There’s nowhere quite like the Lake District: a breathtaking region offering some of the country’s finest and most iconic views. This is a place where gorgeous lakes occupy centre stage, surrounded by the scooped out valleys, famous fells and imposing peaks of this deservedly popular National Park.
The thing is, everyone has a favourite lake in Cumbria. To help you pick yours, we’ve narrowed it down to a handy ‘top six’ here. Each of them has a personality all of its own – something only a visit or two can properly convey. What they do all share is breathtaking scenery, delightful towns and villages nearby, and more opportunities for fun, adventure and relaxation than you can shake a Lakeland stick at. So have a read, take a trip, then try choosing the one lake that really floats your boat.
Stunning Derwentwater is Keswick’s local lake, and it’s just a ten-minute walk to this bustling historic town. Here you’ll find plenty of cafes and pubs as well as shops selling everything from local arts and crafts to the latest hiking and camping equipment. There are great markets for mooching around too, with a traditional general market on Saturdays and a ‘Made in Cumbria’ market on most Thursdays. If browsing’s not your thing, take your pick from local activities including brewery tours, indoor climbing or a trip to the legendary Pencil Museum!
Away from Keswick, Derwentwater itself offers peaceful walks along its beautiful shores. There’s also a relaxing 50-minute boat cruise stopping at several scenic landings, or you can hire canoes if you’re feeling adventurous. If you have time on your hands and energy in your legs, try walking the full lake circuit of 8 miles, or hike up nearby Cat Bells for awesome views. Gorgeous Ashness Bridge must rank as one of Cumbria’s most iconic views, and it’s a short scenic drive from Keswick. If you choose this option, be sure to walk or drive up the hill beyond the bridge for cliff-top views at Surprise View. Push on a couple more miles and you’ll reach the end of the road, literally! Here, the charming hamlet of Watendlath occupies a stunning setting, and it feels a million miles – and several centuries – away from busy Keswick.
Grasmere is one of the National Park’s most visited areas, and for good reason – it is charming, beautiful and surrounded by impressive Lakeland fells. Little wonder its most famous resident, William Wordsworth, described it as “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found.”
The lake itself is small and pretty, and you can easily walk to it. If you like the idea of taking to its still waters, rowing boats are available for hire. In Grasmere village you’ll find plenty of small shops and eateries as well as a few pubs. There are also fascinating galleries showing and selling the work of local artists, and browsing these collections is a lovely way to spend an afternoon. All in all, this is a great place to relax, soak up the atmosphere and do a spot of people watching among visitors from all over the world.
Of course, no trip to Grasmere is complete without a visit to Dove Cottage: Wordsworth’s former home on the edge of the village, where you can still see a collection of his personal belongings. Next door is the Wordsworth Museum, home to the world’s biggest collection of his letters, journals and poems. If all that culture leaves you in need of a little refreshment, grab a brew and sample a slice of Grasmere’s famously irresistible gingerbread.
Ullswater is England’s second largest lake, and was the inspiration behind William Wordsworth’s famous poem ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,’ commonly know as ‘Daffodils’.
Ullswater is considered by some to be a hidden gem within the Lake District, and it’s certainly a peaceful place that feels wonderfully close to nature. Don’t be fooled though, if adventure and andrenalin are what you’re after, there are plenty of activities available here, from kayaking, sailing and fishing through to quad biking and pony trekking. The surrounding fells are impressive, and that means opportunities to bag some big peaks like Blencathra or Helvellyn. Pack waterproofs, snacks and a map, and definitely don’t forget your camera.
If you’re looking for something a bit more sedate, Glenridding and Patterdale both offer the chance to sample a few local ales or tuck into a hearty meal, perhaps a local Cumberland sausage! There are boat cruises too, and the walk back to Patterdale from the landing point at Howtown is a popular lowland route. If you really want to escape to the back of beyond, visit remote Martindale; home to a 17th century church, a tiny community and not much else. Perfect!
At more than 10 miles long, Windermere is England’s longest natural lake. It’s probably one of its most famous, too. As you’d expect, there’s a wealth of activities to choose from at various points around the lake. These range from rowing, sailing and steamer cruises if you love to be on the water, or some specially designated wild swimming locations if you’d rather be in it.
Landlubbers relax; you can choose from activities like golf, horse riding or a nostalgic journey on the wonderful steam railway from Lakeside. If it’s something a bit different you’re after, a hot air balloon flight from Newby Bridge gives you a breathtaking bird’s eye view of England’s most dramatic peaks and valleys. For feeling like a local, nothing will beat watching some Hound Trailing: a traditional Lakeland sport where dogs race around a scented trial. Look out for random fields full of spectators blowing whistles and cheering!
There are charming towns and villages right the way around Windermere, but buzzing little Ambleside is one of the best. There are souvenir and outdoor shops galore here, as well as cafés, pubs and restaurants catering for every taste. If you’ve got time, don’t forget to catch a movie at Zefirrellis – an Ambleside institution complete with cinema, music venue and award-winning pizzeria.
Overlooked by the towering Old Man of Coniston peak, itself a rewarding but strenuous hike, Coniston Water is England’s third longest lake. This is an area rich in history, so there are plenty of cultural opportunities to explore here as well as natural ones.
Coniston Water was the setting for Arthur Ransome’s famous children’s book, ‘Swallows and Amazons’, so look out for beautiful scenes that helped inspire this literary classic. Beatrix Potter and the artist and critic John Ruskin also had close ties to Coniston, adding to its world-class cultural credentials. To learn more about the area’s unique cultural heritage visit the excellent Ruskin Museum at Coniston village, gorgeous Brantwood historic house or Hill Top; Potter’s fascinating former home near Hawkshead.
Not far from the facilities and eateries of Coniston village, Tarn Hows is one of the Lake District’s most popular beauty spots, famed for its idyllic setting and stunning views. It’s a favourite among artists and photographers, and you’ll soon see why if you have time to visit. There’s a smooth path suitable for wheelchairs that circles the lake, and at less than 2 miles long it’s an easy walk. If you’d rather be on the water, Coniston Water has relaxing scenic cruises throughout the year.
Remote Buttermere is that bit deeper into the Lake District National Park, which means it’s well and truly somewhere to get away from it all. Breathtaking views are everywhere, and if you drive through the Newlands Valley or over Honnister Pass to get here, you’ll be in for a spectacular treat even before you arrive.
Don’t be fooled by Buttermere’s tranquility, there’s plenty to see and do. Famous Honister Slate Mine offers fully-guided underground mine tours or the chance to clip yourself on and scare yourself silly climbing its cliff-hugging ‘via ferrata’ route. Tiny but traditional Buttermere village has a couple of pubs and cafes, and is an easy stroll from Buttermere’s calming shores. There’s great walking hereabouts too, with options to traverse ridges and climb peaks like Fleetwith or Red Pike. It’s also a good base for a hike to Haystacks – a gorgeous spot and favourite haunt of the well-known local writer and walker, Alfred Wainright. There’s no boat service on Buttermere, but the clear and calm water is great for swimming, if you dare!