What to do in Ambleside, Lake District

Spectacular hikes, waterfalls and fine dining await on a weekend in the Cumbrian town.

View of Windermere from Loughrigg Fell.

Photograph by Getty Images
By Caroline Butterwick
Published 20 Mar 2022, 06:00 GMT, Updated 22 Mar 2022, 15:12 GMT

Why go

Set just north of Windermere, amid the Lake District’s dramatic landscapes and pretty villages, Ambleside’s location takes some beating. The town itself has plenty to offer travellers, too: potter along streets lined with Victorian slate buildings, where, naturally, outdoors shops sell everything from compasses to walking boots. Enjoy a coffee in one of the many independent cafes while poring over a map to plan your day, or wind down an afternoon ramble with a post-hike pint — try walkers’ favourite, The Golden Rule, with its beer garden for sunnier days.

With Cumbria aiming to become the UK’s first carbon-neutral county by 2037, Ambleside’s location means visitors can have a more eco-conscious escape, too, and with plenty of activities and hiking routes on offer in the town, there’s no need to use the car.

What to do

Watching over Ambleside is Loughrigg Fell — an ideal choice for those looking for a nearby walk, with trails starting in the town. At 1,100ft high, Loughrigg is smaller than many of the Lake District’s other peaks, making it a manageable hike for beginners. Various paths ribbon the fellside, providing a range of routes to the summit, and the reward is spectacular views of Windermere’s glistening waters.

For a gentler walk, take the wooded path from the centre of Ambleside to the rushing waters of Stock Ghyll Force, a dramatic, 70ft-high waterfall that once helped power a dozen watermills. Come here in the spring and delight in the daffodils that turn the scene a stunning gold.

Take some time to wander around The Armitt, a museum and gallery exploring Ambleside’s history. The collection here includes an exhibit on beloved author Beatrix Potter, who lived in the nearby village of Near Sawrey in the first half of the 20th century and drew inspiration from the landscape for her famous children’s books.

Pleasure boats moored at Waterhead, near Ambleside.

Pleasure boats moored at Waterhead, near Ambleside.

Photograph by Getty Images

Where to eat

Head to Zeffirellis for Italian-inspired vegetarian dining — think hearty bowls of lasagne and spaghetti al pomodoro, followed by rich tiramisu or refreshing sorbet. Round off your evening by watching a film, as Zeffirellis is also home to a five-screen cinema.

Alternatively, settle into the intimate surrounds of the Michelin-starred Old Stamp House, which serves up fine dining fare that showcases Cumbrian heritage. Opt for the tasting menu, inspired by the county’s landscape, with dishes including black pudding bonbons with Cumberland sauce and hand-dived scallop with a mead velouté.  

Don’t miss

Arguably the best way to experience the Lake District is to get onto the water. Head to Waterhead Pier and enjoy a boat ride on Windermere, England’s largest natural lake. Windermere Lake Cruises operates a range of trips where you can enjoy the mountain scenery while feeling the breeze on your face. It’s also a great way of exploring the area: hop off at Brockhole, the Lake District visitors centre, with activities including a treetop trek and kayaking tours.

We like

Amble down to the lakeside and give yourself half an hour or so to see Ambleside Roman Fort. These remains are believed to date from the second century, during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. The fort’s stone ruins are dotted around the three-acre field, with several display boards offering a fascinating insight into life in Roman-era Cumbria.   

Where to stay

After a busy day’s exploring, rest up at Rothay Manor, a Grade II-listed boutique hotel on the outskirts of Ambleside. The comfortable, spacious rooms are all individually designed, with some featuring balconies, terraces, or a private hot tub – perfect for a relaxing soak. The two restaurants on site offer either fine dining or a more casual experience, making the most of fresh, seasonal ingredients. From £200, B&B. 

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