On our Northern UK trip recently, we were able to spend some time exploring the Lake District. This had always been on my bucket list so being able to finally see it was pretty surreal.
Being Summer, I will say many of the towns were pretty packed. That meant there was a real feeling of energy everywhere which was beautiful. It also meant bookings needed to be made well in advance!
Below is our guide to the Lake District, so you can plan ahead for your beautiful English countryside escape. We hope these insights help you organise the perfect Lake District escape.
How to get around the Lake District
To give you the most flexibility, driving is the best way to explore the Lake District. There are plenty of rental companies on offer (we like Discover Cars and Europcar), and this way, you won’t be restricted to public transport timetables.
If you’re unable to drive, then Stagecoach runs a variety of bus services to popular destinations including Kendal, Keswick, Penrith, and Windermere. There are also local trains available, although services tend to be more restricted than the buses.
Your other option is to head out on a tour, such as this Ten Lakes full-day tour. These typically include transport and onboard commentary, and you’ll get to visit several locations in a short amount of time.
Natural attractions in the Lake District
Windermere is the largest lake within the Lake District (and England) at an impressive 10.5 miles long (17 km). It’s also 220 feet (67 metres) deep.
When visiting this gorgeous natural attraction, many people choose to stay in Bowness-on-Windermere. From here, you’ll have ample boating and water sports opportunities including kayaking, paddle boarding, sailing, and wake surfing.
Heading out on a lake cruise is one of the best ways to appreciate the area’s beauty, but there are also some fantastic hikes in the area.
Not only that, but you’ll find some traditional lakeside pubs along Lake Windermere.
Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful lakes in the country, Ullswater is also the second-largest lake in the Lake District.
At an impressive 7.5 miles (12 km) long and 250 feet (76 metres), Ullswater is one of England’s biggest and deepest lakes.
With a backdrop of scenic fells, it’s no wonder this place once used to attract those after creative inspiration (artists and poets). If you find yourself hiking some of the nearby fells, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of Ullswater too.
Recreational activities such as boating, canoeing, and sailing are popular here, so there’s a lot to do in the area.
Next up is Coniston Water, which is another lake, but I’m talking about the Lake District after all. At 5 miles (8 km) long, it’s the fifth largest of the lakes and is a popular spot for tourists visiting the area.
Coniston Water is located at the foot of the Old Man of Coniston, which is one of the Lake District’s most popular fells. As such, the scenery here is breathtaking, especially if you choose to hike some of the local trails.
Fishing is a popular activity here, as the waters are home to Arctic char and trout.
The Lake District is home to England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike. At an impressive 3209 feet high (978 metres), it’s quite the hike so be prepared for a challenge.
Around 250,000 people climb Scafell Pike each year and there are several routes you can take. Typically, you can expect to spend between 3-5 hours doing this hike, although this will depend on the route you choose and your fitness levels.
From the top, you’ll get jaw-dropping views of the Lake District. In fact, if it’s a clear day, you can see Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland (the three other countries which make up the UK).
At 3117 feet (950 metres), Helvellyn is the third-tallest peak in the Lake District. It’s also one of the tallest mountains in England and is a popular destination for hiking. Actually, it’s been voted one of the UK’s most popular hikes.
There are several routes up to the top with Striding Edge, Swirral Edge, and Thirlmere generally being the most frequented. Striding Edge tends to be the best option although it’s recommended for experienced climbers.
Depending on the route you choose and your fitness levels, the hike up to Helvellyn typically takes between 5-7 hours.
Towns and villages in the Lake District
Arguably one of the most popular towns in the Lake District, Bowness-on-Windermere is a must-visit. As the name suggests, it’s located along the shores of Lake Windermere, about halfway between the North and South ends.
Thanks to its delightful setting, relaxing atmosphere, and endless amenities, it’s a great place to base yourself while exploring the Lake District. Not to mention, there are plenty of traditional pubs in town.
Some of the best things to do in Bowness-on-Windermere include visiting The World of Beatrix Potter Attraction, heading out on a lake cruise, and enjoying some watersports.
Keswick is another major tourist destination in the Lake District and is around a 45-minute drive from Bowness-on-Windermere.
Located by Derwentwater, the scenery here is beautiful. Many of the buildings date back to the 1800s too, so the architecture is incredibly charming. Not only that, but you’ll find plenty of eateries and gorgeous places to stay.
Keswick is full of things to do, with the most popular tourist attractions being the Derwent Pencil Museum, Keswick Museum, and Puzzling Place. There’s also Hope Park which is a perfect place for taking a stroll or having a picnic.
This Lake District guide is full of fantastic places to visit, but no trip here is complete without spending some time in Ambleside.
Located at the North end of Lake Windermere, Ambleside is a charming market town in the heart of the Lake District.
Thanks to its location, this town is a popular spot with hikers as the trail to Loughrigg Fell starts from Ambleside. The beautiful Stock Ghyll Force Waterfall is just a 20-minute walk away too.
For those after a more leisurely activity, lake cruises are very popular here. The town’s Victorian architecture is impressive too!
Just a 15-minute drive from Ambleside you’ll find the market village of Hawkshead. Known for its many tea shops, beautiful 17th-century buildings, and traditional pubs, this place has so much to offer.
Thanks to its car-free centre, you’re free to explore the beauty of Hawkhead without having to worry about the traffic. This only adds to the village’s charm.
The most iconic attraction in this village has to be the Beatrix Potter Gallery, where you’ll get to see original book illustrations from the children’s author (who used to live nearby). The Chocolate Factory Hawkshead is another popular spot!
A hidden gem for sure, Ravenglass is the Lake District’s only coastal village. It’s around an hour’s drive from Hawkshead and lies on an estuary of three different rivers.
Interestingly enough, Ravenglass was an important naval base in the 2nd century for the Romans so it’s got quite the history. This pretty little village is the perfect place to relax, but there’s also lots to do.
The Ravenglass & Eskdale Steam Railway is perhaps the most popular tourist attraction, but there’s also the remains of a Roman Bath House. Muncaster Castle is just a 5-minute drive away too.
The best things to do in the Lake District
1. Visit The Lakes Distillery
There are plenty of things to do in the Lake District, but visiting The Lakes Distillery is a must. Not only is this place home to The Lakes Single Malt Whisky, but they offer fantastic tours! You’ll find The Lakes Distillery at the top of Bassenthwaite Lake (the northernmost lake).
A popular option is the Distillery Tour & Tasting which lasts for around one hour. You’ll get to go behind the scenes at this distillery, as well as taste three spirits. You’ll also get a discount in the on-site distillery shop.
Other tours include the ‘Lakes Single Malt Whisky Experience’ and the ‘Whisky & Chocolate Pairing’. If you’re planning to visit this distillery, then I’d recommend booking a tour in advance.
You’ll find The Lakes Distillery at the top of Bassenthwaite Lake (the northernmost lake).
2. Try out some of the area’s hiking trails
When visiting the Lake District, you need to try out some of the area’s hiking trails. Scafell Pike is a popular option although it’s extremely taxing, so you may prefer something a bit less strenuous.
For those who have the stamina (but don’t want to do Scafell Pike), Helvellyn, Old Man Coniston, and Blencathra are all popular hiking destinations.
Other popular routes include the Coniston Water Walk, the Windermere Walk, and the Ullswater Walk, all of which will allow you to admire the area’s beautiful lakes. The Tarn Hows Circular Walk is another great option!
3. Have fun at Honister Slate Mine
Honister Slate Mine is the last working slate mine in England. Found at the top of Honister Pass, the slate here is mined from the neighbouring Fleetwith Pike, and some of it dates back around 400 million years.
To really appreciate this place, I’d recommend heading out on a mine tour. These tours are suitable for all ages and typically last for around 1.5 hours. You’ll get to explore the underground of Fleetwith Pike and learn about the area’s mining history.
If you’re more of an adrenaline junkie, then other activities include Mine Climbing and a Cathedral Working Mine Tour.
4. Enjoy some water sports
If you hadn’t already guessed the Lake District is home to plenty of lakes, 16 of them in fact! So it’s no wonder that this part of England offers so many water sports opportunities.
No matter whether you head to Windermere, Ullswater, or Coniston Water, there are plenty of activities for you to get involved with. Wild swimming is a popular choice although there are some more adventurous options out there too.
Some of the activities on offer include paddle boarding, sailing, and wake surfing, with kayaking being a more leisurely option. Just shop around for the best rental deals and tours.
5. Admire the Castlerigg Stone Circle
There are endless things to do in the Lake District. However, I’d certainly recommend visiting Castlerigg Stone Circle if you’re interested in history and culture.
This historic monument dates back around 5,000 years (3000 BC), making it one of the oldest stone circles in the United Kingdom. Even more interestingly, this place seems to line up with the midwinter sunset, sun, moon, and stars.
The main circle is home to 38 stones, some of which reach up to 10 feet (3 metres) high. The original purpose of Castlerigg Stone Circle is unknown, which only adds to the mystery of this place.
6. Visit The World of Beatrix Potter Attraction
No Lake District itinerary is complete without heading to The World of Beatrix Potter Attraction! Located in Bowness-on-Windermere, this awesome visitor centre depicts the magic of this famous Children’s Author.
While you wander through this attraction, you’ll see all of Beatrix Potter’s children’s tales come to life. There’s also Peter Rabbit’s Garden, which you’ll get to explore and an on-site cafe, which is famous for its high tea.
The World of Beatrix Potter Attraction is the perfect place to visit as a family, as children will be given an activity booklet, and there are plenty of puzzles and games at this visitor centre.
7. Head to the Lake District Wildlife Park
If you’re an animal lover, then you need to visit the Lake District Wildlife Park. This huge area of open parkland is home to over a hundred animal species and is under a 20-minute drive from Keswick.
At this wildlife park, you’ll see a wide variety of species including lemurs, meerkats, red pandas, tapirs, and zebras. The Northern Eurasian Lynx, serval, and Scottish wild cat also call this place home!
Offering fantastic animal talks, reptile encounters, and birds of prey displays, the Lake District Wildlife Park has something for everyone. However, it’s especially popular with the little ones.
8. Explore Rydal Mount and Gardens
Rydal Mount is a gorgeous 16th-century house, located just a short drive from Ambleside.
This historic building is known for being the family home of William Wordsworth, a famous English poet. He lived here for 37 years until 1850 when he passed, and over the years, many of his iconic poems were written here.
Not only does Rydal Mount have an interesting history, but it commands jaw-dropping views of Lake Windermere, Rydal Water, and the area’s fells. For the best experience, you’ll want to purchase a combination ticket which allows you to explore both the house and gardens. Also, make sure you allow at least an hour here.
9. Try traditional Cumbrian foods and dishes
While visiting the Lake District, make sure you try some of the local (and traditional dishes). Arguably one of the most popular delicacies is the Cumberland sausage, which is best served with mash and gravy.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth then you’re in luck as there’s a lot on offer! First of all, don’t miss out on the delicious Grasmere gingerbread. Other sweet treats include sticky toffee pudding, Kendal mint cake, and Cumbrian chocolates.
Later on in the article, I’m going to mention some popular restaurants in the Lake District, so you’ve got a good idea of what’s on offer!
10. Spend some time stargazing
The Lake District is home to some of the darkest skies in England. There are plenty of areas where you’ll benefit from low light pollution, and these offer the best stargazing opportunities.
Popular stargazing spots include Ennerdale, Borrowdale Valley, Grizedale Forest, Langdale Valley, and Wasdale. I’d also recommend heading to Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre as it’s an accredited Dark Sky Discovery Site. As such, amateur stargazing and astronomy opportunities can be found here.
Just make sure you wrap up warm and allow your eyes time to adjust to the night sky. It may be beneficial to also download an astronomy app so you’ve got an idea of what you’re looking at.
Where to eat in the Lake District
There are tons of fantastic places to eat in the Lake District, so you’ll be spoilt for choice. No matter what type of cuisine you’re after, there’s something for everyone. However, I’d suggest heading to one of the traditional pubs for some great food!
Here are some great places to eat:
- The Black Bull Inn, Coniston – Dating back around 400 years, this family-run pub is known for its traditional food and award-winning real ales.
- The Flying Pig, Bowness-on-Windermere – It boasts a cosy atmosphere and seasonal dishes, made with fresh and local ingredients.
- The Priest Hole Restaurant, Ambleside – Offering a charming outdoor terrace, traditional Cumbrian food, and original features, this place is a must-visit.
- Rogan & Co, Cartmel Village – This Michelin-starred restaurant offers a casual dining experience, with three courses, snacks, pre-dessert and petit fours.
Where to stay in the Lake District
You’ll find lots of beautiful hotels in the Lake District. However, some stand out above the others, especially if you’ve got the budget to spend. Whether you’re looking for a cosy inn or a luxury hotel, you won’t be short of choices.
Here are some great places to stay in the Lake District:
- Rothay Manor Hotel, Ambleside – This gorgeous hotel dates back to 1825, and is home to a fine-dining restaurant, period features, and landscaped gardens.
- Jerichos Boutique Accommodation, Windermere – A beautiful property, just a 15-minute walk from Lake Windermere. There’s also a shared lounge on-site.
- The Mary Mount Hotel, Keswick – Set on the shores of Derwentwater, this hotel is located on 5 acres of woodland gardens, so naturally, the views are stunning.
- The Pennington Hotel, Ravenglass – With a great location, fantastic restaurant, spacious rooms, and courtyard area, this place has so much to offer.
We’ve also put together this Lake District hot tub lodges guide for those of you looking for a bit of extra romance!
We were blown away by how delightful the Lake District really is. We were sceptical as to whether it would live up to the hype – but yes, the Lake District is all you hear of and more.
We really encourage you to add the Lake District to your United Kingdom itinerary!
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