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Top 10 places to visit in the Lake District

Discover the best of this wild and romantic national park

Boulder-strewn mountains and tranquil lakes. Tiny villages of whitewashed stone and rolling green valleys grazed by sheep. Bustling markets and cosy country inns. Rising up above England’s windswept northwestern coastline, the Lake District is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and romantic places in Britain.

Whether you’re visiting for a weekend or a week, here are 10 spots in this UNESCO World Heritage Site that you shouldn’t miss.

Castlerigg stone circle © iStockphoto.com/Jokerbee12
1.

Grasmere

Sitting in the middle of the Central Fells, Grasmere, with its handsome stone cottages and lush surroundings, is the archetypal Lake District settlement. 

The village features all the pleasures of the region rolled into one. There are rugged walks to isolated tarns and peaks, watersports on the tranquil lake, an early medieval church and a range of independent shops and galleries. And of course, this being the Lakes, a cream tea or a pint is always close by.

You can also take a guided tour of Dove Cottage, where William Wordsworth and his family lived for almost ten years, or explore the fascinating museum next door, featuring the poet’s letters, journals, poems and other memorabilia.

Sunrise over Grasmere © 221A/221A
2.

Ambleside

Nestled on the shores of Lake Windermere is bustling Ambleside. Home to pretty cottages, quaint cafes and well-stocked outdoor stores, this town is an ideal base for any holiday in the Lakes. As well as being handy for accessing the northern shores of Windermere, it is also within easy reach of some of national park’s best sights, such as Langdale, Coniston and Hawkshead.

That said, Ambleside isn’t just a place to make camp. A number of pretty walks lead out of the town centre, from the leafy path up to Stock Ghyll Force – a tumbling waterfall hidden in the forest – to the short stroll along to pretty Waterhead. If you’re in search of a longer hike, make for Jenkins Crag – this stony, rocky outcrop provides a fantastic view over the lake and surrounding countryside.

View over Ambleside © George-Standen/George-Standen
3.

Lake Windermere

The most famous of all the lakes in this wild national park, Windermere is also England’s largest. Explore this expansive body of water by cruise, canoe or rowing boat, and then discover some of the unique sights dotted around the lake. 

One of these is 17th-century Townend, a traditional Lakeland farmhouse built from stone and slate that was home to the Browne family for over 400 years. Take a guided tour of the house or wander round its peaceful garden.

South of Townend is iconic Blackwell. Set high above Windermere with stunning views over the lake, this Arts and Crafts house is a masterpiece of 20th-century design, and still has all of its original features, including the wood-panelled great hall.

If all this sightseeing leaves you needing a little rest and relaxation, head to the town of Windermere on the lake’s eastern shore. Boasting cute cafes and superb hotels, it’s the perfect place to put your feet up.

View over Windermere © iStockphoto.com/Tranquillian1
4.

Kendal

Despite sitting outside the boundaries of the Lake District National Park, Kendal has many of the most appealing characteristics of the region: fine stone buildings, independent shops and restaurants, and verdant hills surrounding it. 

This handsome little market town is also a hub of arty activity. Check out the cosmopolitan Brewery Arts Centre, home to two cinema screens, a theatre and an exhibition space. Don’t miss Abbot Hall – this listed villa, set beside the river Kent, hosts a range of high-profile contemporary art shows, as well as a fine collection of works by local artist George Romney. 

The town’s most engaging attraction is the immersive Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry. Visitors can browse in Edwardian shops, peek into a lead mine and walk into the parlour of a Lakeland farm.

Chemist shop in the Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry © Lakeland Arts/Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry
5.

Borrowdale

Lush and heavily wooded, the valley of Borrowdale has a distinctly otherworldly air. Here, the trees seem to be taller, the fells higher and the valley denser with ferns, yews and oaks than anywhere else. 

Cutting through this leafy valley is the River Derwent. Charming little villages are clustered along its banks, including pretty Grange-in-Borrowdale, whose riverside tea shop makes the perfect pit stop. From here you can follow a footpath north to the southern edge of Derwent Water, which is perfect for canoeing, kayaking, windsurfing and rowing.

An excellent way to explore this part of the Lakes is bus No. 78, more poetically known as the Borrowdale Rambler. The bus route winds through Borrowdale before ending at Seatoller, a pretty hamlet that’s a good base for walkers looking to explore the high fells.

Borrowdale seen from the summit of Castle Crag © Dreamstime.com/Davidmartyn
6.

Hawkshead

Free from cars, this pretty village is boasts cobbled lanes that wind between low, whitewashed cottages, decked out with flowers in summer.

One of its most famous attractions is St Michael and All Angels Church. Perched above the village, this church was founded in 1500 and boasts a 21-m (70-ft) high nave with impressive pillars and painted arches. As a schoolboy, William Wordsworth liked to while away time here, enjoying the sweeping views of Esthwaite Water and the Langdale Pikes.

The village is also home to the 500-year-old King’s Arms, an excellent pub offering delicious food, real ales and an impressive selection of malt whiskies. If you’re visiting in the summer, a quiet pint in its tranquil beer garden is a must.

Be sure to visit nearby Hill Top. A must-see for Beatrix Potter fans, this 17th-century farmhouse is furnished with many of the author’s possessions and the museum has plenty of Potter memorabilia on display.

Hawkshead village during summer © Dreamstime.com/Acceleratorhams
7.

Coniston Water

Often overlooked by visitors in favour of Windermere, Coniston is all the better for being less explored. This long, slender stretch of water, just west of Windermere, is surrounded by an array of attractions. 

Not to be missed is Brantwood, the beautiful home of John Ruskin. Its elegant interiors are home to the painter’s impressive art and furniture collection. There’s also the Ruskin Museum which, alongside a collection dedicated to the famous painter, includes a section on speed racer Donald Campbell.

Explore the lake itself on the National Trust’s 19th-century steam boat, stopping off at Tiny Peel Island, one of the locations around Coniston Water that inspired Arthur Ransome’s much-loved children’s book, Swallows and Amazons.

There are many wonderful walks here too, from the pathways that lace through Grizedale Forest to the more challenging hike up to the 800-m (2,634-ft) high Old Man of Coniston, a towering fell with views to the coast and the imposing Scafell Massif.

Path leading to the Old Man of Coniston © iStockphoto.com/Drew Rawcliffe
8.

Wasdale

This valley is simply one of the wildest and most impressive places in Britain. From the village of Gosforth, a narrow road leads past lonely Wast Water and ends at the valley head with England’s most mighty peaks – Scafell, Scafell Pike and Great Gable – rising before
you. 

Pitch your tent and then take to the lake in a canoe, drop in for a pint at the venerable Wasdale Head Inn or just bask in the magnificent mountain views. If you’re feeling brave you can attempt to tackle the steep path up to Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England – the walk may be challenging but it’s more than worth it for the panoramic views.

The hamlet of Wasdale Head © Dreamstime.com/Adeliepenguin
9.

Langdale

Langdale is the best area in which to see the beauty and grandeur of the Lake District. More accessible than remote Wasdale, the valley is nonetheless sculpted on a truly epic scale, with steep, verdant fell walls giving way to even higher and sterner mountain ranges. 

Home to the dramatic Crinkle Crags and Langdale Pikes, this place is a hiker’s heaven. One of the most popular walks starts at the cascading waterfall of Stickle Ghyll, winding steeply up to the tranquil 457-m (1,500-ft) high Stickle Tarn. 

If all this hiking makes you hungry, head to the riverside village of Elterwater. This charming settlement has rugged stone cottages wreathed in honeysuckle and a number of pubs more than happy to feed famished walkers. One of the best is the rugged Hiker’s Bar – its outdoor terrace is perfect for a summer pint.

Langdale valley © Dreamstime.com/Khrizmo
10.

Keswick

A popular and busy little town, Keswick has plenty of attractions, including peaceful Derwent Water. Only a ten-minute walk from the centre of town, this lake is watched over by the rolling fells of Cat Bells, and is best explored on a lakeside stroll to the wooded promontory of Friar's Crag.

Keswick is also a handy option for rainy days. Learn about the area’s landscape and culture at the Keswick Museum, shop for local produce at centuries-old Keswick Market or hunker down to watch an art-house film at the historic Alhambra Cinema.

Want to delve deeper into the area’s history? Pay a visit to Castlerigg Stone Circle. Erected around 3000 BC, this 38-stone ring is a striking sight against the surrounding fells.

Rowing boats lining the shore at Derwent Water © Dreamstime.com/Stunnedmullett