If you only have one day in the Lake District what should you do? Where should you go? What should you see? How can you enjoy a Lake District experience in just one day?
The Lake District covers an extensive area, 2362 square kilometres in fact! It has some of the highest mountains in the UK and 16 of the largest lakes, not to mention a myriad of tarns and a beautiful coastline. There is an incredible amount to see and do, but it is possible experience some of the attractions of the Lake District on a day visit and to understand why people love this area.
I have offered below three one-day itineraries starting in Bowness-on-Windermere. One itinerary can be followed using public transport. One requires a car. The third itinerary is a suggestion for how to spend one day in the Lake District with children. The suggestions within the itineraries can be mixed and matched, of course. Finally, there are a few ideas of places to eat and some traditional Lake District pubs to sample!
Why visit the Lake District?
The Lake District in Cumbria in an area of outstanding natural beauty. It is also a National Park and a World Heritage Site. Since tourism became popular in the nineteenth century, visitors have flocked to the The Lake District for the magnificent, breathtaking beauty of the mountains and the lakes. Nowadays, some people come to walk the fells, some to cycle the trails and some to simply admire the views and explore the wonderful lakeland villages. The Lake District has been the inspiration for poets, writers and artists since time began.
Our starting point for one-day in the Lake District
Lake Windermere is England’s largest lake. It is approximately 11 miles long and 1.5 miles wide at its widest. Along its shores numerous villages and communities nestle. The largest and best known of these is Bowness-on-Windermere. This shall be the starting point for our one-day itineraries. Later you may wish to explore different parts of the Lake District such as Keswick or Coniston – but those are for different one day trips.
The Lake District – A One Day Itinerary: using public transport
This first itinerary assumes visitors arrive by train into Windermere station and that they will use public transport all day. This is very easy to do.
The train station is at the top of Windermere village and trains run frequently from Oxenholm in Kendal. Oxenholm is on the main train line so connects to all parts of the UK – London, Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow are all connected to this route without having to change.
Top Tip: A note for cyclists coming into Windermere station: it is possible to hire bikes here so if you prefer to explore by bicycle, this is very straightforward.
A walk up Orrest Head
This is a short, uphill walk along a clearly marked trail. The views from the top are amongst the finest in the Lake District, even on a hazy day. It takes approximately half an hour to reach the top. Flat shoes are required, but boots are not needed for this walk. Simply cross the main road from the railway station and you will see the sign for Orrest Head pointing up the hill.
It is possible to extend this walk by going down the back of the hill and making a loop, but if you want to complete the itinerary in one day, you will not have time to do this. Save for another day!
A trip on a Windermere Steamer
From Orrest Head, return to the railway station and catch an open-top bus to Bowness Pier. Purchase a ticket for the Red Route combined with the Boat Cruise. You will use this ticket for all your bus and boat journeys through the day. Tickets can be purchased on the bus or ahead of time by downloading the Stagecoach app. Details for the bus and steamer tickets and timetables are available online.
Once in Bowness, catch the next available steamer to Ambleside. This is the Red Cruise and again details about Windermere Lake Cruises can be found online. The views from the lake, especially on a clear day, are fabulous. Some of the steamers are vintage and very characterful! The trip to Ambleside takes approximately 30 minutes.
Amble around Ambleside
Ambleside is a beautiful Lake District village with plenty of small cafes and outdoor equipment shops. It is a 15 minute walk from Waterhead where the steamer docks to the centre of the village. Don’t miss the picturesque and historic Bridge House! There are lots of places to eat in Ambleside if you are hungry, or you may wish to wait until Grasmere.
Visit Rydal Mount, home of William Wordsworth
Hop on the Red Route bus from the centre of Ambleside and continue out towards Grasmere. Leave the bus at the church in Rydal and head up to Rydal Mount. Many people only think of Dove Cottage, a little further down the road in Grasmere, as being the home of William Wordsworth, but actually, he spent many more years in Rydal Mount than he did in Dove Cottage. It is a beautiful old house and definitely worth looking around. St Mary’s Church is close by and is also very pretty. Wordsworth was church warden there in 1833. Adjacent to the church is Dora’s Field, purchased by Wordsworth and named for his daughter. The field is very beautiful in spring with the hundreds of daffodils planted by Wordsworth and his family. After the daffodils come the bluebells!
There is a trail above Rydal Mount along which people used to take their dead from Rydal to the church in Grasmere. It is called, aptly, the Coffin Route. One is not likely to encounter coffin-carrying walkers these days, but it is a wonderful walk with great views. You can read about it in my article Three Easy Walks in the Lake District.
If you wish to carry on with this main itinerary for one day in the Lake District, however, you may wish to save this walk for another day.
Explore Grasmere and sample the gingerbread
From Rydal Mount, hop back on the bus and head to Grasmere. Don’t miss Rydal Water as you drive along this road. It is very scenic and there are some lovely, low-level walks here. Leave the bus at Grasmere. Grasmere is a very picturesque village with lot of galleries and interesting shops to see. There are also plenty of places to grab a bit of lunch! Wordsworth’s grave is in the church yard here. Grasmere is also famous for its gingerbread. You will see the tiny shop as you wander around. It is definitely worth sampling!
Dove Cottage, Wordsworth’s other home and the associated museum, are also in Grasmere. It was here that poet William Taylor Coleridge came to stay with Wordsworth and where he wrote some of his most famous verse. Dove Cottage would definitely be an option if you are a Wordsworth fan.
Wander around Bowness-on-Windermere
When you have finished exploring Grasmere, catch the bus back to Bowness. Leave the bus at the church in the village and take time to have a look around. St Martin’s Church is the centre of the village and there are some lovely little streets round about. Can you find the grave of Rasselas Belfield in the churchyard? Rasselas, “a native of Abyssinia”, was a slave brought to this country to work in one of the local houses. As soon as he landed on British soil, however, he was technically a free man. When he died he was buried here.
Finally, take a walk along the Glebe and round to Cockshott Point. This is a gentle stroll but with lovely views over this part of the lake.
Perhaps you are heading back up the the train station now for the journey home, but if you are staying for the evening, you may wish to check out some of the dining options below. In summer there is also the option of an evening cruise on the lake.
The Lake District one day itinerary: with a car
Arrive Bowness-on Windermere
Parking is limited in Bowness, but you will find a carpark close to the ferry. The ferry is clearly signposted as you come into Bowness so this should be your starting point.
Let’s start the day with a walk along Cockshott Point from the Ferry to The Glebe and the centre of Bowness. This easy path goes along the lake shore where numerous sailing boats are moored. When the weather is good, this is a delightful morning stroll and there are beautiful views over the lake. This walk takes approximately 15 minutes.
Alternatively, there is a car park further along the main road towards the village at Braithwaite Fold. It is walking distance to the village, but in the summer months it is possible to catch the “Noddy Train” from the car park into the village.
A trip on a Windermere steamer
The next item on our itinerary is to board one of the steamers at the Bowness jetties. The steamers run up and down the lake frequently and this is an opportunity to admire the fells from the water. We suggest taking the “Red Cruise” from Bowness to Ambleside. Hopefully the weather is clear and there will be fabulous views over to the Langdales.
A walk around the village of Ambleside
Ambleside is a very pretty, traditional village and most visitors enjoy wandering around, perhaps taking coffee at one of the many coffee shops. It is a fifteen minute walk from the steamer jetty at Waterhead into the centre of Ambleside, but there are also places for refreshments close to where the steamers dock.
After exploring Ambleside, take the steamer back to Bowness, collect your car and head to the ferry. (If you prefer, you can just take the steamer one way and catch the open top bus back to Bowness.)
Take the car ferry over the lake to Sawrey for lunch
The ferry ride is only about 10 minutes and it runs back and forth all day, about 3 return trips an hour. It is worth noting, however, that there may be a wait for the ferry at busy times in the summer months.
My suggestion is then to have lunch in the Cuckoo Brow pub. It is a very traditional pub and they serve excellent, locally sourced food (and lake district ales for those not designated drivers!). If the weather is good, sit outside, but make sure you pop into the pub itself to see what a traditional lake district hostelry looks like. If it is cold, you will want a seat by the logburner!
Visit Beatrix Potter’s House in Sawrey
Beatrix Potter, author of The Tales of Benjamin Bunny, Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddleduck…., lived here at Hill Top in Sawrey. Her house and garden were the inspiration for the stories which have entertained children for generations. Touring her house is like stepping back in time. The garden is free to explore but there is a fee for the house.
After touring the house and garden, catch the ferry back to Bowness.
And now there are options:
Visit Blackwell House
Blackwell House is a beautiful Grade 1 listed building about a mile and a half up the hill from the ferry and there is plenty of parking. The views from the grounds across the lake are wonderful and the house itself, decorated by leading Arts and Crafts designers, is well worth exploring. The house has had a very interesting history over the years.
Visit Windermere Jetty
Windermere Jetty is a relatively new museum which tells the story of boats and industry on the lake. Windermere Jetty is about a mile from the jetties where the current day steamers operate and there is a large carpark there. This museum is an interesting piece of architecture in its own right and serves as a beautiful gallery for the collection of boats on display. There is also a lovely cafe in the Jetty with wonderful views over the lake.
And in the evening….
After a busy day exploring you are perhaps now ready for the journey home, but if you are staying for the evening, you may wish to check out some of the dining options below. In summer there is also the option of an evening cruise on the lake.
One Day in the Lake District with Children
If you are spending a day in the Lake District with children, depending on their age and interests you may like to consider
Morning: Sail on the lake and ride in a steam train
Take lake cruise as above, but rather than going to Ambleside, go in the other direction to Lakeside. This is the “Yelllow Cruise”. When you disembark, walk across the car park to the small train station. The steam train runs to Haverthwaite just a few miles away and is very scenic. The young ones can let off some steam there in the woodland play area and there is a tea room for the adults! More information can be found at Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway.
Afternoon: take the boat (or the open top bus) to Brockhole
In the afternoon take the Red Lake Cruise or the open top bus (see details above) to the Lake District Visitor Centre at Brockhole. If you take the cruise option, note that only the smaller boats, not the big steamers, call at Brockhole. Brockhole is a huge park area on the shores of the lake operated by the Lake District National Park. There is a range of activities available here including kayaks to hire, an adventure playground, archery, mini golf and a tree top adventure course. Look out for special themed experiences, such as the Hallowe’en event! These are really popular and pre-booking is essential.
If you do visit Brockhole, look out for my son, Ben, who works there. Say hi!
You can, of course, swap the order of these activities.
Places to eat or enjoy a glass
There are lots of places to eat and drink in the area, from cafes and fast food outlets, to very up-market, Michelin starred restaurants. I shall, however, restrict my comments here to just a few that you might like to try in order to experience the flavour of the Lake District.
- A visit to the Lake District is not complete without calling in to a traditional Lakeland Pub! One of my favourites is The Brown Horse at Winster, a 6 or 7 minute drive from Bowness. It is a very traditional pub and they serve wonderful, locally sourced food.
- Another favourite is the Cuckoo Brow Inn across the lake in Sawrey. It is worth calling here for lunch if visiting Beatrix Potter’s House. Again, they serve great local food and a variety of local ales. If the weather is good, this is a great place to sit outside.
- If you visit Grassmere on your one day visit to the Lake District, the Jumble Room is a very quirky restaurant decorated with eclectic “jumble”! The food is imaginative and again, locally sourced.
One Day in the Lake District: what next?
The Lake District is not just about Bowness and Lake Windermere of course: it is a vast area and this article is just a sample, an introductory taster of what is here. Perhaps you would like to explore other areas such as Keswick or Coniston or Buttermere? Visit the Derwent Pencil Museum, Castlerigg Stone Circle – or the wonderful Lakes Distillery? If so, check out my post One Day in Keswick. Perhaps you would like to walk the fells or be adventurous and climb Helvellyn or Sharp Edge on Blencathra? Or England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike? There are also some wonderful low level, accessible hikes in the Lake District and I have written about some of them in Easy walks in the Lake District.
Some of these activities can be undertaken in one day; others may take longer. However, there is so much to see and do in the Lake District, you will never be bored. Watch this space for other articles about how to enjoy the Lake District!
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I really enjoy your photography, Jane. The mirror reflection at the top is breathtaking. The bridge house looks as though it has been there a thousand years, and could stay a thousand more without looking any different.
That is a huge compliment coming from you, Will! However, I should fess up…Peter took that one! Actually, he takes most of the photos.
Ok, here is a compliment for *you,* then:
I appreciate about your writing that I don’t constantly stumble over hideous grammar errors and spelling mistakes. Not to mention the content. Anyone reading it is sure to come away with some esoteric bit of knowledge they have not encountered before.
Aww! Thank you so much Will.
Definitely on our ‘to do’ list – looks amazing! Take care.
This is great. I really like that you’ve covered three different styles of Day Trip travel. We’re more inclined the take the car and do a DIY tour, which we could cover so much by the sounds of it. B Potters house would be such a novelty, I remember those stories from when I was a girl.
I’ve only recently learned about the Lake District and I wish I had known about it before my visit to the UK last year. It’s a gorgeous area. I think I would want to visit Rydal most. St Mary’s Church and Wordsworth’s home are gorgeous! I have also heard there are a lot of Michelin starred restaurants as you said so clearly there is fabulous food in the Lake District too!
These are great itineraries, Jane. Lake Windermere is a beautiful lake and I’ve got wonderful memories of spending time there with my family on the way up to Scotland. What a shame we missed Ambleside, it looks like a cute place. Will put it on the list for next time!
What a great post! Love that you included different options for getting around the area. I’d love to visit the Lake District – it was in the plans for 2020, my friends have a cottage there!
Will definitely bookmark this post for when that day comes 🙂
Make sure to let me know when you can visit!
Great detail Jane. And excellent plan to offer different itineraries. I feel more at home by lakes than by the sea. I think it’s where I’m happiest. Love the photos too
How great that the Lake District of Cumbria has received World Heritage Site status. That view over the lakes at Orest Head looks amazing. Even with some haze. But I would not want to miss a trip on the Windermere Steamer. And the chance to wander around Ambleside. But I am not really a gingerbread fan, so might skip on a famous Grasmere snack. It looks like you might be able to do a lot in a day. But might want to stay longer.
It looks beautiful! One day, some year, we shall see it’s beauty in person!
Really hope so Sue!
We’ve never heard of the Lake District, but it looks like a very relaxing and peaceful place to spend a day. If we’re able to travel again – and if it won’t be too complicated for us to go to the UK(!), we’ll definitely try to spend a day there. Grasmere seems like a place we’ll have to stop at, since we both love gingerbread! 🙂
The Lake District looks lovely, Jane! Hopefully one day I’ll be able to visit! I appreciate the variety of activities you included in these itineraries. Having different itineraries for different types of travelers is a great idea!
Your 3 itineraries of the Lake District all sound pretty amazing. I hope to come back to England and visit this area of Cumbria. I would probably take the car itinerary and go on the car ferry. The Beatrix Potter house I would definitely love to see too, as I used to read these stories to my kids.
This looks like a really nice place to visit. I really like the photo from Cockshott Point. I love any place with water and mountains and even better at the same time.
Hi Jane, this place has been on our list for a long time! Great article! We really hope we can travel again soon and then, finally, hit some more of our places like this one. Thank you for all the great tips 🙂
Lovely – I haven’t been since I was a child. Really love the daffodil shot!!
Thank you. And the photo does not do it justice!
What a beautiful part of the world. That first shot of the reflection is amazing!
The feature photo with the reflection of the mountain is completely out of this world, Jane!
Relying completely on public transport in the Lake District never occurred to me, but might give this a try next time around, as I’m not a huge fan of driving unfamiliar rental cars with my massive hiking boots on, or changing in and out of my boots all the time.
Reading about the Windermere steamer brings back fond memories. We’re definitely planning on doing more water-based fun activities and not limit ourselves to gruelling hiking tours.
This sounds like an amazing place to visit; I love all the photographs of all the different places you can see and tour as well. Thanks for sharing this with us.
These views are stunning. I’d love to see Beatrix Potter’s house!
Sounds like a lovely place to explore. So scenic, and lots of great things to see around the area.