The Lake District is a land of high fell, mesmerising lakes and beautiful landscapes. Mountains, forests, valleys and lakes combine to create one of the most dramatic and striking national parks in England. It's an area that is plump for personal exploration and discovery and has provided inspiration for William Wordsworth, Beatrix Potter and Arthur Ransome throughout the years.
There are impossibly pretty villages to discover, charming country pubs to call in for refreshments, Michelin-starred fine dining restaurants and an abundance of things to do.
Our ultimate guide will help you discover the best of the Lake District, whether you are planning a short break or a longer holiday.
All about the Lake District
The Lake District covers an area of 912 miles2; it is 36 miles wide (east to west) and 40 miles (south to north); it is home to England’s tallest mountain, Scafell Pike (978 m); 16 large lakes including the country’s deepest (Wastwater) and longest (Windermere); 26 miles of coastline; home to 41,000 people; 23 conservation areas, and 55,690 hectares of SSSIs (Sites of Special Scientific Interest).
It’s a truly impressive region of the UK that attracts visitors from all around the globe, young and old.
The Lake District National Parks’ 16 largest lakes:
Tarns are mountain lakes and pools – however one or two are larger than the lakes. Blea Tarn is the largest in the National Park.
Steamboats sail on the four big lakes of Coniston, Windermere, Ullswater and Derwentwater, offering you a different view of the landscape. Hire boats including canoes, rowing boats, sailing dinghies, and diminutive motorboats are readily available too.
The Lake District National Park isn’t widely known for its 26 miles of coastline. The most southerly stretch of the Solway Coast runs between Seascale and Millom. It’s full of inlets and river estuaries – the only settlement on the coast is the ancient Ravenglass which can be traced back to Roman times.
You will find some of the best examples of intact buildings from the era in the village and up on the nearby hills. Muncaster Castle is said to lie upon foundations from the Roman era.
Experience dramatic inland views of the high fells, mountain ranges, moor-covered hills and out to the Irish Sea. This area is rich with dunes and nature reserves that are full of interesting sea life and birds.
With so much unspoilt countryside, forests, and lake land, it should be no surprise that the Lake District National Park is teeming with wildlife. The local fauna inspired the famous author Beatrix Potter to anthropomorphise them all for her infinitely popular children’s books including Peter Rabbit, Two Bad Mice and Mrs Tiggy Winkle.
You can find all the regulars as well as the magnificent osprey, the red deer, the fell pony, and red squirrels. Red squirrels are under constant threat from the non-native grey squirrel that competes aggressively for food and territory. Programmes have been set up in the area to reintroduce and protect this endangered species.
The frontiers of nature and culture blend seamlessly at the Grizedale Forest Park, with its famous Sculpture Trail, its extensive choice of trails, cycle routes, and forest roads. It’s a great natural adventure playground for all the family. Look out for the forest xylophone!
Towns and villages
You can only go so far in any country without happening upon a town - residents need banks, shops and community amenities. The Lake District is no different except the towns in this corner of the world are picture-perfect examples, characterised by narrow streets lined with stone houses and with wrought iron fixtures.
Ambleside is the largest town and it is found at the head of Lake Windermere. With its restaurants, bijou cinemas, art galleries, visitor attractions and quaint cafes, this town is way more than a place to stock up on the week's groceries. Other towns to spend time getting to know are Keswick, Coniston, and Bowness-on-Windermere.
Everybody who journeys to the Lake District will have their favourite walks, whether it’s along the promenade at Bowness-on-Windermere or walking the scree driven fells at Wastwater. Each trail is unique except for the one aspect they have in common – the amazing, show-stopping views and natural theatre on display every step of the way.
Try the Fairfield Horseshoe from Ambleside – a 10-mile long circuit, elevated in the fells of Coniston and Langdale. As well as long treks, there are low level and short walks in abundance – both Claife Heights and Tarn Hows offer panoramic views. Grizedale Forest Park is a popular destination with many remote trails.
Wainwright’s Coast-to-Coast Trail that bisects the country from the east coast to the west coast originates in St Bee’s Bay on the Solway Coast, ending at Robin Hood’s Bay. The course of the famous long-distance passage cuts through the Lake District National Park.
The Lake District is dog heaven. With the endless trails and woodlands to sniff out there’s lots of scope for your dog to enjoy freedom. The region welcomes responsible dog owners that are mindful of wildlife and livestock.
When on long walks keep your dog hydrated because there’s very little shade on some of the fell walks. Dog owners should head to Drigg Beach, a perfect stretch of golden sands to walk your dog. Also try out the estuary at Ravenglass for sandy expanses and lots of space to run. Read more.
The Lake District offers cycle trails for everybody from the smallest child with stabilisers on their bike to pro-mountain bike riders. Using pedal power to take in the highways and byways of the National Park is a must. If you don’t want to transport your own bike to the region, there are quite a few establishments that hire equipment and apparel.
Kendal to Lake Windermere – The quiet country lanes and stunning scenic rewards en-route make this one of the more laid-back and enjoyable trails.
Broughton Wheelers Lakes Loop – This route is for accomplished cyclists only. The 40-mile trail is one of the nation’s best-loved bike rides – as voted in Cycling Plus Magazine in late 2013. The loop has been described as, “A tough and very lumpy cookie that takes in the beautiful Coniston Water and the immensely challenging Wyrnose Pass…” This route is for accomplished cyclists only. Read more.
On the water
Sir Donald Campbell and friends with Bluebird K7
The Lake District has attracted lovers of water sports and other activities for longer than it’s been a holiday destination. The fact the area has a plethora of lakes, rivers, brooks, streams and tarns make it an unsurprising choice. Even the water speed record was attempted several times on Coniston Water, and you can’t get more extreme than that, sports-wise.
Swallows and Amazons
Small sailing boats on Ullswater remind visitors of the classic children’s book and film Swallows and Amazons too. Try out some canoeing or kayaking over calm waters, or perhaps a bit of paddleboarding? On the more open lakes, such as Lake Windermere, where winds create a more unpredictable swell, windsurfing and sailing are both available at various spots. Fishing is a popular pursuit up and down the National Park.
The Lake District has no shortage of visitor attractions and places of historical interest. It has attracted artists and writers for years and years – the area has some great all-weather venues for all the family.
- Hilltop – The National Trust managed and owned former home of Beatrix Potter
- Dove Cottage – The former home of the poet William Wordsworth
- The World of Beatrix Potter – Fantastic family attraction for fans of Beatrix Potter’s characters and books
- Windermere Steam Boat Museum – Still under reconstruction, once this venue reopens it will be a state of the art attraction with a large collection of launches
- The Ruskin Museum – See the wreckage of Donald Campbell’s Bluebird K7
- Derwent Pencil Museum – As featured in the Brit-flick Sightseers, this is the worlds’ largest collection of lead pencils known to man
- Coast Aquarium – Visit the Solway Coast and this lovely collection of native and tropical sea life
- Lakeland Wildlife Oasis – Meet and interact with exotic wildlife. You could be a zoo keeper for a day
The Lake District National Park has inspired writers of fine literature for centuries. Most literary fans could probably name the big three: William Wordsworth, Beatrix Potter, and Arthur Ransome. There is also a high number of related places of historical interest to each of these figures.
William Wordsworth – Visit Wordsworth House & memorial (in Cockermouth), Ann Tyson’s House (Hawkshead), and in or near Grasmere: Dove Cottage, Allan Bank, Rydal Mount, Dora’s Field, and St Oswald’s Church where the family is buried.
Beatrix Potter – Visit Hilltop, the Beatrix Potter Gallery, Wray Castle, The World of Beatrix Potter, St Herbert’s Island, Derwent Water and so much more.
Arthur Ransome – Visit the locations that inspired his most famous children’s novel, Swallows and Amazons including Peel Island on Coniston Water, Bowness-on-Windermere, the Old Man of Coniston, Silver Holme, and Friar’s Crag. Why not head to the Coniston Boating Centre to hire a boat and embark on your own waterborne adventure. Read more.
Places to eat and drink
The Lake District is a superb location for gastronomes to head to. There are several exquisite fine dining establishments waiting to be visited.
Places to go
- L’Enclume - Simon Rogan’s Michelin-star awarded establishment, L’Enclume, is a must for any serious foodie – also consider Rogan & Company, and The Pig & Whistle.
- Holbeck Ghyll - Overlooking Windermere it has a long-standing reputation for quality dishes with a Gallic spin.
- Drunken Duck Inn – Near Hawkshead, this is the original gastropub for the region and offers twists on traditional English concoctions.
- Hooked – This fish and seafood bistro is found on the banks of Lake Windermere. Look out for shrimps from Morecambe Bay on the menu.
- The Pheasant Inn – Take your dog for a pint and a plate of fine food at the bistro. Formal dining is also offered.
Safety and responsible preparation
Fell and mountain safety is important. Some areas of the Lake District are hard to reach without proper training, apparel and a peak fitness. The very best views are hard won such as the summits of Scafell and Helvellyn.
Before you go
Before setting off on a walk invest in maps and walking guide books; the latter will indicate the level of difficulty and will allow you to choose the best routes for you.
Stay safe by following these simple rules when fell walking.
- Obtain a reliable local weather forecast before you set off and plan a route suitable for forecast conditions.
- Check your equipment before leaving: take waterproofs, spare warm clothing, hat & gloves, food and drink, a map, a compass and a survival bag.
- Learn basic mountain skills, particularly navigation.
- If weather conditions turn bad, turn back.
- Don't rely on mobile phones. Reception is patchy the further into the wilds you venture.
We have a superb range of Lake District holiday cottages throughout the National Park. Why not visit our collection to feel inspired?