The Peak District National Park in England is 555 square miles of countryside, moorland, peaks and rivers covering five counties, making it one huge playground for families. We’ve holidayed here several times with our children simply because, on top of the area’s outstanding natural beauty, there is so much to do with kids in the Peak District. If you are outdoorsy, there are miles of walking and cycling trails, moors to explore, rivers to splodge in and peaks to climb. If your kids are less keen on clambering up Kinder Scout, fear not, from theme parks to cable cars, from boat trips to petting a goat, the Peak District has a huge amount to keep everyone from toddlers to teens entertained.
In no particular order, here are 10 things to do with kids in the Peak District, tried and tested by own children:
Kids’ Verdict “I liked that there were no queues so you could go on everything loads of times!”
I’m not sure you’d get away with a visit to the Peak District with children without a day at Gulliver’s Kingdom theme park. We certainly never have and my kids enjoy the homespun charm of this theme park which clings to the cliffs of the valley at Matlock Bath. This attraction grew from a homemade model village and still retains its original feeling of a family-run local day out. It may lack polish in places but the lack of queues made it hugely popular with our kids. They were able to do all the rides several times in a day, without the waiting that can blight a day at some more famous theme parks. A ski-style chair lift takes you from one part of the park to the other and there’s even an outdoor travelator to help you up the cliffside.
There are 21 rides here, with something to suit all ages, spread over the large site in Dinosaur Kingdom, Adventure Land, Smugglers Wharf and Lilliput Woods.
My children’s favourite rides:
- Drop Tower (Adventure Land) – make your tummy feel funny!
- Dino Falls (Dinosaur Land) – a water ride for 2 people – very fast and lots of fun!
- Log Roller Coaster (Lilliput Woods) – more getting wet – make a splash on this ride!
As well as the rides there is a high ropes course and zip wire. Check here for height restrictions.
- Ticket prices and opening times: Details at Gullivers Kingdom. For best ticket prices, book in advance online.
- Weather watch: Mostly outdoors, it will be much more fun if it’s dry.
- Age group: No big adrenaline rides, so kids in their later teens may be too old for it, but everyone else will have a great time.
- Duration of visit: All day!
Kids’ Verdict: “The paddle boarding was so much fun, even when I fell off! I beat mum and dad back on the bike ride.”
Carsington Water is a huge reservoir, well used for activities on and off the water. From paddle-boarding to sailing, canoeing, fishing, windsurfing and power-boating, Carsington is great for active families. For those feeling less active, you can sit and watch the world float past from the visitors centre. We spent a morning cycling round the reservoir. We had brought the children’s bikes from home and we parents hired bikes for the 8 mile reservoir circuit, which is really well signposted. If you aren’t feeling energetic, you can hire an electric bike or do the shorter 3 mile circuit.
Not content with circumnavigating the reservoir, the family hired a 6 person paddle-board and set off on the lake. Wetsuits are provided and, if you’re inclined, you can paddle out to a pontoon and jump into the water to your heart’s content. With no tides or waves, this was a great place to give paddle-boarding a try and the crew of six had a great time on the reservoir.
- Ticket prices and opening times: Free to walk around the lake, or cycle if you have your own bikes (charge for parking). Cycle hire and watersports rates here.
- Weather: Fair weather although if you’re getting wet anyway you may not mind a bit of rain!
- Age group: All teens will enjoy the watersports and younger kids can feed the ducks and enjoy a picnic.
- Duration of visit: 1-2 hours to a whole day depending on how many activities you want to do.
Kids’ Verdict: “I loved the animals, as you can feed and stroke them, and paddling in the waterfall steps was fun”
Chatsworth House is often called the jewel in the crown of the Peak District and it has a whole lot to offer families. A trip here packs a lot into a day out, with the House itself having 30 rooms to explore. As well as priceless works of art and sculptures, the House has an incredible history to tell of those who lived here, both above and below stairs. Chatsworth’s links to famous figures from history, including the Kennedy family and the Mitford sisters, add another dimension.
There are over 100 acres of garden, including the famous cascade water feature, bridges, statues, formal gardens, walks and trails and a farm and playground. If your kids aren’t keen on touring a stately home (even one with Chatsworth’s famous history), or you want to make the most of the fresh air, you can still spend a full day here.
My kids’ Top 3 favourite things to do at Chatsworth House:
- The farm – stroke a guinea pig, a donkey, a sheep and pet a goat (or even buy a goat as a pet!)
- The outdoor adventure playground
- The cascade waterfall steps
- Ticket prices and opening times: Chatsworth House
- Weather: Great for all weathers, enjoy the house in wet weather and the gardens and farm when it’s sunny
- Age group: All – teens will enjoy the history of the house and younger kids will love the farm and playground
- Duration of visit: A whole day (at least – you can could even go for 2!)
Kids’ Verdict: “There was a tram that looked like a boat, and an old fashioned sweet shop. You can ride the trams as many times as you want.”
We spent an entire day here! Great for multi-generational groups, your ticket includes unlimited travel on all the trams so you can ride up and down, trying them all out, to your heart’s content. There are 5 different stops from journey start to finish and along the way you can explore the play area, woodland walk, old fashioned sweet shop (why do my kids always end up in the sweet shop?), bandstand and great views across the valley.
Many of the buildings along the way, from the Red Lion pub to the Derby Assembly Rooms, have been painstakingly relocated here. The National Tramway Museum , with its collection of over 70 vehicles, is a trip down memory lane for many older visitors and an intriguing glimpse into the past for today’s children.
- Ticket prices and opening times: Check here, Crich is closed in winter.
- Weather watch: The trams are outdoors, although you can sit inside on the ones with a lower deck, and the National Tramway Museum is also inside. Outdoors the woodland walk and playground are best enjoyed in dry weather.
- Age group: Any and all! Even the teens in our group enjoyed riding the trams. Most of the trams can’t accommodate buggies or prams but there is a buggy shelter available.
- Duration of visit: We spent most of the day here, including lunch. Allow a minimum of 3 hours for a ride on most of the trams and a visit to the Museum.
Kids’ Verdict: “My mum loved the gardens the most”
Hopton Hall Gardens are open to the public in Spring for the snowdrops and in Summer for the rose gardens but the holiday cottages here are available all year round. We stayed as a large group in Granary Cottage. As guests in the cottage we had access to the wonderful gardens, play area and indoor swimming pool but if you are visiting the Peak District when the gardens are open, they are well worth a visit.
- Ticket prices and opening times: Check for public opening times here
- Weather watch: One for a dry day
- Age group: All who love fresh air and a stroll around beautiful gardens
- Duration of visit: 1-2 hours.
Kids’ Verdict: “I liked travelling in the old fashioned canal boat and we could get out and walk around halfway through. They also had sweets to buy on board!”
Take a wander through the industrial heritage of the Peak District at Cromford Mills. This was famed British inventor Sir Richard Arkwright’s first mill and many of the original buildings are still in use. From here stroll over to the Cromford Canal for a trip on a traditional British canal boat, Birdswood.
This is a sedate afternoon, suitable for multi-generational groups and you can even take dogs. The boat is run by volunteers and they will tell you the history of the boat and the canal as well as giving you a glimpse into the cabin where the folk working this boat on the waterways used to live (it’s tiny). The trip takes 2 hours and you can stretch your legs at one end . Refreshments are served on board and you can book online. Not for adrenaline seekers, this is a pleasant afternoon on the water watching the world go by. Some horse-drawn trips are available.
- Ticket prices and opening times: Details at Birdswood
- Weather watch: The boat is under cover but you’ll have a better experience if you can see out on a dry day.
- Age group: All ages, good for a multi generational day out. Energetic toddlers who want to run around and teens with a low boredom threshold may be hard to please on this trip as it does involve sitting down for a couple of hours.
- Duration of visit: Trips go twice a day in peak season and take 2 hours.
Kids’ Verdict: “I could see for miles from the cable car”
Heights of Abraham was very high on my children’s wish list of things to do in the Peak District. The cable car ride across the valley was the big draw for my kids but there is much more to do at this multi-attraction venue. Included in the ticket are the show caves, which were originally lead mines and are now lit up for tours. If you’re not a fan of going underground, you can take a virtual tour. The Long View is an exhibition telling the history of Matlock Bath, its famous thermal springs, the lead mines and the Heights of Abraham themselves. Heritage walks and a playground give an opportunity for a run around in between admiring the views. A great place to entertain the kids whilst also getting an understanding of the area’s history.
- Ticket prices and opening times: Details at Heights of Abraham
- Weather watch: Whilst the cable car and caverns are not exposed to the elements, you’ll have a much better time on a dry day when you can explore all the attractions.
- Age group: All ages, from tots to teens
- Duration of visit: Allow half a day to see everything and combine with a stroll around Matlock Bath (great fish and chips!)
Kids’ Verdict: “I liked the scones!”
Ilam Park is a National Trust property in the Dovedale valley. The 17th century gothic Hall itself is now a YHA Youth Hostel, so if you are looking for somewhere inexpensive and unusual to stay, this could be a great option! Holidays From Hels stays here regularly and says “YHAs do not get more magical than this, feel like you are at Hogwarts.”
If you aren’t staying over, the Hall is not open to the public although you can visit the church, which is not owned by the National Trust. The attraction here is the great outdoors, from shorter circular walks and riverside strolls to woodland and hilltop hikes and of course the Dovedale stepping stones and the opportunity to admire stunning views. There is also an orienteering course and a great National Trust tearoom.
- Ticket prices and opening times: Details at Ilham Hall
- Weather watch: This is all outdoors so be prepared! Grab that mac as the Great British Summer can be wet at times!
- Age group: All ages, from tots to teens, who love being outside or exploring nature. Smaller ones will enjoy running around on the lawns whilst teens may be up for the orienteering.
- Duration of visit: Anything from half an hour to admire the view and have a cuppa in the tearoom, to a walk lasting a few hours.
Kids’ Verdict: “The water was really cold but it was a fun challenge crossing the stones”
A short hop from Ilam Park is another free attraction and a great one for kids, the Dovedale Stepping Stones. There is also a walking route from Ilam Park to the stones. A chance to try your luck at crossing the stones across the river, have a splodge in your wellies and do a local walk up and around the valley. This is also a great picnic spot. After several trips back and forth over the stones my children moved on to just paddling across the river a bit further upstream!
10. PEAK DISTRICT TOWNS
Ashbourne is awash with places to eat and drink and makes a great stop on a Peak District day out. A cobbled market place and bunting hung across streets give this Peak District town a buzzing vibe.
Kids Verdict:”I loved the freakshakes!“
Kids’ Verdict: “Go Ape was brilliant, we were really high up in the trees!“
One of England’s most famous spa towns, Buxton has plenty to do on a day in the Peak District. An Opera house, a park, museum, art gallery, shopping, restaurants and the show caves of Poole’s Cavern. My children really enjoyed the Go Ape experience at Buxton, one of the most challenging of Go Ape’s UK courses with a huge Tarzan swing and zip wires through the forest.
Kids’ Verdict: “You can feed the ducks from your hand!”
Matlock is an attractive small town and makes a great base for a Peak District visit or a stop-off point on a day out. A 19th century spa town, it is well populated with coffee shops and eateries and can easily be combined with Matlock Bath and the Heights of Abraham or Cromford Mills and the Cromford Canal. We’ve been to the Peak District several times and our children always like a trip to Hall Leys Park. Hall Leys is declared one of the best parks in the UK and with some of the local attractions being quite costly, this one is free (a cheer goes up from parents!) The park includes traditional formal gardens, a bandstand, riverside walks, children’s play area with a splash zone, boating lake and duck feeding. Tennis courts, miniature railway and bowling green complete the activities. My kids love feeding the ducks here. You buy the bird feed from the boat rental at the lake and the ducks will eat straight from your hand!
- Ticket prices and opening times: Free
- Weather: The park is definitely a fair weather attraction but there are lots of cosy coffee stops to shelter from bad weather in Matlock
- Age group: Younger children, although teens may enjoy a game of tennis, hiring a rowing boat or playing frisbee in the park
- Duration of visit: 1-2 hours
Having holidayed in the Peak District for several years we’ve discovered so many great family days out, I hope you do too!
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Where Jo Goes National Trust: Lacock, Wiltshire-England’s Historic Harry Potter Village/ Cornish Coastline/Tyntesfield, Bristol/ Ham House, Richmond/ Wilderhope Manor – Stay in an Elizabethan House/Tredegar House, Wales
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