Most people that live in Durham walk and a few ride bikes, but with weather, time, and packages those options aren’t always the best.
Buses: There are several bus options in Durham. Arriva seems to have the most local buses. They have a £270 or so term-time pass for students, or you can get a 1-way ticket (a “single”) for about a £1 depending on where you are going in town. Go North East is another local bus company, but it seems to have a few more long-haul options for cities several miles away like Newcastle or Sunderland. Prices are comparable. Another option if you are in the right place is the Durham city Park & Ride buses. You can get bus schedules, not at the bus station as you might think, but at the local Tourist Info bureau which is right in down town next to the public library and the Gala Theater. For trip planning, we found Traveline.org.uk (click on the “NE” part of the UK map) to be the best because it will show bus times for each of operators together. Google Maps is a good way to find bus stops (and their names) if you zoom in very close.
Bus coverage is pretty good, but the problem is the timing. On each line the buses tend to run about every 20 minutes during the day on a weekday. If you are near a main route that will have several different buses that run on it, then they come more often. The biggest difference is that after about 6:30pm, the schedules shift to every hour and routes are combined. For instance during the day about 10-12 buses per hour are relatively available for our house during the day but after 6:30 it goes to 1 or maybe 2 an hour. Then after 11 pm there aren’t any. It is similar on the weekend, but maybe a little lighter. So if you are only going to/from school, that’s fine but if you ever want to get dinner, see a movie, or visit anyone then the bus system isn’t as helpful. (One side note, though they usually are, they are not always on schedule. We’ve had a couple of times where the scheduled bus never came.) However, I know people that use them and learn to work around it. There is the Durham Nightbus that does run (9pm-3am) during term time.
One important note: always carry change because bus drivers won’t give you change for a £10 or a £20, and only maybe for a £5.
Cars: We found it fairly easy to hire (“rent”) a car here. Friends here noted that they got pretty good deals through Priceline.co.uk. It works well for when family and friends come to visit.
Taxis: It costs about £40 to get a taxi to/from Newcastle airport. Other local trips in town cost about £5. At night, when buses aren’t running it’s common to grab a cab. If it’s 4 of you, it’s just as cheap as getting a bus and quicker. One issue is trying to get one from about 8:30-9:30am and 3:00-4:00pm because taxis are often used as a means to get kids to/from school.
Trains: For one-off trips, I usually use National Express to book tickets, because their site seems the easiest to see multiple options at once. All the train sites have the same feed for times and prices, but I like NE’s organisation better. The only tip I’ve learned is that often two single tickets are cheaper than 1 return ticket (even though the interary is exactly the same). Buying far in advance grants decent deals, but for tickets less than 3 weeks out get very expensive. For more frequent travel, like when multiple friends or family come over, we found the BritRail Flexi Party Pass to be very handy. It allows for much shorter planning in advance since you can hop on any train (though it helps to reserve seats in advance). They have to be shipped to the US before coming, so you’ll have to book them a couple of weeks before you leave for the US.
Planes: Pretty much the same as in the US. Short haul flights can be really cheap with places like Ryan Air, and the like. We found Aer Lingus to be pretty cheap for one-way flights to the UK (you’ll have to book through Dublin to Newcastle). But when we came over, we also noticed that you can get really cheap flights in and out of Dublin through them. To get into Durham, the three main options (in the UK) for transatlantic flying are London, Manchester, and Edinburgh (all are about equally as far from Durham by train–2.5 to 3 hours). Manchester is one of the favorites around here because their train station is practically right in the airport. For moving over here, it’s probably worth paying extra to get to Newcastle.