Durham’s best study cafes

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Picture this: a restless third-year student, with a seemingly endless reading list and running out of space on her planner, sick of sitting at the same desk all day and of the kitchen being the only place to escape work within her house.

Record-scratch, freeze-frame, how did this end up being the situation I’m in? (Hint: the answer begins with “coronavirus” and ends with “restrictions.”) And, more importantly, how do I escape, and where to?

“Durham is full of cafés with the atmosphere that I need in order to reboot”

If your last six months have been anything like mine, you might be haunted by the same feeling of repetitiveness that comes from working and living in the same environment, day-in, day-out. Even in precedented times, my degree means that I do most of my work from home, usually surrounded by a pile of articles and pages of notes.

Now my contact hours outside the home have been reduced to two or three a week, and this usually means that I end up needing a change of environment if I am to continue working or to take a break that actually feels like a break.

Luckily, Durham is full of cafés that provide the atmosphere and drinks that I need in order to reboot my day. This short list is by no means exhaustive, but it is very effective.

Cafédral

If you live in Durham, chances are that you’ve come across Cafédral’s bright façade and their sign promising freshly baked scones. The atmosphere within is as cheery as advertised, and the scones never disappoint (splurge on the clotted cream – it’s fully worth it). Hungrier? Not a problem for Durham’s most plant-decorated café – they serve delicious paninis and a quiche of the day, as well as a breakfast menu if you’re an early bird. The chairs and couches are all very cosy, and the feel is more like your favourite relative’s living room than anything else.

Chapters Tea Rooms

What Chapters lacks in Wi-Fi, they make up for in seating space! Located on Elvet Bridge, the café is bigger than it seems, having access to Split and Glory’s diner-themed space. The menu is furnished with a large variety of syrups: whatever flavour of coffee you want, Chapters probably has it – I personally favour their hazelnut lattes, but all their hot drinks will provide the comfort and energy needed when you’re tired of sitting at home. Their bakes of the day are also delicious (look out for the chocolate-beetroot cake).

Leonard’s Coffee House

A hidden gem behind Durham market, the walk to Leonard’s alone will serve for a change of environment and to get you thinking (by my count, there are at least three different sets of stairs that will get you there). Once you’re there, take your time to look over their specialty teas (gingerbread chai is one of my favourites). Leonard’s is particularly good for the morning people, in virtue of their wonderful breakfast menu – but their lunch menu
and bakes are brilliant if you’re more afternoon-inclined.

Vennels Café

Rainy, cold day? Vennels might be the cosiest café in this roundup, mostly in virtue of the wood-burning stove in the first floor and the 16th -century design of the café. Dog-friendly and equipped with Wi-fi and plenty of space, this is a wonderful café to curl up with a book or your seminar reading list. The drinks menu is short and sweet, with great coffee and tea options to warm you up as you read. The cakes and sandwiches are all fresh and wonderful if it’s near lunchtime or you feel peckish, and the portion sizes are generous.


Illustration: Carreno

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