8 Things To Do In The Lake District: Complete Guide

Explore quaint towns and villages, go hiking amongst incredible natural scenery, take a boat trip on Lake Windermere, admire the views over Bassenthwaite Lake and try delicious local produce. These are just some of the top things to do in the Lake District, continue reading for more!
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Located in the heart of Cumbria, with a size of 2,362 square kilometres is England’s largest national park; the Lake District.

The Lake District is renowned as being one of the most stunning areas in the UK full to the brim with incredible natural scenery, endless mountain peaks and countless lakes. It’s a massive playground for adventure enthusiasts, walkers and nature lovers!

Going hiking is one of the best things to do in the Lake District rewarding you with amazing views over the surrounding mountains, Lake District, England, UK
The Lake District is full of incredible natural scenery

Scattered around the Lake District are numerous small, lively towns which make a great base from which to explore. Here, you’ll find small boutiques, cosy pubs specialising in local produce, museums, quaint narrow streets and a wide range of outdoor activities. We’ll discuss these in more detail later.

In this guide, we’re going to cover the top things to do in Lake District to make sure you make the most from your stay so read on to see the very best this area has to offer!

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Things to do in the Lake District

Contents

Take a Boat Trip on Lake Windermere

We’re going to start our guide off with one of our favourite things to do in the Lake District; a boat trip on Lake Windermere.

Clear blue skies and the calm Lake Windermere with dramatic mountains in the background, Lake District National Park, England
Lake Windermere is surrounded by beautiful scenery

Lake Windermere is England’s largest lake at 17 kilometres long, 1.6 kilometres wide and 67 metres deep.

Windermere is also the name of one of the lake district’s small towns, which lies almost 2 kilometres from the shoreline. Bowness-on-Windermere is located along the shoreline and is one of the most popular places to visit in the Lake District.

Bowness is where the most popular jetties for boat trips are, however, you can also depart from Ambleside, Brockhole and Lakeside Pier. There’s a range of routes to choose from varying from 45 minutes to 3 hours and offer different points of interest.

Wherever you choose to depart from, you’ll be treated to spectacular mountain views, secluded bays and numerous wooded islands.

The wooded islands and mountains surrounding the calm water of Lake Windermere, Lake District National Park, England
There are many wooded islands scattered throughout the lake

Each cruise has an engaging commentary on the points of interest, history and attractions around the lake and surrounding areas.

There are 14 islands sitting peacefully in Lake Windermere. The largest is Belle Isle which, in 1250 was the seat of the Lord of the Manor and a Royalist stronghold during the Civil War.

It was such a peaceful and beautiful experience sitting on the top deck in the sun with the wind blowing through our hair as we took in the majesty of the scenery around us.

Helen sat on a boat looking out across Lake Windermere and the surrounding mountains is one of the top things to do in the Lake District
A boat trip on Lake Windermere is one of the top things to do in the Lake District

Stroll Along Derwentwater

Next on our list of the best things to do in the Lake District is to stroll along the shores of Derwentwater.

Surrounding Derwentwater is some of the most beautiful scenery in the Lake District. Head to the fantastic Friar’s Crag viewpoint jutting out into the lake and see Cat Bells towering above, numerous historical islands and endless mountain scenery that envelopes the lake.

Friar's Crag Viewpoint across Derwentwater to Cat Bells, Lake District National Park, England
Friar's Crag has one of the best viewpoints across Derwentwater

You can either walk part way along the shore to the viewpoint and back if you’re short on time or, take the day and complete the 16-kilometre Derwentwater Walk which will take you around the lake.

The paths are well-maintained and flat and pass through the ancient woodlands that surround the lake. En route is plenty of picnic stops, cafes and restaurants.

Go Hiking

It goes without saying that one of the absolute must-do things to do in the Lake District is to go hiking! What better way to experience the beauty of the Lake District’s landscapes than from high above looking over endless mountain ranges, piercing blue lakes and picturesque towns?

Hiking the Old Man of Coniston is one of the best things to do in the Lake District with an incredible view over Low Water and the surrounding mountains, England
Hiking in the Lake District allows you to see some of the most incredible scenery!

There are countless walking trails to choose from ranging from easy, short trails great for the whole family to taking on England’s highest peak; Scafell Pike.

Whatever trail you decide, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular natural beauty that will have you reaching for your camera every few seconds.

Andy stood on the summit of Orrest Head looking over Lake Windermere in the Lake District, England, UK
Orrest Head Viewpoint

One of the best hikes in the Lake District is the Old Man of Coniston which will lead you past beautiful alpine lakes, through remnants of disused quarries and up to a summit towering above Coniston Water and the neighbouring town.

Helen stood at the summit of the Old Man of Coniston overlooking the surrounding mountainscapes in the Lake District, England
The peak of the Old Man of Coniston

Explore Bowness-on-Windermere

Bowness-on-Windermere (or Bowness) is one of the most popular towns in the Lake District welcoming millions of visitors every year.

Sitting on the shores of Lake Windermere, in the heart of the Lake District, it’s a haven for outdoor activities both on and off the lake. Water sports enthusiasts will enjoy the myriad of activities on offer from sailing and kayaking to stand-up paddleboarding and boat hire and so much more!

On land, Bowness is surrounded by walking and biking trails leading you through some of the best scenery in the Southern Lakes. For an easy short walk, head up to Orrest Head for incredible panoramic views over Lake Windermere.

Helen stood at the peak of the Orrest Head Viewpoint overlooking Lake Windermere in the Lake District National Park, England
Orrest Head has some of the best views over Lake Windermere

After a day on the lake or in the mountains, explore the charming town on foot and browse the numerous independent boutiques sourcing locally made products with everything from souvenirs, jewellery and gin to beers, jams and sticky toffee puddings. There’s even a year-round Christmas Shop!! 

Bowness is also home to endless bars, cafes and restaurants perfect to try some tasty local food and fueling up for your activity-filled days.

Appreciate the Local Produce

As well as being a huge outdoor playground, the Lake District is the ideal foodie destination.

The area is home to many regional specialities, including Cumberland sausage, Kendal mint cake, sticky toffee pudding, Grasmere gingerbread, damsons, Herdwick lamb and so many more!

These traditional foods have been adapted over the years with some unique twists and flavours such as Kendal mint cake liqueur and damson ketchup; ideal as gifts for friends and family at home.

There are many places you can try these traditional foods including supermarkets, speciality food stores, markets, cafes and farm shops, however, one of the best places is a cosy countryside pub which you’ll have no trouble stumbling into in the Lake District!

A cosy pub lunch in Windermere is one of the best things to do in the Lake District with some lamb and a Cumberland sausage, England
A cosy pub lunch with delicious local produce

Admire the View over Bassenthwaite Lake

This is hands down one of the best things to do in the Lake District!

Located in the northwest of the Lake District National Park, Bassenthwaite is one of the quieter areas compared to Bowness and Windemere, making it the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle and really connect with nature.

One of the best views of Bassenthwaite Lake is from the top of Sale Fell. This is a short walk with a slight incline offering an incredible view over Bassenthwaite Lake nestled at the foot of Skiddaw.

Bassenthwaite Lake located at the foot of Skiddaw, Lake District National Park, England
Bassenthwaite Lake located at the foot of Skiddaw

Interestingly, and also rather confusingly, Bassenthwaite Lake is the only official Lake in the Lake District!

Technically, there are more, however, Bassenthwaite is the only one to have the word “Lake” in its title. The others are known as “tarns”, “waters” or “meres”. Even Lake Windermere’s official name is just Windermere.

At 6.4 kilometres long and 1.3 kilometres wide, Bassenthwaite Lake is one of the largest lakes in the Lake District. It’s perfect for some relaxation as no motor craft is allowed on the lake. Sailing, canoeing, paddleboarding, swimming, kayaking and rowing are allowed, however.

Andy and Helen stood at the top of Sale Fell overlooking Bassenthwaite Lake is one of the best things to do in the Lake District National Park, England, UK
One of our favourite views in the Lake District!

Tuck Into Some Delicious Gingerbread

Dating back to 1854, Sarah Nelson invented Grasmere Gingerbread in the village from where it gets its name.

It’s a unique and delicious recipe that’s remained a secret and is enjoyed by food lovers from the four corners of the world.

Today, the shop is run by third-generation owners and it’s rare to not see a queue out the door and down the street of people lining up to enjoy this delicious cross between a biscuit and a cake and the pleasant aroma of freshly baked gingerbread in the air.

The queue outside the Grasmere Gingerbread shop in the Lake District National Park, England, UK
There's often a queue outside the shop it's so popular!
Inside the Grasmere Gingerbread shop in the Lake District National Park, England, UK
Inside the Grasmere Gingerbread shop

If you don’t have time to visit in person, or you loved it so much you want to purchase some after you’ve left, you can also buy some online in their international store.

Hike to Sir John Barrow Monument

Hiking to the Sir John Barrow Monument is one of the lesser-known things to do in the Lake District but if you’re in Ulverston, it’s definitely worth a visit.

Born in Ulverston in 1764, Sir John Barrow was a founding member of the Royal Geographical Society. The monument was built in 1850 to commemorate him.

The monument is located on the peak of Hoad Hill and can easily be seen from miles around. The tower is exactly 100 feet and was intentionally built like a lighthouse to resemble the Eddystone Lighthouse in Devon.

Sir John Barrow Monument standing on top of Hoad Hill looking down over Ulverston, Lake District, England, UK
Sir John Barrow Monument stands atop Hoad Hill over Ulverston

From the monument, there are wonderful views over Ulverston, Morecambe Bay and the surrounding countryside and mountains.

The view from the top of Hoad Hill overlooking Ulverston and Morecambe Bay, Lake District National Park, England, UK
The peak of Hoad Hill overlooking Ulverston and Morecambe Bay

Everything You Need to Know to Visit the Lake District

Where should I stay in the Lake District?

You have many options when deciding where to stay in the Lake District to see the best of what this beautiful region has to offer. Below we’ve highlighted the top areas and a bit about why each would make a great base.
 
Bowness-on-Windermere is the most popular place to stay in the Lake District. People flock to the town to enjoy the many water-based activities Lake Windermere is home to as well as enjoy the charming town’s many independent boutiques, cosy pubs and restaurants and museums.
 
 
Colourful streets and independent businesses of Bowness-on-Windermere, Lake District National Park, England
Bowness is full of independent businesses
A 5-minute drive from Bowness is Windermere, another one of the most popular places to stay in the Lake District. Windermere also has a train station with direct links to Oxenholme and Manchester, so, if you don’t have a car, it’s a perfect spot to base yourself and get the most out of your trip.
 
Bowness has become one of the top centres for outdoor activities in the UK meaning there are numerous tour guides and activity centres right on your doorstep. Again ideal if you don’t have a car or you’d like someone to do the organising for you.
 
Something to be mindful of, however, is as these two areas are the most popular areas to stay in the Lake District, they can get very busy, particularly over the school holidays. They’re also the most expensive places to stay. If you can avoid the holidays, we’d recommend doing so.

Another top place to stay to see the best of the things to do in the Lake District is Ambleside. Ambleside is located at the northern end of Lake Windermere and is a bustling market town perfectly located in the heart of the national park.

Ambleside is a walker’s paradise. Many trails begin near the Waterhead Pier; less than a mile from the town centre. Similar to Bowness and Windermere, you’ll find no shortage of pubs, cafes and restaurants, as well as independent shops, galleries and local produce.

The closest train station to Ambleside is Windermere, approximately 5 miles away and there’s a direct bus between the two in approximately 10 minutes (see below).

The market town of Keswick is the Lake District’s most northern town so, if you’re planning on spending most of your time exploring the North Lakes, Keswick will be your best base.

Located between the calm beauty of Derwentwater and the steep slopes of Skiddaw, Keswick is enveloped in magnificent natural beauty. The town has also become another of the UK’s main centres of outdoor activities with an abundance of tour groups and activity companies right on your doorstep.

The closest train station to Keswick is Penrith, around 27 kilometres away. There’s a bus that connects the two, however, if using Keswick as your base, it would be easier if you had a car.

The last area we’ll mention as a base to explore the best things to do in the Lake District is Ulverston; where Andy spent 5 years living as a teenager!

Ulverston is one of the best places to stay in the Lake District if you want to avoid the mass of crowds that flock to Bowness and Windermere as it’s one of the less popular places to stay. You’ll also find much cheaper accommodation and your money will go a lot further.

Ulverston is a quaint market town with picturesque cobbled streets and beautiful old buildings. It’s the birthplace of Stan Laurel and home to the world’s only Laurel and Hardy museum!

Ulverston's quaint and colourful cobbled streets, Lake District, England
How lovely is this street?!
Helen stood with a statue of Laurel and Hardy in Ulverston, Lake District National Park, England
You'll see lots of Laurel and Hardy references around Ulverston

There’s a train station with direct links to Lancaster, however, we would recommend having a car if you’re staying in Ulverston as you’ll need it to get around the different areas of the Lake District.

How do I get around the Lake District?

The easiest way to get around the Lake District is with a car. This gives you the freedom and flexibility to explore at your own pace.

The Lake District is an incredibly popular place to visit for both domestic and international visitors so the hotspots get very busy from mid-morning when tour groups arrive. If you have your own vehicle, you can arrive early when there’ll be fewer people.

If you don’t have a car, the Lake District is very well connected to major towns and cities via trains and buses. There are direct trains from Manchester to Windermere, Kendal, Penrith and Oxenholme and from London to Penrith and Oxenholme. Regional trains travel between the smaller towns.

There are numerous bus routes you can use to tick off all of the best things to do in the Lake District. Some of the most popular are the 555, 599 and 508 which stop at many of the major hotspots. Check here for all of the bus routes in the Lake District.

Our Top Tip: many services operate a reduced schedule during winter so if you plan on visiting the Lake District without a car, we’d recommend avoiding the winter or prepare for a lot of planning.

Another way to get around in the Lake District is to book trips. Get Your Guide has loads of amazing group and private tours where they’ll provide you with transport as well as organise every little detail for you!

When is the best time to visit the Lake District?

The best time to visit the Lake District we’d say is spring or autumn when the days are still quite warm and light and there are fewer tourists.

During July and August, prices are ramped up and places like Bowness and Windermere have thousands of visitors every day and it can be a nightmare walking or driving around the towns.

If you’re limited to school holidays, we’d recommend staying somewhere such as Ulverston which will be a lot quieter and still has plenty of dining and shopping options.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our guide to the best things to do in the Lake District. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or get in contact.

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