From embarking on adventurous outdoor activities to devouring superb local produce, there are a host great things to do in the Lake District. Here’s our pick of the best of them.
For decades, the craggy mountains and charming villages of The Lakes were considered the domain of two main demographics: hikers and cream-tea hunters.
But the stereotypes are waning, and there are now more and more wonderful things to do in the Lake District for adventure seekers and weekend break enthusiasts.
Plunge into icy waterfalls before strolling the exquisite gardens of a stately home. Unwind on a vintage steamer then explore the incredible literary history of the region. And of course, enjoy a classic country walk before downing a pint in a traditional pub.
With the country’s finest local produce, plenty of adventurous outings, gorgeous picnic spots and superlative lakeside photography spots, there’s something to do in the Lake District for everyone.
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01 – TAKE THE ULLSWATER STEAMER
Of all the wonderful things to do in the Lake District, taking a cruise on a boat is one of the most popular. Over 1 million people hop on board every year to watch the magical scenery of the Lake District float by.
There are a few lakes to choose from but in our opinion, Ullswater is the best. The boat trip is on an old wooden panelled steamer which glides gracefully over the water. The lake is more remote than other areas with fewer crowds and the high mountains tightly surrounding the tear-shaped shoreline add a dramatic backdrop.
There’s a choice of routes connecting Glenridding, Howtown and Pooley Bridge. For a great day out, we recommend getting the steamer from Glenridding to Howtown (45 minutes) and then doing the 3 to 4-hour walk back along the lovely undulating path by the side of the lake.
02 – HIKE SCAFELL PIKE
There is no better way to see the Lake District than on foot. There are hundreds of paths to explore from gentle strolls around glistening lakes to challenging hikes in the high fells. Some paths cut across rolling meadows, others traverse narrow ledges and rocky crevasses.
One of the best hill walks in the Lake District is to the top of Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain. There are several routes to take, but in our opinion, the most scenic is the Corridor Route. This beautiful walk includes rolling farmland, deep picturesque gullies and dramatic mountain vistas. All the details are in our guide to hiking Scafell Pike.
For all our favourite walks read: 15 Best Walks in the Lake District which includes detailed instructions and maps.
03 – PHOTOGRAPH CASTLERIGG STONE CIRCLE
There are stone circles across the length and breadth of Britain, however Castlerigg Stone Circle is not only one of the oldest dating back to around 2,000 BCE, but it is also one of the most beautifully set.
Constructed in a grassy meadow protected by dry stone walls, the circle is surrounded by the mountains of Skiddaw and Blencathra, two of the grandest peaks in the Lake District.
At dawn or dusk on a sunny day, the long shadows of the stones create an air of mystery and a wonderful photo spot in the Lake District. On a cold windy day, the eerie bleakness makes you understand why it was home to rituals in earlier times.
04 – VISIT WORDSWORTH GRASMERE & DOVE COTTAGE
Wordsworth Grasmere is the recently renovated museum dedicated to William Wordsworth. It’s located next to Dove Cottage which was his home from 1799 to 1808 and the place where many of his most famous works were written.
The museum has a huge collection of artefacts dedicated to British Romanticism including over 68,000 manuscripts, as well as several rare first edition books, paintings, and personal belongings of artists from the era.
The Jerwood Centre, part of Wordsworth Grasmere contains 90% of Wordsworth’s original manuscripts as well as Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere Journal.
The museum and cottage are a historic and interesting stroll through English literary history. Outside, the hillside garden was an inspiration to Wordsworth and remains semi-wild as it was during his time.
05 – SOAK IN THE VIEWS OF BUTTERMERE
Buttermere is a beautiful lake set in a remote part of the Lake District with mighty crags forming a forbidding barrier around it. The best views can be gained either by hopping out of the car as you drive along its northern edge or by taking the 2-hour stroll around its perimeter.
Don’t miss the stand of trees perched on the edge of the lake under the imposing crags of Haystacks. On a perfectly still day it forms a crystal-clear reflection making it one of our favourite views in the lake district.
The town of Buttermere is a lovely place to stroll around and try a classic Lake District ice cream. There are also great views from the Dale Head walk which starts at Gatesgarth at the western end of the valley.
06 – STROLL THE GARDENS AT HOLKER HALL
The landed gentry have been calling the Lake District home for years, building some of the finest stately houses in the country. Strolling immaculate grounds is a great circuit breaker from more energetic activities, and it’s a wonderful thing to do in the Lake District.
While the topiary gardens at Leven’s Hall are worth a nosy, the grand gardens at Holker Hall steal the show. A mix of formal gardens, flower-strewn meadows and tree-lined paths make it a lovely place to explore.
There are some oddities in the grounds too; a lone Sequoia, a small stand of Monkey Puzzle Trees and the Holker Great Lime, designated one of the Three Council’s 50 Great British Trees.
The magnificent magnolias and rhododendrons are out in April, but we have it on good authority (from the gardener) that July is the best time to visit.
07 – HAVE A PINT IN THE LANGDALE VALLEY
Comprising 5 imposing peaks, the Langdales is one of the most remote and dramatic areas of the Lake District. After a strenuous day exploring the Langdale Pikes, you’ll be ready for a rest by the end of the day. Luckily, this remote valley has some of the most authentic hiker’s pubs in the country.
Sticklebarn, a National Trust café, serves environmentally friendly food that aims to minimise its carbon footprint. It also has a great selection of beers, good facilities to freshen up and a few tables outside.
But one of the best watering holes in the Lake District is the legendary Hiker’s Bar in the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel. There’s no pretence here, just a charmingly dated pub set directly under the towering pikes of the Langdales.
08 – AMBLE AROUND AMBLESIDE
Ambleside is a centrally located town on the northern shores of Windermere. Once a quiet market town, Ambleside has blossomed into one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Lake District. With a wide selection of shops, restaurants and accommodation options, it’s a great base for Lake District getaways.
Ferry services run from Waterhead Pier (about 1 mile from the centre of Ambleside) to Bowness, Windermere and Wray Castle. It’s also a great base to hire a canoe, stroll around the lake, or just feed the ducks.
Stock Ghyll Force, a dramatic 70-foot waterfall is just a short walk from the centre of town. The river that feeds it continues through Ambleside running under the charming 17th-century Bridge House – a popular photo spot in the Lake District.
09 – TAKE THE SHORT WALK UP LOUGHRIGG
Loughrigg is a little lump of a mountain in the centre of several beautiful Lake District valleys. The summit has wide-ranging views of lakes and tarns stretching in all directions, with pretty villages tucked under imposing flanks, and an amphitheatre of higher mountains in the distance.
The slopes of Loughrigg are stunning with bobbling mounds of grass strewn with sheep, heather-covered hillocks split by zigzagging dry stone walls, and paths leading over wooden stiles down to shimmering lakes.
The short hike up here is a thoroughly enjoyable thing to do in the Lake District. There are several different routes up and down, some of which only take 90 minutes. You can find instructions and maps on our guide to Lake District walks.
10 – SCOFF THE DELIGHTS OF CARTMEL
Cartmel, on the southern edge of the Lake District, has developed a reputation as a foodie destination. Chef Simon Rogan has set up shop with two Michelin stared restaurants L’Enclume and Rogan & Co. Several of the hotels in town take pub grub to the next level, the Unsworth’s Yard Brewery is perfecting the art of craft beer and Cartmel Cheeses produces small batch production cheeses.
The most important contribution Cartmel has made to the British food scene, however, is in the form of sticky toffee pudding. While the origins of the dish are hotly disputed, the Village Shop in Cartmel popularised the dish by establishing a microwaveable, take-home version which is now sold in most supermarkets throughout the country.
You’ll recognise the charming Village Shop from their stick toffee packaging but it’s also a great place to pick up other delicacies.
11 – TAKE A BOAT ON WINDEREMERE
Windermere is the largest natural lake in England and a popular spot for all types of boating excursions.
Winderemere Lake Cruises offer a selection of trips on traditional old steamers as well as sparkling new boats. They also offer electric motorboats and rowing boats for hire.
Another great way to experience the lake is on a restored heritage boat. Take a relaxing 30- or 75-minute journey from the Windermere Jetty Museum to enjoy the rugged scenery surrounding the lake. Knowledgeable skippers provide information about the lake and the conservation efforts required to keep it in top shape.
If you’re up for a self-powered adventure Brockhole on Windermere rent out Paddleboards, Kayaks and Canoes. There’s a 10-mile an hour speed limit on Windermere so make sure you stay within that if you’re particularly good with the paddles.
12 – WILD SWIM AT BLEA TARN
There are few more picturesque spots to swim in the Lake District than Blea Tarn. High up in the mountains, the still water perfectly reflects the impressive Langdale Pikes. In the early morning, as the mist slowly drifts from the lake, Blea Tarn is lavished with a cache of serenity. It’s the perfect spot for a rejuvenating wake-up swim.
When the sun is out and the lake is calm, it’s a lovely location and one of our favourite wild swimming spots in the Lake District.
Even if you don’t want to swim, the drive to Blea Tarn is stunning. There’s a National Trust car park right next to the tarn and a short easy path that runs down to the water. There are no facilities, so pack your own picnic supplies.
13 – ENJOY A CRAFT BEER AT HAWKSHEAD
Hawkshead is a charming village in the southern half of the Lakes, located between Windermere and Coniston Water. The small pedestrianised centre contains artisanal delis, old-school chocolate shops, cafes and traditional pubs.
One of our favourite stops in town is KITTchEN Bar and Beershop, a small bar with a big selection of craft ales. They offer some vegetarian friendly food and proceeds go to supporting homeless cats. If you’re in Hawkshead for the evening, don’t miss the regular rotation of events at KITTcheEN including the Quiz Night, singalong or open mic.
Another great thing to do in Hawkshead is to take the path from behind the churchyard to soak up the views of the village nestled among the hills
14 – SCRAMBLE UP HELVELLYN
Helvellyn is the third highest mountain in the Lake District but it punches above its weight. The best ascent is via the thin precipitous ridge of Striding Edge. This narrow arête is considered one of the easiest Grade 1 Scrambles in the country, making it the perfect course for beginners.
There are several paths to choose, so if the trail over the top looks too difficult, it’s possible to skirt the ridge and find a section that feels more achievable. No special equipment or knowledge of climbing is required, all you need is a good head for heights, steady foot placement, and a reasonable level of fitness.
Once at the top, the views of the crinkling ridges of the Lake District are unbeatable. Descend via Swirral Edge, a much wider ridge that will feel like a breeze after tackling Striding Edge on the way up.
15 – VISIT BEATRIX POTTER HOUSE, HILL TOP
Beatrix Potter purchased Hill Top Farm in the village of Near Sawrey in 1905 with the proceeds from her Peter Rabbit books. As a scientist, artist, farmer, and conservationist she took a keen interest in the unique hilly landscape of the area. Over the years she purchased several other farms to preserve the landscape, leaving most of her property to the National Trust.
Today, Hill Top is a freeze-frame of the authors life. Still full of her personal belongings and original artwork, the house and rambling garden is a delightful nod to the characters of her books. Cute signs call out inspirations that bring to life the stories of Jemima Puddle-Duck and Tom Kitten.
Capacity at Hill Top is managed in order to avoid overcrowding, so it’s a good idea to book in advance. Walk-ins are possible but only if there is enough capacity inside. There is limited free parking on site. Entry is free for National Trust members.
16 – KAYAK ON DERWENTWATER
Just a 10-minute walk from the centre of Keswick, Derwentwater is framed by the imposing crag of Catbells. It’s a stunning location with a moody disposition that can be perfectly still in the early morning, which is the best time to hit the water on a kayak.
There are some lovely islands in the centre of Derwentwater which add to its picture-perfect charm. Landing is not permitted on the islands in order to protect the wildlife, however, admiring from up close on a kayak is a great way to see them.
17 – PICNIC AT TARN HOWS
Tarn Hows is a picturesque lake owned by the National Trust that is ideal for family picnics, easy strolls and relaxing days out. The path around the lake is less than 2 miles, making it an achievable walk for all levels of ability. In an effort to make the lakes accessible for everyone, the National Trust loans out mobility scooters free of charge. Pre-book one here.
It’s also a very dog-friendly location with several interesting suitable for four-legged companions. With livestock grazing all around the lake, dogs need to be kept on leads at all times.
There are toilets, a National Trust information van and a snack truck. Try to arrive before lunchtime in summer as Tarn Hows gets very busy.
18 – VISIT THE LAKELAND MOTOR MUSEUM
The Lakeland Motor Museum has a collection of over 140 classic cars and motorbikes as well as a huge display of bicycles, pedal cars, caravans and assorted motor-related memorabilia. The history of road transportation during the 20th century is documented through over 30,000 items.
Don’t miss the Campbell Bluebird exhibition, a special tribute to Malcom and Donald Campbell who broke the land and water speed records in the 1950s and 1960s.
The Lakeland Motor Museum is a great all-weather thing to do in the Lake District when it’s not looking too good outside. There’s a café overlooking the river.
19 – ADMIRE GREAT GABLE OVER WASTWATER
Wastwater is the deepest lake in the Lake District, making it a very refreshing way to cool off. If the water temperature is a little off putting, sitting on the banks of this remote location and admiring the dramatic view is one of the best things to do in the Lake District.
With the sun reflecting off the mountains the water is illuminated in a shimmering glow. The imposing rocky spine of scree beside the lake perfectly captures the rugged and dramatic side to the area.
There are several little beaches sprinkled around the shore where you can launch for a long swim, and plenty of rocky platforms where you can sit back and soak up the view.
20 – CHASE WATERFALLS AT AIRA FORCE
Dropping 20 metres through a forest of towering trees, Aira Force is a powerful waterfall in a lovely setting that is a perfect family day out in the Lake District.
There are several hiking trails in the leafy park ranging from 0.5 miles to 2 miles and family friendly facilities including picnic spots, toilets and a café.
The habitat surrounding the falls is helping protect the endangered Red Squirrels, so keep an eye out for them as you wander along one of the many waterfall trails. There is also an incredible collection of exotic trees with information boards to explain the different varieties.
MAP / THINGS TO DO IN THE LAKE DISTRICT
Our map of our favourite things to do in the Lake District includes everything we love about this beautiful area. To help you navigate while you are on the road, green is for activities including walks and cycle paths, brown is villages and gardens, blue is for lake-based adventures and yellow is – most importantly – all the great pubs.
WHERE TO STAY
The Lake District is a large area with lots of different regions to stay based on what you are looking for. Some are great if you want the facilities and option of a large (but sometimes busy) towns, others are great for getting away from it all in remote areas.
We have put together a guide on all the different regions of the Lake District to help you decide where to stay.
WHERE TO STAY IN THE LAKE DISTRICT
MORE READING FOR THE LAKE DISTRICT
We’ve been to the Lake District many times, and never run out of fantastic things to do. From adventurous scrambles to relaxing wild swimming, here are more of our guides from the lakes.
LAKE DISTRICT WALKS
Our guide to the best route up Scafell Pike
Exploring the Langdale Pikes, Lake District
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