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The best things to do in Cumbria and the Lake District

Wealth of opportunities

Days out in Cumbria & the Lake District

Castlerigg stone circle

Cumbria and the Lake District are blessed with a wealth of opportunities to enjoy a fantastic day out. The geography and history of the county have much to do with this, many attractions based on their lake, mountain or coastal location; or centred on cultural icons.

Cumbria has also moved with the times. The Lake District is branded as The Adventure Capital and thousands flock to tree nets, climbing walls and mountain bike trails.

But ancient history draws many people to the region. There are 30 stone circles in Cumbria, the most impressive perhaps being Long Meg and Her Daughters at Little Salkeld – the second largest circle in England with 69 stones in all, constructed about 4,000 years ago. Castlerigg at Keswick is one of Britain’s earliest stone circles and Swinside at Broughton-in-Furness is also well visited.

The 73-mile-long coast-to-coast Hadrian’s Wall was built by the romans nearly 2,000 years ago. Much of the wall can still be seen in Cumbria, notably at Birdoswald Roman Fort, where the longest remaining stretch of the wall stretches far into the distance. An exhibition in the visitor centre explains how the wall was built, alongside a display of Roman artefacts dug up in the area. The Senhouse Museum at Maryport has an outstanding collection of Roman objects from the nearby fort, known as Alauna.

Cumbria has also moved with the times. The Lake District is branded as The Adventure Capital and thousands flock to tree nets, climbing walls and mountain bike trails

Spectacular scenery

Days out in Cumbria & the Lake District

Lake cruises are available on many of the larger lakes

The main draw to Cumbria and the Lake District is, of course, the spectacular scenery. To appreciate the majesty of the lakes themselves, you need to get on the water.

Windermere Lake Cruises have been popular since the Victorian era and today the vessels carry well over a million people each year. Windermere is the largest natural lake in England, more than 11 miles in length. Catch your cruise if you can from the starting point at Bowness-on-Windermere. It may be busy with tourists in the high season but it never loses its charm and beauty. Lake cruises can also be enjoyed on Derwentwater, and Ullswater Steamers launch from Pooley Bridge.

Coniston Water is steeped in history for both achievement and tragedy. Donald Campbell broke several world water speed records here in the 1950s and 60s, but died in 1967 when his jet boat Bluebird K7 flipped and broke up while he was attempting to break the record for an eighth time. It wasn’t until 2001 that his body and the boat were recovered, and he was buried in the new graveyard in Coniston.

Poet, writer, artist and social reformer John Ruskin lies in the churchyard of St Andrew’s, Coniston. He made his home at Brantwood, a mansion with impressive views over Coniston Water. You can get a feel of how the Victorians enjoyed Coniston by cruising on the luxurious Steam Yacht Gondola. Or take a Swallows and Amazons launch to see the locations that author Arthur Ransome used as inspiration for his famous books.

Windermere is the largest natural lake in England, it may be busy with tourists in the high season but it never loses its charm and beauty. Lake cruises can also be enjoyed on Derwentwater, and Ullswater Steamers launch from Pooley Bridge

Famous writers and literature

Days out in Cumbria & the Lake District

The Lake District was the inspiration to many writers over the centuries

Of course Cumbria is famous for its writers. Wordsworth House in Cockermouth is the birthplace and childhood home of arguably Britain’s greatest poet, William Wordsworth, and his sister Dorothy. It is presented as it would have been when they lived there in the 1770s. They moved to Dove Cottage in Grasmere in 1799. The traditional Lakeland cottage also faithfully recreates life back then, with The Wordsworth Museum next door, housing the largest collection in the world of the Wordsworths’ letters and poems.

Beatrix Potter was another famous Lakeland author. Such was the magical quality of her wildlife creations, most notably Peter Rabbit, that the stories are continually updated for successive generations. Even Hollywood has got in on the act now.

Hill Top, in Sawrey, was Beatrix Potter’s house and is now owned by The National Trust. The traditional cottage and garden are instantly recognisable from the illustrations she drew alongside her enchanting stories.

The World of Beatrix Potter Attraction in nearby Bowness-on-Windermere is an interactive visitor centre bringing all 23 of Potter’s tales to life. In Hawkshead you can find the Beatrix Potter Gallery, while in Ambleside the Armitt Museum has a permanent exhibition of books and paintings donated by Potter herself.

Beatrix Potter was another famous Lakeland author. Such was the magical quality of her wildlife creations, most notably Peter Rabbit, that the stories are continually updated for successive generations

Exciting variety

Days out in Cumbria & the Lake District

Catch a glimpse of red squirrels in the Lake District

Cumbria offers an exciting variety of visitor attractions that make for a perfect day out. Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery in Carlisle combines the old and the new, from collections of fine art in Old Tullie House to interactive displays in the newer building.

Wildlife lovers will never be short of somewhere beautiful and nature-rich to visit. Cumbria Wildlife Trust alone manages 44 nature reserves across the county, from meadows and woodlands to beaches.

You could catch a glimpse of red squirrels in one of their last strongholds, nesting ospreys at Bassenthwaite or Foulshaw Moss, or seals at South Walney Nature Reserve, also home to one of the largest gull colonies in Europe.

If you don’t fancy hiking the hills, walking the woods or combing the coastline, you can enjoy captive creatures at The Lakes Aquarium, Newby Bridge, or the Lake District Coast Aquarium in Maryport; also at the Lake District Wildlife Park, Bassenthwaite and Walby Farm Park, near Carlisle, an award-winning farm visitor attraction with indoor and outdoor play areas.

Wildlife lovers will never be short of somewhere beautiful and nature-rich to visit. Cumbria Wildlife Trust alone manages 44 nature reserves across the county, from meadows and woodlands to beaches

Fascinating places to visit

Days out in Cumbria

Cumbria Museum of Military Life

Looking for more ideas? There are plenty. Rheged, just outside Penrith on the A66, is a good place to start exploring the area, though you won’t see it unless you follow the signs, it being housed cleverly under a grass-covered roof.

Rheged has information stations to point you in the right direction, three cafes featuring local produce, an art gallery, exhibitions, play area and the largest 3D cinema in the region.

Carlisle Castle is in excellent condition, despite witnessing many sieges and conflicts. Walk the walls, visit the dungeon and explore exhibitions telling the fascinating tales of its 900-year history.

Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life is another fascinating place to visit, within the walls of the castle, and within sight is the imposing Carlisle Cathedral.

Other fortresses and stately homes in the county include Muncaster Castle at Ravenglass, boasting bluebell woods and a Hawk and Owl Centre.

Carlisle Castle is in excellent condition, despite witnessing many sieges and conflicts. Walk the walls, visit the dungeon and explore exhibitions telling the fascinating tales of its 900-year history

Historic places of interest

Days out in Cumbria

Wray Castle in Ambleside

Wray Castle is a mock-Gothic castle now owned by The National Trust, on the shores of Lake Windermere, while Kendal Castle is on a hill to the east of the town and the ruins of Penrith Castle stand impressively opposite the town’s railway station.

Brougham Castle, also near Penrith, was built in the early 13th century, while nearby Lowther Castle sits within 130 acres of ancient gardens.

Dalemain Historic House and Gardens are also set within green and colourful splendour, near to Ullswater, and are home to many events through the year, most notably The World’s Original Marmalade Awards and Festival each March. Five minutes away, visit Aira Force, the most famous of the Lake District’s waterfalls, cascading 70 feet from below a stone footbridge.

Holker Hall and Gardens, near Grange-over-Sands, is a Victorian stately home within 25 acres of beautiful gardens and an ancient deer park. It also has a cafe, gift shop and food hall.

Five minutes away from Ullswater, visit Aira Force, the most famous of the Lake District’s waterfalls, cascading 70 feet from below a stone footbridge

Diverse attractions

Days out in the Lake District

Aira Force

Sizergh House in Kendal displays more than 750 years of history. Mirehouse, near Keswick, is a fascinating family-run historic house with woodland playgrounds, situated below Dodd Wood, where you can walk to an osprey viewpoint looking over Bassenthwaite.

Hutton in the Forest is an historic house based on a medieval tower, containing collections of furniture, ceramics, tapestry and portraits, while Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal enjoys a national reputation for showing works from across the centuries.

Other diverse attractions include Cumbria Crystal – the last working full-lead crystal glassware factory in England; Jennings Brewery, offering tours and a tasting of the county’s most famous real ales; Guided mine tours are offered at England’s oldest working slate mine at Honister; The Pencil Museum in Keswick is home of the first and the world’s largest pencils; and the Laurel and Hardy Museum is in Ulverston, the birthplace of the thinner half of the famous comic duo, Stan Laurel.

Grizedale and Whinlatter Forests offer stunning walks, mountain bike trails, family-friendly visitor centres with cafes and shops, and Go Ape centres where children and adults can make their way across nets in the tree tops, all among breathtaking scenery.

Mirehouse, near Keswick, is a fascinating family-run historic house with woodland playgrounds, situated below Dodd Wood, where you can walk to an osprey viewpoint looking over Bassenthwaite

Special railways

Days out in Cumbria & the Lake District

Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway

The Cumbrian coast also has fascinating places to visit, based around the history of the area. Whitehaven was the last mainland place in Britain to be attacked by American naval forces, in 1778. The Rum Story transports the visitor back in time and journeys through slavery, prohibition and an exotic Caribbean island.

The Beacon, also in Whitehaven, traces the social, industrial and maritime heritage of the area, as does Maryport Maritime Museum.

And don’t miss a trip on one of the county’s special railways. The Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway, Lakeland’s oldest and longest and locally known as the La’al Ratty, runs scaled-down steam and diesel trains.

Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway runs daily steam engines to the southern end of Windermere, and England’s highest narrow gauge railway, the South Tynedale Railway, runs from Alston.

Steam trains also run on a steep track within a quarry at The Threlkeld Quarry and Mining Museum near Keswick.


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Image credits: ©Acceleratorhams/ATGimages/Steheap/Adobe Stock; Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life, Carlisle Castle; Discover Carlisle; Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway; Shutterstock.com

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