Your complete guide to exploring attractions surrounding England’s biggest lake, with Windermere Lake Cruises
The very fact that you're reading this means you're well-aware that a cruise on England’s longest lake, Windermere, is an essential part of the Lake District experience. Windermere Lake Cruises is officially one of England’s most popular ‘paid for’ visitor attractions, ranked at number four in a nationwide list compiled by VisitEngland.
However, it’s not just an attraction, but a transport provider; also allowing visitors to experience a wealth of attractions in towns and villages around the lake - without wondering where to leave the car.
With four different cruise routes taking in seven different stops around the lake, there’s more to enjoy behind its wooded shoreline than visitors might realise. In fact, if you pick up one of our 24-hour Freedom of the Lake tickets, you can split your time over two days to make sure you don’t miss out on the countless options available when you disembark at each stop.
So much to see... but where to begin?
Grab a cup of coffee, sit back and let us be your guide to other attractions, all easily accessible from our jetties, listed below:
Lakeside (pictured above), right at the southern tip of Windermere, offers plenty to explore from the second you set foot on dry land. The Lakeside Hotel and Spa is the perfect place to grab some food – with 15% off lunch for Windermere Lake Cruises e-ticket holders (see the full list of offers here), along with a fine ale or glass of wine, while the Lakeside Pier also offers passengers refreshment in the form of tea, coffee, cakes, scones and other tasty snacks for those on the move.
From there, visitors can also take a ride on the famous Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway, where hard-working steam locomotives and diesels operate passenger services on the former Furness branch line through the Leven Valley. Upon arrival at Haverthwaite, there’s plenty to explore for both young and old alike, including a large engine shed and play area.
There’s also a pleasant short walk to a viewing point, offering spectacular views across the countryside towards Furness. More refreshments are available, with a shuttle bus service on hand to transport visitors to the world-famous Lakeland Motor Museum at Backbarrow, where thousands of motor vehicles and artefacts are on display in all their glory – all set in the context of street scenes from yesteryear. TV presenter Drew Pritchard describes the museum as "one of the best in the UK, if not in the whole of Europe" during a visit in 2019.
Also easily accessible from Lakeside (between April and September) is a boat ride from Lakeside to the beautiful Fell Foot Park, a National Trust property where a picnic blanket is a must. In keeping with Windermere’s freshwater, there’s also the Lakes Aquarium – an award-winning attraction including The Lake District’s only underwater tunnel where visitors will come face to face with ferocious pikes and diving ducks.
Just over the road from Lakeside, get your apps out – there’s a massive Geocache site to explore with plenty of treasures just waiting to be found among the ancient trees of Great Knott Wood.
Bowness (pictured above) is one of the South Lakes’ most famous villages and serves as Windermere Lake Cruises’ headquarters. To say there’s no shortage of attractions here is something of an understatement. The question is, where to begin? The World of Beatrix Potter attraction is just a five-minute walk away from Bowness Pier, where children came come face to face with their favourite characters from the famous books – including of course, a certain mischievous rabbit by the name of Peter…
There’s 25% off entry to Blackwell – Bowness’ home to arts and crafts for e-ticket holders and if you fancy catching a movie in vintage surroundings, there are regular showings at Bowness’ Royalty cinema. If live action is more your thing, then why not catch a play at Windermere’s Old Laundry Theatre?
For something a little bit different, have you ever heard of ‘Footgolf’? You have now… A nine-hole ‘footgolf’ course can be found at Glebe Park, where participants are challenged with kicking a football into the hole with as few kicks as possible. If you prefer the more traditional way of playing golf, there’s also a crazy golf course – even a tennis court to challenge your companions to a match. Check out everything that's on offer, here.
Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of opportunities for more walks, with the Glebe and Cockshott Point a stone’s throw from the main pier – offering restful waterside areas for lunch, games, paddling and a spot of sunbathing. No picnic? No problem. Bowness is overflowing with fine pubs and cafes, including a fine afternoon tea available at the Laura Ashley Belsfield Hotel. You can also take the Red Cruise service to Windermere Jetty Museum of Boats, Steam and Stories.
If you fancy the idea of taking control of a boat yourself on Windermere, Bowness is also the place to hire self-drive power boats. For less motor and more muscle, rowing boats are also available for those who want to get to a secluded spot under their own steam.
For those who have paid a visit to The World of Beatrix Potter in Bowness – but whose craving for Miss Potter’s work remains, you can take a traditional wooden launch from Bowness across the lake to Ferry House the author’s former home, Hill Top at Hawkshead. Also in Hawkshead is the Beatrix Potter Gallery (open February-September). Shops are plentiful too – with e-ticket holders able to claim 10% off at the ‘Hawkshead – Family Outdoor Outfitters’ store.
Don’t be put off by the two-mile trip upon reaching the west side of the lake however; It’s all covered by the ‘Cross Lakes Experience’. Just ask one of our team for a handy leaflet which explains how it all works.
There, you can also explore the Claife Viewing Station – a Victorian building built in 1790. It’s only a short uphill walk from the Ferry House jetty and is well worth the effort – which will be handsomely rewarded with stunning views of the lake and the chance to rest those feet at the Café in the Courtyard.
It’s likely you’ll find that view as the inspiration to exploring the quiet western shore by foot, on a four-mile circular walk clearly signposted. Furthermore, during selected times of year, the jetty at BARK BARN opens, offering a special cross-lake service to Brockhole, which always goes down well with cyclists. Speaking of which…
…Windermere Lake Cruises gives passengers the chance to take advantage of the Lake District Visitors Centre at Brockhole. Operated by the Lake District National Park, people entering the site from the Brockhole jetty (pictured above) can enjoy the large green open spaces and plentiful access to the water from the shore free of charge.
Not only is there a huge play area for children, there’s also additional ‘paid-for’ attractions on-site including ‘Brave the Cave’, ‘Treetop Nets’ and ‘Treetop Trek’ – which includes a thrilling triple zipwire, where Windermere Lake Cruises e-ticket holders can enjoy the thrills for 10% off the usual price.
Visitors can also hire rowing boats and Kayaks on-site, enjoy the gardens, lay back and bask in the sunshine - or even go for a dip in the lake!
And that's not all...
Situated on the peaceful western shore of Windermere, the Victorian neo-gothic Wray Castle and scenic grounds (pictured above) are managed by The National Trust.
It’s not what you might expect though, free of traditional furnishings and brimming over with fun activities for children who can try their hand at building their very own castle, have fun dressing-up as brave knights, playing on rope swings and burning off energy in abundance in the surrounding gardens.
Castle tours are also available, putting a stop-off at the Wray Castle jetty another essential part of the Windermere Lake Cruises experience.
AMBLESIDE PIER (WATERHEAD)
Last but not least, there is what many describe as ‘the true Lake District’, the walkers’ paradise that is Ambleside – so don’t forget to pick up a walks leaflet from the pier’s friendly team.
Windermere Lake Cruises’ Waterhead Pier (pictured above) is less than a mile from the town centre, with plenty awaiting those who take the stroll from the lake’s northern tip. Alternatively, why not take the electric bus shuttle service?
Art and culture are never far away, with the Armitt Museum – an art gallery and reference library giving visitors the opportunity to delve deep into the history of life and arts of the Lakes. An exhibition of the life of Kurt Schwitters can be found there – and of course, there’s more to learn about Beatrix Potter. There’s also information on the nearby remain of a Roman site, which is free to explore.
Zeffirellis, an independent cinema offers viewings of films made by new and emerging talents, while Fellinis shows art-house and independent films, as well as live performances. Meanwhile, The Old Courthouse Gallery showcases the best arts and crafts in the Lakes - and Britain as a whole.
For those who’d rather spent time in the great outdoors, why not pay a visit to Rydal Mount and Gardens? Best known as William Wordsworth's home for nearly 40 years, this is the birthplace of many of his poems – as well as being the house that inspired tweaks and revisions to his world-famous 'Daffodils'.
White Platt's Recreation Area boasts 18 and 9-hole mini golf courses, putting green and crazy golf, as well as tennis courts, a bowling green and infant play area. For those who like to keep on the move, between March 25 and November 3, the Langdale Rambler bus service offers great opportunities to check out other surrounding towns and villages before heading back to Ambleside. As with Bowness, more self-drive power boats and rowing boats are available to hire.
Fancy a freebie to wash down your day of fun? Just wave your Windermere Lake Cruises e-ticket at the team at Waterhead Boutique Hotel & Dining and claim your complimentary tipple of choice when ordering a Waterhead Classic main course or pizza from the all-day menu.
BEYOND THE LAKE
Here in the Lake District, we’re huge advocates of leaving the car behind. But for those who want to cram in as much as possible, Windermere Lake Cruises e-ticket holders can also claim 10% off the High Adventure Full Day Tour in the Western Lakes, offered by our friends at Mountain Goat. Minibuses depart from Bowness, Ambleside, Windermere village and Windermere railway station, heading through stunning high routes all the way to Muncaster Castle where a ride on a steam train awaits.
LET’S BE FRIENDS
And finally, if all this sounds like too much to fit into a single day, you’d be correct. But however you choose to use your time with Windermere Lake Cruises and our good friends at neighbouring attractions, feel free to socialise with us on Twitter @Windermereboats.
Now you’ve read our definitive blog to enjoying the whole Windermere area, we feel it’s safe to say we’re good friends too – so become our friend on Facebook and be among the first to know about our special offers and attractions.
So what are you waiting for? Start planning your day out by choosing a cruise here!