This is the place to base yourself if you’re keen to explore the northern Lake District. Close to Derwent Water with the peaks of Skiddaw and Blencathra in the background, it’s a sizeable town (for the Lake District) filled with cosy cafes, old man pubs and outdoorsy shops. Head to Castlerigg Stone Circle for a touch of the pre-historic and Ashness Bridge for a perfect shot of Derwent Water and the surrounding mountains.


The second largest lake in the area, and the supposed inspiration for Wordsworth’s Daffodils is topped by Pooley Bridge and toed by Glenridding, with Howtown halfway down. Take a cruise on the moody waters with Ullswater Steamers or hike up Helvellyn, the third tallest mountains in the Lakes at 950m. Waterfall fans should check out Aira Force.


Windermere Lake is the longest lake in the park and the centre of the action in the south. The town Windermere is little more than a transport hub so head south from here to Bowness-on-Windermere for an attractive lakeside town that’s a launch for several cruise and rowing boat companies. At the northern tip of the lake you’ll find Ambleside, the so-called Capital of Anoraks (thanks to its many outdoor gear shop not trainspotters) and home to the fantastic Zeffirellis cinema and pizzeria.


Less touristy than neighbouring Windermere, Coniston has a gentle appeal as reflected in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons childrens’ books. In summer it’s a great place to swim or sail and in winter you can keep warm by walking up Coniston Old Man or exploring Brantwood (see Literary Legends).

Hidden gems

While there’s no denying that the Lake District can get overrun in summer, as soon as you leave the bottlenecks of Windermere and Keswick the crowds thin out. Hire a car to explore Borrowdale, Langdale, Buttermere and eerily beautiful Wast Water. If you really want a challenging drive, though, Eskdale is the place. Tackle Hardknott and Wrynose passes and reward yourself with a soothing ale at the Three Shires in Little Langdale (just the one mind).

Old man pubs

You won’t find banging clubs or the latest gigs in the Lake District. When it comes to nightlife, the national park specialises in the calmer pleasures of old man pubs and real ale. Some of the most famous ones include the Drunken Duck Inn in Barngates near Ambleside, the Old Dungeon Ghyll in Langdale and the Sun Inn in Kirby Lonsdale.


Langdale is home to three of Lakes’ four loftiest fells: Scafell Pike, England’s tallest peak at 978m, Scafell and Great Gable. The fourth, Hellvellyn is near Ullswater. Those who prefer a journey to scaling a mountain can walk along part of Wainwright’s Coast to Coast which starts in St Bees near Whitehaven or attempt the classic 70-mile Cumbrian Way between Ulverston and Carlisle.

Literary legends

Keats, Coleridge and De Quincey all sought inspiration in the Lake
District, following in the footsteps of the area’s most famous son,
William Wordsworth. See his homes at Dove Cottage in Grasmere and Rydal
Mount near Ambleside. For Beatrix Potter fans, there’s Hilltop Farm
where she used to live in Near Sawrey, and a museum in Hawkshead.
Brantwood, the former home of John Ruskin, is worth a look even if you
know nothing about the man himself.