Things to Do In The Peak District: Unforgettable Family Days Out in the High Peak

For family fun and adventures, there are few places in the UK with more to offer the the High Peak. With its rolling hills and breathtaking landscapes, country parks and steam trains, grand old halls and family rambles, Natural History and even theme parks, there is no shortage of memories to make and things to do in the Peak District.

If you are looking for something a bit more adventurous and to see some of the countryside, then check out our list of Fun-Filled Family Walks in the High Peak and Exploring the Peaks on Two Wheels: Incredible Family Bike Rides in the High Peak.

If you are looking for something a bit easier on the feet or less dependent on good weather, then keep reading, and we will reveal some of our family-favourite attractions.

After much debate, we realised it was impossible to list them in order of our favourites, so we arranged the list below by cost, from the cheapest to the more expensive.

Things to Do In The Peak District: Pavilion Gardens, Buxton

Cost: Free to Enter

Perfect for a picnic on a sunny afternoon, The Pavilion Gardens are a stunning example of the Victorian heritage that shapes Buxton. 

Aside from the wildlife, streams, beautiful lake, and flower beds, the gardens have plenty to keep kids happy and active such as an extensive children’s play park with a toddler area and an activity park.

There is also a miniature railway that runs throughout the school holidays and costs £2.00 per person. Running times seem to vary, so take a look at their website to see when it is running.

If that wasn’t enough, the boating lake has just reopened! We haven’t had a chance to get to the park since it returned, but initial reviews seem very promising. Rides cost £10 for 30 minutes or £14 for 45 minutes per boat. Again, opening times vary, so take a look at their website to see when they are available. 

It is a short walk into the town if you are looking for some lunch or shopping or alternatively, there is a cafe and accessible toilets available in the park. On our last visit, there was little in the way of picnic benches, so it might be worth taking a blanket if you expect the grass to be wet (we have one of these, and it is great!)

The only thing that lets the gardens down is the parking which can be a bit challenging. The main car park is here and currently charges £3.60 for up to 4 hours.

Lyme Park & Hall

Cost: Free to walk into if you leave your car outside the park, free with National Trust membership,  £16.50 for a non-member family ticket to the park and gardens, £35.80 for a family non-member house, park and gardens ticket.

Lyme Park is a magnificent estate that offers plenty for a grand family day out. Steeped in history, it is no surprise that it has been used as a filming location for Pride and Prejudice, Brideshead Revisited, and (weirdly) Red Dwarf.

Pack up a picnic and let the kids run wild in the Crow Wood Play Area. Just beyond the play area is a short looped path which is ideal to build a den or hunt a Gruffalo! If you want to get your feet wet, then there is a shallow river that feeds the Mill Pond near the visitors centre that is perfect to paddle in on a warm day.

An incredibly young-looking Georgia on one of her first paddles in a river in Lyme Park!

The toilets, cafe, and gift shop are also located next to the Mill Pond, so it is a great excuse for a pit stop for an ice cream! The cafe is open daily, 10 am – 4 pm. 

If you are looking for a bit more adventure, there are plenty of short walks starting at the main car park. Our favourite is a reasonably short loop that takes in the old Rangers cottage (known locally as “The Pepper Pot”) and Knightslow Wood with views of The Cage, West Park Gate and The Knoll.

Another slightly longer walk takes you up to The Cage and then back through Elmhurst Wood, if you are feeling really energetic you can combine them both!

There is always plenty of wildlife to see while walking in the park, including hares, kestrels, buzzards and the magnificent resident red deer.

If you are looking for something a bit gentler, then Lyme Hall’s colourful gardens are easily accessible with plenty of buggy-friendly paths.  During the Easter holiday, there is usually an Easter Egg trail through the Gardens.  

Lyme Hall itself is a great way to look back at the history and heritage of the estate. The tour of the Hall is self-guided, so you can go at your own pace, but there are plenty of helpful, knowledgeable staff around to answer any questions. 

To make it a bit more immersive, there is often the opportunity for the kids to get dressed up in traditional Victorian clothes and during holidays, there are usually themed activities and even the opportunity to meet Santa (booking is essential with this).

Eva and Evie getting ready to clean the chimney.

Getting into Lyme Park

Getting into the park can be challenging on sunny days, especially during the school holidays or weekends. There are often long queues on the A6 just outside of Disley, as the entrance bridge just inside the park is a bottleneck. Happily, there are plenty of places you can park and walk in the park, which also means you don’t have to pay if you are not a National Trust member. 

Depending on where you start, it can be quite a long walk, especially if you are carrying a picnic, so keep that in mind. None of them are great routes if you are pushing a pram. Options include:

  1. From Disley

You can park for free at the Station Approach car park and walk in by taking the track behind the Rams Head.  This brings you into the park and you can either walk up the main road or past Lyme Cage.

  1. From East Park Gate

Probably the longest walk into the park, you can leave your car in this layby near the High Peak School (formerly The Moorside Hotel) and walk in. The walk is not suitable for pushchairs; however, it is a pleasant walk with great views over the Manchester skyline.

  1. From West Park Gate

On the Poynton side of the park, this lay-by car park is popular with dog walkers in the morning and again gets very busy on sunny weekends.  There is a short track across a field which brings you out on the lane by West Park Gate.  This lovely, bumpy track takes you uphill through a wooded area with a stream at the side.

I think if we had to pick a favourite on this list, it would be Lyme Park; it is somewhere that has been a constant joy to visit with the girls since they could walk.

If you are looking for somewhere to stay that is all to yourself, then take a look at Peak District Cottages: The Best Family-Friendly Accommodation in the High Peak, or if you want a warm welcome and fantastic home-cooked food take a look at The Best Peak District Hotels with Children.

If you are looking for somewhere to stay that is all to yourself, then take a look at Peak District Cottages: The Best Family-Friendly Accommodation in the High Peak, or if you want a warm welcome and fantastic home-cooked food take a look at The Best Peak District Hotels with Children.

Ilam Hall

Cost: No entrance fee, parking is £5 for up to 4 hours or free for National Trust members. Unlike Lyme Park, there is nowhere to park and walk in due to the narrow country lanes that surround the Hall.

Eva is wrapped up and ready for anything on the Halloween trail!

Another grand National Trust property at the other end of the Peaks, Ilam Hall has a beautiful setting. In fact, it offers such a combination of history and natural beauty it is where Kirsty and I chose to get married!

The well-kept gardens and grounds around the hall are great for a picnic and exploring; with so many nooks and crannies, it is perfect to let the kid’s imagination run wild! We spent hours exploring the tunnels, pathways and staircases when our girls were little. There is also a reasonably priced cafe on site as well as a small gift shop and toilets.

During the holidays, as with many National Trust properties, they offer seasonal trails to explore. We have done the Halloween trail several times; there is no need to book, maps are available for £1 from the cafe, and the kids get a treat once they have completed it.

Unlike Lyme Hall, the interior of Ilam Hall is run by the YHA, so there is no charge to go in, but there is honestly not much to see in there.

If you are looking for a more adventurous walk, there are several 3-4 mile loops that take you along the River Manifold and back through Ilam Village. Our favourite is a short loop that also includes Dovedale Stepping Stones but be warned, the stepping stones get busy during school holidays.

Georgia tackles the stepping stones.

Hathersage Open-Air Pool

Cost: £7.50 per adult & £4 per child

It really does feel like a relic of a bygone era.

An open-air pool? In the Peaks? Madness! And most of the year you would be correct, but at Hathersage Open-Air Pool if the weather and the water are warm, it will make for a unique experience for your children. You can see why they built an open-air pool where they did; the surrounding views are spectacular, and the old bandstand gives a sense of history.

Your entry fee grants you access for two hours, and if you are going with the little ones, book a public session rather than a lane swim so you have more space in the pool. Unlike our local swimming baths, Hathersage Pool does not provide any floats or toys, so be sure to bring any you need with you.

Parking at the pool can be limited during school holidays, but there is a pay-and-display opposite. If you want to visit the pool, coming by train is an option as the station is just a short walk around the corner. 

One word of warning, if it is chilly, then either put your kids in wet suits or don’t bother, as the pool loses warmth faster than it can be heated. Kids will be cold and miserable in no time.

There is a cafe on site, but we are very fond of popping up to Hope Valley Ice Cream for a tasty treat after!

Peak Rail

Cost: £15 per adult & £5 per child although they do run “Kids Go Free Days” so keep an eye on their website.

Things To Do In The Peaks: Peak Rail
Georgia during what we like to call her “maximum turnip” phase.

Born out of one of those peculiarly British stories of a group of committed enthusiasts achieving something truly remarkable, Peak Rail came about in the late 1960s after the closure of many of the local lines that ran from Manchester into the Peaks.

Ideal for a more relaxing day out (possibly with Grandparents?), this heritage railway offers an unforgettable experience for both young and old, combining the thrill of vintage steam trains with picturesque scenery.

If you want to get up close and learn more about these amazing old engines, then the volunteers are genuinely passionate and love sharing their knowledge of the railway.

You can join the train at any of the stations it visits and jump on and off any of the three services that run each day. We tend to join from Rowsley South rather than Matlock as the parking there is free and a little easier. It is then a lovely 20-minute train journey through the Peaks to Matlock. You can then walk down into the beautiful town of Matlock and head to one of the many cafes (Cafe Kefi is our favourite, which does lovely cream tea), or if the weather is nice, you could pick up some treats from Birds Bakery and head to Hall Leys Park which runs alongside the river Derwent. This is a huge area with lovely pram-friendly paths, a park, and a bandstand. There is also a cafe, toilets and picnic area here as well.

Things to Do In The Peak District: Peak Rail
All rather good fun!

Peak Wildlife Park

Cost: £15.95 per adult & £13.95 per child.

If you are looking for a day out that combines the excitement of close encounters with education and conservation, then Peak Wildlife Park is a great option.

We especially enjoyed it as it is far more “hands-on” than many other wildlife parks. You can get face-to-face with red squirrels, lemurs, wallabies and even penguins. Including stopping for a picnic, we found four hours was plenty of time to enjoy the park.

If you have little ones looking to burn off more energy, then there is a climbing frame and huge bouncy castle, although we found it got very busy around lunchtime.

There is plenty of parking, and the site is perfectly accessible with prams.

The only word of warning is the oldest trick in the book – the exit is via the gift shop!

No sir, I do not like to “move it move it”.

Castleton & Local Caves

Cost: It depends….

Castleton ticks just about every box for a family day out – history, education, beautiful scenery, great short walks, unique caves, and an actual castle! In fact, as a destination, it is worthy of its own blog post. For our deep dive on Castleton, check out 8 Amazing Things To Do In Castleton With Kids (A Locals Guide). If you want an overview then keep reading.

How much you do there is up to you, but there are some highlights worth considering:

  • A short walk via “The Road that Slid Away” and Mam Torr – Free – This loop walk takes in the shivering mountain and the road it defeated! With views of Kinder Scout, Edale and Castleton, it is a great walk for little legs. Also, be sure to check out Odin’s Cave while you are there.
  • Peveril Castle – £8.50 per adult and £4.50 per child – Up a short but steep climb, the remains of this 11th-century castle built shortly after the Norman Conquest of 1066 are great fun to explore. With incredible views and a real sense of history, it is well worth the walk up. We found an hour at the top was plenty of time for the kids to enjoy the setting.
  • Treak Cliff Cavern – £14.50 per adult and £8.00 per child – One of the smaller caves and perfect if you want a taster rather than a full afternoon underground. Don’t let its size fool you; there is a lot to see in Treak Cliff Cavern, such as a “waterfall” stalactites and a whole layer of coral fossils from back when Castleon was a tropical paradise a mere 100 million years ago. We spent about 40 mins in the cave, and the free app-based audio tour gave some great info.
  • The Devil’s Arse! – £20.00 per adult and £12.00 per child – Worth it for the name alone! Unlike the other caves, the journey around the cave is quite easy, with only a few steps with handrails and one low section of roof that adults will have to bend to get through. It is not suitable for pushchairs, but It is an easy walk from the centre of the village.
Georgia, Eva, Gemma and Jo on “The Road That Slid Away

If you don’t fancy a picnic, then there are some great cafes as well. Our favourite is the Three Roofs Cafe, which is close to the centre of town, next to ASD Jewellers, where you can see Blue John Jewellery crafted from this unique local stone.

As with all of the above attractions, they can be very popular during the weekend or school holidays, especially if the weather is good. There is parking as well as toilets and a gift shop at the Castleton Visitor Centre, and more parking if you head out of town towards Mam Torr.

The Heights of Abraham

OK, full disclosure on this one! We haven’t been back to The Heights of Abraham with the kids since the “before times” pre-covid. We remember enjoying it and that there was good ice cream but not much else. Happily, Jenny over on Peak District Kids has written an excellent post on The Heights of Abraham so we recommend checking out what she has to say:

Have We Miss Any of Your Favourite Things to Do In The Peak District?

So there we have it! The Spencer family’s favourite things to do in the peak district!

If you think we have missed any, or you have any other suggestions, please leave us a comment below, and we will check them out!.

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About the authors

Our lives have been intertwined with a passion for exploration and a shared love for travel. Our adventures began long before we met, as we individually embarked on daring expeditions across the globe. Our paths finally converged, and we soon realized that our adventures were much more meaningful when shared!

After a brief hiatus to start a family, we eagerly embarked on a new chapter of our travel saga. Determined to instil in Georgia and Eva the values of discovery and open-mindedness, our goal is to embark on exciting escapades and explore breathtaking landscapes, bustling cities, and remote corners of the world. From hiking through mist-laden forests to snorkelling in turquoise seas, every adventure is an opportunity to create lasting memories as a family.

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