Best things to do in the Lake District, England

Ask many Brits where their favourite holiday spot in England is, chances are the Lake District will top the list. This area in Cumbria - North-West England - is a combination of quintessential English countryside with traditional villages and dry stone walls that blend in seamlessly.

For us, the Lakes is a beautiful slice of nature, full of tall fells (small mountains to you and me), rivers, lakes and lush green fields. It has some of the best, in fact we think the best walking in the whole country. However, it also has some of the very worst weather too so we’ve got plenty of rainy day ideas in our list too.


Best places to visit in the Lake District

The Lakes are made up of a collection of villages and valleys, which can often be confusing. For instance, there is no village called Borrowdale, but a collection which are classified as being in Borrowdale (we didn’t get it at first either!).

But once you get your head around it, you’ll find that each area has its own unique character and stunning landscape. So here are a few of our favourites.

Buttermere

Despite having visited the Lake District many times before, this was the first time we made it to Buttermere. Don’t make the mistake of missing this little gem, it turned out to be our favourite village in the whole of Lakeland.

Getting to Buttermere isn’t for the faint hearted. The roads in are incredibly narrow (and are single lanes) and if you’re anything like us you’ll be scared witless by dozens of near head-on collisions and close passes. But the effort you put in will be justifiably rewarded.

The view of Buttermere from Haystacks

Buttermere is stunning and you’ll already start to feel wowed as you make the journey in, the roads might be a tad scary but they are also incredibly picturesque. You’ll see huge mountains circling Crannock Water and the further Buttermere Lake in the distance.

You will be dodging as many sheep on the road as other cars, if you’ve ever wanted to see a sheep traffic jam this is the place to come! The village is tiny, with a couple of hotels and tea rooms all in the tradition style alongside the river. It’s surrounded by farms, fields and dry-stone walls.

You can choose to take it easy at Syke Farm Tea Room (one of our favourites in the Lakes and on the map below), go for a leisurely stroll round Buttermere lake or get your heartbeat up with the epic hike up to Haystacks. Either way, there’s something for everyone.

 

Getting to Buttermere

The easiest way to get to Buttermere is to drive. You’ll need at least 30 minutes from Keswick to navigate the narrow roads. There is also an hourly bus from Keswick which can get you there in just over an hour.

Read more: The best Lake District walks for stunning views



Borrowdale

At the foot of Derwent Water (the lake just by Keswick) lies many people’s favourite valley: Borrowdale. It’s another incredibly picturesque landscape, flanked by huge mountains and characterised by vibrant green fields that are intersected by dry-stone walls and traditional buildings.

The view of Borrowdale from Castle Crag

We loved the tiny village of Rosthwaite - famous for the Yew Tree Farm Tea Room - and Grange, a small village which has two tea room (surely the highest tea rooms per capita of anywhere in the world?). We’d recommend Grange Cafe for it’s unusual ice creams and delicious cream teas.

Sadly we didn’t get to try Yew Tree Farm as it was cash only, so bring some change with you for this one.

Just like Buttermere, you can choose to check out the tearooms and villages, or try something more exerting such as climbing up Castle Crag for a better view. There are also short flat walks along the riverside if you prefer something less taxing.

 

Getting to Borrowdale

You can get a bus from Keswick Bus Station to the bridge just by Grange. They go every 15 minutes.

Alternatively, you can drive for 15 minutes and hope you get lucky with a parking space! As with many car parks in the Lakes they get extremely busy in high season so head here early (before 9am ideally) to guarantee yourself a space. Later in the day it’s pot luck.


Grasmere

The village of Grasmere isn’t so quiet and rural as Buttermere and Borrowdale, but it’s still a must visit. Set by a huge lake (of course) Grasmere is busier, but also has a lot more to do, whilst still retaining that Lake District charm.

You can visit the home of William Wordsworth (two of his homes in fact), gorge on the unique gingerbread at Sarah Nelson’s or take in the views from the lakeside loop walking track. If you re lucky enough to be in the area on a gorgeous day you can even swim in the lake - be warned the water is cold even in summer!

For those wanting to get the best views, try hiking up Helm Crag or Loughrigg Fell. The fells can be walked in 2-3 hours respectively and they both provide stunning views of this picturesque area. If we had to pick Helm Crag was our favourite, particularly if you can make it there for sunset.

Getting to Grasmere

Grasmere is in a central location and makes a great base for your Lake District trip. It has the blessing of being accessible without having to go along any particularly narrow roads. Situated just outside Ambleside, it has the A591 that whisks you there from either Keswick (20 mins), Ambleside (15 mins) or Windermere (25 mins).

There are also buses that run regularly from Keswick, Ambleside and Windermere if you want to get here by public transport.


Hawkshead

Beatrix Potter talked about Hawkshead as if it was a bustling and busy town, feeling a relief when she returned to her farm at Hilltop. When you arrive, you’ll struggle not to laugh when you realise that it is just a couple of roads and a few buildings.

In Lake District terms, it is a busy place. However, to the rest of the world it is a charming and very quiet village. So much so, that you can walk on the roads to get around as there are very few cars here.

The main attractions here are the Beatrix Potter Gallery (free for National Trust members), the several quaint shops or the Minstrels Gallery which serves some really good homemade cake :)

Getting to Hawkshead

Sadly, this is another that requires driving along those narrow roads. It is a 15 minute drive from Ambleside or 30 minutes from Windermere.

Alternatively, there’s a bus that runs every hour from Ambleside that goes directly to Hawkshead.


Great Langdale


There are few places in England with a view more glorious than Great Langdale. We let out a lot of wows on the road in and would love to come back and stay in this area one day, it’s the perfect base for some of the Lakes best hiking.

It’s home to some of the steepest fells in England, with the Langdale Pikes, Crinkle Crags, Bowfell and Pike O’Bliscoll looming over this picturesque valley.

The reason most people come here is for the hiking, in fact there isn’t a lot else to do, although we think you could sit and stare at these views all day! We took on Crinkle Crags and Bowfell in one almighty 10 mile loop and loved every minute of it (you’ll want to allow at least 6 hours to do this though)! It was one of Alfred Wainwright’s favourite walks, and as he walked all 214 Lake District fells, you know that means it’s a good one!

Alternatively, you could just settle at the Old Dungeon Ghyll hotel for a bit of food and wander around the earlier flatter parts of the track to take in the views.

The view of the Langdale Valley from the Band

Parking is limited in the area, so you’ll want to get here as early as possible.

Getting to Great Langdale

The best way to get to Great Langdale is by car along you guessed it, a lot of narrow roads. It is about 20-30 minutes from Ambleside.

There are public buses that run from Ambleside, but they only go every two hours.


Best things to do in the Lake District

The Lakes is a beautiful blend of nature mixed with some historical places which are a great part of English culture. As well as the fells and the lakes, this area is synonymous with Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter, two of England’s most famous writers.

Here are our favourite things to do in the lakes.


Tarn Hows

No matter how fit you are, there’s a walk for everyone in the lakes. The picturesque Tarn Hows has a loop that is well paved and accessible for everyone (including wheel chairs). The path takes you around the tarn that was created when several lakes combined after a small dam was built at the top of Tom Gill (a river that leads to a series of cascades/waterfalls).

On a still day, you’ll get a perfect reflection on of the trees and sky above, making it look like a crystal clear mirror. However, even if you don’t get the reflection, you’ll still get the beautiful view.

Here’s more details on the Tarn Hows loop track and how it can be combined with Black Fell to make a longer but still easy walk.


Fell walks

Fell walking is the draw for a lot of people and the Lake District has some of the best in England. If you are looking to hike up some fells, then you might want to get familiar with Alfred Wainwright, a legend of the Lake District.

His beautiful guides, drawings and descriptions not only provide valuable information, but create characters of each fell and the associated tracks.

The walk at Haystacks

Whether you want a nice easy one or climbing up the tallest mountain in England, there’s a fell walk for you.

Here are our picks:

The easiest fell walk: Black Fell at Tarn Hows

Best sunset fell walk: Helm Crag

The most picturesque: Haystacks

Moderately Challenging and beautiful: Coniston Old Man

Best overall hike (for views and challenge): Crinkle Crags and Bowfell


Walk up the highest mountain in England - Scafell Pike

We were just going to include this with the other fell walks but then decided England’s tallest mountain deserved a spot of its own. Granted it’s no Everest but it’s a great walk and achievable for most people of average fitness.

There are various routes you can use to ascend Scafell Pike, the most commonly used is the one which starts at Wasdale Head. This route is six miles return and despite being steep with very little respite, it isn’t too difficult. The route takes you up a series of stone stair cases, surrounded by very pretty views before you hit the boulder fields below the summit.

Footing here is pretty easy when ascending but a little slippery when descending, especially if it’s been wet - which lets face it, is pretty much all the time up here!

We can’t tell you about the view from the summit because we walked straight into a thick cloud, but the views on the way up were absolutely gorgeous. The drive into Wasdale Head is also the most spectacular we have seen anywhere in the UK. It reminded us of our beloved New Zealand.

Walking up Scafell Pike

If you are worried about whether Scafell might be too difficult, try one of the smaller fells first, such as Skiddaw (the fourth highest mountain in England). Overall though this is a great walk and comes with the sense of achievement at having reached England’s highest peak.

Getting there

The only guaranteed way to the start of the hike up Scafell Pike is by car (as far as we know, there are no buses that run here). The nearest train station is Seascale (which is about 15 miles from Wasdale Head). We have read that you may be able to get a minibus on a Saturday, but you should check before relying on this!

Wasdale Head is cut off from most of the Lake District, with only a road from the west that leads in there. It takes over 1.5 hours to drive from Keswick or Ambleside.


Find a traditional tea room….

The Lake District is home to some of the best tea rooms we’ve been to in the UK. After a morning spent hiking or exploring one of the villages, there are few things better than tucking into a home-cooked meal or afternoon tea at one of the family run tea rooms.

Syke

The pick has to be Syke Farm Tea Room in Buttermere (location on the map below). This cosy tea room makes great meals, cakes and serves it up with a delicious coffee or tea - perfect for a cold, wet day. They also had the friendliest staff too.

 

Baldry’s - Grasmere

If you’re looking for a tea room that’s a bit easier to get to, then head to Baldry’s in Grasmere. The extra large rarebit was incredible! It’s not cheap, but the food is worth it. The homemade cakes were great too.

 

Minstrels Gallery - Hawkshead

If you’re in Hawkshead to visit the Beatrix Potter Gallery, then why not stop by Minstrels Gallery for lunch. This quaint tearoom is set in the downstairs of a traditional cottage and serves up decent sandwiches and good cakes.

 


Wellington Farm - Cockermouth

If you’re staying in the north of the Lake District, then it’s worth heading to Wellington Farm near Cockermouth. The food here is great and there’s also a couple of huge sofas set around a fire. It’s a great place to retreat to on a cold, wet day (something that’s quite common in the lakes!).

 

…or a country pub

Lyth Valley Country Inn

If you’re looking for something more substantial, then head to the Lyth Valley Country Inn near Kendal. This pub was so lovely we went twice and though we visited a few others it is the only one we’d recommend.

It has a gorgeous view and serves up equally fab food. If you’re in the Lake District on a Sunday, then make sure you try their Sunday Roast (it’s one of the best I’ve had) and is good value too.

Make sure you come on an empty stomach as the portions are huuuge!

 

Visit Wordsworth's House - Dove Cottage

You have several choices if you’re looking to visit one of Wordsworth’s homes. There are two in Grasmere and one in Cockermouth but the most famous one is definitely Dove Cottage.

It is absolutely gorgeous from the outside, you’ll see many people stopping to photograph it as it is right by Grasmere town centre.

It’s well worth grabbing a ticket and going inside though as it’s been kept beautifully and is a great example of traditional English country cottage from the 1600’s.

An adult ticket is GBP 8.95, you also have to pay for the pay and display car park. if you’re spending the day in this area though it would be easy to buy a day ticket from the central car park in Grasmere and walk the few minutes to Dove Cottage.

The opening times which vary according to time of year can be found on this website.




or Beatrix Potter's House - Hill Top

The children’s author Beatrix Potter is incredibly famous in the UK (and many other countries too) and the Lake District was a place she loved so much that she moved from London, buying the farm known as Hilltop.

She left the house to the National Trust (so visiting is free for members) and stated that it must be left exactly as if she had just popped out for the day.

As a result the house is all the more interesting to look around as everything is just as it would have been when she passed away in 1943.

There is little information about her in the house, but you can ask one of the knowledgable volunteers who will tell you all about her life. We’d definitely recommend doing this as that is what really brought the house and her character to life.

If you’re not a National Trust member tickets are GBP 12 for adults and GBP 6 for children. Opening times are here.

Top tip: In our chat with the lovely volunteer in the house we were told that a coach tour group come through on a Thursday morning so avoid this time if possible for a quieter experience. It’s a small house and as such you have a time slot to get in, though once in you can stay as long as you like.

Hill Top is near the village of Hawkeshead and also Tarn Hows so you can combine all three in one day.


Beatrix Potter Gallery

If her house wasn’t enough, you can visit the Beatrix Potter Gallery in Hawkshead. The gallery is in the former lawyers office of William Heelis (Beatrix’s husband). You can see a lot of the original art from her books as well as much more information about her life.

This is where you get a true feel for the work that she did for the Lake District communities, buying up much land to avoid it being built on. She left much of it to the National Trust to be kept always as public land.

This is also administered by the National Trust, so is free for members. Adult tickets are GBP 7.20 and GBP 3.60 for children.


Grab some of Sarah Nelson's Gingerbread, Grasmere

We’re not usually big gingerbread fans, but Sarah Nelson’s is something you have to try when visiting the Lake District. It’s unlikely that you’ll be alone as the queues to this institution always wind their way down the street.

Sarah Nelson’s claim to be one of the smallest shops in the world and there’s barely room for 3-4 people inside! However, it’s the only place that sells this unique recipe and we were converted!

The trick is to warm the gingerbread in the oven so the texture becomes halfway between a cake and a biscuit, we learnt this useful fact just as we turned the packaging over, having polished off the last of it! If you try it warmed let us know how it was!

 

Aira Force Waterfall


Tucked away in the beautiful area of Ullswater, Aira Force is a picturesque waterfall and a nice place for a leisurely stroll. From the car park, the walk is about 1 mile in total and takes you through a beautiful forest and across traditional bridges to the main falls.

Look out for red squirrels which are common to this area, although we weren’t lucky enough to spot them.

It is administered by the National Trust, meaning parking is free for members. It also has a tea room on site, but we didn’t get a chance to sample it so can’t vouch for how good it is!

 

Get a glorious view of Windermere - Orrest Head

If you want one of the best views of Lake Windermere, then head up to Orrest Head. The trail is short (20 minutes one way), but steep and at the top you’ll reach a clearing for some epic views of Lake Windermere - the biggest lake in England.

The track starts just by Windermere Train Station and goes through woodland. It’s only 1.4 miles long and should take about 40 minutes in total. If you like this one try a few of our other favourite easy walks in the Lake District.


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Are you planning a trip to the Lake District? Have you been and think we missed something? Let us know in the comments below!


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