created for the imperial court, Japanese woodblock prints and head-hunting swords from Borneo. As you may be aware, we were lucky enough to work with Durham University Oriental Museum as part of our Street Museum project with Blackhall, where residents of Blackhall displayed 3D printed artefacts from the museum in their windows to create an incredible Street Museum trail!

The museum is laid out geographically so you can focus on one area or range across whole continents.  Activities for families are spread throughout the museum and include dressing up, colouring, games and puzzles.  The galleries have plenty of seating areas and the museum is fully accessible. The Museum is free to visit but booking is required. The museum is open from 12-5pm on the weekend, and 10am -5pm Tuesday to Friday, with late night opening until 7pm on Thursday.

Even if you have visited before, make sure to check out their website, as the museum hosts a regularly changing programme of special exhibitions related to the collections together with talks, art workshops and special evening events.


Durham Mining Museum


Spennymoor Town Hall has its very own dedicated memorial to the work and lives lost during the mining period across County Durham, with the history covering mining in the Northern part of England i.e. County Durham, Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmorland and the Ironstone mines of North Yorkshire.

The museum has three display areas, manned by a team of volunteers, many of whom themselves have worked underground and are very knowledgeable. Two of the display areas contain the smaller items of mining artefacts and models of larger machines collected or donated to the museum since it was opened in 1998. The third section allows visitors to experience working conditions of miners via a simulated underground coalface and tunnel containing a life-sized model pit pony and coal tub.

The museum is in dedication to the memory of more than 24,000 men, women and children who lost their lives in mining related accidents in the North of England since 1293. It is such an important place to visit and offers an opportunity for everyone to learn more about the North East’s mining heritage.

The museum is free to visit, but donations are welcome. The Museum is open from 10am until 2pm every day, with the exception of Wednesdays and Sundays, learn more here.


And there we have it… five fantastic museums on our doorstep. What’s next on your list of museums to visit? Let us know any museums you have visited recently and we’ll be sure to share a recommendation on our social media. Get in touch via email: