A place of contrasts, Derbyshire counts as the East Midlands, even if its northernmost towns are at the same latitude as cities like Manchester and Liverpool.
Rousing natural beauty is almost commonplace in this county, and much of it falls within the Peak District National Park.
If you’re seduced by the opulence of stately homes, Chatsworth House will transport you to a Jane Austen novel, and if you’re into the Industrial Revolution, the world’s first factories as we know them appeared on the Derwent River Valley in the late-1700s and are a UNESCO site.
Put Derby on your agenda too, as this Enlightenment city was where the tracks were laid for industry to sweep through England in the 18th century.
Lets explore the best places to visit in Derbyshire:
There are so many sides to Derby that it will be tricky to know where to start.
Certainly the Derby Museum and Art Gallery has to be one of your points of entry.
That’s because of its many works by Joseph Wright of Derby, the 18th-century master of chiaroscuro and an agent of the Enlightenment for his enthusiasm for laboratories and science experiments.
If you’re serious about real ale then Derby is right up your street, and those in the know says there’s a bigger choice of ales at pubs in the city than anywhere else in the country.
Journey back to Georgian times in Derby at the Pickford House Museum and sample the culture in the historic cathedral quarter, and you’ll still be just getting started.
Founded by the Romans, the spa town of Buxton has been a tourist attraction for hundreds of years.
But it became highly fashionable in the 1780s when the Fifth Duke of Devonshire ordered made his mark with some glorious projects.
One of the showpieces was the magnificent Crescent, designed by the Vaunted Georgian architect James Carr.
This sits right beside St Ann’s Well, where Buxton’s celebrated spring water emerges from the ground at 27.5°C. Elsewhere the Pavilion Gardens are as refined as it gets, and the Opera House from 1903 is an art nouveau wonder.
You can also see Buxton’s unusual geology for yourself at Poole’s Cavern, a limestone show-cave dating back two million years and with more than 300 metres open to the public.
The large market town of Chesterfield wouldn’t be the same without its strange-looking spire.
Crowning the largest church in Derbyshire, the spire of St Mary and All Saints’ is both twisted and slanting.
It was added to the church in the 14th century and all sorts of weird explanations have been ventured for its singular appearance.
But the most likely is the lead in the south side of the roof has expanded and contracted over the course of hundreds of years of sunny days.
Resting on a hilltop with privileged views of the countryside is Hardwick Hall, which was built for Bess of Hardwick, the richest woman in Elizabethan England after the Queen.
Her house is one of the most prestigious and beautiful stately homes in the country, and was among the first renaissance buildings designed in England.
4. Peak District
Derbyshire has more of this national park in its boundaries than any other county.
And you’ll understand how the Peak District changes, from the grassy limestone valleys in the south to the barren and unpopulated sandstone moors in the north, all within this county.
There are several weeks-worth of heartrending natural sights, from epic escarpments with sheer cliffs to caves rich in minerals that occur only in this place.
Writers like Jane Austen, Wordsworth and Charlotte Brontë were all inspired by this natural splendour, and it’s also fascinating to see how humans have shaped the land with mining and industrial activities that have long been consigned to the past.
The only market town to be set within the National Park’s boundaries, Bakewell is gorgeous as you’d hope, full of stone buildings and grand courtyards.
One of the oldest monuments in the town is the bridge over the Wye, with five gothic pointed arches and constructed around the time Bakewell got its market charter in 1254.The surrounding limestone dales are predictably spectacular, and the choice of footpaths is vast, but the Monsal Trail is probably the pick for families.
This is on a disused railway line, so the gradients suit hikers of all ages.
And whatever you do, you need to make time for two of Britain’s most acclaimed stately homes, Chatsworth House and Haddon Hall, both local to Bakewell.
The lead-mining industry had started in Wirksworth around Roman times, and even in the 18th-century the writer Daniel Defoe reported that there were thousands of mines in the area.
The industry had died away by the 1900s but the Church of St Mary’s has a phenomenal artefact that makes clear just how old the practice had been.
There’s an Anglo-Saxon stone from the 600s, called “Th’ owd Man” with a carving depicting a lead miner.
This is coupled with a coffin lid, also dated to the 600s and depicting angels.
The town of Wirksworth has loads of character and its Georgian inns, tea rooms, pubs and galleries make it an ideal HQ for a holiday in the Peak District.
This town is the closest to one of the Peak District’s pieces of paradise: Dovedale is a steep wooded valley that promises an unforgettable walk and photos that will almost defy belief.
And no visit is complete without hopping over the stepping stones across the water.
In summer the reservoir Carsington Water is a honey pot for sailors, anglers, birdwatchers and cyclists, all in another wonderful setting.
There’s history at Sudbury Hall, which has the National Trust Museum of Childhood, putting you in the short trousers or dress of a Victorian schoolchild.
And with so much in the area, Ashbourne more than enough pubs and inns to accommodate its many visitors.
This is also a legacy from when the town was a staging post, and an important stop on the road from London to Carlisle.
Next to the River Derwent, which has fashioned some awe-inspiring landscapes to the south, Matlock developed as a spa town after its springs were discovered in 1698. When hydrotherapy was all the rage in the 1800s visitors came from far and wide for treatments, and this has left Matlock with beautiful architecture to match its exquisite natural location.
The riverside has a string of paths allowing you to saunter down to the old resort of Matlock Bath to the south.
Head here the Heights of Abraham, with a cable car traversing the river gorge and two caves created by almost 2,000 years of lead-mining.
You can trace the first sparks of the Industrial Revolution to Belper, which belongs to the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.
In this town the industrialist and innovator Jedediah Strutt harnessed the Derwent’s water power to built some of the earliest textile mills in Belper in the 1770s.
So at sites like Strutt’s North Mill you’ll go back to the earliest instances of what we recognise as modern factories.
After its predecessor had been destroyed by fire this building from 1803 was the first in the world to feature a fireproof iron frame.
Also give the high street in Belper a look, as it was crowned the best in Britain in 2014.
At the very north of the county, Glossop is an old cotton milling town at the northern foothills of the Peak District.
This portion of the park is known as the Dark Peak, as beneath the soil is a layer of darker sandstone.
The landscape is wilder and less habitable, with eerie moorland and peat bogs in the valleys.
Glossop’s gorgeous old cottages are built from this sandstone, and although it has a history that starts with the Romans, the town expanded in the early-1800s with the mills.
Now it’s a well-off commuter town, where people from Manchester move for rural airs, and because of the ease with which you can get into the national park.
At the transition between the Dark Peak and the greener White Peak to the south, the delightful village of Castleton is very popular with tourists.
And it’s not hard to see why: First go below ground, into the Blue John and Treak Cliff Caverns, the only mines in the world that have Blue John, a kind of fluorite fashioned into bowls and decorative items starting in the 18th century.
The visitor centre in Castleton has a few objects made from this lustrous material.
And in the light of day all you need is your own two feet to conquer majestic locations like the brooding Mam Tor, where an Iron Age fort one stood, or the picturesque ruins of Peveril Castle, built by the Normans in 1086.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, South Derbyshire, just like neighbouring Staffordshire, was all about the pottery industry.
Anything from bricks and toilets, to expansive ceramics for industrialists were crafted in this town.
Sharpe’s Pottery Museum can put you in touch with this aspect of Swadlincote’s story at a beautifully-restored bottle kiln, complete with workshops and outbuildings.
Now the town is in the newly conceived National Forest, a recent project to replant the colossal tracts of woodland that covered most of the midlands up to the industrial age.
So far eight million ash, pine and oak trees have been planted.
Grizzled adventurers intending to walk the entirety of the Pennine Way will begin their trek at Edale, which is the southern trailhead.
This National Trail courses through 267 miles of England’s most challenging wilderness, and if you’re planning on doing it one go you’ll need to allow three weeks.
If you’re only in Edale for the weekend you could go by the Moorland Centre, explaining the human and natural history of the local moors, before striking out on one of the circular paths.
A demanding local option is Jacob’s Ladder, an old zigzagging packhorse road that connected Sheffield with Manchester and Liverpool.
Work up an appetite on the moors before retiring to one of Edale’s Pubs for a warming meal and pint of real ale.
This endearing village in the Peak District is used as a base for walks in the spectacular Hope Valley.
Moments away is Stanage Edge, an awesome sandstone escarpment with 100-metre walls for some of the best climbing in the national park.
Hathersage is also steeped in folklore and has associations with the author Charlotte Brontë.
At St Michael’s Church is what is claimed to be the grave of Robin Hood’s lieutenant Little John.
And in the 1800s Brontë stayed in the village while she was writing Jane Eyre, and locations like the gorgeous North Lees Hall (Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre) have fictional counterparts in the book.
In the northeast of Derbyshire, Bolsover is a former coalmining town that suffered a little after the main source of employment left in the 80s and 90s.
Bolsover has a very different feel to say Matlock or Chesterfield, which are both only a few miles away.
But the countryside is lovely, the people are warm, and one of the county’s most striking historical buildings is here.
Boldover Castle started life as a Norman fortress, but in the 1600s was turned into th distinguished palace that remains today.
Less than ten minutes east of Bolsover are the Cresswell Crags, the site of Europe’s northernmost prehistoric cave paintings.