Lake District National Park: The Complete Guide

Lake District View

 john finney photography/ Getty

As one of the most famous and beloved tourist destinations in Europe, Lake District National Park has so much to see, do, and explore. From literary history and local theatre to long hikes with unbeatable views, here’s everything you need to know before you visit England's Lake District.

Things to Do

Aside from ambles outdoors, the Lake District has plenty to offer, including history, art and gastronomy. With a beautiful lakeside setting, seeing the latest production at the Theatre by the Lake in Keswick is a wonderful way to spend an evening. You can also choose to visit Hill Top, the home of author Beatrix Potter, best known for penning "The Tale of Peter Rabbit." In her charming seventeenth-century farmhouse, you can step back in time and wander the gardens before stopping by the museum and gift shop. Hill Top is only open between February and October and closes for the winter.

The Lake District is also home to the historic sixteenth-century family home of English poet William Wordsworth, who was greatly inspired by the surrounding scenic views. He included the Lake District as a setting in many of his works and even wrote a guide to walks in the area. The house offers extensive gardens with spectacular views over Windermere. Rydal Mount hosts a number of Wordsworth-related experiences, weddings, and Christmas tours.

A renovated old Victorian farmstead on the edge of Bassenthwaite Lake, The Lakes Distillery offers tours and tasting sessions and a chance to meet and feed their friendly alpacas. Step behind the scenes and learn about the brewing of whisky, gin, and vodka in beautiful surroundings. And as one of the United Kingdom's dark skies hot spot, there are many amazing remote spots throughout the Lake District to appreciate the starry sky above. Some favorite spots for stargazing include Grizedale Forest, Ennerdale, Wasdale, and Borrowdale Valley.

Best Hikes & Trails 

The Lake District is best known for its ambling and scenic trails rather than intense hikes, but that doesn’t mean avid hikers won’t find some challenge available. Here are some of the best hikes and trails in the Lake District.

  • Tarn Hows Circular Walk: This gentle one-hour route is suitable for all ages and fitness levels and treats you to views of the Lakeland Fells, a classic Lake District view.
  • Scafell Pike: More of a challenge as England’s highest peak, climbing Scafell Pike shouldn’t be undertaken without the right equipment and forward planning as it's a tough and steep hike and can be treacherous in bad weather. Ascending from Wasdale Head is the most popular option but it can also be approached from the craggy Corridor Route. The hike will take around six hours.
  • Helvellyn Ridge Route: A popular route with amazing views over the park, being the third highest peak in England accessed via the thrilling Striding Edge which is a narrow exposed ridge. The hike will take around six hours and is more suited to moderate and experienced hikers.
  • Rydal Water Circular Walk: One of the popular walks in the Grasmere area, Rydal Water is one of the smallest lakes in the area and is easily combined with a walk from Grasmere village and Grasmere Lake.
  • Castle Crag Loop: An easy but rewarding hike that starts with a steep climb before following a scenic rolling contour route with a bit of everything as you will be hiking through the forest, get the chance to explore caves, and have the option to paddle in the river along the way.
  • Ullswater Way: With views that inspired one of Wordsworth’s famous lines ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’, the views at Ullswater speak for themselves. This loop route circles Ullswater Lake which is the second biggest in the Lake District skirting Mount Helvellyn and meeting the Eden Valley. The full walk around the lake takes around four to six hours depending on your speed.
  • Langdale Pikes: This group of mountains is easily the most recognizable in the Lake District thanks to their closely clustered craggy peaks. This route offers spectacular views of the Great Langdale Valley and a chance to see Stickle Tarn lake nestled under the Pavey Ark cliff. This is a steep and challenging climb suited to moderate to experienced hikers and takes around four to six hours.

Where to Camp

Camping is incredibly popular in the Lake District and while wild camping isn’t permitted, there is a wide range of private campsites to book ranging from the true wilderness experience to a more comfortable glamping situation. Here are some options:

  • Syke Farm Campsite, Buttermere: If you want a spot that feels like you are wild camping, then Skye Farm is ideal. With its rugged terrain and dramatic views, this is a truly otherworldly experience. The car park is separate from the campsite and dogs are very welcome. This is a stripped-down experience, but you will find showers available. You can also reserve a yurt or bell tent if you would prefer.
  • Park Cliffe Camping and Caravan Estate: Near Bowness-on-Windermere and overlooking Lake Windermere, this award-winning campsite has spots to pitch a tent, caravan, and also luxury pods and shepherd's huts to rent. They also have a shop, adventure children's playground, bathrooms, and WIFI throughout the site. Dogs are welcome but should be kept on the lead.
  • The Quiet Site, Ullswater: This carbon-neutral, award-winning park offers a huge range of accommodation options from hobbit holes and gingerbread houses, to glamping cabins and luxury cottages. They’re perfectly located to hike the Ullswater Way trail or climb Mount Helvellyn. A small selection of their facilities includes a zero-waste shop, a bar with open fire, bike storage and e-bike charging points, showers, and WIFI. Dogs are welcome including in the hobbit holes. 

Where to Stay Nearby 

The Lake District has a wide range of hotels, B&Bs, log cabins, and holiday cottages to rent. Though places can get booked up quickly in the summer, you can find some bargains outside the main tourist season. Visitors tend to base themselves in Grasmere, Kendal, Bowness-on-Windermere, and Keswick to most easily access the trails and beauty spots. Here are some ideal options:

  • The Ro Hotel, Bowness-on-Windermere: A new concept hotel that is well-connected by train with easy access to popular tourist spots like Beatrix Potter's home. The hotel showcases local art and works hard to support the local community. Ro Hotel likes to think of itself as a cafe and restaurant with rooms so offers all-day dining and drinking with a focus on local, honest food.
  • The Wordsworth Hotel, Grasmere: A luxury four-star hotel with one of the best fine dining restaurants in the Lake District. Once the Earl of Cadogan’s shooting lodge, they offer the full cozy country house experience; guests can enjoy a heated swimming pool, two acres of riverside garden to wander, followed by afternoon tea in the conservatory.
  • Brook House, Windermere: This stone Victorian guest house built in 1892 offers a cozy guest house placed perfectly for exploring the Windermere and the wider Lake District. A cooked breakfast is served each morning in the dining room. Brook House is also easily accessed from the train and bus station and has a private car park.

How to Get There

The nearest airport to the Lake District is Manchester International Airport in the South and Glasgow Airport in the north. There is also a  direct train line between Manchester and Lake Windermere. Windermere can be accessed from any major city by train.

The National Express coach service also offers coaches from major UK cities to many of the small towns in the Lake District.

Once you're there, there’s a network of local buses, trains, and even cruises that will take you around nearby beauty spots and villages. People also enjoy using the cycle paths to navigate the park.

Tips for Your Visit 

  • It rains a lot in this area, so make sure to pack a raincoat, light layers, and good walking boots for when it gets slippery and muddy.
  • A car can be handy around the Lake District, particularly if you want to see all of the lakes. It’s possible to see approximately four to five lakes in a day if you start early.
  • Take care on the narrow roads if you are driving, particularly around bends where you may come face to face with a herd of sheep, a tractor, or another car.