On the south-eastern edge of the Peak District National Park lies the tourist hub of Matlock and Matlock Bath. These two towns are only a mile apart from each other, connected by the River Derwent and the A6, and are a popular base for families visiting the Peak District as there are so many things to do in Matlock and Matlock Bath with kids. Indeed a visit to Matlock is one of the best days out if you’re visiting the Peak District, even though it’s just outside the National Park boundary.
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Whilst Matlock, which originated as a spa town, retains a typical urban feel with shops, cafes and transport links, it is neighbouring Matlock Bath has taken on a very different guise. When you arrive at its main promenade lined with gift shops, amusement arcades and fish-and-chip cafes, overlooking the canoes and boats playing on the river, and with a cable car precariously crossing the gorge, you can immediately see why landlocked Matlock Bath is often referred to as ‘Derbyshire-on-Sea’. There’s a distinct holiday vibe to this town, and it is also very popular with the motorbike fraternity.
So if you’re planning a visit to the area, these are the top things to do in Matlock, Matlock Bath, and also the things to do near Matlock.
1. Heights of Abraham
Heights of Abraham is perhaps the top reason to visit Matlock. A cable car takes you up to Heights of Abraham for some stunning views, and your ticket also gives you entry to two caverns where you venture deep under ground and learn about the history of lead mining in the area.
You can also hunt for fossils and there are two adventure playgrounds. Plan to spend a full day if visiting with young kids.
Check the website for opening times and ticket prices. Heights of Abraham closes for winter. You can buy tickets in advance online, but you still have to queue in the same queue on entry, so you don’t really save any time.
Also, note that the only parking is at Matlock Bath Station. You have to pay extra to park here and it does get busy at peak season, so get there early.
2. Gulliver’s Kingdom
Gulliver’s Kingdom Matlock is a theme park aimed at children aged 2 to 13 just outside Matlock. There are 17 rides across 6 themed areas, including a log flume, a Drop Tower, Dino Explorer Cars, and a Cycle Mono Rail. Climb high above the Crows Nest Quest or take a ride on the log flume, 300ft above Derwent Valley.
There is also themed accommodation available within Gulliver’s Kingdom Resort at The Explorers Retreat and Fairytale Retreat, which include pirate, princess and wizard themes. Family cabins can sleep up to five people and packages include access to the main theme park.
Opening times are seasonal, so check the website for up to date information.
3. Peak Rail
Ride an old steam train on this preserved railway line between Rowsley South Station and Matlock Platform 2.
There are special events running through the year from dining experiences to Santa Specials and an Easter Treasure Hunt, and they also have Kids Go Free Days throughout the year.
Check the website for up to date ticket pricing and timetables. A return trip takes 50 minutes.
4. Hall Leys Park
Award-winning Hall Leys Park lies in the centre of Matlock. With its boating lake, riverside walks, tennis courts and skateboard park, it makes for a perfect afternoon stroll or picnic spot.
There’s even a playground with a splash area, and miniature railway; perfect if you’re visiting Matlock with kids. Do note that whilst the park stays open all year round, some facilities such as the café and miniature railway are seasonal.
An outdoor market is also held every Wednesday in the park from April to October selling local produce and crafts.
READ: Matlock Farm Park REVIEW
5. Matlock Farm Park
With so many farms dotted around the Peak District, you’d be surprised to learn that the only place where you can actually feed farm animals is Matlock Farm Park. Technically, it is situated just outside the National Park boundary, but it’s a fantastic day out if you’re visiting the Peak District or staying near Matlock, especially for younger kids.
But there’s more to Matlock Farm Park than just feeding the farm animals. There are no less than three outdoor play areas, pony rides and horse riding lessons, go karts, an indoor play area, as well as meerkats and wallabies to meet!
Check out their website for opening times and ticket prices.
6. Matlock Meadows
READ: Matlock Meadows REVIEW
Matlock Meadows is a working farm open to visitors to eat in the café, meet the local residents and go wild in the play area.
There is both an outdoor and indoor play area. The outdoor play area can get rather muddy, so bring wellies. But the indoor play area makes for a good rainy day option, and is inside the barn and there are small ride on tractors to play on, as well as coin-operated go-carts.
You must try the award-winning Italian style gelato, which is made on site. There are 15 flavours to choose from and each and every one is absolutely delicious (not that I’ve tried them all… yet)! There are also dairy free and gluten fee ice-creams available.
7. Matlock Bath Aquarium and Exhibitions
Located in a stunning Victorian building in the centre of Matlock Bath, Matlock Bath Aquarium houses over 50 species of fish as well as one of the largest public displays of holograms in Europe.
A large Victorian pool inside the building has been transformed into a thermal pool for Mirror, Common and Koi Carp. This water is at a constant 20°C and comes from a spring believed to be 2000 ft below ground. Poolside vending machines sell food that you can feed to the carp.
It is also the site of the only remaining petrifying well in Matlock Bath. This is where thermal water was sprayed on to objects to turn them in to stone during the Victorian era. You can see almost 100 objects that have been petrified in the well including a bowler hat and pint glass, which are originals from the old Victorian wells.
Other exhibitions here include a worldwide gemstone and fossil display, the ‘Past Times in Matlock Bath’ Exhibition, and a private collection of Goss and Crested China.
Allow 45 minutes to an hour for your visit. Do note that there are no toilets or baby changing facilities.
8. Peak District Mining Museum
Galena, lead ore, has been mined in the Peak District since before Roman times. Until the 20th century many families in the area earned a basic living from this mineral. Situated in the Grand Pavilion of Matlock Bath, at the Peak District Mining Musuem you can learn more about this industry and how it shaped the landscape, and experience underground conditions at the authentic 1920s Temple Mine.
Take a guided tour underground into the Temple Mine to see mine workings from the 1920s, 1950s, and some from over 200 years ago, as well as the tools that were used. There are some low ceilings here and uneven floors, so hard hats are provided. This tour last for about one hour. After the mine tour you will have the opportunity to try your hand at ‘gold panning’. Using a traditional style pan in water, you can find fool’s gold, galena and a variety of crystals which you can take home with you, although don’t expect to find any real gold!
The museum section houses thousands relics from the lost lead industry, displayed in a thought-provoking and interactive exhibition. These include hundreds of rock and mineral specimens from around the world. Kids will love the three mock mine tunnels in the museum.
Check the website for ticket pricing. You can pay to go in the mine or museum separately, or you can do both.
9. Eat fish ‘n’ chips
Even though it’s a very long way to any actual seaside (and no, there is no beach at Matlock Bath!), there are no less than 8 fish ‘n’ chip cafes along it’s 800 metre ‘promenade’!
They’re all pretty much of a muchness, so pick whichever one you fancy. Question is, mushy peas or no mushy peas?
10. Cycle to Rowsley
Opposite Matlock Station is the start of a lovely, flat cycle path to Rowsley. It’s 8.5km and mostly traffic free.
The Matlock to Rowsley cycle path is fantastic for young kids as not only is it pretty flat, but there are two playground stops, trains to spot, a pub enroute (for thirsty parents), and even a McDonalds. Plus, there are very pretty sections through woodland and along the river.
However, the cycle path is not one long track. There are sections were you need to cross a road, or cycle a very short stretch of road, to link up the route. But here in this guide, we take you through the route step-by-step, using photos to help, so you know exactly what to expect.
11. Matlock Bath Illuminations
Every year between September and October, the Matlock Bath Venetian Boat Builders’ Association decorate their boats with an array of coloured lights and parade them along the River Derwent for the Matlock Bath Illuminations. Thousands of people line the banks of the river in Derwent Gardens, giving a carnival atmosphere to this unique display.
This annual tradition has been going since 1897 years, and the firework displays on a Saturday evening are fantastic!
This is a ticketed event, where prices are discounted if booked online. Kids under 16 are free. Your ticket gets you entry into Derwent Gardens (the only place where you can view the illuminations) where entertainment will take place throughout the night including fair ground rides (aimed at ages 5 and under), food stalls, and roving entertainers.
12. Arc Leisure Centre
Arc Leisure Centre in Matlock offers 2 stunning pools, including a 8 lane 25 metre pool, as well as a separate family pool including a dedicated Splash Pad.
The centre also boasts its own multi-level Soft Play Centre, with on-site café and seating for families, the centre also has a fitness suite, group exercise classes and offers racquet sports all under one roof.
The centre is open 6.30am – 10pm Monday – Friday, 8am – 7pm Saturday and Sunday and is accessible for all.
Please visit their website to check times of individual areas and further information.
13. Matlock Indoor Stall Market
Fresh produce ‘cabin’ stalls remain open throughout the week, including Saturdays, at the Matlock Indoor Stall Market (located here). Items on sale include fresh groceries, plants and flowers.
14. Lumsdale Valley
Hidden on the outskirts of Matlock, not many visitors to the area know that this place exists. Lumsdale Valley was once a hive of industrial activity, where mills were powered by the powerful flow of Bentley Brook. Now left to ruin, nature has engulfed what was left to create a truly magical place.
The waterfalls, pools and ruins along the Lumsdale Valley make for a wonderful walk from the centre of Matlock. The 2.5km walk is detailed here.
Please take care when walking through the Valley and please keep to the paths. There are no toilet/refreshment facilities or children’s play areas anywhere in the Valley. Picnicking, paddling, swimming and climbing in the Valley are not allowed due to the risk of damage to the fragile mill ruins and the natural environment.
15. Cromford Mills
Another mile and a half down the River Derwent from Matlock Bath, is Cromford; home of Sir Richard Arkwright’s first mill complex. Visit the world’s first water-powered cotton spinning mill and learn how this changed the world we live in today. Lots of interactive displays, games and puzzles that kids will love.
There are also cafes and shops on site, and a picturesque footpath to follow along the canal. Visit the website for further information.
Also, check out our pram friendly Cromford Canal walk, that starts along the High Peak Trail.
The River Derwent that runs through Matlock offers some fantastic canoeing opportunities for absolute beginners through to advanced rapids! For families with young kids and beginners though, try out the Flat Water Canoe Adventure with Peaks and Paddles on the Cromford Canal, just outside Matlock. Here the water is shallow (kids can stand up in it) and it’s very flat with barely any current.
All equipment is provided, including expert tuition and games. Learning proper paddle technique is fascinating and makes for much easier work, and the games introduced along the way keep the kids engaged.
17. Crich Tramway Musuem
Although this is a 15 minute drive from Matlock Bath, it didn’t feel right not including Crich Tramway Museum in our top things to do in Matlock, as it is one of the best attractions in the area. Enjoy unlimited rides on the electric vintage trams, woodland walks with kid-friendly activities, and an indoor and outdoor playground.
There is also a large exhibition hall of old trams, although you’re only allowed inside a couple of these, and a stroll along the recreated period street is a must. Many of the buildings along the street have been rescued from towns and cities across the UK, such as the Derby Assembly Rooms façade which came to Crich after a tragic fire, and the Red Lion Pub and Restaurant came all the way from Stoke and was re-built brick by brick.
Check the website for opening times and ticket prices. Crich Tramway Museum is closed over the winter months. Also note that your ticket includes FREE return admission for 12 months! There are also regular period events that are worth checking out.
18. National Stone Centre
Pan for gems, build a drystone wall, and hunt for fossils at The National Stone Centre, just ten minutes drive south of Matlock Bath.
The National Stone Centre is free to enter, although it’s £3 to do the panning for gems, and £1 for geo-trail map. There’s also a café on site (with a rock shop and small exhibition), as well as a playground.
Combine your visit with a walk along the High Peak Trail to Black Rocks, or even further to Cromford Canal. Although, do allow 2-3 hours for wandering about The National Stone Centre, which includes a bite to eat at the Blue Lagoon Café.
19. Go hiking in the Peak District
Matlock is just a 3 minute drive from the Peak District National Park boundary. So if you’re visiting Matlock or Matlock Bath you absolutely must allow for some time to go hiking in the National Park.