Our complete guide to Windermere, The Lake District

Welcome to our complete guide to Windermere, The Lake District. Windermere is the heart and soul of The Lake District and makes a great base for tourists who want to explore everything it has to offer. We’ve assembled a list of things to help you plan your trip, to ensure you head out to the best places in this beautiful area of The Lake District. From the top things to do in Windermere, to the best places to dine and getting around, we’ve got you covered. Read on to find out more!

Where is Windermere located?

Windermere is located in the centre of The Lake District. Being so central, it’s only a 10 minute drive away from the quaint town of Ambleside and a 20 minute drive from the small, yet picturesque town of Grasmere. You can reach most of the main Lakes towns, hikes and attractions in less than half an hour.

Why Windermere is a great place to visit

Windermere Lake District travel guide - Bowness marina from above

Windermere is without a doubt a must-see destination if you’re planning a visit to The Lake District. It’s full of character, has lots of quaint coffee shops and offers daily boat trips for you to experience the lake away from the shore. There’s an amplitude of activities for the whole family to enjoy and its central location makes it a great base.

When’s the best time to visit Windermere

Being the most popular place to visit in The Lake District amongst tourists, it can get quite busy especially during the school holidays (between July-September) so if you want to avoid the crowds and long queues, we recommend visiting between April-June. Whilst you can visit during any point of the year, the winter months bring cold temperatures and sharp winds. However, if you don’t mind that and as long as you wrap up warm, you’ll still get to experience Windermere’s true beauty. It has an enchanting, frosty façade during winter.

Top tip: if you’re planning on visiting many Windermere attractions in one day, plan to arrive early in the morning (pre 10am), and where possible, book your tickets in advance online. Tickets are generally cheaper, and you’ll avoid waiting around!

How to get to Windermere

Boats sailing on Windermere Lake

The best way to get to Windermere is by car. It can take a few hours if you live in the North of England, or 5+ hours if you live in the south. If you don’t own a car, you can always rent one. If you don’t have that luxury, or just prefer to travel by other means of transport, then travel by train is also possible. Windermere has its very own train station, but ensure you check your route before you travel as there may not be a direct train to Windermere, depending on where you’re traveling from. Most trains from the south arrive into Penrith station. You’ll then need to catch a bus onward to Windermere.

Getting around

Windermere Lake District travel guide - Sailing yachts on the lake

The best way to experience the wonders of Windermere is by car. Attractions are spaced out so having a car allows you to see everything at your leisure, without having to arrange public transport. You’ll also be able to see the hidden corners of Windermere this way. Some of the best lake views and walks are away from the tourist trail!

If you prefer taking a complete break from driving, then you can travel between towns and attractions by using the local buses. Be sure to check the departure times on the official transport website here before setting off. Another great option, especially if your time in Windermere is limited, is to take a guided tour. Join a group or private tour and see the Lakes with a knowledgeable local.

Top things to do in Windermere, tHE lAKE dISTRICT

There are many things to see and do in Windermere. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you’re guaranteed to have an amazing time with your friends and family. See below a few of our top things to do in Windermere. For our complete list of attractions, check out our guide here.

Take a Lake cruise

One of the best ways to soak in the views of Windermere and its surroundings, is taking a lake cruise. Most cruises vary from 30 minutes to 60 minutes long, but you can find longer half-day cruises too. Sit back, relax and enjoy the scenic views!

Top tip: be sure to book in advance online for the best prices and to avoid those long queues.

Lake Windermere tour boat - Windermere guide

The World of Beatrix Potter attraction

The world of Beatrix Potter is a vibrant exhibition that’s a must see for the entire family. The attraction features all of the well-known characters, an outdoor garden, café and gift shop. It provides an interactive walk-through of the characters from Beatrix’s famous books and is a great way to spend a couple of hours. Be sure to pre-book as it’s extremely popular amongst tourists!

Brockhole-on-Windermere

If you have children and want to keep them entertained, then Brockhole on Windermere is the place to visit! Take part in the abundance of activities that are on offer here, from archery and mini golf to a tree top adventure park. After a day of fun, you can spend time soaking up the sun over a tasty picnic!

Overhead view of Brockhole on Windermere

See the home of Beatrix Potter at Hill Top

Keen to visit the place where Beatrix potter found inspiration for her books? Hill Top is one of the must-see places during your time in Windermere. Let your children become truly inspired and they too can be the next Beatrix Potter! Her home sits on a hill top on the west side of the lake, surrounded by beautiful scenery and views of lower Windermere below.

Wray Castle

Wray Castle is a beautiful, picturesque place to visit whilst spending time in Windermere. During your Wray Castle tour, you can wander the castle’s hall and rooms, and admire the gorgeous scenic views from the front of the castle.

Top tip: The castle organises frequent activities, so be sure to check on the activity calendar online prior to visiting.  

Windermere Lake District travel guide - Wray Castle

The above is just a small sample of the great places you can check out. For the full list, view our ‘things to do in Windermere’ guide here.

Best cafés in Windermere

Homeground coffee and kitchen
View on map | Tripadvisor rating 4.5/5

If you’re looking for a place that makes fresh, roasted coffee and also delicious breakfast and lunches, then Homeground Coffee and Kitchen is the place to pay a visit. From the traditional eggs benedict to a beef and peanut burger, we found their food excellent! They also have gluten and dairy free options available too! It’s currently rated the number one café in Tripadvisor at the time of writing.

Dr Brews Coffee
VIEW ON MAP | TRIPADVISOR RATING 5/5

For a quick pitstop, pre or post hike, why not stop at Dr Brews Coffee shop for a hot beverage to keep you going for the day? From lattes to mochas and some delicious treats for those with a sweet tooth (especially their carrot cakes), it’s the perfect fuel for a busy day of sightseeing.

Sugar & Spice Café
VIEW ON MAP | TRIPADVISOR RATING 4.5/5

Sugar and spice, and everything nice! Located close to Windermere train station, Sugar & Spice is a small café that serves hot drinks, breakfast, brunch, light bites and cakes. Whether you’re wanting a quick sugar fix, or something a bit more substantial, they have some great options to keep you full until dinner-time. They have vegetarian options and a gluten free menu too.

Choccobar
VIEW ON MAP | TRIPADVISOR RATING 5/5

Attention to all the choco-holics out there! you’ve come to the right spot. Fancy an indulgent hot drink by the lake, or even a chocolate coated waffle or churros, this is the place to come! Choccobar is a haven for chocolate lovers and you will leave wanting more!

Mio Mondo
VIEW ON MAP | TRIPADVISOR RATING 4.5/5

A great all-rounder café that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s located near the Beatrix Potter attraction and is a great place to stop off for a quick bite to eat.

Best restaurants in Windermere

Hooked
VIEW ON MAP | TRIPADVISOR RATING 4.5/5

If you’re a lover of grilled fish, from cod to sea bass fillet, then this is the place for you. Rated in the top 5 restaurants in Windermere on TripAdvisor, its wonderful seafood restaurant located just outside of Windermere town. You will be ‘hooked’ by the time you finish your meal…

Café Italia
VIEW ON MAP | TRIPADVISOR RATING 4.5/5

Pizza, pasta and all things doughy and nice are just right on your doorstop. Everyone loves a classic Italian dish and this place serves many different types of pizzas and pasta. It’s a beautifully constructed building and has a great modern touch on the inside. It’s a nice place to come either for lunch or dinner.

Porto Restaurant
VIEW ON MAP | TRIPADVISOR RATING 4.5/5

Located just a five-minute walk from Windermere town, Porto is a French restaurant that offers fine dining, seafood and contemporary dishes. It’s a top place for meat and fish eaters that want something extra special.

Jackson’s Bistro
VIEW ON MAP | TRIPADVISOR RATING 4.5/5

If you’re looking for something heartier and filling, Jackon’s Bistro serves everything from tasty homemade burgers to a rack of marinated ribs! It’s a great place to visit for a family meal.

Restaurant at Samling
VIEW ON MAP | TRIPADVISOR RATING 4.5/5

If you want to push the boat out and enjoy high quality food overlooking views of Lake Windermere, wine and dine until your heart’s content. Food doesn’t come cheap, but it’s always good to treat yourself on holiday. The restaurant views and ambience are second to none.

Where to stay in Windermere

The best Windermere Hotels

Applegarth Villa Hotel
VIEW ON BOOKING.COM | TRIPADVISOR RATING 4.5/5

If you’re looking for peace and quiet, luxury and a 5-star experience, then Applegarth Villa Hotel is the one for you. From the outside, the building gives it a slightly old-fashioned feel, but the inside says different. It’s extremely modern and offers you a top end experience for you to fully enjoy. If you want to really go all out, you can spend a night in one of their luxury suites with hot tub!

Windermere Boutique Hotel
VIEW ON BOOKING.COM | TRIPADVISOR RATING 5/5

After a long day roaming about the streets of Windermere and hours of hiking, you want to get back to your hotel to completely relax. Windermere Boutique Hotel offers a range of rooms with spa facilities for you to take advantage of. The hotel is located in between Windermere Town and Bowness, with plenty of facilities. It offers spa treatments on selected days and times, so go on and treat yourself (or your partner!).

Cedar Manor Hotel
VIEW ON BOOKING.COM | TRIPADVISOR RATING 5/5

Sometimes, staying at a smaller, boutique hotel really makes it feel like a home from home. That’s exactly what you’ll experience at Cedar Manor. With 10 different types of rooms to choose from, Cedar Manor Hotel has all you will ever need. With its great location, and delicious afternoon tea, no wonder it won the TripAdvisor Travelers choice 2019 award.

The Samling Hotel
VIEW ON BOOKING.COM | TRIPADVISOR RATING 4.5/5

Located right in front of Lake Windermere, The Samling Hotel presents you with the best views of the lakes. There’s nothing better than waking up to water and mountain views. The Samling has a choice of 12 individually designed bedrooms, suites and cottages, each named after a Lake District location. Have a unique dining experience at the chefs table and savour every single bite of their mouth-watering food.

Gilpin Hotel
VIEW ON Hotels.COM | TRIPADVISOR RATING 5/5

Last but definitely not least, rated one of the best hotels in the entire Lake District is the Gilpin Hotel. It’s a small, intimate hotel with just 28 unique, individually styled rooms. Some rooms come with their very own spa, for you to fully relax and re-charge for another day of sightseeing. You’ll also not be disappointed by the food. With a Michelin star chef serving you fresh produce throughout your stay, you’ll always have a hungry stomach!

The best Windermere Bed and Breakfasts

The Hideaway
VIEW ON BOOKING.COM | TRIPADVISOR RATING 5/5

If you’re looking for a cosy retreat, nestled away just outside of Windermere town, The Hideaway is one of the best B&B options. It has a real intimate vibe, and with only 11 bedrooms, it’ll feel like the perfect home from home. One fantastic bonus of staying here, is that they offer complimentary tea and cakes on every day of your stay! What’s not to love?

St John’s Lodge
VIEW ON BOOKING.COM | TRIPADVISOR RATING 5/5

Located mid-way between Windermere town, Bowness town and Windermere Lake, is TripAdvisor’s best ranked B&B in Windermere, and we can see why! Its location makes it a perfect place to stay whilst you explore the most popular area of the Lake District. The rooms are modern and well sized. After you’ve been on a long hike, you can come back to relax, and use the nearby health club spa and gym facilities throughout your stay.

Hawksmoor Lakeland Guesthouse
VIEW ON BOOKING.COM | TRIPADVISOR RATING 5/5

If you fancy a bit of tranquillity away from the hustle and bustle of Windermere, then this may be the perfect B&B for you. Hawksmoor guesthouse is ideal for nature and animal lovers, due to its nearby trail walks. As the B&B is family run, it has a cosy feel and is a great place to return to, after a long day of sightseeing.

Glenville House
VIEW ON BOOKING.COM | TRIPADVISOR RATING 5/5

If you’re a fan of old, Victorian buildings overlooking the lake shore, then Glenville house has all you could ever want. It’s located between Bowness and Windermere, and you’re just a stone throw away from the amenities of town. Glenville House is a smaller B&B compared to others in Windermere, with just seven bedrooms. Please note that this is an adult only B&B.

Rockside Guesthouse
VIEW ON BOOKING.COM | TRIPADVISOR RATING 5/5

With top-rated reviews, Rockside guesthouse offers you both old and new. It’s a classic, Victorian style building on the outside, with new and modern décor on the inside. It offers true comfort and luxury, without the high price tag. All the food they serve is locally sourced, and you’ll leave feeling rested.

Our top tips for visiting Windermere

Windermere Lake District travel guide - Valley view of the lake
  • As there’s a lot to see and do in Windermere, we recommend traveling by car, as it’s easier to get around to places in the nearby area. If you don’t own a car, we’d suggest renting one for the day/ time that you are spending in Windermere and the Lake District. A road trip between destinations is part of the experience and you’ll see more in a day this way.
  • Depending on the time of year you’re visiting Windermere, it can get really busy, so finding a car parking space may be challenging. We’d recommend visiting places earlier on in the day (before lunch) to avoid spending ages trying to park.
  • If you’re visiting the Lake District for a few days, busy summer months and weekends – we’d recommend visiting on a week day for less crowds
  • If you plan on renting a boat or going on a boat tour, book in advanced online. Often cheaper with a discount and you can skip those queues.
  • On a similar note, Bowness on Windermere is the busiest town no matter the day, so aim to arrive early morning.
  • The best way to see the lake is to actually head out on it. A boat trip is a must for anyone visiting Windermere and is highly recommended.
  • As there’s so much to do in a day trip, we recommend planning out a route and completing the attractions in order of the map. It will save you time and make your lives easier.

So there you have it, our complete guide to Windermere, The Lake District. We hope you found this travel guide useful and it’ll help you plan your next trip. If you have any further questions, feel free to leave a comment down below! 😊

Looking to explore other areas of the Lake District? Check out these guides:

The best things to do in Windermere

Lake District luxury hotels guide

The best places to visit in The Lake District

By Susie

Author bio:

I’m is a passionate traveller that loves a sunny beach holiday, but also appreciate the cultural side to a trip and checking out undiscovered destinations. I’m the go-to Toucan Traveller for great holiday stories, cool photos and foodie recommendations.

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