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As the largest lake in England, Windermere is a glistening jewel in the Lake District’s crown and there is much to see and do around its extensive shoreline. So, whether you prefer to spend your time on the water or simply gaze out over the lake from dry land, there are lots of reasons to pay a visit to Windermere.
Spend time exploring a fairy-tale castle, catch a launch boat from one town to another, hike through some Lake District fell or just relax and enjoy the scenery. There’s something for everyone at Lake Windermere and we have compiled ten of our favourite things to do to help you plan a short break or holiday to this beautiful part of the Lake District.
#01 Visit a Lake District castle
The National Trust’s Wray Castle sits at the northern tip of Lake Windermere and with an assortment of towers and turrets, this mock gothic fortress looks like it has come straight out of a fairy tale.
Inside the castle are a selection of rooms to explore including the Peter Rabbit Adventure Rooms which will keep little ones occupied on a rainy day. There are daily talks where you can learn more about the history of Wray Castle which dates back to Victorian times when it was created by an eminent 19th-century surgeon.
Outside the sprawling dog-friendly grounds have lots of space for walking, cycling, playing and generally exploring. There’s a special cycle trail up to the Claife Viewing Station if you fancy bringing along your bike and wonderful views of Lake Windermere along the way. Wray Castle even has its own jetty on Lake Windermere so you can arrive in style by boat.
#02 Explore the Lake District by boat
It would be a shame to visit the Lake District without taking to the water and luckily there are a variety of scenic boat trips that you can take across Lake Windermere. Jetties are available at Bowness, Ambleside, Lakeside, Brockhole, Fell Foot and Wray Castle so travelling by water makes the perfect way to go exploring, especially as you can hop-on and hop-off at the different calling points.
Boat trips available from Windermere Lake Cruises include a leisurely circular tour of the water during the day or a special buffet cruise where you can enjoy live entertainment as you watch the sun setting over the lake.
You can bring your car with you on the Windermere Ferry which crosses the lake from Bowness to Sawrey - it’s the only car ferry in the Lake District and has been operating for around 500 years. Today the journey takes around 10 minutes making it a quick and easy way to get from one side of the lake to the other.
#03 Try some water sports
From stand-up paddleboarding to kayaking, Lake Windermere offers lots of opportunities to get out on the water, whether you are an absolute beginner or a water sports expert.
The Windermere Canoe & Kayak centre is based at the Ferry Nab Marina and provides a range of water sports lessons with everything from quick taster sessions to equipment hire and more in-depth tailored tuition. You can take part in a guided paddle tour around Lake Windermere or even a special sunset stand-up paddleboard session. Paddleboarding has increased in popularity in recent years and is a fun way to get active in the great outdoors with either family or friends.
If sailing is more your thing, charter a yacht from OB Sailing in Bowness and become a skipper for the day. The flat waters of Windermere make for great sailing conditions and there are a range of lessons available to get you started.
#04 Take a scenic Windermere walk
There’s an array of scenic Lake Windermere walks to try, from gentle strolls around the water to more challenging hikes.
Loughrigg Tarn Circuit - This ‘Miles Without Stiles’ route is a couple of miles north of Lake Windermere and is suitable for all with some stunning views of both the Langdale Pikes and of Loughrigg Tarn itself. It comes in at around 1.7 miles and after your walk you can head to the Talbot Bar in nearby Skelwith Bridge for refreshments.
West Shore Walk - An easy access walk that takes in smooth pathways along Windermere’s peaceful west shore. The route starts at Ferry House and takes you along the water to Red Nab and back again - alternatively you can continue all the up to Wray Castle if you are feeling energetic. Highlights along the route include the Claife Viewing Station and pretty sections of wooded shoreline where you can stop for a picnic.
Orrest Head - Orrest Head was the Lake District peak that first captured the imagination of Alfred Wainwright and it remains a great first Wainwright climb for visitors of all ages to try. The circular walk from Windermere is 2.7 miles with an ascent of 152 metres so it’s one of the easiest Lake District summits to attempt and there’s a wonderful view from the top.
#05 Have a family-friendly adventure at Brockhole
Brockhole on Windermere is run by the Lake District National Park Authority and alongside a visitor centre and cafe there are 30 acres of grounds to explore including 10 acres of formal gardens.
This family-friendly attraction has plenty of things to keep little ones entertained during a visit including a play area and 1500 metres of treetop nets featuring giant trampolines, slides, tunnels and walkways, all suspended safely above the ground.
For an adventure in the dark, the Brave the Cave experience at Brockhole is a series of indoor tunnels that’s suitable for children aged 5 and over. Using a head torch to light the way there are increasingly difficult challenges to solve with a badge awarded to all successful cavers.
#06 Explore the world of Beatrix Potter
Beatrix Potter had a lifelong love of the Lake District after spending many holidays here during her younger years. There’s lots of places in and around Windermere where you can follow in her footsteps and learn more about the author’s life - from visiting her former home to seeing some of her famous creations come to life.
Hill Top - Beatrix Potter bought Hill Top with the proceeds from her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit and drew inspiration from the gardens of the 17th-century farmhouse for many of her subsequent works. During a visit to this National Trust property, you can see original items that belonged to Beatrix, take a trail around the gardens that inspired her, and soak in the atmosphere of this special place.
The World of Beatrix Potter - Peter Rabbit and his friends are brought magically to life in this charming Bowness-on-Windermere attraction. Children can meet Mrs Tiggy-Winkle in her kitchen, see Jeremy Fisher on his lily-pad and look around the Peter Rabbit garden with Mr McGregor. There are 3D scenes from Beatrix Potter’s stories, a self-guided exhibition of her works and a virtual walk through the countryside that inspired the famous stories.
The Beatrix Potter Gallery - Located in the village of Hawkshead, this gallery houses exhibitions dedicated to the author and has many of Beatrix Potter’s original artwork on display.
#07 Take a trip on a steam train
The Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway runs along the pretty Leven Valley, located at the southern edge of Lake Windermere. Traditional steam trains whistle their way along a 3-mile heritage line from Lakeside Pier at the bottom of the lake to Haverthwaite Station near Newby Bridge. The journey may be short but it is very pretty and the historic train carriages have been beautifully restored to their former glory.
It’s worth spending some time at the Haverthwaite Station Tea Room where you can enjoy afternoon tea in vintage surroundings - the perfect nostalgic treat for the older members of your family.
#08 Have a picnic in a lakeshore park
There are lots of scenic places to enjoy a picnic in the Lake District including the wonderful Fell Foot Park on the shores of Windermere. Fell Foot has its own jetty so you can sail by steamer to the lakeshore park, hire a traditional wooden rowing boat for a sedate paddle on the water and then enjoy beautiful mountain views as you dine alfresco.
Fell Foot belongs to the National Trust and includes gardens, native flower meadows and a Pinetum that you can explore on a gentle hour-long heritage walk. There’s also an assortment of child-friendly nature walks, an adventure playground and lots of open spaces where you can fly a kite, throw a frisbee or enjoy a family game of rounders.
#09 Discover Windermere’s towns and villages
There’s a number of lovely towns and villages that are dotted around Lake Windermere and they are well worth visiting during a getaway to the Lake District.
One of the most popular towns in the Lake District and home to a good selection of places to eat and drink including cocktail bar The Fizzy Tarte, the fine dining Porto Restaurant and traditional pub The Flying Pig. Attractions in Bowness include a mini golf course, the Old Laundry Theatre, the World of Beatrix Potter and a boating marina.
Located at the top of Lake Windermere. Ambleside is one of the most centrally located Lake District towns, so it makes an ideal base for exploring. The town was once a hub for the medieval woollen trade but is today filled with an array of shops, galleries, cafes and pubs. Just a short walk from the centre of Ambleside is the powerful Stock Ghyll Force, one of the Lake District’s prettiest waterfalls.
This small Lake District village is nestled at the base of Lake Windermere close to the tranquil Lyth Valley and is best known for its pier, steam train station and the Lakes Aquarium which houses the largest collection of freshwater fish in the country. The Lyth Valley is famous for its damsons and the area is filled with the trees’ white blossoms during the spring.
The courtyards and alleyways of Hawkshead are filled with historic buildings, characterful white-washed cottages and charming tea rooms making it one of the prettiest Lake District villages around. At the centre of the village is a cobbled square that’s closed to cars, so it’s easy to wander around Hawkshead’s welcoming pubs and independent shops. Must-visit buildings in the village include the Beatrix Potter Gallery and a school room that was once attended by William Wordsworth and is now the Hawkshead Grammar School Museum.
#10 Head into the forest
Grizedale Forest has a variety of walking trails and cycle routes that are suitable for all ages and abilities along with Go Ape courses and the chance to Segway through the trees. There’s almost 25 acres of forest to explore and it’s just a short drive from Lake Windermere so makes an ideal day trip during a short break or holiday to this area.
There are a number of unique sculptures to spot throughout the forest and other activities include taking a Fell Pony trek through the trees and stargazing in the dark skies of the forest.
Younger children will particularly enjoy the Shaun the Sheep Farmageddon Glow Trail and there’s also an adventure play area to keep little ones entertained. The best place to start your visit is the Grizedale Forest Visitor Centre which has parking if you are arriving by car and lots of information on the various forest activities.
Plan your getaway to Lake Windermere
Has our top ten list of things to do inspired you to visit Lake Windermere? You’ll find a range of Lake District cottages that make the perfect base for exploring this area whether you are looking for a romantic bolthole for two, a large family-friendly holiday home or a dog-friendly property where your four-legged friends will be welcome.
A cosy cottage for two in the bustling town of Ambleside with an array of shops, pubs and restaurants on the doorstep.
This luxury three-bedroom holiday cottage has been rated Visit England 5 Star Gold and is located close to the town of Lakeside at the base of Lake Windermere.
A dog-friendly holiday home that’s located close to the shores of Lake Windermere near Wray Castle with south-facing gardens and a patio seating area.
For more inspiration read our guide to Lake Windermere and browse our full selection of Windermere cottages.