Over the Easter Holiday, we were invited to work with Cumbria Tourism to explore all that the Lake District has to offer for a family holiday. In this post we have reviewed 7 Places to Visit during a Family Holiday to the Lake District.
We stayed in a lovely cosy apartment, booked ourselves through Home Away, our default when looking for any self-catering accommodation.
Day 1 – The World of Beatrix Potter
Arriving late at night, we knew day one needed to be an easy day and so we headed straight over to The World of Beatrix Potter, where a family ticket had been arranged for us.
Taking between 35 mins and an hour, this family friendly attraction was perfect for our 3 year old (and our 9 year old enjoyed the treasure trail around the exhibition too…). As you arrive, you go into a small room to watch a short film about Beatrix Potter, containing lots of colourful illustrations from the world famous book and so it easily holds the attention of the little ones.
After this, you enter the exhibition, where a windy path (suitable for push chairs – except the little garden outside…) takes you through some of Beatrix Potter’s most well-known stories such as The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin and The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle. For each story, there are some beautiful models, interactive screens as well as lots of miniature scenes at toddler level which can be illuminated with a button, something our little one really liked. There is a Virtual Walk towards the end of the exhibition, where you can watch a short film, see 360 panoramas of the Lake District and complete interactive puzzles and challenges. You also get a chance to take a photo on a green screen at the end (something we had to drag our children away from as there was a queue!) where you can get a photo with your favourite character (payable in the shop).
As with most attractions, we ended in the shop, take care to note that this marks the end of the exhibition so if you want to go back through again (or pick up any clues you have missed on the treasure trail!) you need to do this before you exit into the shop.
At this point, we had a pair of hungry children so we popped downstairs to the Tea Room. Here, you can choose from a variety of meals and snacks which are fairly reasonably priced (our children had a half jacket potato each for £3.50 and the portion was huge!). It does get rather busy in here but the service is relatively quick and so the tables clear frequently…however, if you have hungry children, you really are only a ‘hop, skip and a jump’ to the heart of Bowness where there are an abundance of eating places…
We took a wonder down to the lake and into a market that was on today, popping in and out of a few shops on the way (there are so many lovely shops but always much more relaxing to browse when child free!).
At this point, we needed coffee! We trekked back up into town and chose Monties, a cosy looking coffee shop on the high street with a small but good selection of cake (gluten free options – hurrah!) and incredibly child friendly staff who delighted our two with free lollipops! It was then time to head back to the holiday apartment to plan the rest of the week.
7 Places to Visit during a Family Holiday to the Lake District
Day 2 – Exploring Windermere
With the littlest one poorly at home with Daddy, it was time for some ‘Mummy-Daughter’ time so we set off to explore Windermere.
Windermere itself isn’t ‘lakeside’, often a common misconception, with Bowness-on-Windermere being the more well-known port of call for ferry trips and direct access to the lake itself. We parked up in one of the car parks on the outskirts of the town of Windermere (street parking tends to be limited to a couple of hours only) and set off to explore the independent shops on offer.
Windermere has a couple of larger food shops on offer (a Sainsburys Local and a Booths) so it is a good placed to head to if you want to stock up when self-catering. It also has a knowledgeable Tourist Information, Train Station (handy to know if exploring different modes of transport) and is one of the main locations on most of the bus routes to other local towns. You can get an open-top bus around the local area if you are fed up of the car (and want to entertain the children with the novelty of an open top bus journey!).
We popped in and out of various shops and then headed up to Lakeland (by the station) with the promise of good coffee and cake! We ended up distracted by an in-store Easter Egg hunt for a while (a free activity with a Crème Egg as a prize!) and so by the time we headed up to the café it was lunchtime.
Lakeland offer a varied and fresh menu and there are some choices specifically for the children too. It does tend to get busy so they offer a ‘buzzer’ waiting system so you can walk around the store while you wait. You can also just have coffee and cake on the ‘cosy’ chairs outside the café if you want a quicker service. This is a good option if you have little ones as there is a small soft-play here which you can use to entertain the children while you drink your coffee while it’s hot!
Day 3 – Brockhole
In collaboration with Cumbria Tourism, we had been lucky enough to be provided with tickets for some activities at Brockhole, The Lake District Visitor Centre, so we headed off nice and early to make the most of the day.
Located a few miles from Bowness and on the way to Ambleside, Brockhole is an absolute gem of a day out for families. There is a real mix of activities on offer for all ages and although you have to pay for parking, there are lots of activities that are free to take part in (although you will be tempted by the abundance of activities on offer that you do need to pay for so be prepared!).
Our first activity of the day was the Tree Top Trek. Set high among the trees, this high ropes course invites you to ‘swing, climb, balance and fly your way through 250 year old oak trees’ with ’35 exciting treetop challenges including aerial obstacles like rope bridges and wobby logs’ with the highlight being the final 250 metre triple zip which allows you to ‘race your friends to the finish line!’ No previous experience is needed, just a little bit of adventure and determination and little ones can take part in the Mini Trek from the age of 5 and children of 7 years and upwards able to participate in the Full Trek.
We climbed, jumped and zipped our way through the course (the time it takes you depends on how busy it is and the speed of the participants in front of you) and had a really enjoyable couple of hours. The highlight really was the zip line at the end where we were able to race together and fly over the site with a magnificent view across the hole of Brockhole.
After this, we were ready for re-fuelling and made our way up to the café in the main house. This can get rather busy during peak times so you may prefer to bring a picnic to eat in the groups (there are lots of picnic tables as well as undercover places to eat) or buy sandwiches from the shop. We found our table (worth noting you can’t order food without a table!) and ordered our food which was reasonably priced and came quickly, before heading back down the hill for our next adventure…
The Tree Top Nets are colossal multi-level nets which are suspended from the trees. More than 1,500 metres of giant trampolines, walkways, slides and tunnels, all made from bouncy netting are suspended up to 9 metres off the ground. This family friendly activity is accessible for anyone from the age of 3 years upwards so it is a great activity for everyone to enjoy (although be warned, it’s exhausting and the adults in our group ran out of steam long before the children did!).
Our favourite activity here was the slides. These are net tunnels which vary in length and are accessed by sliding down in ‘bags’ to avoid any friction injuries! The children also enjoyed the larger nets full of balls where you can play with inflatable, multi-sized balls as you bounce around and generally wear everyone out!
The nets are adjacent to the park and so we hopped off the nets and into the park where we were able to watch the children burn off more energy as we recovered from all the bouncing. The park is full of new looking equipment and provided enough entertainment and challenge for both our children (aged 9 and 3 years old). It is also gated so ensures the children are relatively contained while they play. It was a really busy afternoon so both kids palled up and we had to drag them away with the promise of ice creams. It really is worth noting that the children would have quite happily played here for a few hours so other than the cost of parking and a coffee or ice cream, it would be a good value for money experience.
Brockhole really does have a huge amount of activities on offer and we will certainly be heading back there again. We didn’t have time to explore the Easter Egg Hunt or the Herdy Trail (which both kids were keen to do but we just ran out of time!). There are also water based activities such as kayaking and boat hire as well as mini golf, Laser Clay Shooting and some rather spectacular looking buggies called Crazi Bugz (off road driving for children!). Up at the main house there is a small gift shop as well as an indoor caving activity. On rainy days there is also the opportunity to access a free of charge soft play which was small, but perfect for our 3 year old. It is also worth noting that you can arrive by ferry if preferred as the Windermere Lake Cruises stop off here.
Brockhole has already become a firm favourite and we will certainly be back. A great day out for all the family and more than a days-worth of fun! A fabulous place to Visit during a Family Holiday to the Lake District.
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Day 4 – Freedom of the Lake and The Lake Aquarium
We had been provided with a ‘Freedom of the Lake’ ticket by Cumbria Tourism and Windermere Lake Cruises so set off nice and early to make the most of our day. We easily parked in Bowness for the day (it was before 10am so plenty of spaces available – it does get busy as the day goes on, especially when the weather is good!) and walked to Bowness Pier to catch our boat ‘Swan’.
Windermere Lake Cruises offer a variety of options regarding cruises across Lake Windermere, you can head South on the Lake to go to Lakeside, or North on the Lake to head to Ambleside. There are also different stop off points, depending on the choice of cruise, for example, you can choose to get dropped off at Brockhole, which enables you to have a ‘car free’ day, something that I always try to achieve when heading off on holiday! There are also a number of packages you can choose from which incorporate the cruise along with other attractions such as the Lakeland Motor Museum, Lakes Aquarium and a trip on the local Steam Train.
We caught the first ferry South and enjoyed a cup of tea as we cruised down the Lake, in awe of the magnificent houses on the shore and deciding which house should be ours (well, we can dream!). After around 40 minutes, we reached Lakeside and quickly disembarked to board the waiting steam train on the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway.
This historic line takes you on a 3.2 mile trip back in time as you occupy carriages on the steam train and watch the beautiful scenery out the window as you travel. The end of the line arrives in around 20 minutes and as you leave the train at Haverthwaite, the children’s attention will immediately be grabbed by the park! We spent a good hour playing here as the children teamed up with newly found friends and watched the train come and go.
We chose to eat at the Tea Room at Haverthwaite where there is a good selection of homemade food on offer. The food is good quality and the portions are huge! There is also a small shop and a chance to view some of the other Steam Trains stationed there.
We hopped back onto the train (a top tip, wait and get the carriage at the very back which offers you a panoramic view and lots of space!) and headed back to Lakeside as we had been provided with tickets to visit the Lakes Aquarium.
The Lakes Aquarium on the southern shore of Windermere is ‘home to hundreds of amazing creatures, showcasing wildlife from the Lake District as well as more exotic species from around the world’. Children can access a quiz as the explore (although there is quite a bit of reading involved in this so more suited to our 9 year old than our 3 year old) and there are a variety of different attractions such as tanks at different levels, a tunnel to walk ‘under the lake’ and our personal favourite, the leaf cutter ants…here you were able to watch a colony of ants in action as they transported food and leaves from one end of their tank to the other. Our oldest was a little horrified that there were no sides on the tank but we found it fascinating! The aquarium (like with many aquariums) can be a quick visit if you have a small person who tears from exhibition to exhibition but you can easily go back within the exhibition (which was good as the older one was slowed down as she was attempting the quiz!).
There was just time for a quick ice cream before we boarded our home-bound ferry, chatting away to the very friendly staff and getting an opportunity for our little one to become a ‘Pirate Captain’ as he met the Captain of the boat and had a chance to hold ‘the big, boat steering wheel’.
Day 5 – Lakeland Motor Museum
The weather was glorious this morning so we started to think about what we could do in our final few days, especially with the promise of an unusually sunny Bank Holiday on the cards! Cumbria Tourism had arranged for us to visit the Lakeland Motor Museum, so we re-traced our tracks from yesterday, although this time by car rather than ferry, and headed again to the South of Lake Windermere, past Lakeside and onto the Lakeland Motor Museum.
Parking is free here (a rare think in the Lake District!) and you can visit the adjoining café without having to pay for entrance to the museum. The museum can also be accessed via a free shuttle bus from the Lakeside Pier if you choose to arrive by boat.
The Lakeland Motor Museum provides a collection of 30,000 exhibits which includes 140 classic cars and motorbikes. The museum guides you through the exhibits and there is an excellent children’s guide which features actual photos of the exhibits, this was a brilliant idea as it meant our 3 year old could independently join in with the quiz as he searched for each of the exhibits himself.
There is so much to look at here and there are fact sheets about each of the exhibits so plenty of read and learn as you walk around. Our two absolutely loved the old transport themed arcade games which were found upstairs (operated by 20p pieces – there is a change machine conveniently located here too!) and would have happily spent all their pocket money on these simple but captivating games!
There is also a separate area which houses the Campbell Bluebird Exhibition, a tribute to the racing career of Sir Malcom and Donald Campbell. Here, you can see full size replicas of the famous vehicles and learn all about the Campbell family and their infamous land and water speed records. We would have happily read every word of this exhibition as it was really fascinating, however, we had some hungry children on our hands at this stage so headed to Café Ambio for lunch.
Café Ambio offers a beautiful location for lunch or coffee and cake, it is right on the bank of the River Leven and there is a fantastic balcony with seating you can choose to sit at if the weather is fine. There is a good menu on offer and the food was fresh, plentiful and homemade. A special mention is needed for the huge, homemade and delicious scones on offer here (worth just popping in for a Cream Tea!).
Our journey back to Bowness took us past Fell Foot Park, a local National Trust property. National Trust Members can park here for free and this is a brilliant location for a picnic as there are huge lawns for spreading out picnic blankets and playing games. You can also watch those people brave enough to swim in the Lake as this is a designated ‘Wild Swim’ location (we paddled, it was freezing!). Both the park and the Tea Room are under development at the moment but there is a temporary Tea Room on offer and a small park on offer. There is also a chance to hire a rowing boat from here at a fraction of the price you would pay at Bowness Pier, so if you are keen to spend some time on the water, this is a good place to head to.
Day 6 – Girizedale Forest
With an unusually sunny Bank Holiday on the cards, we decided to head out to Grizedale Forest for the day. There are several options when navigating your way around Lake Windermere, you can head South to Newby Bridge, North to Ambleside or head straight across via the Car Ferry…
Located just outside Bowness, the Car Ferry operates every 20 minutes and takes cars, passengers and cyclists straight across the Lake in around 5 minutes. It is a little pricy in the car, however, at £5.00 for a single trip, but if there isn’t much of a queue (there are signs as you approach telling you how long you will need to wait) it’s worth the experience!
Around 20 minutes after you leave the ferry, you wind your way up the narrow roads and into the heart of Grizedale Forest. The Forest is owned and run by the Forestry Commission and is certainly the largest and most active Forestry Commission location we have visited so far. You pay for parking as you leave (so no need to be searching for loose change!) and there is plenty of parking available. The Courtyard is the hub of Grizedale where you will find a small café, shop and access to the activities and trails on offer.
If you bring your own bikes, you can access a 9 different levelled trails while you are here (there were tons of cyclists around!) and this is an excellent idea, given the cost of renting bikes for the day (£25 for an adult for half a day, £15 for children) there are also 10 different walking trails (you can pay £3 and access the Zog trail at the moment) and Go Ape operate several tree top trails as well as a zip line trail and Segway experience from here too.
We opted to spend some time in the park (this is an excellent multi-level structure which our children enjoyed) and then take a walk up through the trees, under the Go Ape activities and following the stream to reach a shallow beach which was a super spot for paddling and throwing stones!
It was a lovely hot day so we ended with the inevitable ice creams before heading back to Bowness, this time via Ambleside. If you are looking for a good place to eat, the Apple Pie Café in Ambleside is an excellent place to stop, fresh food which arrived quickly and with very reasonably priced children’s meals. A superb end to our Lake District week and we hope we have showcased a fantastic 7 Places to Visit during a Family Holiday to the Lake District.