The best Lake District boat trips holiday cottages

The best Lake District boat trips

Kim 24 May 2024

What could be better during a visit to the Lake District than exploring the water by boat? It’s a relaxing way to see some of the best areas of the national park; you can admire the mountains, spot fish, birds and other wildlife, and even enjoy live music. 

Boat trips aren’t available on all Lake District lakes, but you’ll find regular cruises and ferries on the biggest and most popular: Windermere, Ullswater, Derwentwater and Coniston Water. Use them to explore the whole lake or to get around without the car – no need to find pesky parking or navigate tight and narrow roads!

Read our guide to the best Lake District boat trips and sit back as you admire the view. Don’t forget to pick a nearby cottage; then it’s just a stroll down to the nearest pier.

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Keswick boat trips

View through trees of the Keswick Launch boat on the lake

The Keswick Launch takes you around Derwentwater, the jewel in the crown of the North Lakes. On the edge of the popular market town of Keswick, Derwentwater is small when compared to other lakes on this list, but holds its own through pure spectacle. Enjoy views of the likes of Skiddaw, Blencathra, Catbells, and the ‘Jaws’ of Borrowdale.

There are just two boat trips around Derwentwater – clockwise and anti-clockwise. Both take in all seven jetties, and you can either sit back for the full 50-minute round-trip, book a single fare to a specific location, or buy a pass to hop on and off as you please.

If you choose to explore the individual jetties, there’s plenty to be seen, especially for walkers. Lodore is the perfect place to start exploring the valley of Borrowdale or to stop off for a meal or spa day at the Lodore Falls Hotel & Spa. You could get off at Ashness Gate and take a short (but steep) walk up to the famous Ashness Bridge and Surprise View. Or hop over to Hawes End to start an excellent hike up Catbells.

Keswick boat trips – good to know:

  • Summer cruises run starting at 9.45am from Keswick, approximately every hour
  • There is a reduced service throughout winter, with only two or three boats a day each way
  • Cruises are subject to weather conditions – please check before heading out
  • Ticket fares for the Keswick Launch start at £3 per adult for a single or £1.50 for children
  • Dogs are welcome free of charge
  • Please note that there are no facilities on board

Windermere lake cruises

Windermere Lake Cruises boat gliding across the water

A boat trip is a handy method of transport around the biggest lake in England – there are eight piers to explore along its 11-mile length. And, with bustling towns and spectacular natural scenery to see, it’s no wonder that Windermere Lake Cruises is one of the most popular attractions in the Lake District!

Yellow Cruise

This 90-minute round trip runs throughout the year and takes in the south of the lake from Bowness-on-Windermere to Lakeside. At Bowness, you can enjoy the atmosphere, shops and eateries of the popular town, while at Lakeside you’ll find connections to popular attractions such as the Lakeside & Haverthwaite Steam Railway and Lakes Aquarium.

Red Cruise

Close up of a white steamer boat on Lake Windermere

Explore the slightly shorter but no-less lovely northern end of Windermere from Bowness to Waterhead near Ambleside. It’s just 75 minutes for a round trip, with a few smaller boats stopping at additional piers for Brockhole and the Windermere Jetty Museum. We think it’s well worth taking extra time to visit these fantastic attractions!

Islands Cruise

If the islands of Windermere have captured your imagination and you’d like to have a closer peek, then the Islands Cruise is for you! This is a round-trip from Bowness-on-Windermere and allows you to get up close and personal with islands both big and small. Though there’s no option to stop off, you’ll get close enough to have a good nosey.

Green Cruise

Wray Castle with countryside and Lake Windermere in the background

The Green Cruise only runs throughout the summer and utilises the smaller wooden launches for a very pleasant round trip to some of the best-loved attractions of the area. Visit the grounds and building of Wray Castle folly, let the kids run riot at Brockhole, or wander the streets of bustling Ambleside.

Full Lake Cruise

Combine the red and yellow routes to take in the entire length of Windermere on this full-lake boat trip. This is perfect if you’ve got a fine day and are after a relaxing activity. Or you can just utilise this ticket to pop off and pop back on again, as and when you want. It’s a great way to experience everything that Lake Windermere has to offer.

Buffet Cruise

Make your boat trip on Windermere a little more special on a Buffet Cruise. Only available during the summer, you’ll travel from Bowness on a round trip of the entire lake. Dig into a two-course buffet while you listen to live music and admire the evening light over the water.

Evening Cruise

Wooden jetty on Lake Windermere at sunset

Another special event, Windermere’s Evening Cruise is a romantic option timed perfectly to watch the sun set behind the mountains. A small onboard cafe bar sells drinks and snacks throughout the 75-minute circular boat ride from Bowness.

Windermere lake cruises – good to know:

  • Dogs travel for free
  • Bikes allowed on larger vessels, subject to space, at £2 per bike
  • Facilities on larger boats include toilets, a full bar with food and drink, and indoor and outdoor seating
  • Each cruise includes commentary on local history and points of interest
  • Ticket fares for Windermere Lake Cruises vary greatly based on route but start at £4.35 for adults and £2.60 for children
  • Please check the website for individual cruise timetables – timetables are subject to weather conditions

Ullswater ‘Steamers’

Ullswater Steamer on the lake with a background of high fell

Though there are only four piers on Ullswater – including the iconic Pooley Bridge Pier – the real show here is the scenery. Ullswater is widely regarded as the most beautiful of all the lakes in the Lake District, and its ribbon shape means you can’t see from one end to another, allowing for plenty of surprising views to open up as you travel the length by boat.

The ‘Steamers’ themselves are also iconic. The five boats form one of the largest heritage fleets in the world, while one of the boats – Lady of the Lake – is thought to be the oldest working passenger boat in the world, despite having sunk several times and caught on fire! There’s lots of history wrapped up in these boats, making an Ullswater cruise a really special experience.

The old boat house at Pooley Bridge

A full circular trip will take you from Glenridding Pier and lasts for about 2 hours. Other piers are close to attractions and popular villages, or you can use them to connect the start and end points of walking routes. Pooley Bridge Pier is a famous photo opportunity and is close to Pooley Bridge village with various pubs and shops; Howtown drops you onto the Ullswater Way walking route; Aira Force is just a short stroll from the famous Lake District waterfall; and Glenridding opens access to excellent walking, including the ever-popular Helvellyn and Striding Edge.

Special events

Along with the standard Ullswater cruises, a number of special event cruises take place during the summer months. Watch the sunrise on a dawn cruise (don’t forget your camera!), gin cruises partner with local shop Chestnut House, and foodie cruises promise a hearty meal alongside your trip.

Ullswater 'Steamers' – good to know:

  • Dogs welcome onboard for £1 per dog
  • Bikes (£3) and paddleboards (£4) can be brought on-board, subject to space – availability is limited
  • Ullswater ticket fares start at £9 for adults and £6 for children
  • Timetables are seasonal and subject to weather conditions
  • Fully licensed bars on all boats

Coniston Launch

Several small boats moored at Coniston's jetty

Though not as popular as its more famous nearby cousin, Windermere, Coniston is nonetheless a delightful lake to explore by boat. The site of several water speed record attempts (and successes), you won’t be breaking any records on the Coniston Launch, but you will enjoy a relaxing day out on the water.

Red Route – Northern Service

A northern exploration of the lake in a 45-minute round trip taking in Coniston village, Brantwood and Torver. Settle in for the whole cruise in one, or see what each jetty has to offer.

Yellow Route – Wild Cat Island Cruise

Aerial view of Coniston with Wild Cat Island on the left

If you loved the 1980s Swallows and Amazons movie, then this cruise will be a delight. It gets you up close to the famous ‘Wild Cat Island’ seen in the film. Can you spot where the children docked their boat and built their camp? This route will also drop you off at Brantwood if you would like to visit John Ruskin’s former home.

Green Route – Southern Lake Cruise

Taking in the quieter southern end of the lake, the Green Route only runs once a day during the summer, though your ticket will also cover boats on the Red and Yellow routes so you can get around for the rest of the day too.

Brantwood Direct

View across Coniston Water from Brantwood

Short and sweet, the Brantwood Direct takes you from Coniston village to the former home of thinker and reformer, John Ruskin. It’s a straight-there journey at 10am in the morning, so you can approach from the most spectacular viewpoint. Use your ticket on a Red or Yellow route for your return journey.

Campbells on Coniston Cruise

Coniston’s history is partly dominated by Donald Campbell and his multiple speed record attempts, the final of which was sadly fatal. But it’s not all sad news and you can learn more about Donald and his father – another record breaker – on this special cruise, taking place a couple of times a week throughout summer. Take a look at more things to do in the Lake District during summer.

Coniston Launch – good to know:

  • Dogs are welcome on board for 50p per dog – flat-coated Retrievers travel free of charge in honour of the founders’ dogs
  • Ticket fares start at £5.75 for a single adult journey and £2.90 for children
  • Coniston Launch timetables are seasonal and subject to weather conditions

Coniston Steam Yacht Gondola

The Steam Yacht Gondola heading across Coniston Water

Image credit: Brian Sherwen

Coniston is also home to the National Trust’s Steam Yacht Gondola, a beautiful rebuilt Victorian vessel. Your Coniston cruise will be full of charm on this unique steam-powered boat, which has been carefully restored to provide a luxurious experience that was once only available to the very wealthy.

Full Lake Cruise

Get the full impact of the mountain and woodland scenery surrounding the 5 miles of Coniston Water. This full loop is the last cruise of the day, departing from the village at 1.45pm (additional sailing at 3.45pm during summer). There are plenty of details about the Gondola’s history too.

North Lake Cruse

Boat at wooden jetty with Steam Yacht Gondola in the background

Setting sail at 10.45am from the village, this 1-hour boat trip is a great way to relax before lunch. Admire the towering fell known as the Old Man of Coniston and look out for John Ruskin’s former home, Brantwood, from its enviable position high above the lake. It was John Ruskin who is said to have inspired the founders of the National Trust!

Heart of the Lake Cruise

Cultural gems and historical highlights abound on this boat trip. Look out for scenery from the beloved Swallows and Amazons series and see the location of Donald Campbell’s multiple world speed record attempts. You’ll end the cruise at Brantwood House and Gardens, which you can explore in your own time before catching the final Gondola of the day, or one of the Coniston Launches, back to your starting point.

Coniston Steam Yacht Gondola – good to know:

  • Dogs are welcome on board subject to space
  • Tickets fares for the Steam Yacht Gondola start at £17.50 for an adult, or £8.75 for a child – under 5s go free, and National Trust members receive a 10% discount
  • There are no facilities on board
  • There are only three or four cruises a day, subject to weather, at 10.45am, 12pm, 1.45pm and (during summer only) 3.45pm

Plan your Lake District getaway near the water

Tinker Beck Farm, a large holiday cottage near Coniston Water

Tinkler Beck Farm near Coniston Water

If you love to be out on the water, then you’re in luck with the number of options for a Lake District boat trip! Wherever you’re staying in the national park, there’s bound to be an excellent cruise just a short distance away. Take a look at our range of cottages with lake views and start planning your perfect Lake District getaway.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.

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