Cumbria has been a favourite for family holidays and breaks for decades, come rain or shine, and children have always been warmly welcomed. You may not all be dreaming of Helvellyn Summit, but even on a short sail across the water visitors of all ages will appreciate the vastness and beauty of this greatest of outdoors. Best of all, the Lake District’s main attractions are free: whether you head for the hills or explore the shores, you’ll find walks suitable for families of all ages and abilities, while some of the lakes themselves – Windermere, Ullswater and Derwentwater – offer the chance for you to set sail by launch or pleasure boat. That said, you’ll also find some great family attractions that mean there’s more to the Lake District than muddy boots.
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Get yourself a beginner’s guide to walking and hostelling in the Lake District National Park, and check out Go Lakes for adventure activities in the region, from mountain-biking, horse-riding, kayaking, scrambling and rock-climbing to sheepdog handling.
Explore Windermere and the South Lakes. Start with a Windermere Lake Cruise then head to the southern tip of the lake for a ride on the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway. On sunny days, Fell Foot Park is a great place to hire a rowing boat or let kids loose in the adventure playground while you enjoy the views over the lake, while at the Aquarium of the Lakes you can discover the UK’s largest collection of freshwater fish, including the fierce and scary pike and more than 30 displays featuring the weird and wonderful aquatic life of the Lake District. Little ones love the World of Beatrix Potter, a re-creation of the Lakeland landscape where the world-famous stories of Beatrix Potter are brought to 3D life. To see where Potter wrote many of her most famous kids’ books, head to Hill Top Farm near Sawrey in Ambleside.
Venture west of Windermere, to Coniston Water, where you can ride on the Victorian steam yacht Gondola and take part in adventurous outdoor activities at nearby Grizedale Forest, including a Go Ape treetop adventure course.
Head east to Kendal, where you’ll find more than just the famous mint cake – lose yourself in the Lakeland Maize Maze or step back in time to get in touch with Lakeland heritage at the Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry.
Discover the wider South Lakes region with its animal attractions, which make for great days out. South of Kendal, take a stroll through the reeds at Leighton Moss Nature Reserve or head south of Windermere for the innovative bird-of-prey and reptile encounters at Predator Experience. Further afield, younger kids can get close to the animals at Ducky’s Park Farm in Flookburgh, while the tigers at South Lakes Wild Animal Park are a hit with all ages.
Heading north to Keswick and the Northern Lakes, enjoy family-friendly attractions including the famous Keswick Pencil Museum and the Puzzling Place, a small museum stuffed full of enough holograms and optical illusions to keep puzzlers of all ages entertained. On the shores of nearby Bassenthwaite, Trotters World of Animals has more than 100 species including zebra, gibbons and anaconda.
Also close to Keswick, Whinlatter Forest Park is another great place for outdoor activities, with a second Go Ape course (see above). Pony-trekking is a great activity to try out in the North Lakes too: Foot Park Trekking Center by Lake Ullswater offers treks for over-5s.
For lake cruises on the northern lakes, try Ullswater Steamers and Keswick Launch.
Heading north, attractions close to Penrith include Eden Ostrich World and the fantastic Up Front Puppet Theatre.
Out to the west, the beautifully restored Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway winds from the coastal town of Ravenglass through the Western Lakes to the region’s highest mountain. Further north along the coast, the area around the seaside port of Whitehaven also has a number of family-friendly attractions including seafaring tales at The Rum Story, exhibitions at The Beacon gallery and fishy fun at the Lake District Coast Aquarium at Mayport.
Local produce is a highlight of family holidays and breaks in the Lake District, with countless cosy tearooms and pubs offering hearty Cumbrian specialities, including great sausages. Local farmers’ markets are great place to stock up for picnics in stunning surroundings.
On your way into or out of the Lake District by car, don’t miss Cumbria's award-winning Tebay Services, a family-owned services on the M6, just north of Junction 38, famous for the excellent home-made food and award-winning farm shops.By Zannah Ingraham
The Lake District is worth visiting any time of year. In spring and autumn, without the tourist crowds, the roads are clearer and so are the walking paths. Some attractions are only open during the peak season – school holidays Easter–Oct, when most family holidays and breaks take place.
Happily for family holidays and breaks, the Lake District is well connected to the rest of the UK by rail, with trains from London taking 3hrs 30mins and those from Glasgow and Manchester less than 2hrs. Trains stop at Oxenholme Lake District for the Southern Lakes, with connections to Windermere and Ambleside, and at Penrith for the Northern Lakes (Derwentwater, Ullswater), with connections to Keswick.
The Lake District is also easily accessible by road, lying conveniently off the M6. Note that roads in the National Park itself can get very busy, particularly going to and from major towns during peak periods (when Ambleside and Keswick can be chaotic).
Unless you stay at the swankiest hotels and dine at top-end restaurants, you shouldn't leave the Lake District too out of pocket after family holidays and breaks – remember that the best things, the fells and the views, are free! Self-catering cottages start at around £250/wk. B&Bs are also a great-value option, or this is a good place for camping.
The Lake District is jam-packed with family-friendly hotels and self-catering options, including holiday villages, farm-stays and cottages, but prices do reflect the region’s popularity. Book well in advance for high season.
View a great selection of cottages in the Lake District with partners Cottages4you, to suit all budgets (become a TaketheFamily member to get exclusive discounts).
Some of the UK’s best no-booking campsites are in the Lake District: see our feature Pitching Up.
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