The Lake District really needs no introduction. As one of the UK’s National Parks, it welcomes 19 million visitors a year. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017. Covering 912 square miles, it has a cornucopia of lakes, forests and mountains known as fells. Let us take you to its most stunning places to visit.
You can hear your soul breathe up here. Although all those millions of visitors can make certain parts of the Lake District very busy at times, there are always spots to stretch your legs, and let your eyes rest on the glories of the landscape. We’ll show you where to go in the Lake District.
- 1 What To Expect In the Lake District National Park
- 2 What To Pack For the Lake District
- 3 Getting Around The Lake District
- 4 Lake Windermere and its surroundings
- 5 Top Attractions In The Lake District Around Windermere
- 6 Coniston Water And The Old Man Of Coniston
- 7 Climb or Walk Up Scafell Pike: Highest Mountain In England
- 8 Grasmere: The Loveliest Spot
- 9 Keswick and Derwentwater
- 10 Planning Your Trip To The Lake District And Beyond
What To Expect In the Lake District National Park
This is England’s largest National Park, covering 912 square miles. It runs 36 miles north to south and 30 miles east to west. If you’re looking to explore the mountains, you’ll find plenty here. The highest is Scafell Pike at 3210 feet, followed by Scafell, Helvellyn, Skiddaw, Great End, Bowfell, Great Gable, Nethermost Pike and Catstycam. Beyond this, there’s a total of at least 200 fell tops, many explored by the writer and walker Alfred Wainwright.
You’ve also got a beautifully jewelled collection of lakes punctuating the mountains. The largest is Windermere – in fact the largest lake in England – followed by Ullswater, Derwentwater, Bassenthwaite Lake, Coniston Water, Haweswater, Thirlmere, Ennerdale Water, Wastwater, Crummock Water, Esthwaite Water, Buttermere, Grasmere, Loweswater, Rydal Water and Brotherswater. You might be amused to note that strictly speaking, there is only one lake in the Lakes (Bassenthwaite), with the rest being meres or waters. The deepest body of water is Wastwater, an incredible 243 feet to the bottom.
I mention all these lakes and fells so you can gauge just how much there is to explore here. You also have the beautiful tarns of the Lakes. Derived from the old Norse for pool, some tarns can be as big as or larger than lakes. Tarn Hows is among the largest. More than a tenth of the National Park is covered by woodland, of which just under half is broadleaf.
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What To Pack For the Lake District
This is the big outdoors, so be ready. In all the years I’ve been visiting the Lakes, I’ve never found the need for smart attire. So although you don’t need to abandon any sense of style, in truth all you really need is gear that lets you enjoy all there is to offer here.
Let’s start with the weather. Despite the 2018 heatwave, England is generally a showery country year round, with damp days happening from a third to two thirds of the month depending on the season. Don’t forget that the Lake District includes Seathwaite, the wettest inhabited place in England, getting 3552mm of rain annually. Even in summer, you’ll probably find the need for waterproofs. It’s also good to have a second option, in case your gear is drying out from the day before.
Stay warm too. The highest temperature in July is around 20 degrees centigrade and 7 degrees in January. Add some chilly breezes on the hills and across the lakes, and you’ll be wanting some snuggly layers. Expect temperatures to hover around freezing in January.
Depending on what you choose to do, you don’t necessarily need hiking boots. But you will need some footwear capable of walks, wanders and hopping on and off watercraft. Aside from that, casual outfits rule. If you’ve forgotten any gear, the shops of the Lakes will happily provide it. Ambleside especially has plenty of outdoor outfitters.
Getting Around The Lake District
If you are driving, you will need the M6 motorway which passes through the edge of the Lake District. Follow the brown heritage signs from the motorway itself.
The Lake District, despite its beautiful remoteness, is easily accessed by public transport. Mainline rail via the West Coast Line will take you as far as Oxenholme (signposted “Oxenholme for The Lakes”), Penrith and Carlisle. You can take the branch line to Kendal, Staveley and Windermere stations. There is also a direct train from Manchester to Windermere.
Then a network of buses takes over, moving you onwards to Bowness, Brockhole, Ambleside or Grasmere. Local travel details are here at Go Lakes, where you’ll find interactive maps to plan your journey. Don’t forget to add a steamer ride or two to your transport choices. You can find all the ways to get on the waters of the Lake District here.
Lake Windermere and its surroundings
England’s largest lake really needs no introduction. At ten and a half miles long and 219 feet deep, it’s a beautiful and much pictured part of the Lake District. As befits the most famous and popular part of the National Park, it can be extremely busy, so don’t expect to have the place to yourself. There are activities galore to entertain you here.
The town of Windermere is a mile from the lake. The railway branch line terminates here, and you can pick up a network of bus connections to take you across the Lake District. The town is busy, and has lots of shops and a supermarket to stock you up before you go exploring.
A mile inland from Windermere, you’ll find the busy and bustling town of Ambleside. Listen closely, and the background noise is the crunching of walking boots on stone. This is a key place to buy your outdoor gear, and there are many more shops in which to treat yourself: bookstores, gift shops and delis. You’ll find a large number of equally busy and bustling cafes and restaurants here. Ambleside is the start and end point for many walks, and a great place to refuel.
Waterhead: Full of Watercraft and Waterfowl
I loved charming Waterhead. It’s a fairly small spot, mainly occupied by a few cafes and restaurants and a jetty for boats. You’ll find a lot of waterfowl, whose interactions with each other can keep you entertained for hours.
Halfway down the lake, and one and a half miles downhill from Windermere Station, steamers run along the lake from here. You can also hire rowing boats to take to the water under your own power.
Top Attractions In The Lake District Around Windermere
The Lake District centre at Brockhole has a lot to entertain families, including a famous adventure playground. If a wander and a picnic sounds like a good time, then try Fell Foot Park, which has access to the lake shore. There are picnic areas here, and you can hire rowing boats.
For a great sense of tradition, you can take a trip on the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway, where a steam engine pulls you the three and a half miles into the Leven Valley. And if you’ve always wanted to be in charge of a chuffing, puffing train, you can arrange that too.
Beatrix Potter is one of the Lakes’ most famous former residents. Her tales of personable small animals are legendary. You can visit the World of Beatrix Potter with its website wonderfully named hop, skip, jump. You can meet all her regular characters here, including Squirrel Nutkin, and Peter Rabbit in his own garden. There’s also her home at Hill Top and Gallery, now owned by the National Trust. Hill Top is a seventeenth century farmhouse surrounded by beautiful gardens. Its website has a downloadable trail that can take you in the footsteps of the author.
Stott Park Bobbin Mill is a working mill. As you may gather from the number of sheep you’ll spot in and around the Lake District, this was an important area for the wool trade, spinning and weaving. This mill produced millions of wooden bobbins for the mills of Lancashire. You can see the whole process from tree to bobbin. The smell of wood being worked is gorgeous.
Coniston Water And The Old Man Of Coniston
To my mind there are two distinct parts of the Lake District. There are the wonderfully busy parts, filled with excited family chatter and lots of attractions. Then there are the places where the stillness itself makes intricate sound. Welcome to Coniston Water.
The Old Man Of Coniston
Coniston itself is about half the size of Windermere. From the village, you can hire boats and bikes. Then there’s the wonderful hike to the Old Man of Coniston, a fell standing 2, 634 feet to the west of the village. It’s a site of former slate mining over a period of 800 years. You’ll find evidence of that activity on its many well-marked paths to the summit. You’ll also meet a lot of sheep, whose grazing home this is. They’re not shy in approaching you, hoping for food. On your ascent, you’ll find becks and tarns and cascades of falls. On a clear day, you can see the coast at Morecambe Bay and the Isle of Man from the summit.
Read more: Find out about a magnificent 60 things to do in the Isle of Man
You can read more about the Old Man of Coniston walk here. It wouldn’t be right to mention the fells without tipping our walking hats to the legendary Alfred Wainwright, whose series of walking guides have taken many of us in his footsteps.
Brantwood and the Ruskin Museum
Brantwood was the home of John Ruskin, the poet and painter who influenced the Arts and Crafts movement. His house is now a historic house museum and centre for the arts. Among other things to do here, you can make the rocks sing. There’s a four octave lithophone made of rocks which can be played by visitors. The Ruskin Museum is full of curiosities, including an exhibit devoted to the children’s book Swallows and Amazons, which was set on Coniston Water, and an exhibit telling the tale of Sir Donald Campbell’s world speed record attempt in Bluebird.
Climb or Walk Up Scafell Pike: Highest Mountain In England
This, the highest mountain in England, is in the Southern Fells. It is part of the horseshoe of fells opening to Eskdale in Cumbria. Its summit plateau has crags on all sides, and is home to the highest standing water in England, Broad Crag Tarn.
There are many walking and rock climbing routes here. The shortest walking route taking 3-4 hours is from Wasdale Head. Up on top, you can see from the Mourne Mountains to Snowdonia in good weather. You can read more about the walking routes up Scafell Pike here. And if you want to add the tallest mountain in Scotland to your list of peaks summited, you’ll find a great guide to climbing Ben Nevis here.
Grasmere: The Loveliest Spot
The poet William Wordsworth lived in Grasmere for 14 years, describing it as “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found”. I can’t argue much. The area is associated with the Lake Poets, and is responsible for a whole lot of creative work inspired by its beauty. And also inspired by Grasmere’s famous gingerbread, for which both Wordsworth and his sister admitted constant cravings.
Today you can visit Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage in the hamlet of Townend. It is said that his visitor Samuel Taylor Coleridge was known to be muttering The Rime of the Ancient Mariner while wandering the fells. Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott were also said to be regular breakfasters at The Swan coaching inn on what is now the A591, clearly a place to get inspired over a full English.
Grasmere village is overlooked by Helm Crag, also known as the Lion and the Lamb, or the Old Lady at the Piano. A large number of walks begin in the village, including the ascent of Helm Crag, the route to Fairfield and a short ascent to Easedale Tarn. Visit in August, and you might catch the famous Grasmere Sports, including Cumberland wrestling, fell running and hound trails.
Keswick and Derwentwater
There has been a market in Keswick for more than 700 years. Its square featuring broad timber-framed houses with sturdy yards at the back was intended to deter marauding Scots. Originally a town whose wealth was built on mining, Keswick is now a visitor haven. Another preferred spot of the Lake Poets, this small town is noted for the Moot Hall with its one handed clock and the Alhambra which is one of Britain’s oldest cinemas. If you are a collector of unusual experiences, you’ll find the Derwent Pencil Museum here, home of the world’s first pencil and the biggest colouring pencil in the world.
Castlerigg Stone Circle
There’s evidence of prehistoric occupation at the Neolithic Castlerigg stone circle, one of the oldest stone circles in Europe. It is set in the raised centre of a natural amphitheatre, giving it splendid surroundings too. From the circle you can see the fells of Helvellyn, Skiddaw, Grasmore and Biencathra. Some stones in the circle have been aligned with the autumn equinox sunrise and lunar positions. According to legend, it’s impossible to count the stones in Castlerigg, as every attempt will end with a different number. Officially, it’s 40. Your count may vary.
This is one of the main bodies of water in the Lake District, and lies south of Keswick. It is fed and drained by the River Derwent, and is three miles long, a mile wide and 72 feet deep. The lake is surrounded by wooded fells, and there is a passenger launch plying its trade across the water. You’ll find seven marinas to explore.
Unusually you’ll find an inhabited island on the lake. This is a tenanted property of the National Trust, and is open on five days each year between April and August. The trip to Derwent Island House is also unique for a National Trust property: you’ll need to paddle there by canoe. The canoes are paired for stability, and come with instructors, so fear not if your paddling skills are untested. This is not your average day out, so there’s even a downloadable sheet of FAQs provided to help manage your journey. The canoes can accommodate a maximum of 18 people, so if you’re interested in visiting, make your plans early.
Planning Your Trip To The Lake District And Beyond
You’ll find detailed information about the Lake District’s many places to visit at the Lake District National Park website. There’s more information about the area at Visit Cumbria.
If you’ve enjoyed this National Park, head on over to the Yorkshire Dales with us. We’ve also taken the epic Settle Carlisle train journey and explored the beautiful Forest of Bowland, one of our hidden travel treasures in England. With all this English exploration taking place, you really shouldn’t miss this collection of Essentially English Experiences: 25 wonderful things to see and do as recommended by travel writers. You won’t be surprised to find the Lake District among them.
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