“The loveliest spot that man hath found” is the apt description William Wordsworth used to describe the village of Grasmere, his home and frequent source of inspiration.
You will find the Lake District is an area eternally linked with the Romantic poets. They lamented the distance forming between humanity and nature, and saw places like the Lake District as a reprieve from increasing industrial tendencies. Today, visitors flock to Cumbria with a similar mindset; to relax, take a break and reconnect with nature.
This is, perhaps, the UK’s most serene corner: with rounded mountain tops swooping down into the titular lakes and waterways, verdant green hills peppered with livestock, and villages filled with chocolate-box cottages that capture a simpler time. England’s largest national park offers a dramatic but tranquil landscape – which is perfect for escaping the city.
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Your trip should include a visit to as many of the prettiest towns and villages in the Lake District you can fit in – which is why I have compiled here the best the park has to offer:
Windermere may be the most famous part of the Lake District, but I feel that Keswick is the region’s unofficial capital. It is the main town within the national park’s borders, with the most to keep you occupied, while also being wonderfully picturesque.
Keswick has a long history, which only started being recorded in the Middle Ages, but is believed to extend all the way back to prehistoric times. The Castelrigg Stone Monument is an impressive stone circle dated back to around 3000BC, which suggests that the area of Keswick may have been occupied for millenia.
While there is plenty to see for history buffs, there are a number of sillier activities to enjoy in Keswick. You can go to Puzzling Place for optical illusions and mind-boggling artwork, learn about the history of the pencil at the Derwent Pencil Museum, or try something more active at the Kong Adventure climbing wall. There is enough to keep you occupied for any rainy days.
When the weather is good, however, you will want to go out and explore the stunning scenery that Keswick is immersed in. Derwentwater and the surrounding fells, forests and crags provide some of the best hikes and most unmissable views in all of the Lake District.
Keswick is a charming ancient market town with an enchanting array of independent shops, including Friars, a chocolate shop established in 1927, and cosy cafes and pubs. The town is particularly lovely at Christmas, when the peaks are capped with snow and the historic streets are adorned with twinkling lights.
This is the aforementioned “loveliest spot that man hath found”; Wordsworth’s home is a sentimental little village nestled in the fells right in the centre of the Lake District.
You won’t have to look far to see the inspiration behind Wordsworth’s famous poetry here.
You can visit Dove Cottage, where he and his family once lived – which has since been converted into a museum and tearoom – and see the views Wordsworth would have enjoyed centuries ago; in the grand scheme of things, they have changed very little. The cottage is tucked away in the winding pathways of the village, but walk for just a few minutes and you will find sweeping panoramas of the gorgeous Grasmere lake and surrounding mountains.
There are so many fantastic walks and scenic points you can reach from Grasmere, with Rydall Cave and the waterfall walkways particular highlights. Grasmere itself is a collection of stone cottages and winding streets, accompanied by a pretty stone bridge and 13th century church.
Thanks to its connections to Wordsworth and lovely scenery, Grasmere is a popular village, with many gift and trinket shops. Most famous is the delicious offerings at the Grasmere Gingerbread shop, a type of gingerbread invented in 1854 that can only be bought in England.
Hawkshead is the poster village for the Lake District: it has a history stretching thousands of years into the past, cobbled streets and stone cottages with limitless charm, and the lovely scenery the park is so famous for.
If you’re hoping to find an exceptionally pretty village, you won’t be disappointed by Hawkshead. It is often cited as the prettiest of all the villages in the Lake District. It used to be a village centred on the wool industry in medieval times, but became a market village during the 16th century. Today, it is mostly driven by tourism: the many shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs are supported by the waves of visitors that flock to the village.
You can quickly see the appeal – the cosy inns and rustic old cottages have a lot of character, and are matched by the narrow cobbled streets that can only be the result of centuries of history. Wonky timber frames and slanting medieval houses are the norm in Hawkshead, and house tearooms, boutiques and high-quality gastropubs in the modern day.
From Hawkshead you can begin some fantastic forays into the countryside. One of the most popular is the 2 mile trail to Tarn Hows, which has lovely views and is fairly easy-going.
Think of the Lake District and Windermere is usually the first point of reference. The iconic lake is the largest in England, stretching 10.5 miles in length, and is backed by mountains and lush greenery.
The central hub of Windemere is the town Bowness-on-Windemere, which sits close to the mid point of the lake. Its a pretty town filled with the kind of shops and boutiques that are tailor-made to attract tourists. Inbetween all the gift shops selling trinkets and postcards there are some genuine fantastic independent shops and classic pubs that are well-worth a visit.
Bowness-on-Windermere is the favoured launch point used to explore Lake Windermere; there are a handful of different boat hire providers and a ferry service that can be used to journey around the lake. After all, the best way to see Windemere is on the water!
You can’t stop in Bowness-on-Windemere and not visit the most charming attraction in Cumbria. The World of Beatrix Potter is a dream attraction for families, as the sweet characters of Beatrix Potter’s books are brought to life in wonderful displays and exhibits. Peter Rabbit, Mrs Tiggy-winkle and Jemima Puddle-Duck are just a few of the characters you can expect to see in the interactive exhibits. Beatrix Potter lived in the Lake District for much of her life, in a farm on the western side of Lake Windermere. Her passion for conserving the natural beauty of the area was vital in preserving the scenery we enjoy today.
Kendal sits just outside the borders of the Lake District national park, so isn’t technically in the Lake District, but as it is only nine miles south of Windermere it might as well be.
Compared to the towns and villages inside the park, Kendal is quite large. There is quite a bit to see – for a rural town in Cumbria – but not all of it is as picturesque as you might have hoped. As a larger town, relatively speaking, there is more room for nicer and not-so-picturesque parts. But the parts of Kendal that are pretty are truly lovely, and earn it a place on this list.
You can wander down winding medieval streets, visit the ruins of a 13th century castle and see the pretty riverside area that follows the fast-flowing River Kent through the town. Travel a few minutes south of Kendal by car and you will find Levens Hall, the Elizabethan manor house with the oldest topiary gardens in the world.
Kendal’s most famous export is unquestionably the Kendal mint cake – when in town, you simply have to try this blast of peppermint sweetness. It is often used by people who enjoy endurance sports for a quick burst of energy. There are a number of shops that sell Kendal Mint Cake in town, but Romney’s and Quiggin’s have the most history behind them. If you visit in March, you could run into the Kendal Food Festival, which celebrates food from around the world, with a particular focus on Cumbria.
A willow tree and stone bridge hang over the gently-flowing River Eea in Cartmel, another of the Lake District’s (or just south of the Lake District, in this case) pretty but minute villages.
Cartmel is very quaint and cute, with the typical look of stone cottages and historic homes commonly found in the more picturesque settlements of the region.
The highlight here is the 12th-century Cartmel Priory, an astonishingly large church hidden in this unassuming piece of countryside. It is a beautiful and fascinating piece of architecture with a long history: it was founded by the Normans, saw gunfire during the English Civil War, and came close to destruction during the reign of Tudor king Henry VIII. Cartmel Priory only survived the fate of so many other monasteries during Henry VIII’s dissolution because the villagers protested – they had no other place of worship, so the church was allowed to remain.
Besides the priory, Cartmel has another surprise tucked away in its streets: L’Enclume, the first restaurant in the north of England to earn three Michelin stars. This fine dining experience is the flagship restaurant of Simon Rogan. The focus on hyper-local, seasonal produce makes this a truly Cumbrian dining experience, elevated to an exceptional level.
A lovely village square, rustic pubs and a handful of shops roundout the offerings of this charming village.
Up in the northern fells of the Lake District lies Caldbeck, a simple, traditional village named for the river, ‘Cold Beck’, on which it stands.
This village’s smattering of colourful houses and quaint cottages make the perfect base for exploring the rugged mountain ranges of the northern fells. It is in a very remote area surrounded by beautiful wild countryside, with waterfalls, rivers and mountains almost commonplace. Hiking and cycling into the trails running from Caldbeck is a popular pastime for adventurers staying here – the cosy village is perfect for an escape into nature.
Caldbeck is most famous for the 12th century St Kentigern’s Church. Though it is less about the church itself, and more who is buried there! John Peel, a famous huntsman, and Mary Robinson, the Maid of Buttemere were both buried in the church yard.
Where other towns and villages in the Lake District may sit alongside a lake or be hidden away in the fells, Ravenglass is located on the coast.
It is the only coastal village in the national park, and has a slightly different feel to it due to this. Ravenglass is not, in my opinion, as pretty as the quaint villages nestled in the valleys and fells further inland. But unlike those places, it can boast sea views, a beach and a wonderful steam railway.
One of Ravenglass’ star attractions is the steam-powered Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway, which passes through some of the most outstanding scenery in England, which includes its highest mountain. The journey ends at Dalegarth station, which is close to Boot, another pretty village worth visiting if you get the chance.
Ambleside makes an excellent alternative to Bowness-on-Windermere for those who would like to explore the lake. It is as pretty as the latter town, but isn’t quite so busy.
The town has the typical look of rural settlements in the Lake District: cobbled streets and stone cottages follow a winding river down towards the lake. Ambleside has plenty of attractions that make it unique, however. Not least the Bridge House, an example of whimsical ridiculousness from the 17th century, when a tiny house was built on top of a small stone bridge.
There is also the ruins of a 2nd century Roman fort close to the shore of Lake Windermere, an art gallery, shops, restaurants and a pub. An easy walk to do from Ambleside is the one to Stock Ghyll Force – it only takes 15 minutes to reach this 70 foot waterfall from the centre of Ambleside.
Seatoller is a tiny settlement in the centre of the Lake District which is unquestionably put on the map because of its use as a starting point for scaling Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England.
Besides this famous hike and the other excellent walks in the area, there is little to see or do in Seatoller. But it is pretty, with a lovely stone bridge crossing the River Derwent and a street lined with historic cottages.
Elterwater village is, I think, even smaller than Seatoller. It has a few shops and a historic inn, and is suitably pretty, but is not an action-packed, sightseeing tourism magnet.
Its place in the Great Langdale valley and proximity to Elter Water, for which the village is named, make this one of the prettiest villages in the Lake District. The cottages of Elterwater spring out of the hillside, are hidden amongst lush trees and have a breathtaking backdrop of rugged mountains. This sublime view is even lovelier in the autumn, when the valley turns into a waterfall of oranges, reds and yellows.
Though small, Elterwater is not completely bereft of life. There are a couple of inns, a few places to eat and drink and the odd shop to keep you busy during your visit.
Where Should I Stay?
Some of these lovely towns and villages may be places you would like to visit during your holiday, but not choose as a place to stay. It depends on personal taste almost entirely, and the part of the Lake District you want to be closest to.
If you want to focus on Windermere, Bowness-on-Windermere may be ideal for you, while Keswick is well-placed to explore the northern corners of the park. For a small, off the beaten track rural experience, staying in a small village like Elterwater or Cartmel may be preferable. It depends on what you enjoy in a holiday, but any of the places listed here would be suitable.
Prettiest Towns and Villages in the Lake District
As you can see, you won’t be hard pressed to find pretty towns and villages in the lake district. Which is the prettiest is subjective, but not many would argue against Hawkshead or perhaps Grasmere as strong contenders.
You would struggle to pack all of these places to visit into one trip, but it is worth selecting a few that stand out to you most and going from there. You can always come back and visit the others another time!
The Lake District is a fantastic place to visit, whether you are travelling solo or in a group, or visiting in the depths of winter at the height of summer. It is an excellent national park, with gorgeous scenery and pretty villages, that can be enjoyed by all manner of travellers year-round.
Hi, I'm Kat, an Australian that moved to London in 2013 to start a new adventure. What a roller-coaster that was! I love helping others move to the UK and people explore the world! I’d be honoured if you’d say, “Thanks!” with a £3 coffee on Ko-fi.