Top 12 family activities in Derby this December – and many are free!

Fri 9 Dec 2022

There’s so much going on in Derby this Dec, it’ll be easy to keep the whole family entertained. We know the rising cost of living means it’s a challenging time, so our list has something for every budget – with many activities either discounted or free.

  1. Soak up the festive atmosphere in the city centre – for nothing

There’s lots to enjoy in the city centre if you’re on a budget. Visit Cathedral Quarter BID’s free Santa’s Grotto on Satu 10 and 17 Dec, when there will also be free festive entertainment at The Waterfall. St Peter’s Quarter BID will have free entertainment at St Peter’s Cross, plus you can also have your photo taken in a giant snow globe!

As you wander, take in the stunning window displays created by the city centre’s retailers as the try to clinch the top spot in this year’s Window Wonderland competition, run by the Cathedral Quarter and St Peter’s Quarter BIDs. You can vote for your favourite and be entered into a free prize draw to win £50 in shopping vouchers each week in the lead up to Christmas. The winning window displays will be announced on 13 Dec.

Don’t forget to look up and enjoy the Christmas lights in the city centre and Market Place, including our Christmas tree. Working in partnership, Derby City Council, QUAD and Cathedral Quarter BID have brought the city centre to life with festive light projections in Sadler Gate, Friar Gate, Market Place and Derby Cathedral to name a few. For more details of what’s going on in the city this December, check out the Festive Derby website.

  1. Get your skates on

Derby Market Place will this year see the return of the Cathedral Quarter Ice Rink - a fantastic option for family festive fun and also great exercise! As well as traditional skating, you can join in with our toddler, superhero or fancy-dress sessions. Brought to you by Derby City Council supported by Derby’s Cathedral Quarter BID, the ice rink will be open until Sat 31 Dec. Tickets from £7 with concessions available.

  1. Enjoy a show in the Market Place

Derby Market Place will also host a magical festive performance venue with shows for all the family. The Babbling Vagabonds are back and playing detective in The Christmas Toy Shop Mystery, a seasonal adventure filled with magic and cheer. Join Lucy as she tries to unravel the mysteries, fish out the red herrings and find the clues so she can retrieve her bothersome brother's beloved bear. The family show is on from Fri 9 to Fri 30 Dec. Tickets from £18 with concessions and family tickets available.

For families with children aged seven and up, The Lost Boys, who bring a helping of heart-warming joy and a chunk of cheeky charm to their version of the classic tale A Christmas Carol. Expect the trademark Lost Boys madcap sensibilities in a show jam-packed with gags, gaffs, deference, and irreverence. The show, which is suitable for children aged 7 and up, will be in the Market Place on Wed 21 Dec and Thu 22 Dec. Tickets from £18 with concessions and family tickets available.

  1. Get stuck into a reading challenge

The Reading Agency is teaming up with Science Museum Group for the free Gadgeteers Winter Mini Challenge. The Winter Mini Challenge encourages children to keep up their reading habits over the winter, with a free-to-access website featuring rewards for reading and reviewing books.

To take part, children simply read three or more books – these can be any books of their choice. Every time they finish a book, they add it to their challenge website profile and leave a short book review. Reaching their online reading goal will unlock a limited-edition virtual badge and a special Winter Mini Challenge certificate to print off and keep! The challenge runs until 20 Feb 2023.

  1. Enjoy the great outdoors at Derby Parks

There are many fantastic parks and open spaces right on our doorstep in Derby. Most of our neighbourhood parks have small play areas for younger children, with equipment such as swings and see-saws, whilst our bigger city parks offer a wide range of activities and equipment for all ages from toddlers to teenagers, so let them burn off some energy while having fun.

Try the BMX tracks at Alvaston, Osmaston, Chaddesden or Sinfin Moor Parks or other exciting equipment like outdoor gyms, mazes, zip wires or sand pits. Check the Derby Parks website for details of the facilities at your local park. Children will love Mundy Play Centre’s fantastic free play area at Markeaton Park. Also, visit the unique craft huts and sample a tasty treat at the Craft Village and Orangery. See the Markeaton Park page for more details, including opening times.

Need some inspiration for park walks? Take a look at the trails and nature walks on the Derby Parks website and explore our parks further. Why not try out the free Love Exploring app for a little walk on the wild side and see what you can discover? Love Exploring trails are available at Markeaton Park, Alvaston Park, Arboretum Park and Allestree Park, find fairies, planets and dinosaurs.

  1. Catch the fantastic panto Aladdin at Derby Arena

John Thomson stars alongside award-winning Best Dame Morgan Brind in high-flying action-packed pantomime Aladdin. The team behind previous smash-hit Derby Arena Pantomimes return to grant all your festive wishes in this action-packed adventure for the whole family.

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a trip to the panto and it doesn’t take a genie-us to know one of your three wishes should be to see Aladdin at Derby Arena! The panto runs from Fri 9 Dec until Sat 31 Dec. Tickets from £18 with concessions and family tickets available. Find out more on the Derby LIVE website.

  1. Get on your bike

If you’ve always fancied trying track cycling, now is the time. Derby Arena has track cycling family taster sessions on Fri 23 and Fri 30 Dec. For anyone aged 9 years and above, these sessions are the perfect chance to give this exciting sport a go! Prices start from £21 for one adult and one junior.

There will also be balance bike sessions at the Arena at 9am on Mon 2 Jan and Fri 6 Jan (priced at £3.50), plus First Pedal sessions on Thus. See the Derby Arena website for details and to book your session.

If you’d rather be out in the fresh air, there are some wonderful cycle routes in Derby for a free family bike ride. Cycle Derby has details of the routes on its website.

There will also be two activities available at Markeaton Park in the New Year. A New Riders Club will take place on Jan 5 for children aged four to eight (£10) while Learn to Ride sessions for children aged four and up will take place on Jan 4 and 5 (£20). All sessions must be booked in advance through the Cycle Derby website

  1. Explore Derby Museums

Families can enjoy Cinderella’s Mice Trail at Pickford’s House. Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother needs to change the mice into horses to pull the pumpkin carriage. Can you find them hiding around the house so that Cinderella can attend the ball, and live happily ever after? The trail runs until 7 Jan and there’s no need to book. The cost is £1 per trail or free to DM Family Friends.

Meanwhile, on 30 Dec, Derby Museum and Art Gallery will be getting ready for the New Year’s Eve festivities by offering a family drop-in session (10am until 11.30am) making flamboyant party hats inspired by some the Museum’s quirkier objects. The event is free, just Give What You Think. For details of all events see the Derby Museums website.

  1. Try a new sport

Do you want to try badminton, table tennis or squash? Why not come along as a family to Springwood Leisure Centre or Derby Arena, where you can have a go for half price. No need to bring equipment, you can hire at the leisure centre. The offer runs from Friday 23 December until Friday 6 January, between 9am and 3pm. Subject to availability, bookings are required for players aged 16 years and under. Prices start at £3.90.

Alternatively, play on Springwood’s 5-a-side ATP pitches – also half price on the same dates and times (from £15.50) – or join in with Movement gym sessions for 12 to 16-year-olds. There are sessions throughout the week during the school holidays. For more information or to book contact Springwood or Derby Arena directly.

  1. Take part in Derby’s Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) Programme

Derby City Council is working in partnership with Community Action Derby to provide free holiday club places during the holidays. The scheme offers activities and food to children aged 5 to 16 who are eligible for benefits-related free school meals in Derby. There are 22 providers offering a range of activities in all wards across the city.

The holiday clubs will offer the chance to try new and enriching activities including gardening, animation and music production, as well as sports and physical activities like street dance, circus skills and self-defence. Trips will include visits to the pantomime, ice skating, bowling and laser quest.

Children will also be provided with a healthy meal and given the opportunity to learn about healthy food and nutrition. Families can find out about all the activities and providers for Derby by visiting the Derby HAF webpage.

  1. Follow Derby’s Lantern Sculpture Trail

There are seven giant lantern sculptures dotted around the city for you to find, so set out for a free family day out on the Surtal Arts lantern hunt! Artists Frazer Johnston and Ranbir Kaur, alongside other emerging artists, have created this unique Lantern Sculpture Trail to connect Derby city centre with the cultural hub of Normanton.

Follow the trail map on your device to discover the 3D lanterns and their diverse places - each one tells a story about a distinctive culture, people and community that are colourful and full of surprises. The trail runs until 31 Dec and locations include the Museum of Making, Derby Cathedral and Deda.  Please note: Sculptures may be outside or inside the venue, with various venue opening times. Check the Surtal Arts website for details.

  1. Catch a festive family film at QUAD

Families can get discounted tickets for Christmas classics including Home Alone, Elf and The Muppet Christmas Carol with QUAD’s Cine Kids showings, so grab the popcorn and enjoy! All tickets are £4 per person for Cine Kids Club members (which includes the whole family and their guests). Membership is free to families with children under 16. Cine Kids films are showings on various dates between 16 Dec and Christmas Eve. For full details see the QUAD website.

With the cost of living rising, winter can be a tough time for families. You can get support with the cost of living at our online hub, which is packed with advice and support.

It has been created in partnership by Derby City Council, Community Action Derby and Derby Homes. Visit the Cost of Living website to see what help is available for you.