Updated on January 25th, 2023
The Peak District in England is an outdoor lover’s paradise & has something to offer for everyone. If you are interested in epic landscapes, endless walking trails, stunning stately homes, quintessentially English villages & fascinating history, then this is the place for you! So, if you are wondering what to do in the Peak District, look no further. Here are my pick of the top 15 activities not to miss.”
With international travel in a very precarious & confusing position for us in the UK, until things calm down, I have decided to put my efforts into getting to know more of the beautiful country I call home. My first trip was to the Peak District, an area I had never really visited before, but it completely blew me away.
From the natural beauty of its landscapes to charming villages, underground caverns, ancient castles, beautiful stately homes & a famous spa, the Peak District really does have something for everyone. If you are wondering what to do in the Peak District, look no further! And for my detailed 6-day itinerary – check out my blog post.
What to do in the Peak District – 15 Amazing Activities Not to Miss
The Peak District landscapes are a tale of 2 halves which has been created over millions of years. It is a fantastical observation of how the earth has changed. The area is separated by valleys between the ‘Dark Peak’ which is characterised by exposed moorland & gritstone edges. Here you find peaks & ridges with exposed rocky outcrops & tors. Lying alongside are the limestone dales of the ‘White Peak’ with its undulating hills & fascinating caves.
It is an outdoor enthusiast & geologists’ playground, just waiting for you to explore!”
No discussion on what to do in the Peak District would be complete without a mention of the network of underground caverns. The movement of the water beneath the earth over centuries has carved some jaw-dropping caves. It is also the only area where you can find the beautiful fluor-spar mineral known as ‘Blue John’ which is used to create jewellery. Blue John Cavern is world famous & the mineral has been mined here for centuries. Tours are the only way to see the caves (£15 for one hour). Just make sure you can handle the 245 steps down & back & I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who suffers from claustrophobia. You could also opt for Treak Cliff or Peak Cavern (also known as The Devils Arse!) which is a music venue & cinema during the summer months. Or, you could choose to explore Speedwell Cavern by boat.
To best enjoy the wonders of all this natural beauty, you need to get out there & explore on foot. The highest peak in the area is Kinder Scout. Then there is the stunning Goyt Valley, Padley Gorge, Stanage Edge, Lud’s Church, The Roaches & too many others to mention. Mam Tor was recently voted among the top 10 walks in Britain in an ITV poll & is said to be one of the best views in the country too. You can read all about my adventures getting lost & top tips for hiking Mam Tor in my blog post.
For more leisurely strolls, stick to the White Peak but if you fancy something more challenging then the Dark Peak will deliver in spades! In addition, for serious hikers, Edale is the start of the famous Pennine Way which runs north for 268 miles. It finishes in the Scottish borders. Then there is the Limestone Way which leads you 46 miles through the Derbyshire countryside from Castleton to Rochester in Staffordshire.
4. Balance on the Stepping Stones in Dovedale
Dovedale sits on the edge of the Peak District & is a National Nature Reserve. It is dominated by ancient ash woodland, wildflower-rich grassland, and a river full of wildlife. What makes Dovedale unique is crossing the river via its iconic stepping stones. Be warned if the water is high, it may be impassable. It’s a peaceful place to spend a few hours or enjoy a nice walk, no matter what level of exertion you are planning for. If you fancy a climb, then head up Thorpe Cloud for fantastic views. Alternatively, you can keep walking along the river. Once you negotiate the Stepping Stones, it’s 3 miles to Milldale.
5. Drive through Winnats Pass
Just outside Castleton lies this spectacular pass down into the Hope Valley. It was once under a tropical sea & the limestone is full of the fossils of sea creatures that lived here over 350 million years ago. It’s a protected site & as such, no plants or rocks can be removed from the area. The valley was created by melting glaciers wearing away the rock & creating cracks, fissures & streams. These eventually became the vast underground cave system. At one point, the caves collapsed, leaving the steep-sided valley you can see now.
It is a jaw-dropping drive & also well worth exploring further on foot.”
Once you’ve had enough of epic walks, then why not try exploring by bike? No matter what level & type of cyclist you are, the Peak District has endless trails to suit everyone. For a leisurely flat & traffic-free cycle, choose between the Monsal Trail (see below), Tissington or High Peak Trails. The area also has numerous day or half-day circular routes for those wanting something more challenging & is one of the best places in the country for mountain biking. If you don’t have your own bike, there are plenty of options for hiring. Check out all the details on routes & hiring locations HERE.
7. Explore the Monsal Trail
No list of what to do in the Peak District would be complete without the Monsal Trail. It was once an important freight & passenger line as part of the Midland Railways connection between London & Manchester. The trains stopped running in 1968 but it has now been repurposed as a walking, cycling & horse-riding trail. It gives you access to a flat, traffic-free path in which to explore nature, architecture & history all in one 8 ½ mile stretch. I chose to cycle the route & you can learn all about it in my recent blog post.
8. Walk where history was made in Derwent Reservoir
As the demand for water increased, the Peak District with its deep valleys & high rainfall became the perfect place to create a network of reservoirs. Today they provide water to over half a million people but are also surrounded by stunning countryside. The area is a magnet for outdoor lovers and there are many circular walking & cycling routes nearby. In addition, Derwent Dam & Reservoir had a very important role in British history. In 1943, the RAF practised here before their daring Dam Buster mission in Germany. It was a perilous exercise, needing to fly only 60 feet above the water at night for the mission to be a success. In the raid, they dropped the infamous “Bouncing Bomb” created to skim across the water, before exploding next to the dam. The RAF still use the reservoir for training purposes today.
9. Get garden envy at Chatsworth House
Chatsworth House is home to the Duke & Duchess of Devonshire & has been for 16 generations. However, what makes this location so worth a visit are the stunning & seemingly endless beautiful gardens that surround it. After exploring many of the royal palaces in London recently, I gave the interiors a miss & familiarised myself with the amazing & varied outside space. From kitchen gardens to a maze, to the endless waterfall cascade, lakes, massive rock gardens & sculptures. Basically, you name it, you will find it on the grounds of Chatsworth! Bring a picnic & a blanket to make the most of your time in these exceptionally maintained gardens. To visit the house costs £12.50 & the garden only tickets are £7.50. Now, as with most things you need to book ahead.
Eyam is a small & pretty village with a very tragic past, brought to life even more after recent events. In 1666, Eyam had only 800 inhabitants. Unfortunately, on delivery of cloth from London, the plague arrived. Terrified by the impact the disease could have on the local area, the Rector at the church persuaded the entire village to quarantine themselves.
As a result, while surrounding villages remained uninfected, Eyam lost ¼ of its population.”
The “Plague Cottages” have plaques outside which bring these losses into stark reality. One poor lady losing 13 of her closest relatives. Only one of the graves can be found in the churchyard as most victims were buried in the surrounding fields to prevent spreading the infection. It’s a fascinating village to explore & you can also visit the Museum to learn more. If you would like to stay, check out The Miners Arms, Innisfree Cottage, The Suite at Brosterfield Farm or the budget-friendly YHA Eyam.
Peveril Castle is an 11th-century castle originally built by one of William the Conquerors trusted knights as a hunting lodge for the King. At the time it was one of the first stone castles in England. You can see the “Castle of the High Peak” for miles. Climbing the steep path, from the visitor’s centre in Castleton rewards you with exceptional views across the Hope Valley & beyond to the Great Ridge of Mam Tor. For centuries Peveril was the hub of the forest, guarding the royal hunting reserve. However, the King only actually visited once. Peveril Castle is managed by English Heritage, so members can visit for free, all others pay £8.20. If you would like to join English Heritage, then please check out all the details & prices HERE.
The small village of Tideswell is known for its spectacular St John the Baptist church, also referred to as the “Cathedral of the Peak”. A church has stood on this site since the 14th century & is worth a visit inside to see the wooden panels on the walls inscribed with the 10 commandments, the tomb of a local landowner (Thurston de Bower) in full medieval armour & a very impressive organ!
13. Relax in the healing waters of Buxton
Buxton provides all sorts of opportunities to be healed from the inside & out with its natural warm water springs which have attracted health seekers since Roman times. The Buxton Crescent Health Spa Hotel is located in a beautiful Georgian Terrace reminiscent of the Royal Crescent in Bath. It has recently reopened as a luxurious 5-star hotel & indulgent spa. If you feel like a real treat while visiting the area, then this is one not to be missed. For a slightly more budget-friendly option, the Devonshire Spa is an award-winning oasis of peace & calm situated in the iconic Devonshire Dome in the heart of Buxton.
Across the road from Buxton Crescent is an ornate water fountain which is the perfect place to refill your water bottle. Here the water comes directly from the Buxton spring.”
For my whole time in the Peak District, I stayed at the B/W Plus Buxton Lee Wood Hotel. For me, Buxton was perfectly located to explore the area. Other options in Buxton are the Old Hall Hotel, for a self-catering option you could try Hargate Hall or use the search box below:
On the edge of the Peak District, just beyond the Goyt Valley, lies the highest distillery (& maybe pub, nobody was quite sure!) in England, the Cat & Fiddle. It sits in a bleak spot but is a great place to visit for a meal, a drink, or to treat yourself to a bottle of their delicious whiskey or gin. The pub has struggled over the years to maintain the level of business required due to its remote location but a recent collaboration with the family-owned Forest Distillery has breathed new life into this iconic location. They offer products to buy as well as organising distillery tours.
No list of what to do in the Peak District would be complete without a mention of Bakewell & its famous pudding! Bakewell pudding was invented here & although the tart is widely available, the pudding can only be found in a few locations in the town. The pudding may not look impressive, but it is delicious!
The Peak District really does have something for everyone, especially if you are a fan of outdoor adventures. I hope you enjoy your visit as much as I did!
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