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12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in the Lake District, England

Written by Barbara Radcliffe Rogers
Sep 14, 2020

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England's Lake District is located in Cumbria and named for the 16 glacial lakes that lie in long ribbons among its fells, moors, and green valleys. In this area, which measures only about 48 by 64 kilometers, there are 180 fells of more than 609 meters in altitude, one of which is 978-meter Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England.

Much of the tourist activity is in the southern half of the region, where most of the historic literary attractions lie, while the quieter north's natural features are more appreciated by hikers and nature lovers. The Lakes District provided inspiration for writers, including William Wordsworth, John Ruskin, and Beatrix Potter, whose homes are popular places to visit, as well as artists Gainsborough, Turner, and Constable.

Most of the region is included in the Lakes District National Park. You can travel to the Lake District by train, and you'll find hotel accommodation throughout the region as well as B&Bs in country cottages.

You'll be certain to find the best places to visit and things to do using our handy list of the top tourist attractions in England's Lake District.

See also: Where to Stay in the Lake District

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Lake District National Park

Lake District National Park
Lake District National Park

The 1,343-square-kilometer Lake District National Park includes some of the country's largest lakes, its tallest peak, and some of its loveliest scenery. The scenery and nature inspired writers, poets, and artists, some of whom made their homes here.

Several of the lakes have historic boats you can ride, and the entire region is laced with a network of walking and hiking trails. You can explore the area by car, bus, bike, or on foot, and there is train access to Windermere from Kendal, where the park headquarters is located. A park visitor center is at Brockhole and a boating center at Coniston.

Along with the lakes, some of the scenic highlights are the beautiful Newlands Valley, the magnificent views from Sphinx Rock, and the dramatic drive over Kirkstone Pass (the scenery is best going north).

Throughout the park are lakeside villages with activities and places to visit, as well as miles of scenic roads and trails for sightseeing.

2. Lake Windermere

Lake Windermere
Lake Windermere

The best known and busiest of the lakes, Windermere is about 16 kilometers long, and you can explore it with Windermere Lake Cruises, which also serves as a ferry between points. At the southern end of the lake, locomotives of the Haverthwaite Steam Railway carry tourists into the Leven Valley. You can combine that trip with a lake cruise.

Also at the southern end is the Lakes Aquarium, a popular attraction with the UK's largest collection of freshwater fish. At the restored Victorian Fell Foot Park, near Newby Bridge, you can picnic and hire rowboats at the beautifully restored old boathouses to explore the lake and the River Leven. The park also has a good playground for kids.

3. Derwentwater

Derwentwater
Derwentwater

Less than five kilometers long, Derwentwater is an idyllic lake in the northern part of the national park, and a 10-minute walk from the center of Keswick. On its west is the ridge of Catbells, and extending into the lake on the east is Friar's Crag, a favorite viewpoint. Beautiful Borrowdale Valley opens at its southern end.

Keswick Launch Co. makes a one-hour circuit of the lake on small boats that stop at seven points, where you can hop off to explore, or follow lakeside trails and catch the next boat at another stop. Around the entire perimeter of the lake is a 12-kilometer walk.

In Keswick, it's hard to resist a stop at the quirky Pencil Museum, where you'll learn how they are manufactured and how the discovery of graphite began a whole local industry.

4. Helvellyn

View over the Lake District from Helvellyn
View over the Lake District from Helvellyn

One of the highest peaks in the English Lake District, Helvellyn is also one of its most popular hikes, for both casual climbers and those who relish a rugged scramble. The Helvellyn Horseshoe is a result of two geologic eras, first a volcano that left a bowl-shaped caldera, then the glaciers that scoured it out and carved one rim into the knife-edge ridge known as Striding Edge.

The view from any place along its rim, especially from the summit, is spectacular, out across the lakes and mountains, or looking down onto the high-set mountain lake of Red Tarn.

On the other side of the horseshoe, the trail most casual hikers use runs along the grassy crest of a broad ridge with views across to the knife edge and down into the valley lakes.

5. Ullswater

Ullswater
Ullswater

At 14 kilometers long and less than two kilometers wide, Ullswater is the second largest lake in the Lake District. Its setting is also beautiful, under Helvellyn Mountain. You can explore the lake on the 1887 Lady of the Lake or the 1889 Raven, both of which leave from the attractive village of Pooley Bridge, whose origins go back to the 16th century.

Ullswater is a particular favorite for hikers and walkers, who can follow the 32-kilometer Ullswater Way around the lake or combine the trail with boat rides for a 12-kilometer hike. Between Pooley Bridge and Aira Force, the Ullswater Way leads to Maiden Castle, a former hillfort with spectacular views of the Ullswater Valley.

6. Hill Top

Hill Top
Hill Top | Stephen Allport / photo modified

Bought in 1905 with proceeds from her first book, the Tale of Peter Rabbit, the 17th-century farmhouse at Hill Top and the surrounding countryside inspired many of Beatrix Potter's books. When she left the house and farm to the National Trust, she stipulated that it be shown in the same condition as when she lived here, and in each room you can see objects that relate to her stories.

Along with the doll house setting for The Tale of Two Bad Mice, you'll see the desk where she wrote. The garden is a charming and seemingly random mix of flowers, herbs, vegetables, and fruit, where you will half expect to see one of her characters scampering away. This is a very popular attraction, and there is often a wait to enter the house; the timed tickets cannot be booked in advance.

Address: Near Sawrey, Ambleside

Official site: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hill-top

7. Catbells High Ridge Hike

Catbells High Ridge Hike
Catbells High Ridge Hike

The distinctive peak of Catbells lures walkers of all capabilities, a short half-day climb to the final fell on a long ridge that separates Derwentwater from the Newlands Valley. The peak is 451 meters high, and you can hike up and back from Keswick for a spectacular view.

Although it's a short climb and the trail is good, it is steep in places. Once on top, strong walkers won't be able to resist following the ridge along the fells of Maiden Moor, High Spy, Dale Head, Hindscarth, and Robinson before descending into the Newlands Valley. It's a 14-kilometer hike, with dramatic scenery along the entire open ridge line.

8. Dove Cottage

Dove Cottage
Dove Cottage

The first family home of the great British poet William Wordsworth, Dove Cottage is a traditional Lakeland cottage with dark wood-paneled walls and stone floors, heated by coal fires. Still furnished with the Wordsworth family belongings, the cottage looks much as it did when the poet lived and wrote here, and is a mirror of life in the early 19th century.

Next door in a separate museum, you can see memorabilia about the poet, his family, his travels, and his work. The years at Dove Cottage were among his most productive, when he was inspired by the Lakeland scenery and the garden he and his sister planted outside their cottage. He wrote some of his poetry here amid the flowers, vegetables, butterflies, and birds.

Address: Grasmere, Ambleside

Official site: https://wordsworth.org.uk/

9. Castlerigg Stone Circle

Castlerigg Stone Circle
Castlerigg Stone Circle

Of the more than 300 stone circles in England, Castlerigg is not only among the oldest, it is one of the most atmospheric. It is dramatically sited, with 38 stones aligned with the tallest of the surrounding fells, and the scene uncluttered by admissions offices or souvenir stands. Yours may be the only car there.

Unlike most of England's stone circles, which are Bronze Age burial sites dating from 2000 to 800 BC, this one was constructed about 3000 BC in the Neolithic period. More than 30 meters in diameter, the circle originally had 42 stones, some more than two meters high. For the full dramatic effect, go at sunset.

Address: Castle Lane, Underskiddaw, Keswick, Cumbria

10. Coniston Water

Coniston Water
Coniston Water

About eight kilometers long and less than a kilometer wide, Coniston Water lies beneath the eastern slope of the mountain known as the Old Man of Coniston, which towers above the lake and Coniston Village. You can explore the lake on board the 1859 steam yacht Gondola or the solar-powered Coniston Launch, or go under your own steam, hiring a boat or bike from Coniston Boating Centre.

Scenic boat rides include a stop at Brantwood, home of John Ruskin, one of the most influential minds of the Victorian era. His former home offers insights into his work, as well as fine art and objects collected in his extensive travels. The house is set in gardens that frame views of the lake and fells. In the village is the Ruskin Museum, which tells the story of Coniston from its early Stone Age inhabitants.

Official site: http://www.brantwood.org.uk

11. Aira Force

Aira Force Waterfall
Aira Force Waterfall

A graceful stone arched bridge poised over its top adds the finishing touch to this beautiful waterfall as it drops 19 meters, in stages, through a rocky ravine. The path from the car park to the falls is an easy one, and there are nature trails to follow, including one devoted to the wide variety of local trees.

Those who want to see more of this former hunting ground that inspired Wordsworth's poem I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud can follow the new off-road footpath between Aira Force and Glencoyne Bay.

A scenic approach to this valley is from Ambleside, over the steep and solitary Kirkstone Pass. Or relax on board a ferry and avoid the parking fee; Ullswater Steamers from Glenridding will bring you to Aira Force.

12. Rydal Mount & Gardens

Rydal Mount & Gardens
Rydal Mount & Gardens | Matt Brown / photo modified

Poet William Wordsworth lived at Rydal Mount from 1813 to his death in 1850, at the age of 80. At this home overlooking Lake Windermere, Rydal Water, and the fells, he wrote some of his best-loved works and revised many of his earlier works for publication, including his best-known poem Daffodils.

Larger rooms were added to the original Tudor cottage in 1750, but the original stone floors and wooden beams remain in the dining room, part of the old cottage. Elsewhere, you'll see bedrooms and Wordsworth's attic study. Throughout the house are portraits, mementos, and first editions of Wordsworth's works.

Compared to the garden the poet created at Dove Cottage, the one at Rydal Mount is a more spacious four acres, with terraces, rock pools, rare species, and brilliant displays of blooms in various seasons. It has been kept much as he originally designed it. In good weather, March through October, the tea room spills out onto a garden terrace.

Address: Rydal Mount, Ambleside

Official site: www.rydalmount.co.uk/

Where to Stay in the Lake District for Sightseeing

We recommend these delightful hotels and guesthouses within easy reach of the top tourist attractions in the Lake District:

  • The Villa Levens: This Grand Victorian-style country hotel has well-decorated spacious rooms and is close to attractions of the Lake District National Park.
  • Lyzzick Hall Hotel: This family run, 3-star country guesthouse offers beautiful views, a wonderful restaurant, indoor heated swimming pool, sauna, and whirlpool.
  • Waterhead Hotel: This lakefront, mid-range Ambleside hotel comes with spacious rooms, turndown service, and gingerbread treats.
  • Travelodge Kendal: If you're traveling on a budget, this hotel offers good value, clean rooms, and free parking.
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