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With good cause, the Lake District is England’s most-talked-about tourist destination. The country’s tallest mountains are sandwiched between sixteen leading lakes, creating an almost alpine environment of simmering water, steep valleys, and charming stone-built settlements.

Nearly all of the Lake District is included inside Lake District National Park, which is wholly contained within the county of Cumbria in northwest England. To dispel the perception that Cumbria is only about lakes, the county’s capital, Carlisle, has a history dating back to Roman times. Meanwhile, the remote western coast and eastern market towns like Kendal and Penrith provide more evidence.

Most well-known towns and lakes are readily accessible in a week; a tour of towns like Ambleside, Windermere, and Bowness (all on Windermere), Wordsworth-era homes in Grasmere, and the more spectacular northern countryside in Keswick and Ullswater would be sufficient. Those who want to get away from the crowds will find that the Lake District has a lot to offer, including the spectacular valleys of Langdale and Eskdale and the coastal towns of quaint Ravenglass and Whitehaven, all of which are accessible by train.

1. Windermere and Bowness

Windermere and Bowness, England

To give the town its full moniker, Bowness-on-Windermere, a series of terraces lined with guesthouses and hotels stretches back from the lakeside piers. A ferry service has been running over the lake since the 15th century. However, these days you might be excused for believing that Bowness starts and ends with the World of Beatrix Potter, the most popular tourist destination in the area.

The ten-and-a-half-mile-long, one-mile-wide, and just over 200-foot-deep Lake Windermere is the heavyweight of the Lake District. Tourists flock to the stores & restaurants in town during the summer, but there are plenty of places to get away from the crowd & enjoy the scenery, and there are plenty of attractions near town for a wet day.

2. The town of Windermere

Windermere Lake, Cumbria, England
It was only in 1847 that Windermere became a tourist destination, making England’s longest lake (after which the town is called) available to the general public for the first time. Looking for anything to do in Windermere other than commute to the southern lakes, look elsewhere. Windermere’s older twin town, Bowness, is a mile away on the lake, but you should at least stop long enough to go up to OrrestHead (784ft), where you can see from the Yorkshire fells to Morecambe Bay. The route starts across from Windermere railway station, on the A591, just beyond the Windermere Hotel.

3. Ambleside

Ambleside, England

There are several outdoor businesses in Ambleside, about five miles northwest of Windermere, which makes it an ideal location for hikers. Clusters of grey-green stone buildings, shops, bars, and B&Bs line a circular one-way system that loops immediately south of the narrow valley of rocky Stock Ghyll in the town center.

Huge parking lots draw in the day-trippers, but Ambleside’s local hikes and dining options make it an excellent destination for staying a little longer. At Waterhead, where the cruise ships land, the grass banks and spreading trees of Borrans Park overlook the rest of town.

4. A castle in the county of Carlisle

Carlisle Castle, Cumbria, England
Tullie House has a public promenade that connects to Carlisle Castle. In 1568, Elizabeth I held Mary Queen of Scots as her “guest” at the location, which the military had occupied for more than a millennium. Climb to the battlements for a perspective of Carlisle’s roofs during one of the many available guided tours.

5. The Dove Cottage

The Dove Cottage
Some of Wordsworth’s most significant work was written when William and his wife Dorothy lived in Dove Cottage, their home, from 1799 until 1808. Aside from providing electricity and indoor plumbing, the cottage rooms have remained mostly untouched by the stories of the guides who fill the rooms with recollections. Artwork and memorabilia from the “Lake Poets,” Robert Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as well as “opium-eater” Thomas De Quincey, who stayed in the cottage for many years, may be seen at the nearby museum, which also houses the manuscript “Daffodils.”

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