Lake District is England’s largest National Park, now a World Heritage Site. It is a popular vacation destination and known for its glacial ribbon lakes, rugged fell mountains and historic literary associations. Market towns such as Kendal, Ambleside and Keswick on scenic Derwentwater are bases for exploring the area and home to traditional inns, galleries of local art and outdoor equipment shops. Lake District covers a vast area and offers a wide range of activities and things to do. You can walk and cycle around countryside, wild swim at the lake or take a cruise thru the lake, hike to the fell, visit historic sites, or just enjoying surrounding nature in a slower pace. You can easily stay for a week here and barely scratch a surface.
Choosing which town or village to stay can be overwhelming because there are so many you can choose. I am going to list areas which I have filtered by easy to get there and around without a car.
The historic village of Ambleside is a tiny little town that’s got a whole quaint charm about itself. Perched on the shores of Lake Windermere, Ambleside is a great little spot to wander for an afternoon exploring; especially if you want to explore more of the region’s towns. It has a wider selection of restaurants, independent shops and a good range of outdoor shops. Read here on what to do in Ambleside.
Keswick is one of the largest towns in the Lake District and deemed to be the best place to stay in the Lake District for adventurous activities. Nestled on the edge of Derwentwater in the north of the Lake District, Keswick is a lively market town with great facilities, nightlife and cafes. The pedestrianized main street has an excellent fresh-food market and there are museums for rainy days. The waterfront is a lovely spot to stroll, surrounded by an amphitheatre of mountains including the sloping back of Catbells, one of the classic walks in the Lake District.
Kendal is a picturesque town set on the southern border of Lake District National Park. A moderately sized market town, Kendal boasts a population for approximately 30,000 people and is packed with shopping, dining and sightseeing options
- Windermere and Bowness
Windermere has a gentler landscape than the craggy area around Keswick. Less steep rock has paved the way for larger towns with more facilities. Tourist boats provide cruises of the lake and a steam train chugs along the shore. The town is bursting with quaint tea shops. There are also plenty of short walks with great views (Orest Head and Gummer’s How) and Beatrix Potter’s cottage is only a short ferry ride away. Many of the best hotels in the Lake District are perched along the banks of the lake, offering all sorts of luxury. But beware, being easily accessible and with the most facilities in the Lake District, Windermere and Bowness can get packed in summer. The traffic on the lake’s east side can be oppressive.
- Ullswater lake
This lovely lake is surrounded by stunning mountain scenery to its south, softening to the gentle hills of the north. The lake is the second largest in England at seven and a half miles long, but is less than a mile across. It is also the third deepest English lake at 250 feet deep.
How to get there
The Lake District is served by mainline railway stations at Windermere and Penrith, both handy gateways into the region’s hotspots. Avanti West Coast Train serves the railway from London Euston train station to Penrith and Windermere (Via Oxenholme). Line between Oxenholme to Windermere, stopping at Kendal, Burneside and Staveley is served by Northern Railway. However if you want to take a train from London to Windermere you can buy the ticket directly from Avanti West Coast website. The whole journey take average 2.5 to 3 hours.
If you stay in Bowness and Ambleside, from Windermere train station you can either get a cab or catch Bus 555. Bowness is only 6 minutes driving and Ambleside 12 minutes driving.
If you stay in Ullswater, stop at Penrith Train Station and take Bus 508
if you stay in Keswick, you can either stop at Penrith Train Station and take Bus X5 (40 minutes journey time) or stop at Windermere Train Station and take Bus 555 (1 hour journey time).
With the recent strike due to manpower shortage in 2022, Avanti West Coast is operating with a reduced timetable. Their upcoming timetables are being amended on a rolling basis and will be confirmed at shorter notice than usual. It is strongly advise to check before you travel, both once the strike timetable is confirmed and on the day itself. There is no trains operating on the weekend, so if you are planning to come to Lake District from London you need to come and leave on weekdays.
By Train, served by Transpennine Express Railway
- Trains from Manchester Piccadilly station go regularly throughout the day to Windermere, taking 1 hour 39 minutes with one change at Oxenholme.
- Trains to Penrith take 1 hour 36 minutes direct from Manchester Piccadilly station. They go roughly once an hour. There are other trains you can catch which take 1 hour 56 minutes, with one change at Preston.
You can take a National Express bus from Manchester Coach Station to Carlisle (2 hours 40 minutes) where you can connect with local bus to go to Penrith and then take the bus to the towns in lake district from there.
How to get around in Lake District without a car
Lake District bus service
There is an excellent bus network in The Lakes, which connects towns and villages to various points of interest throughout the National Park though of course, the service doesn’t extend to every corner of the county but it is pretty sufficient.
Stagecoach Buses have a number of routes and you can purchase a ‘Bus and Boat’ ticket which entitles you to unlimited bus travel and a single boat ride on Coniston, Derwentwater, Ullswater or Windermere. This is a great way to combine different modes of transports and enables you to see the beautiful scenery from two very different perspectives. You can use google map or their website to know which bus to take. All the bus stop around Lake District also has a clear information on the bus route and timetable.
Private tour companies
There are a number of companies offering private mini bus such as Mountain Goat Tour. This is a great way to experience the beautiful scenery without having to worry about keeping an eye on the road. Simply sit back and relax while someone else does the driving!
Some tour operators include a commentary, providing you with plenty of local information and stories. Most stop at points of interest for photos, toilet breaks and refreshments.
Exploring The Lakes by boat
If you’re planning a car-free getaway in The Lakes, travelling by boat is a convenient way to get around and allows you to escape the hustle and bustle of the busy summer roads. Make your way to the various passenger terminals around the lakes and explore the spectacular scenery at a leisurely pace. Most companies operate a hop on, hop off service and do not require tickets to be booked in advance.
In some places it’s possible to combine your ticket with entrance to nearby attractions. For instance, Windermere Cruises sell tickets that include admission tor Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway and the Aquarium of the Lakes. Private cruises are also available.