The Top 10 must-see places in the Lake District
The most beautiful national park in England.
If you have ever visited the Lake District you will know the breathtaking views you can find around every corner. Lakes and mountain ranges formed in the ice age, along with with a good dose of Cumbrian rain, mean it is one of the most lush and beautiful places in the UK to visit. Many romantic poets, such as William Wordsworth, have been inspired by the landscape. Hundreds of thousands of people visit every year, yet it's still possible to find yourself alone in a majestic setting.
Most first time, or even seasoned, visitors, will go to Windermere, Ambleside, Grasmere and Keswick, and these places are definitely worth seeing. However, you could spend weeks exploring the lake district, from the tops of mountains to the river banks , the tarns, the meadows, the history and the tea rooms in every village! You will find good food, incredible vistas and many activities, from horse riding to ghyll scrambling.If you are planning a visit to the Lake District, I have put together 10 of my top must-see places. There's no particular order, because they are all as wonderful as each other!
1) Aira Force
Aira Force, a 65ft waterfall tumbling down a hillside, is part of a site managed by the National Trust. You reach the waterfall itself, and the 2 bridges across it, by walking through the woodland beside the river itself. The landscape if full of wildlife and beauty and the majestic waterfall is worth the walk.At the foot of the National Trust site is a car park (National Trust members free but non-members must pay a fee). There is also a tea-room and public toilets, plus picnic site, making it a very family friendly destination.
Aira Force is located near the beautiful, quieter lake of Ullswater, which you will see below.
Located at the top end of the Lake District, Ullswater is the second largest lake in England. It is surrounded by mountains and villages, and it was the setting for William Wordsworth's poem 'Daffodils'.
On the clear waters of this beautiful lake you can enjoy activities such as canoeing, kayaking and boating, as well as fishing and boat rips on the famous Ullswater Steamers, which will take you around the lake, stopping at the various villages around it's edges.
The countryside around Ullswater has many paths suitable for walking or hiking, from the gentle ramble to the day-long, uphill and down dale, excursion. Helvellyn, the third highest mountain in Britain, is nearby.
Unlike the busy lakesides of places such as Windermere, Ullswater is relatively quiet and you can find a peaceful spot on your own around it's edges.
When you fancy a little company, or something to eat and drink, the small hamlets of Watermillock, Pooley Bridge, Glenridding and Howtown are never far away.
I am going to cheat a little here and include two places in one. As I mentioned earlier, William Wordsworth lived and worked in the lake district all his life. I recommend visiting his houses at Dove Cottage in Grasmere and Wordsworth House and Garden in Cockermouth. (Later on I will also recommend another place Wordsworth once lived!).
Dove Cottage in Grasmere is a museum based around one the houses Wordsworth and his wife and children lived in. Relatively small in size it is nevertheless an interesting place to visit, especially as you can combine it with a visit to the nearby village of Grasmere. Run by The Wordsworth Trust there are admission fees for entry. The Cottage itself is maintained as Wordsworth would have known it, and in the museum you can learn about Wordsworth's life and work. Also included in the museum are activities for children. Nearby parking and a cafe make it a conveniently easy place to visit.
The second house is run by the National Trust. In the town of Cockermouth is the Georgian house where Wordsworth grew up in the 1770s. It is presented as it would have been when Wordsworth was growing up there with his parents and brothers and sisters.On some occasions costumed staff are at work in the house, and happy to chat to visitors. There are childrens' activities in one of the bedrooms and plenty to learn about life in the 1770's and Wordsworth's childhood.There is easy parking in town and after visiting the house, why not wander down the high street?
4) Allan Bank
Also run by the National Trust, Allan Bank is a large Georgian house which overlooks the village of Grasmere.This was once home to the Wordsworths and to Canon Rawnsley, a founder of the National Trust.
The house was damaged by fire, and quite deliberately, has not been fully restored. This is not a typical Trust property. There are no ropes to keep you out, no hushed rooms with curtains closed and volunteers keeping an eye on visitors. Here, you can wander wherever you like and this, along with rooms dedicated to childrens' activities, make it an ideal place for families to visit. There is a small cafe within the house, where you can make your own tea or coffee to drink in the mismatched china, or get the children a drink of squash, for a small donation. If you are hungry, also on sale are cakes, fresh soup and sandwiches. Unlike other Trust properties, you are welcome to take your refreshments into other rooms in the house, or to sit outside in the sun and enjoy them.
Surrounding the house is a lovely garden, complete with it's own red squirrel population. You can squirrel spot and birdwatch, or simply enjoy the view across the fields, mountains and Grasmere village itself. This is probably the most relaxing property you will ever visit, and there's nothing better than sitting in the garden with a good cup of tea, contemplating the view.
Although there is no parking (the house is approached via a footpath which runs uphill - you can drive up if you have mobility issues), there is plenty of space to park in Grasmere itself. As a National Trust property there is also an admission charge.
5) Honister Slate Mine
Hoinister Slate mine in Borrowdale is a historical adventure! As well as family-friendly, all-weather tours of the slate mine itself, which is deep within the mountain, you can also climb vertiginous ladders, ropes and bridges across and up the mountain, or walk across a bridge with only one rope between you and a terrifying drop!
For those with an interest in history, take a tour of the mine and listen to the stories of those who lived and worked there over hundreds of years. For those with a taste for thrills and danger, climb the Via Ferrata and see the breathtaking views whilst clinging to the mountainside, or traverse the Infiniti Bridge, 1,200 ft about the valley floor.You can even take a Friday night ''Cathedral' tour, to see some of the most impressive caverns within the hillside (this must be pre-booked).
All equipment is provided by Honister, but please wear strong footwear and waterproofs for whichever adventure you decide to go on. Parking is at Honister Slate Mine itself and there is a small shop and cafe at the site.
On a rainy day a tour of the mine is a great activity, and on a clear day, take your life in your hands and enjoy the incredible views from the Via Ferrata!
6) Friars Crag/Derwentwater
Derwentwater is one of the most beautiful lakes to be found in Cumbria. The town of Keswick lies on it's banks and makes a good starting point for exploring. Walk through the town and down towards the lakeside, passing Hope Park and the crazy golf, and you will find yourself at the lakeside, where the Theatre by The Lake and a boat hire centre, as well as National Trust shop, provide activities and refreshments. Hire a rowing or motor boat and go out onto the lake yourself, or jump aboard one of the large boat tours of the lake to hear the topography and history of the the lake itself.
Surrounded by mountains, Derwentwater is a place of great beauty. Keep to the path alongside the National Trust shop and head away from the bustle of the boats and lakeside, up a path towards Friars Crag. The National Trust own this part of lakeside and the Crag itself is a promontory jutting out into the lake. It is thought to have acquired it's name as it was once an embarkation point for monks making a pilgrimage to nearby St.Herbert's Island. From the crag you have one of the best views of the lake, and to the left of it is a wide, long, beach-like shore where you can picnic, paddle, or just enjoy a lovely walk.
7) Elterwater and Skelwith Force
Elterwater, at the head of the Great Langdale Valley, is named from the old Norse words for Swan lake.The small village of Elterwater is a good place to start a walk along the lakeside, across countryside and past Cathedral Cavern, to Skelwith Force, a small but powerful waterfall. Along your way you will walk through fields, woodland, past the lake and along a river. Birds sing in the trees and you may even see the swans the lake is named after! Pause your walk at the turning point at Chester's cafe or take a picnic and sit by the riverside, just in front of the cafe, on the slate picnic tables by Skelwith Bridge.
This is a beautiful, and fairly easy, walk and one to be done on a fine day, if possible. I can't describe it better than this website (link below).
A good route for a walk
- A Lake District Walk - Elterwater, Skelwith Force and Colwith Force Walk
A lovely Lake District walk from Elterwater to Skelwith Force and Colwith Force Waterfalls
- WalkLakes • Lake District Walk: Waterfalls and the Cathedral Cavern, from Elterwater
Lake District Walk: Waterfalls and the Cathedral Cavern, from Elterwater, 12.5km (7.8 miles), difficulty rating 2/5. Near to Ambleside, Langdale.
8) Wray Castle
Wray Castle is not an ancient fortification. This imposing mock gothic castle was bulit in 1840, and was once a destination for Beatrix Potter's family to holiday in. Before the National Trust acquired it, the castle was a training school for the Merchant Navy. You can still see some of the classrooms used to train radio operators.
The Trust have largely left the castle as it was when the Merchant Navy left, but have added a small cafe and lots of dressing up clothes and activities for children. There is also an adventure playground outside for the kids to work off their energy.
The key to enjoying this visit, is to wander round the castle interior, yes , but also to explore the grounds around it. At the front there are picnic tables with impressive views, but go deep into the small woodland behind the adventure playground, and you will find a rocky outcrop to sit on and quietly admire Lake Windermere. Behind the castle is a walk down to, and along, the lakeside. Here you can also gain a quieter, more peaceful experience of Windermere than by going to the busy town itself.
9) Easdale Tarn
About two miles west of Grasmere (an easy walk away from Allan Bank, as mentioned above), is Easedale Tarn.A fairly easy ascent takes you through woodland, meadows and farmland and along a river, up to a moderately steep, waterfall side walk, alongside Sourmilk Ghyll (named for it';s milky looks) which leads you uphill to Easedale Tarn itself.
Surrounded by towering fells and mountains, the view is spectacular and worth the climb!
Kids from 9 to 99 will enjoy a paddle in the river or on the shore of the Tarn. Not one of the better known tarns, you will find tranquility and beauty in equal measure. Take a rucksack with a picnic and sit down to enjoy the view.
10) Tarn Hows
Last, but not least, is Tarn Hows. Easily accessed from a National Trust car park, and usually manned (in good weather) by an ice-cream van, Tarn Hows is an easy, beautiful walk alongside a reflective body of water with plenty of wildlife to spy on.
When you approach the Tarn from the car park, you come to the view at it's highest point. Here there is plenty of space for a picnic, or to simply sit and take in the views. Take the well maintained paths along the shoreline to complete a walk that is about 1 and three-quarter miles long. For those with mobility issues, there are 2 mobility scooters available to book via the National Trust website.
You may see rare Belted Galloway cattle, or Herdwick sheep grazing alongside. Popular with photographers, you may even recognise the Tarn once you see it! Nearby there are the villages on Coniston and Hawkshead to visit and enjoy.
You will notice from my top 10, that the National Trust features largely in it.That isn't a coincidence. The National Trust owns and protects much of this national park, and is supporting the national park's bid for World Heritage status in 2016. If you are holidaying in the area, it may be wise to buy a membership in the Trust so that you can take full advantage of it's many properties, free car parks (it can be expensive to park anywhere in the Lake District) and protected sites.
Of course, there is much, much more to the Lake District than my top 10. I have been visiting the Lakes for decades, and I still find new places to see and new experiences to enjoy. It is the beauty of the landscape that has found it's way into my soul. Whatever happens, whatever the weather, I take my family to the Lake District at least once every year for a holiday. My children have grown up with the scenery and beauty of this place and love it as much as I do.
Please visit if you can, and let me know what you think!
A link to National Trust information and map
Webcams in the Lakes: See for yourself!
- Lake District - National Trust
See for yourself how beautiful the Lake District is by clicking on any of these webcams.