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Adventure & Travel Blog Lake District Lovers

Top 10 Villages & Towns in the Lake District and Cumbria

lake windermere ambleside

Because there are so many beautiful places to visit, we’ve cherry-picked the top 10 villages and towns in the Lake District and Cumbria. From hiking hotspots to romantic retreats, you’ll be in your element wherever you visit.

1. Kirkby Lonsdale

Regarded as the gateway to the Lakes, Kirkby Lonsdale provides the perfect spot to explore this beautiful region. The Cumbrian town is filled with history and abounds with ancient architecture and sites. Families who enjoy local history will love the chance to visit The Vault. Tucked behind the Tourist Information and Gift Shop you’ll find the former bank. Once storing riches, The Vault is now home to seven films – tales of local tragedy, love, and intrigue. Once you’ve viewed the films, take what you’ve learned to explore the town.

If getting out and about to feast on landscapes is a priority, visit Ruskin’s Views. Follow the signs from St. Mary’s Churchyard to Church Brow. Here you’ll be treated to uninterrupted views of Lune Valley and Underley Hall. Touring done, enjoy one of the many cafes or restaurants in the town. Fussy eaters and those with specific dietary requirements need to check out Number 44 on Main Street. The café is known for its delicious vegan cakes and scones, and its controversial, yet tasty, breakfast lasagne.

Highlights:

  • Mary’s Church View
  • Ruskin’s View – named after the renowned poet, artist and conservationist
  • 12th/13th century Devil’s Bridge
  • The Vault
  • Salt Pie Lane

2. Keswick

It’s easy to see why Keswick has become known as one of the best towns in the Lake District. Nestled between the towering mound of Skiddaw and the tranquil depths of Derwentwater, Keswick’s landscapes are sensational. The 13th century market town is a hotspot for anyone wanting to enjoy outdoor activities. Explore the landscapes by bike, dive into some watersports, or simply go for a hike in the fells. The town is well-equipped for outdoorsy types with several bike hire shops and adventure activity companies in situ.

Yet, you don’t always need to be on the go to enjoy this town. Take things at a slower pace with an amble around Derwentwater and discover why Beatrix Potter loved Keswick so much. The author was known to spend summers at Lingholme and Fawe Park located to the north west of the lake. Potter even went so far as to feature the stately homes and gardens in her books. If you’re a fan of the unusual, get yourself and the kids down to the Keswick Museum and Art Gallery. Opened in 1898, its exhibits include the famous, 700-year-old cat, a gruesome man trap, and a Penny Farthing Bicycle.

Highlights:

  • Lingholm and Fawe Park
  • Derwentwater
  • Keswick Museum and Art Gallery
  • Friars Crag
  • St. John’s Victorian church
  • Keswick Mountain Festival – annual summer festival of music, activities, sports, and talks
Derwentwater from Catbells
View of Derwentwater from Catbells

3. Bowness-on-Windermere

The popular Lake District town of Bowness-on-Windermere is perched on the shores of Lake Windermere. Bowness and Windermere are two separate towns but have been coupled to create a tourist hotspot. The area’s success began with the opening of the railway line from Oxenholme and Kendal to Windermere. Fortuitously for Bowness, it was the nearest town to the lake accessible by train. And, of course, you can’t miss a trip to the magical World of Beatrix Potter.

There are plenty of outdoor adventures in the Lake District among the spectacular scenery. Visitors to the area can hire instructors and guides for hikes, watersports and treetop treks. If you’re feeling confident, hire a canoe, kayak or paddleboard for some fun on the lake. Looking for something a little more relaxing? Charter a yacht as a romantic surprise for your partner and experience the beauty of Lake Windermere.

Highlights:

  • The World of Beatrix Potter tourist attraction
  • Windermere Steamboat Museum
  • 15th century St. Martin’s Church
  • Lowside – a network of streets that are the oldest part of Bowness
  • Lake Cruises
bowness on windermere
Bowness-on-Windermere

4. Ulverston

This quintessential market town stands on the Furness Peninsula in south west Cumbria. Ulverston is strewn with meandering, cobbled streets and historic buildings relaying its rich history. At its heart, you’ll find Coronation Hall which houses a theatre and Tourist Information Centre. History lovers will be eager to visit St Mary’s Church, a Grade II Listed building which was restored in 1804 following a storm. Its tower, Norman style doorway and stained-glass window are among its most impressive features.

Ulverston, birthplace of Stan Laurel, is full of surprises and is home to a statue of Laurel and Hardy in County Square as well as the Laurel and Hardy Museum. As well as playing host to independent shops, lively festivals and snug pubs, it is one of the few towns that still has a town crier.

Highlights:

  • Laurel and Hardy Museum
  • Coronation Hall
  • Outdoor market
  • St Mary’s Church
  • Sir John Barrow’s Cottage
  • Ford Park

5. Grasmere

Known as the home of poet, William Wordsworth, Grasmere is perhaps the most famous and arguably one of the most beautiful villages in the Lake District. Grasmere Water is a short stroll from the village and is one of the smallest lakes in the Lake District. Although power boating isn’t permitted, you can still hire a rowing boat to explore the beautiful waters of the lake.

There are so many quaint shops and landmarks in this village that it’s difficult to know where to start! We suggest beginning with a walk to the shrine of William Wordsworth in the grounds of St. Oswald’s Church. One of the most visited literary shrines in the world, the churchyard lies beside the River Rothay. The riverbanks provide a pleasant setting for a stroll as does the William Wordsworth Daffodil Garden. You can even own a share of this garden and have an engraved stone set in the path. Your next stop has to be the old village school which was built in 1630. It was here that Wordsworth, his wife, and even his sister, taught during the early 19th century. The school has since been converted into Sarah Nelson’s Gingerbread Shop.

Highlights:

  • Grasmere Water
  • St. Oswald’s Church
  • Wordsworth Daffodil Garden
  • Dove Cottage – a previous home of William Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy
  • Grasmere Gingerbread Shop
Grasmere water
Grasmere Water

6. Ambleside

Keen to go clambering over picturesque hillsides? Head to Ambleside to get your outdoor activity fix. Like Bowness, Ambleside is perfectly located for exploring Lake Windermere and has become one of the more popular towns in the Lake District. Take advantage of the location and hire a rowing boat or motorboat and set off on a mini-expedition. Ambleside is filled with stunning hotspots such as Stock Ghyll Force – a 70-foot waterfall, and Stagshaw Gardens.

History buffs need to visit the Armitt Museum which houses archaeological remains, paintings and many other exhibits. Families will love cramming into the two rooms of the famous Bridge House over Stock Ghyll beck. This tiny abode sits on an equally small bridge and is believed to be the most photographed building in the Lakes. With plenty of cafes and pubs in the area, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to dining. Sup an award-winning cask ale at The Ambleside Tavern where dogs are welcome and live entertainment is free.

Highlights:

  • Stock Ghyll Force
  • Armitt Museum
  • Bridge House
  • Waterhead Pier
lake windermere ambleside
Lake Windermere

7. Coniston

Don your walking boots and get ready for some outdoor adventures in Coniston. Rising behind the village is The Old Man of Coniston. This fell is popular with hikers and is a feature of many signposted walks in the region. Coniston has had many residents and visitors of note, including Beatrix Potter; critic, John Ruskin; and author, Arthur Ransome. Beatrix Potter owned the Monk Coniston Estate which was left to the National Trust on her death. Again, this area provides some beautiful walks that include trails through woods, farmland and gardens. Go wildlife spotting or chill out on a gondola cruise from Coniston Pier to Monk Coniston.

To find out more about the area’s history, take a trip to The Ruskin Museum where plenty of local artefacts are stored. In addition to being an art critic, Ruskin was a prominent artist and philanthropist. The exhibits at the museum reflect his belief in the power of art over adversity.

Treat yourself to some of the local produce in one of the local cafes. Hollands Café is known for its fresh cream cakes, hot and cold sandwiches and its extensive coffee menu. If it’s a pint you’re after, drop in at the Ship Inn Coniston for some hearty pub grub with fabulous views of the lake.

Highlights:

  • The Old Man of Coniston
  • Monk Coniston Estate
  • The Ruskin Museum
  • Coniston Lake cruises
Coniston Water
Coniston Water

8. Hawkshead

This strictly pedestrianised village centre could have hopped straight out of a storybook, making it one of the prettiest villages in the Lake District. This may go some way to explain why Hawkshead was so loved by Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth. Visitors can park on the outskirts of this tiny village before exploring its cobbled streets and archways. Until the 12th century, Hawkshead was owned by Furness Abbey. The monks also owned Hawkshead Hall of which only Hawkshead Courthouse remains. The Hall now belongs to the National Trust. Visitors can gain access by asking for the key at The National Trust shop in the village.

Following the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century, the village transformed into a market town. History flows through the narrow streets of the village with historic buildings now housing quaint cafes and shops. Flower-fronted cottages lead to cobbled squares opening up to exquisite views of the Vale of Esthwaite. Literary lovers will want to visit the village grammar school attended by William Wordsworth. Here you can see doodles etched into the wooden desks by the great poet himself. As a location once frequently visited by Beatrix Potter, the town pays tribute with its Beatrix Potter Gallery. Here you’ll find original drawings and paintings by the much-loved artist and author.

Highlights:

  • Hawkshead Courthouse
  • The Beatrix Potter Gallery
  • The Old Grammar School
Hawkshead village Lake District

9. Cartmel

The village of Cartmel is widely known for being the home of Cartmel Priory. This stunning 12th century building boasts decorative, stained-glass windows and historic choir stalls. The church survived the dissolution of the monasteries and displays a blend of architectural styles inside. Besides the church, Cartmel has plenty of attractions that draw the crowds. Off the village square, you’ll find the Heritage Centre which was once the Cartmel Priory Gatehouse. The square itself provides plenty of places to sit, chat and enjoy the local produce. If you get the chance, experience the racing days at Cartmel Racecourse, where the monks of Cartmel Priory first started the tradition of racing back in the 12th century.

The King’s Arms and Royal Oak Inn offers fine wines, real ales and perfectly poured pints of lager. The pub is also known for its tasty pies and pastries – perfect for a weary explorer. But if pie and ale don’t quite cut it, head to L’Enclume, Simon Rogan’s Michelin starred restaurant with rooms, nestled on the banks of the river.

When visiting in spring be sure to head over to Holker Hall and Gardens for the Holker Garden Festival. The 400-year-old Holker Hall is home to Lord and Lady Cavendish and is open to the public. Feast on the fabulous displays of antique furniture and art and take a stroll through the lush grounds. Before leaving the picturesque village of Cartmel, make sure you pop into the village shop for some of the famous sticky toffee pudding.

Highlights:

  • Cartmel Priory
  • The Heritage Centre
  • Holker Hall
  • Cartmel Village Shop
  • Cartmel Racecourse
  • L’Enclume
cartmel village bridge
Cartmel

10. Pooley Bridge

At the northern end of Ullswater overlooking the River Eamont, Pooley Bridge is a vibrant village in the Eden Valley. It has become a popular destination for visitors wanting to explore the Lake District towns and villages that surround Ullswater or adventurers looking for water-based activities. Land lovers will also be in their element here as there is easy access to the 20-mile circular walking route of the Ullswater Way.  

Just a short stroll from the village and across the Eamont Bridge, you can board the famous Ullswater Steamers that take you on a scenic boat ride below the gaze of the Lake District fells. This is a great way to begin an adventure up to the famous Aira Force Waterfall.

If you simply want to spend your time here relaxing, you can enjoy warm, summer days looking out across the river from one of the inn’s beer gardens as you tuck into tasty pub grub, or head to a riverside cafe to sample the homemade cakes.

Highlights:

  • Water-based activities
  • Riverside dining
  • Aira Force Waterfall
  • Ullswater Steamers
  • The Ullswater Way
Eamont River from Pooley Bridge

If you’ve enjoyed reading about the villages and towns in the Lake District and Cumbria, why not plan some walks around the national park with our handy guide for beginners.

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