Adventure & Travel Blog Lake District Lovers

Lake District Breaks Without a Car

bowness on windermere lake cruises

When I was invited by Cumbria Tourism to put car-free travel in the Lake District to the test, I jumped at the chance. Admittedly, I was initially a little dubious about embarking on Lake District breaks using only public transport. However, once I set off on my journey, I soon discovered how easy and stress-free it was to navigate between places using only trains, buses and boats.

A Car Free Adventure in South Lakes

There’s no doubt that travelling around the Lake District without a car opens up a world of possibilities, from leisurely hikes along scenic trails to serene boat rides across the lakes. Whichever part of the country you’re travelling from, the well-connected public transport system lets you sit back and enjoy the ride as you soak up the epic scenery. And what’s more, you’ll be feeling somewhat smug that you’re doing your bit for sustainable travel when you choose an eco-friendlier journey.

avanti west coast train
Avanti West Coast train

Getting to the Lake District by Train and Bus

The Avanti West Coast mainline is the easiest and most direct service that takes you into the Lake District. Travelling from London Euston or Birmingham, the direct route takes you to Oxenholme in just 2.5 hours. Alternatively, if you’re travelling from Glasgow, you can reach either Carlisle or Penrith in 1.5 hours.

I was pleasantly surprised at how punctual Avanti was, and the journey on board was equally as impressive with plenty of charging points, free Wi-Fi and a small bar selling drinks and snacks. Following a quick connection from Oxenholme to Windermere, I took the 599 Stagecoach bus (from right outside the station) to Bowness Pier and in just 8 minutes I was in the heart of South Lakes. Accompanied by an interesting commentary about the landmarks we passed, the open-top bus was a great way to see more of the town and learn about its history.

stagecoach 599 bus
Stagecoach bus

Find out more about –  Stagecoach and Avanti

Cycling in the Lake District with Total Adventure

A pretty walk along the shore of Windermere soon brought me to Total Adventure bike hire at Ferry Nab where I was given the use of an e-bike, complete with a handy route guide and map.

total adventure bike hire in the lake district
Total Adventure Mountain Bike

Exploring the Lake District on an e-bike offers a fun and sustainable way to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the region. E-bikes are great for all skill levels, and you’ll certainly appreciate it when tackling some of the more challenging Lakeland hills.

The Wray Castle and Hilltop route via Claiffe Heights is fantastic as it steers you along Windermere lakeshore to some great places. The terrain is a mixture of tarmac, cycle paths and bridleways and the mountain bike made easy work of any hills and rocky ground.

Taking the ferry across Windermere, I headed along the lake shore and up to Wray Castle. This magnificent Gothic revival castle is definitely worth visiting on Lake District breaks and if you want to explore the sprawling grounds, there are bike stands available. You’ll also find a café, toilets and a children’s playground here.

wray castle windermere
Wray Castle

After exploring the castle and gardens, I jumped back on the saddle and continued the route to Claife. The National Trust viewing station here offers one of the best panoramic views of Windermere, framed by its brightly coloured windows. The final push to Hilltop, once home to famous author, Beatrix Potter, is rewarded with a relaxing downhill ride through Far Sawrey and back to the ferry.

claife viewing station things to do in windermere
Claife Viewing Station

Find out more about – Total Adventure

Lunch in Bowness-on-Windermere

I’d certainly worked up an appetite on my bike ride, so I made my way back along the lakeside to Bowness Tap Rooms. Located on the main stretch down to the pier, this quirky restaurant is passionate about its craft beers and artisan dishes. You’ll find a diverse menu with hand-stretched pizzas, gourmet burgers and antipasti platters to choose from.​

Find out more about Bowness Tap Rooms

bowness tap rooms
Bowness Tap Rooms

Windermere Lake Cruises

I wandered back down to Bowness Pier to board ‘Miss Cumbria’ on a beautiful cruise to Lakeside. I was grateful for the heated cabin and mini bar! A lake cruise is a great way to discover the raw beauty of Windermere on Lake District breaks, and a Freedom of the Lake ticket lets you explore the entire lake within 24 hours. With a fleet of elegant vessels, these cruises provide a peaceful escape and let you relax and unwind while enjoying the panoramic fell views and listening to the on-board commentary about famous landmarks.

bowness on windermere spring walk
Miss Cumbria

Find out more about –  Windermere Lake Cruises

Lakeside Pier to Newby Bridge

It took around 40 minutes to arrive at Lakeside Pier, where you can visit the Lakes Aquarium or watch the steam trains run along the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway.

lakeside and haverthwaite steam train
Lakeside and Haverthwaite Steam

A relatively short walk along the West Windermere Way took me by the river and past the heritage railway. This recently opened trail spans approximately 10 miles, passing through villages, lush woodlands and open fields, and along the way, you’ll see diverse wildlife and historic landmarks.

west windermere way and gummers how
West Windermere Way

The Swan Hotel & Spa at Newby Bridge

What better way to end my adventure-filled day than at the iconic Swan Hotel & Spa at Newby Bridge. This luxurious retreat teeters on the banks of the River Leven and is steeped in history and charm. There was plenty of time to explore all of the building’s wonderful little nooks and crannies and relax in my Splendid River View Room, before making my way to the restaurant for dinner.

swan hotel room
Splendid River View Room at the Swan Hotel

The restaurant is a vibrant space blending Lakeland artwork and chic furniture with exposed stone walls, sash windows and a large open fireplace. An extensive wine list and seasonal menu flaunts the local produce and the chef’s imaginative creations. For starters, I opted for the slow braised pig cheeks with sherry jus, which just melted on the tongue. For mains, the honey glazed duck breast was bursting with flavour and cooked to perfection.

restaurant at the swan at newby bridge
Swan Hotel restaurant

Holte Spa

The following morning, I immersed myself in the thermal spa journey, which was a real treat and a great way to end my stay.  As well as an indoor/outdoor hydrotherapy pool, Jacuzzi, steam room, Finnish saunas and experience showers, there’s also a range of indulgent treatments and therapies on offer at the Holte Spa.

Find out more about – The Swan Hotel & Spa at Newby Bridge

swan hotel and spa at newby bridge
Holte Spa

My return journey home was straightforward and hassle free, with the Stagecoach bus stop on the other side of the bridge outside of the hotel. Following a scenic bus journey to Kendal and a quick connection back to Oxenholme, I caught the return Avanti West Coast train.

newby bridge
Newby Bridge

During my car-free adventure in the Lake District, I experienced a deeper connection with nature that I would have missed if I’d have travelled by car. It’s surprising how much more you notice when you’re free from the steering wheel. Being able to explore at my own pace, taking in the sights and sounds without the distractions of traffic and parking, was especially liberating.

If you haven’t already experienced car-free Lake District breaks, I’d highly recommend giving it a go.

Find out more about how to Go Car Free in the Lake District, Cumbria – Visit Lake District

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