From embarking on adventurous outdoor activities to devouring superb local produce, there are a host of great things to do in the Lake District. Here’s our pick of the best of them.

By: Mark | Last Updated: 16 Feb 2024 | Jump to Comments & Questions

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The craggy mountains of the Lake District National Park have long been considered one of the best hiking destinations in the UK.

While there are plenty of enthralling walks in the Lake District, there are also charming towns, gorgeous picnic spots, a thriving food scene, and a literacy legacy that has shaped the culture of the area.

From wild swimming in glorious lakes to scoffing cream teas in stately homes; relaxing on a vintage steamer to sunrise runs to beautiful Lake District photography locations, this is an area blessed with incredible attractions and invigorating experiences.

Our guide to the best things to do in the Lake District celebrates the scenery, culture, and food of one of England’s greatest districts.

A stand of trees beside a lake dwarfed by the face of a huge mountain is a great photography spot in the Lake District
BUTTERMERE, LAKE DISTRICT

1 – TAKE THE ULLSWATER STEAMER

Taking a cruise on a boat is one of the most popular things to do in the lakes. There are several to choose from but in our opinion, the wood-paneled steamer on Ullswater is the best.

Ullswater is more remote than other lakes with fewer crowds. The high mountains tightly surrounding the tear-shaped shoreline add a dramatic backdrop.

How to book — Tickets can be booked in advance from Ullswater Steamers who have the largest fleet of heritage boats and several routes scenic along the lake. You can also book gift experiences with Prosceco.

TOP TIP | GLENRIDDING TO HOWTOWN

We highly 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.

2 – HIKE SCAFELL PIKE

There are hundreds of hiking paths in the Lake District [bookmark our best Lake District walks] including gentle strolls around glistening lakes to challenging hikes in the high mountains.

One of the best hill walks in the Lake District is Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain.

There are several walking routes up Scafell Pike, but by far the most scenic, and least crowded, is the Corridor Route. This beautiful walk includes rolling farmland, deep picturesque gullies, and dramatic mountain vistas.

Complete hike details — All the details are in our guide to hiking the Scarfell Pike Corridor Route which includes a map with detailed instructions.

3 – PHOTOGRAPH CASTLERIGG STONE CIRCLE

There are stone circles across the length and breadth of Britain. However, Castlerigg Stone Circle is one of the oldest and 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.

Castlerigg is completely free.

DETAILS | VISITING CASTLERIGG

By Bus – The 555 bus from Windermere to Keswick stops near Castlerigg, the stop is Castle Lane | By Car – Parking is available off the A66., but it’s very limited so arrive early in the day if possible | By Foot – Castlerigg is just 30 minutes walk from Keswick.

4 – 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. It’s an interesting museum and perfect for a rainy day.

Don’t Miss — The Jerwood Centre, part of Wordsworth Grasmere contains 90% of Wordsworth’s original manuscripts as well as Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere Journal.

DETAILS | WORDSWORTH GRASMERE

hours – 10 am to 5 pm (Tuesday – Saturday) | cost – £14/£13/£10, the ticket allows you to visit for 12 months.

wordsworth grasmere lake district
WORDSWORTH GRASMERE

5 – 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 on the edge of the lake under the imposing crags of Haystacks forms a crystal-clear reflection making it one of the best 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.

6 – 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.

The grand gardens at Holker Hall are a must-visit destination in the lakes. 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.

DETAILS | HOLKER HALL

hours – 10:30 am to 5 pm (Wednesday – Sunday, March to October) | cost – £14.75 (hall & gardens); £10.50 (gardens only)

7 – 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, Sticklebarn 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.

Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel // One of the best watering holes in the Lake District, the legendary Hiker’s Bar in the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel is charmingly dated and directly under the towering pikes of the Langdales.   

8 – 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.

It’s also a great place to hang out on a rainy day in the Lake District.

Here are some great things to do in Ambleside –

  • Stroll the waterside area of Waterhead with parks, cafes, gift shops and woodland trails.
  • Take the ferry from Waterhead Pier to Bowness, Windermere or Wray Castle.
  • Take the trail from the center of town to Loughrigg Fell, a 335-metre peak overlooking Ambleside.
  • Visit Stock Ghyll Force, a 70-metre waterfall just a short walk from the centre of town, then photograph the 17th-century Bridge House straddling the river.

9 – TAKE THE SHORT, SCENIC 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.

For more details, see our guide to the best hikes in the Lake District.

DETAILS | LOUGHRIGG FELL WALK

start – Pelter Bridge Car Park | distance – 8 kilometres | time – 2 hr, 30 min | elevation – 360 metres (+\-)

10 – EAT IN 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-starred restaurants and several of the hotels in town take pub grub to the next level.

The most important contribution Cartmel has made to the British food scene, however, is Sticky Toffee Pudding which was popularised by the Village Shop who developed a take-home version that is now sold in most supermarkets throughout the country.

L’Enclume // The first of Simon Rogan’s restaurants, L’Enclume has 2 Michelin stars, a farm-to-table philosophy, and traceable local ingredients that are expertly prepared.

Rogan & Co // The Michelin-starred neighborhood eatery in Cartmel produces innovative takes on classic dishes with much of the produce nurtured in their own farm.

Unsworth’s Yard Brewery // With their own craft brew, local cheese and some of the best pizza in the lakes, Unsworth is an excellent foodie option.

Cartmel Cheeses // Sourced directly from the maker, Cartmel Cheeses believe in the philosophy of artisanal, small-batch cheese.

11 – TAKE TO THE WATER ON WINDERMERE

Windermere is the largest natural lake in England and a popular spot for all types of boating excursions.

Windermere 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.

Where to park? — The Blea Tarn car park between Little and Great Langdale Valleys (postcode: LA22 9PG). Parking starts at £5 for 2 hours and accepts cash only. It’s free for National Trust members. The tarn is a 5-minute walk from the car park.

What to bring? — There are no facilities at Blea Tarn, so you’ll need to pack (and remove) your own picnic supplies.

WALK | BLEA TARN TRAIL

If you don’t feel like swimming, the Blea Tarn Trail is an easy 1.8 kilometre out and back walk, with lovely views of the Langdale Pikes.

13 – 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 from, 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. All the details are in our guide to the best walks in the Lake District.

DETAILS | HELVELLYN VIA STRIDING EDGE

start – Glenridding Car Park | distance – 13.5 kilometres | time – 6 hours | elevation – 840 metres (+/-)

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.

Hill Top is still full of her personal belongings and original artwork and the house and rambling garden is a delightful nod to the characters of her books. Kids will love the cute signs that bring to life the stories of Jemima Puddle-Duck and Tom Kitten. 

DETAILS | HILL TOP

hours – 10 am to 5 pm | facilities – cafe, shop, toilets, parking | cost – £16.50, free for National Trust Members | tickets – capacity is restricted so it’s a good idea to book online.

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.    

Where to hire Kayaks? — Several places provide kayak hire at Derwentwater, including Derwentwater Marina and Nichol End Marine on the lake’s western end.

views lake district 01
DERWENT WATER, LAKE DISTRICT

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 pre-booked mobility scooters free of charge.

It’s a dog-friendly location that children will love, and the entire path is very pram-friendly.

Try to arrive before lunchtime in summer as Tarn Hows gets very busy.

Facilities at Tarn Hows — There are toilets, a National Trust information van, and a snack truck.

Gentle walking path circles a picturesque lake in the Lake District
TARN HOWS

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 Malcolm 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.

DETAILS | LAKELAND MOTOR MUSEUM

hours – 9:30 am to 5:30 pm (daily) | cost – £10/£6 | parking – free parking onsite | facilities – cafe, shop, toilets.

19 – ADMIRE GREAT GABLE OVER WASTWATER

Wastwater is the deepest lake in the Lake District, making it a very refreshing way to cool off.

But, if the icy temperatures are 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.

Wastwater Beaches — 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.

Cafes & Pubs — With few facilities around the lake, head to the Saw Mill Café and Farmshop not far from the southern end, or the atmospheric hiking pub Wasdale Head Inn just passed the northern end.

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

To help you navigate while in the Lake District all the attractions listed in this guided are on the below map.

  • Green = activities including walks and cycle paths
  • Brown = villages, gardens, stately homes
  • Blue = lake-based adventures
  • Yellow = pubs and restaurants.

How to use this map / Click on the top left of the map to display the list of locations, then click on the locations to display further information. Click on the top right corner of the map to open a larger version in a new tab or the star to save to your Google Maps.  


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 options of larger (but sometimes busy) towns, others are great for getting away from it all in remote areas.

Our guide on the best places to stay in the Lake District includes a summary of all the different regions with hotel recommendations.

Small hut on a bright blue lake in the Lake District, Ullswater.
ULLSWATER, LAKE DISTRICT

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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. | Ullswater Steamer | Scafell Pike | Castelrigg | Dove Cottage | Buttermere | Holker Hall | Langdales | Ambleside | Loughrigg | Cartmel | Windermere | Hawkshead | Beatrix Potter

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