The 17 best things to do in the Lake District

Aira Force, Lake District
The Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway is one of the best things to do in the Lake District, and the views are fabulous - Brian Sherwen

The Lake District, undoubtedly, has some of Britain’s finest scenery and fell-walking. But it has much more – much (not surprisingly) as a consequence of its headline-grabbing views. Writers, poets and artists (such as Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth) were drawn here, leaving fascinating homes to explore. Wealthy folk built grand houses and gardens to capitalise on the landscapes. Quirky things to do include a distillery tour, slate mine and pencil museum – but honestly nothing beats a lake cruise for complete relaxation.

For further Lake District inspiration, see our guides to the area's best hotelsrestaurantspubs and walks. Use our expert guide to plan the perfect holiday in the Lake District.

Find things to do by area

Windermere and around

Take a cruise along England's longest lake

For many people, Windermere, which stretches for over 10 miles between Ambleside and Newby Bridge, is the heart of the Lake District. Inevitably, it attracts swarms of visitors, particularly at its Bowness pier, but a ride on one of its lake cruisers, gliding past its 18 islets, is an undeniably enjoyable way to take in the lovely scenery. There’s a choice of routes, and you can usually break the journey at one of the landing stages.

Insider tip: During the winter months, buy a 48-hour ticket and enjoy unlimited travel on any of the cruise routes.

Price: ££

Lake Windermere, Lake District
Lake Windermere's lake cruises are an undeniably enjoyable way to take in the lovely scenery - George-Standen

Visit Beatrix Potter's perfectly preserved house

The 17th-century farmhouse Hill Top is where children’s author, Beatrix Potter, created some of her best-known stories. It’s still furnished as she left it when she died in 1943: in the entrance hall are her straw hat and clogs, in the bedroom are the bed hangings that she embroidered. Most fun is to be had by spotting the scenes illustrated in her books: the grandfather clock from The Tale of Samuel Whiskers, the chimney stack that Tom Kitten failed to escape from and Mr McGregor’s cottage garden.

Insider tip: In summer, it heaves with visitors so visit early on a weekday if you can.

Price: ££

Hill Top, Lake District
Hill Top is the house where Beatrix Potter created some of her best-known stories

Learn all about life by the water

The strikingly designed copper-and-glass building of the Windermere Jetty Museum – worth a trip just to view – is a rare new construction on the shores of Windermere, and is designed to reflect the area’s traditional boat-houses. You don’t have to be a nautical nerd to be captured by the workmanship, fun and romance of its collection of vintage steam launches, speedboats and rowing boats that celebrate the area’s connection with all things watery. Marvel at a grand Victorian saloon launch, at the plainness of Beatrix Potter’s rowing boat (very uncomfortable), or at the cleverness of early life-jackets (pockets filled with corks), then watch craftsmen repair boats using traditional skills.

Insider’s tip: Take a cruise boat from Bowness (in winter, request stop only) to arrive in suitable style. See for details.

Price: £

Explore a grand Victorian-era holiday home

Blackwell House, a gem of an Arts and Crafts house overlooking Windermere, was designed in 1898 by leading architect M H Baillie Scott as a holiday home for a wealthy Manchester brewer. It’s a delight of original handmade details from William De Morgan tiled fireplaces to carved oak panelling, jewel-coloured stained glass windows to a sweeping peacock frieze. But it’s the space, the light, the attention to detail - window latches are individually carved - that staggers.

Insider tip: Time your visit for later in the day so you can sit in the window of the White Drawing Room and watch the light fade over Windermere.

Price: £

Blackwell House, Lake District
The modern-looking White Drawing Room is one of Blackwell House's highlights - Steven Barber Photography Limited/Steven Barber

Take a proper dip in the water

So, you want to get in the water – after all, there’s plenty of it – but not sure where, how or what to wear? The team at Swim the Lakes, based in Ambleside, can provide all the answers, get you kitted out, and take you off for a fun, exhilarating – yet safe – splash in the water. Choose from a beginners’ introductory course to half- and full-day swims, and in watery settings from pretty Rydal Water, the Swallows and Amazons territory of Coniston Water, amongst the rushes of a river, in high-level tarns and waterfalls, or on a secret night swim. Hot drinks and sweet munchies provided.

Insider tip: You’ll need a wetsuit (unless you’re a hardened pro) but can hire them from the company; big towels or a ‘dryrobe’ also recommended

Price: ££-£££

Grasmere and Rydal Water

See inside William Wordsworth's whitewashed cottage

Whitewashed Dove Cottage, where William Wordsworth lived for eight years from 1799 and wrote his most famous works, recreates the atmosphere – sights, smells, sounds – of the poet’s day. Look out for the chair where he dictated to his sister Dorothy or wife, Mary (he composed when out walking), his skating boots (he boasted he could carve his initials on the ice of Grasmere) and friend Thomas de Quincey’s opium scales. Don’t miss the small restored garden-orchard behind the cottage of which William and Dorothy were so fond.

Insider tip: From behind the cottage, it's a lovely two-mile walk – despite its name, the Coffin Trail – with views of Grasmere, to the poet's last home, Rydal Mount, and its 'romantic-style’ gardens.

Price: ££

Dove Cottage, Lake District
Whitewashed Dove Cottage was Wordsworth's home for eight years and is full of memorabilia

Keswick and the north

Stroll around a Lakeland market town

While many towns here feel like tourist attractions, Keswick retains the jaunty, working air of a Lakeland market town. On the shores of pretty Derwentwater, it offers something for everyone from lake cruises (hop on and off to combine with a lakeside stroll), the Derwent Pencil Museum (see one of the world’s longest pencils), outdoors shops and arty shops, a twice-weekly market, Castlerigg Stone Circle and an excellent theatre.

Insider tip: Take an early-morning walk to Friar’s Crag on the lakeshore for memorable views up the lake to 'the jaws of Borrowdale' – the local name for the entrance to the steep-sided valley.

Keswick, Lake District
Keswick has managed to retain the jaunty, working air of a Lakeland market town - Chris Hepburn/ChrisHepburn

Tour a distillery and taste some Lake District whisky

Craft beers are well-known in the Lake District, but whisky was an entirely new proposition when the Lakes Distillery opened in 2014. But why not? Crystal-clear river water filtered by the fells is key to the taste. On the site of a Victorian model farm, beside Bassenthwaite Lake, the distillery’s behind-the-scenes tour – and tasting – lets you discover how the whisky, gin and vodka are produced.

Insider tip: Children needn't be bored; they can take an alpaca for a walk from the on-site herd.

Price: ££-£££

Lakes Distillery, Lake District
The Lakes Distillery produces whisky, gin and vodka and offers behind-the-scenes tours (and tastings)

Take a trip down England's last working slate mine

Drop deep inside a mine or scale the steep and rocky Fleetwith Pike (no experience needed for either) at Honister Slate Mine, England’s last working slate mine. At the top of the 1-in-4 Honister Pass, this slate mine has been worked commercially since the 18th century. Take a guided mine tour or get high on adrenaline on Europe’s longest high-wire bridge or on one of two Via Ferratas (routes with fixed cables and ladders) that let you scale vertical rock faces in safety, despite dizzying drops beneath.

Insider tip: Whatever the weather, make sure you come in waterproofs, gloves and strong footwear.

Price: ££-£££

Honister Slate Mine, Lake District
Drop deep inside the still-working Honister Slate Mine for a guided tour

Take to the water without getting wet

If you want to get close to the water but not actually in it (except by accident), hire one of the craft from Derwent Water Marina in Portinscale, a 15-minute walk (or five-minute drive) across the northern end of the lake from Keswick. Derwentwater is less busy and more sheltered than the other main boating lakes – and, many would argue, the prettiest of all. Choose from paddle boards, canoes and kayaks to rowing boats and pedalos.

Insider tip: Pack a picnic for landing on three of the lake’s four islands (all owned by the National Trust), St Herbert’s Island, Rampsholme Island and Derwent Island, the latter the only inhabited island and only open on specific days of the year.

Price: ££

Derwentwater, Lake District
Derwentwater is one of the most picturesque spots in the Lake Districts - DaveBolton

Southern Lakeland

Amble through a picturesque village

There's more than sticky toffee pudding to ludicrously pretty Cartmel – though you should still make sure to pop in to the Village Shop to buy some. Elsewhere you’ll find artisan cheeses and breads, craft beer, funky homewares and a clutch of antique shops. Or just enjoy wandering its crooked lanes and calling in at its fine 12th-century priory church – and work up the appetite to eat at one of its starry establishments: L'Enclume (three stars) and Rogan & Co (one star).

Insider tip: Time your visit for one of the races at Cartmel Racecourse, surely Britain's prettiest?

Cartmel, Lake District
Ludicrously pretty Cartmel is the birthplace of sticky toffee pudding - Kevin Eaves/Khrizmo

Enjoy a brisk walk up to a knoll with staggering views

If you want to tick off a (minor) hill but don’t fancy one of the big-hitters then Gummer's How, a little knoll at the southern end of Windermere, fits the bill. Around 30 to 40 minutes gets you to the summit from where you’ll be rewarded with staggering views: on a clear day south to Morecambe Bay, east to the Pennines, north to the Lakeland fells, while below is shimmering Windermere.

Insider tip: Two miles along the road (away from the lake) from the start/finish of the walk is the Masons Arms, just the spot for a good pub lunch and a rest on the terrace overlooking the Winster valley.

Gummer's How, Lake District
A walk up to Gummer's How is rewarded with splendid views over shimmering Windermere - Jimmy Clarke

Coniston and Langdale

Discover a sizeable art collection in an historic house

The home of the formidable Victorian art critic, philosopher and artist John Ruskin, Brantwood has a peerless position overlooking Coniston Water. There's as much to see outside as inside (look out for his collection of Turners as well as his own fine watercolours), as Ruskin was a pioneering environmentalist, creating separate 'garden rooms' in his steep-sided garden.

Insider tip: The finest way to arrive is by water in the, appropriately Victorian, Steam Yacht Gondola (, mid-March-October) with its rich upholstery and stately pace.

Price: ££

Brantwood, Lake District
The art-filled Brantwood has a peerless position overlooking Coniston Water


Burn off some energy, or enjoy a picnic, amongst the trees

Spread over low hills, dotted with tarns, between Esthwaite Water and Coniston Water, Grizedale Forest offers entertainment for outdoors-lovers of all abilities. There are walking trails, cycling and mountain biking trails (bikes to hire), orienteering courses, Go Ape tree-top zipwire and assault courses, and picnic spots for those who prefer to stroll and watch others do the hard work. Fun can be had spotting the sculptures and installations dotted around the forest, from a giant key in a tree to a totem pole and a huge tilted Polo-shaped tree-trunk that doubles as a seat.

Insider’s tip: For fine views, take the trail to Carron Crag, the highest point (314m, 1030ft) where, on clear days, Morecambe Bay can be seen as well as Helvellyn, the Landale Pikes and Coniston Old Man.

Price: Free entry and for trails; parking charges; £-£££ for some activities

grizedale forest, Lake District
There are walking and cycling trails in Grizedale forest - Alphotographic/Alphotographic

Ullswater and around

Hike up to a beautiful waterfall

It's an uphill walk, but not too steep and not too far (around 20 minutes from the car park), and undeniably romantic as you zig-zag up woodland paths to this beautiful waterfall, Aira Force. Like a mane of Rapunzel's hair, it plunges 70 feet into magical pools, and is most spectacular after heavy rainfall – which, let's face it, isn’t too hard to achieve in the Lakes.

Insider tip: Just to the south of here, on the shores of Ullswater around Glencoyne Bay, is where William Wordsworth saw a 'host of golden daffodils' and was inspired to write his famous poem.

Price: Free; parking charges

Aira Force, Lake District
It's a 20-minute uphill walk through pretty woodland paths to reach the beautiful Aira Force - hardyuno/hardyuno

Outlying areas

Explore a lived-in castle and have fun and games in the grounds

Not only is this splendid castle – with its towers and battlements and ghosts – still lived-in, but lived in by the same family since the 13th century. Extensively renovated – most notably by Victorian architect, Anthony Salvin – it’s as much about what‘s on offer outside as the grand rooms inside, and that makes it a good family day out. The 70 acres of gardens and woodland include rare and exotic specimens, a riot of rhododendrons, an enchanted trail, ‘meadowvole maze’ and a hawk and owl centre – from vultures, kites and eagles to the cute southern white-faced owl – with daily flying displays.

Insider tip: Check out the busy and varied events programme from Easter egg hunts and Halloween frights to open-air theatre, music and medieval weekends.

Price: £-££

muncaster castle, Lake District
A calendar of events keeps visitors at Muncaster entertained - chrisdorney

Journey through fields on board a mini steam train

Despite your best efforts to appear cool, you’ll still get ridiculously excited as you board the Thomas-the-Tank-Engine style Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway, which steams upwards through fields and woodland on the former iron-ore route from Ravenglass up Eskdale. It's cute as kittens with its gleaming brass, wooden floors, and choo-chooing engine.

Insider tip: You can hop off at any station and walk to any of the others to board again. There's also a quiet circular walk from the final station, Dalegarth, through Boot to Doctor Bridge and back along the pretty River Esk via St Catherine's Church.

Price: ££

Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway, Lake District
A journey on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway takes you upwards through the countryside - Mark Fielding

How we choose

Every attraction and activity in this curated list has been tried and tested by our destination expert, to provide you with their insider perspective. We cover a range of budgets and styles, from world-class museums to family-friendly theme parks – to best suit every type of traveller. We update this list regularly to keep up with the latest openings and provide up to date recommendations.