Kate Taylor
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Find things to do in Cumbria and the best campsites in the Lake District for your caravan holiday, with Practical Caravan’s expert travel guide

The Lake District has inspired poets, walkers and sailors for centuries – discover it for yourself with a tour to one of England’s most beautiful and popular regions. It’s well set up for tourism, too, allowing you to kick back and relax by the water.

Why is the Lake District such a popular touring destination? For a whole host of reasons, including its dark and brooding lakes, its soaring peaks – which include England’s highest mountain – and its pretty and welcoming towns. There are also tremendous walking opportunities, and the Lake District's connections with poet William Wordsworth and children's author Beatrix Potter draw a large number of fans to the region. Wordsworth enthusiasts can visit a former home of his, Dove Cottage, while the National Trust's Hill Top is the place to go for Beatrix Potter admirers – or head to the Beatrix Potter Gallery in Hawkshead.

The Lakes – which lie entirely within the boundaries of Cumbria – were designated a National Park back in 1951, and the region is well geared up for tourism. It’s also easy to access, as the M6 motorway runs to the east of the region, and the road network around the national park is excellent.

It’s the lakes that give the area its name, of course, and there are plenty for you to visit. These include Windermere – the largest natural lake in England – and Ullswater, which many visitors consider to be the most beautiful. Coniston Water stretches for five miles, while Derwentwater is also renowned for its beauty. Wastwater, meanwhile, is the deepest lake in England, at almost 80 metres.

To escape the crowds, try heading for the smaller lakes such as Devoke Water, Loweswater or Esthwaite Water, with its trout fishery and Osprey safari.

You can take a boat tour on many of the lakes, including Windermere, Ullswater and Coniston (the latter famous as the location for some of Donald Campbell’s many world water-speed records in the 1950s); on some of the trips you can enjoy a tasty meal and even entertainment. If you’d like to power your own sailing tour, then consider hiring a boat – there are numerous companies that allow you to do just that. 

Steam trains provide a memorable, alternative way of seeing the region on your caravan holiday in the Lake District – a ride on the Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway will be a fun day out for all the family. 

The Lakes are surrounded by beautiful valleys and fells that are just perfect for walking. Near Sca Fell you’ll find Scafell Pike, which at 978m is England’s highest mountain. The climb up is steep, but reasonably straightforward. Other mountains that can be ascended include Helvellyn (popular with William Wordsworth), Skiddaw and Great Gable. As with all such walking routes, if you’re planning to traverse any of these you should inform someone of your plans, wear suitable clothing, and carry a charged mobile phone.

Back down to earth you’ll find a wealth of pretty towns in the Lake District, that should offer something to hold your attention no matter what your interests. 

Kendal is one of the most significant, and the third largest town in Cumbria. Kendal Castle lies on its outskirts, and while you’re visiting the town don’t miss sampling the world-famous Kendal Mint Cake. Close to Kendal you’ll find Lake Windermere, as well as the town of Bowness-on-Windermere.

Head a little further north and you’ll arrive at Ambleside, which attracts tourists from all over the world, thanks to its lovely buildings and nice places to eat and drink. Keswick, meanwhile, is located just north of Derwentwater and is home to numerous Lake District festivals throughout the year, and a number of sporting events.

Other interesting towns to visit in and around the Lake District are Appleby, home of the world-famous Appleby Horse FairBarrow-in-Furness, Kirkby Londsdale, Penrith, coastal Ravenglass and Whitehaven.

Slightly further afield, the town of Carlisle is the largest settlement in Cumbria, and is a good place to head if you need to stock up on supplies while you’re touring the region.

The Lake District has attracted tourists for centuries, and continues to do so: tourists will find themselves welcomed and well catered for. You’ll find tourist offices throughout the region, which will help you plan your caravan holiday with ease.

There are lots of campsites in the Lake District, and they range from small, intimate locations to all-singing and dancing family-friendly holiday parks. They can become quite busy, though, particularly during the school holidays, so be sure to book early if that’s when you’re planning to stay. You can find campsites in the Lake District through our sister site Caravan Sitefinder. And Practical Caravan's Top 100 Sites Awards always features many Lake District campsites.

Top five things to do in The Lake District

  1. Sail back in time on Ullswater by hopping on board one of the Ullswater Steamers or take a boat cruise on Lake Windermere. Watersports, fishing and boat hire are all available in the Lake District.

  2. Go walking and mountaineering in the Lake District, either taking a gentle stroll around a lake or following in Wainwright's illustrious footsteps travelling east-west. For climbers, scaling the heights of the fells is a real challenge, with Scafell Pike being one of the high points.

  3. The Lake District is so wild and scenic that it has inspired poets, landscape artists and photographers over the centuries. The Lake Artists Society, founded in 1904 by John Ruskin's secretary, the artist WG Collingwood, still holds two art exhibitions a year, in Penrith and Grasmere, where you can see how The Lakes inspires today's artists. Try a little photography and wildlife-spotting yourself and we think you'll end up with the best holiday photos you've ever taken.

  4. Who can resist a ride on a steam train? Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway offers steam train rides from the only coastal village in the Lake District.

  5. Take a tour of National Trust land and historic houses in the Lake District, including Beatrix Potter's Hill Top and The Beatrix Potter Gallery, where you'll be able to see her charming original drawings of Peter Rabbit and other characters. If that's all a bit too cute for you, why not walk like a Roman centurion along Hadrian's Wall from Carlisle?

When to visit The Lake District

Events take place all year round in the Lake District, perhaps because it attracts outdoor types such as climbers and walkers, who enjoy the area come rain or shine.

Visit the Lake District in March and you'll find plenty of romantic souls arriving for the Words by the Water literature festival. Also in March it is the Dalemain Marmalade Festival, held at The Dalemain Estate near Penrith.

Then in mid-May, the Keswick Mountain Festival attracts extreme sports fanatics and super-fit swimmers, climbers, mountaineers and watersports enthusiasts. This means there's plenty to watch, even if you're not an athlete yourself. 

In June it's the world-famous Appleby Horse Fair, where gypsies have come for centuries to trade horses, meet and generally have a wonderful time – if you like horses, don't miss this spectacular event. Also in June, the Keswick Beer Festival offers real ales galore.

Still in June, it's the Muncaster Festival at Muncaster Castle, Ravenglass. And June is also the month for brave and hardy types to visit the Lake District from all over the country to take part in the Derwent Epic Swim.

Then in August it is time for the Lowther Show, which takes place in the grounds of Lowther Castle. Also in August is the music festival Kendal Calling

September heralds the Derwentwater Trail for runners, with live music, food and drink at the start and finish, as well as Taste Cumbria, this food festival another chance to eat, drink and have fun.

October brings the spectacular sight of leaves turning shades of red and gold, reflected in the still waters of the lakes. Then in early December, thoughts turn to Christmas, and there's a good chance of spotting real reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh at the Keswick Victorian Fayre – a great place to buy presents and browse the many charity stalls. 

How to get to The Lake District

From London, take the M6 north. Leave the motorway at junction 36 for Kendal, or junction 40 for Penrith, junctions 42, 43 and 44 good for roads into Carlisle. If you're travelling across from the east coast to the west, you'll need the main A66 trunk road.

For a truly scenic drive, try the winding A686 from Penrith in Cumbria to Haydon Bridge in Northumberland. It is often thought of as one of the UK's best driving roads and offers amazing views.

The tiny roads within the Lake District do get congested at peak times of the year, so you're encouraged to use buses or trains to get around once you've arrived and pitched your caravan. However, if you enjoy driving, some of the most challenging drives cross mountain passes, such as Hard Knott and Wrynose. But of course, you must remember that in bad weather, some mountain roads may be closed.

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