Penrith lies at the north-east edge of the Lake District, in the Eden Valley. Ullswater is the nearest of the lakes, 6 miles away, while Carlisle, the county town of Cumbria, is situated around 20 miles to the north.
Penrith is easily accessible thanks to its location where two major roads - the M6 and the A66 - meet, and it’s a popular destination with visitors to the Lake District and the wider region. Once the capital of Cumbria, the town has a fascinating history that encompasses its strategic military importance during the Roman occupation of Britain, ancient henges (stone circles), and links to poet William Wordsworth.
Today, many of the town centre’s beautiful buildings are a testament to its history, made from the local red sandstone that is thought to give Penrith its name.
Things to do in Penrith
There are plenty of things to do in and near Penrith and they don’t have to cost the earth. A trip to Penrith Castle Park – named after the ruins of the 14th-century Penrith Castle that lies within it – should be on your agenda as there are lots of things to keep the kids busy, with a play area, crazy golf, tennis courts and rose gardens.
If the weather’s not great for outdoor exploring, then why not let the kids get rid of excess energy at Penrith’s swimming pool? It’s located within Penrith Leisure Centre alongside a smaller children’s pool, a soft play centre, a sports hall and a climbing wall.
Take a walk around the town and see history and modernity hand in hand. Cobbled streets lead to listed buildings and familiar shops; wander down medieval Sandgate and Burrowgate, Penrith’s oldest streets; visit the grave of the giant King of Cumbria at St Andrew’s Church; and explore local history at Penrith and Eden Museum.
Outside the town, the Penrith Beacon watches over the landscape, offering wonderful views of the Lake District hills. Ancient monolith Maybergh Henge lies just south of Penrith and not far beyond you’ll find the prehistoric earthworks known as King Arthur’s Round Table. Just 7 miles north-east of the town, the neolithic stone circle Long Meg and Her Daughters is an awe-inspiring glimpse into the area’s distant past.
A visit to Penrith isn’t complete without a trip to Rheged, a contemporary creative space within an impressive grass-covered building. It houses an independent cinema, shops and a gallery that stages both local and travelling exhibitions, as well as art classes, including weaving, drawing, painting, printing and photography. Kids love the indoor soft play zone and there are often workshops they can get involved in too.
Depending on the time of year you’re visiting, you might be lucky enough to watch the Mayday Carnival (held on the first Monday in May) or The Winter Droving Festival, which takes place in late October or early November and celebrates Penrith’s rural heritage. A high point of this is the torch-lit procession through the town that takes place at dusk.
Summer brings the Penrith Agricultural Show, which has been held regularly since 1834. It takes place in July at Brougham Hall Farm and is a celebration of British agriculture, with livestock competition classes, rural crafts, local food suppliers and equestrian sports. There are also lots of things to do for families, including a dedicated entertainment area with activities and demonstrations to keep the kids amused.
Things to do near Penrith
A short drive from Penrith, the majestic Lowther Castle and its 130-acre gardens now welcome visitors after many years of neglect. Once an opulent stately home, the building was reduced to a shell without a roof by the 1950s. But extensive restoration and conservation work starting in 2008 saw the site open to visitors in 2012.
The garden in the ruins, the rose garden and the parterre are just three of the horticultural highlights of the site, while for children, the Lost Castle provides hours of fun. It’s one of the largest adventure playgrounds in the country, with slides, walkways, zip wires and crawl-throughs. You can even hire bicycles to explore the wider estate, which includes the medieval Lowther Deer Park.
For visitors to the Lake District, a trip to Penrith’s many shops is a must. As well as familiar high street names, you’ll find many quaint boutiques, specialist retailers and independent stores. Family grocers, artisan bakery and delicatessen J & J Graham can trace its history back to 1793, while The Toffee Shop has been conjuring up sweet treats since 1910 – handmade fudge its speciality!
The town’s main shopping districts include Devonshire Street and Market Square, the Devonshire Arcade, Little Dockray, Middlegate and Cornmarket. There’s a general market every Tuesday and a farmers’ market that takes place monthly in Market Square.
Arts venue Rheged is home to several independent retailers, including craft, ceramic and outdoor stores that mustn’t be missed if you’re heading there for an exhibition or workshop. Equally, a trip to Dalemain Mansion & Historic Gardens, home to the World Marmalade Festival, is an opportunity to buy the best marmalade and it’s just 3 miles from Penrith.
Places to eat and drink in Penrith
A visit to Penrith wouldn’t be complete without sampling the local Cumbrian cuisine. There’s everything from Cumberland sausage and regional cheeses to Kendal mint cake and Grasmere gingerbread, all washed down perhaps with a glass of Dalemain marmalade gin. Lovely!
Restaurants in Penrith
Askham Hall, the home of Allium | Credit: Askham Hall
There are restaurants to suit all tastes in Penrith, with menus from around the world. Sample Mexican fare at Salsa or try tapas at La Casita. Italian, Indian and Chinese cuisines are all represented in the town, or choose casual dining at Grants of Castlegate, Foundry 34, and Four & Twenty.
If fine dining is more your forte, then the Michelin-starred Dog and Gunn Inn, and Allium at Askham Hall are both within 7 miles.
Head down to Ullswater to discover delightful venues including Another Place, The Lake, which overlooks the water, 1863 at Pooley Bridge and Granny Dowbekins Tearooms.
Pubs in Penrith
A trip to Penrith wouldn’t be complete without a visit to a traditional pub. There are loads of them to choose from, including The Royal, General Wolfe, The Castlegate Arms, Dappers Bar, The Board & Elbow Inn and Dockray Hall.
A tour of the local hostelries is definitely a great way to get to know the locals and a perfect experience of Penrith at night.
Cafes in Penrith
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to cafes and takeaways in Penrith, no matter how hungry or thirsty you are. Simply Goodness Vegetarian Takeaway Bistro prides itself on its wholesome plant-based dishes, while the Narrowbar Café offers all-day breakfasts, as well as a range of home-baked cakes.
Speaking of cake, The Lemon Tree Cafe Bistro does a tangy Lemon Drizzle, while Three Crowns Teashop and the Garden Tea Room both serve cakes and scones alongside their selection of teas.
Head to Chapter 12 Coffee Rooms for more cake, try the coffee at Cosy Cup or discover Fika, the cafe within a flower shop. It’s a Swedish term that embraces coffee, cake and good friends, so why not sit back and embrace your Scandinavian vibe?
Discovering the town on foot is a lovely way to get to know your surroundings: meander through the old streets and look out for the town’s many listed buildings or stroll through the gardens of Castle Park.
For a more in-depth exploration, try one of the seven town trails that include The Musgrave Trail, The Wordsworth Trail and The Beacon Trail.
Head into the Lake District National Park and embrace the beauty and splendour of the mountains and hills: tackle the 20-mile Ullswater Way – or part of it – that circles the lake, or try the short (1.5 miles) walk around Aira Force, the most famous waterfall in the Lake District.
Stay in Penrith
With so much to explore in and around the town, you must be excited to have a look around and make plenty of discoveries for yourself. And, with a selection of wonderful self-catering accommodation, you’re bound to have a truly delightful stay!
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please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.