The 10 best holidays in the Lake District

Buttermere, in Lake District National Park - Getty

Not so long ago, holidaying in the Lake District meant hardcore walking and climbing, or pootling across a lake, followed by a scenic drive, with a bit of Beatrix Potter thrown in. And always with the possibility of rain.

Staid hotels for the posh, and cheery B&Bs and muddy field camping for the rest of us were the order of the day.

Fast-forward 40 years or so and there’s been a tsunami of a transformation – although the mesmeric, bewitching beauty of the landscape remains a constant. And the rain.

Today, adrenaline-seekers can get their fix from everything from high-wire bridges to Via Ferrata climbs, and from extreme mountain-biking to remote tarn wild swimming. Children can burn off boredom on zip-wires or getting soaked climbing up waterfalls. Organised self-guided and guided walks means fell-walking is open to everyone, not just anoraks-with-compasses (though, to be serious, proper walking gear is essential).

More sedentary pleasures have spun out from a bit of photography and painting into learning crafts such as weaving, enamelling and raku pottery. And if, frankly, all this busy-ness is too much yet you still hanker after the sublime scenery but with a generous helping of indulgence, fear not: hotels have upped their game with spas, infinity pools and outdoor saunas.

It’s now perfectly acceptable to wander outdoors in a white towelling robe rather than full GORE-TEX kit. Camping options, too, have been elevated to include shepherds’ huts, glamping pods and shiny American Airstreams.

But one of the biggest changes is the food scene. No longer just pubs and tearooms, now you’ll find funky bistros, smart gastropubs and cool coffee bars while gourmet-hunters come salivating on the trail of the 13 – yes, 13 – restaurants waving their Michelin stars.

Cycle the hills with ease

So, you fancy a spin on a bike but without the sweaty stuff? Even better with a massage on hand on your return? And, preferably, someone to organise it all, so you don’t have to faff around working out routes.

Brimstone, an adults-only, all-suite hotel, has a team of hosts looking after guests’ needs who will arrange e-bike hire and delivery, kit you out in appropriate clothing, and suggest tried-and-tested cycling routes.

Brimstone Hotel
Brimstone Hotel

Maybe down the quiet west side of Windermere and back via the Drunken Duck for lunch. Back at base, relax in the spa with its indoor-outdoor thermal experience.

How to do it: Brimstone (015394 38014; doubles from £416; e-bike £55 full-day, £132 (3 days). 

Go all in on wild swimming

With a lake on its doorstep, a private jetty, and wetsuits and gear to borrow, Another Place, on Ullswater, more or less pushes you into the water. Wild swimming lessons are available all year but to really get into the, er, swim of things, try one of their Wild Swim Camps (no camping involved).

Paddle boarding at Another Place
Paddle boarding at Another Place

For three days, under the tuition of expert Colin Hill (English Channel swimmer, ice mile swimmer), you can explore secluded bays, tackle a cross-lake swim, plunge (safely) from rocks, try a river swim and float under the night-sky. And if that’s not enough, you can join one of the hotel’s regular open water training sessions.

How to do it: Another Place (017684 86442; offers Wild Swim Camp (various dates) from £575 B&B, based on two people sharing.

Family fun on the rocks

Ready to rock-climb, abseil, scramble down a waterfall (or ghyll-scrambling in the local lingo), all in one day? That’s the offer from this small operation that offers bespoke activity days for up to six people; ideal for families or groups of friends.

Nick and Jill Cannon Jones – Mountain Leaders and Mountaineering and Climbing Instructors – tailor the day to clients’ abilities and wish-list, mixing fun, exhilaration and skills-learning.

Mainly done on crags in the Langdale valley, against the backdrop of such classic fells as the Langdale Pikes and Crinkle Crags, all equipment is provided. Extend into more than one day and they’ll add other activities, such as rock-scrambling and navigation, into the mix.

How to do it: More than Mountains (07984 410230; multi-activity day £220. To stay, try dog-friendly Toffee Cottage in Chapel Stile, Langdale (01237 426781; sleeping four, from £438 for three nights, £561 for seven nights.

Sample the local terroir

Want to find out why this region has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other outside London? Take a look behind the scenes at the place where, arguably, it all began: Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume, in Cartmel.

Have a guided tour of the 12-acre bio-dynamic 'home farm' by L'Enclume's farm manager and head chef Liam Fitzpatrick
Have a guided tour of the 12-acre bio-dynamic 'home farm' by L'Enclume's farm manager and head chef Liam Fitzpatrick

More specifically, have a guided tour of the 12-acre bio-dynamic ‘home farm’ which supplies Rogan’s restaurants: three-starred L’Enclume, its neighbour, one-starred Rogan & Co, and Henrock outside Bowness.

The farm manager and head chef Liam Fitzpatrick will explain techniques, varieties (nine types of mustard, for example), kitchen preparation and the clever substitutes (fermented courgettes as a lime flavour) to keep dishes of their ‘terroir’. Snacks are offered during the tour, after which dinner is prepared and served in the al fresco dining room (canopies if the weather turns inclement).

How to do it: L’Enclume (015395 36362; offers tour, dinner, B&B from £500 (selected dates).

Lakeside literary tradition

The name of this festival – Words by the Water – sums up both its glorious setting and what it celebrates. For over 20 years, Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake (literally, a hop and a skip from the shores of Derwentwater) has hosted the annual book festival, cancelled last year due to economic difficulties (causing huge disappointment) but now returned under new management (5-9 June).

Theatre By The Lake in Keswick
Theatre By The Lake in Keswick - Alamy

Expect big names and local names, poets, comedians and journalists; this year’s line-up includes writer and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, comedian Robin Ince, historian Clare Mulley, political journalist Chris Mullin, and farmer’s wife and writer Helen Rebanks, plus creative writing workshops, and a one-woman show on the secret life of Enid Blyton.

How to do it: Words by the Water (017687 74411;, 5th- 9th June, tickets from £13. To stay, try The Royal Oak, Keswick (017687 73135; from £125.

Spa, Champagne and scenery

Sometimes an indulgent spa break is the only answer – no matter what the question. Champagne on arrival kicks off this three-day break at The Gilpin Hotel and Lake House, whose 36 rooms spread luxuriously across two sites, three miles from Lake Windermere.

Gilpin Hotel & Lake House
Gilpin Hotel & Lake House

Day two’s treats vary, depending on room category, but can include a spa treatment followed by a private hot tub session (more Champagne), or a ‘sensory journey’ around your private suite (including sauna, massage room and hot tub). Lake House guests also have a private pool. There are lunch treats and spa gifts for all.

Dine one night on Asian tapas and two nights in the Michelin-starred SOURCE; wine flight included one evening. If you can drag yourself away, there’s also a free cruise on Windermere.

How to do it: Gilpin Hotel and Lake House (015394 88818; offers three-night break from £1,710 in a Classic Room, from £2,970 in a Spa Suite.

In the footsteps of Wordsworth and the Romantics

Take a deep dive into William Wordsworth and the Romantic Poets – who, arguably, helped kickstart the Lake District tourist industry – on this bespoke guided tour.

With a driver and expert guide at your disposal, you can tailor the day to your wishes but the suggested route includes Wordsworth’s childhood home in Cockermouth, Robert Southey’s grave in Keswick, the two Grasmere houses where Wordsworth wrote his most famous works – and entertained fellow poets – and the church where he’s buried.

Dove Cottage, home of William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy Wordsworth
Dove Cottage, home of William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy Wordsworth - Alamy

Admire Rydal Water (a favourite view), and enjoy lunch at Lancrigg in Grasmere whose house and wooded grounds Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, often visited.

How to do it: English Lakes Tours (0333 335 0042; offers a full-day tour: 2 people £833, 4 people £907, 6 people £981, prices include entrance fees To stay, try Rothay Garden Hotel, Grasmere (01539 435334 from £204 B&B.

Stay off-grid

Tune in, turn on, drop out – that’s the proposition offered by these off-grid boltholes (huts and cabins plus an old school bus), although with 21st-century comforts. Scattered in semi-remote locations in and around Lorton Vale in the northern Lakes, they guarantee peace, privacy and immersion in nature.

Sturdily built, with a Scandi design, excellent insulation, wood-burning stove, double bed and clever re-use of vintage items, they pack a lot into a tiny space including a marble-clad shower and composting loo, stove, fridge (or cool-box), books and games. Expect handmade soaps and high-quality kitchen utensils, too. Most have decking, and a hot tub. Finding them – using the geolocation app what3words – is part of the fun.

How to do it: Hinterlandes (; offers two nights, sleeping two to four, from £320.

Walk the heights

If you want to bag a Wainwright or two – Lakeland fells over 1000 feet (300m), catalogued by the formidable fell-walker, Alfred Wainwright – but prefer others to plan routes, sort accommodation and check out the useful pubs, this three-day walking trip should suit.

Blea Tarn
Blea Tarn - George W Johnson

Starting in Ambleside, it ticks off Wansfell Pike and, later, Loughrigg Fell on the nine-mile (14k) route into Langdale where, on Day 3, you can tackle the biggies: Langdale Pikes. Gentler and shorter options are provided, such as up to Blea Tarn and into Little Langdale. Wet-weather and lazy-day suggestions are also included – plus detailed route notes, maps, munchies, and OS App downloads – as is luggage transfer between comfortable inns.

How to do it: Muddy Boots Walking Holidays (01524 271580; offers four- to six-night self-guided walking trips, B&B and luggage transfers, from £510pp.

Find your artistic inspiration

‘Creative stitching for the terrified’, ‘The philosophy and literature of Henrik Ibsen’, ‘Willow animal sculpture’ and ‘Singing and circle dancing’; some of the more esoteric courses available at Higham Hall, a late Georgian mansion, above Bassenthwaite Lake with views to Skiddaw.

Higham Hall
Higham Hall - Steve Razzetti

More familiar options include landscape painting, jewellery-making, art appreciation and stained-glass making with course-lengths varying from one-day to week-long, the majority two to three days (residential and non-residential options).

The atmosphere is warm and jolly, the food highly prized (including home-made cake and biscuits) and there are walks from the grounds when leg-stretching is required.

How to do it: Higham Hall (017687 76276; offers around 250 courses throughout the year, average £320 for a two-night course, £390 for 3-nights, including all meals and accommodation.