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Top towns to visit in the Lake District & Cumbria holiday cottages

Top towns to visit in the Lake District & Cumbria

Kim 10 December 2021

Cumbria and the Lake District are mostly rural, with only a handful of towns across the whole county, and an even smaller number within the national park. In fact, you can count on one hand the number of Lake District towns!

The lack of built-up areas is what makes our county one of the most beautiful, but it also means that the few towns in Cumbria focus on quality, not quantity. They’re often bustling hubs with beautiful buildings, lots of attractions, and plenty of events to keep you busy during your stay.

Read on to find out more about the best towns in the Lake District and Cumbria. You can also see our pick of 9 of the Lake District’s prettiest villages.

Contents

Frequently Asked Questions

There are four towns within the Lake District: Keswick, Ambleside, Windermere (though this is often referred to as a village), and Bowness-on-Windermere. There are also a number of other popular towns slightly outside the national park, including Kendal, Cockermouth and Penrith.

The county of Cumbria has 28 towns, including four in the Lake District National Park.

Windermere is the largest town in the Lake District by population, with 5,243 permanent residents according to the 2011 census. However, Keswick covers a larger area at just over 220 hectares.

The county town of Cumbria is Carlisle, though this is actually a city. It can be found in the north of Cumbria close to the M6.

Keswick

Keswick bridge and forest

Keswick is a Lake District market town and the most northerly in the national park. Surrounded by a spectacular panorama of mountains and sitting on the edge of delightful Derwentwater, it’s known as the Adventure Capital of the Lake District. It’s earned its big reputation, too, and visitors flock here every year to climb mountains, boat on the lake, and enjoy one of the big events taking place annually.

Keswick is also easily accessible, making it a top choice for visitors, even if you’re travelling by public transport.

Take a look at our suggested itinerary for a weekend in Keswick.

Cottages in Keswick

Ambleside

Ambleside cottages and gardens

There are several Lake District market towns, and Ambleside is perhaps the prettiest. Sitting proudly at the northern end of Windermere, it’s a real beauty. Don’t miss a photo at the quirky Bridge House - which sits right over the river of Stock Beck - before exploring the many other attractions.

Ambleside is the starting point for many challenging walks, such as the Fairfield Horseshoe, as well as easier options such as a pleasant waterfall trail. Or you can catch a stately cruiser to tour Windermere lake. The town also boasts fabulous shopping and dining experiences, with lots of independent shops, popular chain stores, welcoming pubs and even a Michelin restaurant!

Cottages in Ambleside

Windermere

Windermere lake view

The word “Windermere” is synonymous with the Lake District, mainly because it's the name of England’s longest natural lake, and the national park’s most famous. But the town of the same name is pretty great too!

Lying just half a mile from the shores of the lake, Windermere town is a pleasant walk away from the water. And, of course, you can be up on the mountains and amongst the valleys in no time at all: there’s plenty of walking to be had! There are also lovely cafés and independent shops, and you’re within reach of popular attractions such as the Windermere Lake Cruises, Brockhole visitor centre and Fell Foot Park.

Cottages in Windermere

Bowness-on-Windermere

Bowness-on-Windermere lake and boat

Of all the Lake District towns, Bowness-on-Windermere is perhaps the most famous. If you want to be right in the heart of the national park, then this is the place for you. This ever-popular destination is on the shores of Windermere lake and is just bursting with things to do and places to see. If you’re with children (or even if you’re not!), don’t miss a trip to The World of Beatrix Potter. Then, when you’re ready to explore the waters, jump on a cruiser or hire your own boat and enjoy a picnic on one of the lake’s small beaches. If you cross the lake entirely, you’ll find even more to delight including the Lakes Aquarium, Wray Castle and the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway.

Back in the village itself, there are plenty of shops and places to eat, as well as a bustling yet laid back nightlife. Catch some live music, see a film, or enjoy a drink (or two) at one of the bars.

Cottages in Bowness

Cockermouth

Cockermouth Toy Shop and local bakery

Cockermouth is one of several market towns in Cumbria, and is found just on the outside edge of the Lake District National Park. It’s a pretty town that’s been awarded the status of Gem Town, meaning it’s “particularly splendid and precious”. Within minutes of arriving, you’ll see why it’s received such an accolade!

Cockermouth is what a town should be: the streets are lined with interesting independent shops, antique stores and historic buildings. William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy grew up here, and their childhood home is a fascinating museum that takes you back to the 1700s. Or, if you’re more gastronomically inclined, you’ll love trying out the many restaurants in the town, or even taking a tour of Jennings Brewery. Walk off the food and drink with a gentle stroll along the river or through one of the pretty parks.

Cottages in Cockermouth

Penrith

Penrith views

Conveniently connecting the rest of the UK with the northern Lake District, Penrith is a pretty market town between the Lake District and Eden Valley. The red hues of many of its buildings come from the local sandstone, and you must see the numerous architectural gems during your stay. Castle ruins in the town nod to its history, and the surrounding countryside is dotted with stone circles, historic homes, and even a quirky man-made cave system!

In the town, you can expect to enjoy a bit of shopping at a number of fashion and specialist stores, or pick up local produce from the regular market. If you want to get some exercise, enjoy the town trails, hop onto the C2C on your bike, or head out to the Lowther Estate for countryside walking.

Cottages in Penrith

Kirkby Stephen

Kirkby Stephen tree

The traditional market town of Kirkby Stephen is full of cobbled streets and historic buildings: a perfect destination if you want to escape modern life for a little while! Though in Cumbria, it’s actually on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, so has two national parks (as well as the North Pennines AONB) right on its doorstep, opening up hundreds of amazing walks!

You’ll find a slower pace of life here, with many attractions harking back to an earlier time. Explore the area with a classic coach tour, learn about farming at an open farm, or hop on a steam train on the famous Settle to Carlisle railway!

Cottages in Kirkby Stephen

Kirkby Lonsdale

Kirkby Lonsdale church

Kirkby Lonsdale makes a fantastic base if you want to explore the incredible countryside nearby. Not only does it sit on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, but the Lake District, Forest of Bowland, and Arnside & Silverdale AONB are all conveniently close by! Nature lovers, hikers, and birdwatchers will feel right at home!

The town itself boasts independent shops, brilliant restaurants, and a programme of interesting festivals throughout the year. A weekly market takes place in the pretty square, and local Ruskin’s View was immortalised in a Turner painting, so is well worth a visit. Or discover the Devil’s Bridge, which is cloaked in mystery and legend!

Cottages in Kirkby Lonsdale

Ulverston

Ulverston cottages

If you love your festivals, quirky events and a buzzing atmosphere, then Ulverston in the south of Cumbria could be the ideal place for you. A market town since the 13th century, it has a number of interesting old buildings, plus the Hoad Monument, which sits high on a hill above the town. Independent shops line wide cobbled streets, and the town is home to the UK’s only Laurel and Hardy museum: Stan Laurel was even born in Ulverston!

The town is much loved for its annual events, and is often referred to as the party capital of Furness. Highlights include the Dickensian Festival, Lantern Festival, and Beer Festival. When you’re ready to step away from the hustle and bustle, take a walk along the canal or meditate at the Buddhist temple.

Grange-over-Sands

Grange-over-Sands bandstand

This quiet seaside town has a wonderful location on the edge of Morecambe Bay. Made popular as an Edwardian holiday resort, the era still touches Grange-over-Sands in its architecture and layout. You can enjoy your own stroll along the pretty promenade, enjoying views over the sea in one direction, and to the distant Lake District fells in the other. At certain times of the year, specially led trips will even take you across the sands of Morecambe Bay during low tide (though please don’t attempt this on your own).

Grange-over-Sands is within easy reach of other hidden delights of the area, including stately Holker Hall, wonderful Cartmel (including a small racecourse), and the stunning Arnside & Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Kendal

Kendal Chocolate House shop

Of all the towns near the Lake District, Kendal is perhaps the most famous. It’s affectionately known as the gateway to the Lake District, and you’ll probably pass through if you’re staying at one of our holiday cottages in the South Lakes. The town is well worth a visit on its own merits, though: it’s a pretty place with cobbled streets and lots of heritage to explore. Climb to the top of Castle Hill to see the ruins of Kendal Castle (once home to Catherine Parr), and enjoy a bird's eye view of the town while you’re at it.

Then there are the many shops, Brewery Arts and Cinema, a riverside walk, Abbot Hall, England’s tallest climbing wall, the Quaker Tapestry Museum… Add to that a packed calendar of events, and you’ll need to visit several times just to see everything!

Cottages in Kendal

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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