Top Things to Do in the Lake District, UK

Canoeing on Ullswater is just one of many outdoor activities you can enjoy in the Lake District
Canoeing on Ullswater is just one of many outdoor activities you can enjoy in the Lake District | © Ashley Cooper pics / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Mandi Keighran
24 September 2020

From Windermere to Derwentwater, there are some spectacular places to visit in the Lake District with everything from canoeing and paddleboarding to wild swimming and cruises. But it’s not just about water – the heart of Cumbria also has haunted castles, neolithic stone circles, mountain biking, ghyll scrambling and hiking. Here’s our roundup.

Hike around Lake Windermere

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Windermere is the largest of the region’s lakes and the routes around its shores and surrounding fells provide some of the best walks. There’s the short Miles Without Stiles, suitable for the whole family, or the two-hour Windermere Walk, which takes in many of the sites that inspired children’s author Beatrix Potter. For spectacular views over Scafell Pike and the Kentmere Range, head to the top of Orrest Head.

Go ghyll scrambling in Keswick

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The pretty market village of Keswick is a great base for ghyll scrambling – an exhilarating outdoor activity that involves traversing a mountain stream or gorge, with climbing, sliding and jumps along the way. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, you can sign up for a guided tour with one of many outdoor activities companies, that provide you with wetsuits, safety equipment and an experienced instructor. Just remember to pack dry clothes for after the scramble!

Take a trip to Hawkshead and Hill Top

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Get a glimpse of the past in the tiny village of Hawkshead, where you can spend a morning exploring whitewashed houses, cobblestone alleys and historic squares. Cars are banned, so it’s particularly peaceful to wander around. Nearby Hill Top is the former home of Beatrix Potter, and the 17th-century farmhouse, now owned by the National Trust, functions as a museum dedicated to the children’s author.

Visit Castlerigg Stone Circle

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Stonehenge might be the UK’s most famous stone circle, but Castlerigg wins on atmosphere. The neolithic monument, one of the oldest stone circles in Britain, dating back to 3000BCE, has an unusual rectangular formation of stones inside the circle. The dramatic site affords clear views over the Thirlmere Valley to the mountains of High Seat and Helvellyn – a top spot to watch the sun rise or set.

Go cliff camping at Honister

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The latest experience in the mountain pass of Honister is cliff camping. Cross the infinity bridge and abseil down the side of the crag to find your bed for the evening – which is suspended 152m (500ft) above the pass. Suspended from Fleetwith Pike, you’ll enjoy a cosy night under the stars tucked into a luxury sleeping bag. Dinner is a Cumbrian food hamper, and enjoy a Borrowdale bacon butty for breakfast as the sun comes up. If you suffer from vertigo, perhaps give this one a miss.

Discover the Great Langdale Valley

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The Great Langdale Valley is a popular area of the Lake District with both walkers and fell-runners, and has a variety of routes for all levels of experience. If you’re new to exploring on foot, the Lake District National Park organises a series of guided walks from April to October. Spend a night in the valley at the Great Langdale Campsite, a youth hostel in a former Victorian mansion, or the 300-year-old Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel.

Cycle through Whinlatter Forest

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If you’ve had your fill of exploring the Lake District on foot, head to Whinlatter Forest and take to the fells on a mountain bike. For an additional challenge, take part in an orienteering challenge that explores forest roads and parts of the Quercus mountain bike trail. You can pick up an orienteering map from the visitor centre for £1.50 and navigate between specific points in a fixed time to score points. Rental bikes are in high demand, so make sure to reserve well in advance.

Go wild swimming at Rydal Water

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If you want to brave the water for a spot of wild swimming, head to Rydal Water. This relatively small, quiet lake is becoming increasingly popular with swimmers as it’s one of the shallowest in Cumbria – around 15m (49ft) at its deepest – so it’s the first to warm up in spring. If you have a wetsuit, however, you can swim all year round. The lake is also a popular spot for kayaking and paddleboarding.

Visit Muncaster Castle

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The imposing Muncaster Castle, which overlooks the River Esk, near the coastal town of Ravenglass has a lot to see and do. There’s a Hawk & Owl Centre, with flying displays every day at 11.30am and 2pm; 31ha (77 acres) of historic gardens and a hedge maze to explore; plus there’s a tearoom and cafe. Stay the night at the Coachman’s Quarters B&B in the old stableyard. Rumour has it that Muncaster is one of Britain’s most haunted castles.

Surprise View

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The view from this spot, high on an oak-lined cliff overlooking Derwentwater, is, indeed, surprising – on a clear day, you can look out over Keswick to Bassenthwaite Lake and even as far as the shores of Scotland. Keep an eye on children, though, as there are no barriers. Nearby is Ashness Bridge, one of the most photographed packhorse bridges in the Lake District. Walk to Ashness Bridge as part of the Walla Crag to Ashness Bridge Walk, then continue on to Surprise View.

Experience Wordsworth's Grasmere

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English poet William Wordsworth lived in the historic village of Grasmere for 14 years – and the surrounding landscape was the inspiration for some of his best-known poems. There are several houses in the parish where Wordsworth lived, and you can also visit the graves of the Wordsworth family in the Grasmere churchyard. For more Wordsworth in the Lake District, visit the shores of Ullswater, where the poet saw the daffodils that inspired his most famous poem, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.

Summit Scafell Pike, England's highest mountain

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View from Scafell Pike in the Lake District National Park, Cumbria, England.
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Scaling Scafell Pike is a serious undertaking – at 978m (3,209ft) tall, it’s the highest mountain in the UK. There are several routes to the summit, including a direct line via Brown Tongue from Wasdale that is suitable for less experienced climbers. To take on the mountain in all its wild, craggy glory, however, choose one of the longer routes – you’ll be rewarded with impressive views and challenges along the way. Just make sure you’re properly prepared.

Take a canoe out on Derwentwater

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Derwentwater is a boater’s paradise. Take a relaxing cruise on the Keswick Launch, or hire a canoe or sailing boat and do it at your own pace. You can even canoe to Derwent Island, a small, wooded islet that’s home to an 18th-century house and is the only inhabited island in the Lake District open to visitors. It’s only open five days of the year, though, so check the National Trust website before venturing out.

Explore the fells of Buttermere

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The fells around Buttermere – one of the smaller lakes in the Lake District – offer some of the region’s best walking. Towering Grasmoor has challenging routes for more experienced hikers, who will be rewarded with views over the Scafell Range. The summit of Haystacks, meanwhile, is a more manageable 597m (1,959ft), and what it lacks in height it makes up for in incredible views, pretty streams and the opportunity to engage in some scrambling. Robinson and High Stile are also worth exploring.

Indulge in a whisky tasting experience at the Lakes Distillery

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This whisky, vodka and gin distillery, in an old Victorian farmstead on the shore of Bassenthwaite Lake near Cockermouth, offers tours behind the scenes where you can discover the art of making whisky. Afterwards you can take part in an indulgent single malt whisky and chocolate pairing. Kids will love the herd of alpacas on site – they can hand-feed them, and play with the baby alpacas.
These recommendations were updated on September 24, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.