"...quite suddenly, we emerged from the trees and were on a bare headland, and, as though a curtain had dramatically been torn aside, beheld a truly magnificent view. ..." – Alfred Wainwright
Winter in the Lake District sees the National Park undergo a spectacular transformation; frost carpets the ground, snow blankets the fell tops, and mist swirls above frozen lakes which shimmer as clear as glass, reflecting the azure sky. Herdwick sheep wear their thickest, fluffiest fleeces, and walkers can enjoy the seclusion of the quietest time to visit this popular World Heritage Site - sometimes there’s not a single tourist in view for miles! It’s quite the luxury to feel like you have the whole Lake District to yourself. And nothing beats sitting by the roaring fire of a country inn, feasting on hearty home-cooked fare.
Not only are the Lakes a dramatic backdrop for winter walking, cycling, and family activities, but they’re also one of your best hopes of a white Christmas. There are plenty of slopes for sledging and idyllic spaces for building snowmen, which the kids will love. And with clear winter skies, it’s also a perfect time for stargazing, especially if you’re lucky enough to stay in one of our Lake District cottages with a hot tub.
Whether you visit Cartmel, Grasmere, Windermere or Ambleside in winter, you’ll find an abundance of cosy pubs, a calendar of events, and plenty of attractions remaining open throughout the season. Our guide to the Lake District in winter highlights some of the best places to visit during your stay.
There's never been a better time to take a well-deserved break in the Lakes, so read on to discover the best things to do in the Lake District in winter…
The Lake District in December
Christmas and new year in the Lake District is a magical time of year with the warming scent of mulled wine and roasted chestnuts drifting through the air. A host of festive events take place during December in the Lake District, including a variety of Christmas markets and light switch-ons, making this a perfect time to treat the family to a getaway.
Our ‘Top 5 Lake District locations for Christmas and New Year’ guide has some great ideas for where to stay.
A favourite foodie haunt to visit at this time of year is Grasmere Gingerbread. Made using a secret recipe, you’ll smell the wonderful sweet aroma of gingerbread before you even step inside. And there are lots of great ideas for stocking fillers.
For something a little stronger, head to the Lakes Distillery in Cockermouth where you’ll find an award-winning portfolio of gin, vodka and whisky in the gift shop, perfect to wrap and pop under the tree. They also run distillery tours and tastings where you can get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the making of the spirits and try some for yourself.
There’s no better way to get into the festive spirit than with a good old-fashioned panto, and there are several fantastic theatres around the Lake District to catch one. The award-winning Theatre by the Lake in Keswick, the Sands Centre in Carlisle, the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal and the Old Laundry Theatre in Bowness-on-Windermere all have events running throughout the season.
Have a read of our ‘Christmas events in the Lake District’ blog for more festive inspiration.
Christmas dates to add to your diary:
The Lake District in January
January is traditionally a quieter time in the Lake District, therefore perfect if you want to get out and explore the breathtaking winter scenery without the crowds. And with all manner of winter activities in the Lake District to discover, why not make it your new year’s resolution to try something new?
It might come as a surprise, but winter is a great time to go skiing in the Lake District (weather permitting), with around 60 days suitable to take to the slopes. With no chalets, chairlifts or route markers to clutter its dramatic terrain, it’s a thrillingly wild place to don your skis. The Lake District Ski Club situated next to Helvellyn, one of England’s highest peaks, offers yearly memberships and day passes.
After a blustery walk or action-packed day in the frosty fresh air, nothing beats soaking up the atmosphere of a Cumbrian country pub. Cosy up in front of a roaring open fire, warm your toes and get the colour back in your cheeks. You’ll find them peppered throughout the hills, serving hearty home-cooked food and refreshing local ales.
Discover ‘5 of the best pubs in the Lake District’ with our guide.
Although winter is traditionally viewed as a time for historic houses and attractions to close for winter maintenance, an ever-growing number now remain open over much, if not all, of the winter season. If you’re holidaying with children, Kong Adventure Climbing Wall, Rheged near Penrith, the Lakes Aquarium, the Derwent Pencil Museum, Lowther Castle, and the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway are all great indoor attractions if the weather takes a turn for the worse.
The Lake District in February
February makes for an idyllic romantic getaway and a special Valentine’s weekend in the Lake District. Surprise your loved one with a gentle cruise across a lake, perhaps stopping at one of the jetties for a hand-in-hand stroll, and finish with a romantic meal for two in one of the region’s top restaurants.
Undoubtedly, one of the best vantage points from which to admire the snow-capped peaks and dazzling Lake District winter scenery is from one of its glorious lakes. It might be chilly over the winter, but you can still cosy up with a warm drink and enjoy the views from inside the cabins, with Windermere Lake Cruises, Ullswater Steamers, Coniston Launch and Keswick Launch Co. all running winter timetables – many even welcome dogs too.
Perfect for a Valentine’s treat, you can embrace all things chocolatey at the Chocolate Factory Hawkshead. Sign up for one of their truffle-making workshops, where you’ll learn the art of the chocolatier and toast your creations with a glass or two of prosecco.
When it comes to fine dining, the Lake District is quite the foodie mecca boasting four Michelin-starred restaurants, along with a variety of atmospheric gastropubs and chic bistros. We recommend L'Enclume in Cartmel, The Cottage in the Wood in Whinlatter, and The Forest Side in Grasmere for extra-special romantic occasions.
If you’re bringing your dog along on holiday too, you’ll find our ‘Dog-friendly places to eat and drink’ guide useful.
Winter walks in the Lake District
As tempting as it is to settle down inside one of our cosy cottages away from the elements, wrapping up warm for a walk in the Lake District on a crisp and sunny winter morning is so rewarding. Pull on your boots, step outside into the frosty air, and hopefully the crunch of snow underfoot.
The fells, although beautiful, can often be a little more treacherous to climb in winter, especially for the inexperienced walker. The Lakes, however, are much quieter at this time of year and the glittering views are nothing short of breathtaking. And then there’s the comfort of hearty food and a glowing fire awaiting your return.
Tarn Hows | 2 miles
The National Trust’s 2-mile Tarn Hows Circular Walk is an easy trail for all the family, taking around an hour to complete. Formerly owned by children’s author Beatrix Potter, Tarn Hows is fairly level with well-paved paths and is dog-friendly too. You’ll find plenty of benches along the route to sit with a flask of hot chocolate and drink in the ice-kissed views of Coniston Hills and Langdale Pikes.
Buttermere | 4.5 miles
One of the best round-the-lake walks in the Lake District is the circuit at Buttermere. Probably one of the most photographed lakes in the national park, it is ringed by spectacular mountain scenery which appears even more dramatic after a dusting of powdery snow. This easy, fairly flat route takes around a few hours to complete, with a short tunnel hewn through the rock at Hassness providing a moment of added excitement, especially for children.
Easedale Tarn | 6 miles
Starting in Grasmere, this scenic winter hike features charming stone bridges draped in icicles, dazzling waterfalls plunging into pools and an incredible mountain tarn surrounded by frosty fells. With stepped, rocky paths and some steeper sections, this ramble isn’t one to attempt with young children. Once you’ve finished admiring the view, Easedale Tarn can be crossed via stepping-stones for a more scenic descent, or you can opt to simply return via the same route you ascended for a slightly shorter walk back.
Castlerigg Stone Circle | 4 miles
Dating back to 3000BC, Castlerigg Stone Circle is amongst the earliest of British stone circles. Composed of 38 free-standing stones, some up to 3 metres high, the circle is set within a dramatic amphitheatre of fells, which are infinitely more magnificent when covered in a blanket of white in the winter. A circular walk can be started in Keswick, and the trek up to the site is well worth it for the panoramic views of the mighty Hellvelyn, Skiddaw, and Blencathra.
Whinlatter | 1 – 5 miles
England’s only true mountain forest, Whinlatter becomes an enchanting winter wonderland when the snow starts to fall. There are nine different walking trails on offer through the forest, ranging from an easy 1-mile amble to a strenuous 5-mile hike, so all ages and abilities are catered for. And best of all, after weaving your way along frosty wooded paths, taking in unrivalled views across Bassenthwaite Lake, Keswick, and Derwentwater, there’s a café to warm up with a steaming mug of cocoa and a big slice of sticky cake.
Orrest Head | 2 miles
Well known as Alfred Wainwright’s first taste of walking in the Lake District - an experience which led him to continue exploring the area and create his famous guidebooks - a climb to Orrest Head’s icy summit is one of the most popular walks in the Lake District. Starting just a few yards from Windermere train station, you can enjoy a gentle, manageable incline with some paved areas towards the 783-feet tall snow-capped peak. The awe-inspiring wintry views from the top include some of the Lakes' most iconic hills including Scafell Pike, Bowfell and Pike O’ Stickle.
"Orrest Head for many of us, is 'where we came in' - our first ascent in Lakeland, our first sight of mountains in tumultuous array across glittering waters, our awakening to beauty. It is a popular walk, deservedly, for here the promised land is seen in all its glory. It is a fitting finale, too, to a life made happy be fell wandering. Dare we hope there will be another Orrest Head over the threshold of the next heaven?" – Alfred Wainwright
Where to stay in the Lake District in winter
After invigorating winter walks in the Lake District, you’ll need somewhere warm and toasty to relax and recharge your batteries. How about one of these inviting abodes?
Arresting View | Hawkshead | Sleeps 2 + 2 dogs
Leave your hats, gloves and wellies at the door and snuggle in front of the fire with a homemade hot chocolate at this cosy cottage just for two.
With a glowing wood burner to warm your toes after a wintry ramble, it doesn’t get much cosier than this Lake District log cabin.
The Briars | Near Hawkshead | Sleeps 8 + 2 dogs
Escape the cold and sink into the warm, soothing bubbles of the hot tub in this big and beautiful bolthole sleeping eight lucky guests.
With so many things to do and spectacular scenery to see, the Lake District makes a perfect choice for a UK winter break. Whether you choose a festive cottage for a Christmas or new year getaway, a fun family bolthole for a peaceful escape in January, or a romantic retreat for two on Valentine’s Day, you’ll keep cosy and warm in our cottages in the Lake District.
For more Lake District UK winter inspiration, have a read of our guide to the ‘top 5 Lake District locations for Christmas and New Year’, or pick out some festive events to visit in our guide to ‘Christmas events in the Lake District’.