Derby is a much underrated city. It might not be an obvious choice for a short break but here’s why I think it’s a great weekend destination. Whether you’re looking for family friendly activities, culture and history or just places to eat and drink, there are so many great things to do in Derby.
Situated in the East Midlands, Derby is easily accessible both by car (junction 25 of the M1) and by public transport. This makes it a perfect destination for meeting up with friends and family as restrictions ease and things start opening up.
I’ve written this to help people plan future trips in and to Derby. Please follow all government guidance and check opening details before travelling.
Here’s my edit of the very best things to do in Derby…
The Cathedral Quarter for beautiful architecture and independent shops
The Cathedral quarter is one of the most desirable and attractive parts of the city. It’s a great place to start if you are new to the city. Irongate and Sadler Gate are both worth a wander for their wealth of lovely, local, independent shops. Don’t miss the Strand Arcade, a lovely historic shopping precinct which connects Sadler Gate to The Strand, is a delightful Victorian crescent, also home to many fabulous independents.
Bustler street food market
Bustler is Derby’s much loved street food market, hosting an exciting selection of the very best street food vendors. There’s always a good selection of vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options. There’s usually a great atmosphere courtesy of DJ’s, craft beer, cocktails and usually a play area for children. It’s recently moved venues to just slightly out of town and now has Derby’s biggest beer garden. Open most weekends, £1 entrance fee although children, students, NHS staff and DCFC season ticket holders are all free. Family friendly and dog friendly.
Darley Abbey for discerning nightlife
Darley Abbey is an attractive former historic mill village, now a suburb of the city of Derby. It’s about a mile and a half from the city centre so may involve a short taxi ride out particularly if you’re in heels, but this is a fabulous place to eat and drink. The Darley Abbey Mills complex is a UNESCO World Heritage site so has a wonderful ambiance, particularly on a balmy summer’s evening.
For Michelin recommended fine dining, Darleys has recently had new owners and been completely renovated. Both the restaurant and it’s terrace both enjoy wonderful views of the River Derwent.
The Cottonworks is situated in the oldest building in the mills. Inspired by quaint little Cornish seaside social hang outs that serve amazing coffees and brunches in the day and then transform into a more intimate bistro by night. There’s a similar vibe at The Shed and check out Darley Abbey Wines for a glass of something great and handmade pizza.
Real ale pubs
According to Derby CAMRA, the city has one of most diverse selection of real ales in served across a collection of differing pubs in the whole of the country. Derby has an impressive number of brew-pubs, including the Brunswick Inn, a previous CAMRA pub of the year. The Seven Stars is another traditional, historical pub. Derby’s oldest pub is Ye Olde Dolphin Inn which dates back to the 16th century and is rumoured to be haunted.
Culture and History
Opening in May 2021, the Museum of Making is a brand new attraction in Derby city centre. The museum is located at the Silk Mill, widely regarded as the world’s first modern factory. It’s also part of the Derwent Valley Mills UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is a great place to learn about Derby’s fascinating history and role in the industrial revolution. Entry is free but currently needs pre-booking, which can be done here.
History buffs might also wish to explore Derby Cathedral. In normal times it’s possible to climb the 189 steps to see spectacular views of Derby and the surrounding four counties.
Derby Museum and Art Gallery is free to visit, as is the QUAD, an international centre for engagement in contemporary art and film.
Ghoulishly good things to do in Derby
Derby Gaol (jail) is rumoured to be one of the most haunted spots in the country. It’s now museum open to the public every Saturday, 11am to 3pm. Since its construction in 1756 it’s been through several incarnations (including a nightclub) until it was bought in 1997 by paranormal investigator, and dedicated historian Richard Felix who has returned it as far as possible to its original state. Richard also runs a range of ghost walks around Derby, or if you’re feeling particularly brave you can take part in an overnight vigil at the jail.
Derby boasts several lovely parks. Derby Arboretum was the first public park in Britain and influenced the design of the world famous Central Park in New York. Darley Park is in walking distance of the city centre and Markeaton Park has good play facilities – read more about this and more of Derbyshire’s best playgrounds here. There’s more detailed information on Derby’s parks and open space here.
Family friendly things to do in Derby
There are numerous ways to keep the whole family entertained in Derby. We particularly like Injoy Derby, a state of the art, indoor play centre that is so much more than just soft play (although the soft play bit is amazing!). There’s an indoor climbing wall and the UK’s first ‘interactive zone’ and a decent café. In fact it’s a perfect rainy day activity.
It’s worth seeing what’s on at Derby Museum and Art Gallery and/or the Quad as both regularly having visiting family friendly exhibitions and activities, as does the Derbyion shopping centre. There’s also a range of family friendly attractions a short drive from the city centre such as Bluebells Farm, Crich Tramway Museum and the other places listed below.
Events in Derby
Derby has a range of live venues like The Flowerpot and Derby Arena. Every year Darley Park hosts a classical music concert on the last Sunday in August which culminates in a spectacular firework display. It’s a really family friendly event. Tickets are a bargain at £4 and can be bought here.
From 27th May to 22nd August 2021, there’s a free Derby Ram Trail consisting of a flock of 30 colourful five foot rams (the city’s iconic animal) dotted around the city. Find out more here.
Other places to explore near Derby
Derby is not far at all from the world renowned beauty of the Peak District. From Derby city centre, you can be in the most stunning scenery of the Peak District National Park in less than an hour. Read about my favourite places in and around the Peak District here.
There are also plenty of picturesque villages on the outskirts of Derby to explore, such as Ockbrook, Duffield or the pretty market town of Ashbourne.
There are several lovely National Trust properties near Derby including Kedleston Hall, Calke Abbey and Sudbury Hall (currently shut).
Where to stay in Derby
Morley Hayes is located just outside Derby is a tranquil country hideaway. Situated on a golf course it’s a relaxing base to explore the city centre from. I stayed here the night before my wedding and the rooms and service are just lovely.
I haven’t stayed at any of these personally but this where I would recommend friends and family stay (and the TripAdvisor ratings suggest they’re a safe bet):
Penta Hotel is a contemporary boutique style hotel located on Pride Park. This is a great location for Derby Arena. If you stay here, Seven at Pride Park is a good restaurant for cocktails and eating throughout the day and evening. Also check out their champagne breakfast.
The Coach House is a stylishly decorated B&B, conveniently located particularly if you wanted to be based near Darley Abbey (great for bars, restaurants; walks and historic architecture)
Jurys Inn is a chain hotel but in a great location for the cathedral quarter which is only a short walk away.