Where: Windermere, Cumbria, United Kingdom
Why go: England’s largest lake, Windermere, is located in the Southern Lake District and is surrounded by pretty towns and breath-taking scenery. With a universal appeal catering for couples, families, walkers and those just looking to relax, Windermere and the surrounding area can offer something for everyone.
How to get there: By car, exit the M6 at junction 36 and follow signs for south Lakes. Follow the A591 for approximately 16 miles from the motorway. By train, there is a regular service running from Oxenholme, which is located on the West Coast main line between London and Glasgow.
Where to park: There are numerous car parks available in both Windermere and Bowness-on-Windermere but it is worth noting that all day parking can be pricey and will require an early arrival to find a space. If you are up for a walk, Broad Street Car Park (LA23 2AB) is located a 30 minute walk away from Bowness, but all day parking is £1 if you arrive before 9am.
It is easy to spend anything from a day to a week exploring all that Windermere and the surrounding towns have to offer. However, if you’re pushed for time or if Windermere is just one stop on your journey, we’d definitely recommend using Bowness-on-Windermere as your base camp. There are lots of attractions to see in this area and the Windermere Lake Cruise provides easy access to other towns and villages by steamer.
The World of Beatrix Potter
When you’re in Bowness, one attraction topping your list should be The World of Beatrix Potter. This charming homage to the work of the author who fell in love with, and has become synonymous with the area, is a beautiful imagining of the stories we all know and love. Despite it’s branding as a ‘family attraction’ the life-sized exhibits and fascinating insights into Potter’s life appeal to both the young and the young at heart, so don’t be put off visiting if you don’t have kids in tow!
The exhibition takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour to enjoy, plus there is a shop and café you can also enjoy as part of your trip. Ticket prices range from £3.95* (3-16 years old – 0-2yo are free) to £7.95* for adults with family packages and deals including a show available to purchase at the venue.
Windermere Lake Cruises
No trip to Windermere is complete without a Windermere Lake Cruise. Operating a total of 16 vessels, Windermere Lake Cruises give you the opportunity to explore England’s largest lake by steamer, modern launch or traditional launch.
With a number of different cruises available, you can choose to either sail north up the lake to Ambleside, or south down to Lakeside. Alternatively you can opt for a scenic island circular tour to admire the beautiful scenery, or go all-in for a ‘Freedom of the Lake’ ticket to roam as much of the lake as you can take in in 24 hours. During the summer season you can also enjoy buffet cruises or an evening cruise.
If you’re just visiting for the day, it’s worth just picking one cruise to allow yourself enough time to explore your cruise destination, but if you’re around for a couple of days the ‘Freedom of the Lake’ ticket lets you take in all that the area has to offer and is the easiest (and most relaxing!) way to see everything.
For our trip, we chose the red lake cruise, which is a 75 minute round trip to Ambleside. This small town at the head of Windermere is awash with cafes, bookshops and outdoor stores. It is an ideal spot to stretch your legs after the cruise, pick up some gifts and grab a spot of lunch (we’d highly recommend The Copper Pot for an impressive hot chocolate and cake to fuel your journey!)
Stock Ghyll Force
Once you’re suitable refuelled, you can head off on a scenic walk up to a stunning 70 foot waterfall in a wooded area with a breath-taking viewpoint. Tucked behind the Salutation Hotel is the route that will take you up a gentle incline to the waterfalls. It is a lovely woodland walk that is easy to navigate but it best tackled in sturdy shoes!
After your descent from the waterfalls, re-join Rydal Road and follow it through the town until you cross the river and meet The Bridge House. Now owned by the National Trust, this tiny, two-storey, two room dwelling dates back to the 17th Century and has historically served as counting house, a tea-room, a weaving shop, a cobbler’s, a chair maker’s and, a home to a family of eight!
Now the house is free to enter and often has a volunteer on hand to guide you through the history of this quaint and one of a kind building, as well as answering any questions you have. It is a fascinating building and well worth popping in while you are in Ambleside.
After your return cruise, it is well worth spending a little time enjoying Bowness-on-Windermere before you depart. There are numerous ice cream shops alongside the lake stocking a huge range of locally made flavours, so if they sun is out grab one and have a stroll along the waterfront before heading back into town for a peruse of the shops before you head back to the car.
If you want a final souvenir from your journey, Hawkshead Brewery is just a 10 minute drive from Bowness-on-Windermere. At the brewery you can grab some food in The Beer Hall and see behind the scenes on a scheduled brewery tour at 1pm each day. There is also a shop where you can pick up some of their beers to take home with you to make your holiday last a little longer!
Friendly reminder, don’t drink and drive! Take those pints home with you to enjoy instead!
Other things to explore…
If you’ve got a little extra time or you are looking for some other things to explore around Windermere, why not try the following:
- Hill Top – Bought in 1905 with the proceeds from The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Hill Top is Beatrix Potter’s much loved home and remains a time-capsule, providing an insight to her life and works.
- Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway – if you take a Lake Cruise south to Lakeside, why not combine your visit with a ride on the steam train to Haverthwaite? Some cruise/railway packages are available depending on the season, check the ticket office for details.
- Windermere Jetty: Museum of Boats, Steam and Stories – A spectacular new museum committed to conserving, saving and sharing its internationally important collection; this museum tells the stories of the boats in its collection and actively involves visitors in the crafts and tradition that built them.
- Wray Castle – Located on the west side of the lake, this 19th century holiday home is now owned by the National Trust. It is easiest access is via the green route Lake Cruise in summer months and is open for daily talks and tours.
- Stott Park Bobbin Mill – This extensive working mill is the only working bobbin mill left in the Lake District today. Tours and exhibitions bring to light the history of this important trade, and visitors can follow the production of bobbins first hand, and even purchase one to bring home from the gift shop.
- Blackwell – Designed by Architect Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott, Blackwell was built as a holiday home for Manchester brewer Sir Edward Holt and his family in 1901. You can now explore the arts and craft design of the house and learn more about the lift of the Holt’s through talks and augmented reality displays.
Where to stay…
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay during your visit to Windermere, The Sun Inn is located a short drive away from the town centre. With comfortable, en suite rooms costing around £65 per night* and a fantastic bar menu it is a great place to unwind after a day of walking and sightseeing.
*Prices as of August 2019