When it comes to airports, cities can usually be divided into two camps — the simple ones which only have one airport and those that are served by two or more airports. East Midlands airport on the other hand is a completely different breed as it is an airport which serves three different cities — Nottingham, Derby and Leicester. Although for several years the airport did market itself as Nottingham East Midlands, this naturally drew deep resentment from Leicester and Derby, and eventually it reverted back to its original name.
Our East Midlands airport car hire advice looks at driving and public transport alternatives in each of these three cities, as well as at how easy it is to get between them and to reach other places of interest in the East Midlands region.
- Multi-city tour — Nottingham, Derby and Leicester all have their own places of interest, but neither of them has enough of a tourist draw to warrant spending a whole holiday in one place. Instead, you will at the very least want to travel between the cities, and more likely you will want to venture out into some of the very scenic countryside areas which surround them. Naturally, having a hire car is going to make this a great deal easier.
- Limited rail network — just compare the vast network of regional and suburban railway lines around Birmingham with a small number of lines radiating out from Nottingham, Derby or Leicester, and you will see that the train is only useful for core trunk routes, and that if you want to visit any of the scenic rural areas, you will probably have to rely on buses.
- Token tram — Nottingham does at least have sparkling new tram line, but that is all it is — one line with a split at the top, and the whole thing serves little purpose for visiting tourist sites.
- No airport rail link — again, unlike Birmingham, there is no easy rail link between East Midlands airport and any of the cities it claims to serve. Worse still, just 4 miles away from East Midlands airport is the East Midlands Parkway railway station, which claims to serve the airport, but no longer has any fixed bus connection to it. There is also no taxi service based at East Midlands Parkway, so don’t head back that way on your return to the airport, unless you book an onward taxi well in advance.
- Peak District — the real scenic gem of the East Midlands area is the Peak District National Park, which is one of the most popular in England, as it is so close to Derby, Sheffield, Manchester and Birmingham. Although there are actually numerous ways to appreciate the Peak District without having a car (see below), a hire car will still give you all the usual flexibility.
- Chatsworth is one of the finest stately homes anywhere in England, and is world famous not just the architecture of the house itself but also the stunning landscape setting it sits within and it’s curious mix of gardens and greenhouses. A hire car will give you much more flexibility, although you can reach Chatsworth by bus from either Sheffield or Matlock.
- Belvoir Castle is another gem to the east of Nottingham, but this time, trying to get there by anything other than car is nigh on impossible, as buses must be booked ahead in advance – thus defeating the whole point of letting someone else do the driving.
- Alton Towers — no visit to this part of the world is complete without spending a day at the Alton Towers theme park. As with other major attractions, you can get there by bus, you will have a lot more flexibility if you go by car, even if the car will just sit all day in the car park.
- Robin Hood – for all things Robin Hood, apart from the centre of Nottingham itself, you will need a car to drive around at your own pace. Naturally, Mr Hood, being a man of the people, would be driving a small compact model, and he would, of course, be trying to get you to use the airport named after him!
- Easy city connections — you will have no problem travelling between Nottingham, Derby and Leicester as there is a triangular network of trains running between them, with at least two trains each hour in any direction. It should take no more than half an hour to travel between any of the cities, and trains from Leicester to either Derby or Nottingham are generally of a good standard as they have originated in London.
- Pedestrian friendly city centres — Nottingham in particular has an extensive network of pedestrianised streets, arcades and indoor shopping centres (but avoid Broadmarsh like the plague!), and Leicester and Derby also have pedestrianised streets. Within these central cores, which also include many of the key visitor attractions, it is far easier to get around on foot than by any other means. You could easily get in out of the city centres by bus or train, and even if you do have a hire car, it is often easier to leave it in one of the edge of city park-and-ride car parks.
- Peak District at its peak — as mentioned above, a hire car will give you plenty of flexibility in the Peak District, but to appreciate this area at his best, you will want to leave the car behind and explore some of the following activity options:
- Tissington and High Peak Trails — these two former railway lines have been converted into a traffic free cycleway network which branches in a Y-shape from Buxton to Ashbourne and Cromford (near Matlock). With their sweeping embankments and plant rich cuttings, these two trails are amongst the very best in the UK, and really are a must-do for any visitor. Although you can walk these trails, you will see far more if you go out by bike.
There are a number of places from where you can hire a bike, including Parsley Hay and Middleton Top, which are both on the trails.
However, note that these hire centres are some way from any railway stations, so you might be better off looking for bike hire in Matlock or Derby (see below). Note that the ride up from Cromford to Middleton top is extremely steep, but it is well worth the reward!
- Heights of Abraham and Derwent Valley line — any fan of railway and cable technology will love the delightfully scenic Heights of Abraham, and the single track Derwent Valley railway line which you will use to get there. Trains run hourly north from Derby to Matlock.
Alight one stop before at Matlock Bath to the Heights of Abraham. Naturally, kids will be more interested in the experiences at the top, but there is no doubt plenty here for kids young and old to appreciate. You can also enjoy walking on the Cromford Canal which runs parallel to this route.
- Melton Mowbray — foodies will love a visit to the quaint market town of Melton Mowbray, famous for its pork pies and stilton cheese. You can easily reach Melton Mowbray by train from either Leicester or Nottingham.
- National Space Centre, Leicester — this is another attraction which is going to appeal to big and small kids. This is easy to get to from the centre of Leicester by bus – and even easier on a bike, if you can get hold of one!
- Greenways (cycling) — the East Midlands has several high-quality and traffic free cycling routes, with each of the three major cities having one particularly good one.
In Leicester, you can take the former route to the Great Central railway south to get out the city, and from here you can easily explore a number of attractive villages. Nottingham has the “Big Track”, which is a 10 mile circuit taking in both the River Trent and the adjacent canal. This circuit loops around Beeston, and you can also continue further up the River Trent as far as Trentlock.
From Derby, you can head out to Worthington using the Derby canal path, or you can also head north out of the city towards the Peak District (see above).
Considering that East Midlands airport serves three very different cities, the natural instinct is to think towards getting a hire car to travel around and between them. However, with a little bit of planning, it is clear that there is plenty to see and do without needing one, and that there are also a number of very high quality attractions involving other forms of transport, especially the bike. For these reasons, we think you can get by without a hire car, especially if you are interested in going around on two wheels instead of four.
- For bike hire in and around the Peak District, try Peak Tours, who also will deliver bikes to nearby cities.