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Europe > Britain and Ireland > United Kingdom > England > North West England > Cumbria > Lake District National Park
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The twisting route to the summit of Helvellyn on the left, England's third highest peak.

The Lake District National Park, in North West England is the largest national park in the country, occupying 885 sq. miles. It is considered one of England's most scenic regions and is the country's premier destination for hiking and climbing. The park lies entirely within the modern county of Cumbria, shared historically by the counties of Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire.

Principal Towns

  • Windermere and lake of the same name.
  • Ambleside at the top of Windermere - a major tourist centre.
  • Keswick on the shores of Derwent Water, the heart of the northern Lakes.
  • Coniston, village on the shores of Coniston Water.
  • Hawkshead, village to the north of Esthwaite Water
  • Grasmere and lake of the same name.
  • Glenridding on the shores of Ullswater.
  • Kendal on the eastern edge of the Lake District
  • Penrith - the northern gateway to the lakes.
  • Eskdale Green - a small village in the western lakes.
  • Bowness-on-Windermere - at the middle of Windermere (lake)
  • Ravenglass - the only coastal town in the national park.

Other destinations


Windermere - lake-side view
The view from Wordsworth's study

The Lake District comprises 16 lakes, 53 tarns, and several “waters”. All possess their own unique features and provide a comforting sense of permanence, standing as they do, framed by glorious backdrops of mountains, fells, and woodland. Despite the name the "Lake District" there is only one one body of water that carries the name "lake" - Bassenthwaite; all the rest are "waters" and "meres".

  • Bassenthwaite Lake
  • Buttermere
  • Coniston Water
  • Crummock Water
  • Derwent Water
  • Elterwater
  • Ennerdale Water
  • Esthwaite Water
  • Grasmere
  • Haweswater
  • Loweswater
  • Rydal Water
  • Thirlmere (now a reservoir with limited access)
  • Ullswater
  • Wast Water (England's deepest lake)
  • Windermere (England's largest lake)


Hills or mountains in the Lake District are known by the local name of Fells. The Lakeland Fells are England's only true mountain range and though not high by world standards (i.e. none being much over 3000 feet or 1000 metres) they nevertheless offer a huge number of challenging and rewarding hillwalks. All can be walked (as opposed to "climbed" with ropes etc.) and due to the long tradition of recreational walking here there is an exceptional network of paths and routes. Additionally there is free access to virtually all areas above the "intake wall" (i.e. the last wall as you climb out of the valley).

According to the most respected authority (guidebook author A. Wainwright) there are 214 Fells, most of which offer a number of routes, plus many opportunities to ridge-walk between the fells.

The highest is Scafell Pike (pronounced "Scaw-fell"). This "highest" designation leads to a lot of traffic, and visitors who want to experience a high Lakeland Fell may want to choose another. Some of the slightly smaller fells are in fact much more rewarding to climb as well as offering better views. Great Gable and Helvellyn are popular choices. Less well-known hills include Grisedale Pike, Fairfield, and Bowfell.


The main attraction is the lakes and fells carved by glacial erosion and providing dramatic and inspiring scenery although much modified by man's intervention mainly by farming. It is the former home of cultural luminaries such as William Wordsworth and John Ruskin, and the walks and fells are famously documented by Alfred Wainwright.

First settled in the Stone Age (some residents still exist) and occupied by the Romans the area was heavily influenced by the Norse in their occupation circa 900A.D. They cleared the woods to produce charcoal to smelt lead in Glenridding and copper in the Borrowdale Valley and Coniston. They introduced the Herdwick sheep to the fells and left a legacy of language such as 'gill' gorge, 'beck' stream, 'tarn' lake, 'dale' valley and 'force' waterfall; of them all 'thwaite', a clearing in a wood, is the most common.

The Agricultural Revolution and the Enclosure Acts in the 18th century saw the erection of the dry stone walls which are a predominant feature on the fellsides. The 19th Century saw the advent of tourism with the arrival of the railway in the town of Windermere where it terminates.

The destination is popular with national and international visitors and this can easily cause congestion in busy periods at the most popular locations. Visitor attractions are numerous and not limited to scenic attractions.

Get in

By rail

The high speed West Coast Main Line skirts the eastern edge of the Lake district with stations at Oxenholme and Penrith. Fastest journey times from London are three hours to Penrith and 2.40 to Oxenholme.

Windermere station is most conveniently located for the Southern Lakes. The train from here travels to Oxenholme station on the main West Coast line. The Leeds-Settle-Carlisle line also links the lakes to Yorkshire, as does the line from Leeds to Barrow via Hellifield.

For the northern lakes, it is best to travel to Penrith, from where it is possible to catch a bus to Keswick and Ullswater.

The South and West Lakes is accessed by one of the most scenic railways in the country. Starting from Carnforth the line travels across the Lake District peninsulas by a series of impressive viaducts to Barrow in Furness. The Cumbria Coast line then travels via Millom to Whitehaven, and re-joins the West Coast Main line at Carlisle. At Foxfield the old market town of Broughton in Furness and the Duddon valley is accessible. From Millom northwards some of the most interesting of the western valleys can be seen and accessed from such as Drigg, Seascale and Ravenglass stations. Onward travel in such as the "Wasdale bus", or by taxi may be necessary for those without bicycles. Further north the line literally runs along the beach at Braystones and after a superb serpentine section next to the Irish Sea it passes through St Bees with its Heritage Coast and ancient priory, and thence to Whitehaven.

By car

M6 motorway and enter the park via either the A590 from Junction 36 for the South Lakes, or the A66 at Penrith from Junction 40 for the North Lakes. Alternatively the A65 from Leeds connects to the A590 at Junction 36.

By air

The closest airport to the Lake District is at Blackpool, served by Ryanair from London Stansted airport in Essex. However, intercontinental flights generally use Newcastle, Durham Tees Valley, Glasgow, Leeds/Bradford, Liverpool and Manchester airports, which are about a 2 hour drive away from the Eastern lakes and 2.5 hours from the Western lakes. Regular trains run direct from Manchester Airport station to Windermere, Penrith and Barrow-in-Furness. Newcastle airport is on the Metro and after travelling to Newcastle City, the Tyne valley line can be used to get to Carlisle.

Get around

The area is served by multiple bus routes, many of them operated by Stagecoach. However, as this is a rural area, and routes are necessarily limited to the roads in the valleys, it is sensible to plan your travel in advance.

This also applies to getting around by car, with journey times being extended due to the slow winding roads. Bringing your own car to the lakes is the most popular option, but motorists may encounter hefty parking fees/restrictions in large towns, or even at the base of popular hill walking routes.

The beautiful coastal railway, travelling between Carlisle and Barrow-in-Furness allows access to many of the rarely visited seaside towns and villages. The "Lakes Rover" ticket offers good value for rail travel around this area.

Budget travellers can book a day tour to get to see the best of the Lake District in a day. Mountain-goat [1] are one of the popular tour operators in the area. They also offer a pick-up from your accommodation if you are staying in Windermere or Bowness-on-Windermere.

It's also possible to travel the lake district by bicycle - however it's only recommended for very experienced and well-prepared cyclists. It's definitely recommended to be prepared for rain, wear high-visibility clothing and fit lights, as the weather in this part of the country changes very quickly and rain can cause road-conditions to be slippery and visibility is greatly reduced. Also be particularly cautious of traffic - although the roads are not busy, local drivers who are familiar with the roads tend to drive very fast so take particular care when approaching blind corners. Although bike-rental is available in some larger towns in the region, the bikes available are generally sub-standard mountain-bikes - a high-quality road, hybrid or touring bike is more highly recommended. Fortunately bikes can be carried on all trains operating in the region (although a free reservation must be acquired before boarding).


The National Park features an extensive network of footpaths throughout the valleys and on the fells (the local term for mountains), allowing excellent access. Surprise View in Borrowdale, with views over Derwentwater, Keswick and Skiddaw.

See also: Hikes in the Lake District


Old Man of Coniston.
  • Go walking. Most visitors spend their time walking on the Fells, Peaks or Lakes. The Lakes are also a pleasure to sail on. The park has over two hundred fells, all of which are open to visitors. Maps (available in most shops locally) show the huge network of footpaths which both cross the fells and run through the valleys. The district is mapped on four sheets by the Ordnance Survey - NW, NE, SW, SE. Additionally there are a large number of guidebooks available locally which suggest walks. See also the Itinerary Hikes in the Lake District.
  • Mountain Biking The Lake District offers arguably the best landscape for mountain biking in England. In Whinlatter Forest Park near Keswick and Grizedale Forest, there are purpose built trail centres which offer everything from blue to black graded trails. There is also a vast number of natural trails, the routes of which can be found in maps sold in the many cycle stores (Keswick in particular has a large number) in the county.
  • Boat trips can be taken on many of the lakes, including Windermere, Ullswater, Coniston and Derwentwater.
  • Keswick Launch offers both clockwise and anticlockwise circuits of Derwentwater.[2]


Traditional pubs tend to be more prevalent than restaurants in this region, and most of them will serve traditional English food at lunch and dinner time. With so much sheep farming in the hills of the lake district, roast lamb is a favourite local dish. Cumberland sausage is a speciality throughout Cumbria, and locally-caught Borrowdale trout is also popular.


This region presents many opportunities to drink a traditional English ale in a traditional English pub. This can be a very satisfying way to replace lost calories after a long day walking in the hills.

Pubs in remote areas can develop a surprisingly lively scene in the evenings, if they are popular with mountaineers. Otherwise you will need to head in to larger towns if you are looking for night life.

The best thing about Cumbria is the staggering number of breweries - around 25 to date.

A selection of country pubs are:

  • The Three Shires Inn, in Little Langdale
  • The Swinside, in the Newlands Valley
  • The Mill Inn, in the hamlet of Mungrisdale
  • The Bridge Hotel, in Buttermere village
  • The Fish Hotel, in Buttermere village
  • The Salutation, in Threlkeld
  • The Swan, at Thornthwaite
  • The Britannia, in Elterwater
  • The Old Dungeon Ghyll, in Great Langdale
  • The New Dungeon Ghyll, in Great Langdale
  • The Riverside Bar of the Scafell Hotel in Rosthwaite
  • The The Boot Inn, in the village of Boot


The most common accommodation option in the area is the Bed & Breakfast, many of which can be found in the villages and towns in the park, as well as at many farms. Please see the individual town/village articles for listings.

  • Youth Hostels The YHA [3] has a diversity of accommodation to offer the visitor to the Lake District. From the impressive Waterhead Youth Hostel [4] on the shores of Lake Windermere to Black Sail [5] converted shepherd's bothy only accessible on foot.
  • Pod-Camping. Camping Pods are an innovative alternative to tent camping. They are eco-friendly and have the advantage of lockable doors. They are designed to sleep a family of four. Pods are essentially 'wooden tents'. You will need to take everything that you would for a camping holiday, minus the tent.
  • Camping Barns An excellent alternative to self-catering or Youth Hostelling. Camping Barns [6] are normally converted farm buildings/barns and are usually individually owned by the farmer. The Camping Barn basically as a stone tent, facilities vary, but most have only minimal facilities.
  • The Grange Hotel. Is a 4 star hotel in the seaside town of Grange Over Sands. Featuring its own spa and beauty salon as well as swimming pool and jacuzzi, the Grange Hotel offers top class accommodation and is also regularly used as a wedding venue.
  • Heart Of The Lakes. Is a holiday home rental agency. It rents out many beautiful cottages around the Lake District. It offers many 5 star cottages that look and feel amazing to stay in.
  • Lake District Cottages (Lake District Cottages). Is the Lake District’s oldest and most prestigious holiday letting agency. offering hundreds of self catering properties
  • Sally's Cottages. Is a holiday cottage agency based in Keswick, the Lake District. It offers a friendly, local service as well as pet friendly, large group and short break accommodation.
  • Matson Ground. Offers seven self-catering holiday cottages and apartments near Windermere and Ullswater in the Lake District, Cumbria.

Stay safe

The mountains of the Lake District are by no means the largest or most extreme mountains of the world, but they can still present a serious threat to safety for walkers, and underestimating them can be fatal. Be sure to follow sensible safety precautions while walking [7]. Clearly other outdoor sports have different risks associated with them.

Some of the area's mountain passes are extremely steep, with sharp corners and uneven road surfaces. Drivers should exercise extreme caution, particularly in poor wealther conditions.

The most obvious signs of crime are the police signs in Lakeland car parks warning you not to leave valuables on show in your car.

Be aware that, due to the mountainous nature of the terrain, mobile (cell) phone reception is notoriously poor in the Lake District and drivers or walkers who are in trouble often find it difficult to get a signal. This should be borne in mind when planning any sort of trip in this area.

Go next

From the Lake District, the natural extended itineraries would take you either north, through Carlisle into Scotland, or south towards the big cities of Manchester and Liverpool. Alternatively, for those interested in touring more of England's parks, the Yorkshire Dales are just east of the Lake District.

This region travel guide to Lake District National Park is a usable article. It gives a good overview of the region, its sights, and how to get in, as well as links to the main destinations, whose articles are similarly well developed. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.