15 Things to Do in the Lake District
Good news – there are tons of activities and things to do in the Lake District. You can walk and cycle around the countryside and take in the stunning views at the Lake District National Park or you can get onto the bodies of water of the lakes and coastline for a range of exciting outdoor activities.
Whoever you are and whatever your preferences, families, couples and singletons alike, you’re guaranteed to get your fill of adventure when you visit the Lake District.
In this guide, we’ll take you through 15 fun activities that’ll make your trip to the Lake District all the more enchanting – from museums to castles, there’s something for everyone. And if you’re looking for things further afield, you might also like our top things to do in Cumbria, too.
Which are the best lakes to visit in the Lake District?
As you’d expect, the Lake District is famous for, well, its lakes! During your visit, you’ll truly be spoilt for choice for which breathtaking view to relax before. In total, there are 16 lakes and tarns to choose from, as well as numerous reservoirs.
Here are our top picks:
At 10.5 miles long, one mile wide and 220 feet deep, 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 – an area often known as the South Lakes. Close to the southern end of Lake Windermere is Newby Bridge. Once a part of Lancashire, it’s now a small village adjoining the River Leven.
Today, the lake is one of the central destinations for water sports activities in the Lake District. A range of marinas and sailing and windsurfing centres can be found around the shores, as well as a large selection of activities for adventure seekers.
You can hire a motor boat, rowing boat, canoe, kayak or paddleboard or, if you’re feeling a little less adventurous, the Windermere Lake cruises are especially popular for those wishing to take in the spectacular views of this body of water. In fact, the 16th most popular visitor attraction in the UK is taking a boat trip on Windermere lake.
Boat trips on Lake Windermere
Built in 2020, MV Swift is the newest of all the vessels owned by Windermere Lake Cruises. This boat has three decks and a full capacity of 300 with a licensed bar, promenade deck, viewing stations, wheelchair-accessible toilet as well as indoor and outdoor upper decks with glazing that can be lowered or raised for different weather conditions.
Otherwise, if you’re looking for something a little bigger, the MV Swan is 142 feet long and has a capacity of up to 533 passengers with three decks and a range of other amenities.
More intimate and relaxing boat trips are available on nearby Coniston Water and the Coniston Yacht if the Windermere Lake Cruises feel too crowded for you.
If you’re interested in fishing at the lake, Windermere has sea trout, salmon, roach and eels, perch, pike, brown trout and arctic charr, so you certainly won’t be short of fish to reel in.
Bassenthwaite Lake is one of the largest in the Lake District at 4 miles long and ¾ mile wide. It’s also one of the shallowest at just 70ft.
This Lake is most often full of sailing boats from the Bassenthwaite Sailing Club and has no major settlements on its shores. There is a single shore path that runs the length of the west shore, but there is no access to the east side except at Mirehouse where there is a small open-air theatre, built at the place where it is thought that Lord Alfred Tennyson composed much of his “Morte d’Arthur” poem.
Near the north end of the lake is The Lakes Distillery, which produces artisan whisky, gin and vodka. If this sounds like your type of thing, there is a visitor centre with distillery tours and a bistro.
When talking about Bassenthwaite Lake, Ennerdale water inevitably comes up. Ennerdale is the most westerly of the lakes and is 148 feet deep. It currently features as a reservoir for the coastal towns of West Cumbria, and it’s the only lake that doesn’t have a road running alongside it.
Nearby is Muncaster Castle, another award-winning Lake District attraction well worth checking out in the west. The historic and reputedly haunted castle dates from the mediaeval age and has been home to the Pennington family for over 800 years.
When staying in Bassenthwaite, The Pheasant Inn is the perfect place to kick back and relax after a long day of adventuring.
Ullswater is often deemed the most beautiful lake in England. The lake is set in the Lake District National Park in Cumbria, providing the perfect place for those who wish to holiday somewhere quiet with breath-taking views.
The lake is England’s second largest at 7.5 miles long and is the setting for William Wordsworth’s famous “Daffodils” poem. William visited Glencoyne Park in the 18th century, and it provided him with the inspiration to write the most successful of his poems.
What is arguably the best lakeshore walk can be found on the southeastern shore between Howtown and Glenridding (two of the three stopping points for the boats mentioned below). These offer unmatched panoramic views across the lake that are well worth the walk.
Boat hire in Ullswater
On Ullswater Lake, Ullswater Cruises run two diesel crafts ‘Raven’ and ‘Lady of the Lake’ in the summer.
Boat hire is also available on the shores of the lake, as well as sailing and windsurfing courses for those who want a little more activity.
For accommodation that offers a gorgeous view of the water and the Helvellyn peaks, why not check out The Glenridding Hotel, which is situated on the southern shore of Ullswater.
Derwentwater lake is three miles long, one mile wide and 72 feet deep and is, perhaps unsurprisingly, fed by the River Derwent. This area has an interesting history. In the 16th century, the area was used as a landing spot for the local mining industry, and in the 18th and 19th centuries, it became the inspiration for poets such as William Wordsworth.
Also known as ‘Keswick’s Lake’, Derwentwater is considered a landscape of moods because it varies from dramatic waves splashing against Friar’s Crag when driven by southerly gale to the absolute mirror calm of early mornings.
A little further on is Friar’s Crag, which offers one of the most magnificent views. The fictional Old Brown from Squirrel Nutkin in the Beatrix Potter tale was also supposed to have sailed to the island, known as Owl Island in the book.
It’s interesting to note that the area is called Friar’s Crag because it’s supposedly the departure point for monks who were sailing to St Herbert’s Island on a pilgrimage where the saint was rumoured to have lived.
Derwent Water Marina is an extremely popular part of the lake. It offers tuition in water sports as well as hiring out canoes, kayaks, dinghies and a range of other powered craft.
Coniston Lake is the third largest lake in the Lake District and is approximately five miles long and half a mile wide. It’s not the deepest lake but has a maximum depth of 184 feet which provided an important fish source for monks in the 13th century.
The lake itself is around half a mile down from the village – a place where you can hire boats and bikes from the Boating Centre. If you’d prefer to have a peaceful ride across the lake and take in the beautiful views instead, the Coniston Launch has various cruises around the lake all year round, but not every day from November to February.
In 1859, the Coniston railway opened and there was an immediate influx of tourists, with the Steam Yacht Gondola being built to provide trips on Coniston Water to entertain the increasing number of visitors. The National Trust runs a restored version of the Gondola on the lake today.
Philosopher John Ruskin who bought Brantwood house to the east of the lake in the 18th century stated that the view over the lake is ‘the best in all of England.’
For those looking for a quiet retreat, The Coniston Inn sits on the edge of Coniston Water and has undergone a full rework.
Places to eat and drink in the Lake District
Feast on delicious British pub food and world cuisine dishes at our award-winning inns. Here are some of the best spots to eat and drink in the Lake District.
Dine by the water at The Coniston Inn
The Coniston Inn is the place to come to for hearty food created just for you, whatever time of day. Whether you’re looking for a full Cumbrian breakfast, small plates and snacks or hearty lunches and evening meals, this inn guarantees quality.
The chef’s daily changing specials showcase local Lakeland produce so whoever you are and whatever you’re planning for your day, you won’t be disappointed with The Coniston Inn.
If you’re visiting on the weekend look forward to the Sunday roast, promising outstanding roasts with generous helpings of hand-carved meats or vegetarian alternatives, homemade Yorkshire puddings and crunchy roasties along with freshly prepared vegetables.
Not only is the food spectacular but located on the shores of Coniston Water with views of the lake and fells, this classic Lakeland slate building has recently undergone a full restoration and has officially reopened! The stunning location makes this inn the perfect base from which to explore the Old Man of Coniston.
Settle down for a post-hike drink at The Swan, Grasmere
Mentioned by Wordsworth in his poem ‘The Waggoner’, The Swan is located underneath the fells that surround the timeless Grasmere Village in the Lake District. Perfectly placed to accommodate walkers, outdoor lovers or for those wishing to catch up with loved ones, The Swan is one of the prettiest spots in the Lakes.
Rest your weary legs after a day exploring the lakes and enjoy a glass of your favourite drink. With its wide selection of local ales, a wide choice of wines and spirits, freshly brewed teas and coffees, stunning views and welcoming atmosphere, The Swan is a real delight to enjoy a much-deserved drink in.
Indulge in a hearty meal on the Ullswater shore at The Glenridding Hotel
Located in the picturesque village of Glenridding on the southern shores of Lake Ullswater, The Glenridding Hotel is the ideal place to get away in the Lake District. Having said that, it’s certainly not just the lake views that makes the hotel a destination well worth checking out.
Tasty homemade pub food served every day makes for an award-winning food destination whether you’re putting your feet up after a day’s exploring or just taking in the breath-taking view of the Lake District while you refuel.
With a wealth of excellent, fresh Cumbrian ingredients to hand, the Glenridding Hotel is proud to serve a seasonal menu of quality pub food with friendly service from breakfast through to evening meals. All you have to do is take a seat and enjoy a fantastic selection of delicious and generously plated dishes, including a range of family favourites and seasonal specials.
Check out The Waterhead Inn in Ambleside
The Waterhead Inn is located in Waterhead Bay and is a brilliant place to explore the Lake District from. Just a mere stone’s throw from Windermere accessible by road, bike or board, and a short walk from Ambleside town centre, if you’re looking for the perfect base in Ambleside, the Waterhead Inn is it.
Wake up in one of our fantastic en-suite rooms at our Ambleside accommodation and take in some of the best views Britain has to offer. You’re guaranteed a restful night’s stay in one of our double, twin, single, or family en-suite bedrooms.
This hotel is unique in that you’re welcome to bring your dog as a guest or just as you enjoy a drink or a meal. Surrounded by lots of dog-friendly walks and trails, the Lake District is the perfect place to explore with your dog.
Best activities in the Lakes
From thrillseekers to history buffs, the Lake District knows how to do entertainment with something for everyone. The outdoors are, of course, charming here - with watersports and hiking galore, there are plenty of activities to keep you on your toes. If you fancy more of a trip through British history, the Lake District was particularly charming to the Romantics, inspiring many famous English poets and novelists to write some of their finest work.
Activity-wise, let’s take a look at some of the best things to do in the Lake District.
Take a tour of Beatrix Potter’s home
You can join the Beatrix Potter tour from Ambleside, Bowness, Grasmere, Keswick, Oxenholme and Windermere. The tour takes you to a number of different historic places, beginning with Wray Castle. This is the holiday home where Beatrix Potter spent her 16th birthday and first discovered the Lake District.
You’ll then be taken near the village where Beatrix Potter lived (Sawrey) and visit the house that she bought from the money she made from the publication of Peter Rabbit – Hill Top. From there you’ll go on to Esthwaite Water where Beatrix Potter walked with William Heelis when they were dating and visit the Hawkshead Village and Beatrix Potter Gallery.
Tarn Hows is next, a place that was bought by Beatrix Potter and regarded as one of the most beautiful places in the Lake District, followed by Monk Coniston Estate, also bought by Beatrix and later donated to the National Trust.
Finally, you’ll stop by the Coniston Water, Yewdale Valley and the Armitt Library and Museum where you’ll be able to see Beatrix Potter’s detailed mycology illustrations along with other impressive artefacts.
Check out the premium drinks at the Lake District Distillery
If you’re looking to experience the excitement of a distillery unlike any other, the Lakes Distillery is a must. You can witness the distillery’s whiskey maker’s unique approach come to life and see behind the scenes of England’s largest award-winning whisky distillery.
What’s more, this prime location offers more than just a distillery. Their bistro is set in what was once their farmsteads’ cattle parlour, making it the ideal place for a kitchen that is focused on local produce and hearty flavours.
The Lakes practices holistic whisky making, with the whisky maker at the helm throughout the journey through the distillery and beyond. His single-minded focus at every stage provides continuity of character – assuring that every flavour possibility is achieved.
A warm welcome in a scenic setting with amazing views expands from a spot of tea with homemade cake to a relaxing lunch, afternoon tea, or a full three-course meal. There’s even the opportunity to dine al fresco in the gorgeous courtyard or make the most of the stunning garden space.
If you’d like to try out some of the premium drinks crafted by the Lakes Distillery, be sure to ask at the bar in our pubs, where we’re proud to stock Lakes Distillery products!
Head out onto the water at Windermere
There are a huge range of water activities on and around Windermere Lake from boat and bike hire to sailing clubs and water sports on the lake.
Located on the north-east shore of the Lake Windermere and mid-way between Ambleside and Windermere, Low Wood Bay Watersports offers water skiing and wakeboarding tuition, sailing tuition, RYA dinghy sailing courses, RYA powerboat courses, canoe and kayak tuition as well as boat hire.
One option is to hire a luxury motor cruiser with a skipper and enjoy the ultimate cruise experience on Lake Windermere. You can relax and take in the scenery for up to four hours and take advantage of your very own experienced skipper doing all the hard work for you!
Try watersports on the gorgeous lakes!
LakeSUP is a Windermere-based business that specialises in providing paddleboards directly to holiday homes. Paddleboarding itself is a popular sport in which the individual propels themselves across the water using an inflatable board and paddle.
This sport is suitable for all ages and abilities, promising a day out for all to enjoy. The boards are rented for the day and can be paddled at any point on the lake.
Or, looking to take your experience up a notch?
Windermere Wake surfing is an exhilarating activity also suitable for all. Wakesurfing entails riding the manufactured waves behind a state-of-the-art Super Air Nautique G21 on a 4ft Hyperlite wakesurfing board.
Exploring the local forestry
If you’re after something just as exciting but not actually on the lake itself, the Forestry Commission Visitor Centre is deep within the forest between Coniston Water and the lake. It features a children’s adventure playground with indoor activities, several activities for treetop adventure and a range of other activities ideal for the adrenaline seeker in you.
Crummock water is also situated in the north and is fed by streams including the beck from Scale Force, which with a drop of 170 feet is Lakeland’s tallest waterfall.
Rydal Mount is William Wordsworth’s iconic cottage home
Rydal Mount was the last family home of William Wordsworth. It housed him between 1813 and his death in 1850. Wordsworth and his family originally rented the house from Lady le Fleming, of nearby Rydal Hall.
The cottage remains a lived-in family home belonging to the direct descendants of the poet and contains works of art, furniture, manuscripts and most of the poet’s books and personal possessions. In fact, Wordsworth was a keen gardener, and the four-acre garden remains just as he designed it, featuring fell-side terraces, lawns, rock pools and a 9th century Norse mound. There is also a stunning view over Rydal water from the summerhouse and nearby Pelter Bridge.
Wray Castle is a beautiful castle also located nearby and has acres of paths, lakeshore and parkland for you to wander through and explore, as well as a new display Brought to Light featuring photographs of Rupert Potter.
For nearby accommodation, why not check out The Ambleside Inn? Just a 15-minute drive from Wray Castle, it’s the perfect lodging to return to after a day of exploring.
Take a stroll around the idyllic town of Grasmere
One of the quaintest and prettiest villages in the Lake District is Grasmere. Nestled in a vale just north of Grasmere Lake and surrounded by mountains on all sides, this town showcases England at its finest.
Grasmere features gorgeous scenery with towering hills and gentle sections of the lake amongst trees and open clearings. There is, of course, a historic church alongside a river that boasts the final resting place of William Wordsworth. He and his wife Mary, plus other family members and literary colleagues are buried in St Oswald’s Church.
The unmissable Wordsworth Museum
An inspiring new 20thcentury 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.
Lowther Castle, Holker Hall, Leighton Hall and Sizergh Castle are some of the other places that are definitely worth paying a visit when in the Lake District.
Castlerigg is perhaps the most atmospheric and dramatic site of all British stone circles. It’s among the earliest British circles, raised in around 3000 BC during the Neolithic Period.
It’s not just the location that makes this one of the most important and exciting British stone circles, it is potentially one of the earliest in the country – which is in itself a reason to see it if nothing else.
Book your Lake District stay with The Inn Collection Group today
We have a wide variety of charming inns ready for you to explore, which can serve as the perfect base for your next Lake District adventure.
Check out our Lake District inns for your next getaway, today. And of course, any questions at all, get in touch with our friendly team who are always happy to help.