Windermere is the largest natural lake in the Lake District and in England – and there’s plenty to do both on the water and in the surrounding villages. From visiting Wray Castle to exploring Ambleside, here’s our guide to the top activities in and around Windermere.
In 1778, Thomas West published a guidebook to the Lake District – and it quickly became one of the most fashionable destinations for well-heeled British travellers. As a result, a number of Viewing Stations were built to capture dramatic views of the landscape. Claife Viewing Station was built in the 1790s and is one of the earliest monuments to Lake District tourism. It originally boasted tinted windows that allowed visitors to recreate the light of different seasons – a feature that has been recreated today with coloured glass slides.
This Grade I listed home is an exceptional example of the architecture of the Arts and Crafts movement. It was designed by architect MH Baillie Scott and is perfectly preserved to showcase early 20th-century living. Join a guided tour of the home to learn about the crafted furnishings, artwork and interior details. Then, take tea on the outdoor terrace and explore the terraced gardens, which were laid out to capture the breathtaking views over Windermere to Coniston Fells.
This lakeside town has been the most popular tourist attraction in the Lake District for more than 150 years. The sprawling town is characterised by imposing Victorian homes, many of which have been converted into hotels. From the shores of the lake, you can take a scenic cruise or rent a rowing boat, sailing boat or canoe. There’s also a car ferry that connects visitors to the pretty town of Hawkshead. If you’re feeling energetic, take on the Windermere Way, a 45mi (72km) route around the entire lake.
It’s no secret that the Lake District is home to some of the best views in the UK – and this short but steep walk is the perfect way to discover them. There are also plenty of spots to stop for a picnic lunch along the way. The walk starts from Helm Road, and there’s a sign pointing the way to Post Knott. If you fancy a longer walk – and more views – head up to Brant Fell.
Located in the village of Troutbeck, Townend was built in 1626 for wealthy farmer George Browne and remained in the Browne family for over 400 years. Today, it’s owned by the National Trust and offers a fascinating insight into life in the Lake District through the centuries. Take note of the beautifully carved furniture, much of which was made especially for the family.
This town at the head of Windermere Lake is an excellent base for exploring the Lake District and boasts plenty of its own attractions. In spring and summer, Stagshaw Garden is a riot of colourful blooms, and the Skelghyll Woods are teeming with wildlife. History buffs will love the Ambleside Roman Fort, and Bridge House is also worth a visit – the tiny 17th-century stone house was once home to a family of eight!
This 10-acre (4ha) site is the home of the Lakeland Horticultural Society – and it’s a horticulturalist’s paradise of rock and heather gardens, alpine houses and pretty paths twisting through colourful blooms. Of particular note is the walled garden, with its delicate flowers and herbaceous borders. It’s no surprise that it was once voted one of the nation’s favourite gardens. If you’re tempted to recreate the garden at home, pick up a plant cultivated by the propagation team from the Plant Sales area.
Boating on Windermere is a quintessential Lake District experience, whether you want to sit back and relax on a scenic cruise or take the helm of a small boat and explore the lake at your own pace. The shoreline is dotted with spots to rent rowing boats, motorboats, canoes, kayaks and paddleboards. There’s also the opportunity to fish for arctic char, brown trout, pike, perch, salmon and sea trout – just make sure you have a permit before casting off.
Back in 1930, a young Alfred Wainwright visited the Lake District for the first time. He set out on the path that starts outside Windermere station and leads to the viewpoint at Orrest Head. The view was so stunning that he moved to the area and dedicated his life to exploring the fells and writing guidebooks about the Lake District. He later wrote of the experience, “It was a moment of magic, a revelation so unexpected that I stood transfixed, unable to believe my eyes.” Almost a century later, not much has changed.
With its characterful turrets and towers, this Victorian mock-gothic castle on the shores of Windermere is an imposing sight. It was built in 1840 for a wealthy surgeon and has been transformed by the National Trust into a family-friendly attraction. Between March and October, Windermere Lake Cruises operates a passenger boat service from Ambleside and the Brockhole National Park Visitor Centre to Wray Castle.