Penrith is situated just outside the Lake District National Park in the North West of England. Its the perfect place to base yourself for exploring the Northern Lakes and the surrounding area. Read on to discover some of the best things to do in Penrith. From the best places to visit to where to stay and how to get there.
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Penrith is not the prettiest town in the area but its central location is a great place to base yourself especially if on a tight budget. There are lots to discover including many stately homes, ancient ruins, beautiful landscapes and adventure activities. Its the perfect place for a short break in the Northwest of England!
15 Fabulous things to do in Penrith:
1. Penrith Castle
If you arrive in Penrith by train then it will be hard to miss Penrith Castle. These lovely ruins date back to the 14th century and sit proudly next to the train station.
The castle sits within the grounds of castle Park and is maintained by English Heritage. Although small, it’s a lovely castle to wander around. The adjoining park is also worth exploring with different areas of interest with a bandstand and rose covered verandah walkway. It’s a lovely place to enjoy a picnic and watch the world go by.
The castle is free to enter and is open during park opening hours. For more information check out the English Heritage website here.
2. Aira Force
Aira Force is known as one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the whole of the Lake District. Made up of several waterfalls and woodland glades it definitely lives up to its reputation! Its a fabulous place to enjoy a scenic walk and climb up to the various levels taking in all its power and beauty. Afterwards enjoy a delicious cake and coffee in the Aira Force tea room!
There are various trails around the area. The biggest and most spectacular is the full circular route taking you uphill to the top of the falls. If short on time you can take the trail half way up which takes you across the fabulous stone bridge. However, if able I recommend taking the time to climb to the top and see some of the other falls and rocky waterways.
You can get to Aira Force either by getting the 508 bus from Penrith. This bus stops conveniently outside the Aira Force tea room. If already at the lake you can also take one of the Ullswater Steamers to the Aira Force jetty.
Aira Force is free to enter and is maintained by the National Trust. For more information check out the website here.
3. Dalemain Mansion
Dalemain Mansion is situated halfway between Penrith and Pooley Bridge, however not easily accessible via bus. I personally visited whilst walking from Penrith to Pooley Bridge so that is an option if you enjoy a good walk. If not a taxi maybe the only option if no access to own transport. You can also reach the Dalemain Estate from Pooley Bridge by following the Dalemain loop walking trail.
The Estate itself is set in amazing gardens including a fabulous hedged dragon and the famous Himalayan Blue Poppy. Access to inside the house is only available in the summer months with general tickets for the house and gardens priced at £12.50. However specialist tours are also available to book giving you the change to see behind the scenes.
Visiting the house gives you the chance to wander around and learn more about the history and life of the people who lived here over the years. Whilst wandering around keep an eye out for some little surprises such as the tiny mouse house under the stairs!
Today the house is famous in the area for its Marmalade Festival and awards. Every year hundreds of competitors showcase their home made marmalade’s from around the world in the hope of being crowned the best in the world! The onsite shop and tea room also offers some of its tasty marmalade treats as well as selling many homemade treats to take home.
Before leaving Delemain be sure to check out the beautiful Red Deer grazing in the fields behind the estate. The estate is situated in the heart of the Red Deer conservation Park, home to the oldest Red Deer heads in all of England.
Just a 20 minute ride on the 508 bus from Penrith you will find yourself in the quint village of Pooley Bridge situated on the Northern shore of beautiful Ullswater.
You can if you fancy it walk the route like I did but its not the most accessible at times with no pathways and walking through fields with grazing sheep. If up for the challenge then the route takes around 2 hours and does offer some beautiful scenery along the way, just be prepared for muddy fields!
Ullswater itself is the Lake Districts 2nd largest lake and offers some of the most spectacular scenery in area. You can take one of the lake cruises to travel around the lake. Hop on and off tickets are available at various jetties around the Lake.
5. Climb a mountain
Being within close proximity to the Lake district makes Penrith a great base to exploring the beautiful fells around Ullswater. There are various walking trails and hiking trails on offer. Some of which offer panoramic views around the lake and surrounding area.
Some of the more popular trails include the Ullswater Way, Lowther Castle loop or the Dalemain loop. For a more strenuous walk why not head up one of the fells to catch some of them fabulous views!
6. Penrith Beacon
Penrith’s stone-built beacon is one of the most recognisable landmarks in the Penrith area. It crowns the summit of Beacon Hill. The fell rising behind the town to the northeast, and marks the spot where countless beacons were lit over the centuries to warn the population of potential raids.
The monument was built in 1719 and replaced an earlier structure on the same site. It is likely that a beacon in some form or other has been sited here since 1296.
If staying in the centre of Penrith then its worth while taking a walk up to Penrith Beacon for some fabulous panoramic views across the Eden Vally.
7. Lowther Castle and Gardens
Lowther Castle is one of the most magnificent ruined castles in England.Built in the beginning of the 19th century. The castle was a grand affair boasting a room for every day of the year. Its gardens were the envy of the north. But in 1957 the castle was demolished. Just the façade and outer walls remained standing and for over half a century, the place was empty, home only to chickens, pigs and the odd bat.
Although the castle remains in ruins, the vast gardens have been brought back to life and offer a peaceful and scenic place to spend an afternoon. The castle also has many walking trails and cycle paths that lead you through some of the most beautiful scenery in the Lake District.
The castle also offers a scrumptious afternoon tea in the beautiful surroundings of the Sculpture Gallery, booking are essential thought.
8. Mayburgh Henge
Just a short walk from Penrith close to Eamont Bridge. Here you will find the ancient Mayburgh Henge as well as the adjacent King Arthurs Round Table.
Mayburgh henge is a large Neolithic henge surrounded by banks up to three metres high. In the centre stands a single standing stone. Old drawings suggest others once stood near by but they have since been removed.
Down the road you will also find King Arthurs Round Table which is a Neolithic earthwork henge, dating from about 2000 BC, but much later believed to be King Arthur’s jousting arena.
Both sites are only small and you will only need a few minutes to visit each site but those who are interested in history will find these places fascinating.
Both sites are maintained by English Heritage and free to enter, for more information check out the English Heritage website here.
9. Carlisle Castle
Just a 20 minute train journey from Penrith you will be in the cathedral city of Carlisle. The city itself is a great place for shopping or finding some great restaurants but its also home to some historical sites such as the beautiful cathedral and the fabulous Carlisle Castle.
Carlisle Castle has a rich history and dates back to 72 AD when the first Roman fort in the city was established. The Castle once played a major part in the border defence of the English against the Scotts. It also held ‘Mary Queen of Scotts” in the castles tower after she detained by order of Queen Elisabeth I, her own cousin in 1568.
The castle itself is situated close to Hadrians wall. Although most of the wall and forts alongside it are now long gone, the castle once provided garrison support for many of theses outposts to help defend against the Scotts.
The castle is maintained by English Heritage and is £7.50 for adults, however English Heritage members can access the site for free. If travelling around England and visiting many sites they I recommend becoming a member for a small free of £5 a month. For more information on Carlisle Castle or joining English Heritage check out the website here.
10. Hadrians Wall
Hadrians Wall stretches 73 miles from Wallsend near Newcastle, across the neck of England to Bowness-on-Solway in North West Cumbria. It was built in 120 AD and housed a fort at 7 mile intervals and look out stations ever mile.
From Penrith there are various parts of Hadrians Wall to visit such as Birdoswald Fort, the longest remaining stretch of the wall.
Most parts of the wall can be accessed easily with public transport by travelling upto Carlise first then taking a local bus to the sites. Most of the sites along the wall are managed by English Heritage with further information found on the website here.
Whilst I was there last September I ventured further afield and visited Vindolanda, one of the largest excavated forts that have been found close to Hadrians Wall. It was a bit of a trip from Penrith but it was very much worth while and would definitely recommend a trip if interested in Roman History and have plenty of time to spare. For more information on Vindolanda check out the website here.
Rheged is a grass roofed Lakeland Heritage centre situated on the outskirts of Penrith and is easily accessed via public transport. The complex houses a 3 D cinema, theatre, exhibition space as well as numerous food outlets, children’s indoor and outdoor play area, shops and a spa.
The centre holds various activities and events throughout the year with plenty of offering both for adults and children alike.
12. Hutton in the Forset
This historic Cumbrian house is situated on the edge of the Lake District National Park only a short drive from Penrith.
Inside the house you will be taken on a wonderful journey through time. As you make your way Into the house you will pass through the remarkable Stone Hall, a dungeon-like room with immensely thick walls that contains a display of weaponry and a fearsome mantrap. As you travel through the house you will visit many other beautiful rooms such as the Cupid Room, Lady Darlington’s Room and the Cupid Staircase. Throughout you will also find many historic items such as pottery, furniture and even early Willam Morris wallpapers.
Surrounding the house is the immaculate gardens which showcase an amazing walled garden, many terraces and topiary, a low garden and pond as well as a woodland with several walking trails.
You will also find the Cloisters Tea Room serving delicious home made treats, sandwich and teas.
13. Adventure sports
Like most places around the Lake District Penrith has plenty of outdoor actives on offer. Some of the most popular sports in Penrith are cycling, Kayaking or even Mountain Skills with many others available from the numerous activity centres and tour companies in the area.
Some companies of interest include:
14. Long Meg and her daughters
Just a short drive from Penrith you will find one the best stone circles in England. Measuring 250 metres in diameter it’s also one of the biggest. Long Meg is the tallest of the 69 stones and stands at 12 feet tall.
It is thought the circle dates back to 1500 BC and was once used as a meeting place or for some form of religious ritual. Long Meg is made of local red sandstone, whereas the daughters are granite.
Local legend claims that Long Meg was a witch who with her daughters, was turned to stone for profaning the Sabbath, as they danced wildly on the moor. The circle is supposedly endowed with magic, so that it is impossible to count the same number of stones twice, but if you do then the magic is broken.
15. Brougham Castle & Hall
In a picturesque setting beside the crossing of the River Eamont, Brougham Castle was founded in the early 13th century. The great keep largely survives, amid many later buildings including the unusual double gatehouse and impressive ‘Tower of League’.
Unlike most ruined castles in England you can still climb up to the top of the keep and check out the lovely views of the surrounding area.
Once finished at the castle, take a short walk to Brougham Hall where you can relax in the cutest cafe and enjoy some homemade treats.
How to get to Penrith:
Penrith can be easily reached via junction 40 of the M6. Using motorways from Manchester it takes approximately 2 hours, whilst from the Midlands Keswick is around a 3 hour drive. The average journey time from London is approximately 5 1/2 hours.
The recently opened Carlisle Airport now operates flights to Dublin, Belfast and London Southend. Flights can be booked on the Loganair website.
Penrith is within easy driving distance of several airports. All airports offer car hire and have easy access to the M6.
Newcastle Airport 1 3/4 hours
Manchester Airport 2 hours (There is a train station at the airport)
Edinburgh Airport 2 1/2 hours
Glasgow Airport 2 1/2 hours
Liverpool Airport 2 1/4 hours
Blackpool Airport 1 3/4 hours (Daily flights to the Isle of Man, Belfast and Dublin)
Penrith has its own station which forms part of the West Coast Main Line.
National Express offers cheap fares to Penrith from other major cities within the UK, click here for the National Express website for current offers and pricing.
Getting around the local area:
With only living a few hours away from the lake district I have visited the area countless times and believe the area is one of the most beautiful in all of England. On most occasions I have travelled to the Lake District by train therefore only utilising public transport to get around and can fully recommend the area for those without their own transport such as foreign travellers and backpackers.
For up to date information on routes around Keswick and the rest of the Lake District either download the Stagecoach app or check out the Stagecoach website here.
If wanting to visit parts of Hadrians Wall then check out the special AD122 Bus which runs a circular trip around some of the popular sites. For more information check out the website here.
Where to stay in Penrith:
Penrith has accommodation for every budget and every type of traveller. Accommodation around the town generally comprises of B&B’s and guest houses. Further afield you will find all sorts of options from campsites to luxury resorts. If relying on public transport then I recommend staying with the town of Penrith in order to utilise the public transport network.
I personally always choose a local B&B that’s situated within the town centre and close to all the local amenities.
On my recent trip to Penrith I stayed in the lovely Red Town House which had the loveliest rooms as well as one of the best cooked English breakfasts I’ve ever had and fabulous hosts! At only £50 a night for a large double room it was well worth it, I would defiantly recommend!
So there you have it my best things to do in Penrith. Have you been to Penrith, would you add anything else to this list? 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,