The Lake District in Cumbria is the biggest national park in England and home to both our highest peak and our deepest lake as well as many quaint villages, beautiful walking routes, climbing spots, and ancient stones that have contributed to it becoming a World Heritage Site in 2017. Whether you are a wanderer, a hiker, a collector, climber, birdwatcher, sailor, historian, or nature buff you will certainly find something that pleases you in this English Country gem. Here are some of the best and most beautiful places to visit in the Lake District…
Windermere – one of the most famously beautiful places to visit in the Lake District
Windermere is the largest natural lake in England and the best way to traverse it is on one of the many cruises operated by local companies from various launch spots. Water sports are popular here and Adventure North West is probably the most comprehensive provider. Find your way to Brockholes Visitor Centre for high ropes courses, caving, and other outdoor activities.
There are also numerous parks and gardens to explore including the splendid Elizabethan Manor Holker Hall. For a bit of history, you can take a steam train ride from Haverthwaite to Newby Bridge and visit the Stott Park Bobbin Mill or perhaps explore the rustic Townend in Troutbeck which offers a unique insight into the lives of one family through the course of many centuries. These are but a few of the multitude of options around Windermere, it is an excellent base from which to enjoy a real Lakes adventure and you can easily reach it by public transport too, meaning driving is optional.
Ullswater – the second largest lake in the Lake District and a stunning spot to explore
From the largest to the second largest lake in England, Ullswater is a slightly quieter spot than Windermere but there is still plenty to do. The picturesque village of Glenriddig at the foot of Ullswater is the perfect place to start for a hike up Helvellyn. You can also hire boats, kayaks, and bicycles there at St Patrick’s landing or take a steamer trip and enjoy the splendid mountain views from a different perspective.
There are many historical sites around Ullswater including Pooley Bridge, the impressive Dalemain House and Gardens, and scenic Dacre with its 14th Century Ruins. If you like something a little eerie visit Brotherswater at the foot of the Kirkstone pass, named so for two brothers who drowned there in the 19th Century and the nearby 17th-century mill village of Hartsop, and finally don’t miss England’s oldest herd of red deer at Martindale.
Wastwater – perhaps the most awe-inspiring of all the beautiful lakes
“Long, stern and Desolate were the words Wordsworth used to describe Wastwater and he was right. The deepest of all the Lakes, Wastwater is a truly awe-inspiring sight. Bounded by the jagged teeth of rock called The Screes on one side and completely surrounded by mountains, including England’s highest peak Scarfell Pike, it is truly a feast for the eyes and the soul!
At the Wasdale Head end of the lake, you will find the ancient St Olaf’s Church, one of the smallest in the country it is surrounded by the graves of climbers who have fallen foul to the dangerous terrain and it’s roof beams are said to be made from the bones of Viking Ships. This is the perfect spot for hikers and campers who want to feel close to nature, take a complete break from the pressures of every day, and get back to the wilderness.
Keswick – a pretty market town which is also a major centre for tourism in the north lakes
Keswick is one of the most popular towns in the lakes and is situated on the shores of Derwent Water and looks out across the lake into the beautiful Borrowdale Valley. It’s a great spot for folks who want to mix up gentle hikes with a bit of history, dining, and culture. There are numerous quaint cafes and pubs to choose from and The Keswick Museum and Art Gallery and the Pencil Museum provide plenty of insight into the area and the artists and poets that have been associated with it.
The Theatre by The Lake is one of the most unusual theatres I have ever been to and houses one of the few remaining Repertory Theatre Companies in the UK. East of the village is the impressive Casterligg, one of the oldest and most important stone circles to be found in Britain said to date back to the Neolithic period 4-5000 years ago! The walk up from Keswick is not too challenging and the views once you reach Casterligg will really take your breath away.
Derwent Water – a beautiful place to visit in the Lake District which is known as ‘Queen of the Lakes’
Derwent Water sits tranquility in the stunning Borrowdale Valley and on its shores are many beautiful, historic little villages from which you can hike through the fells of Cat Bells or climb up to the viewpoint at Friar’s Crag and take in the jaw-dropping scenery all around you. A great way to explore is to hop on the boat at Keswick and jump off at one of the 7 landing stages to start an adventure. From Seatoller for example you can climb the steep Honister Pass and navigate the high fells of The Great Gable.
In Bassenthwaite, you will find the only official lake in the Lake District, on which if you’re lucky you might spot an Osprey! At Thirlmere you’ll find Wythburn, an ancient whitewashed church, and an easier route up Helvellyn. If nature and wildlife is your thing then base yourself on the shores of Derwent Water and head in any direction you like, you will always find something beautiful.
Grasmere – probably Cumbria’s most popular village to visit
Grasmere is the smallest lake in the Lake District and best known for its connection to the poet William Wordsworth who lived there for 8 years with his sister and later his wife. Dove Cottage, his former residence in the village is now open to the public as a writer’s museum and well worth a visit as it is left relatively unchanged since Wordsworth’s time.
When the Wordsworths moved out it was rented to another writer, Thomas De Quincey so it’s a definite must-see for literary buffs! The village itself is nestled between two lakes with the dramatic backdrop of The Fells behind and it’s a pleasure to mooch through its cobbled streets and, if you can stand to queue, take home some famous Grasmere Gingerbread.
Coniston Water – one of the Lake District’s largest ribbon lakes and a stunning spot to explore
Coniston Water is a must-visit for literary buffs as it has strong connections with some real icons. The philosopher John Ruskin lived there until his death in 1900 and is buried in the churchyard. His former residence Brantwood House is open to the public and houses the Ruskin Museum. Beloved children’s author Arthur Ransom also had strong connections with the area and many of his books are inspired by Coniston and Windermere combined, including Swallows and Amazons.
Coniston village is a popular destination for tourists with good shopping, food, and drink and its location beneath the beautiful Conniston Old Man makes it a big draw for hikers. One of the nicest walks is Brim Fell which links Conniston Old Man and Swirl How and provides a pleasant hiatus from the crowds.
Kendal – a pretty market town to visit in the Lake District home to arts, events, and culture
Kendal is one of the most popular destinations in the lakes and it’s not just because of the mint cake! As a larger town, Kendal has something going on for everyone from literature and music festivals to wild walks and the great outdoors. Nestled in the midst of gentler hills and fells than some of its neighbours it’s the perfect place to start if you like a hike that doesn’t need 3 days of recovery afterwards!
Head up the well-marked trails to Kendal Castle for panoramic views, or wend your way around the trails in the Serpentine Woods, including The magical Alphabet Sculpture Trail. If you want to put a bit more work in you can hike up The Helm or Scout Scar, which offers breathtaking views over Morcombe Bay. Whatever you choose to do be sure to leave time to explore the town itself and enjoy its cafes, boutiques and book shops and of course pick up a bit of that famous mint cake! When in Rome…
Tarn Hows – a truly stunning and very popular beauty spot to visit in the Lake District
Tarn Hows is a man-made beauty spot, created by damming a larger beck to create smaller Tarns ( pools ) and planting woodland (Hows) on the surrounding hills. It was a favourite spot for Beatrix Potter who bought and managed the land with her husband in the 1800s and bequeathed it to The National Trust in her will.
It is the perfect spot for gentle strolls, picnics, and impossibly picturesque views, beautiful all year round but I would say particularly in the autumn when the peaceful woodlands are aflame and the leaves and pine needles crunch satisfyingly beneath your feet.
Hilltop and The Beatrix Potter Story – for lovers of the talented children’s author and illustrator
Diving back into the throes of tourism Hilltop is an absolute must-see for those of you who are Beatrix Potter fans, Brimming with charm and Nostalgia it is more like a scaled-up dolls house than a working farm. Beatrix herself described it as an “overcoat”, “comfortable and comforting” and after moving there from London in the early 1900’s she filled it with treasures and wrote 13 of her books within its boundaries.
It was uniquely hers and the love that she felt for the place is still evident now, making it a sometimes emotional visit. In 1913 after marrying her husband she moved from Hill Top to Castle Cottage but her connection to the place remained strong until her death when she gave it over to The National Trust and it became the personal museum that it is today.
Claife Viewing Station and Windermere West Shore – a wonderful spot to visit in the Lake District
In the 1700s the Picturesque movement put The Lakes back on the map and the wealthy tourists ditched their grand tours of Europe in favour of exploring the English countryside. In 1778 Thomas West began publishing his guidebooks and sealed the deal. People began to flock to the countryside armed with sketchbooks and seek out the most beautiful and picturesque views to draw and paint, the viewing stations were an integral part of this movement and Claife Viewing Station on the west shore of Windermere is one of the few that remains intact.
In its heyday, it was adorned with stained glass to recreate the atmosphere of the changing seasons and many a dinner and dance were held there. Now it is owned by The National Trust and is one of the oldest remaining monuments in The Lakes, you can enjoy the stunning views up and down Windermere and stroll comfortably around the winding paths and woodlands that are mostly unchanged since the Georgian era.
Eskdale – a wonderful beautiful glacial valley to explore in the Lake District
The beautiful valley of Eskdale stretches into the heart of the Lakes along the River Esk and is full of hidden gems to explore. Most of the sites can be reached by the Ravenglass and Eskdale Steam Railway which will drop you directly at many of the places of interest. There is the enchanting Roman Fort of Hardknott with its glorious views over the valley and the wild and wending Hardknott and Wrynose Passes.
The impressive cascading waterfall of Stanley Ghyll Force and it’s winding wooded pathways. The atmospheric Beckside Boggle of Mitredale and it’s a lonely ruined farmhouse, steeped in bloodthirsty legend. There is a Japanese Garden, vestiges of Iron Ore mines, and plenty of the famous Herdwick Sheep, all punctuated by excellent country pubs renowned for their fine selections of real ale… I mean really, what’s not to like?
Solway Firth – a stunning beauty spot just outside the Lake District National Park
Ok, this may be cheating just a bit but reaching out of the most northwestern point of The Lakes is the beautiful AONB The Solway Firth. A wilderness of sands and salt marshes that attract all manner of rare seabirds and wildfowl.
Close by are several small coastal towns with rich and vibrant industrial histories such as Silloth, a chilled and vibrant community which nestled between its shores and The Lake District Fells and was an inspiration for many paintings by the great landscape artist Turner. Head up here to get away from the busyness of the more central lakes and enjoy spectacular sunsets and dramatic coastal views a bit more off the beaten track.
St Bees Head – enjoy a coastal walk or wander on the long wide sandy beach
Not far from Solway Firth on the Cumbria Coastal Way is St Bees Head, comprising the North and South heads it is a stunning stretch of protected coastline made up of dramatic cliffs and long sandy beaches. Perched at the Northern extremity is St Bees Lighthouse which played an important role as a radar station in WW2 and to the south is the old Coastguard Station, now a lookout point.
This rugged and wild stretch is also an RSPB protected area and if you are a keen twitcher you’ll be able to spot Puffins, Kittiwakes, Razorbills, and all manner of rare birdlife. Between the two headlands is Fleswick Bay and it’s unusual shingle beach on a wave-cut platform overhung by rugged sandstone cliffs.
Penrith – a very interesting place to visit in the Lake District area
Penrith is hands down the place to visit for history lovers! Nestled in the Eden Valley and literally just outside the National Park, the town is dominated by the well-preserved walls of Penrith Castle, a medieval stronghold erected to ward off attacks from the Scottish Border. A little way away sitting prettily on the River Eamont are the better-preserved ruins of Brougham Castle which played a key role in the Scottish Wars of independence in the 1300s. The striking ruin inspired both the poet William Wordsworth and the Painter J.M.W Turner.
Just a few miles away towards Ullswater you’ll find the magical Aira Force, the Lake District’s most prized waterfall. Another worthwhile excursion is to take the short hop across the Eden Valley and visit Long Meg and her Daughters, a perfectly preserved Neolithic Stone circle, the second largest in the UK. It is a stunning site with 59 stones, the largest of which is the sandstone monolith Long Meg. The stones are etched with megalithic art and are said to be a Coven of witches that were turned to stone. Also nearby are the stately homes of Lowther Castle and the gothic revival Hutton-in-the-Forest.