What you'll see
Durham Castle is a working building and a home to students. As such, it is not always possible for every tour to include all of the areas highlighted below. This description is designed to give you an overview of the areas which you may see during your tour, but it may be necessary to alter the route or miss out some areas if these are in use.
You will begin your tour on the Barbican, the cobbled entrance to the castle. Passing under the Gatehouse you will then enter the Courtyard, where your guide will highlight the many interesting and varied features, including architectural styles from over the last 1000 years.
You then enter the Norman Chapel. The Chapel is the oldest standing building in the city, dating back to the 11th century, and it retains many of its original features. These include magnificent sandstone pillars, and numerous carved capitals -see if you can spot our mermaid carving, she is the earliest depiction of a mermaid in England!
After climbing the clock tower stairs, you will then find yourself in the Tunstall Chapel, a Tudor Chapel added to the castle in the 1540s. In this chapel you will see a range of features, including a 17th century organ, a 19th century altar and 16th century Misericords (also known as ‘Mercy Seats’) which feature intricate carvings of fables and mythical creatures, everything from dragons to pigs playing Northumbrian pipes. Both Chapels in the castle are still regularly used for religious Services. They are part of the community space with plays, talks, performances and exhibitions taking place in the chapels. In the holidays, weddings and christenings are still held in the Tunstall Chapel for alumni of the college.
You will then enter the Tunstall Gallery. Added to the castle at the same time as the Tunstall Chapel, the gallery is an important Tudor addition, which showed the wealth and status of the Bishop. It was a space to entertain and to promenade and exercise during poor weather. Within the Gallery, you will see a once hidden Norman Archway which is considered to be one of the finest Norman archways in the country. You will be able to marvel at the excellent condition of its detailed and intricate 12th century carvings. The gallery also plays host to some of our museum collection, such as English Civil War and Napoleonic War weaponry and artefacts, 17th century Flemish tapestries, and medieval treasure chests.
The Black Staircase will be your next stop. This 17th century intricately detailed wooden staircase is an architectural marvel, for originally it was designed to be a flying staircase and was built without support pillars. The staircase soon began to lean which led to later supports being added. Because of this, when you walk on the stairs you will realise it is very noticeably wonky!
From here, you will enter the Great Hall. The hall was built in the 13th century when the castle was still under the threat of attack, and has evolved over the years to become a comfortable dining hall for the students who live here. The hall is the hub of castle life, hosting events such as plays, performances, graduation ceremonies and wedding receptions.
At the end of the tour, you will leave the castle via the grand main entrance of the Great Hall, making your way down the steps before heading back out onto Palace Green.