Sitting at 300m above sea level, Buxton is the highest market town in England and sits perfectly within the rugged landscape of the beautiful Peak District National Park. Buxton is a fabulous place to visit, not just for its stunning location and hiking trails, but its history, famous Georgian and Victorian architecture, ornamental gardens as well as a wealth of independents shops, bars and restaurants. There really is something for everyone!
There’s no wonder why this beautiful town is one of the best tourist destinations in the region! Find out more about visiting this stunning town with my guide to the 13 Best things to do in Buxton!
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A Brief History of Buxton:
Not only is Buxton a pretty place to visit it’s also got a lot of historic relevance and grew to fame as a spa town.
The towns origins date back to the Romans when around AD80 they built numerous bath houses. Over the years that followed the town became popular with pilgrims who also sought the health benefits of the pale blue water which bubbled up from thermal springs beneath the now famous ‘Crescent’. One of the towns most famous visitors was even thought to be Mary Queen of Scots who suffered badly from rheumatism.
These springs are still in use today and form the outlets from a subterranean reservoir, where the water lies for many years before coming to the surface at a constant temperature of 82 degrees Fahrenheit.
St Ann’s Well, located in the centre of town opposite the crescent, was once known as a ‘place of many miracles’ is still a place where you’ll fine locals and tourists alike queuing to refill water bottles. In fact it’s the same palatable mineral water bottled by Nestlé and sold throughout the UK.
In the late 18 century William Cavendish, the 5th Duke of Devonshire developed Buxton into a spa town to challenge its old rival Bath and set about creating an architectural centrepiece. The Crescent was completed in the 1780’s and stands proudly centre place within the town. It housed a hotel, a glamorous assembly room as well as boutiques selling souvenirs.
The 6th Duke of Devonshire further developed the town by rebuilding the Natural Mineral and Thermal Baths. By the late 19th century the Pump House had also been rebuilt. At this time the spa town was extremely popular and tourism was a significant income to all those involved.
However by the 20th century spa tourism was in decline and the last baths offering treatments closed to the public in the 1960’s.
Although the the town no longer offers traditional spa treatments, there has been some recent developments which are hoping to bring back the towns spa status. Most prominent is the opening of ‘The Buxton Crescent’ in 2020. This multi billion pound development has seen the crescent brought back from a pretty sorry state to a fabulous five star hotel with rooftop spa and pool as well as a great new Buxton Experience and Heritage Centre.
13 Best things to do in Buxton:
1. Pavillion Gardens:
On of my favourite things to do do in Buxton is strolling around Pavillion gardens. This beautiful park dates back to 1871 and superbly shows off the Victorian splendour of Buxton.
Set within 23 acres of beautiful landscaped gardens, this park is a great place for a family day out or even a romantic picnic. Throughout the gardens you will find various features including a large boating lake, play ground, miniature railway, a bandstand as well as an array of flower beds and shaded walks.
2. Opera House:
Situated in the centre of Buxton, this 902 seat opera house has been hosting live performances since 1903. This magnificent building was designed by Frank Matcham who also designed the London Palladium.
Buxton opera house is one of the finest examples of Edwardian theatre and was painstakingly restored to its former glory back in 2001. As well as regular live performances you can also take a guided tour detailing the history and see inside the spectacular auditorium.
3. Poole’s Cavern:
One of the more unique and interesting things to do in Buxton is to take a visit to Poole’s Cavern. The Peak District’s famous limestone was formed 340 million years ago, over the thousands of years that followed limestone layers were lifted, fractured, and folded by massive earth movements as the continental plates drifted apart giving the Peak District it’s distinct landscape.
As the limestone was formed overland, water also began to carve out another landscape hidden deep underground forming large caverns were crystal stalactites have lined the chambers over millions of years.
The cavern is situated just a short walk out of town close to the Pavillion gardens and has been attracting visitors since the 16th century!
Some famous visitors are thought to include Mary Queen of Scotts in 1582 and Charles Cotton, a writer visited in 1681 who listed the cave as one of his seven ‘Wonders of the Peak’, bringing a new-found fame to the cavern.
Back then, entrance to the caves was not quite as easy as it is today! The first visitors had to uncomfortably crawl 10m through a small tunnel. Later Frank Redfern, the cavern’s first official custodian in 1853, enlarged the cavern entrance by removing tones of sediment and blasting away the low roof space.
The cavern remained in the Redfern family for 120 years, who extended pathways into other caverns. In 1857, 17 gas lamps were installed, some of which can still be seen today. Surprisingly these lamps were still glowing until 1965 when the cave was shut down after the death of its owner, Mr. Lesley Alcock (husband of Frank Redfern’s grand daughter Jessie Alcock).
The cave then re-opened in 1976 after the installation of 100 electric lights. The cave today benefits from a state-of-the-art LED lighting system highlighting the delicate crystal formations and creating a wonderful effect when the 300m main chamber is fully illuminated. The lights are turned off at the end of the tour so that visitors can experience total darkness.
Due to the nature of the cavern you can only visit with an organised tour. Tours operate daily and must be booked online in advance via the website here.
4. Buxton Museum & Art Gallery:
If you want to find out more about the history, archaeology and geology of Buxton then a visit to the Buxton Museum & Art Gallery is a must! Not only is it a great museum it’s also one of the best free things to do in Buxton!
Take a step back in time and explore some fabulous collections including limestone fossils, Ice Age animal bones and mineral collections such as Blue John. You will also find a large collection of historic photographs of Buxton and its surrounding area as well as 18th, 19th and 20th century paintings including work by John Webber, William Marlow, Thomas Hearne, Frank Brangwyn, Edgar Chahine and Duncan Grant.
5. Devonshire Dome:
Another one of Buxton’s historic buildings is the Devonshire Dome. The original building was commissioned in 1785 on behalf of the reigning Duke of Devonshire, as part of a wider plan to promote Buxton as a spa town.
In 1858 part of the building was turned into a hospital and then later in 1881 the remainder of the building was converted including its unmistakably spectacular dome. At the time it was the largest unsupported dome in the world! It’s believed to still be the largest in Europe, although I can’t find anything to confirm this?
The building remained a hospital and in 1934 after further extensions it was re-named the Devonshire Royal Hospital and became part of the National Health Service in 1948.
The hospital eventually closed it’s doors in 2000 and was acquired by the University of Derby. This grade II listed building was home to the Buxton campus, however it now forms the new base of the Buxton & Leek College.
The Buxton Dome also houses an award winning spa offering a wide range of luxury spa treatments designed to improve your wellbeing. Why not take some time out to reconnect your mind, body and soul.
7. Solomon’s Temple & Buxton County Park:
Just across from Poole’s Cavern and sharing the same carpark you’ll find Buxton Country Park. Covering over 100 acres, the park and woodland is home to an amazing array of flora, forna and wildlife as well as stunning views from the top of the summit pastures of Grin Low (437m).
Inside the park you will also find a GO Ape Adventure, a woodland trail and Solomon’s Temple.
Solomon’s’ Temple sits proudly on top of Grin Low and can be reached by walking approx 30 minutes through the woodland trail. There are 3 different trails to choose from all marked by colour coded carved animals such as the rabbit pictured above. The trails themselves are pretty easy, although there are some steep sections and uneven ground which may be unsuitable for those with reduced mobility or those with pushchairs.
The tower, a folly was built in 1896 to replace an earlier structure constructed by Solomon Mycock a local farmer and landowner. Although a folly does’t usually represent anything other than decoration, Solomon’s Temple is actually built on top of what was once an ancient burial mound. In fact during its construction several Bronze Age skeletons from the ‘Beaker’ period, along with Roman artefacts were found which are now housed in the Buxton Museum.
From the top of Solomon’s temple you will be treated with amazing 360 degree views of Buxton and the surrounding area. On a clear day you can see the fabulous Devonshire Dome and Historic Crescent as well as Mam Tor at Castleton, and Kinder Scout, which at 636m is the highest point in Derbyshire and the Peak District.
8. Take the Discover Buxton Tram Bus Tour:
Enjoy a journey through all the historic landmarks of Buxton on a unique vintage tram!
The ‘Wonder of the Peak’ tour takes you through the historic old town where you can check out Buxton Opera House, The Crescent, thermal baths and St Ann’s Well. It then takes you past St Johns Church and onwards to the magnificent Devonshire Dome. At the dome you will alight and join a guide who will take you through the dome to experience its marvellous architecture first hand. The tour then takes you to one of Buxton’s oldest buildings, St Annes Church which dates back to 1625, before finishing at the beautiful Pavillion Gardens.
This is defo a unique way to see a lot of Buxton within a short time frame, perfect for those just visiting for the day. The company also does many other tours including walking tours, character tours as well as tours around the surrounding area. For more information about tours on offer check out the Discover Buxton Tours website.
9. Indulge in some retail therapy:
Ok, you can do a bit of retail therapy anywhere, so what makes Buxton so special?
Well, I suppose it has all the usual shops you’ll find on any UK high street, however it does have some unique shopping experiences that make it a great place to find some gifts, household items, antiques, jewellery or clothing.
There are 4 main shopping areas in Buxton. The first being the boutique shops around the historic old town which includes The Square, Circus Parade and Buxton’s oldest shopping centre, the Cavendish Arcade, within the historic hot baths. Here you’ll find a vast array of independent shops selling home ware, giftware, several fashion stores and food, it’s a must for both visitors and locals. Whilst you’re there be sure to check out the little cafe out front, Charlotte’s Chocolatier & Cafe, The cakes are amazing!!
The main shopping centre, The Springs located in the centre of town is where you’ll find all the usual shopping brands.
If you’re looking for some independent book shops, a traditional butchers and home decor emporium then take a trip up hill to Higher Buxton.
Lastly The Arches is an artisan market, nestled within the historic arches of Hogshaw Mill at the western end of Spring Gardens. Family and dog friendly with a quintessentially quirky collection of stalls and pop up shops.
Throughout the year you’ll also find a variety of food & drink markets and festivals. Some to keep an eye out for include the Buxton Night Food & Drink Market held at the Pavillion gardens during the summer months. As well as the Buxton Beer Festival also held in the Pavillion Gardens in October.
10. Buxton Crescent Visitor Centre & Heritage: Experience
The grandest building in Buxton has to be The Crescent! This masterpiece of 18th century architecture was once the focal point for the towns visitors wanting to experience the healing properties of its warm spring water. It took 10 years to construct and housed several hotels and the elegant Assembly Rooms, which are best described as a ballroom of gilded pillars and painted ceilings, and became home to the town’s glamorous gatherings.
However, as the spa tourism declined the crescent fell into disrepair. However in 2003 in a joint effort with Derbyshire County Council and High Peak Borough Council as well as help from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Historic England the Buxton Crescent and Thermal Spa project was born. This project brought together two huge private sector development companies which worked together to refurbish and bring the building back to its original splendour. The Crescent building is now a fabulous 5 start hotel with rooftop spa as well a the new Buxton Heritage Experience.
The Buxton Heritage Experience tells the story of Buxton, the crescent, its famous water and the many people who visited. This isn’t the usual museum encounter though, its a fully immersive experience with some virtual reality thrown in the mix!
You can only visit as part of a small guided tour so I would recommend buying tickets in advance. It really is a wonderful way to learn more about the building, its history and how it was restored.
Across the road from the crescent you’ll find the visitor centre housed in what was once The Pump Room. The visitor centre is free to enter and has a few interesting displays as well as a gift shop and ticket counter for the Heritage Experience over at the crescent.
11. St Ann’s Well:
St Ann’s well has been a shine for centuries. There was once a chapel where the well stands today, offering pilgrims a chance to pray and offer thanks. It was so well known for its curing properties that its believed pilgrims hung their cast-off crutches and sticks from it.
The chapel was then dissolved in 1538 on the orders of King Henry VIII and the well locked up, however it was later opened back up again and rebuilt on several occasions over the years. The well you see today was built in 1940 and is a grade II listed structure.
Numerous famous figures visited Buxton and drank from the well including Mary Queen of Scots who was imprisoned in nearby Chatsworth House. She was given permission to bathe in Buxton’s healing waters to help with rheumatism, under guard of course!
Water has also been bottled at source from the well since the 19th century by the Buxton Mineral Water Company. Nestle who bought the company in 1992 do still bottle the same water you drink at St Ann’s Well, however it’s now pumped 2 miles down the road at their new bottling plant in Waterswallows.
12. Buxton Raceway:
If it’s action your after then take a trip to the Buxton Raceway, situated just 3 miles out of town.
The track is a 380m tarmac oval with steel plate fencing and a figure of 8 circuit, ideal for stock car and drifter racing. The Raceway has great facilities for spectators and run their own ‘Domestic’ Formulas, as well as ‘Travelling’ Formulas on a regular basis usually during the summer months.
13. Take a walk in the stunning countryside:
As much as Buxton is a lovely place to enjoy, exploring the surrounding countryside shouldn’t be dismissed! In fact one of my favourite things to do whilst in Buxton is getting out and about in the surrounding area.
Of course there are plenty of places to explore within and around Buxton itself but if your willing to travel a little further the scenery will not disappoint!
If you have a car why not take a little trip to Castleton. This quaint little village is a walkers paradise! It doesn’t matter what direction you start walking you’ll defo find yourself headed towards a peak and its amazing views! My two favourite’s are both pretty short routes but also a little taxing, Perveril Castle and Cave dale which runs behind it.
For more walking ideas around Buxton check out some of these other popular Peak District walks.
Where to stay in Buxton:
Although you can enjoy a visit to Buxton in just a day, it’s well worth spending a few days in this lovely town. Spending a few days gives you a chance to see all that Buxton offers and a chance to visit some of the surrounding attractions such as Castleton, Chatsworth House, Hights of Abraham or the Crich Tramway Village!
A few great accomadation options include:
- The Buxton Crescent Hotel – A stay at the Buxton Crescent is the perfect opportunity to sleep in a magnificent heritage building, with all the service and amenities of a 5-star hotel. The Hotel offers a unique, luxury spa experience, combining traditional beauty therapies with wellness and holistic treatments.
- Roseleigh – Located in Buxton, 450 yards from Buxton Opera House, Roseleigh faces the Pavilion Gardens and lake and offers free WiFi. This property is set a short distance from attractions such as the Pavilion Arts Centre and Buxton Cinema.
- The Westminster Hotel – The Westminster Hotel overlooks the picturesque Pavillion Gardens in central Buxton. It offers charming, family-run accommodation, and many rooms have views of the park and lake.
- YHA Ravenstor Hostel – Set within 60 acres of beautiful grounds within the heart of the Peak District, YHA Ravenstor sits high above the River Wye between Bakewell and Buxton.
For booking accommodation I recommend using Booking.com. This website offers the best priced accommodation catering for all budgets and styles. Just pop in your requirements and it will give you a list of available accommodation. Perfect for picking out the best hostels, B&B’s or even some luxury escapes.
So there you have it, my 13 best things to do in Buxton! Have you been to Buxton, would you add anything else to the list? If so, let me know in the comments below.
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Thanks again for reading,