Located in the East Midlands, Derbyshire is famous for its beautiful countryside and rich industrial heritage and there are hundreds of things to do with kids. All of these ideas are suitable for families, although all could be enjoyed by couples and people on their own. I’ve organised this list largely by type of activity, if you’re looking for location specific ideas please check out these posts for things to do in Derby and things to do with kids in Chesterfield. Without further ado, here’s 40 things to do in Derbyshire for families, including lots of free and cheap options. Hopefully this provides lots of inspiration of what to do with kids in Derby and the rest of the county in the school holidays and beyond.
Things to do in Derbyshire
Parks and Country Parks
County parks make a great day out. They’re usually free admission, parking charges are reasonable and you can usually take a picnic, making it a cheap option.
Elvaston Castle Country Park, near Derby
A much loved free attraction located on the outskirts of Derby. It’s a vast area of open parkland, woodland and more formal historical gardens. Facilties include a picnic area, nature trail, children’s play area and toilets. There is good access for all. FREE entry, car parking costs £4.80 for the whole day, or from £1.60.
Rosliston Forestry Centre, near Swadlincote
Explore the National Forest with woodland walks, indoor and outdoor play, cycle hire, fishing, gift shop and restaurant. Dogs welcome on a lead. FREE entry, car parking costs £1.50 for an hour or £4 for the day (cash only and no change given).
Staunton Harold reservoir
There’s a fairly big playground here complete with hand sanitisers. I also like there are a few benches dotted about inside the playground and then several more picnic benches right outside. There’s a big pay and display car park DE73 8DN and a café operated by the National Trust, currently open daily 10am-4pm. There are also toilets. Dogs are welcome on a lead. FREE entry, £3 to park all day.
River Gardens Belper
Park at the pay and display car park at the mill and then explore Belper’s River Gardens, all beautifully paved for easy access for pushchair friendly walks Derbyshire. There’s a fairly big playground. Just be aware that some of the paths are open to the water. The new tea rooms are now open. FREE entry, pay and display parking starting at 50p. You can also hire rowing boats, starting at £9.50, for more details and to book click here.
Queens Park, Chesterfield
A wonderful example of a traditional Victorian park, complete with bandstand, two playgrounds and large duck pond. The paths are beautifully smooth so this would be a good option for anyone with mobility issues or with prams, buggies, scooters etc. On that note, there are toilets including good baby changing facilities, a disabled toilet etc. There’s a decent café serving light bites – the coffee and ice cream are particularly good. All the car parks are pay and display.
We also love a truly great playground like Cliffe Park in Dronfield, Markeaton Park in Derby and Hall Leys Park in Matlock. See my post on the best playgrounds in Derbyshire for more information.
Family friendly farms
Matlock Farm Park
Wander round at leisure looking at the various different animals. There are lots of opportunities to pet animals (at set times) and often lots of cute little baby animals! There are small animal handling sessions, as well as walk through wallaby encounters and meerkat talk sessions. Pony rides are available, at an extra charge, at weekends and school holidays.
Matlock Farm Park boasts various outdoor play areas, including a Jumping Pillow (the UK’s largest – available in dry weather only). There’s also an indoor play area with its own coffee shop. There’s also a separate café and various takeaway catering options and picnic areas.
Adults £10.95, 4-14 years £9.95, 2-3 years £7.95, concession £9.95, under 2s free (£1 discount for term time weekdays). Family tickets from £40. Parent and toddler special offers in term time. Pushchair friendly. No dogs except guide dogs.
Visitors can enjoy meeting a good range of farm animals before letting loose in the revamped ‘cow to cone’ play area. Expect to meet, have the opportunity to feed and learn about a wide range of farm animals. This includes pot-bellied pigs, Shetland ponies, sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, guinea pigs and Arthur the Giant Rabbit! There’s also an indoor sandpit and role play area. There’s a good tea room. Don’t miss the ice cream sundaes and milkshakes.
Farm park visits must be pre-booked. Adults £8.50, Children £9 (both discounted by £1 on weekdays).
Farmyard and Playground at Chatsworth House
Explore the working farmyard at Chatsworth House, meet farmyard friends and enjoy the woodland playground. There are daily small animal handling sessions, milking demonstrations (from mid-April) and seasonal crafts. Expect to see a range of farmyard animals including lambs, piglets and goat kids.
All tickets £7 each or family ticket for £26 which includes parking. Book in advance. Farmyard is wheelchair/pushchair accessible (harder to access the play area which is steeper and barked). Accessible toilet with a baby change facility. No dogs in the farmyard or adventure playground. Read a full review.
There is less to see and do at the following farms so they wouldn’t constitute a full day out. However, they are a lovely way to while away an hour or two, which for younger children can be a perfect trip out.
Matlock Meadows, Matlock
Free to visit working farm with free parking for customers of the café, ice cream parlour and gift shop (which also sells bags of food to feed the animals). Outside play area and some animals to see. This family run dairy farm also make the most delicious ice cream. Open Friday to Sunday – and check social media for their school holiday opening hours. No picnics.
Lanes Garden Centre and Open Farm, near Breaston
A small, free to visit farm. Only £2 for a large bucket of animal feed. Perfect for toddlers. Parking and café.
Adam’s Happy Hens, Chesterfield
A small but lovely set up. Farm shop selling their own and locally sourced produce. Small seating area to enjoy the hot drinks, cakes and locally made ice cream. Animals to see. Some parking but can be tight turning round. Free.
Church Farm Tea Rooms and Children’s Farm, Anslow near Burton on Trent
Probably my favourite small farm, very clean and well maintained. Nice staff and lovely play equipment for young children. Good tearoom. Read my review.
Castles and Historic Houses
Children’s Country House at Sudbury Hall
Newly reopened, Sudbury Hall is a fantastic family day out. The museum of childhood has lots of interactive features – climb up a chimney and squeeze down a mine shift, experience a Victorian classroom and then enjoy the new digital features. Fabulous outside spaces to explore and brilliant picnic facilities. Booking required, even for National Trust members.
A fairy tale castle with stunning views over Derbyshire. In addition to exploring the opulent rooms and wall walk, there’s also a fun play area. English Heritage members free, otherwise Adult tickets are £12.90, Child £7.70, under 5s free, Family £33.50.
Hardwick is a Elizabethan country house created by Bess of Hardwick in the 1500s. Most recently Hardwick provided the inspiration for Malfoy Mansion in the Harry Potter film. Read my guide to visiting Hardwick Hall and other National Trust places in Derbyshire here.
Calke Abbey is probably the most family friendly National Trust property in Derbyshire (at least whilst Sudbury Hall is shut). Prior to arriving at the main car park, turn right to ‘Calke Explore’, a new outdoor recreation area. There’s a woodland play area with lots of things children can climb on and explore. Once you’ve finished there you can drive (or take a 15 minute walk) up to the main car park for the house and gardens.
There’s a good adventure playground for younger children right near the main car park – which is also close to the toilets and café. Children might also enjoy exploring the long tunnel and the ice bunker.
Not overly pushchair friendly. Use a carrier if you have one. Dog friendly. Free for National Trust members or an adult ticket for the park & gardens only is £6.50, children £3.25 or a family ticket is £16.25. Parking included.
Chatsworth House, Gardens and Farmyard, Bakewell
Chatsworth is a wonderfully family friendly day out. There are expansive and varied gardens to explore. On a sunny day, children enjoy paddling in the Cascade. Picnics are also welcomed at Chatsworth (or there are a range of on site catering facilities).
There’s also extensive parkland to walk in. And the farmyard and adventure playground to explore with children.
No prams/pushchairs or rucksack style baby carriers allowed in the house. (Front baby carriers are welcome). Well behaved dogs welcome on leads. Not permitted in house, farmyard or playground (except assistance dogs). Adult ticket for house, garden, farmyard and playground is £26 (cheaper tickets available if only visiting certain areas). Free car parking if booked online.
Situated on the outskirts of Derby, Kedleston Hall is an 18th century mansion with beautiful Adam interiors, pretty gardens (stunning wild flower borders in the summer) and vast parkland.
There is plenty to explore inside. There’s the opulent interiors you would expect from a house of this size but also an extensive collection of artefacts many inspired by the Roman Empire.
Baby changing facilities. Gardens are pushchair friendly. Inside the hall, pushchairs are asked to be left at the hall reception but there are baby carriers available to borrow. Dogs welcome on leads in parkland and garden (not permitted in house except assistance dogs). £13 for adult ticket to hall, parkland and gardens (free for National Trust members). No advance booking required.
Thornbridge Hall gardens, Ashford in the Water
The house is not routinely open to the general public but the lovely gardens are worth a visit. Whilst the gardens are interesting from a historical point of view, it’s also just really good fun with children (or the young at heart) who will adore its famously quirky rubber duck fountain. Although there’s no playground, there’s a really nice range of alternative play equipment here. You can also access Thornbridge Hall directly from the Monsal Trail. Adult tickets are £7. Read what to expect at Thornbridge Hall Gardens.
Lea Gardens is a pretty rhododendron garden. Lovely woodland walk with some play equipment for children and a good tea room. Adults £6, Children £1.
Something a bit different
Castleton for Caverns and Walking
The Hope Valley is a particularly picturesque part of the Peak District and is great for walking. Castleton is one of the most beautifully situated villages in the Peak District and the perfect base for some of the best walks in Derbyshire. Climb the steep steps up to the atmospheric ruins of Peveril Castle. For a longer walk, Mam Tor has stunning views of the National Park, including the photogenic Winnats Pass. As one of the most-loved ridge walks in the Peak District, you can see all the way to Manchester on a clear day.
Castleton is the only place in the world where Blue John, a semi-precious stone, unique to Derbyshire and the Peak District can be found. There are various caverns to explore such as Speedwell Cavern which features an underground boat ride to the eerie ‘Bottomless Pit’, or for the amusement of the name alone, why not walk into the Devil’s Arse?!
Go Ape at Buxton
Treetop adventures with breathtaking views of the Peak District National Park and Buxton town. Pre-booking essential, adults £35, over 10s, £30.
Heights of Abraham
Ride the cable car up to a 60-acre hilltop estate with exhibitions, underground cavern tours and spectacular viewpoints. Adults £22, Children £15, under 5s free, family tickets £68.
Things to do in Derbyshire – Outdoor activities
The Monsal Trail for walking or cycling
The Monsal Trail is a 8.5 mile, traffic-free route for walkers, cyclists, horse riders and wheelchair users through some of the Peak District’s most spectacular limestone dales. It runs from Blackwell Mill, in Chee Dale to Bakewell. The trail is on an old railway line so is fairly flat and very accessible. You can even walk through the old train tunnels which are well lit.
There’s a large pay and display car park at Hassop Station where you can also rent bikes, and relax in their extensive café facilities. There’s also a small children’s play area. From Hassop Station you can easily walk to Bakewell in one direction (just over a mile and a half) or the magnificent views at Monsal Viaduct (2 miles).
For more Peak District walking inspiration and for detailed information about walks suitable for young children, check out Peak District Kids website.
Walk, paddling and a picnic at Dovedale
Dovedale is an iconic Peak District spot. Hidden gem, it is not, and I would go as far to say to actively avoid it on a sunny bank holiday afternoon. But, if you can get there at the crack of dawn or can visit on a slightly grey mid weekday off season, you’ll experience the magic. Park at the pay and display Dovedale car park (where there’s often an ice cream van) and enjoy the stepping stones across the river. If you’re feeling energetic walk up Thorpe Cloud. I prefer the walk along the river to Milldale, a chocolate box little hamlet with cute little counter serving up refreshments. There are also some free public toilets. It’s about three miles from Dovedale to Milldale so just under an hour at a brisk pace. FREE entry, National Trust members park for free or £3.50 for up to four hours or £5 for all day (correct change required)
Padley Gorge is perfect for paddling. Just be aware that parking is extremely limited at peak times so you might want to get there early. You can park at Grindleford and scramble up Upper Padley. Or park at Surprise View car park. From here cross the road and head through the rocks until you get to Padley Gorge. Otherwise, it’s possible to park at the Longshaw Estate and take a flat path, way marked trail route past the pond and down to Padley Gorge. This is a lovely family walk. There’s a café, toilets etc at Longshaw Estate.
Known locally as ‘The Farbrick’, Ashover Rock is a great choice for a free trip out. At nearly 300m above sea level there are stunning panoramic views. There are a few benches but it can get busy so do take a blanket. On a quiet day you can park for free in a lay-by and just walk up the short but steep hill to the rock. Find it by entering “Alton Lane, Ashover” in a sat nav. To incorporate a bracing walk, and for more extensive parking, park for free at Ashover Parish Hall.
Museums and Galleries
Derby city centre
The Museum of Making
A relatively 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, and it’s free to visit.
Derby Museum and Art Gallery is free to visit, as is the QUAD, an international centre for engagement in contemporary art and film.
Crich Tramway Village
Crich Tramway Village has an expansive museum of vintage trams and a recreated period village, complete with working pub, tearooms and shops. Ride the trams and soak in the scene. There’s also a nice woodland walk and play areas. Full priced tickets offer 12 months free return as many times as you wish (subject to a few T&Cs). Under 4 year olds are free. Dogs are welcome on a lead. Adult tickets £19.
Cromford Mills and canal walk
Cromford Mills is the home of Sir Richard Arkwright’s first mill complex, birthplace of the modern factory system and internationally recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Cromford canal is lovely for a walk. Set in the beautiful Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, it’s a wildlife haven and the perfect location for a stroll or a heritage or nature walk. The section from Cromford Wharf to High Peak Junction is suitable for pushchairs and wheelchairs. It’s a mile long (approximately 30 minutes’ walk). Pay and display parking is available next to the Cromford Mills site, with the revenue going towards the continued restoration of the site (DE4 3RQ). There are two cafés, one canalside at High Peak Junction and one in the mill yard. Click here for a free PDF of the canal side walk at Cromford.
You could continue the walk into Cromford itself and visit the magnificent Scarthins bookshop. Scarthins has a wonderful children’s room complete with an art installation.
Nice places in Derbyshire for a family day out
Melbourne in South Derbyshire
In the warmer months Melbourne Hall open its gardens to visitors on Wednesday and weekend afternoons. It’s £25 for a family ticket, which includes entrance to the small farmyard area. Next door and open all year round, and totally free to visit is Melbourne Pool. It’s a lovely place for a delightfully traffic free stroll and you can also picnic here. Or there is a good tearoom through the courtyard. Melbourne itself is a really pretty town with lots of independent shops and eateries.
The pretty village Eyam has a fascinating albeit morbid history. Its mortality rate was double that of London during the Great Plague and has earned Eyam the title of ‘the plague village’. Enjoy a wander around this picturesque Derbyshire Dales village, or enjoy a walk in the surrounding countryside and then refresh at either the Village Green café or The Coolstone at Eyam Hall which is a fabulous restaurant, bar, coffee house, shop combo. In normal times there is a small but fascinating museum dedicated to this tragic history.
Indoor things to do in Derbyshire – Soft play
Injoy Centre, Derby.
One of the newest and biggest soft play centres in the county it also feels clean and well maintained. They also have a really cool interactive/digital play room upstairs. You do have to pay extra for this – but we definitely rate it. It’s a calmer, more chilled out vibe than the craziness of the soft play bit. There’s also a climbing wall and laser tag.
No on-site parking but easily accessed by public transport (it’s right next to Derby bus station) and it’s only a short walk from the Derbion Riverside car park. 2 hour soft play slot is charged at £6 for over 3 years and £5 for under 3s, climbing walls from £8 per hour, interactive zone is from £6 per hour, laser tag from £12 per hour
The newest soft play centre in Chesterfield, Kooca is clean and the staff are brilliant. Friendly, helpful welcome and the café is table service. The soft play area isn’t as large as others and probably most suitable for younger children.
Just outside Derbyshire
National Arboretum, near Burton upon Trent
Explore the grounds, including children’s wood, two play areas including a sensory play garden and picnic area. Free entry, donations welcome. Car parking costs £6 or £4 if booked in advance. Advance booking recommended.
Bradgate Park, near Loughborough
Over 300 hectares of wild and unspoilt Leicestershire countryside to enjoy. Free entry, pay and display car parking from £1.
Peak Wildlife Park, near Leek
Just outside Derbyshire in the Staffordshire Moorlands, is one of the top rated animal attractions in the region. See a wide range of animals including more exotic species such as penguins, lemurs and zebras.
Large outdoor play area including a huge bouncy castle, sand pit, jungle gym and space hoppers, and indoor soft play area. Café and family picnic area. Adult £13.95, Child and Senior Citizens £11.95 (under 2 free). Fully accessible.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my round up of family friendly things to do in Derbyshire and it provides lots of inspiration of what to do with kids in Derby and the rest of the county in the school holidays and beyond. I’m sure I’ve probably missed lots… if I’ve missed your favourite family day out, please let us all know in the comments below.
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