It’s renowned for inspiring poets and artists, but there’s far more to discover in the Lake District with kids than the beautiful scenery.
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Of course, if you’re looking to get outdoors in this gorgeous slice of Cumbria, there are countless child-friendly walks as well as boat trips galore on the lakes themselves – but also plenty of Lake District family attractions to discover.
From Peter Rabbit to historic castles, animal attractions and the chance to travel on a heritage railway, here are my top 23 things to do in the Lake District with kids.
Take a boat cruise
You can’t go to the Lake District without going out on at least one lake, and there are a whole string of Lake District boat cruises to choose from.
As well as letting families explore the lakes from a different perspective, most cruises make multiple stops at piers and towns, so you can easily combine a boat ride with other walks and family-friendly attractions in the Lake District.
You’ll be spoiled for choice depending where you stay, but for some of the best boat cruises in the Lake District, try the following.
Steam Yacht Gondola, Coniston Water
This rebuilt Victorian steam-powered yacht is one of the most unusual ways to explore the lakes.
Originally built in 1859, the National Trust’s Steam Yacht Gondola is the oldest steam yacht in the north of England, running three to four scenic lake cruises on Coniston Water per day.
As well as getting a taste of what life was like for wealthy Victorians on their pleasure cruises, there’s a commentary on the area’s history as you soak up the scenery.
National Trust members get a 10% discount with children under five travelling free.
Prebooking is strongly recommended and you can choose one way cruises subject to availability, or the full lake cruise, which costs only slightly more than the north or south lake stretch alone.
Windermere Lake Cruises
Windermere Lake Cruises run multiple daily cruises across England’s largest lake on both historic steamboats and more modern launches.
You can choose to embark at Ambleside, Brockhole, Bowness & Lakeside, with 10.5 miles of lake to explore and different routes taking you to some of the lakeside attractions. Not all routes run outside the main April to October season.
There’s commentary on board and you can also buy ‘freedom of the lake’ tickets, which let you hop on and off, including 48 hour options, plus tickets including attractions or bus travel.
You can choose shorter routes, including a 45-minute sail from Bowness and a 50-minute route from Ambleside, if you’re visiting the Lake District with toddlers – the Green Cruise route is particularly good for families.
Ullswater Steamers operates one of the largest heritage boat fleets in the world, and their cruises are even dog-friendly if you’re visiting the Lake District with pets.
The boat trips let you cruise around the lake in about two hours, or you can jump off to explore the different stops, including the impressive Aira Force waterfall.
There’s an open deck for sunny days, sheltered upper deck seating areas and indoor downstairs saloons when the weather isn’t so good, and toilets.
Watersports at Coniston Boating Centre
If you want a more active experience than simply sitting on a boat, another way to explore the Lakes with kids is by taking part in some of the watersports on offer.
And Coniston Boating Centre is one of the best spots in the Lake District for family fun on the water.
You can hire a modern motorboat, traditional wooden rowing boat, or open-Canadian canoe for a relaxing adventure with little ones while admiring the scenery.
Teens can also head out onto the lake on a kayak or stand-up paddleboard. Well-behaved pets are allowed on the boats too if you’re travelling with your four-legged friend.
Brockhole on Windermere
Brockhole on Windermere is one of the best days out in the Lake District with kids who love to get active, with plenty to entertain all ages.
Sitting within the grounds of a beautiful Victorian summer home, children can enjoy the large adventure playground, go-karting, mini-golf, archery, tree-top trekking, indoor caving, nature trails and orienteering courses, and plenty more.
During the warmer summer months, you can hire rowing boats, kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards to head out onto the lake as well.
There’s also a visitor centre and museum, scenic gardens, several cafes, a restaurant, and a gift shop packed with local artisan products for a full family day out in the Lakes.
World of Beatrix Potter, Bowness-on-Windermere
See some of the most celebrated English children’s storybooks of all time come to life at the World of Beatrix Potter.
The family-friendly Lake District attraction lets you walk through the familiar stories as part of a unique sensory experience.
You’ll see characters from the author’s most famous books, including Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Mr Todd, and Jeremy Fisher, while exploring an enchanting recreation of the Lake District countryside, which helped inspire the original stories.
Keep an eye out for special family-friendly events, such as Peter Rabbit tea parties, and live shows in the connecting Old Laundry Theatre too.
If you’re looking for more Beatrix Potter, her home at Hill Top – bought with the proceeds from the Tale of Peter Rabbit – is around half an hour away across the lake. Must be prebooked.
Wray Castle, Ambleside
Set on the banks of Lake Windermere, Wray Castle is a National Trust property that has been turned into an exciting child-friendly attraction.
Built during the Victorian era as a mock-Gothic castle, its imposing turrets and towers look like something directly off the pages of a children’s fairytale book.
Inside, the castle doesn’t have the usual historic furniture and artwork that you expect from National Trust properties – which makes it all the more fun for families!
Instead, its rooms are filled with child-friendly activities, such as table tennis, giant games, period dressing up, soft play, and arts and crafts. There are also Peter Rabbit Adventure rooms, featuring Peter’s Burrow, Mr McGregor’s garden, and more.
With plenty of indoor activities, Wray Castle is one of the top things to do in the Lake District with kids on a rainy day – or easy to combine with a Lake District boat trip in the sunshine too.
Muncaster Castle, Ravenglass
If you want a genuinely historic castle, head towards the western Lake District where Muncaster Castle overlooks the River Esk.
Dating back to the 13th century, the Grade I listed building is famous for its beautiful interiors and long and fascinating history.
Children will love exploring the castle’s 70+ acres of wild woodland gardens, with an adventure playground and indoor maze as well as the colourful flowers and views over the surrounding valleys.
The Hawk & Owl Centre, set within the castle gardens, is also well worth a visit with kids. Check out the Birds of Prey displays to see the majestic creatures soaring right over your head.
Sizergh Castle, Kendal
Another historic site, Sizergh Castle near Kendal has been home to the Strickland family for over eight centuries.
With a 1,600-acre estate, it’s easy to fill a day out: as well as the wild play trail, you can look out for butterflies in the gardens and deer in the grounds, with wetland, woodland and orchards to explore.
When the house itself is open, don’t miss the astonishingly intricate inlaid 16th century panelling inside too.
The Lake District Wildlife Park, Keswick
For more animal fun in the Lake District with kids, the Lake District Wildlife Park is unmissable, with over 100 species of exotic animals at the 24-acre park near Keswick.
You’ll find everything from more birds of prey and amazing reptiles to cheeky primates and friendly farmyard animals.
Conservation lies at the heart of the wildlife park, and kids can learn about endangered species at the numerous keeper talks each day, including more about the very cute red pandas, as well as the lynx which would once have roamed Cumbria’s forests.
Children can even get up close and meet some of the park’s residents at the displays and wildlife encounters.
There’s also an outdoor play area and indoor soft play and ball pit, in case the weather is bad, plus a cafe serving delicious homemade meals.
Alpacaly Ever After, Keswick & various locations
Certainly one of the more unique Lake District family attractions, Alpacaly Ever After is an award-winning social enterprise that rescues and rehomes alpacas and llamas from all over the country.
The centre offers families the opportunity to come and meet their friendly alpacas too – visit in spring or early summer, and you might even get to see the babies.
You can also take the alpacas on a walk around some of the lake’s most scenic locations, including the private grounds of the Lingholm Estate on the shores of Derwentwater.
The alpaca experiences are open to children of all ages, although visitors under 18 need to be accompanied by an adult. Kids under 10 can go for free on a private alpaca walk, but not group walks.
Lakes Aquarium, Lakeside
Set on the shores of Lake Windermere, the Lakes Aquarium is home to the UK’s largest collection of freshwater fish and many other aquatic creatures.
On a visit to the aquarium, you can learn about the range of creatures living in the lakes, including perch, pike, white-clawed crayfish, koi carp, and lots more.
Best of all, you can walk through an underwater tunnel that takes you on a captivating recreated journey under Lake Windermere.
The Lakes Aquarium is also home to many other exciting animals from across the world, so you can spot everything from clownfish and piranhas to rays, otters, and tortoises. Special talks, events and kids’ trails also take place throughout the year.
Lakeland Maze Farm Park, Kendal
If you’re visiting the Lake District in the summer, kids will love taking on the challenge of the maize maze at Lakeland Maze Farm Park.
Each year from July to September, the maze has a new design, with a mini maze and main maze that takes over 90 minutes to complete (there are exit points along the way in case you need to escape!)
But even if you visit outside those months, you can enjoy getting lost with two permanent mazes, including an indoor bunny burrow tube maze.
That’s just the start too. You can see farmyard animals on the working farm, as well as smaller fluffy inhabitants at the farm park, not to mention soft play, a climbing wall, bouncy castles and trampolines.
Opening times vary, limited to school holidays and weekends (if at all) outside April/May to October.
Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway
The Ravenglass & Eskdale in the Lake District is one of the oldest and longest narrow gauge railways in England.
Affectionately known as La’al Ratty, meaning “little railway“ in old Cumbrian dialect, the heritage railway runs along a seven-mile-long line into the stunning Lake District countryside.
There are spectacular views over the estuaries and out to the fells, and you might even spot some Cumbrian wildlife along the route.
Don’t miss the free Ravenglass station museum, which is full of interactive exhibits for the children to get involved in. There’s also a train-themed play area at Dalegarth station at the other end.
Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway
Stretching for just over three miles, this little heritage railway is a great Lake District family attraction in its own right, but also a fun ways to explore some of the rest of the Lake District with kids.
With steam trains and diesel engines running from Haverthwaite to Lakeside, at the southern end of Windermere, you can combine it with a sailing on the lake over to Bowness or Ambleside, as well as using it to take you to Brockhole, the Lakes Aquarium or World of Beatrix Potter.
The route also connects to another of the Lake District National Trust sites, Fell Foot Park with walks and watersports (and even the chance of wild swimming if you’re visiting with older kids)
Derwent Pencil Museum, Keswick
A pencil museum might not sound like it will be top of your kids’ list of Lake District attractions, but this quirky site in Keswick – the home of the first pencil – is unexpectedly entertaining.
For starters, you head into the Derwent pencil museum through a replica graphite mine to begin your journey from the earliest days of pencils to the modern day.
On display, there are creations proving pencils are a lot less ordinary than you might think – Second World War pencils with hidden maps, plus one of the largest colour pencils in the world at almost 8m long.
There are also mini pencil sculptures to admire and if you’re inspired to get creative, a shop to pick up art supplies, as well as art workshops.
The Rheged Centre, Penrith
As well as the giant cinema screen here, which shows family-friendly movies, the Rheged Centre has regular exhibitions in its gallery and an arts programme which includes children’s theatre and craft.
There are also a string of children’s activities to entertain, plus an an indoor soft play area, with an area set aside for under fives – there are currently prebookable slots for indoor play.
For kids that love Lego, you’ll find a toy shop that begs you to spend your pocket money, plus great pizza in the cafe. One of the best things to do in the Lake District with kids on a rainy day too.
Allan Bank, Grasmere
Another of the National Trust sites in the Lake District, Allan Bank is slightly different than the usual day out experience.
The home of the National Trust’s founder, near Grasmere, puts the focus on the landscape – the property itself isn’t even fully decorated, so the bare walls and empty rooms highlight the valley and lake scenery.
You can spy red squirrels in the garden and sometimes see buzzards flying overhead, as well as picking up nature spotter guides for kids.
There are some walking routes to check out too, as well as plenty of places to play hide and seek.
There’s no parking or cafe on site, so you’ll need to take public transport or walk up from Grasmere. Picnics are welcome, and there are hot drinks available for a small donation.
Walks in the Lake District with kids
With some of England’s most beautiful scenery, you’re also spoiled for choice when it comes to family-friendly walks in the Lake District.
There are 50 ‘Miles without Stiles‘ routes, suitable for families with pushchairs – including different grades, so you know if you’ve got a smooth path or whether it’s one to take a tougher all-terrain buggy.
Or if you’re not sure where to start, check out the 7 routes for 70, celebrating the National Park’s 70th birthday, highlighting the variety across the Lake District as well as some less explored corners if you want to escape some of the crowds in more popular areas.
Grizedale Forest, Hawkshead
There’s not only hills and lakes to explore in this part of Cumbria, but also some great woodlands to wander in.
Grizedale Forest has a series of sculptures dotted among the trees, as well as 10 walking trails and nine cycle routes, including off-road mountain bike trails and gentler options (you can hire bikes there).
Add in an adventure play area and Go Ape high ropes course, plus art exhibitions and cafe for a break between the activity, so it’s easy to while away a few hours. You can pay for parking online as well.
Whinlatter Forest, Keswick
Another great Forestry England site, Whinlatter Forest has some amazing views to enjoy as you explore the trails, including a chance to look out to Bassenthwaite Lake, Derwentwater and Keswick.
There are nine walking trails here, with a one-mile stretch to spot a series figures from the Gruffalo dotted around. Stop in at the visitor centre for tips first, and while it is walkable with a buggy, be prepared for hills.
With older kids, the forest is also home to the longest purpose-built mountain bike trails in the Lake District, along with another Go Ape course and adventure playground.
Head into the trees, Windermere
As well as enjoying the forests from ground level, there are some fun ways for families to get up into the trees.
The treetop nets at Windermere include more than 1,500 metres of giant trampolines, walkways, slides and netting tunnels suspended up to 9 metres off the ground. Suitable for age 3+
Or check out the treetop trek, with 35 different treetop challenges through the oaks, finishing with a 250m triple zip from the 14m high treetop tower, so you can race each other back.
There are different options for different ages: age 5+ can take on Climb and Zip, which lasts around 30 minutes, or the hour-long Mini Trek, while the Full Trek is suitable for age 7+ and takes around two hours.
While you’re visiting the Lake District, it’s easy to combine with a visit to the Yorkshire Dales National Park – check out some of my top things to do in Yorkshire with kids
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