With everything going on in the world, and noting how the UK has changed rapidly in the last three months due to the global Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it’s reasonable to expect that more people in the UK will stop taking their holidays abroad and exploring more of their home turf. That’s why we’ve put together this Ultimate Guide For Things To Do In The Lake District For 1st Time Visitors.
Things To Do In The Lake District
How to get to the Lake District
Visiting the Lake District is quite easy, whether that's by car, bus, or train. With human-affected Climate Change increasingly on everyone's conscience, we do recommend you visit the Lake District by bus or train in order to minimise your carbon footprint (but we can also appreciate that that's not always easy to do).
Below we've included a guide to visiting the Lake District by car from different parts of the UK, and also by bus and train, with links to excellent operators and resources.
Visit the Lake District by car
From Southeast England: aim for the Ⓜ️ M11 North, exit at Junction 6 onto Ⓜ️ M25 towards M1/Watford/Heathrow Airport. After 23 miles, exit Junction 21 onto Ⓜ️ M1/Luton Airport and stay on M1 for 60 miles. At Junction 19 take the Ⓜ️ M6 exit to Birmingham/Coventry, and follow all the way into Cumbria. The journey should take around 5 hours.
From Southwest England: aim for the Ⓜ️ M5 The Midlands/London/Bristol/Bridgwater. After 120+ miles merge onto the Ⓜ️ M6 at Junction 8 towards Walsall/Wolverhampton. Follow the Ⓜ️ M6 all the way into Cumbria. The journey should take 4.5–5 hours.
From the Midlands: If you're coming from Leicester/Nottingham/East Midlands area, aim for the 🟢 A50 towards Stoke-on-Trent/M1(N). Exit the A50 onto the 🟢 A500 slip road/Queensway to Stone/A34/Newcastle/M6/Campbell Road/Michelin, then merge onto the Ⓜ️ M6 at Junction 15 and follow the M6 all the way to Cumbria. From West Midlands/Birmingham, aim for the Ⓜ️ M6 North and follow all the way into Cumbria. You're looking at about 3 hours travelling.
From Leeds area: you're aiming for the 🟢 A65 Skipton. Follow the A65 northwest past Long Preston, Settle, Clapham, Ingleton, then Kirkby Lonsdale. Exit the A65 at Junction 36 onto the Ⓜ️ M6. This journey should take around 2 hours.
From Liverpool/Manchester: if coming from Liverpool aim for the 🟢 A5038 and follow signs to the Ⓜ️ M58 Skelmersdale/Preston/M6. After 10+ miles exit the M58 onto the Ⓜ️ M6 at Junction 26. Follow the M6 all the way into Cumbria. If coming from Manchester aim for the 🟢 A580 to merge onto the Ⓜ️ M61 slip road. After 20 miles on the M61 you'll merge onto the Ⓜ️ M6. Follow the M6 all the way into Cumbria. This takes around 1.5 hours.
From Newcastle/Northeast: aim for the Ⓜ️ A1(M) south until you reach Junction 53 Scotch Corner, then head west onto the 🟢 A66. You can follow the A66 all the way towards the North Lake District, or exit the A66 at Junction 40 to get onto the Ⓜ️ M6 South towards the South Lake District. This takes around 1.5–2 hours from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, or about 2.5 hours from Northumberland.
From Scotland/Glasgow/Edinburgh: if heading south via Glasgow, follow the Ⓜ️ M8 around Glasgow then exit at Junction 8 onto the Ⓜ️ M73. Two miles later merge onto the Ⓜ️ M74/Carlisle. The M74 becomes the Ⓜ️ M6 after crossing the border into England. If you're heading south via Edinburgh, take the Ⓜ️ M9 down towards the Ⓜ️ M8 and utilise the City of Edinburgh Bypass to exit onto the 🟢 A702. Follow the A702 all the way to join the Ⓜ️ A74(M) at Junction 13 towards Carlisle. The A74(M)/M74 becomes the Ⓜ️ M6 once it crosses the border into England. From Glasgow/Edinburgh area, the journey should take around 2.5–3 hours.
For all routes: The M6 runs along the east side of the Lake District. Exit at Junction 36 onto the A590 for South Lake District (Kendal, Barrow, Windermere, Bowness, Ambleside, Grasmere), or exit the M6 at Junction 40 onto the A66 West for the North Lake District (Keswick, Ullswater, Glenridding, Thirlmere, Cockermouth).
The A590 takes you around the southern part of the Lake District, where you can branch off to explore places like Windermere and Coniston. It's also possible to visit other delightful places in the Furness Peninsula, such as Ulverston, Barrow-in-Furness, and Walney Island. From the A590 you can link up with the A595 via the A5092; here, the A595 carries on round and up the Western Lake District, where you can explore some of the most remote yet grandiose parts of the Lake District, not to mention the West Cumbrian Coast.
You can also exit the M6 at Junction 36 to get onto the A591, which takes you all the way through the middle of the Lake District and is often cited as being one of the country's prettiest drives (just check out the image below!)
Visit the Lake District by train
From the Southeast: trains run on a nearly hourly basis from London Euston to Oxenholme Lake District.
From the Southwest: trains run regularly to Birmingham New Street, then take the Avanti West Coast line to Preston (Lancs), changing there to continue onwards to Oxenholme Lake District.
From the Midlands: take the East or West Midlands Trains to Manchester Piccadilly. Then, depending on the train, you’ll change at Wigan North Western to continue onwards to Oxenholme Lake District, or you’ll change at Preston (Lancs) and take the West Coast Line to Oxenholme Lake District.
From Leeds area: you’ll either take the Transpennine Express to Manchester Piccadilly and change here to continue onwards to Oxenholme Lake District, or take the Transpennine Express to Manchester Victoria, then onwards to Bolton and change here again to continue on to Oxenholme Lake District.
From Liverpool/Manchester area: from Liverpool, take the Northern trains from Liverpool Lime Street. You’ll then change at either Wigan North Western, Manchester Oxford Road, or Preston (Lancs) to continue on to Oxenholme Lake District. From Manchester, there is a direct Northern train from Manchester Piccadilly to Oxenholme Lake District; if not direct, the train will change at Preston (Lancs) before continuing on to Oxenholme Lake District.
From Newcastle/Northeast: at Newcastle take the Northern Trains line to Carlisle. You can then change there to head to Oxenholme Lake District or stay in Carlisle to explore the Northern Lake District.
From Scotland via Glasgow/Edinburgh: from Glasgow, the Avanti West Coast line travels direct from Glasgow Central to Oxenholme Lake District. From Edinburgh, take the ScotRail train from Edinburgh Gateway to Haymarket, changing here onto the Transpennine Express to Oxenholme Lake District.
Use Trainline to find times and routes to the Lake District near you.
Places to visit in the Lake District
It could well be argued that it will take a lifetime to visit all there is to offer in the Lake District National Park.
The Lake District features England's highest mountain (Scafell Pike), England's longest lake (Windermere), England's deepest lake (Wastwater) and everything in between. Whether you want to explore England's highest peaks, sail in England's biggest lakes, swim in the Lake District's innumerable tarns, visit some of England's biggest waterfalls... there's something for everyone.
Below we've tried to condense the vast range of options available in the Lake District into manageable bitesize chunks featuring some of the areas more popular destinations for first time visitors.
Visiting the Lake District lakes
The Lake District, as you would imagine from the name, is home to 16 major lakes although only one is actually called a lake: Bassenthwaite Lake. The rest are known as meres (Windermere, Grasmere, Thirlmere etc.) and waters (Ullswater, Wastwater, Derwentwater etc.)
By far the easiest of the lakes to visit is Windermere.
Windermere is the largest natural lake in England, exceeding 11 miles long and nearly a mile wide and its widest point. It covers 5.6 sq mi and is over 200ft deep. Windermere is known as a “ribbon lake”; these are long and deep, finger-shaped lake, usually found in a glacial trough. The lake was formed after the last Ice Age glacier retreated, around 14,700–17,000 years ago.
The name comes from Old Norse, like a lot of place names in Northern England, as well as Old English. “Mere” comes from Old English meaning “lake” or “pool”, where as “Winder-” comes from an Old Norse name, winand or vinand, giving us “Vinander’s lake”.
Visiting Windermere from Lakeside
Lakeside is a small village located at Windermere's southwestern foot. It's home to the Lakes Aquarium and features extensive panoramic views of the lake and the nearby fells.
Directions: Come off the M6 at Junction 36 onto the A590 then take the 1st exit at the Brettargh Holt Roundabout to stay on the A590. When you reach Newby Bridge look for a right turn signed Lakeside/Hawkshead and turn off here, following the road all the way into Lakeside.
There is plenty of parking at Lakeside, where you can then waltz to the pier and enjoy incredible panoramic views of Windermere, perhaps with a cone of chips from the pier restaurant.
We also recommend visiting the Lakes Aquarium, where you can explore over 30 displays about the secret world of creatures dwelling in and alongside the lake.
Take the steam train and all the sights along the way from Lakeside to Haverthwaite via Newby Bridge. At Haverthwaite you can explore the Lakeland Motor Museum, with its collection of 30,000 exhibits including classic cars, motorcycles, scooters and bicycles, and an exhibition dedicated to the land and water speed record activities of Sir Malcolm Campbell and his son Donald.
Visiting Windermere from Bowness-on-Windermere
Undoubtedly the most popular way to enjoy the sights of Windermere is from the beautiful tourist town of Bowness-on-Windermere.
Directions: Come off the M6 at Junction 36 onto the A590 then take the 2nd exit at the Brettargh Holt Roundabout to get onto the A591. Follow the A591 all the way to Windermere town, then take a left at the sign labelled Windermere Town centre/Bowness Town centre. Follow this road through Windermere town all the way to Bowness-on-Windermere. There are lots of car parks throughout Bowness (Quarry Mount, Rayrigg Road, Rectory Road, Glebe Road, Braithwaite Fold, and more) but you may need to do some driving around to find a space as Bowness is very popular.
From wherever you’ve parked though, have a meander around the town. Bowness-on-Windermere is a treasure trove of gorgeous independent shops, cafés, restaurants, pubs, gift shops, and everything in between.
To get to the lake just follow the signs to Bowness Pier where you can drink in the views up and down Windermere and its many islands (including the nearest from Bowness, Belle Island). You’ll also note all the swans and geese who hang around the pier and are very used to people, particular all the people food available!
Bowness-on-Windermere is the home of the famous Windermere Lake Cruises, offering a variety of guided tours around the lake as well as self-drive motor boat hiring and rowing boats. The scenery and experience from a boat is like no other!
Whilst you're wandering around Bowness-on-Windermere, visit our Bowness Herdy shop! Situated next door to Peter Rabbit's Nursery, Herdy is full of design-led gifts, homeware, and accessories that are all made to make ewe smile.
Visit Bowness Herdy
For more in-depth information we've created a fully featured guide called Things To Do In Bowness-on-Windermere.
Visiting Windermere from Millerground
A less-visited way of seeing Windermere lake, and with a lot more nature around, is a lovely walk from near Queen Adelaide's Hill on Rayrigg Road.
Directions: Come off the M6 at Junction 36 onto the A590 then take the 2nd exit at the Brettargh Holt Roundabout to get onto the A591. Follow the A591 all the way through Windermere town until you reach a roundabout with the 1st exit labelled Bowness Bay & The Lake/Newby Bridge. Take this exit onto Rayrigg Road.
Park in the National Trust layby off Rayrigg Road and follow the path alongside Wynlass Beck into the woods. Here's the What3Words address to where the National Trust layby parking is for the start of the walk.
The beck tumbles down towards Windermere in a series of gorgeous little falls and cascades before emptying out into Windermere.
As you exit the woods onto the shore the views open up and you're offered an incredibly expansive view of Windermere and the Lake District fells in the distance.
If you wish you can expand this walk by hiking up onto Queen Adelaide's Hill for even more panoramic vistas.
After Windermere, Ullswater is the 2nd largest lake in the Lake District, measuring about nine miles (14.5 km) long, over half a mile (1.02 km) at its widest point, and just over 60 metres (197 ft) deep.
In contrast to Windermere’s gentle profile and low lying hills, Ullswater is a lot more dramatic featuring as it does some of the Lake District’s highest fells at its head. These include Place Fell (657 m/2,156 ft) along the southeastern shore, Gowbarrow Fell (481 m/1,578 ft) on the northwestern shore, and a ring of fells at the head of Ullswater such as St. Sunday Crag (841 m/2,759 ft), Sheffield Pike (675 m/2,215 ft), and Birkhouse Moor (718 m/2,356 ft).
Of course, all of these fells pale in comparison to one of the Lake District's most popular fell climbs from Ullswater: Helvellyn (950 m/3,117 ft), England's 3rd highest peak.
In 2016 the Ullswater Way opened, a 20-miles circuit of the entire lake. You can take it in either direction or break it up into smaller sections, especially if you take a return journey via the famous Ullswater Steamers!
As a result of all these nearby challenging fells and long-distance walks Ullswater can be busy much like Windermere, but with the more adventurous and outdoorsy type of folk. Thankfully there's a few ways you can enjoy this spectacular lake and we've highlighted a couple below.
Visiting Ullswater from Aira Force
Aira Force is one of the Lake District's most popular attractions; a waterfall dropping 70 ft with a stone packhorse bridge above it, set in an impossibly picturesque ravine. The whole site is owned by the National Trust with plenty of parking; but be prepared, as even this can fill up when busy!
Directions: exit the M6 at Junction 40 onto the A66 west, then take the 1st exit off the A66 onto the A592 towards Ullswater. Follow the A592 all the way alongside the lake (enjoying the spectacular views as you do!) and eventually you'll spot signs for the National Trust Aira Force car park.
From here you can take the myriad of walks available to you in the ravine to check out Aira Force itself; we've outlined one below.
Or, take the path out of the Aira Force car park alongside the A592 before carefully crossing the road and continuing onto the path through a gate. Just follow the path all the way to the shore of Ullswater, an area called Aira Point. You can take the Ullswater Steamers tour of the lake from here if you like or just enjoy paddling and swimming in the lake, and taking in those majestic views.
Visiting Ullswater from Glenridding
Alongside Pooley Bridge, Glenridding is one of the main villages from which to explore Ullswater and the surrounding fells.
It's home to a number of accommodations, hotels, and B&Bs, as well as plenty of local independent shops and fantastic pubs. The Glenridding Gallery stocks lots of Herdy goodies, too! Glenridding makes a fantastic base to enjoy the shores of Ullswater.
Directions: follow the directions above as if you were going to visit Aira Force, but instead continue on the A592 until you reach Glenridding. There's a large car park next to the Ullswater Visitor Centre.
Arguably one of the best ways to experience Ullswater is via a tour of the lake courtesy of the Ullswater Steamers. These boat tours have been in operation for 160 years, and operate an all-year service with connections between Glenridding, Howtown, Pooley Bridge Piers and between Glenridding and National Trust Aira Force Pier. Cruise times vary from 20 – 120 minutes.
There's nothing like experience Ullswater and the surrounding mountains from a boat! Not to mention the fascinating information provided by the tour guides, too.
Derwentwater is located immediately south of the popular Lake District town Keswick, situated in the North Lakes area. The lake is about 3 miles long, nearly 1¼ miles wide at its widest, and 72 ft deep and its deepest. Derwentwater is known for its incredibly picturesque setting, and has been celebrated in verse and song for centuries.
Derwentwater is home to four main islands: Derwent Isle, Lord's Island, St. Herbert's Island, and Rampsholme Island. Only Derwent Isle is inhabited, featuring a stately house that people can visit 5 times during the year. Both the house and the island are owned by the National Trust. There are other smaller islands in the lake that make sporadic appearances based on how full or dry the lake is.
The view down the lake from Keswick is one of the most celebrated views in the Lake District especially when accessed from Friar's Crag, a short walk from Keswick town.
North of Keswick and looming large above both the town and Derwentwater is England's 4th highest peak: Skiddaw (931 m/3,054 ft). Though one of England's tallest peaks, it's not technically challenging and there are numerous paths one can take to ascend its gentle slopes towards the summit.
South of Derwentwater lies Borrowdale, perhaps the Lake District's most famous valley. Numerous high fells rise sharply from the valley floor here, and there are plenty of smaller tributary valleys that branch off from Borrowdale where one can wander and explore. The B5289 from Keswick travels down the eastern shore of Derwentwater into Borrowdale and beyond. You can even carry on up and over Honister Pass if you're feeling brave!
Visiting Derwentwater from Keswick
Undoubtedly one of the most accessible ways to visit Derwentwater is from Keswick, which sits immediately north of the lake.
Directions: Come off the M6 at Junction 40 onto the A66 west. Follow the A66 all the way into Keswick town centre. There are numerous car parks dotted throughout Keswick (such as Otley Road, Bell Close, Lakeside etc.) but you may need to drive around before you find a suitable space as Keswick can get very busy.
Keswick is a gorgeous market town rammed full of beautiful independent gift shops, cafés, restaurants, pubs, outdoor retailers, and everything in between.
If you really fancy digging deep into Keswick to see what it has to offer, we've put together a handy-dandy guide for you.
Things To Do In Keswick
Getting to Derwentwater lake from Keswick is easy.
Starting from the Keswick Herdy shop (///clerk.orbited.sprint), head up Tithebarn Street towards the roundabout, and head right onto Main Street. Follow Main Street through the Market Square and once you've passed the Moot Hall Tourist Information building take the right path that forks alongside the Old Keswickian Chippy. This is Lake Road.
Follow Lake Road until you get to the junction at George Fisher and turn right, staying on Lake Road. Come off Lake Road when you can see the subway and head through the subway. This will bring you out into Hope Park. Follow the path through or alongside Hope Park all the way towards the shores of Derwentwater.
Grasmere is by far one of the smaller lakes of the major Lake District lakes.
The lake is about 1,600 yards long, 700 yards wide at its widest, and 70 ft deep and its deepest. It sits near the geographical centre of the Lake District and is bordered to its east by neighbouring lake Rydal Water. To the west Grasmere is flanked by Silver How (395 m/1,296 ft), to the south by Loughrigg Fell (335 m/1,099 ft), and to the east by Heron Pike (612 m/2,008 ft). Immediately north of the lake is the small yet perfectly formed village of the same name: Grasmere.
Grasmere and its village are places of significant historical interest. They are the resting place of world-famous Romantic poet William Wordsworth, alongside his sister Dorothy Wordsworth. William and Dorothy lived in Dove Cottage, just outside the village, Allan Bank, slightly north of the village, and finally Rydal Mount in nearby Rydal. Other famous Romantic poets also lived, or often visited, Grasmere, such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Thomas de Quincy.
Grasmere is often credited as being the birthplace of the National Trust, by founder Canon Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley. He was reportedly appalled by the sale into private hands of Grasmere's only island, and felt it should be a public property. Not long after, he set up the National Trust with Octavia Hill and Robert Hunter, alongside consultations with the famous Beatrix Potter.
Directions: Come off the M6 at Junction 36 onto the A590 then take the 2nd exit at the Brettargh Holt Roundabout to get onto the A591. Follow the A591 all the way to Grasmere; you'll pass Windermere, Waterhead, Ambleside, and Rydal along the way.
There are three main car parks in the village, plus some additional on-street disc parking. Grasmere is a small village and is incredibly popular, so finding a free parking spot will be tricky.
Take your time to wander around this historic and impossibly pretty village. We've put together a guide already, jam packed with suggestions and ideas on what to do in and around Grasmere.
Things To Do In Grasmere
Getting to Grasmere lake from the village is super easy.
Starting at the Herdy Grasmere shop (///cured.spring.credible), head south down College Street and continue onto Church Stile, passing the Wordsworth Hotel, the Daffodil Gardens, and the Grasmere Gingerbread Shop. Take the right turn onto Red Bank and follow it, passing the Potting Shed Café and the Grand At Grasmere. Take a left turn to continue onto Red Bank.
Eventually you'll see a footpath sign directing you to the lake, complete with a National Trust sign and gate. Head through the gate and down the path all the way to the lake shore. You can then follow the lakeshore path to the lake's gravelly southeastern beach, to enjoy the wonderful views across the lake towards the fells, especially Helm Crag.
Much like Grasmere, Coniston Water is steeped in history—both recent and ancient—and cultural significance.
Coniston Water is the 3rd largest lake in the Lake District by volume, and the 5th largest by area, measuring five miles long and half a mile wide at its widest point. Similar to Windermere, Coniston Water is a classic example of a ribbon lake, caused by glaciation.
Coniston Water gets its name from the largest village on its shore: Coniston. In keeping with other places names throughout the Lake District, the name "Coniston" comes Old Norse, the language of the Vikings, and Old English In the 12th century the village was known as Coningeston, which itself came from an Old Norse word, konungr, meaning "king", and the Old English word tūn, meaning "farmstead" or "village". The two together gives us "the King's estate".
Coniston enjoys quite a few claims to fame.
Author Arthur Ransome created the fictional lake in his children's novel Swallows and Amazons inspired by both Coniston Water and Windermere.
Acclaimed Victorian art critic and social philosopher John Ruskin owned Brantwood House on the eastern shore of Coniston Water (pictured above/left) and lived there from 1872 until his death.
In the 1900s Coniston Water was also the site of many world water speed record attempts. In 1939 Sir Malcolm Campbell set the record at 141.74 miles per hour in Blue Bird K4. Then, between 1956–1959 his son, Donald Campbell, set four records on the lake in Bluebird K7. In 1967 he achieved a top speed of over 320 miles per hour in Bluebird K7 but lost control of Bluebird, which somersaulted, crashed, and killed him.
Visiting the Lake District's waterfalls
Lake District walks for 1st time visitors