A long weekend is enough to fall in love with the Lake District. Even in the pouring rain or under the ever-present grey skies, a journey, a walk, a meal – the Lake District is likely to leave its mark on you.
Most weekend and day guides to the area will usually direct your first visit towards the southern area of the National Park around the famous Windermere and Bowness area. But having lived in various parts of the Lake District over the last four years, I always feel the North Lake District around Keswick (where I recommend you base yourself) has a much more dramatic, wilder feel and provides a wider range of options for a long weekend, which have a slightly more authentic feel to the area.
I have listed various options for your weekend depending on what you might be after – be it an adventurous weekend of hikes or a more leisurely pace, plus ideas for rainy days if the weather closes in.
Just a note that if you do this itinerary in summer, you won’t need a car as all the places mentioned are accessible by public transport.
So if you’re ready, let’s get stuck into my guide to a long weekend in the Lake District
Friday Evening: Arriving in Keswick
Dinner at Square Orange
After you arrive and find your accommodation in Keswick, head for tapas or a pizza at Square Orange, a cosy and lively restaurant just off the main square. Try one of the specials and toast the start of your long weekend.
Square Orange, 20 St John’s St, Keswick, CA12 5AS
Breakfast at Merienda
Fuel up for the first day of adventure at Merienda in the main square of Keswick. I love the variety here from the classic smoked salmon and scrambled eggs to more filling brunch options such as slow-cooked Boston beans and corn fritters with local bacon and poached eggs.
Merienda, 10 Main St, Keswick, CA12 5JD | Breakfast from 8am Monday to Saturday and 9am Sunday.
Daytime: Adventurous Option
Cat Bells Hike
Cat Bells is one of the most popular hikes in the Lake District, and with good reason – the views back over to Derwentwater and the surrounding hills are stunning. The first part of the walk is a relatively easy path winding up to a small plateau before a slightly steeper climb with a short scramble at the end to the summit.
You can either walk to the start of the hike from Keswick through to Portinscale and along the Cumbria Way path (which is around 2 miles) or catch the boat to Hawse End near the start of the walk. (You can also drive but parking can get very limited).
During the peak season (usually March to October), Keswick Launch Company run a popular 9.45 am sailing which will take you directly to Hawse End.
You can find more detailed directions for the Cat Bells walk here
Daytime: Chilled Option
Walk to Friars Crag, Castlewood Viewpoint and an Afternoon Boat Trip on Derwentwater
If you fancy a more relaxed day, head out of Keswick and down to the lake. Take the left-hand path along the shore out to Friars Crag which has stunning views back over the lake and across to the familiar curved skyline of Cat Bells.
Extend the walk a little further by retracing your steps to the Theatre by the Lake and taking the path through Cockshot Woods, across the main road and into Castlehead Woods where the path winds up a short, steep hill and out to the Castlewood Viewpoint. For a relatively tiny climb, you are rewarded with sweeping views over Derwentwater and neighbouring fells.
You can find more detailed directions for the walk here.
In the afternoon, hop on a boat trip around Derwentwater. You can choose to stay on for the full 50-minute trip around the lake or use your ticket to hop on and off.
There are 8 stopping points around the lake (although these may be less if the lake becomes too high or low due to rainfall). Lodore is a good jumping-off stop with an easy stroll up to Lodore Falls.
Hawse End is also a lovely spot to visit Lingholm Walled Gardens, which Beatrix Potter used to visit on her holidays. It was said to inspire the garden of Mr McGregor in her famous Tales of Petter Rabbit books.
Lingholm also has a beautiful cafe set in the gardens which serve a wide range of lunches, cakes and afternoon tea.
Daytime Rainy Day Option in Keswick –
Pencil Museum/Keswick Museum/ Lake District Distillery
If the famous Cumbrian rain has truly set in for the day, there are a few indoor options to try. The Keswick Museum and Art Gallery situated next to Fitz Park on the outside of the town documents local life through the ages through a series of zones (such as landscape, literature, arts and crafts) and has changing local exhibitions and activities for children.
Keswick is also home to one of the first pencil factories opened in 1832. The current factory site was built in the 1920s and only closed in 2007. You can learn more about the process of making pencils and how the graphite was extracted at the nearby Seathwaite mines at the Keswick Pencil Museum. Take part in the fun quiz and trail around the museum which includes seeing the world’s largest pencil.
If whisky or gin is your jam, you could book a tour at The Lakes Distillery a 15-minute drive from Keswick along the shores of Bassenthwaite lake and learn about the whisky-making process before trying a selection of their famous spirits (booking is recommended especially in peak season).
Dinner at Fellpack
Head to Fellpack for dinner (booking is advised). I absolutely love this place and when I lived in Keswick, this was the place I would always take visiting friends!
Not only is the menu thoughtful, creative and seasonal with a range of classic dishes with innovative twists (think cauliflower carbonara, ramen or katsu curry), the staff are always super friendly and there is a lovely collection of photos from around the Lake District.
Evening: Catch the latest film or theatre show
One of the things I love about Keswick is the cultural nighttime options. Check out the film at the beautiful 1930s Alhambra cinema, which plays a mix of current blockbusters and independent films.
Or the Theatre By the Lake also has a series of plays, musicals and productions year round which has a cosy, homely feel that makes you feel part of the action.
Breakfast at Lake Road Brunch
Start your second day off at Lake Road Brunch (LRB) for the fluffiest buttermilk pancakes or brunch with a twist such as a masala dosa or homemade salt beef hash. The airy, quicky place also has plenty of veggie options and a separate vegan menu (booking is advised in peak season as it’s really popular).
Daytime: Bus/Road Trip around the Borrowdale/Buttermere Valley
Stop 1: The Borrowdale Valley
Today we are heading out on a road trip and exploring the dramatic northern area of the Lake District.
Public Transport Option This trip can be done using the 77/77A circular bus route which runs clockwise and anticlockwise from Keswick every hour and stops at Borrowdale, Honister, Buttermere and Whinlatter. To get the most out of your day, you’d be best to catch the first bus towards Honister that leaves Keswick at 8.30 am. You can pick up a day ticket for the region which will allow you to hop on and off all day which is £9.50 for adults or £7 for children.
Driving option – Set off from Keswick heading south on the B5289 towards Borrowdale, a dramatic valley at the head of Derwentwater. En route, you may wish to make a detour to the scenic Ashness Bridge for views over the valley, take a visit to the Bowder Stone, a house-sized boulder you can climb up using a ladder or stop in the pretty villages or Grange or Rosethwaite for tea and cake.
If you feel the need to stretch your legs, Borrowdale has a great range of short or medium walks such as `Castle Crag (a small slate hill) or visit Milcan Daltons Cave Hotel, the home of a former hermit who moved up from London.
Stop 2: The Honister Pass
Leaving Borrowdale and the hamlet of Seatoller behind, the road now winds steeply up Honister Pass, where the summit is 356m above sea level.
Depending on the weather and how energetic you feel, there are a number of options you can choose from….
If you fancy a quick stop simply admire the view, check out the slate creations in the shop from the mine, and have a refuel in the cafe before continuing the road trip.
If you are feeling adventurous…. the Honister Slate Mine also has a range of activities you can try, from an underground tour of the mine, an extreme ViaFerrata adventure, an infinity bridge or climbing in the mine (it’s wise the book activities in advance if you are travelling in peak season).
If you feel the need to stretch your legs, there are a number of walks you can take from the Honister Pass. A steep, but fairly straightforward walk is up to Dale Head (753m) which allows for stunning 360-degree views across the northern Lake District.
A more chill option is the walk past the slate quarries to Dubs Hut, a former mining hut (which is still used as a bothy that walkers and climbers can sleep in overnight) with views back down towards our next stop, Buttermere.
Leaving the Honister Pass behind, the pass descends steeply into the valley, with the imposing shadow of Fleetwith Pike to your left. The road then hugs the shoreline of Buttermere, one of the most scenic lakes in the Lake District.
Continue on until you reach the small hamlet of Buttermere with a reasonably sized car park.
Lunch at Syke Farm Tea Room, Buttermere
There are a couple of options for lunch in Buttermere, but Skye Farm Tea Room with its homemade pies, cakes and sandwiches is one of my faves. In summer they also sell ice cream homemade from the milk of their Ayrshire cows from the neighbouring farm.
Stop 3: Buttermere for a circular walk of the lake
After lunch, head out for a circular walk of Buttermere a lovely, fairly flat 4.5 miles that starts at the end of the lake, continuing into Butness Woods, before opening out to views of Fleetwith Pike and Haystacks before finishing with a short walk through a cave!
You can find a more detailed guide to a circular walk of Buttermere here
Leaving Buttermere behind, you have the option to return to Keswick via the way you came over the Honister Pass.
Alternatively, you could return via the Newlands Pass (a slightly shorter route), or extend your trip even further by heading towards Crummock Water up to High Lorton before turning off towards the Whinlatter Pass which winds through the forest.
Stop 4: Whinlatter Forest
If time allows, make a final stop for a wander in the woods at Whinlatter Forest, England’s only mountain forest. There are a number of way-marked walking and running routes from 1.5 miles to longer routes up to the summit of Seat Howe or Loads Seat.
Whinlatter also has a fantastic selection of mountain bike trails, (with bike hire available next to the information point in the car park) a Go Ape adventure course and a Gruffalo trial for younger kids plus a lovely cafe with views over the forest.
Leaving Whinlatter behind, head down the pass into the village of Braithwaite before continuing on the A66 which takes you back into Keswick.
Dinner – Burgers & cocktails at The Round
Toast an end to your Lake District adventure with cocktails and epic homemade burgers at The Round in the heart of Keswick to finish off a memorable weekend!
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