Windermere is the longest lake in the Lake District and the longest lake in England! Measuring 10.5 miles long (just over 18km), it’s also 219ft deep (66.7m) and just under 1 mile wide (1.5km).
While commonly referred to as Lake Windermere, its true name is actually just Windermere. This common variation is often used to differentiate between the lake and the village of the same name!
Because of the vast area it covers, there are so many wonderful things to do around Windermere. It’s no wonder that this is many visitors’ favourite part of the Lake District. Just read on to find out what you can get up to! And don’t forget to look for your perfect holiday cottage near Windermere.
Windermere Lake Cruises
If you’ve never been to Windermere before (and even if you have!), a great way to start getting to know the area is on a cruise of the lake. There are all sorts of options including circular trips, an Islands Cruise, and linear routes. You can also buy joint attraction tickets and ‘Freedom of the Lake’ passes that allow you to hop on and off as many times as you like over 24 hours. Some services run year-round and others are seasonal. See the Windermere Lake Cruises’ website for full details.
What could be better than walking around Windermere? This was the place that Alfred Wainwright – famous author and fellwalker – is said to have first fallen in love with the Lake District. There are plenty of options for all levels too. Enjoy a Miles Without Stiles route along the western shore, or experienced hikers can take on the intimidating ridge walk of the Fairfield Horseshoe. Take a look at some of our favourite walks near Windermere.
Visit the Towns and Villages
Though it’s a long lake, the number of built-up areas around Windermere is minimal, which helps make it such a fabulous location. The towns and villages that do surround the water, though, are an absolute delight. Ambleside at the head of the lake has lots of excellent independent shops, a waterfall trail, and the quirky Bridge House. On the east shore you have the town of Bowness-on-Windermere and the village of Windermere sitting next to one another: check out the many different eateries and live music evenings.
There are always boats to be seen bobbing tranquilly on Windermere, and you can easily get out on the lake under your own steam. There are numerous boat hire providers around the shores, including at Bowness Bay Marina, Fell Foot Park, and Windermere Lake Cruises. Pick from a number of vessels including motorboats, rowboats and kayaks. You could even take a couple of days on a sailing course to really learn the ropes!
Wild swimming has seen a huge boost in popularity thanks to its health benefits and ease of access. Windermere is a popular spot for it too, with plenty of sheltered bays to set off from. There are a number of guides in the area, including Swim the Lakes and Sleeker Swim. Or, if you’re really experienced, sign up for the Great North Swim or one of the numerous triathlons that take place in and around the lake.
Eat and Drink
Foodies are spoiled for choice around the lake, with the small towns and villages packed with culinary delights and wonderful bars and inns! From Michelin restaurant HRiSHi in Bowness to hearty pub grub, there’s something to suit every taste. You’ll also find an excellent range of local and world ales, gins, and wines on offer. Read our guides to eating out in Bowness and Ambleside.
Follow in the Footsteps of Beatrix Potter
Beatrix Potter spent holidays and eventually made her home in the area around Windermere. Her characters are brought to life at The World of Beatrix Potter in Bowness, and you can visit her former home at Hill Top, which has been preserved as she had it during her life. She also spent a holiday at Wray Castle, and you can see some of her work at The Armitt Museum.
If you’re ready to get wet and wild, then you’re in luck! It’s easy to guess that a lake like Windermere has lots of outdoor adventure activities on offer. Make your way down river canyons with ghyll scrambling, hire a motorboat to explore the lake, or float serenely across the water on a paddleboard. There are also plenty of adrenaline-pumping activities above the lake! Take to the skies in a hot water balloon or a helicopter, or climb through the canopy at Treetop Trek at Brockhole.
There are lots of cycling opportunities around the lake, so you can whiz by while admiring the views. Wray Castle has a wonderful lakeside cycle track, or you can head deep into Grizedale Forest for excellent mountain biking routes. Bike hire is available from numerous locations, including Grizedale and Brockhole, and you can even make use of the ferry to get you from A to B – perfect for a day without the car!
Lovers of gardening, flowers, trees and shrubs will absolutely delight in Holehird Gardens. The 10-acre site is home to the Lakeland Horticultural Society and open daily from dawn to dusk. There something for every season too, with spring favourites giving way to a colourful burst of summer flowers, before the colder months set in and the hardier plants come into their own. The walled garden is the spectacular centrepiece, but you could spend the whole day wandering the numerous gardens and greenhouses.
Stott Park Bobbin Mill
Tucked away in tranquil woodlands of High Stott Park is Stott Park Bobbin Mill. Celebrating the industrial heritage of the area, the English Heritage attraction used to produce millions of bobbins for the Lancashire spinning and weaving industries. Today its output isn’t so high, but it is still the only working bobbin mill left in the Lake District! You can enjoy insightful tours, exhibitions, and demonstrations of the machinery during your visit.
Owned by the National Trust, Wray Castle is a fascinating ornamental building that, despite being costly to its original Liverpudlian owner, has spent little time as a home! It has had many functions, including as a youth hostel and offices, and even once hosted a 16-year-old Beatrix Potter! Now it’s a popular visitor attraction with stunning views over the lake, extensive gardens, and a café. Kids in particular will love the furniture-free building, which is just the ticket for a good run around. Perfect if you want to burn off a bit of their energy!
Fell Foot Park
This National Trust-owned lakeshore park has stunning mountain views, sloping lawns, and plenty of footpaths to wander along. You can hire boats and paddle boards, try your hand at orienteering, or pack a picnic. Other foodie options include The Boathouse Café and wood fired pizza from the Pizza Landrover! Find out more about Fell Foot.
Claife Heights Viewing Station
When the Victorians first started visiting the Lake District, the fashion was to find the perfect viewpoint and admire the countryside from there. Claife Heights is one such location and it’s easy to see why with its unending views of Windermere. Looking like a miniature castle, its windows are bordered by colourful stained glass that represents the seasons.
Museums and Historic Houses
There are plenty of fabulous opportunities in the area to step back in time. The Windermere Jetty Museum is a fascinating look at the boats and history of the lake; Blackwell is a beautiful celebration of the Arts & Crafts movement; and pretty Townend is an atmospheric former yeoman’s house.
Brockhole Lake District Visitor Centre
For a full day of fun you could hardly choose anywhere better than Brockhole! The house and gardens stand proudly on the shores of Windermere and are a veritable playground. You (and the kids!) are truly spoiled for choice, with activities that encompass everything from archery to boat hire, and karting to a woodland faerie trail. There’s also a good café, exhibitions, a shop and regular events throughout the year.
Lakeside Steam Train Trips
Step back in time via a trip on The Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway. Old-fashioned steam trains chug their way from Haverthwaite, along the shores of Windermere, to the terminal at Lakeside. They offer a unique view of the lake and you can purchase a combined ticket to allow you to visit other local attractions, or continue your journey with a cruise across the water.
Discover what lies beneath the watery depths at the Lakes Aquarium! This brilliant attraction includes a recreated ‘journey under Lake Windermere’ where you can see close-up the native fish and ducks. There are also plenty of more exotic creatures, including piranhas and Asian otters, which you can admire on a trail that takes you around the world!
Self-Catering Holiday Cottages near Lake Windermere
We’re positive you’ll have plenty to do during your stay around Windermere. After a day of exploring, make sure have a wonderful holiday cottage to return to where you can relax, reflect on your day, and plan tomorrow’s excursions!