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A Lake District Itinerary – what to see and do in one day

The Lake District is one of the United Kingdom’s most popular destinations attracting over 24 million annual day visitors. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017 the Lake District National Park covers an area of 2362 square kilometres and is England’s largest national park.

With stunning lakes, tarns, woodland and mountains the Lake District is one of the most beautiful areas to visit in England.  

If you are planning a trip to the Lake District there are lots of things to consider so you may be wondering where to begin. You may be asking yourself questions such as:

  • When is the best time to visit the Lake District?
  • How many days should I plan to stay in the Lake District.?
  • Which Lake District towns should I visit?
  • What are the best things to do in the Lake District?
  • Where is the best place to stay in the Lake District?
  • What are the best tours to take in the Lake District?
  • What can I see in the Lake District in one day?
  • What restaurants and pubs should I add into my plans and finally what is the best Lake District itinerary to ensure I make the most of my visit?

These questions and more will be answered in this comprehensive guide to visiting the Lake District National Park. This article details not only a suggested one day Lake District itinerary but also other ideas for those of you who wish to spend more than 1 day in the Lake District. For example you could extent this itinerary for a weekend in the Lake District or even longer.

Find out the best things to do in Lake District and also the main attractions around each of the lakes in the area.   I have also included practical tips and advice to ensure you make the most of your visit to the Lake District.

Looking for the best accommodation in the Lake District? Check out our location and accommodation guide which includes special stays for all travel styles and budgets – Click to read our guide to Where to stay in the Lake District’

What to see and do in the Lake District – an overview

Although you may expect to find lots of lakes in the Lake District there is actually only one out of the sixteen which is officially a lake by name.

Bassenthwaite Lake is the only lake in Lake District as all the others including Windermere (which is actually the largest natural lake in England) are classed as ‘waters’ or ‘meres’ – Grasmere, Ullswater, Derwent, Coniston, Buttermere, Thirlmere, Haweswater, Ennerdale Water, Crummock Water, Wastwater, Loweswater, Rydal Water, Elterwater and Esthwaite. 

As well as the 16 lakes there are also several tarns including Blea Tarn, Overwater Tarn, and Little Langdale Tarn. Tarns are small mountain pools or lakes and as you may discover some of the tarns are actually quite large!

Which of the lakes should you add to your itinerary?

First of all decide if wish to take a steamer or ferry across one of the lakes during your visit to the Lake District.

If you decide this is something you want to do you will need to add one of the following four lakes into your Lake District Itinerary as these are the only lakes to allow private powered craft and a public boat service – Windermere, Coniston Water, Ullswater or Derwent Water.

The steamer and boat routes offer multiple stops too so you have the option of exploring the surrounding areas.

Map showing the locations of main ‘Lakes’ and tarns in the Lake District

Lake District Mountains, Fells and Moors

Home to 10 of England’s highest mountains the Lake District is the most mountainous region in the country. At 978 metres high Scafell Peak is the highest.

With over 200 fell* tops the Lake District is an ideal destination for walkers and hikers. If you are interested in walking in the Lake District take a look at Short walks in the Lake District or 50 Walks in the Lake District. Arthur Wainwright also wrote many pictorial walking guides which are extremely popular. 

Also don’t miss my guide to 11 scenic walks and hikes – there are lots of ideas to add to your Lake District itinerary!

(*The term ‘fell’ is used to describe a mountain range and is often used to describe these landscapes in northern England and Scotland.)

View over the Lake District
Stunningly beautiful views

Lake District’s literary and art connections

I wandered lonely as a cloud 

That floats on high o’er vales and hills 

When all at once I saw a crowd, 

A host, of golden daffodils


As anyone who has ever studied those words at school will know the Lake District has been an inspiration to many writers and artists over the centuries.  

William Wordsworth’s poem (and guide to the area), written in the 18th century, sparked the first tourism to the area. Other ‘Lake poets’ included Samuel Coleridge and Robert Southey who lived and worked in the Lake District in the early 19th century.  

Wordsworth is not the only literary figure associated with the area with iconic children’s literary figures Beatrix Potter (Peter Rabbit) and Arthur Ransome (Swallows and Amazons) also drawing inspiration from the beautiful Lake District.  

Artists such as JMW Turner and John Constable flocked to the Lakes in the late 18th century. Many artists, including LS Lowry and Sheila Fell, have continued to paint stunning northern landscapes. 

Daffodils at the Lake District

10 Best things to do in the Lake District

Here are my top 10 things to do and see during a Lake District trip

  1. Take a cruise on Windermere
  2. Enjoy the views over Coniston Water
  3. Visit Hill Top (the home of Beatrix Potter)
  4. Castlerigg Stone Circle
  5. Grasmere and Dove Cottage
  6. Ullswater
  7. Derwentwater and Keswick
  8. Take a hike – there are numerous hikes to choose from in the Lake District
  9. Have a traditional Cumbrian afternoon tea
  10. Have a drink at a Lake District pub or inn!

1. Take a cruise on Windermere

I am starting with Lake Windermere because it is the most popular and best-known attraction in the Lake District.

There are lots of things to do in Windermere but due to its popularity it is extremely busy in high season so be prepared if you are visiting in summer.

I would recommend heading to Bowness-on-Windermere as early in the day as possible if you plan to take a boat trip across the lake.

Parking is not easy especially during the summer months. The parking machines take cash (no change is given) and also accept Visa and Mastercard.

You have two boat routes to choose from – Bowness to Lakeside return or Bowness to Ambleside return. 

  • Cruise from Bowness to Lakeside Pier on a single ticket (40-minute trip) or return on a non-stop 90 minute cruise.
  • For Bowness to Ambleside choose between a 70 minute non-landing cruise or a 30 minute cruise each way.

Do you like the idea of a private sailing experience on Lake Windermere? Why not charter a skippered yacht for a 2-hour sailing experience, get involved and take control of the yacht or just sit back and enjoy the stunning scenery unfold around you? For more information click here!

Good to know

  • I recommend heading to Bowness-on-Windermere as early in the day as possible if you plan to take a boat trip across the lake. Parking is not easy, especially during the summer months. The parking machines take cash (no change is given) but also accept Visa and Mastercard.
  • I also recommend booking tickets in advance, especially during the summer, as the queues can be long as this is a popular choice of activity for most visitors to the Lake District.

Here are some of my top picks of experiences to book in the Lake District:

Windermere in the Lake District

2. Coniston Water

Coniston Water is one of my favourite places to visit in the Lakes. Overlooked by the Old Man of Coniston the lake is popular for water sports including sailing, kayaking and canoeing.

At 8 kms long and less than 1 km wide this was the site of the devastating crash which killed Donald Campbell during his attempt to break the water speed record in his jet engined hydroplane Bluebird K7 in 1967.

Prior to 2009 it was possible to visit the original Bluebird Café but after major flooding that year left the cafe totally submerged it had to be rebuilt.

Although it for me it slightly lacks the charm and character of the original it is still worth popping in for a cup of tea (or even afternoon tea) and wonderful views of the lake.

There are boat trips across Coniston Water with a stop at the former home of John Ruskin a leading art critic of the Victorian era. The Ruskin museum in the village of Coniston has a collection dedicated to Donald Campbell including the remains of the Bluebird K7.

Recommended tour option 

This 3 1/2 hour tour departs from Windermere, Bowness and Ambleside and includes Tarn Hows, Coniston Water and the valleys of Great Langdale and Little Langdale.

Coniston Water in the Lake District

3. Hill Top

Left to the National Trust by Beatrix Potter after her death Hilltop is one of the most popular attractions in the Lake District.

The farmhouse and gardens are delightful to visit and you enter the world of Peter Rabbit and characters when you step over the threshold. It is easy to see where she drew inspiration for her stories!

Entry to Hill Top is via a timed-ticket system and tickets cannot be booked in advance. It does get extremely busy in the summer and on my first visit we were unable to get tickets to see Hill Top which was very disappointing.

I would recommend visiting early in the day (the house and garden opens at 10 am) Please also note that opening times change over the winter when the house and garden are only open at weekends.

Please check the official Hill Top website for further details.

To avoid disappointment booking a tour is an option especially as they include a guaranteed entry.

My recommended tour options for Beatrix Potter fans include:

4. Castlerigg Stone Circle

Skip Stonehenge with its crowds and head for another of England’s stone circles. The Castlerigg Stone Circle consists of 38 stones dating back to the Neolithic period. This makes it amongst the oldest stone circles in England.

Castlerigg Stone Circle

5. Grasmere and Dove Cottage

The beautiful Lake District village of Grasmere offers visitors a plethora of attractions and activities.

For lovers of William Wordsworth don’t miss Dove Cottage which was the first family home of William Wordsworth. To learn more about the poet head to the Wordsworth museum which is adjacent to the cottage.

There are lots of cafes and tearooms to choose from and I highly recommend the Dove Cottage Tearooms for a cuppa and slice of cake.

When in Grasmere don’t miss the famous Grasmere gingerbread shop. The shop is tiny, the queues are long but believe me the gingerbread is second to none!

My recommended tour options for William Wordsworth fans include:

6. Ullswater

Arguably the most beautiful of the lakes Ullswater is best seen whilst enjoying a ride on one of its traditional steamers. These boats operate all year and call at various locations around the lake.

Spending a day at Ullswater hopping on and off the historic steamers is easy. There are lots of great walks around the lake, or you can enjoy a traditional Cumbrian cream tea on the terrace of the Inn on the Lake at Glenridding.

Recommended tour option 

Ullswater in the Lake District

7. Derwent Water and Keswick

Derwent Water is located south of the Lake District market town of Keswick. At three miles long and one mile wide the area around Derwentwater is extremely beautiful and a very popular destination for walkers.

There are boat tours (the Keswick Launch)  available across Derwentwater and this is the really the best way to see the area. Driving around the area can be tricky especially in summer when the narrow roads are busy and the small car parks bursting at the seams.

Cruises last 50 minutes and start and end at the Keswick jetty though you can purchase a hop on and off ticket which enables you to alight at any of the 8 jetties around the lake and explore more of the area before returning to Keswick.

If you are visiting Keswick the lake is a short stroll from the town. During the months of May to November stop off to watch a play enacted by the resident theatre company – Theatre by the Lake.

If you enjoy slightly quirky attractions I would recommend a visit to the Pencil Museum which is home to the world’s largest colouring pencil. The area has large graphite deposits which led to a booming pencil-making industry. For more information about the manufacture of pencils in the area head to the museum.

Keswick market days are held on Thursdays and Saturdays throughout the year (Note – only on Saturdays in December)

Derwent Water
Derwent Water

8. Take a hike!

You really are spoilt for choice in the Lake District if you want to go on a hike, fell walking or even just take a stroll.

The scenery is beautiful wherever you go but suggested walks include

  • The Langdale Valley

This circular route takes around 4 1/2 to 5 hours and is classed as a moderate walk. Start and end tour walk in the Old Dugeon Ghyll Hotel. At the end of your walk reward yourself with a drink at the Ramblers Bar.

  • A circuit of Buttermere

This 4 1/2 mile circuit takes approximately 3 hours and will reward you with some of the best views in the Lake District. Don’t forget your camera to get some stunning images while you stroll!

Buttermere in the Lake District

9. Have a traditional Cumbrian afternoon tea

You can’t beat a traditional English afternoon tea and in the Lake District you can enjoy your tea and cake with some spectacular views!

I recommend experiencing afternoon teas in the Lake District at any one of these spots:

Summer sunset Lake District

10. Have a drink at a Lake District Pub or Inn

If you want to experience an iconic English pub then you are spoilt for choice in the Lake District. With the highest concentration of breweries in the UK there are also a large selection of beers to sample too.

Recommended pubs and inns include

For award winning beers head to

  • Coniston Brewery Co – Bluebird Bitter
  • Hawkshead Brewery – Hawkshead Bitter
  • The Bitter End Brewery – Cockermouth Pride
  • Keswick Brewery – The Thirst Run

If whisky is your drink of choice head to the Lakes Distillery which is an award-winning Distillery located near Bassenthwaite Lake.

A must in any Lake District itinerary is the beautiful views of the lakes at all times of year in this picture autumn leaves of gold, red and orange

11. Bonus – Stay in a log cabin or lodge (with a hot tub!)

Why not book your own log cabin or lodge? Find accommodation to suit your needs, whether it is for a romantic getaway or a family trip.

Lake District view

Where to stay in the Lake District

I recommend staying centrally when considering Lake District accommodation options. In particular, the area around Lake Windermere is an excellent location to consider for accommodation.

If you are visiting on a day trip an early start is highly recommended so take an early train/bus or stay within a comfortable drive to ensure you don’t waste most of the day stuck on traffic or looking for a parking space.

Hotel accommodation options

Looking for hotels in the Lake Windermere area? Check out my complete guide to the best hotels and areas around the lake for your stay.

Accommodation cost guide – per room per night

  • Luxury – £170+ per night
  • Midrange/Boutique – £90-170 per night
  • Budget/ B&B – £44 – 89 per night

Kotel Windermere (Luxury option)

This aparthotel offers guests the choice of a selection of superb apartments.

Only a short 5 – 10 minute walk from the centre of town with lots of dining options to suit all tastes.

In summer relax on the terrace with a drink after a long day of sightseeing and enjoy the light warm evenings. 

With free private parking this is a great location for your Lake District explorations.


Ambleside Salutation Hotel and Spa (Boutique/Mid-range option)

Located in picturesque Ambleside this beautiful hotel offers free parking, spacious rooms and scenic views towards Wansfell.

Enjoy the leisure club and swimming pool, sauna, spa bath and beauty spa during your stay. 

With a brasserie located in this 17th-century building and traditional rooms all classically decorated this is a wonderful choice of accommodation in the Lake District.

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Westmorland Inn (Budget/B&B option)

Located in Bowness on Windermere the Westmorland Inn is only 200 metres from the World of Beatrix Potter. This 3 star hotel offers guests free WiFi, private bathrooms and a bar. 

The Westmorland offers great value for money  for visitors to the Lake District.


Click for our complete guide to where to stay in Windermere

How to get to (and around) the Lake District

If you are considering how to get to the Lake District there are a number of different options. If possible consider public transport such as bus/train/boat/bicycle when visiting as the number of cars particularly in the summer months can make certain areas very congested.

By air

After a 25 year break flights have recently (June 2019) resumed to Carlisle Lake District National Airport. Loganair a Scottish based company are operating routes from Dublin, Belfast and London Southend to the Lake District.

By rail 

My preferred method of transportation and the most environmentally friendly is to take the train. It is possible to travel by train to Oxenholme Lake District and then change trains for Windermere.

From London the journey takes approximately 3 hours. There is a direct train available between Manchester and Windermere.

I recommend purchasing tickets through the trainline in the UK – they sell tickets for train and bus travel throughout the UK and Europe.


By bus

There is a comprehensive network of bus services that covers the Lake District. Download the Lakes by bus guide via this link.

By car

Visiting the Lake District by car would be my least advisable option especially during the busy summer months. Roads are single lane, parking can be a nightmare and it can take far longer than anticipated to get from A to B.

Another option would be to Park and Explore – for £18 you receive a park and explore ticket which offers unlimited travel for up to 5 people travelling in the Stagecoach bus services Central Lakes Dayrider Zone. Click this link for more information about Park and Explore in the Lake District.

Hiker looking over the Lake District

By steamers and boat cruises

For me this is one of the best ways to experience the beauty of the Lake District. Head to Windermere, Ullswater, Coniston or Derwentwater where steamers and boat cruises operate and offer multiple stops.

On foot

There are lots of great walks to take around the Lake District to suit all fitness levels, abilities and ages.

By bicycle

Take your bike or hire one when you arrive. There are some great cycle routes in the Lake District. Find more information about cycling in the Lake District here.

Take a tour

Another option is to join a small tour and sit back, relax and enjoy the views while you are driven around the area.

Get Your Guide offer some excellent day tours (or longer) and these are my recommended options:

Grasmere in the Lake District

Lake District One Day Itinerary

These are my Lake District itinerary ideas to make the most of a day in the lakes. One day in the Lake District is not long so make sure you plan ahead.

Depending on your interests you may wish to catch a boat across a lake by steamer, go for a hike following one of the many walking routes available, visit some of the beautiful villages and towns, stop for some refreshments in a traditional English pub or perhaps plan your itinerary to include all of these experiences.

This is my suggested one day itinerary to see the best of the Lake District in a day which begins in Ambleside and ends in Keswick.

When deciding which of the lakes to visit and how to make the most of your trip to the Lake District (especially if you only have one day) I would recommend considering where to stay and ensure that it is a central location. My recommendation would be to stay in or near Ambleside or Bowness which are situated on Windermere.

A foggy Lake Windermere

MORNING  – Windermere

If you are driving to Windermere it is important to get there as early in the day as possible if you plan to take a boat trip across the lake.

As I have mentioned if you are travelling by car you may find that parking is a challenge. The parking machines take cash (no change is given) though do accept Visa and Mastercard.

You have two boat routes to choose from if you depart from Bowness which are Bowness to Lakeside return or Bowness to Ambleside return. I recommend taking both especially if the weather is good.

Cruise from Bowness to Lakeside Pier on a single ticket (40 minute trip) or return on a non-stop 90 minute cruise. For Bowness to Ambleside choose between a 70 minute non-landing cruise or a 30 minute cruise each way.

If you begin in Ambleside you can sail to Bowness and then catch the other boat to Lakeside Pier.

Stop off for lunch in Bowness, Ambleside or Lakeside Pier depending on time.

At the marina in Bowness the “Boathouse Bar and Restaurant” serves homemade food, local beers and great views.

In Ambleside head to the “Priest Hole Restaurant and Tea Rooms” for traditional Cumbrian fare.

AFTERNOON – Coniston Grasmere Derwent Water Keswick

I would recommend planning your afternoon itinerary around the location of your accommodation for the evening. It is entirely possible to spend an entire day at Windermere.

There are lots of options including fell walking from Ambleside, catching the Haverthwaite Steam Railway from Lakeside, visiting the Lakes Aquarium at Lakeside, stroll to Hill Top from Ferry House (a ferry ride from Bowness) and more.

If you are staying in or around Windermere/Ambleside I would recommend an afternoon drive to Coniston Water. If you are staying in Keswick I would head to Derwentwater for the afternoon via Grasmere.

Please note that if you decide to visit Hill Top or any of the popular attractions in the Lake District it is important to plan ahead and book tickets especially during the busy summer months.

If you have time I would try to visit all of these 24 beautiful villages and towns in the Lake District. 

If you are considering a longer visit to the Lakes I would recommend these stunning places and exploring the Lake District in three days

Map of top things to do in the Lake District/Lake District itinerary map

“You may leave the Lake District, but once you’ve been, it’ll never leave you…”


This guide to Lake District including the top 10 things to do in the Lake District as well as a suggested one day itinerary and a map to help you plan your visit to the Lake District will provide you with all the information you need to start planning you visit.

The Lake District is one of the most beautiful and popular destinations in the UK and I am sure you will enjoy your trip (whether you spend one day in Lake District or longer)

Enjoy your day in the lakes.