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.
📌 The lakes of the Lake District
📌 The coast
📌 Towns and villages
📌 Enjoy the great outdoors
📌 Dog-friendly Lake District
📌 Things to do
📌 Follow in famous footsteps
📌 Food and drink
The lakes of the Lake District
The Lake District gets its name from 16 magical lakes that are dotted around the region. Did you know thought that Bassenthwaite is the only official named lake in the Lake District - the others are all have mere or water in their name instead. Whatever their name, however, these beautiful bodies of water are the true essence of the Lake District and home to boats, shoreline walks and glorious views.
The largest of the Lake District lakes, Windermere is surrounded by popular Lake District towns and villages including Ambleside and Bowness. The Windermere Ferry crosses the middle of the lake from Bowness to Sawrey and Windermere Lake Cruises run a number of hop on, hop off services with calling points including the magical Wray Castle and Brockhole - the Lake District National Park Visitor Centre.
Coniston Water is a majestic lake that sits amongst Wainwright peaks that include the Old Man of Coniston and old coppermine valleys which are full of caves and caverns. The lake is famous for Donald Campbell’s ill-fated water speed record attempt and as the setting for Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons. One of the finest ways to travel across the water is on the National Trust’s Steam Yacht Gondola, a restored Victorian boat that will take you the full length of Coniston Water to Monk Coniston, a former estate of Beatrix Potter that lies at the top of the lake.
The second largest lake in the Lake District, Ullswater is around nine miles long and surrounded by gently rolling hills and dramatic mountain ranges that are peppered with peaceful villages and rural hamlets. Ullswater’s natural attractions include the beautiful Aira Force waterfall and The Ullswater Way is a scenic 20-mile walking route around the water which takes in Ullswater’s pretty villages. If you don’t fancy walking you can travel in style on a relaxing Ullswater Steamer which calls at Pooley Bridge, Glenridding and Aira Force Pier.
Other lakes in the Lake District National Park:
As well as the traditional lakes, look out for Lake District Tarns which are mountain lakes and pools. A couple of bigger than the lakes themselves with Blea Tarn the largest in the National Park.
On the water
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. 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 also a popular pursuit up and down the National Park.
The Lake District may be better known for its mountains and lakes but it’s also home to a wonderful stretch of coastline that encompasses beaches, wild salt marshes, nature reserves, and the dramatic sandstone St Bees Head.
The only coastal town that’s actually within the boundaries of the Lake District National Park, Ravenglass can be traced back to Roman times and is home to Muncaster Castle and the heritage Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway. The stretch of beach at Ravenglass has some wonderful mountain views with dunes at nearby Drigg and traditional fisherman’s cottages lining the beachfront.
St Bees Head
Located on the western edge of Cumbria, St Bees Head is an RSPB nature reserve that’s home to thousands of seabirds including black guillemots and nesting puffins. This dramatic sandstone cliff is the starting point for the Wainwright Coast to Coast walk and has wonderful views towards the Lake District and out to the Irish Sea. There’s also a good stretch of beach at St Bees and a selection of small rock pools that are great fun for children to explore
A peaceful seaside town that’s located just seven miles from Windermere at the edge of the Cartmel peninsula, Grange-over-Sands has glorious parks, several nature reserves and lots of charm with a main Victorian promenade that runs along a wide stretch of saltmarsh. There are lovely views across Morecambe Bay and lots of scenic walks to try
Towns and villages
You can only go so far in any country without happening upon a town or village and the Lake District is no different. The towns and villages 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.
Keswick is a large market town that’s framed by Skiddaw at the north eastern tip of Derwentwater. This bustling town has a good choice of shops, pubs and restaurants and Keswick attractions include the Puzzling Place, the Derwent Pencil Museum and Theatre by the Lake.
Bowness-on-Windermere is located on the shores of the lake and is a popular destination for visitors to the Lake District with a bustling boating marina, pier and lots of places to eat and drink including cocktail bars such as the Fizzy Tarte. You can also catch the Windermere Ferry across the lake from Bowness to Sawrey.
Hawkshead is a pretty village with lots of history that’s located close to Hill Top, between Coniston and Windermere. Hawkshead is closed to cars so it’s easy to amble around the ancient courtyards and see what gems you can discover amongst the courtyards and cobbled streets.
One of the loveliest villages around, Cartmel is home to a famous sticky toffee pudding, an impressive Norman priory and an array of pretty limestone buildings dotted around a maze of winding streets and gently flowing streams. There’s also some rather good restaurants in the village, including Simon Rogan’s L’enclume which now holds two Michelin stars.
Other towns and villages worth visiting in the Lake District include:
Enjoy the great outdoors
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.
Lake District walks
The Lake District is a top destination for walkers of all ages and abilities. From gentle strolls to challenging climbs, there’s an assortment of scenic walks to try during your next Lake District getaway. 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.
Tarn Hows is one of the most popular Lake District beauty spots and there are a selection of walks that take in this serene body of water including routes from Coniston, Hawkshead and past the pretty Tom Gill waterfall.
Scafell Peak is the highest mountain in the Lake District but there are lots of other climbs to tackle including The Old Man of Coniston, Skiddaw, Blencathra and Orrest Head which at 152 metres is a perfect choice for beginners.
There are a variety of Miles without Stiles routes in the Lake District which are suitable for pushchairs, wheelchairs and little legs so that everyone can get out and enjoy the great outdoors. Routes to try include:
- Elterwater to Skelwith Bridge, a 2.4 mile route which has wildlife, woodland and shoreline sections
- The western shore of Lake Windermere which is a smooth stone waterside route with some perfect picnic spots
- A pathway around the flank of Catbells which is framed by Skiddaw and Blencathra with stunning views of Derwentwater
Shoreline walks include routes around Ullswater, Coniston, Rydal Water and a four mile walk around peaceful Buttermere with a selection of spots to stop for a picnic and beautiful views along the way.
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.
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.
If you don’t want to transport your own bike to the region, there are quite a few establishments that hire equipment and apparel.
Climb every mountain
The Lake District is full of peaks to climb and the very best views are hard won such as the summits of Scafell and Helvellyn. Fell and mountain safety is important though so 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.
Ways to stay safe
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.
Fun in the forest
Within the Lake District National Park you’ll find both Grizedale Forest and Whinlatter Forest Park which both have walking and cycle trails through the trees, children’s play areas and an assortment of things to do. Grizedale Forest is located in the heart of the Lake District with Coniston and Windermere both nearby while Whinlatter is a mountain forest in the quieter northern lakes that looks out over Bassenthwaite and Derwentwater.
- Enjoy Go Ape tree top adventures and Segway trails at both forest parks
- Grizedale and Whinlatter are ideal spots for stargazing in the dark skies of the Lake District
- Look out for some special forest sculptures at Grizedale
- Ride the Lake District’s longest purpose built mountain bike trail at Whinlatter
The visitor centres at both forests have parking, cafes, activity packs for children and lots of information on the various trails and activities available.
As the Lake District is one of the UK’s National Parks there are lot’s of natural wildlife habitats and dramatic landscapes where you can experience the stunning beauty of Mother Nature at her finest.
Don’t be surprised if you spot some grazing Herwick sheep as you explore the Lake District National Park. These hardy animals are a breed of domestic sheep that are native to the Lake District and are able to graze on some of Cumbria’s highest peaks. They are typically found in the areas surrounding Coniston including around the popular Tarn Hows.
Red squirrels are native to the UK and can mostly be found within forests within the north of England. These specially protected creatures are flourishing in several parts of the Lake District so you may well get to spot some during your visit. The best time of year for spotting red squirrels is during autumn and top places to see them include Grasmere and the woodland around much-loved waterfall, Aira Force.
Red deer are the UK’s largest land mammal and can be seen in the Ennerdale Valley and around the south eastern shore of Ullswater. The smaller roe deer can also be found throughout the Lake District and the early morning or late evening is the best time to spot these shy creatures.
Bluebells, Damsons and Waterfalls
During late spring the Lake District is filled with rich carpets of bluebells and there's a number of places where these beautiful blue flowers are particularly prevalent:
- Rannerdale is well-known for it's bluebell valleys which you can see in their full glory on a walk from Rannerdale to Buttermere
- Low Wood in the Wasdale Valley is a wonderful bluebell woodland that's close to Scafell Pike
- Skelghyll Woods is close to Ambleside and is home to some of Britain's tallest trees and fields of blooming bluebell
The Lyth and Winster Valleys are famous for their Westmorland damsons and each year the landscape of these areas are awash with white blossoms and rich purple fruit.
The landscape of the Lake District National Park includes woodland, valleys, streams and cascading water which have combined in places to create some spectacular waterfalls. Some of the pretty Lake District waterfalls worth seeking out include:
- Stock Ghyll Force which is a short walk from Ambleside and has special access points for pushchair/wheelchair users
- Scale Force is the highest waterfall in the Lake District and is tucked away in a tree-lined gorge, a couple of miles from Buttermere
- Colwith Force has an enchanting woodland setting that’s just off the Cumbria Way near Skelwith Bridge
Dog-friendly Lake District
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. Another great dog-friendly walk is a walk up Muncaster Fell which you can combine with a trip on the Ravengalss and Eskdale Railway where four-legged friends are welcome. The estuary at Ravenglass when the train arrives has sandy expanses and lots of space for pooches to run around.
There's an abundance of dog-friendly pubs and cafes in the Lake District where you can call in for refreshments and attractions that permit pets include the Steam Yacht Gondola, Lakeland Miniature Village and Lowther Castle. Here are just some of the other dog-friendly places to try:
- The Black Bull Inn in Coniston is a traditional dog-friendly coaching inn that dates back 400 years
- The Flying Pig is close to the shores of Windermere and provides complimentary treats for canines
- The Copper Pot is a great option for a tasty lunchtime bite and serves local English Lakes ice cream
- Well-behaved dogs get a special treat at the Hazelmere Cafe and Bakery at Grange over Sands
- Four-legged friends can explore the grounds and gardens of Wray Castle and Muncaster Castle
There's also lots of dog-friendly holiday cottages where pooches can rest their weary paws after fun-filled days of exploring the Lake District.
Things to do
Castles and historic houses
The Lake District has magnificent castles in stunning settings, stately homes with gorgeous gardens and lots of interesting National Trust sites to visit during your short break or holiday. Here are just some of our favourites:
- Muncaster Castle is a 13th century castle near Ravenglass that’s believed to be haunted. Extensive grounds include play areas and a wonderful hawk and owl centre.
- Holker Hall is a large country house near Cartmel that has wonderful artwork and furniture throughout beautifully renovated rooms. The 23 acre gardens include colourful borders, tree trails and a curious labyrinth.
- Sizergh Castle is a medieval stately home and this National Trust site includes elaborate oak panelling in the Elizabethan Inlaid Chamber, centuries-old portraits and ancient woodland walks.
- Wray Castle is a mock-gothic Victorian castle complete with fairytale turrets and towers that’s nestled at the northern tip of Lake Windermere. Inside the castle is a Peter Rabbit adventure room for little ones and outdoors there are numerous cycle trails through the grounds.
There never needs to be a dull moment in the Lake District - there’s plenty to keep everyone entertained during your next short break or holiday.
The Lakes Aquarium is located at the bottom of Windermere near the Lakeside jetty and includes a number of walk-through tunnels showcasing local Lake District wildlife and exotic sea creatures from around the world.
Brockhole is run by the Lake District National Park authority and the large grounds are jam packed with fun activities to try out including mini golf, archery, treetop nets, boat hire and an adventure playground. In total there are 30 acres to explore which include historic Arts and Crafts gardens and a Beatrix Potter trail.
Lake District Wildlife Park
This large wildlife park is located to the north of Lake Bassenthwaite and features around 100 different species within 24 acres that are framed by the backdrop of Skiddaw. Get up close to meerkats, lemurs and zebras, watch bird of prey flying displays and learn about looking after animals from the park’s keepers.
Honister Slate Mine
Any daredevils in the family will love a day out at the Honister Slate Mine. Climb up the inside of the mine, explore fascinating caverns and follow the route that miners would once have taken on the thrilling Via Ferrata. The Via Ferrata Classic is suitable for most people but children must be at least 10 years old to tackle this climb.
Lake District for grown ups
There's no need to let the kids have all the fun; the Lake District has lots for adults to enjoy too whether you travel solo, with a group of friends or as part of a couple.
Cartmel Racecourse sees nine exciting race days each year so can have a flutter on the horses in one of the most scenic settings around.
The Lakes Distillery
The Lakes Distillery is based in a Victorian farmstead on the shores of Lake Bassenthwaite and uses classic techniques and pure Lake District water to produce an award-winning collection of whisky, gin and vodka. Take a tour of the distillery to learn more about the processes involved before sampling the finished products.
Theatre by the Lake
Nestled on the shores of Bassenthwaite near Keswick, Theatre by the Lake has one of the finest settings around and a programme of top quality shows throughout the year. Each year the theatre presents up to nine of their own productions including a summer repertory and a Christmas pantomime.
Romantic Lake District
Sweeping landscapes, tranquil lakes and cosy cottages make the Lake District the perfect setting for a romantic break. You can hire a rowing boat for two, enjoy a picnic on the shores of Lake Buttermere.
Follow in famous footsteps...
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 are a number of places to visit where you can follow in their footsteps and see the places that inspired some of their works.
Hill Top is a 17th century farmhouse that Beatrix Potter bought with the proceeds from The Tale of Peter Rabbit. The National Trust site is full of Beatrix’s things and has a gorgeous cottage garden that provided inspiration for many of her books.
The octagonal Lingholm Walled Garden sits on the same spot as the kitchen gardens that Beatrix Potter visited while writing her classic Peter Rabbit tale. Beatrix Potter credited the Lingholm Kitchen Garden as the inspiration for Mr McGregor’s garden and you’ll find vegetable crops, herbaceous borders, a tea room and a Beatrix Potter outdoor gallery.
Hawkshead is a Lake District village that has links to both Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth. Amongst the characterful clusters of whitewashed houses on the car-free central square you’ll find William Wordsworth’s old schoolroom and the Beatrix Potter gallery. It’s well worth having a mooch around the archways and alleyways while in the village then calling in a cafe for tea and cake.
Rydal Mount and Gardens is the historic family home of William Wordsworth and it’s well worth taking a guided tour of the property before exploring the glorious five acre gardens. Highlights include enjoying an afternoon cream tea in Wordsworth’s dining room and seeking out the nearby Rydal Falls waterfall which was a favourite spot for the poet.
“The loveliest spot that man hath ever found” was how Wordsworth described Grasmere and you can visit two of his former homes in the village, Dove Cottage and Allan Bank.
- Dove Cottage is the house Wordsworth created many of his famous works and is now a museum dedicated to the poet.
- The National Trust’s Allan Bank is a wonderful Georgian property that has wonderful views over the surrounding lakes and fell and you may well spot some native red squirrels during a woodland walk through the grounds.
Visit the locations that inspired Arthur Ransome's 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.
Places to eat and drink
The Lake District is a veritable feast for foodies with local delicacies, seasonal produce and lots of places to stop for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Lake District food favourites include:
- Cumberland sausage
- Grasmere gingerbread
- Cartmel sticky toffee pudding
- Kendal mint cake
- Westmorland damsons
Most of the Lake District’s cafes, dining pubs and bistros use local, seasonal produce in their dishes so whether you prefer casual lunches or fine dining suppers, you’ll find something to whet your appetite in Cumbria.
- The Forest Side in Grasmere uses the Lakeland landscape as inspiration for their Michelin-star dishes
- The Old Stamp House near Ambleside has Cartmel valley pheasant on the menu and is housed in a historic building with links to William Wordsworth
- The Masons Arms is a characterful 16th dining pub located in the Winster Valley with local fare that includes Westmorland damsons
- The Cuckoo Brow Inn is just a short walk from Hill Top and features hearty dishes and roaring log fires
We have a superb range of Lake District holiday cottages throughout the National Park. Why not visit our collection to feel inspired?
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing,
please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.