In the county of Cumbria in Northern England, you’ll find the Lake District National Park, one of the most popular places in the country to immerse yourself in nature and get away from everyday life. Here are the seven best things to do in the Lake District, for fans of nature, history, and literature!
Spanning over 2,000 square kilometres and encompassing some of the most epic scenery in the country, you could spend a week here and still not see and experience everything you’d like to. Although the Lake District is a hiker’s paradise, there’s plenty of things to do here to suit everybody – hikers or not.
7 Unmissable Things to Do in The Lake District
Most visitors to the Lake District visit for just a day or two, but the rewards for spending longer in the area are limitless. Time your visit for mid-week and you’ll also find cheaper accommodation prices. plus, you’ll likely have many of the best hikes and viewpoints all to yourself!
1) Scafell Pike Hike
Standing at 978 metres above sea level, Scafell Pike is the highest mountain in England. It’s also a bucket list hike for any British outdoors enthusiast, and should be one of the first things to do in the Lake District when you arrive! There are numerous routes up the mountain, varying in distance and difficulty, but the most beautiful is the route starting in Seathwaite.
Coming in at approximately 9.5 miles, with the first half of the hike an unrelenting uphill slog, this walk definitely isn’t a piece of cake. That being said, if you’re into hiking and stunning natural landscapes, the hike is mind-blowing. More than 250,000 people climb Scafell Pike every year, making it one of the most popular hikes in the UK.
The best time to summit Scafell Pike is May-June and September. At this time temperatures aren’t too hot or cold and the wind should be fairly mild. You’re also more likely to have clear skies, which makes the views on the way up even more spectacular!
Besides being the highest mountain in England, Scafell Pike is also the highest war memorial in the UK. The entire mountain was gifted to the National Trust shortly after the First World War as a reminder of the sacrifice of the men of the Lake District during the war. The donation also made Scafell Pike accessible to the public, which was a pretty great gift to hikers across the country.
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2) Windermere Lake Cruise
Setting sail every day of the year (except for Christmas Day), cruises across Lake Windermere, the largest lake in the Lake District, are the most popular tourist activity in the area, and one of the truly unmissable things to do in the Lake District! The scenic cruises offer breathtaking views of the beautiful scenery in the area.
You can join a cruise at either Bowness, Ambleside or Lakeside, and choose between the Red, Yellow or Island cruises, all of which have slightly different routes. Opt to either take a circular cruise or cruise from one destination to another, spending time there before taking the return leg back to your starting point.
Although you’re more likely to get clearer views in summer, the Windermere Lake Cruises are great even in winter! The mist hanging low over the water makes for an atmospheric setting, and the central heating inside the boats will keep you feeling cosy. Return fares range between £9.50 and £13 for a return ticket in summer, depending on which route you choose. Prices in winter are slightly cheaper.
3) Beatrix Potter’s House
The National Trust property of Hill Top, Beatrix Potter’s abode from 1905 onwards, is a fascinating time capsule of her life. Immaculately maintained, the house looks just like it did when Potter lived there, filled with her possessions and mementoes.
There’s a reason for this – when she died in 1943, Potter gifted the property to the National Trust on the condition that it remain exactly as she left it. This includes its delightful garden, which many visitors see as gem of this quaint cottage.
Built in the 17th century, Potter bought Hill Top with the proceeds of her first book, the beloved Tales of Peter Rabbit. She then used the property and its surroundings as inspiration for her future stories.
It was in this very house that she dreamed up such characters as Samuel Whiskers and Tom Kitten. The staff here know everything there is to know about Beatrix Potter, and they’ll take great delight in answering any questions you have.
Entry costs £5 per adult ticket, and is worth it for any bookworm or history lover looking for the best things to do in the Lake District. You can also book a half day Beatrix Potter tour here.
4) Holker Hall
Just outside the village of Cartmel, the grand country house of Holker Hall has stood proudly since the 16th century. Nowadays home to the Cavendish family, the fact that Holker Hall is a private residence doesn’t stop you from exploring this extravagant house and grounds.
For £35, you can spend the day strolling through its labyrinth of ornate rooms and imagining yourself as one of the house’s many inhabitants over the years, and it is easily one of the most captivating things to do in the Lake District.
Holker Hall’s 25 acres of gardens are immaculate, and the perfect place to while away a summer afternoon. There are also three different restaurants at the house which will all compete for your attention with their delicious offerings.
Unfortunately, Holker Hall is only open to visitors from late March until early November, usually from Wednesday-Sunday. That being said, the organisers make the most of their tourist season by packing it full of events and activities!
These include a drive-in cinema, a Halloween fair, and even a chilli festival! They also usually open for a few days in December to host a Christmas fair, which offers hot cider, Christmas carols, and a “meet Santa” opportunity for kids.
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5) Dove Cottage
In the village of Grasmere, famously hailed as “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found” by renowned poet William Wordsworth, you’ll stumble upon his home, Dove Cottage. An impulse purchase by Wordsworth in late 1799, it is here that he spent almost eight years “plain living, but high thinking”.
Whilst living at Dove Cottage, Wordsworth wrote some of his most famous and acclaimed poems, including ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’, ‘Ode to Duty’ and ‘My Heart Leaps Up’.
First opening to the public in 1891, Dove Cottage now sees around 70,000 visitors every year. It remains mostly unchanged since Wordsworth’s day (making a visit one of the most unique things to do in the Lake District), and the garden’s appearance has been restored to the “wild” look it had when inhabited by Wordsworth. The cottage and garden are open from Saturday to Wednesday throughout the year, and entry costs £9.50.
Aside from Dove Cottage, a nearby Wordsworth Museum is due to open in Spring of 2021. This museum will tell Wordsworth’s story through his possessions, other objects of the time and interactive displays. You can also book a Wordsworth and Dove Cottage half day tour here.
6) Hike up to the Kirkstone Pass Inn
If you’re staying near Ambleside, making the 7-mile hike to the Kirkstone Pass is an unmissable experience with a lovely reward at the end. Although uphill, the majority of this hike is fairly gentle.
The highlight of this hike surprisingly comes at the end, when you arrive at the Kirkstone Pass Inn. This isolated pub with rooms sits at 454 metres above sea level, surrounded by nothing but lush green hills.
The walk itself is striking; hammering home just how vast and extraordinary the Lake District National Park is, and the hike alone is one of the most beautiful things to do in The Lake District. That being said, it’s the Kirkstone Pass Inn, where you can warm up in front of an open fire in winter and bask in the outdoor sun in summer which makes the hike one of a kind.
The Inn, which also offers accommodation and serves delicious local food, offers a friendly welcome after a good few hours of hiking. Plus, they’ll even arrange for a taxi to pick you up and take you back to Ambleside. That is, unless you’re daring enough to hike back!
7) Eat at the two-Michelin-Star L’Enclume in Cartmel
Holding a staggering two Michelin stars and five AA rosettes, L’Enclume is where the foodies of the Lake District flock to experience the best fine dining in the region. Opened in 2002 by chef Simon Rogan, the restaurant has been serving discerning diners for over 15 years.
Most of the restaurant’s produce is grown on Chef Rogan’s nearby farm and orchard, or is foraged by L’Enclume’s full-time forager. Yes, apparently that is an actual job!
Their tasting menu, which can contain up to 20 courses, costs £159 per person. A wine pairing costs an additional £80 or £120 per person, depending on whether you opt for their classic or signature wines.
Safe to say, this is definitely a one-off experience and far from a budget evening out! The service is, of course, excellent, and even if some of the courses are slightly out there (duck heart, anybody?) you’re bound to come away with your expectations exceeded.
What’s more, designated drivers and non-drinkers can opt for the restaurant’s soft drink pairings, rather than wine pairings, which also bring out the delicate flavours of the dishes.
To dine at L’Enclume you will need to book online in advance. That is, unless you opt to stay the night in their accommodation, in which case you’ll get an automatic restaurant reservation. The restaurant is open Tuesday-Sunday and a meal here is one of the most divine things to do in the Lake District.
Where to Stay in the Lake District
Here are a few recommendations of where to stay in the Lake District.
Merewood Country House Hotel – A hotel built in 1812 with original features based in Windermere and situated right on the edge of the lake.
Lindeth Howe – Once owned by Beatrix Potter, this country house hotel is set in extensive romantic gardens, is as quaint as can be, and offers a wonderful view.
The Wordsworth Hotel & Spa – For some pampering with your stay, this hotel based in the heart of Grasmere is a wonderful choice. It’s also just a ten-minute walk from The Wordsworth Museum.
The Cavendish Arms – A traditional charming inn stay, this is a wonderfully convenient spot to be in with great food served on-site. It’s also close to the Laurel and Hardy museum!