With its wild moorlands, rocky outcrops, gorges, lakes, and forested dales, the Peak District is one of the most dramatically beautiful parts of the UK. Its fame and popularity mean it’s Europe’s busiest national park – but the good news is that because the Peak District spans 555 square miles, there are plenty of spots to enjoy an invigorating walk or some peaceful solitude.
Having a break to look forward to is something we all need from time to time to allow ourselves proper rest. And with its spectacular landscape, charming villages, and historic stately homes, the Peak District is an ideal destination for a UK break.
So with that in mind, here are eight of the top places to visit.
Nestled in the centre of the Peak District, the stylish spa town of Buxton in Derbyshire makes a great base for exploring the national park – particularly if you’d rather stay somewhere where there’s plenty going on. Buxton’s natural thermal springs have attracted visitors since Roman times, though these days it’s just as famous for its grand Victorian and Georgian architecture, quirky bookshops, and cute tea rooms.
Though Buxton is ideally located for exploring the countryside and is close to natural wonders like Poole’s Cavern, it’s an ideal spot if you’re looking to immerse yourself in culture during your holiday. The town has a rich history in theatre and the arts, and the Buxton Opera House always has various dance, drama, and comedy shows scheduled.
If you’re visiting Buxton in the Summer, then it’s worth nothing that the popular Buxton International Festival runs from the 7th – 24th July and is a celebration of classical music, opera, and literary readings. The Buxton Fringe, is also on at the same time, which celebrates modern music, theatre, and film. You might also want to time your visit with the Gilbert & Sullivan Festival, a week-long fiesta in early August that features amateur acting groups.
If you have a sweet tooth, the village of Bakewell is an absolute must-visit. Famous for being the birthplace of the Bakewell tart, this prosperous town has plenty to offer when it comes to foodies – whether you like sweet treats or not!
Set in the heart of the Peak District, alongside the River Wye, Bakewell hosts several food markets throughout the week, including a popular farmers market, where you can try delicious local produce and buy tasty souvenirs to take home.
There are also plenty of independent shops to browse in, as well as art galleries and cafés. Be sure to visit Bakewell Old House Museum too, where you can view historical artefacts from the village’s past. Just past the museum is All Saints Church, which is also worth a visit – though, with its medieval arched bridge, stone houses, and pretty courtyards, the whole village is a joy to wander through.
If you’re thirsty, you can head to Thornbridge Brewery for some refreshments. Visitors can explore the tap room, take a tour of the brewery, and try some delicious craft beers.
Jane Austen fans should also try to visit the Rutland Arms Hotel, where the author stayed in 1804. Bakewell was in fact the inspiration for Lambton in Pride and Prejudice – and just a few miles outside the village is the grand estate of Chatsworth House, which was used as Pemberley, the home of Mr Darcy, in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice film. And of course, you can’t leave without popping into The Bakewell Tart Shop to sample an authentic tart!
Perched upon the River Wye, Ashford-in-the-Water is considered one of the prettiest villages in the Peak District – and for good reason.
The village’s triple-arched Sheepwash Bridge is said to be the most photographed bridge in England, and surrounded by overhanging willow trees and old stone buildings, it’s certainly a great spot for a photo. On sunny days, you can while away the hours lazing on the banks of the river, catching some rays, and admiring the view.
Ashford has an especially interesting history, and its elegant 13th-century Holy Trinity Church is well worth a visit. Hanging from the roof of the church’s north aisle are old garlands made from white paper: these are the ‘virgin crants’ that were once carried at the funerals of unmarried young women, and then hung above where their grieving families sat. A carving above the church doorway also depicts a hunting scene from the historic Royal Forest of the Peak – an enormous stretch of forest that was reserved for Norman kings and gentry.
Ashford today has a thriving community, with several excellent pubs and delicatessens. The 17th-century Bulls Head inn serves up traditional pub food and has a good choice of beers and ales. The Ashford Arms is another popular spot to enjoy a hearty meal.
Ashford is ideally situated to explore the Monsal Trail, a beautiful long-distance walk that follows an old railway line. To stock up on provisions before a long day of walking, pop into the delightful Ibbotsons of Ashford deli, where you can buy delicious ready-to-order sandwiches.
If you’re more interested in a walking holiday than a cultural break, the village of Castleton is a great base.
Just ten miles northeast of Buxton, Castleton lies at the edge of the White Peak – gentle limestone hills that are interwoven with gorgeous walking trails, small stone villages, and complex cave systems. From here, you’re perfectly placed to explore the ‘Shivering Mountain’ of Mam Tor, the dramatic limestone gorge of Winnats Pass, and the spectacular Hope Valley, which is a haven for walkers and cyclists.
The village itself is incredibly picturesque, with shops, cafes, and pubs. The Three Roofs Cafe is a great place to grab a bite, and The George Hotel and Ye Olde Nags Head are two of the most popular pubs. Just up the road are the ruins of Peveril Castle, which was built by Henry II in 1176 and was one of England’s first Norman fortresses.
Another must-visit village for history buffs is Eyam (pronounced “eem”), also known as ‘The Plague Village’. A ‘plague village’ might not sound especially welcoming, but this beautiful village has an incredibly sad yet fascinating history. In 1665, a flea-infested cloth package arrived from London, and brought with it the bubonic plague – and within a year, 260 of this tiny village’s residents died from the plague.
What made Eyam especially well-known throughout history are the tactics they took to stop the disease spreading; rather than risk the plague passing onto the surrounding villages, the villagers decided to isolate themselves via a self-imposed quarantine – an act that seems especially poignant today.
Just outside the village, you’ll find the old Boundary Stone, where people from neighbouring villages were able to leave food and medicine for the Eyam residents without getting too close. You can find out more about the rich yet harrowing history of the village at the Eyam Museum.
Also worth a visit is the grand Eyam Hall, which dates from 1676, and the village stocks. Aside from its unique history, there are some great walking trails around Eyam too, and the new long-distance Peak Pilgrimage to Ilam is especially popular.
If you get peckish, there are several lovely tea rooms and cafes, including the Cafe Village Green in the heart of Eyam, the Eyam Tea Rooms, and Ivy Cottage. There are two pubs to pop into – The Miners Arms and The Barrel Inn – the latter of which has been in Eyam since 1597.
Literature lovers might also want to pay a visit to Hathersage, a village around 10 miles southwest of Sheffield, and just north of the River Derwent. Though during the past two centuries Hathersage was a bustling industrial village that produced everything from needles and millstones to umbrellas, today it’s best known for its many literary associations and legends.
Charlotte Brontë spent several months in Hathersage in 1845, and set her most famous novel Jane Eyre in the village. The Eyre family were actually local landowners, and North Lees Hall is said to be the inspiration for Mr. Rochester’s home, Thornfield Hall. Robin Hood’s loyal sidekick Little John was also said to be born and buried here, and you can visit his gravestone in St Michael’s Church, and even hike up to Robin Hood’s Cave.
There are plenty of lovely walking trails around Hathersage too. The village is overlooked by the rugged Stanage Edge, and the rocky hillfort of Carl Wark is just a short walk away. If you’re here on a warm day, you might want to visit Hathersage Lido, which is a heated outdoor swimming pool set between the hills – the perfect spot to cool down after a strenuous walk!
If you’re hoping to do a lot of hiking, then why not visit Edale, which is the very first (or last) stop on the famous walking trail, The Pennine Way? Nestled in the beautiful Vale of Edale, the village of Edale is actually a collection of hamlets or ‘booths’, and due to its proximity to some of the most spectacular beauty spots and walking routes in the Peak District, it’s a must-visit.
From Edale, you can follow the path to the rugged plateau of Kinder Scout, which is the highest point in Derbyshire and the East Midlands. At 636 metres above sea level, you’re guaranteed incredible views of the surrounding area, so be sure to bring your camera!
The walking route also takes you past Kinder Downfall, the tallest waterfall in the Peak District, as well as the Mermaid’s Pool – which is said to be the home of a mermaid who’ll grant immortality to anyone who sees her at Easter!
Edale itself is a lovely place to spend a few days – not for nothing was it was a finalist in Channel 4’s Village of the Year in 2017, and a regional winner in The Times ‘Best Places to Live 2019’ poll.
If you want to wind down in a pretty, tranquil village after an invigorating hike, there are plenty of lovely spots to relax here. There are two village pubs, The Old Nags Head and The Rambler Inn, which are perfect for a post-hike meal and drink, and there are also two cafes where you can fuel up before a day of walking or cycling.
With its historic stone cottages, grand old hall, elegant church, and pristine pond, Tissington is about as close to rural idyll as you can get. Its picture-perfect looks have long attracted visitors, and the village is known for being the home of the FitzHerbert family for more than 400 years. The family’s magnificent Jacobean estate, Tissington Hall, sits at the heart of the village, and here you can tour the hall itself, explore the gallery, and wander through the extensive grounds.
If you’re in the mood for a good walk, then you can follow The Tissington Trail, which is popular with walkers, cyclists, and horse riders. The trail passes along the old Buxton to Ashbourne railway line, which takes you through some gorgeous scenery. The path is almost entirely flat, and should take you around four to five hours to complete. Alternatively, the Limestone Way footpath runs through Tissington, so there are plenty of shorter routes to take too.
The old church of St Mary perches above the village, and with its impressive Norman tower and historic memorials to the FitzHerbert family, is well worth a visit. There’s no pub in Tissington, but The George at Alstonefield and The Coach House Restaurant are both just a few miles away if you fancy a meal. Alternatively, you can grab a lighter bite at the popular Herbert’s Tearooms at Tissington Hall.
With its rugged landscape, pretty villages, and absorbing history, the Peak District is a pleasure to explore. Whether you want to enjoy a leisurely cultural break or a bracing walking holiday – or perhaps a bit of both – there’s something for everyone here.