15 Things to Do in Cumbria
There are vast amounts of activities and things to do in Cumbria. A visit here is truly like no other. Taking in the stunning views at the Lake District National Park is a popular choice, or get out onto the water for the ultimate lake experience with one of the Windermere Lake Cruises.
Without further ado, let us take a look at 15 things that Cumbria has to offer. From mining museum caves to more historical tourist attractions, there’s something for everyone when you plan your getaway at one of our award-winning inns.
Visit the Lake District
Top of the list, the Lake District is a firm favourite with locals and tourists alike. Full of quaint, picturesque pockets of villages and sloping hiking routes, expect to be charmed by your visit.
Lake District National Park
The Lake District National Park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Take a trip there to discover a gorgeous landscape with a rich cultural heritage. You can take your time exploring the fells, admire the calm waters or take a bit of an adventure.
The park is famous for its cool, clear lakes and rivers with a rich variety of species including crayfish, schelly and char. The lakes and tarns give the Lake District a unique beautiful scenery that can’t be found anywhere else in England.
Another one of its special qualities includes the ancient woodlands that provide a home for many native animals and plants. The high levels of rainfall experienced in the National Park contribute to its number of Atlantic mosses, ferns and lichen. The mountain forest gives a distinctiveness that people both old and young will be sure to appreciate for long after they’ve left.
The Lake District locals have helped to shape the entire landscape, too. Writers and environmentalists have campaigned for landscape protection, and artists like Wordsworth, Coleridge and Turner, as well as children’s authors like Beatrix Potter, have gained inspiration from the scenery. There’s no wonder that the national park is an award-winning attraction!
You can find a detailed breakdown of the top 15 things to do in the Lake District right here in this guide, starting with…
Lake Windermere is the largest lake in both the Lake District and England itself. This lake forms the centre of the Windermere Lake area of the Lake District, which is renowned for its watersports, fishing, culinary excitement, and outdoor adventures.
One of the best places around Lake Windermere to visit, in our humble opinion, is Bowness-on-Windermere. This area boasts incredible views of the lake and the rolling hills beyond, as well as a vibrant town feel with lots to eat, drink, do, and explore.
For the ultimate views of Lake Windermere, it has to be The Angel Inn. Perched atop a hill near the lapping waters of the lake, The Angel Inn is renowned for having the best vantage point for the most breathtaking scenic views. Even better, it is only a short downhill walk away from everything Bowness-on-Windermere has to offer.
From Bowness-on-Windermere, you can easily catch the boat from Windermere Lake Cruises across the lake to nearby Waterhead, which is a quick stroll away from Ambleside. Along the shores of Lake Windermere, you will find four of our most beautiful inns – The Regent Hotel, The Wateredge Inn, Ambleside Lake House, and The Waterhead Inn, which only pay testament to the popularity of this area for tourism.
Grasmere is often regarded as being at the heart of the Lake District, due to its location. Just a short drive from the main road, which runs throughout the Lake District, it is perfectly placed for exploring every corner that the area has to offer. In and around Grasmere Village, you can benefit from two lakes – Grasmere Lake and Rydal Water.
As one of the smallest lakes in the Lake District, the stroll around Grasmere Lake is incredibly accessible for all abilities, allowing for a relaxed stroll among the views of the towering fells besides.
Between Ambleside and Grasmere is Rydal, home to Rydal Water, which is connected to Grasmere Lake by the River Rothay. In fact, it is so close to each village that you can easily begin your walk around the lake from either location and simply get the regular bus back to your starting point.
The best view of Rydal Water is undoubtedly from “Wordsworth’s Seat”, which is a natural outcrop thought to have been one of Wordsworth’s most frequented spots in the area. Another highlight is the Rydal Caves, which are carved into the side of Lough Rigg. The Rydal Cave walk is ever popular with families due to its unbeatable excitement.
When in Grasmere, why not check out The Swan for a spot of lunch or a drink as a pit stop on your scenic walk? Or, even better, book a room at The Swan here to give yourself ample time to take in everything Grasmere has to offer.
Lake District Wildlife Park
The Lake District Wildlife Park is a guaranteed fun day out for all ages. With the backdrop of the Skiddaw Massif, journey on foot around the 24 acres of parkland visiting over 100 species of wild and domestic animals cared for in this gorgeous setting by their qualified keepers.
Conservation is at the very heart of the park’s ethos. They actively support three charities, are members of BIAZA, and participate in six different endangered species programmes. As well as this, they jointly manage two Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) on the shores of Bassenthwaite Lake.
Little ones especially will be inspired by the spread of displays and talks that happen daily in the park. A selection of events and activities happen each day, including meerkat talks, birds of prey displays, lemur talks, otter and red panda talks, as well as reptile talks and various other exciting experiences.
Explore the mountains by walking or cycling
Mountain bikers and cyclists are spoilt for choice when they visit the Lake District National Park and the surrounding areas. There are an infinite number of country lanes, cycleways and bridleways suitable for any experience level, and you can be sure of lots of gorgeous scenery along the way.
Recently, the national park has opened a range of new bike locations offering mountain bikes and on and off-road electric bikes in plenty of different sizes for all the family. You can hire a bike for half a day or, if you’re feeling more energetic, you can hire a bike for a full day.
The park offers a great range of cycling routes with quieter tracks and off-road routes if you’d rather cycle slowly and take your time to enjoy the mountainous views.
Even in adverse weather conditions, you can still take a gentle stroll through the park and admire the patterns of rain on the bodies of water making calming sounds.
Check out some of Cumbria’s famous castles
Steeped in history, Cumbria has had a vibrant past that brings a lot to discover for history buffs and casual tourists alike. If you fancy a break from hiking the sloping hills of the Cumbrian countryside, consider booking a tour of one of these famous castles.
One thing for certain is that you won’t run out of things to do when you choose to visit Wray Castle. The castle and estate have acres of paths, lakeshore and parkland with amazing views to stroll through and enjoy. The castle itself was created between 1840 and 1860 and is a great place to enjoy the green valleys, head out for a walk or enjoy a bite to eat by the lake.
The castle has its own personal jetty so start your journey in the very best way by making the travel a part of your special day out. From 2nd April 2022, Windermere Lake Cruises will be relaunching the sailing from Waterhead Pier in Ambleside to Wray Castle, or you can also set off from Bowness-on-Windermere if you prefer.
Catch the Green Cruise and sail across Lake Windermere, arrive at the hidden jetty and enjoy the short walk up to the castle. Boats run seven days a week but note that they are weather dependent.
Wray Castle is a fantastic starting point if you’d like to explore more of the Lake District. Walk along the west shore of Windermere, down to the Claife Viewing Station and watch as the views along the lakeshore are uncovered. This is also an excellent path for cycling for all of the family with a small café at Claife, which is ideal for refuelling after your busy day.
Keen Agatha Christie fans might also recognise Wray Castle from the TV adaptation of Poirot. Keep your eye out for the boathouse and jetty and, of course, the castle itself, which housed David Suchet in the episode ‘Double SIn’ back in 1990.
For groups, individuals and families, Muncaster Castle guarantees an unforgettable experience for all. Today, the castle is celebrating a double success at the esteemed Cumbria Tourism Awards 2022. The popular Lake District attraction was awarded the Small Visitor Attraction of the Year prize and also won the Ethical, Responsible and Sustainable Tourism Award at the showcase event.
The castle offers an audio tour that will take you around the public rooms and introduce you to the castle’s history and residents, navigating family anecdotes and tales to learn more about the past. Learn about Tom Fool (Tom Skelton), the court jester at Muncaster in the 16th century, and the ghost stories about the alleged trouble he’s still causing today.
Sizergh Castle is a beautiful medieval house with rich gardens and estate. When visiting, be sure not to miss the exhibition in the Tower Basement: One Place, One Family, 800 Years. This exhibit will teach you about the Strickland family who have lived on the estate for 800 years. You’ll be able to see centuries-old documents and drawings from the family’s personal archives, which are now on display for the first time ever.
If you’re interested in venturing outdoors instead, picnic benches are available next to the orchard and the castle has a garden cat, Charlie, who you’ll want to keep your eye out for. The estate itself spans an impressive 1600 acres and is packed full of rare wildlife and ancient trees. You can collect a map from the reception before setting off on one of the three available routes.
There is also a free wild play area just off the car park, which is ideal for letting children run off some energy. During Easter, there is also a spring adventure children’s activity sheet, which is free and features nature-themed activities for them to try in the gardens and surrounding parkland.
One of the most popular and exciting things to do at Carlisle Castle when there is bad weather is to visit the site where Mary, Queen of Scots, was held captive from 1568 by her cousin Queen Elizabeth I.
She was imprisoned at Carlisle under the eye of Sir Francis Knollys who allowed the Queen to take walks at the front of the castle on what is now known as ‘Lady’s Walk’.
If you’d rather step into the past of Carlisle Castle, there is a fantastic exhibition that brings the most famous of the castle’s inhabitants to life. Discover how the castle was occupied by the Scottish King David I during a long period of conflicts between Scotland and England.
Easily accessible in the Old Militia Store, the exhibition includes a 3D virtual tour of the keep and Captain’s tower too.
Lowther Castle and Gardens
One of the many exciting and attractive treasures waiting to be discovered in Cumbria is Lowther Castle and Gardens. The castle was built in the early 19th century and was the envy of the north Lake District. However, by 1957, the castle was demolished and just the outer walls remained for over half a century.
Today you can discover the dramatic ruins, gardens and adventure playground. The Castle is full of stories, many of which are told in the exhibition: ‘The Story of Lowther’. The same family has lived in the castle for 850 years, and you can definitely see and hear their echoes when you’re moving around the estate.
For younger members, the castle hosts one of the largest adventure playgrounds in the UK, so there really is something for everyone when you visit this attraction.
The best museums in Cumbria
Cumbria’s not exclusively about the great outdoors, and if the weather takes a dip, you might fancy a Plan B to your original planned hike.
Here are some fun museums that’ll keep you entertained.
Derwent Pencil Museum
Now, we know what you might be thinking – a pencil museum? – but trust us, this is not something you want to miss out on.
Located in Keswick near Derwent Water, the Derwent Pencil Museum is, as you might have guessed, home to the first-ever pencil. When you visit this museum, you enter through a replica graphite mine, which would have served as the source of the pencil industry over three centuries ago. You’ll get to journey through the story of graphite and pencil discovery from its beginnings as a cottage industry to the now modern-day production.
Discover secret WW2 pencils with hidden maps, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee pencil and much more.
The Museum is also home to a fine art retail shop, a coffee shop with free Wi-Fi and hosts its own art workshops. Find out something new when you journey through the unique pencil museum in the heart of Cumbria.
Nearby the Pencil Museum, you’ll find the Newlands Valley, which is said to be one of the quietest and most picturesque of the valleys in the national park, despite being so close to the tourist town of Keswick and the busy A66 – definitely worth checking out whilst visiting.
Lakeland Motor Museum
Cosily nestled into the idyllic Leven Valley close to the southern tip of Lake Windermere in the Lake District, the Lakeland Motor Museum is so much more than just a museum. With local history and period shopping displays, authentic recreations and a picturesque riverside café, this museum makes a great day out for the whole family.
The museum boasts an array of pedal cars to celebrate over 100 years of make-believe. Some of the key exhibits that you can see at the museum include the 1930s Dodgem Car from New Brighton on Merseyside and the Austin Junior 40 (J40).
The Lakeland Motor Museum has been a popular spot with families and car enthusiasts alike for many years, especially to see the famous Campbell Bluebird.
Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery
Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery is considered to be Carlisle’s finest visitor attraction. It houses considerable collections of art, human history and natural sciences. As well as this, it boasts a wide range of exhibitions, events and interactive displays.
This attraction brings you the perfect combination of both old and new with the Old Tullie House, a Grade-One-Listed Jacobean building and the Border Galleries, which are packed with exciting exhibits.
What’s more, this attraction isn’t weather-dependent, so you can enjoy the sights and peer at the mountainous landscapes whether it’s pure sunshine or (more likely) pouring with rain!
An inspiring new 20th-century addition to the area of Town End in Grasmere is the Wordsworth Museum. This museum, new to 2020, features many artefacts and interactive displays all about William Wordsworth’s life and influence on the area.
If purchasing some Wordsworth souvenirs is right up your street, be sure to visit the Wordsworth shop as well to experience rare edition books, paintings, postcards and more.
Dove Cottage, William Wordsworth’s home from 1799 to 1808, is where Wordsworth produced his most famous poem ‘Daffodils’. A guided tour of this cottage provides an in-depth impression of what life would have been like for Wordsworth and his family, as well as gives an opportunity to absorb the creative energy of the cottage and grounds.
The Wordsworth Trust was founded in 1891 to secure the cottage, and they have built the award-winning museum, which houses one of the greatest collections of manuscripts, books and paintings relating to British Romanticism.
Through this collection of letters, poems and stories, the museum tells the story of Wordsworth’s life – from his tragic childhood through his travels during the French Revolution all the way up to his ideas, which served to change literature forever.
Founded by Mary Louisa Armitt in 1912, the Armitt’s collections are full of unusual items that tell the history and heritage of Ambleside and its people. From its inception as a subscription library, the museum has evolved over the years and is now home to quite a variety of quirky artefacts, including some Roman remains from the Ambleside fort.
An especially interesting part of the Armitt Museum and Library is the Beatrix Potter attraction. This attraction showcases more than just her wonderful storytelling creations but highlights her love for watercolours and shares some personal details about her as a keen environmentalist and passionate farmer.
Just across the road from this museum, you will also find a fascinating one-roomed house, which is suspended over the river. It’s truly mind-blowing.
Where to stay in Cumbria
Cumbria and the Lake District is the ideal place to escape and unwind. With a mountain forest on your doorstep, how can you resist?
Staying in Ambleside
The Ambleside Inn has been welcoming visitors for over 300 years. Having been recently reopened after restoration, this inn is the perfect place to set up a base and explore some of the busiest mountains.
Conveniently, Rydal Water is located near the hamlet of Rydal, between Grasmere and Ambleside in the Rothay Valley, making the Ambleside Inn ideal for adventure seekers.
Staying in Bassenthwaite
If perhaps you’d prefer a newly refurbished 17th-century coaching inn, you might find that The Pheasant Inn in Bassenthwaite is more your style. Located near the market towns of Cockermouth and Keswick, this inn is in an amazing setting where the woods, water and fells all combine near Bassenthwaite Lake to make for a view you won’t forget in a hurry.
All of the fantastic inns provided by the Inn Collection Group have something unique to offer. Whether they’re just a stone’s throw from Coniston Water or looking out over the Whinlatter Forest and daring you to go on a mountain bike adventure, you’ll be sure to have a restful night’s sleep in one of our inns.
With each inn offering a seasonal menu crafted by expert teams, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to picking your meals during your stay.
Speaking of Coniston Water, the beautiful Whicham Valley is less than a 45-minute drive away and is a must-see. Within the Valley of Whicham is St Mary’s church, which serves the local community of Whicham. A highly popular path up Black Combe starts here and leads towards Duddon Bridge, another well-known and beloved tourist attraction.
So, for your next getaway to Cumbria, choose the Inn Collection Group and browse our available inns today.