TOURISM businesses, indoor hospitality and a host of other venues are eagerly anticipating opening their doors to the public today.

There has been a major easing of coronavirus restrictions, with many businesses allowed to open today for the first time in months.

Pubs, restaurants and cafes can also start allowing customers to sit inside, while indoor fitness classes can also resume.

Among the venues to open today are Killhope Museum in Weardale, Bishop Auckland town hall and the Bowes Museum, in Barnard Castle. Durham's town hall opens on Wednesday, while National Trust property Ormesby Hall, in Middlesbrough, opens on Thursday.

Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, National Glass Centre and the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art reopen today, while Arts Centre Washington is opening tomorrow.

In Darlington, visitors are not being welcomed back to the Head of Steam Museum until tomorrow. Visitors can no longer see the original Locomotion No 1, but can, for the first time, see the 1975 working replica which has moved from Beamish Museum.

Beamish, the Living Museum of the North, in County Durham, is also looking forward to opening most indoor attractions, including its popular 1950s buses, tea rooms and sweet shop, on Monday.

Deputy director Rhiannon Hiles said: “We’ve been putting a lot of work into getting everything ready and can’t wait to be able to welcome everyone back.

“Beamish is a charity and having to close our doors three times due to the coronavirus pandemic has been extremely difficult and has had a devastating impact. We’re so incredibly grateful for everyone’s ongoing support as we look ahead to our recovery."

Some hospitality businesses have used the enforced closure to refurbish facilities.

The High Force Hotel, in upper Teesdale, has completed the final phase of an extensive renovation.

The hotel, which is owned by Raby Estates, revealed a new look restaurant and function room last year and work on a new-look bar was completed during lockdown.

It features vintage tiles reclaimed from Raby Castle, which is also set to reopen on Wednesday.

Hotel Manager Andrew Lindsay said: “We are very much looking forward to welcoming guests back to the hotel and restaurant to see the transformation and to enjoy our hospitality, beautiful surroundings and newly refurbished spaces."

“Bookings for weddings and other special occasions have continued throughout lockdown, and we are looking forward to helping people celebrate this year at this beautiful venue.”

Durham coffee shop owner Caroline Atkinson,43, will be serving her very first sit-in customers today, 16 months after opening.

She opened the Daisy Rose Coffee House in Belmont, Durham, in March last year and has managed to keep the fledgling business afloat with determination, hard work, family help and the support of her local community.

Closed for three months after Christmas, she wept with relief when a restart grant became available in April to allow her to open up. The former primary school teacher told the PA news agency: “I would not recommend anybody going into business in a pandemic.

“It has been soul-destroying at times but it has also been amazing.

"We have seen the best of people and they want to invest in their local community, and coming out of lockdown, a lot of people want to support local businesses.”

In Darlington, visitors to the town centre will also be able to access free Wifi, aimed at encouraging people to spend more time there.

Councillor Heather Scott, leader of the council, said: “We hope that the installation of Wi-Fi will increase footfall and encourage people to spend more time here."