A Beginner’s Guide to the English Lake District – Lonely Planet Travel News | Ad On Picture

Voted the nation’s favorite national park in 2018, the 885-square-mile Lake District is a hauntingly beautiful part of north-west England. The region seduced Wordsworth and other literary giants and continues to draw tourists, hikers and adventurers in search of its heritage fascination and outdoor activities abound.

From Windermere to Scafell Pike and the best things to do with the family, here’s what you need to know about visiting the Lake District.

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With a variety of activities for all skill levels, the Lake District continues to attract visitors © SolStock / Getty Images

History of the Lake District

Until the mid-19th century the area was little visited by outsiders – Daniel Defoe described it as ‘barren and terrible’ in 1724, but the romantic poets’ idea of ​​’sublime nature’ encouraged an appreciation of wild places and the introduction of the railway to Windermere in the 18th century Year 1847 enabled mass tourism.

Lake District National Park

The scenery in the region is mesmerizing: shady ridges gilded with golden light, shimmering meadows teeming with wild flowers, and sparkling blue lakes reflecting the overall glorious scenery.

A walker on the summit of Whiteside in the Lake District National Park
The summit of Whiteside over Gasgale Crags, a ridge in the English Lake District © Stewart Smith Photography / Shutterstock

Lakes are of course plentiful: to the west of Windermere is Coniston Water and to the west is the Wasdale Valley and Wastwater, England’s deepest lake. North of Wastwater is Lake Buttermere, which offers absurd scenery from every angle, and east of Buttermere is Derwentwater with its beautiful wooded islands. Further east, Ullswater is arguably the most majestic of them all, and here are the daffodils that inspired Wordsworth.

Here are some of the must-see spots in the region and what you can do there.


Bowness-on-Windermere is still the entry point for most visitors. The adjacent lake of the same name meanders 11 glorious miles through the gently rolling southern portion of the park. A cruise here is a classic Lakeland experience, although you’ll share it with many other tourists.

A traditional stone cottage surrounded by gardens
Hill Top near Hawkshead was once the home of children’s author Beatrix Potter © pxl.store / Shutterstock

falcon head

On the west side of Windermere is the village of Hawkshead, a pretty and atmospheric place to stay. It also has important connections to Beatrix Potter. You can visit Potter’s old home, a 17th-century cottage called Hill Top, the setting of which inspired much of her work.

Beyond Lake Windermere, heading north towards the center of the park, the landscape becomes wilder and more dramatic. Bottle-green valleys dotted with sheep and flanked by rugged mountain ridges create great fissures in the landscape. Mountain passes, draped like shoelaces over the unforgiving terrain, connect remote hamlets and villages.


Wordsworth was educated at Hawkshead and lived for a time in Grasmere. You can visit his old home, Dove Cottage, where he penned some of the greatest poetry ever written – much of it about the nature he found around him – and his grave in St Oswald’s churchyard see.


Keswick, the most northerly of the Lake District’s great towns, has the loveliest location of all: surrounded by cloud-capped fells and nestled beside the idyllic, island-strewn loch of Derwentwater, a silvery bend traversed by criss-crossing cruise ships. It is also superbly situated for further adventures in the nearby valleys of Borrowdale and Buttermere and a great base for walking.

Friends stop for refreshments on a hike in the Lake District
England’s Lake District has some of the best hiking trails in the world © SolStock / Getty Images

The best walks and hikes in the Lake District

The Lake District has some of the most beautiful walks in the world. A useful resource, Walk Lakes allows you to select hiking trails based on both difficulty and location. Some popular routes are:

The 5 mile loop around Buttermere is surrounded by mountains on all sides and offers breathtaking views throughout.

The popular 3 mile climb to the 450m summit of Catbells next to Derwentwater is slightly more challenging and offers some of the best panoramic views in the Lake District.

For the glory of being able to say you’ve scaled the highest peak in the country, Scafell Pike beckons. This is doable for anyone of reasonable fitness but should be tackled with common sense and rain gear, not flip flops and a vest. Weather permitting, catch a glimpse of Wastwater from above – a mere puddle in the landscape when viewed from the 978m summit.

The national park also offers a wide range of accessible hiking trails for those who are less mobile. There are 50 routes across the national park suitable for people of all abilities, including many routes for wheelchair users. Full details can be found on the park website.

Read more: The 8 most dramatic hikes in England

A moody shot of a mountain peak rising above a lake, with low gray clouds in the sky
Scafell Pike is England’s highest peak © Justin Foulkes / Lonely Planet

outdoor sports

Not surprisingly, there are a plethora of other ways to enjoy the great outdoors in Lakeland, from water sports like fishing and kayaking to mountain biking, rock climbing and canyoning (often referred to as “ghyll scrambling” in these parts). One of the most exhilarating adventure activities can be found at the Honister Slate Mine on their dizzying via ferratas – think cables, cliffs and struggling for life.

A family group of two adults and two children hold hands on a set of stepping stones in a lake.  There is a duck in the foreground and rolling green hills behind.
There’s plenty to do in the Lake District with kids © monkeybusinessimages / Getty Images

Activities with children in the lakes

There are also plenty of great family days out in the lakes, and they don’t all depend on good weather. For indoor entertainment, try the World of Beatrix Potter in Bowness. It is divided into themed sections based on Potter’s more famous stories and is perfect for younger children.

The Ravenglass and Eskdale Steam Railway (known locally as La’al Ratty) makes a very pleasant 40 minute journey rolling 7 miles from the coast through the beautiful Eskdale valley to the foot of the Scafell range. Nearby Muncaster Castle with its impressive castle grounds has a Hawk and Owl Center with daily raptor flight displays.

A small harbor with a row of white sailing boats
Having a car is helpful when traveling outside of the main cities © christinephillips / Getty Images

How to get around in the Lake District

It is possible to get to and explore most of the Lake District by public transport – there are train stations in Windermere, Oxenholme (Kendal) and Penrith and an excellent network of local buses including the legendary 555 which runs throughout the National Park and is a day in itself.

For convenience and flexibility, most prefer to use their own transportation. The M6 ​​flanks the entire eastern edge of the park, while the A591 and A66 dissect it internally. Most roads in the Lake District are rural and mountain passes can be closed in inclement weather.

The national park also offers electric car hire and a network of charging stations.

Read more: How to get around England

Where to sleep

The majority of accommodation is in the four main towns – Bowness, Windermere, Ambleside and Keswick – but almost every village has at least one B&B option. There are also many campsites and youth hostels.

what to eat

The county is replete with passionate food producers and local delicacies. Taste Cumbria has an ongoing schedule of local food markets. There are also plenty of excellent pubs to choose from, from sober fodder for walkers to fine dining at three Michelin starred L’Enclume in Cartmel.

What to pack

The gear you bring will depend on what you plan to do on foot, and you’ll need to be properly prepared for the likes of Helvellyn and Scafell Pike, especially in the colder months. As a bare minimum, bring a pair of sturdy boots and rain gear.

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