The complete guide to visiting Ambleside in the Lake District

Set in the heart of the Lake District National Park, Ambleside makes a great place to base yourself on a trip to the Lake District, with plenty of options in the surrounding area for walking, outdoor adventures, or simply enjoying the scenery.

Since moving to the Lake District in 2019, I’ve lived in Ambleside for four of my five years and checked out many local spots.

This blog post will provide you with a guide to Ambleside, including information on things to do, rainy day ideas, where to eat and the best walks in the surrounding areas. I hope you find this guide useful – and do let me know if there is anything that needs updating or adding to!

Things to do in Ambleside 

There is a great variety of things to do in Ambleside – from taking a boat trip on Windermere to exploring old Roman ruins or getting out into the fells for a walk – here is a selection of my favourite things to do in Ambleside.

Take a boat trip on Windermere (from Ambleside Waterhead)

A short walk from the main centre of Ambleside will take you to the head of Windermere, known as Ambleside Waterhead. At 10 miles long, Windermere is England’s largest lake, and one of the finest ways to explore it is by taking a boat trip with Windermere Lake Cruises.

Choose from a short hop down to Bowness, Brockhole or the Windermere Jetty Museum or the full lake cruise, which takes you down to Lakeside at the southern tip of the lake. In high season (May to October), you can also take the green route, which goes across the lake from Ambleside to Wray Castle.

Another option is to pick up a Walkers ticket, take the boat to Wray Castle, walk down the western shore of Windermere, hop on the chain ferry back to Bowness and take the boat back to Ambleside.

Sailing to Wray Castle on the Green Cruise on Windermere

You can find out more about the different cruises offered on Windermere here.

Pick up a Heritage Trail Map (available from the Library or the Armitt Museum) and learn about historic Ambleside

Produced by the Ambleside Civic Trust, this leaflet leads you through three distinct historical phases of Ambleside and away from the mass of outdoor shops and cafes! The tour starts at the Market Cross in the centre of Ambleside and takes you to historic spots such as Bridge Street, overlooking Stock Ghyll, which still has the old watermill wheel formerly used to make bobbins. The trail also takes you up to Peggy Hill, a steep but rewarding walk with stunning views back down to Ambleside.

Check out the Galava Roman Fort Ruins 

A 15-minute walk from the centre of Ambleside next to Borrans Park takes you to Galava, the foundational remains of an old Roman fort discovered between 1914-1920 and dates back to around the 2nd century, most likely built by Emperor Hadrian.

The site is free to enter, and information boards paint a picture of what the fort would have looked like back in Roman times.

Take a visit to the tiny Bridge House 

The most iconic site in the town, the tiny Bridge House stands over Stock Beck on the northern fringes of Ambleside, originally used to store apples (built cleverly to avoid land tax!) and later as a cobbler, tea shop, chair makers workshop, and even housing a family of eight!

The local Armitt Museum opens the Bridge House on specific days during the summer season, depending on the availability of volunteers. Contact The Armitt directly to check the current opening times.

Take a walk to see Stock Ghyll Waterfall 

One of the most popular walks in Ambleside is the Stockghyll Waterfall, taking around 45mins – 1 hour to walk the loop from Ambleside. The first part of the walk is along a road before heading into a small wooded area (with the first waterfall but keep going for more!) and up a rough (often muddy) path to the waterfall. There are various viewing spots along the way and you can loop back over and come back down the other side or choose to rejoin the road.

Before heading back to Ambleside, head to the Force Cafe for a well-deserved drink, cake, or ice cream after your visit which is is close to the walk’s entrance and has one of the best views from a cafe in the Lake District!

You can find more detailed directions for the Stockghyll Waterfall walk here.

Have a picnic in Borran’s Park 

Sitting at the head of Windermere and a 15-minute walk from Ambleside, with gorgeous views over the lake – this is another perfect Lake District picnic spot to enjoy or go for a gentle stroll before or after exploring Windermere by boat. The park is also in the neighbouring field to the Galava, the Roman ruins I mentioned earlier in this post.


Play mini golf at White Platts Recreation Ground

Set in the heart of Ambleside, White Platts Recreation Ground is a cute place to play a round of 9-hole mini golf, perfect for both kids and adults. It is open from April to October, and a small cafe also serves hot drinks and ice cream. The recreation ground also has tennis courts and a putting green.


Get off the beaten track at Stagshaw Gardens and Skelghyll Woods 

Away from Ambleside’s main hustle and bustle, escape to the secret haven of Stagshaw Gardens, 5 mins by car or 20-25 minutes walk from Ambleside on the way to Windermere. Created by forrmer National Trust land agent Cubby Acland in 1957, you follow a rambling path through a steep woodland garden, which bursts to life in spring with rhododendrons and azaleas. Next to the gardens is Skelghyll Woods, home to some of the tallest trees in England, with footpaths leading up to Jenkins Crag for stunning views over Windermere.

Take a stroll in Rothay Park 

A 5-minute stroll from the centre of Ambleside, Rothay Park is the perfect place to enjoy a takeaway lunch or picnic or go for a circular walk around the park to take in views of the surrounding hills and the River Rothay.

There is also a a large playground suitable for younger and olds kids, plus a football pitch to burn off steam.

Ride the open-top bus to Bowness or Grasmere 

The open top 599 bus runs all year round, travelling between Bowness to the south and Grasmere to the north, with excellent views over a number of the lakes, including Windermere, Rydal and Grasmere. The bus also usually has commentary, identifying local landmarks and places of interest along the way.

Until the end of 2024 single fare bus tickets are only £2, making it a great value Lake District adventure!

Read More: Top Deck: How to see the Lake District by open top bus

Things to do in Ambleside When It Rains 

Go to the cinema 

Rainy day in Ambleside? Head to Zeffirellis, which shows a selection of current and past blockbusters, indie films, and kids’ films on several screens. Zeffirellis also has an excellent Italian-inspired vegetarian restaurant specialising in pizza and pasta, both at lunchtime and in the evening, with the downstairs cafe also serving informal drinks. You can find out the latest cinema times here.


Learn about the history and stories of Ambleside and visit the Beatrix Potter exhibition at Armitt Museum 

Based on the edge of the University of Cumbria campus, the Armitt Museum paints a fascinating history of life in Ambleside through the ages, plus an exciting insight into the life of Beatrix Potter (that goes beyond her life as a children’s illustrator and explores how she became a prominent Lake District sheep farmer) including copies of her original books and sketches.

The museum also hosts changing exhibitions, with 2024 offering an insight into fell running in the Lake District with an exhibition called Running Int ‘Fells. It also hosts many daytime and evening talks during the spring and summer.

You can find the most up-to-date opening times and admission prices here.

Go indoor climbing or bouldering

Based at Ambleside Adventures on the edge of the town, the small centre has a bouldering and indoor climbing wall where you can book taster sessions, private lessons or unsupervised sessions for more experienced climbers. You can find out more about climbing in Ambleside here.

Local walks that start from Ambleside

A selection of walks starting from Ambleside – from short, flat strolls to more adventurous options in the Lake District hills.

Short Walks around Ambleside

  • Bridge House to Low Sweden Bridge – a short uphill stroll from the centre of Ambleside with fine views to the Fairfield Horseshoe. Perfect for those short on time or needing a little walk to shake out their legs.
  • High Sweden Bridge Loop – a 3-mile loop which climbs up towards Scandale Beck to the old packhorse bridge of High Sweden. The walk then descends through a shady path, following the beck back into Ambleside. The beauty of this walk is that it tends to be quieter than the local hotspots such as Loughrigg and Wansfell.
  • Ambleside to Rydal – choose either the footpath that links the northern reaches of Ambleside on a quiet, gravel footpath, or the quiet road heading out of Rothay Park and under Loughrigg (or both to make it a circular walk).

Read More: 10 things to do in Rydal in the heart of the Lake District

Hill Walks near Ambleside

  • Loughrigg Fell – at 335m high, Loughrigg is one of the smaller hills in the Lake District – but it still packs a punch in terms of views, and it makes an ideal walk families or those after a more chill Lake District hill walk.
  • Wansfell Pike – the 487m high hill that looms large over the centre of Ambleside makes a fantastic linear walk or can be combined with a longer, circular route dropping down to Troutbeck and returning through Skelghyll Woods and back into Ambleside – one of my fave circular walks in the Lake District!

Longer Walks – a day in the hills

  • The Fairfield Horseshoe – a classic Lake District ridge walk that takes in 8 Wainwright hills on the horseshoe loop with stunning views over the central Lakes and beyond – a serious walk, though and not to be taken lightly, though!

Where to Eat and Drink in Ambleside 

Ambleside Cafes and Takeaway

  • Apple Pie Cafe and Bakery—a cafe and takeaway bakery, this family-run place has been a locals’ and visitors’ favourite since the 1970s. It serves tasty lunches, pastries, sausage rolls, and a delicious array of homemade bread, cakes, and, of course, apple pie!
  • The Picnic Box – one of the best value spots in town for takeaway sandwiches, baguettes and panini’s
  • Copper Pot – a cosy spot for homemade breakfasts, lunches and cakes
  • Esquires – the best spot to grab an early coffee and breakfast in town (open from 8am)
  • Freshers Cafe – friendly cafe serving hearty breakfasts and tasty lunches and cakes
  • Great North Pie – probably one of the best pies I’ve ever eaten, served with creamy mash and epic gravy, a great spot for lunch after a morning on the fells
  • Force Cafe – a 15-minute uphill walk from a town close to Stock Ghyll waterfall, Force has one of the best views from a cafe in the Lake District. Also, they serve local Carvetti coffee and a range of brunch and lunch classics such as Eggs Benedict, burgers, salads and curry
  • Tacos Del Sol – Daytime takeaway only serving authentic Mexican street food such as quesadillas, tacos and burritos
  • Rattle Ghyll Fine Food Deli – Takeaway only. From the couple behind the super popular Rattle Ghyll Cafe, take your pick from a range of sandwiches, soups, frittata, wraps, local cheese and olives and a range of homemade salads and cakes. Plus, lots of options gluten-free and vegan options (just ask).

Read More: The 12 Best Cafes in the Lake District

Ambleside Restaurants

  • Dodds – family-run run popular Italian sit-down restaurant and takeaway serving lunch and dinner
  • Kysty – the sister restaurant from the team behind the Michelin-starred Old Stamp House serving seasonal dishes from locally sourced produce
  • Matthews Bistro – a small, popular bistro serving British and European classics
  • Dio Intanon – tasty sit down or takeaway authentic Thai restaurant
  • Zefferrelis – Italian inspired delicious vegetarian pizza and pasta
  • Fellinis – fresh, seasonal, modern Medettarian vegetarian restaurant

Ambleside Fine Dining

  • The Old Stamp House – intimate 28 cover Michelin-starred restaurant focusing on local Cumbrian produce (advance booking essential)
  • Lake Road Kitchen – recently awarded its first Michelin Star for its modern, creative fine dining menu (advanced booking essential)

Ambleside Bars

  • Tap Yard – Located next to the iconic Bridge House and serving craft beer, pizza and burgers with outdoor seating in summer
  • The Flying Fleece – sister restaurant to Tap Yard serving a variety of pub classics with lots of outdoor seating in summer
  • The Lily – local beers, cocktails and classic pub food

Ambleside Pubs

Whilst there are a number of fairly decent pubs in Ambleside (including The Royal Oak, The Unicorn, The Ambleside Inn The White Lion), The Golden Rule trumps them all for atmosphere and authenticity, an old school walkers pub that doesn’t do food just bags of character and atmosphere.

Self Catering in Ambleside

If you are self-catering, there are three small supermarkets in Ambleside – Tesco Express, Co-op and Budgens, with larger supermarket options in Windermere and Keswick which both have a Booths supermarket.

Rattle Ghyll Deli has a great selection of local pies, homemade cakes, and salads, including plenty of gluten-free and vegan options. It also has a zero-waste section where you can stock up on nuts, seeds, rice, pasta, porridge oats, and muesli.

Garside Butchers is a quality, family-run butcher (with a view takeaway options such as epic sausage rolls and scotch eggs. Greensmith’s is also a small greengrocer, opposite Tesco, that sells fruit, vegetables, and whole food staples.

Where to Shop in Ambleside 

  • Rattle Ghyll Fine Foods and Deli – for local Cumbrian food and drink such as Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding, Carvetti and Podda & Wren coffee beans (which can be ground freshly for you), local gins and whiskeys plus a wide selection of biscuits, artisan chocolate, jams and chutneys, perfect for taking home as gifts.
  • Detail – independent homeware, lifestyle and gift shop, also selling a selection of local art, homeware and greeting cards
  • Fred’s of Ambleside – one of the best bookshops in the Lake District with an eclectic selection of fiction, nonfiction, young adult and an upstairs children’s section (with a secret hiding corner!). Fred’s can also order books in (often for the next day) should you need to top up any holiday reading
  • The Bath House – Cumbrian-made perfume & natural skincare handmade using natural ingredient

Read More: 4 of the best independent bookshops in the Lake District

How to get to Ambleside by public transport

Ambleside is very accessible to get to by public transport, with regular buses connecting the town with Keswick to the north and Kendal to the south, where there is the main West Coast train line stops at Oxenholme Lake District, 2 miles out of Kendal.

Oxenholme Railway Station also has a feeder train line that serves Kendal, Burnside, Staveley and Windermere. The bus from Windermere station to Ambleside usually takes around 20 minutes (sometimes longer if traffic is heavy in summer) and runs regularly until around 8pm in summer (plus two later buses) and every half an hour in winter. Windermere station also has an often well staffed taxi rank, too.

If you are visiting the Lake District without a car, Ambleside is the perfect place to base yourself, with multiple bus routes running through or starting at Ambleside such as those to the Langdale valley, Coniston, Hawkshead, Keswick, Grasmere and Windermere.

Car Parking in Ambleside 

  • Disc parking on the street is available during the day until 6 p.m., which allows either half an hour or one hour of free parking in Ambleside. Discs are also available from local shops and hotels.
  • For longer stays, there are 5 main car parks around Ambleside. 4 hours is around £6.40, with all day parking £9.40
  • If you arrive early enough at the weekends and during the school holidays, there is parking by donation at Ambleside Primary School
  • A 20 minute walk, on the main road out towards Rydal is Ambleside Cricket Club that has around 15 spaces for parking by donation – perfect if you are heading out for a longer walk such as the Fairfield Horsehoe.

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