Lake Windermere, how to spend 3 fabulous days in the beautiful English Lake District!
The Lake District in England is one of the UK’s most popular tourist destinations. It’s easy to see why, picturesque lakes surrounded by rolling hills, mountains and forests, as well as charming villages and an abundance of wildlife. Windermere is the star attraction, being the largest lake in England measuring ten and a half miles long, is it renowned for its multitude of water sports, outdoor activities and beautiful rural walking trails. The following post will give you what I think the perfect 3 day itinerary to get the best out of a first time visit to this beautiful part of the world!
Affiliate Disclosure – Lou Does Travel contains affiliate links. If you do choose to make a purchase through these links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to yourself.
How to get to Lake Windermere:
The nearest major airports to Windermere are Manchester to the south and Glasgow to the north. I would suggest staying overnight close to either of these airports and then getting the train to Oxenholme and then transferring to the local line in Kendal straight to Windermere.
From summer 2019 Carlisle Lake District Airport will be open offering flights from Dublin, Belfast and London Southend.
The West Coast mainline runs to the east of the Lake District, connecting Oxenholme, Penrith and Carlisle with London and Glasgow. The main station to connect with Windermere is Oxenholme in Kendal; from here you can catch the local line direct to Windermere. For more information on train timetables and booking trains within the UK check out The Train Line.
Lake Windermere and the rest of the Lake District can be easily reached by bus from most other UK cities. For low cost bus operators in the UK check out National express.
A useful app for checking out routes around the UK and the rest of Europe is OMIO formally GoEuro. This app will give you the best options for plane, train and buses and the ability to book securely through the app.
The Lake District can be easily reached by car from the M6 motorway.
- Take Junction 36 and then A590 for the southern end of the Lake District
- Take Junction 40 and the A66 or A592 for the northern end of the Lake District
Average journey times:
- London and the south east to the Lake District is about five hours
- Manchester to the Lake District: 1 and half hours
- York to the Lake District: 2 hours
- Kendal to Keswick: 1 hour
- Windermere to Keswick: 40 minutes
- Kendal to Wasdale: 1 and half hours
However, please check beforehand if hotel or guest house has parking available, as there is little parking spaces available especially in the smaller towns and villages.
How to get around Lake Windermere:
Walking has got to be the easiest way to explore Windermere and beyond with plenty of walking trails for various levels of fitness, however If you are looking for some easy and more accessible walks including those suitable for wheelchairs, check out Miles without Stiles. This site shows 48 various routes throughout the Lake District National Park suitable for people with reduced mobility, families with pushchairs and the visually impaired.
Road cyclists and mountain bikers are spoilt for choice in the Lake District National Park. There are a range of country lanes, permitted cycle ways and bridleways to suit all experience levels, and you can be sure of fantastic views along the way!
There is a great bus network across the Lake District and Windermere that connects most of the tourist attractions and popular places to visit. Within Windermere and surrounding area you can get a day pass on the open top hop on hop off bus for £8.50 or grab a 7 day ticket for £29. For more details download the Lakes by bus guide here.
One of the best ways to explore Windermere is from one of its many boat routes around the lake with Windermere Lake cruises. There are various routes are prices depending on which route you choose, for more information and to book tickets on line check out the official website here.
Where to stay:
Whatever your budget there is an abundance of hotels, guest houses and hostels located all around Lake Windermere. The most popular place to stay is in Windermere or Bowness on Windermere which is the Lakes main town. However if like me you want to get away from the crowds then I recommend staying in the quieter northern end of the lake in Ambleside. This lovely quaint town has everything you need and is situated within easy reach of most of the popular tourist destinations in the area. In fact one of the area’s most famous waterfalls is situated only a stone’s throw away from the town.
For budget travellers there are plenty of hostels to choose from, I would personally recommend the YHA Ambleside as it’s situated in a beautiful location right of the shores of the lake close to the jetty. Prices start around £15 a night depending on the time of year. If you have never stayed in a hostel before then check out my hostel guide for newbies here for more information on whether hostels stays are for you. They are not for everyone but I find the low cost gives me more money to spend on activities and attractions.
Although I usually choose the hostel option, for my last visit to Windermere I had become so exhausted from working many back to back 13 hour shifts in my job as a nurse that I really just wanted to escape and find some tranquillity, therefore I choose to stay in a local Bed & Breakfast.
I chose to stay in Norwood House Bed & Breakfast perfectly situated in Ambleside town centre only a short walk away from all the shops and restaurants and at only £50 per night for a single room, I thought was a bargain! I could not recommend this place enough, Wendy the host was fabulous and cooked the most amazing English breakfast each morning as well as the usual cereals, fruit, yogurt, fruit juices and of course a good old cup of tea or coffee. The rooms even came equipped with a kettle, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, biscuits etc. as well as bath robes, wine glasses and a bottle opener ready for any pre-evening drinks. The place could not have been any more perfect!
For booking accommodation I recommend using Hostel World for Hostels and booking.com for budget hotels. However if you are looking for something a little more luxurious then I recommend using hotels.com as you will get one free nights accommodation for every 10 nights booked!
Lake Windermere: The Perfect 3 day itinerary:
If you only have 3 days and 2 nights in Windermere then I recommend getting there early in the morning and leaving late in the afternoon on your last day to get the most out of your time in the area. If coming from further afield I would recommend staying a few extra nights in order to have 3 whole days exploring.
As I was only travelling from Liverpool, I got the early morning train up to Windermere; I arrived around 9.30 am far too early to check into my hotel so I quickly stashed my belongings away at the luggage storage centre around the corner from the Windermere train station for £4. If you need to do the same then this is the only place to store luggage in the area, its located in the visitor information centre just down the hill from the train station, for more information check here.
After enjoying a breakfast at your hotel or in one of the many cafes on route from the train station make your way from Windermere down through the main road towards Bowness on Windermere. The walk should only take around 30 minutes and is quite a pleasant downhill stroll. Along the way you will probably pass the Windermere library which has a small exhibition about 300 Jewish children who were evacuated to Ambleside after being liberated from Auschwitz and other concentration camps in 1945. This is a free exhibition and is defiantly worth a visit if you are interested in history, for more information check out the website here.
As you enter Bowness on Windermere you will be met with a vast array of restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops and depending on the time of year hundreds of other tourists! If you fancy it you can visit the popular World of Beatrix Potter attraction, however if this isn’t your thing then carry on walking down towards the water’s edge and the pier.
Once at the pier buy a ticket for the yellow Cruise for £12.50 adults and £7.40 children for a return trip. You can also upgrade your ticket adding either the steam train ride or Lakeside aquarium for an extra £5. I personally recommend the ride on the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Light Railway and then if having time to spare you can check out the aquarium on the way back.
Whilst waiting for your ferry you can relax feeding the duck and Swans or walk along the water’s edge taking in some of the beautiful scenery or do some shopping and maybe get supply’s for a picnic once over in lakeside. For ferry schedules and prices check out the website here.
The ferry itself is a lovely old steamer and has a seating area both inside and outside as well a café serving hot and cold drinks and snacks. The cruise down the lake towards Lakeside takes approx. 45 minutes each way and is a fabulous way to take in the beautiful views along the lake. The cruise also has a running commentary providing information about the sights along the way. Just grab a coffee and relax watching the beautiful scenery pass you by!
Once you arrive at lakeside you will see the train waiting at the station (the train times coincide with the ferry times) Walk along to the platform, pick your seat and get ready to ride this historic steam train all the way across the picturesque Leven Valley towards Haverthwaite station. At this quaint little station you will find a fabulous restaurant serving tasty local delights or you can even book in advance and have a scrumptious afternoon tea! You can also cross over the small bridge to the picnic area overlooking the station here you can sit and watch the trains go by. Either option is great lunch stop.
Whilst at the station you can also check out the views from the small walking trail starting alongside the fabulous kid’s playground or the big kid in you can check out the engine shed and check out various other locomotives and old stream engines.
Once you’ve had enough, take the next train back to Lakeside where you can either check out the Lakeside Aquarium or take the next ferry back to Bowness on Windermere. From here you can pick up your luggage if you have it in storage and then check into your hotel. By now you are probably exhausted from a busy day sightseeing so use the time to have a cuppa and a recharge before heading out for tea and maybe a few beers in one of the many pubs around the lake. If like me you are staying in Ambleside then I recommended The White Lion Pub for some fabulous pub grub and a few beers!
If not staying in Ambleside then take a local bus or ferry connection up to the town. If staying in Ambleside take a short stroll from the town down towards the lake. Whilst on your way keep a look out for the Ambleside Roman fort. This National trust site is free to enter and is mostly visited buy grazing cows! It’s only a small site but defo worth a quick visit, just be sure to watch out for the cows as some of them didn’t look to happy to have us humans wandering through their territory!
Next head on down to the lake and small pier, if it’s a cold morning then grab a coffee from the cute little café overlooking the lake, the cakes looked amazing as well! Today I recommend getting the Green cruise with a round trip costing £9 for the day on one of the smaller traditional wooden launches. The cruise stops at two other locations, both worth a visit.
The first stop takes you to Wray castle, the castle itself, although looks old was in fact only built 180 years ago by a Liverpool surgeon who only needed the castle to defend itself from the Cumbrian weather! The castle is now owned by the National Trust and is free to enter for its members; if not a member it is £11 per adult and £5.50 per child. If travelling around the UK and planning to visit many National Trust sites then I recommend joining onsite for only £6 a month for adults giving you free entry to the castle on the day. Although the castle has no furniture inside, it’s a lovely place to explore as well as the surrounding area. If you fancy there are various walking trails leading from the castle to various other parts of the lake as well as some beautiful viewpoints.
Once back on the boat then next stop is Brockhole which is now a huge adventure playground for both adults and children with plenty of outdoors activities including a tree top adventure and kayak and boat hire. Even if having a go at many of the activities on offer it’s still a lovely place to explore. I defo recommend Brockhole if you have kids, although be prepared for the costs of activities on offer to add up! For more information on the activities on offer, prices and visitor information check on the website here.
Once finished over at Brockhole take the boat back to Ambleside, if feeling a bit peckish The Waterside Inn on the shores of Lake Windermere near to the pier is a great place for tea or even just a few cheeky beers!
If you are still feeling energetic why not take a walk up to one of the Lake District’s most famous waterfalls, Stock Ghyll Force. To reach the waterfall, head up through Ambleside past the White Lion Pub and keep a look out for Stock Ghyll lane. Half way up the lane you will find signs for the waterfall, be careful though as the trek up can be a bit slippery especially in wet weather with lots of uneven ground. The walk itself is only about 30 minutes but can be quite steep in parts; however the views of the waterfall are amazing! I walked up there in the rain and it was awesome, just watch out for some precarious edges, don’t risk getting too close!
If like me you need to check out, most hotels will keep hold of your luggage until you are ready to head home.
After a hearty breakfast catch the 555 or 599 bus to Grasmere, it’s probably worth getting the £8.50 day saver. The ride to Grasmere is only around 30 minutes and if the weather is nice then I recommend sitting upstairs and making use of the open top bus to get some amazing views of Radal water and Grasmere Lake, simply stunning!
Once you arrive in the sleepy village of Grasmere, take a walk up to Alan Bank House. Along the route there are also other walking trails if you wish to explore more. Alan bank house is now owned by The National trust and once again members can enter for free, non-members the cost is £8.25 per adult and £4.70 per child.
The house and its grounds was once the home of the National Trust founder Canon Rawnsley and is a beautiful place to explore and relax. Within the grounds are woodland with many walking trails as well as an up and coming vegetable garden. There are plenty of spots to pull up one of the many available deck chairs and enjoy a cuppa whilst watching out for the famous rare red squirrels which live in the woods. You could literally spend all day relaxing helping yourself to the tea and coffee available by donation only. This place really is situated within a beautiful location high up the hill with the most amazing views of the lake below.
After spending some time at Alan bank take a walk down through the main road towards Dove cottage. The cottage itself used to be the home of the famous poet William Wordsworth; however the cottage and grounds are currently closed due to refurbishment so please check before visiting. Whilst walking through the town you will pass the famous Gingerbread shop, this place is one of the smallest shops I’ve ever visited and if you like gingerbread the smell alone is worthy of a visit! After tasting some incredible gingerbread continue walking and you will come across the Wordsworth Daffodil garden and the church in which William Wordsworth and his family are buried.
From here you can either, take the walk all the back towards Rydal visiting Dove cottage if open or you can catch the same bus as before and take the short journey to Rydal Mount.
Once off the bus walk up the steep hill to Rydal Mount. This beautiful house was another of William Wordsworth houses and the place where he died in 1850. This place is truly stunning! The house itself has been left exactly as it was with all the original furnishing and the grounds are immaculate. Entrance fees are £7.50 per adult and £4 per child. This was one of my favourite places I visited whilst in the Lake District.
After Visiting Rydal Mount take the short walk down the hill and pop into Rydal hall and Gardens. This place is free to enter and has some beautiful gardens that are worth a visit. It’s a beautiful spot to grab a cuppa and relax taking in the more of the beautiful countryside views!
Once finished head back down the hill and turn right.You will find a great pub, the Badger Bar and Restaurant to have a bite to eat. Just a short walk across the road you will also find some more scenic walks along Rydal water.
If like me by now it’s time to catch the bus back to Ambleside, head back to the hotel, pick up my bags and say goodbye to the Lake District.
I hope you have enjoyed this 3 day Itinerary in Lake Windermere. Of course there are many other things to see and do in the area and some people may even want to do a hell of a lot less but I think this itinerary gives a good overview of some of the popular attractions and well as exploring some of the beautiful scenery.
Have you been to the Lake District or Windermere is there anything else you would add? Let me know in the comments below. Plus if you have enjoyed reading this article then please share on your favourite social media and subscribe to hear more about my travel adventures.
Thanks for reading,