A short break in the Lake District – a 3-day complete guide
I get butterflies in my tummy whenever I think about our short break to the Lake District. It’s one UK destination I’ve always wanted to visit, but just never got around to. Finally, we were able to spend 3 days discovering the landscape, and to see the best of this incredible region.
It’s romantic as it’s wild and inspiring. A long weekend break in the Lake District is the kind of place where you can recharge and reset.
Where is the Lake District?
Located in the north-west of England, the Lake District is an ideal destination for an English weekend break. Remarkable in terms of its nature and dramatic landscape, it’s your chance to experience the English countryside at its finest.
The Lake District sits in the county of Cumbria; a region that’s green and abundant in every corner.
If traveling from London, it’s about 4 and a half hours by car, and 3 and a half by national rail. These times depend on where you start your journey in London, and the amount of traffic on the roads.
3-day itinerary — Lake District short breaks
We spent 3 days and 4 nights on our short break in the Lake District. You can easily adapt which places you most want to see depending on your own itinerary.
Arrival in Windermere
We arrived just after 4pm on a Sunday afternoon. The roads become quieter and slightly narrower as you veer off the main M6 highway and onto the ‘A’ roads. An orchestra of trees decorate your drive, eventually leading to a clearing to reveal the glorious Lake Windermere.
Sunday is a good day to arrive in the Lake District. You’ll notice a build-up of traffic leaving the area, usually weekenders lined up like an army of ants. Once you pass them by, the scene returns to its calm and remote itself.
A dreamy Lake Windermere at dusk
Where to stay in the Lake District
Windermere is home to the largest lake in the region, Lake Windermere. It measures 14.8 sq km and is also one of the lakes where they operate ferry and steamer services. Windermere was also the location of our lakeside hotel, Low Wood Bay Resort & Spa.
Both a little exhausted from the drive, we spent our first (half) day exploring our ‘home’ turf. The 4-star boutique hotel is built for total relaxation. Come summer, the roof terrace is wonderful for enjoying the drawn-out sunsets with a glass of wine.
Take a short walk before dinner to the jetty by the lake. The sky at this time turns a dusky shade of greyish blue, seemingly merging with the still waters below.
We ended our evening at the resort’s newest restaurant, Blue Smoke on the Bay. The ingredients, ambience and service match the other perfectly, and there’s zero chance of leaving hungry. Our dinner was outstanding, ending our first day on a massive, and very full, high note.
Our fabulous suite at the Winander Club at Low Wood Bay Resort & Spa — Lake District breaks
“Believe everything you read about Buttermere Lake because it’s true. It’s the most special and striking lake we visited in the Lake District….”
Map: 3 days in the Lake District
Other sights to see in Windermere — Lake District short breaks
While the lake may be the biggest attraction in Windermere, there are also other sights to see. The World of Beatrix Potter is a draw for children — and adults too, opening the doors to your favorite characters.
Wray Castle is a mock Gothic castle that sits on the shore of Windermere Lake. It’s a short drive from the hotel and a popular day trip for culture vultures and families with young children.
The number 1 reason many people visit the Lake District is usually for walking, hiking or cycling activities. However, this doesn’t rule you out if your interests lie elsewhere. In fact, there’s plenty to see and do here, and to suit every fitness level too.
Seeing the sights of Ambleside — Lake District short breaks
Our first stop was to the neighboring town of Ambleside. It takes around 25 minutes on foot, or 10 minutes by car. We didn’t see any physical sign to show we’d arrived in Ambleside — just more traffic leading to the town center.
Traditional stone chimney houses line the route to the main road, as well as the smaller roads behind. The center’s a mixture of small independent cafes and shops, selling local eats and home baked treats.
While here, don’t miss visiting Bridge House in the center of Ambleside. It’s a tiny stone house dating back to the 17th century, connected to a bridge. Bridge House has had many uses over the years, of which it was:
- an apple store
- a weaving shed, and
- a family home for 8 people!
Bridge House in Ambleside — the most Instagramable house in the Lake District?
Grasmere Lake — Lake District breaks
A few minutes’ drive from Ambleside is the next town of Grasmere. A small sign indicates that you’ve arrived, and it’s quite a view once you see the lake in the distance. It’s the second of the lakes we visited in the Lake District, with more ground to cover here than it may seem.
If you arrive by car, there’s a parking area called White Moss Walks. It’s set among a space in the woodlands and gives direct access to Grasmere Lake and Rydal Water. Parking prices are reasonable to leave the car for a few hours, plus it’s also very safe.
It’s pointless for me to go into detail about which route we took. Once you enter the woods, I encourage you to explore every bit of stream and green space you come across.
The incredible view of Grasmere Lake from above
Rydal Water — Lake District breaks
Rydal Water is the third lake we visited in the Lake District and hidden a little off grid. It’s a short and scenic walk from Grasmere Lake, and there are several routes you can take to get there.
I was blown away the first time I saw Rydal Water. A scene taken straight out of a painting, I had to stop momentarily and take it all in. A squadron of ducks congregate on the still water, sharing the calm and serenity with the frolicking dogs.
It’s a lake that everyone can enjoy. From dog owners and walkers, to locals having a picnic, Rydal Water is one hidden lake you can’t miss.
The paths are generally flat and the walk around Grasmere Lake is easy to medium. Where it does get a little more challenging is the route towards Rydal Cave. I should point out, that the cave is closer to Grasmere Lake than it’s to Rydal Water. The caves are further uphill, and though mainly flat, it will test how fit, or unfit, you are.
It took us about 30 minutes at a leisurely pace to reach the cave from ground level. The sight’s quite something as you gaze over this small cave with a gaping mouth. You can enter the cave — but to a certain point. Inside is a smaller pool of water, where if you look closely, you’ll spot tiny fishes swimming around.
As you leave the caves, look out for the paths taking you back down. Again, take it slowly and with caution, as there are some rocky places in parts. From here, you can head back to Grasmere Lake.
Lake District breaks — the mesmerizing Rydal Water
The Apple Pie Café — where to eat in Ambleside
After a long morning of walking and a little hiking, it’s time for lunch. There are several good cafes around Rydal and Grasmere that serve light bites, and at reasonable prices too. Grasmere Tea Gardens has outdoor seating to enjoy the views — and the food at the same time.
The Old School Room Tea Shop in Rydal is a local favorite. It’s an ideal place to gather refreshment, and shelter, for when the rain pours down.
We decided to return to Ambleside, as there was one place we’d passed that had particularly caught my eye. The Apple Pie Café is in Ambleside town center, and is as good as it sounds. Its tiny shopfront looks misleading, but there’s a larger restaurant area towards the back.
They sell everything from homemade pies and sandwiches, to cakes and pastries. Prices are reasonable, and the food’s local, made fresh on site and is also very tasty.
Time for relaxation at The Spa at Low Wood Bay
Spend an hour or two flittering between the infinity pool, the indoor Jacuzzi and the steam and sauna rooms. The herbal sauna has some gorgeous swinging wooden benches, where feeling relaxed comes easy. An outdoor hot tub will bring you one step closer to nature.
The infinity pool at The Spa at Low Wood Bay in Windermere
Take a cruise on Lake Windermere — Lake District short breaks
I’ll be the first to say that I do enjoy a good boat cruise. It’s a different way of discovering the land, plus there’s always a high chance you’ll also get a window seat.
Windermere Lake Cruises run regular steamer services across Windermere Lake, to neighboring towns like Bowness and Lakeside. There are several ticket types to choose from, depending on the needs of your party.
We decided to take the ‘Freedom of the Lake’ ticket. It’s great value as it gives you unlimited travel for 24 hours from the time of purchase. Hop on and off at the other stops as many times as you like. We also combined our ticket with a ride on the steam railway at Lakeside. More on that later.
It takes about 30 minutes from Ambleside to Bowness and a further 40 minutes to get to Lakeside. The landscape slightly differs depending on which side you sit. Make the journey an extra bit enjoyable by having a picnic on board. My fresh cream-filled scone with strawberry jelly went down a treat, and quickly too.
Jump on board the steam train at Lakeside
Our final stop on the cruise was to Lakeside. Even before you disembark, you’ll notice the old-style steam train waiting at the platform.
If you want to step back in train time travel, you’ve got to try this. A traditional steam train locomotive takes you on an 18-minute ride to the village of Haverthwaite. You’re instantly transported to the period as you sit in the original carriage listening to the overhead commentary.
Once you arrive at Haverthwaite, you’ve the option of staying and exploring the village. Sadly, we wanted to make sure we made the last boat back to Ambleside, so we jumped right back on.
A cream-filled scone and a cruise on Lake Windermere
Lake District breaks — drinks and dinner at the Waterhead
G&T at the Waterhead
As evening falls, the crowds dissipate, and before you know it, it’s just you and the lake. On a bright, and dry, summer’s evening, having drinks outside is a given. While I’m usually a wine drinker, the bartender was keen to make me a gin and tonic (G&T). It’s a unique feature of the hotel, in that they serve complimentary G&Ts in every room.
He added a fruity and fresh berry twist to my G&T, which I happily sipped in front of the lake.
The Bar & Grill Restaurant at the Waterhead
Even if you’re not staying at the Waterhead, the Bar & Grill Restaurant is an excellent choice in Ambleside. We dined on classics dishes like roasted cod loin, rib eye steak and baked Camembert.
The Bar & Grill Restaurant also have a gluten free dinner menu and vegan menu to suit dietary needs.
Drinks with a view of Lake Windermere at the Waterhead
A day trip to Buttermere
The saying ‘save the best till last’ is no truer than the places we visited on our last day in the Lake District. After hearing several recommendations from friends at home, and from locals at our hotel, we drove towards Buttermere Lake.
The weather gods were shining on us that day, giving us plenty of sun and clear blue skies. Good weather not only makes a huge difference to the landscape, but it also brings the scenery to life.
From Windermere, the drive takes about 50 minutes to reach Buttermere. It’s one of the most beautiful and scenic road trips we’ve ever taken, though also one of the most challenging.
We took the route passing through Keswick, before tackling a very narrow country road. The views from here are special, but it’s nothing compared to what came next.
As you exit the small stretch of road, you enter a new stratosphere of scenery. We were enveloped by mountains of green on either side, each with a scattering of free roaming sheep.
To give you an idea of the route we took, we passed by little hamlets called Stair and Little Town. The road to Buttermere is long, winding, with a landscape that reminds why we should look after our environment.
Plenty of roaming sheep and land on the road to Buttermere
Lake District breaks — Buttermere Lake
It’s a welcome sight once you lay eyes on Buttermere Village. You get a feeling you’re a little off grid, but it’s something you’ll later be thankful for. Parking’s easy to find, but it does fill up very quickly. Luckily, we were able to find a space during our visit.
The walk to Buttermere Lake is easy, and you can ask the locals for directions if you get lost. Once you pass through the country gates — remembering to close them behind you, your eyes fall upon the lake.
It’s one of those moments where you’ve to pinch yourself to check that it’s real. Believe everything you read about Buttermere Lake because it’s true. It’s the most special and striking lake we visited in the Lake District, and worth the long drive.
It’s takes about 3 hours to walk the length of Buttermere Lake, but you decide how much you can do.
Taking in the scene at Buttermere Lake
Crummock Water — Lake District short breaks
A short distance from Buttermere Lake is Crummock Water. It’s much bigger in scale than Buttermere, but for me, nowhere near as spectacular.
However, it’s still worth visiting while you’re here. The path we took was uneven at points and slightly rocky too, so be sure to watch your steps.
Good places to eat in Buttermere
We stopped at 2 places during our Buttermere visit. Before starting our walk, we were lured by the sign selling freshly churned ice cream at Syke Farm Tea Room. The produce comes from Sykes Farm next door, and the quality’s there in the taste.
After our walk, we went for a late lunch at The Fish Inn. It’s a classic English country pub and also a hotel. Lunchtime finishes at 2, so arrive earlier to avoid disappointment.
A selection of mouthwatering cakes at Syke Farm Tea Room
Derwentwater — Lake District short breaks
On the way back to Ambleside, we took a detour through the town of Kewsick. We’d no firm plans, and it was just by chance when we saw the sign to the Theatre By The Lake.
While the name gave a clue to its location, we weren’t expecting to find this lake. Derwentwater may not be the easiest name to pronounce, but it’s one you’ll never forget.
The third largest lake in the Lake District, Derwentwater measures 5.5 sq km, and is an understandable favorite among locals. Walk either alongside the lake, or through the woods, it’s an idyllic setting among nature.
Like Windermere, Derwentwater also has lake cruises. It’s a relaxing way to see the surrounding fells, and to also discover more of the northern Lake District.
Short breaks in the Lake District — another fantastic sight at Derwentwater
Dinner at The Grill & Smokehouse Restaurant — best restaurants in Windermere
There’s nothing better than ending a trip on a high, and with a memorable meal to match.
The Wild Boar is one of Windemere’s oldest hotels, something that’s evident the second you enter. Along with its historic background, it’s also home to the fantastic Grill & Smokehouse Restaurant.
The menu is classic country-style cooking served in a traditional and authentic atmosphere. As it says in its name, The Wild Boar has its own smokehouse on site. That said, it’s almost criminal not to try something smoked on the menu.
We took the Wild Boar Smokehouse Pork Ribs for starters, which they serve with their special recipe BBQ sauce. It was a meaty feast with our mains of rack of lamb and fillet steak. As you can see from the photos, the portions are generous, leaving no room for dessert.
Dinner at The Grill & Smokehouse Restaurant was the perfect way to end our short break in the Lake District. Full, yet satisfied, we made the (slow) move back to our hotel.
The Wild Boar Restaurant in Windermere
What to wear in the Lake District
I’ll be writing a more detailed post on what to pack for the Lake District. However, for the purpose of this itinerary, I want to share a few tips on what type of clothing and footwear to wear. Even if you don’t plan on doing any strenuous walks, wearing the right clothing and footwear makes all the difference.
- Light, waterproof trousers, shorts, or combat pants are great choices, as it’ll keep you comfortable and cool.
- Good grip sneakers or hiking boots will allow you to walk for longer, and to also explore with ease. You’ll also be walking through different types of terrain, some of which may be damp or slippery from the rain.
- Depending on the time of year you visit, heavy (or light) outerwear’s important. It was very humid during our visit in June, so we left ours behind. The weather in this part of England is highly unpredictable, so prepare for every eventuality!
What is the weather like in the Lake District?
We traveled to the Lake District at the end of June. Maybe we were just lucky, but it didn’t rain once! There were 1 day where it was overcast and grey, and we were convinced a storm was coming. Instead, it stayed dry and very humid all day.
Temperatures ranged between 16°C (60F) to 21°C (70F) during the day, and fell to around 11°C (52F) at night.
What do you think of this 3-day, 4 night short break itinerary in the Lake District? Does it look like somewhere you’d like to visit? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below.
Till next time, happy boutique travels x
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Welcome to my site! I'm Lisa, founder of Following the Rivera. I write primarily for a ‘flashpacker’ audience; a demographic (late 20s onwards) that enjoys glamping over camping, staying at boutique/luxury boutique hotels, sampling the local food and wine, cultural activities, and indulging in a spot of wellness on their travels. Read more here…