With romantic peaks to ramble, idyllic villages to discover, and inspirational literary locations to explore, the Lake District in Cumbria, England, is as much a dream destination for culture vultures as it is for walkers, hikers and nature-lovers. The Lake District is also a top spot for family breaks, with the region’s Beatrix Potter connections and exciting outdoor activities. If you are wondering what are the most beautiful places in the Lake District to visit read on for our top picks, with further inspiration (and practical information) available in our travel guide Rough Guide Staycations: The Lake District.
If you’re near Windermere Jetty, be sure to explore the museum's matchless collection of Victorian and Edwardian steam launches and historic boats, among them Margaret, the world’s oldest yacht, and Arthur Ransome’s Coch-y-Bondhu, the real-life water craft behind one of his Swallows and Amazons boats.
As for where to stay, glamping doesn’t get better than Windermere’s Low Wray National Trust campsite, with cool accommodation options ranging from tree tents and camping pods, to spacious woodland safari tents. If camping (however glamourous) isn’t your style, you could always book a room in an elegant lake-view guesthouse, like the heavenly Angel Inn. Either way, if you choose to stay in the vicinity of Lake Windermere, you'll be blessed with some of Cumbria's most beautiful views.
Head to the Grizedale Visitor Centre to pick up a map of the ten walking trails, then watch out for forty fabulous woodland sculptures as you wander. The longest trail is the Silurian Way, which passes many of the sculptures as it climbs to Carron Crag, the forest’s highest point. In addition, the forest features nine cycling and mountain bike trails and a children’s play area. Little monkeys will also adore the Grizedale Go Ape experience, offering as it does all manner of aerial escapades, from the family-friendly Treetop Adventure course, to the dare-devil’s delight Zip Trekking Adventure, which featuress seven forest ziplines over 3km.
If you’re travelling with little ones, The World of Beatrix Potter takes a more child-centred approach, with all 23 tales featured in sensory 3D form, plus an assortment of interactive attractions, and an adorable themed tea room. For a convenient way to enjoy all the region’s Beatrix Potter sites, this guided all-inclusive tour covers Hill Top, the Beatrix Potter Gallery, the Armitt museum, and Wray Castle.
Whether viewed from the bottom of its 70ft drop, or from stone bridges that span the top, the cascading, thundering Aira Force fall is unquestionably one of the most beautiful places in the Lake District. Though there are some steep sections to navigate along the way to the waterfall, for a more challenging route in this area, take the adjacent Gowbarrow Fell trail - climbable in an hour from Aira Force car park.
While we’re on the subject of Wordsworth, head to Wordsworth House in the village of Cockermouth to see where the great man was born. The riverside gardens are gorgeous, while the house is presented it was during the poet’s childhood. With an attractive riverside setting and tree-lined streets of stunning Georgian houses, Cockermouth itself has plenty going for it too. While here, you’d do well to enjoy a pint produced by Jennings Brewery - they're been brewing beer here since 1828.
With an ethos of harnessing “the powerful connect between food and nature," the village’s celebrated Michelin-starred restaurant, L’Enclume, draw gourmands from far and wide. If you’re feeling flush you could stay in one L’Enclume’s elegant sixteen rooms dotted around the village.
While in the area, don’t miss the town's 12th-century Cartmel Priory, or grand Holker Hall. A few miles west of the village, this is one of Cumbria’s finest stately homes. Still in use by the Cavendish family, who’ve owned it since the late seventeenth-century, it boasts beautiful 25-acre gardens with a sunken garden, grotto, stone labyrinth, huge sundial, and sweeping views. Antique-lovers should head a few miles northeast to Low Newton’s Yew Tree Barn, a fabulous architectural salvage and antique reclamation yard and gallery. All in all, welcoming Cartmel offers rewarding cultural pursuits in a marvellously quaint milieu.
Another fantastic family day out can be enjoyed at Muncaster Castle. Home to the Pennington family since the thirteenth-century (family members still live here today), the castle was built around a medieval tower. With expansive gardens to delight all ages, children - especially - love the owl and hawk displays and castle's ghost stories. For an atmospheric overnight experience, you could stay in the self-catering Coachman’s Quarters.
The walk to Pavey Ark, a formidable cliff-face rising to 2297ft, can be climbed relatively easily if you approach it up the grassy path to its rear. More daring walkers with a head for heights will want to make the more dramatic climb up the Jack’s Rake cleft - the most difficult commonly used route in the Lake District (in parts, it’s pretty much full-on rock-climbing).
Thought to have been constructed around 3000 BC with an astronomical or timekeeping function, this is one of Britain’s earliest stone circles. It also boasts the unusual feature of having a rectangle of stone blocks within the circle. And, since the site has yet to be extensively excavated, more mysteries might yet be unveiled - and understood.
To explore Castlerigg Stone Circle alongside more of the most beautiful places in the Lake District, this full-day, ten-lake tour has you covered. And, while in the Keswick area, you can also rent mountain bikes, or book outdoor activities like canoeing, ghyll-scrambling, raft-building, crag-climbing and abseiling.
The mine’s major attraction is the Via Ferrata (“Iron Way”) climbing experience that employs a system pioneered in the Italian Dolomites. Using a permanently fixed cableway and clip-on harness, daredevils follow the miners’ old routes up the mountain face, clambering iron rungs, ladders and supports to reach the top of Fleetwith Pike. For an even more intense experience, Via Ferrata Xtreme throws in further vertical climbs, cliff-face ladders, an Indiana Jones-style “Infinity Bridge” across a gaping 2000ft chasm, plus a giant scramble net. Don't say we didn't warn you.
These majestic birds are protected here by the Lake District Osprey Project, a partnership between the Forestry Commission, Lake District National Park, and the RSPB. To view them plunging to catch fish from the lake, take the quarter-mile path from the Old Sawmill Tearooms to the lower viewpoint, with an upper viewpoint another thirty-minute climb ahead. Seeing these magnificent raptors up close and in action is a breath-taking experience, as is their Bassenthwaite Lake location.
Alternately, you could combine walking with cruising - five vintage Ullswater Steamers operate a year-round service, one of which, Lady of the Lake, might just be the oldest working passenger vessel in the world (it was launched in 1877). Services run from Glenridding to Howtown, and on to Pooley Bridge, plus there’s also a route between Glenridding and the National Trust Aira Force Pier. The small village of Glenridding is also a popular starting point for walkers heading up Helvellyn mountain.
Today most of the lower part of the defensive wall is the handiwork of the original Romans, while the foundations of the granaries and various other buildings have been re-erected. The surrounding heather and bracken provide a beautiful backdrop to this impressive historic site, while the views down into Eskdale and up to the Scafells are out-of-this-world.
If this guide to the most beautiful places in the Lake District has piqued your interest in visiting the region, take a look at the practical and inspirational Rough Guide Staycations: The Lake District. As a bonus, purchase of the print guidebook comes with access to a free eBook - very handy if you're out and about and don't want to lug it around, but do want all that vital info to hand.
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Header image: crystalline waters and epic mountains in the Lake District, Cumbria, England © Shutterstock