15 Things to do in the Lake District - The Ultimate List
Arguably the most beautiful place in all of England, the Lake District has inspired generations of poets and nature lovers.
Featuring England’s highest point as well as its deepest lakes, the area stands in stark contrast to the gently rolling hills that characterise most of the English countryside.
The region’s rugged terrain is popular with serious walkers, and the Lake District is blessed with views that have been voted the best in England.
An important literary hotspot, the Lake District will win the heart of any true romantic.
Here are 15 of the best things to do in the Lake District.
Related reading: 8 Best Lake District Towns and Villages to Stay
Scale England’s Tallest Mountain
The Lake District is known locally as Little Switzerland. The towering peaks here were thrown up by volcanic activity long ago, and England’s highest point, Scafell Pike, is one of the area’s chief attractions. Scafell, which means “the Bald Mountain” in Old Norse, is sometimes called the roof of England.
One of the best things to do in the Lake District is don some serious hiking gear and tackle one of the many routes to the 978-metre-high summit. The 365-degree views over England are well worth the climb, and the ever-shifting weather here makes for some intense atmosphere. Watch as the shadows move dramatically across this moody landscape, and enjoy some of England’s most incredible scenery.
Discover England’s Celtic Roots
The Lake District was a particularly important area in pre-Roman Britain. The Celtic people here built huge stone monoliths as part of their ancestral religions.
The most famous and popular of these is Castlerigg Stone Circle, a near-contemporary of Stonehenge, located near the charming village of Keswick. This ancient monument has a breath-taking backdrop, located near Helvellyn mountain.
For those truly besotted with the prehistoric landscape, look for the various walking trails that lead to the circles of Burnmore and Swinside, as well as the 6,000 old rock carvings at Copt Howe.
Hunt for Ghosts at Muncaster Castle
Muncaster Castle is one of the best tourist attractions in the Lake District. Situated near the village of Ravenglass, it has the dubious honour of being the most haunted castle in England. The ghost of Tom Fool, a darkly sinister Jester, is said to cause mischief on the grounds.
Doors opening by themselves and phantom children crying are supposedly regular occurrences at this 14th-century fortress. Aside from the ghosts, the castle’s medieval hall and spectacular octagonal library are some of its chief highlights.
The Hawk and Owl Centre, located on the grounds, is another big plus; it is one of the best things to do in the Lake District for kids.
Sail Across England’s Largest Lakes
Most people who visit Cumbria come to drink in the beautiful lakeside views. Without a doubt, one of the best things to do in the Lake District is to hire a boat or kayak and sail your day away in one of the UK’s best boating destinations.
There are many stunning lakes to choose from, but the ten-mile-long Lake Windemere is probably the most visited. Another favourite is the mountain-sheltered lake of Wast Water, the deepest lake in England. In fine weather, the still waters of the lake create a perfect mirror of the sky.
It’s difficult to pick just one lake to visit, and most people opt to do a tour. Wherever you do go, it’s worth getting up early to see the sunrise and the morning mist forming over the water.
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Bike or Hike the Langdale Valley
One of the most picturesque walks in all of England, the Langdale Valley trail takes you from little villages to dramatic rocky peaks. The countryside here is dotted with tiny ancient bridges and mysterious stone age monuments.
A popular mountain biking spot, the rocky terrain makes for an exhilarating ride. Only the brave will attempt to get to the top of the pike’s rocky ridges.
Visitors will be glad to know that carefully positioned pubs line the trails here, supplying exhausted walkers with log fires and pints of ale.
Walk in the Footsteps of England’s Romantic Poets
During the 19th century, the Lake District became a place of pilgrimage for writers who were part of the Romantic Movement, which sought to venerate nature. The titan of the Romantic poets, William Wordsworth, lived locally.
His home, Dove Cottage in Grasmere, is now a little museum highlighting his work and that of his contemporaries. The poet’s other home, Rydal Mount in Ambleside, is also exceptional. This country cottage has a beautifully landscaped garden bursting with meadow flowers.
The Lake District inspired many other literary giants. Pick up the writings of Samuel Coleridge, Thomas de Quincy, or John Ruskin for other timeless lakeside musings.
Swing from the Treetops in Whinlatter Forest
England’s only mountain forest, Whinlatter woods, winds up mountain valleys and has an almost fairy-tale-like appearance. People don’t necessarily come here for the scenery, however. Whinlatter is most famous for its massive adult jungle gym, which allows you to swing from tree to tree.
If you are looking for some unusual things to do in the Lake District, try the Go Ape Treetop Adventure. An exhilarating mix of zip lines, rope bridges, and obstacles, it’s a great break from all the peace and quiet.
If you’re travelling with somebody smaller, there’s a kid-size jungle play area, too.
Get Lost in Ancient lakeside Villages
The villages scattered around the Lake District are some of the prettiest in England. The iconic grey slate houses here contrast beautifully with their lush green surroundings.
Any serious hike will require you to make some stops in these ancient watering holes. Picking up some local crafts or food in a sprawling medieval village is one of the best things to do in the Lake District.
Some must-sees include the village of Ambleside, known for its poetic legends, the village of Keswick, a market town with a buzzing artistic vibe, and the village of Cartmel, a 12th-century horse-racing town with several Michelin-starred restaurants.
The Lake District is a protected national park, which means limited infrastructure and real wilderness. The area has the darkest skies in the country, perfect for constellation spotting.
You can pitch a tent in many places amongst the secluded valleys to view billions of stars. Alternatively, you can visit the Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre in Ennerdale.
The field centre is an old 17th-century farmhouse turned campsite and dormitory. It is especially popular with stargazers because of its remote location miles from any roads. Stargazing is a great thing to do in the Lake District for couples. Light a fire and bring your binoculars!
Take a Beatrix Potter Tour
Most people have heard of Beatrix Potter’s charming stories about talking animals. Her tales of Peter Rabbit were so popular in the Edwardian era that she became a multi-millionaire. One of the chief tourist attractions in the Lake District is her idyllic 17th-century cottage at Hill Top Farm, which serves as a local museum.
Beatrix used her considerable fortune to preserve the stunning landscape she loved, and she left her land to National Trust upon her death. The area around the farm, Tarn Hows, is now an important wildlife spot and makes an excellent place for a stroll. Take a Beatrix tour to see the Lake District through her eyes.
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Chomp on Gingerbread
Victorian baker Sarah Nelson invented a form of gingerbread in the small village of Grasmere. Her shop is still open today, and it is the perfect place to get some edible souvenirs.
Her gingerbread recipe is still top secret, so you won’t get it anywhere else! The slightly spicy gingery biscuit is the perfect food to warm you up after a windswept walk across the Lake District’s rugged peaks.
The little shop also stocks a variety of old-timey English treats, from clotted cream fudge to toffee. Grabbing a coffee here is one of the best things to do in the Lake District when it rains.
Crew a Longship Like a Viking
In ancient times, the Lake District was once deep Viking territory. Seaborne Scandinavian raiders set up a powerful dark age kingdom amongst England’s great lakes. Look for Norse words such as foss, force, thorpe and fjall in local place names.
Lake Derwentwater is one of the best places to visit in the Lake District and is home to a popular Viking re-enactment group. One of the more unusual things to do in the Lake District is rent a longship for a day and don a Viking Helmet. It makes for a more exciting version of a traditional Lake District cruise.
The re-enactment activities here are lots of fun, and it’s one of the best things to do in the Lake District for kids.
Get a Drink at the Drunken Duck
The Drunken Duck Inn in the Lake District frequently makes it onto lists of the best pubs in England. This 300-year-old drinking establishment has retained its old-world feel and local vibe.
The secret to the pub’s longevity is probably its fantastic location, which gives it great views of the mountainous landscape.
The perfect place to stop after a challenging walk in the nearby hills, the pub doubles as an important local brewery for those who like to taste regional beers. It gets its share of foodie praise too.
Rent a room or get a table at this characterful rest stop.
Find an Epic Waterfall
The Lake District’s sharp peaks and dizzying drops have created some genuinely staggering waterfalls.
The greatest of these is the incredible 120-foot-high Scale Force in Buttermere. Standing under the gushing torrents of water on a hot day is exhilarating and refreshing. The subject of praise from both William Wordsworth and Samuel-Taylor Coleridge, it is a pretty romantic spot, and one of the best things to do in the Lake District for couples.
Walk the trails around the lakes to find some of Cumbria’s other impressive falls. Aira Force and Stanley Force are not to be missed.
Soak Up the Past at Hardknott Fort
Hardknott Fort is located at what was once the ends of the earth for the ancients, just south of Hadrian’s Wall. The fort is situated 800 metres up and has stunning panoramic views that once helped defend the Romans against skirmishing Scottish invaders.
You get some idea of the cleverness of HardKnott’s strategic position from the absolutely insane roads that lead up to it, known as some of the craziest in Britain. It makes for an entertaining drive because the narrow pass is incredibly steep and twists at sharp angles.
The payoff when you get to the fort is well worth the heart-stopping trip.