Last Updated on March 27, 2021
The Lake District is one of the United Kingdom’s most popular destinations attracting over 24 million annual day visitors. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017 the Lake District National Park covers an area of 2362 square kilometres and is England’s largest national park.
With stunning lakes, tarns, woodland and mountains the Lake District is one of the most beautiful areas to visit in England.
If you are planning a trip to the Lake District there are lots of things to consider so you may be wondering where to begin. You may be asking yourself questions such as:
- When is the best time to visit the Lake District?
- How many days should I plan to stay in the Lake District.?
- Which Lake District towns should I visit?
- What are the best things to do in the Lake District?
- Where is the best place to stay in the Lake District?
- What are the best tours to take in the Lake District?
- What can I see in the Lake District in one day?
- What restaurants and pubs should I add into my plans and finally what is the best Lake District itinerary to ensure I make the most of my visit?
These questions and more will be answered in this comprehensive guide to visiting the Lake District National Park. This article details not only a suggested one day Lake District itinerary but also other ideas for those of you who wish to spend more than 1 day in the Lake District. For example you could extent this itinerary for a weekend in the Lake District or even longer.
Find out the best things to do in Lake District and also the main attractions around each of the lakes in the area. I have also included practical tips and advice to ensure you make the most of your visit to the Lake District.
If you enjoy reading you may also enjoy my recommended books to read before you visit the Lake District – these books will help not only with your planning (and includes some great walking guides) but also to find out more about the history and culture of the area.
What to see and do in the Lake District – an overview
Although you may expect to find lots of lakes in the Lake District there is actually only one out of the sixteen which is officially a lake by name.
Bassenthwaite Lake is the only lake in Lake District as all the others including Windermere (which is actually the largest natural lake in England) are classed as ‘waters’ or ‘meres’ – Grasmere, Ullswater, Derwent, Coniston, Buttermere, Thirlmere, Haweswater, Ennerdale Water, Crummock Water, Wastwater, Loweswater, Rydal Water, Elterwater and Esthwaite.
As well as the 16 lakes there are also a number of tarns too including Blea Tarn, Overwater Tarn, and Little Langdale Tarn. Tarns are small mountain pools or lakes and as you may discover some of the tarns are actually quite large!
Which of the lakes should you add into your itinerary?
First of all decide if wish to take a steamer or ferry across one of the lakes during your visit to the Lake District.
If you decide this is something you want to do you will need to add one of the following four lakes into your Lake District Itinerary as these are the only lakes to allow private powered craft and a public boat service – Windermere, Coniston Water, Ullswater or Derwent Water.
The steamer and boat routes offer multiple stops too so you have the option of exploring the surrounding areas.
Map showing the locations of main ‘Lakes’ and tarns in the Lake District
Lake District Mountains, Fells and Moors
Home to 10 of England’s highest mountains the Lake District is a the most mountainous region in the country. At 978 metres high Scafell Peak is the highest.
With over 200 fell* tops the Lake District is an ideal destination for walkers and hikers. If you are interested in walking in the Lake District take a look at Short walks in the Lake District or 50 Walks in the Lake District. Arthur Wainwright also wrote many pictorial walking guides which are extremely popular.
Also don’t miss my guide to 11 scenic walks and hikes – there are lots of ideas to add to your Lake District itinerary!
(*The term ‘fell’ is used to describe a mountain range and is often used to describe these landscapes in northern England and Scotland.)
Lake District’s literary and art connections
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodilsWordsworth
As anyone who has ever studied those words at school will know the Lake District has been an inspiration to many writers and artists over the centuries.
William Wordsworth’s poem (and guide to the area) written in the 18th century sparked the first tourism to the area. Other ‘Lake poets’ included Samuel Coleridge and Robert Southey who lived and worked in the Lake District in the early 19th century.
Wordsworth is not the only literary figure associated with the area with iconic children’s literary figures Beatrix Potter (Peter Rabbit) and Arthur Ransome (Swallows and Amazons) also drawing inspiration from the beautiful Lake District.
Artists such as JMW Turner and John Constable flocked to the Lakes in the late 18th century. Many artists have continued to paint the stunning northern landscapes including LS Lowry and Sheila Fell.
Best things to do in the Lake District
Here are my top 10 things to do and see during a Lake District trip
- Coniston Water
- Hill Top
- Castlerigg Stone Circle
- Grasmere and Dove Cottage
- Derwentwater and Keswick
- Take hike!
- Have a traditional Cumbrian afternoon tea
- Have a drink at a Lake District pub or inn!
1. Take a cruise on Lake Windermere
I am starting with Lake Windermere because it is the most popular and best known attraction in the Lake District.
There are lots of things to do in Windermere but due to its popularity it is extremely busy in high season so be prepared if you are visiting in summer.
I would recommend heading to Bowness-on-Windermere as early in the day as possible if you plan to take a boat trip across the lake.
Parking is not easy especially during the summer months. The parking machines take cash (no change is given) and also accept Visa and Mastercard.
You have two boat routes to choose from – Bowness to Lakeside return or Bowness to Ambleside return.
Cruise from Bowness to Lakeside Pier on a single ticket (40 minute trip) or return on a non-stop 90 minute cruise.
For Bowness to Ambleside choose between a 70 minute non-landing cruise or a 30 minute cruise each way.
Good to know
- I recommend heading to Bowness-on-Windermere as early in the day as possible if you plan to take a boat trip across the lake. Parking is not easy especially during the summer months. The parking machines take cash (no change is given) but do also accept Visa and Mastercard.
- I also recommend booking tickets in advance especially during the summer as the queues can be long as this is a popular choice of activity for most visitors to the Lake District.
Here are some of my top picks of Airbnb Experiences in the Lake District:
- Hiking Experience: Scafell Pike Walk England’s Highest Peak
- Mountain Bike Experience: Lake District Mountain Bike Discovery
- Learn a new skill: Lake District Glass Blowing Experience or Lake District Glass Fusing Experience
- Photography: Photography walking tours or Lakes Landscape Photography Experience
- Mindful Experience: Forest Bathing or Meditate in Nature
- Nature Experience: Discover Waterfalls, Caves & Caverns
2. Coniston Water
Coniston Water is one of my favourite places to visit in the Lakes. Overlooked by the Old Man of Coniston the lake is popular for water sports including sailing, kayaking and canoeing.
At 8 kms long and less than 1 km wide this was the site of the devastating crash which killed Donald Campbell during his attempt to break the water speed record in his jet engined hydroplane Bluebird K7 in 1967.
Prior to 2009 it was possible to visit the original Bluebird Café but after major flooding that year left the cafe totally submerged it had to be rebuilt.
Although it for me it slightly lacks the charm and character of the original it is still worth popping in for a cup of tea (or even afternoon tea) and wonderful views of the lake.
There are boat trips across Coniston Water with a stop at the former home of John Ruskin a leading art critic of the Victorian era. The Ruskin museum in the village of Coniston has a collection dedicated to Donald Campbell including the remains of the Bluebird K7.
Recommended tour option
This 3 1/2 hour tour departs from Windermere, Bowness and Ambleside and includes Tarn Hows, Coniston Water and the valleys of Great Langdale and Little Langdale.
3. Hill Top
Left to the National Trust by Beatrix Potter after her death Hilltop is one of the most popular attractions in the Lake District.
The farmhouse and gardens are delightful to visit and you enter the world of Peter Rabbit and characters when you step over the threshold. It is easy to see where she drew inspiration for her stories!
Entry to Hill Top is via a timed-ticket system and tickets cannot be booked in advance. It does get extremely busy in the summer and on my first visit we were unable to get tickets to see Hill Top which was very disappointing.
I would recommend visiting early in the day (the house and garden opens at 10 am) Please also note that opening times change over the winter when the house and garden are only open at weekends.
To avoid disappointment booking a tour is an option especially as they include guaranteed entry.
My recommended tour options for Beatrix Potter fans include:
4. Castlerigg Stone Circle
Skip Stonehenge with its crowds and head for another of England’s stone circles. The Castlerigg Stone Circle consists of 38 stones dating back to the Neolithic period. This makes it amongst the oldest stone circles in England.
5. Grasmere and Dove Cottage
The beautiful Lake District village of Grasmere offers visitors a plethora of attractions and activities.
For lovers of William Wordsworth don’t miss Dove Cottage which was the first family home of William Wordsworth. To learn more about the poet head to the Wordsworth museum which is adjacent to the cottage.
There are lots of cafes and tearooms to choose from and I highly recommend the Dove Cottage Tearooms for a cuppa and slice of cake.
When in Grasmere don’t miss the famous Grasmere gingerbread shop. The shop is tiny, the queues are long but believe me the gingerbread is second to none!
My recommended tour options for William Wordsworth fans include:
Arguably the most beautiful of the lakes Ullswater is best seen whilst enjoying a ride on one of its traditional steamers. These boats operate all year and call at various locations around the lake.
It is easy to spend a day at Ullswater hopping on and off the historic steamers. There are lots of great walks to be taken around the lake or take the opportunity to enjoy a traditional Cumbrian cream tea on the terrace of the Inn on the Lake at Glenridding.
Recommended tour option
7. Derwent Water and Keswick
Derwent Water is located south of the Lake District market town of Keswick. At three miles long and one mile wide the area around Derwentwater is extremely beautiful and a very popular destination for walkers.
There are boat tours (the Keswick Launch) available across Derwentwater and this is the really the best way to see the area. Driving around the area can be tricky especially in summer when the narrow roads are busy and the small car parks bursting at the seams.
Cruises last 50 minutes and start and end at the Keswick jetty though you can purchase a hop on and off ticket which enables you to alight at any of the 8 jetties around the lake and explore more of the area before returning to Keswick.
If you are visiting Keswick the lake is a short stroll from the town. During the months of May to November stop off to watch a play enacted by the resident theatre company – Theatre by the Lake.
If you enjoy slightly quirky attractions I would recommend a visit to the Pencil Museum which is home to the world’s largest colouring pencil. The area has large graphite deposits which led to a booming pencil-making industry. For more information about the manufacture of pencils in the area head to the museum.
Keswick market days are held on Thursdays and Saturdays throughout the year (Note – only on Saturdays in December)
8. Take a hike!
You really are spoilt for choice in the Lake District if you want to go on a hike, fell walking or even just take a stroll.
The scenery is beautiful wherever you go but suggested walks include
- The Langdale Valley
This circular route takes around 4 1/2 to 5 hours and is classed as a moderate walk. Start and end tour walk in the Old Dugeon Ghyll Hotel. At the end of your walk reward yourself with a drink at the Ramblers Bar.
- A circuit of Buttermere
This 4 1/2 mile circuit takes approximately 3 hours and will reward you with some of the best views in the Lake District. Don’t forget your camera to get some stunning images while you stroll!
LEARN MORE – 11 walks and hikes to take in the Lake District
9. Have a traditional Cumbrian afternoon tea
You can’t beat a traditional English afternoon tea and in the Lake District you can enjoy your tea and cake with some spectacular views!
I recommend experiencing afternoon teas in the Lake District at any one of these spots:
10. Have a drink at a Lake District Pub or Inn
If you want to experience an iconic English pub then you are spoilt for choice in the Lake District. With the highest concentration of breweries in the UK there are also a large selection of beers to sample too.
Recommended pubs and inns include
- The Drunken Duck – Ambleside
- Old Dungeon Ghyll – Langdale
- Tweedies – Grasmere
- The Blacksmith’s Arms – Brougton Mills
- The Eltermere Inn – Elterwater
- The Black Bull Inn – Coniston
For award winning beers head to
- Coniston Brewery Co – Bluebird Bitter
- Hawkshead Brewery – Hawkshead Bitter
- The Bitter End Brewery – Cockermouth Pride
- Keswick Brewery – The Thirst Run
If whisky is your drink of choice head to the Lakes Distillery which is and award-winning Distillery located near Bassenthwaite Lake.
11. Bonus – Stay in a log cabin or lodge (with a hot tub!)
Why not book your own log cabin or lodge? Find accommodation to suit your needs whether it is for a romantic getaway or a family trip. There are lots of great Airbnb log cabins and lodges to choose from including some with your own hot tub!
Where to stay in the Lake District
I recommend staying centrally when considering Lake District accommodation options.
If you are visiting on a day trip an early start is highly recommended so take an early train/bus or stay within a comfortable drive to ensure you don’t waste most of the day stuck on traffic or looking for a parking space.
Hotel accommodation options
These are all hotels in the Windermere area which is my first choice when staying in the Lakes.
Accommodation cost guide – per room per night
- Luxury – £170+ per night
- Midrange/Boutique – £90-170 per night
- Budget/ B&B – £44 – 89 per night
Kotel Windermere (Luxury option)
This aparthotel offers guests the choice of a selection of superb apartments.
Only a short 5 – 10 minute walk from the centre of town with lots of dining options to suit all tastes.
In summer relax on the terrace with a drink after a long day of sightseeing and enjoy the light warm evenings.
Ambleside Salutation Hotel and Spa (Boutique/Mid-range option)
Located in picturesque Ambleside this beautiful hotel offers free parking, spacious rooms and scenic views towards Wansfell.
Enjoy the leisure club and swimming pool, sauna, spa bath and beauty spa during your stay.
Westmorland Inn (Budget/B&B option)
Located in Bowness on Windermere the Westmorland Inn is only 200 metres from the World of Beatrix Potter. This 3 star hotel offers guests free WiFi, private bathrooms and a bar.
How to get to (and around) the Lake District
If you are considering how to get to the Lake District there are a number of different options. If possible consider public transport such as bus/train/boat/bicycle when visiting as the number of cars particularly in the summer months can make certain areas very congested.
After a 25 year break flights have recently (June 2019) resumed to Carlisle Lake District National Airport. Loganair a Scottish based company are operating routes from Dublin, Belfast and London Southend to the Lake District.
My preferred method of transportation and the most environmentally friendly is to take the train. It is possible to travel by train to Oxenholme Lake District and then change trains for Windermere.
From London the journey takes approximately 3 hours. There is a direct train available between Manchester and Windermere.
I recommend purchasing tickets through the trainline in the UK – they sell tickets for train and bus travel throughout the UK and Europe.
There is a comprehensive network of bus services that covers the Lake District. Download the Lakes by bus guide via this link.
Visiting the Lake District by car would be my least advisable option especially during the busy summer months. Roads are single lane, parking can be a nightmare and it can take far longer than anticipated to get from A to B.
Another option would be to Park and Explore – for £18 you receive a park and explore ticket which offers unlimited travel for up to 5 people travelling in the Stagecoach bus services Central Lakes Dayrider Zone. Click this link for more information about Park and Explore in the Lake District.
By steamers and boat cruises
For me this is one of the best ways to experience the beauty of the Lake District. Head to Windermere, Ullswater, Coniston or Derwentwater where steamers and boat cruises operate and offer multiple stops.
There are lots of great walks to take around the Lake District to suit all fitness levels, abilities and ages.
Take your bike or hire one when you arrive. There are some great cycle routes in the Lake District. Find more information about cycling in the Lake District here.
Take a tour
Another option is to join a small tour and sit back, relax and enjoy the views while you are driven around the area.
Get Your Guide offer some excellent day tours (or longer) and these are my recommended options:
Lake District One Day Itinerary
These are my Lake District itinerary ideas to make the most of a day in the lakes. One day in the Lake District is not long so make sure you plan ahead.
Depending on your interests you may wish to catch a boat across a lake by steamer, go for a hike following one of the many walking routes available, visit some of the beautiful villages and towns, stop for some refreshments in a traditional English pub or perhaps plan your itinerary to include all of these experiences.
This is my suggested one day itinerary to see the best of the Lake District in a day which begins in Ambleside and ends in Keswick.
When deciding which of the lakes to visit and how to make the most of your trip to the Lake District (especially if you only have one day) I would recommend considering where to stay and ensure that it is a central location. My recommendation would be to stay in or near Ambleside or Bowness which are situated on Windermere.
MORNING – Windermere
If you are driving to Windermere it is important to get there as early in the day as possible if you plan to take a boat trip across the lake.
As I have mentioned if you are traveling by car you may find that parking is a challenge. The parking machines take cash (no change is given) though do accept Visa and Mastercard.
You have two boat routes to choose from if you depart from Bowness which are Bowness to Lakeside return or Bowness to Ambleside return. I recommend taking both especially if the weather is good.
Cruise from Bowness to Lakeside Pier on a single ticket (40 minute trip) or return on a non-stop 90 minute cruise. For Bowness to Ambleside choose between a 70 minute non-landing cruise or a 30 minute cruise each way.
If you begin in Ambleside you can sail to Bowness and then catch the other boat to Lakeside Pier.
Stop off for lunch in Bowness, Ambleside or Lakeside Pier depending on time.
At the marina in Bowness the “Boathouse Bar and Restaurant” serves homemade food, local beers and great views.
In Ambleside head to the “Priest Hole Restaurant and Tea Rooms” for traditional Cumbrian fare.
AFTERNOON – Coniston Grasmere Derwent Water Keswick
I would recommend planning your afternoon itinerary around the location of your accommodation for the evening. It is entirely possible to spend an entire day at Windermere.
There are lots of options including fell walking from Ambleside, catching the Haverthwaite Steam Railway from Lakeside, visiting the Lakes Aquarium at Lakeside, stroll to Hill Top from Ferry House (a ferry ride from Bowness) and more.
Please note that if you decide to visit Hill Top or any of the popular attractions in the Lake District it is important to plan ahead and book tickets especially during the busy summer months.
If you have time I would try to visit all of these 24 beautiful villages and towns in the Lake District.
Map of top things to do in the Lake District/Lake District itinerary map
“You may leave the Lake District, but once you’ve been, it’ll never leave you…”Anonymous
This guide to Lake District including the top 10 things to do in the Lake District as well as a suggested one day itinerary and a map to help you plan your visit to the Lake District will provide you with all the information you need to start planning you visit.
The Lake District is one of the most beautiful and popular destinations in the UK and I am sure you will enjoy your trip (whether you spend one day in Lake District or longer)
Enjoy your day in the lakes.
Don’t forget to join my UK travel planning group on Facebook – lots of inspiration, tips and ideas to help you plan the perfect UK vacation.
Lots of inspiration for your UK travels in this fantastic bucket list!
If you enjoy reading about destinations before you visit then check out my list of books to read before visiting the beautiful Lake District
Planning to get around the UK by train? Read all our tips and advice to make your travel experiences smoother!
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