More than 15.8 million visitors head to the Lake District every year, lured by its crags and glimmer.
Last year Unesco bought the hype, awarding it World Heritage Status. And it’s no wonder. Wordsworth, one of its most famous children, described his home in Grasmere as “having in thy face a smile”, while another fine British poet, Nigel Blackwell of Half Man Half Biscuit, immortalised the town of Ambleside on one of the band’s album covers. Centred on the main Cumbrian towns of Keswick, Windermere, Ambleside and Bowness-on-Windermere, the area is a huge draw for poetry lovers, walkers and weekenders.
What to do
You’ll enjoy the Lake District best if you’re of an outdoorsy bent. A trip up Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England, is a must. Though the mountain has clearly defined paths nearly all the way and hundreds of thousands of people reach the summit each year, it’s not to be taken lightly. Plan your trip carefully and if you’re not an experienced walker, join one of the many guided tours available.
Thanks to Wordsworth, Grasmere is probably the region’s most famous village, occasionally referred to as Gras Vegas by the locals for its popularity. Wordsworth’s home that he shared with his sister, Dorothy, Dove Cottage – the place where he wrote most of his poetry – is now a museum to his life and work. If you’re feeling literary, head nine miles south to Hill Top in Hawkshead to visit Beatrix Potter’s house, complete with doll’s house and writing desk.
You can’t go to the Lakes without an actual trip on a lake. Take a cruise ship from Bowness to Ambleside as a non-landing round trip or disembark and stop for lunch. For DIY exploration, rent a historic powered wooden boat or simple row boat and play at Swallows and Amazons.
Derwent Pencil Museum
Yes really. The Derwent Pencil Museum is worth a visit. The Cumberland Pencil Company created its first pencil in 1832 and this museum takes you through a replica graphite mine into a fascinating look at how we’ve created and used pencils over the centuries. With everything from ingenious secret WW2 pencils (with hidden maps) to one of the biggest colour pencils in the world (measuring nearly 8m), it’s definitely something to write home about.
Where to stay
There are a multitude of Lake District hotels and B&Bs, ranging from modern chic to traditional and cosy.
Romantics should head to the Love Shack near Sawrey, an architecturally stunning and sustainable cabin in its own tranquil fenced woodland. From £480 for a self-catering three-day break.
For a larger luxury experience, Langdale Hotel and Spa has an indoor/outdoor pool that’s a great way to enjoy the spectacular scenery from a horizontal position. Doubles from £140, B&B.
If you fancy some namaste with your (veggie) breakfast, head to Yewfield in Ambleside. Situated on 80 acres of private land, the vegetarian guesthouse offers yoga workshops and retreats. Doubles from £105, B&B.
YHA Black Sail Youth Hostel in Cleator offers an isolated experience, far from traffic and noise. Only reachable on foot or bike, two and a half miles away from the nearest road, with bedrooms and showers accessed from outside, take a torch and a sense of adventure. Private rooms from £63, room only, or hire the whole place from £249; sleeps 16.
Where to eat
Daisy’s Cafe in Ambleside does a legendary breakfast; open daily 9am-5pm, closed Thursdays.
Pick up some spicy-sweet Sarah Nelson’s Grasmere gingerbread from the Grasmere Gingerbread Shop.
Grab lunch at the critically acclaimed Lake Road Kitchen, also in Ambleside. With an ever-changing menu of delights, such as Holker Estate fallow deer, Arctic cloudberries and black winter truffles, the five- and eight-course menus deserve to be savoured.
Round off the day with kipper Scotch egg or halibut with violet artichoke confit at the remote and award-winning Drunken Duck in Ambleside, a real treat of a restaurant.
Where to drink
Get a taste of history by ordering a Scurvy Knave (an orange-flavoured hot chocolate finished with cream and orange) in the 1657 Chocolate House in Kendal – built, confusingly, in the 1630s. The shop serves 16 speciality chocolate drinks with names including Nell Gwynne, Tropical Galleon and Cromwell’s Downfall.
Go further back in history with a pint at The Masons Arms in Cartmel Fell, a pretty little 1500s pub with roaring fires, beams and views to die for.
The Bluebird Cafe in Coniston is worth it for the location alone. On the shores of Coniston Water and named after Donald Campbell’s famous speed-record-breaking boat, the cafe is a great spot for sipping a nice glass of red (or one of its speciality ice-cream milkshakes) and watching the world and its boats go by.
The snug Kirkstile Inn is a Tudor inn with award-winning ales and beer garden in Loweswater. Partake in a bit too much of the local brew, and you can always bag yourself a four-poster bed for the night upstairs.
Where to shop
Load your car (or train hamper) with delights from the Keswick Cheese Deli, which sells more than 90 different varieties of cheese and many Cumbrian varieties.
Wander the three floors of the 17th-century barn at Low Sizergh Barn in Kendal, which sells everything from home-grown veg to local ceramic art.
For walking gear, check out The Epicentre, an indie outdoor clothing and equipment store in Ambleside that stocks a range of exclusive brands, ensuring you’re the best-dressed on the hill.
You go to the Lake District for the mountains, not the buildings, but Wordsworth’s former home, Allan Bank, a Georgian villa on the edge of Grasmere, is an unrefurbished sight for sore eyes and a history-lover’s dream.
Nuts and bolts
Getting around on foot or by bike (there are plenty of places to hire) is the best way if you’re able; exploring this way gives you access to some of the most spectacular sights. However, there are regular buses around the region and also ample provision for cars if you’d rather drive.
Best time to visit
The Lakes is genuinely stunning all year round, whether you want to walk for miles inhaling the fabulous air and getting high on the scenery during the endless days of summer or curl up by a cosy fire with a hot chocolate in winter. Go in November to avoid the summer throng and get yourself in the Christmas spirit with frosty walks.
Look across to the Jaws of Borrowdale from Friar’s Crag in Keswick or check out England’s deepest lake, Wastwater, from its south-western end for a jaw-dropping vista.
If you don’t fancy driving around the windy lanes, check out the Mountain Goat bus service which offers Ten Lakes Spectacular day trip with summer lake cruise included (£46).
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies