Secret City: Derby


Derby is known as the UK’s ‘hi-tech city’.

It is home to global manufacturers such as Rolls-Royce, Bombardier and Toyota Motor Manufacturing – and with world-class developments in science, technology and engineering underway here, it’s an exciting place for students, academics and researchers.

Located in the East Midlands, in the centre of England, Derby is also an ideal base for exploring the UK. Manchester is just one hour away by train, and London is two hours away – but you don’t need to go that far to find cultural attractions, nightlife and natural beauty.

Here Alison Witham, International Marketing Officer at the University of Derby, shares her top 20 things to see and do in Derby…

1. Peak District National Park

The Peak District National Park is one of the UK’s most dramatic national parks, but it’s also one of the most easily accessible – 16.1 million people live within an hour's drive of the national park boundary, and there are excellent options for food, drink and accommodation. This beautiful area offers a huge range of things to do, from hiking and cycling to hanggliding and rock climbing.

Looking out over the Peak District from the top of Whinstone Lee Tor (©VisitBritain/Daniel Bosworth)

2. Music festivals

If you love music – whether it’s rock, indie, metal, classical or folk music – you’ll have the experience of a lifetime in Derby. The five-day Download Festival in Donington Park is the UK’s most popular rock and heavy metal event, and the annual concert at Darley Park is one of the UK's biggest outdoor classical music concerts – and it’s free! If you’re looking for something more quirky, Derby also has award-winning small festivals, with up-and-coming bands and artisan food and drink.

Another popular festival is Derby Feste, featuring music, dance, film and live performances like these fire dancers! (©VisitEngland Images)

3. Derby Theatre

Derby Theatre sits at the heart of the city, and has a long history of delivering top-quality drama to the local community. It’s now owned by the University of Derby and has a more international outlook, but it continues to work with the best local and national talent.

4. Chatsworth House

Iconic Chatsworth House has one of Europe's most significant art collections, and with permanent sculptures set in a 105-acre garden, there’s something to discover at every turn. Home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Chatsworth has been passed down through 16 generations over 450 years. There are events throughout the year here, such as the spring flower festival, the annual Country Fair, exhibitions in the New Gallery and Christmas at Chatsworth, when the house is decorated with festive delights.

Inside the State Rooms at Chatsworth House (©VisitEngland Images)

5. Donington Park

Donington Park has a long heritage in motor racing – it was the first permanent park circuit in England, with the first motorcycle race taking place on the narrow lanes of the Donington Hall Estate in 1931. In 1933 the track was widened and became a venue for Grand Prix car racing. Today, you can also come to Donington Park for events such as music festivals and motorcycle racing classes.

6. Derby’s Museum and Art Gallery

Run by Derby Museums, a charitable trust, the Museum and Art Gallery features collections as unique as the gallery’s location and history – Derby is a city continually shaped by creativity and innovation.

QUAD is another arts centre and gallery in Derby (©VisitEngland Images)

7. Derby Cathedral (right)

Visit this historic city cathedral to admire its 14th-century architecture – or to try and spot the pair of peregrine falcons that nest high on the east face of the tower (or if you can’t make it to the cathedral, try the live webcam)!

8. Markeaton Park

For a gentle stroll or a summer picnic, head for Markeaton Park. This pretty park has 207 acres of gardens, sports facilities, historic features and play areas for children.

9. Real ale in Derby

Experience Derby’s thriving real ale culture and tour some of the city’s hidden gems... Thanks to Derby’s many microbreweries (small, independent breweries) and traditional pubs, it’s considered the UK’s centre for real ale. Take a tour with Real Ale Derby.

Inside the Peacock Inn pub in Rowsley, Derbyshire (©VisitEngland Images)

10. Intu shopping centre

The indoor shopping centre Intu Derby has around 200 shops, a supermarket, cinema and many places to eat and drink. Just a few minutes' walk from Derby's bus and train stations, it also adjoins Eagle Market – said to be the UK's largest indoor market.

11. Buxton Festival

Buxton is a historic market town near Derby, and is known as the gateway to the Peak District. It's a beautiful place to visit throughout the year, but Buxton Festival in July is a real celebration of summer in the UK. This is one of the only arts festivals to specialise in lesser-known operas by major composers, and also hosts world-renowned artists and literary figures in a packed two-week programme.

The Crescent building in Buxton, built in the 1780s (©VisitEngland Images)

12. Pride Park Stadium

Officially called the iPro Stadium, this is the home ground of Derby County Football Club (known as The Rams). Get some friends together and watch a match here for an authentic Derby experience!

13. Calke Abbey 

Step back in time and discover the hidden treasures of Calke Abbey. This faded stately home has remained largely unchanged for the last 100 years, and it still has unique art collections, a landscaped park and walled gardens. It was owned by the eccentric Harpur family for nearly 300 years, then passed to the care of the National Trust (the organisation that looks after historic buildings in the UK), and is now open to the public.

Summer Nights Film Festival: Outdoor film screenings in the grounds of Calke Abbey (©VisitEngland Images)

14. Crich Tramway Village

Crich Tramway Village is an unusual kind of museum – it’s a recreated period village, which you can ride through on a diverse fleet of traditional trams. As well as illustrating the development of British trams, there are tramcars from as far away as Berlin, the Hague, Johannesburg, New York, Oporto, Prague and Sydney. And if you get tired of trams, check out the special events which recreate UK life in the 1900s, 1940s and 1950s.

15. Buxton Opera House

Buxton Festival is held in the historic Buxton Opera House, located in the town’s main square. Built in 1903 to designs by Frank Matcham, the same architect who designed the London Palladium and London Coliseum, it became a cinema in 1927 but reopened for live performances in 1979. It now hosts a wide range of concerts, comedy, lectures, musicals and pantomimes at Christmas.

The historic opera house in Buxton (©VisitEngland Images)

16. The Devonshire Dome (right)

The Dome is one of Buxton’s most famous landmarks. This impressive piece of architecture has 44 columns and a 145ft-wide colonnade, supporting a roof that weighs 560 tons (569,000kg)! It was originally built to accommodate horses and servants by the Duke of Devonshire in the late 18th century, but it’s now a campus for the University of Derby and Buxton College.

17. Poole's Cavern and Country Park

One of the UK’s most spectacular natural caverns, Poole’s Cavern is a huge limestone space with amazing crystal formations. Above ground, there’s a picturesque park and woodland.

18. Pavilion Gardens

The Pavilion Gardens are a popular destination for Buxton’s many tourists and members of the local community. Take a long walk through the 23-acre garden, or sip a coffee and read a book in one of the three cafés.

Soaking up the sun outside Octagonal Hall in the Pavilion Gardens, Buxton (© University of Derby)

19. Treak Cliff Cavern 

One of the wonders of the Peak District, this cave on Treak Cliff Hill in Castleton is the only place in the world where Blue John Stone occurs naturally. This mineral is believed to get its name from the French ‘bleu et jaune’ (‘blue and yellow’) – it was mined in the 18th century, and Treak Cliff Cavern continues to make it into ornaments and jewellery.

20. Goyt Valley

Northwest of Buxton, in the heart of the Peak District, is Goyt Valley. People have enjoyed visiting this picturesque scenery since Victorian times – imagine strolling along the banks of a stream, which will flow over limestone rocks and through woodland, until it becomes the River Goyt and joins the famous River Mersey in northwest England.

Find out more about these sights – plus upcoming events and student discounts – at Discover Derby and Visit Buxton.

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