Perfect for that cheeky day trip or weekend away from London, the East Midlands city of Derby is full of surprises. The city’s impressive heritage alone would titillate culture vultures, as it makes the claim to be the birthplace of the industrial revolution, the heart of the British rail industry and, of course, home to aerospace titans Rolls-Royce. However, Derby is also a lively university city with colourful festivals, easy access to nature and more trendy brunch spots than you can shake a halloumi chip at.
Essential things to do in Derby
Visit Derby Cathedral
Grade II listed and built in 1530, Derby Cathedral is not only the heart of the local community, but also a must for anyone visiting the city. The church’s Tudor tower is one of the tallest in England at 212 feet, or 189 thigh-burning steps. The staff at the cathedral are also very happy to tell you all about the local residents that live in the tower, a pair of peregrine falcons. You can even check out a webcam of their nest here.
Part museum, part art collection, Derby Museum is a great place to while away a few hours. Highlights of the museum include a spectacular collection of work by renowned Midlands painter Joseph Wright. His focus on British Enlightenment and use of chiaroscuro (dramatic contrasts between light and dark) mean his masterpieces are breathtaking. Also make sure to check out the 3,400-year-old Bronze Age logboat, carved from a single tree trunk.
Derby Folk Festival
Every year, Derby’s Cathedral Quarter transforms into one big stage as the Derby Folk Festival begins. Bands, solo singers and folk music of all shapes and sizes take over the city’s public spaces, taverns and venues for a long weekend of live music. Some of concerts are ticketed, but throughout the city you can be sure to catch free music from street performers like local favourites Frumptarn Guggenband.
Unique Things to do in Derby
Pickford’s House Museum
Who doesn’t love a wander around a fancy old house? The family home of Georgian architect Joseph Pickford, 250-year-old Pickford’s House gives visitors a taste of 18th century. The grandeur of the artwork and the architecture alone make it worth a visit.
See the statue of Bonnie Prince Charlie
Fans of the TV drama Outlander may be familiar with the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie, but even if you’re not this is worth checking out. The memorial statue on Cathedral Green marks a major turning point in British history that began when Charles Edward Stuart plotted to overthrow King George II using a Jacobite army of Scottish warriors. The uprising culminated in the Battle of Culloden in 1746 when his army was brutally destroyed and scattered. However, before this point, the Jacobites and the Bonnie Prince had found some success. The prince managed to march his army all the way to Swarkestone Bridge near Derby in 1745 with the hope of taking London and the throne, though this was the most southerly point they would reach. At just 120 miles from London, the Highlander army turned back, despite Charlie wanting to continue. If a different decision had been made that day, the history books may have looked very different. Poignantly, the statue of the Bonnie Prince sees him facing south to London, to the throne in Westminster he would never reach.
Have a drink in a proper local
If you’re visiting any town or city in the UK, you owe it to yourself to kick back and relax in a proper local pub. The grade II listed Bell Hotel is one of the best looking in Derby, with a heritage as a coaching inn that dates back to 1650. Live music, real ales, craft beer and tasty food: it doesn’t get much better than this.
Derby for Foodies
I’m a massive fan of artisan donuts. Being a Londoner, I’ll happily shell out more for a chance to taste something special. So when we happened to stumble across the Midlands chain Doughnotts, I knew my waistband was about to take a hit. Handmade, massive and so packed with toppings that you can barely wrap your mouth around em – these badboys were legit. My tip? Grab one of the beastly premium donuts like the cherry bakewell: you’ll thank me.
French dining at Bistrot Pierre
This spot in Friargate is one of the city’s bustling social hubs. Offering great value French dining and divine, authentic dishes, Bistro Pierre is located in a beautiful building that dates back to the 1600s. Exposed timber beams and moody lighting all add to the cosy ambiance. As with any good French meal, end with a palette-cleansing crème brûlée. I mean, it would be rude not to right?
Grab a Derby specialty at the Pyclet Parlour
What the heck is a pyclet? This was exactly the question I asked when confronted with the local specialty. The pyclet looks a little like a crumpet, only flatter and has a history that dates back hundreds of years. Though pyclets have been produced in Derby since 1864 the local treat has only enjoyed a revival in the last few years. For an authentic taste, head to the Pyclet Parlour in the Market Hall and slather with the topping of your choice, either sweet or savoury.
Kick back with brunch in the Bookcafe
Every weekend away needs an indulgent brunch. In Derby, you could do far worse than the Bookcafe. Expect all your favourite brekkie classics whipped up with fresh local ingredients and veggie options too. The open, airy space is surrounded by books and the smell of roasted coffee. In short, it’s exactly what you need on a Sunday morning.
Where to stay in Derby
When Kasha an I visited we got to stay in a beautiful new one-bedroom apartment by The Stay Company. Located right in the heart of the city in Friargate, the apartment was massive, spotlessly clean and mercifully quiet, despite being close to the road. There is parking space at the back of the building, free WiFi and a secure keyfob entry system. It’s the ideal basecamp for any Derby break.
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We were supported on this trip by the kind folks at Visit Derby. Special thanks to The Stay Company, Natalie Heard, Lisa Bridge, Martin Roper and Kathy Frain.