Over the long 4-day Easter weekend, we decided to head up north to Lake District National Park, known in the UK as Lake District or just The Lakes. Although we experienced April showers for most of our trip, the Lake District is a really beautiful place to be in any weather. The lakes are surrounded by rolling hills and rocky mountains, mixed with lush green fields dotted with thousands of sheep. Let’s just say they produce a lot of wool sweaters in this part of the world! All the cute towns in the area are full of cosy pubs and quintessential cottages and shops. It really was a great place to get away from the city for a few days to relax and recharge.
Getting to the Lake District
The drive from London to Windermere takes at least 5-5.5 hours. We decided to spend less time in the car, and chose to take the Virgin train from London Euston station to Preston, about 2 hours. From there, we rented a car from the Europcar location in Preston (a 10-minute taxi from Preston station). From there, the drive from Preston to Windermere is only 1 hour. You can also take the train directly from London to Windermere in only 3.5 hours, but you'll probably want a car when you get there, and the rental car locations in the Lake District tend to have limited hours.
Top Towns to Visit in England's Lake District
The town of Windermere is located about a half mile from the lake and is where the local train station is located. This town is also full of cute shops and restaurants and a nice area to walk around.
Bowness on Windermere
Bowness on Windermere is located just south of Windermere on the east shore of Lake Windermere. Bowness has a super cute town centre, full of restaurants, shops and pubs. You can catch a ferry to the Bowness marina from other parts of the lake as well, which makes this town slightly more touristy than some of the other areas around the lakes.
Lake Windermere - West
The western shore of Lake Windermere is much quieter than the east side, as it does not have any large town centres. You can catch a ferry (including car) across the lake from Bowness to the west side, instead of driving all the around. This area boasts some amazing hikes and park areas to enjoy.
Located just north of Lake Windermere, Ambleside is a quintessential countryside village, full of cute shops and pubs. The famous poet William Wordsworth worked in this town while living in the nearby village of Rydal.
Grasmere is located directly adjacent to Rydal Water and is another cute town to explore for its shops and restaurants. It is overlooked by the rocky hill of Helm Crag from the northwest and also has a number of popular walks that you can start right from the village.
Coniston & Hawkshead
Located west of Lake Windermere, head to Coniston and Hawkshead for slightly less touristy areas. Hawkshead is a small village known to be a storybook example of an English village in the Lake District and is located just north of Esthwaite Water. Coniston is located on the western shore of Lake Coniston and is situated below the Coniston Fells, mountainous area for historic ore and slate mining.
Top things to do in the Lake District
Rent a Boat
We rented a small self-drive electric boat from Widermere Boat Hire at Bowness Bay Marina for a few hours at a reasonable price. It was a great way to explore Lake Windermere and soak in the beautiful scenery. They offer a range of boats from basic to premium, along with a range of sizes for couples, families and small groups.
Located north of Lake Windermere, about 10 minutes from Ambleside, is the small lake called Rydal Water situated between the River Rothay. Rydal Water offers numerous hiking paths and beautiful scenery along the nearby hills. Take the walk to the Rydal Cave for an impressive look at a former quarry, the largest cave we have ever seen of its kind.
Tips: Continue on after visiting Rydal Cave as the path turns into a loop to take you back down near the water.
Orrest Head Viewpoint
Across the street from the train station, you can take the 20 minute walk up to Orrest Head Viewpoint, offering gorgeous views of Lake Windermere and the surrounding mountainous landscape. Well worth the hike, especially on a day with nice weather.
Hawkshead and Claife
A National Trust property that offers great views of the lake, as well as waterside walking paths to enjoy. The Claife Viewing Station has colorful pieces of glass to look through at the top, offering a glimpse into what the lake views would look like in various seasons.
Tips: From the Claife Viewing Station, you can walk directly up one of the paths to Claife Heights and walk along the top. You can also walk along the 4-mile shoreline path, leading you north to Wray Castle. Located about 5-10 minutes north of the Mitchell Wyke Ferry Bay, there is a nice grassy park that juts out slightly into the lake, making it a great place to bring an afternoon picnic.
National Trust - Hill Top
Located about 1.5 miles from Hawkshead and Claife in Near Sawrey is the Hill Top, a 17th century home owned by Beatrix Potter, who left it to the National Trust. The home is a great example of “lakeland” architecture, a Grade II listed building with a mixture of stone walls and a slate roof.
The Bridge House
Located right in Ambleside, the Bridge House dates back 300 years ago and was built over the small ravine, allegededly as a summer home and apple store for Ambleside Hall. It is a Grade I listed building and is now owned by the National Trust.
The World of Beatrix Potter Attraction
Remember back to reading Peter Rabbit as a kid? This attraction exhibits Beatrix Potter’s life of writing as well as her influential impacts on the conservation of the Lakes. A great place to bring small children, full of displays and activities catered to kids.
Biskey Howth Viewpoint
Located about 10 minutes walk from the town centre of Bowness, this viewpoint offers amazing views towards the north part of Lake Windermere. A scenic spot well worth a visit, especially at sunset.
Walk Around Tarn Hows (and Tom Gill)
Tarn Hows is a small lake near Coniston, offering an easy looped walking path along the water. The area is quite tranquil and offers beautiful views over the water and surrounding landscape.
Tips: You can either park at the Tarn Hows National Trust car park or begin your hike from from A593 and walk up the Tom Gill waterfalls to reach Tarn Hows.
One of the homes of William Wordsworth and his family, Dove Cottage was where Wordsworth wrote much of his famous works of poetry today. The cottage itself is Grade I listed and has remained mostly unchanged from the days of Wordsworth.
Steam Yacht Gondola: rebuilt Victorian steam-powered yacht trip on Lake Coniston
Brantfell Walk: perfect for hiking and views.
Windermere Canoe & Kayak: as its name describes, a good place to rent kayaks to go around the lake.
Holehird Gardens: stop here for a tranquil garden visit with views of Lake Windermere.
Food, pubs, and shops in the Lake District
Hole in T’Wall pub
(Bowness) A hidden gem and super cute pub, decorated with tons of English pottery hanging from the ceiling. Built in 1612, this pub has a wood burning fireplace and great pub food. They also have several ales on draft, which were all amazing.
Tips: If this small pub is crowded, you can walk over to The Albert or The Flying Pig Pub, both located a stone's throw away.
The Crafty Baa
(Windermere) We stumbled upon The Crafty Baa one evening walking around the town. This cute hidden gem is a great spot to try some local craft beers and enjoy light bites and charcuterie boards. It is a small place, so booking in advance is recommended for groups.
The Mintcake Mine
(Bowness) When in Bowness, you must try some famous mint cake. It comes in bars like chocolate but is a melt-in-your-mouth mint bar instead (think of a more dense peppermint patty). You can also get it with a layer of chocolate or even try a brown mint cake.
(Bowness) If you are looking for a cute souvenir to remind you of all the sheep in this area of the country, then stop into this boutique shop for the cutest sheep-themed gifts. Their logo is very cute and their products range from coffee mugs and egg holders, to aprons and plant containers. We personally thought the egg holders were adorable!
The Grasmere Gingerbread Shop
Built in the 1630’s, this tiny shop is famous for its original Grasmere Gingerbread. Sarah Nelson invented this amazing gingerbread in 1854 and the business is still run by third-generation owners. The gingerbread itself is like nothing we’ve ever tasted - a cross between a cake and a biscuit with a unique blend of sweet and spicy flavors. A must try when in the Grasmere area (don’t let a line turn you away - it moves pretty fast!).
Apple Pie Eating House
If you are looking for a nice cafe in Ambleside and want to have some of the best apple pie you’ve ever tried, head to the Apple Pie. You can purchase a mini pie (with four healthy servings) for less than £4. The crust is soft and the apples are tart, perfect with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream!
Get some picnic sandwiches from this cute take away shop in the heart of Ambleside.
Trattoria: If you are staying in or near Bowness and are looking for a quieter night in after a day spent hiking and exploring the lakes, grab some take away authentic pizza from Trattoria.
The Edinburgh Woollen Mill: A great souvenir shop in Bowness if you are looking for a nice wool sweater or some cashmere scarves. They also sell authentic Scottish tweed hats and vests.
Graze: a great spot for lunch in Bowness.
Seafood: check out Francine’s or Hooked for a good bite to eat in Windermere.
The Honeypot: specialty food shop with fresh sausage rolls located in Hawkshead.
General Tips for The Lake District
Bring Coins: Bring lots of change for parking and toilets.
Public Transport: Windermere to Grasmere 599 bus: 8/day or bus+boat 12/day.
Hikes: Check out this article and this article for a good list of hikes.