Start your visit to Darlington at Head of Steam, the Darlington Railway Museum. It's right next to North Road station to the north of the town centre, and gives you the inside track on the area's role in railway history. The collection includes material on the development of the railways in North East England, but the star of the show is Stephenson's Locomotion No. 1, the very engine that made that world-changing journey almost 200 years ago.
This isn't just for rail buffs - anyone with an interest in British history will love it. The town centre is fully pedestrianised and compact, making it a pleasure for big spenders and window shoppers alike. High Row and the surrounding streets are lined with high street names and a particularly good range of independent retailers, and there's a buzzing covered market too. Find it beneath the iconic clock tower, which dates back to 1863.
For live entertainment, check out the Edwardian Civic Theatre and the Forum Music Centre. They're both on Borough Road, on the other side of the river from the town centre. For some exercise and fresh air, try out the Dolphin Centre for swimming and sports, and the green open spaces of South Park and West Park Nature Reserve.