The Lake District is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the UK with around 20 million visitors every year. So you might wonder if there are any Lake District hidden gems left to discover with that many people!
While popular spots like Windermere, Derwentwater, Scafell or Wordsworth’s Cottage are absolutely worth a visit, this guide intends to take you beyond the usual places in the Lake District, and help you add a few lesser-visited spots or more unusual things to do in the Lake District to your itinerary.
These Lake District gems should be fairly easy to add to most Lake District itineraries, there are no strenuous hikes or mountains on this list that require extra fitness. Although please do take extra care if you drive any of the passes, particularly in high winds or bad weather.
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Hidden Gems in the Lake District
For each hidden Lake District gem below, we’ve also given the nearest well-known attraction or town, so it’s easier to add these stops to your itinerary.
Many of these things are also free things to do in the Lake District, so they’re great if you want to keep your trip to the Lakes on a budget.
Add this to your itinerary if: you’re visiting Aira Force or Ullswater
A stunning hidden gem of the Lake District to start with.
Lowther Castle is a castle in the Lake District, situated in the far northeast of the National Park, just 20 minutes drive from Ullswater.
The castle is in ruins but maintained on a spectacular scale, so much so that you might not even realise it’s in ruins when you approach it from the front.
Lowther Castle isn’t as old as you might think either. It was built by the Earl of Lonsdale, a member of the Lowther Family, to replace the previous ‘Lowther Hall’ which sat on the same site during the 17th century.
The family then lost their fortune and the castle was used by the military during WWII. After which the roof was removed and the Lowther Castle Trust still maintains the ruins to this day.
Castle and Gardens admission is £12 per adult (2022), book online here.
The Cathedral Cave
Add this to your itinerary if: you’re looking for an easy walk near Ambleside
About 15 minutes drive from Ambleside, this is a lovely, easy walk from Little Langdale village and it takes around 20 minutes to reach the caves.
We did this walk in the rain and wind and it was fine, it’s not buggy or wheelchair accessible but we did see very young children there so it’s a great option for families.
The Cathedral Cave is part of a series of disused slate mines which are now maintained by the National Trust.
The main cave is absolutely stunning with a huge stone stack supporting the cavernous roof and a hole where the light comes from – the effect is like a cathedral dome, hence the name!
To reach the cave there’s a loop walk you can follow from the village of Little Langdale
- Start from the Three Shire Inn pub in Little Langdale
- Walk uphill to the junction and take the road on the left
- You’ll walk past two houses on the right hand side
- Immediately after the second house, there’s a small gap in the hedge with a stile. It is a public footpath but the bushy hedge makes it easy to miss!
- Follow the path across the field, over the hill and through another gate then follow the path down to the river
- Cross the stone bridge (the hidden gem that’s next in this list)
- Walk up to the gravel track just beyond the bridge and turn left
- Follow this for a couple of minutes until you see the gate on the right, it’s marked as National Trust – this is the path up to the cave
- When you’re done in the caves, turn right and continue down this gravel road, you’ll quickly meet a bridge
- Cross the bridge and follow the road all the way back up the hill and you’ll find yourself back where you started
The Cathedral Cave is stunning to explore, there are a few tunnels off the main cave that are great to explore and perfect for a short walk and taking shelter from the elements if you’re exploring the Lake District on a rainy day!
Add this to your itinerary if: you’re visiting the Cathedral Caves
If you visit the Cathedral Caves, you’ll pass over this bridge, but even if you don’t visit the caves, this charming ancient bridge is worth the short 10-15 minute stroll from Little Langdale.
Slater’s Bridge is a beautiful 17th century perfectly preserved packhorse bridge which was used to connect the village of Little Langdale with the quarries when they were in use.
The bridge is safe to walk over and the stunning views make this little bridge a really unique place to visit and one of the most underrated Lake District beauty spots.
You can follow the same instructions as above to reach the bridge.
Add this to your itinerary if: you’re visiting Thirlmere
I know I said no hikes or mountains in this guide but this is no Scafell Pike or Helvellyn!
This 1.5 mile walk (3 miles out and back) is a great, short walk for anyone who wants an easy walk rewarded with epic views. Plus, it’s one of the 36 Wainwright walks in the Lake District.
If you don’t like walking or hiking, this is a good one for you.
It is steep in some places on the way up and you’ll encounter 200 steps right before you reach the top, but being such a short walk it’s very doable for average fitness levels and again we saw several families taking this on with ease.
There is a small layby on the A591 to Thirlmere and the walk starts from directly opposite this layby. If the layby is full, the nearest parking is in Thirlmere which will add a good chunk of time to your walk.
Note – the A591 stretch of road here is currently closed until 2023 due to storm damage but is still accessible to park in the layby and walkers and cyclists can still use the road.
- Start on the track opposite the layby
- The route is very obvious and easy to follow, just keep heading upwards!
- A good portion of the walk is covered by trees but you’ll break out of the trees and see the views when you get closer to the top
- Go through the wooden gate signposted Raven Crag
- Follow the steps to the summit
Castlerigg Stone Circle
Add this to your itinerary if: if you’re visiting Derwentwater or Keswick
Possibly one of the best hidden gems in Lake District National Park because it’s very easy to reach from a major town, it’s free, it’s just seconds from the road and the views are epic.
Castlerigg Stone Circle is just 4 minutes drive from Keswick but it’s not on the main A66 or A591 roads in and out of the town so many people simply miss it because they never see it.
From Penrith Road in the town, take the Eleventrees road and just 2 minutes up that road on the right is the Stone Circle.You can park on the side of the road opposite the field entrance.
While there’s over 1000 stone circles in the UK, this is surely one of the most dramatic, with Helvellyn and High Seat mountains in the background, giving this stone circle one of the most stunning backdrops you’ll see in the Lake District!
This is also believed to be one of the oldest stone circles in the UK, dating back to around 3000 BC.
There are information boards from the National Trust and English Heritage to tell you about the site, but it’s completely free and definitely one of the best free things to do in the Lake District!
Hardknott Pass and Wrynose Pass
Add this to your itinerary if: you like scenic drives (and challenging drives)
NOTE – Hardknott pass is the steepest mountain pass in England with a gradient of 1 in 3 (33%). If you’re unfamiliar with this road, it should only be attempted if you’re a confident driver and conditions are favourable.
Wrynose Pass and Hardknott pass form a mountain pass that connects the Lake District to West Cumbria via the Duddon Valley. There are other routes between the two parts of the county but this is by far the most direct route.
The easiest way to reach the pass from the east of the Lake District is from Ambleside and navigate to the village of Little Langdale.
From the village continue up the hill on Side Gates road until you reach a fork in the road, the left fork is Wrynose Pass.
Wrynose Pass is very doable and straightforward, not too steep at all and with lovely views as you drive through the valley for around 15 minutes.
When you reach the bridge, cross the bridge over the river and follow the road on the right – this is Hardknott Pass.
Is Hardknott Pass safe to drive? – Yes but unless you’re a local, you should only attempt it if you’re confident in your driving and conditions are favourable. There are passing points along the way but the road is single track.
At 33% gradient, there are points on this road where you can only see the bonnet of the car and the sky (like going upwards on a rollercoaster!).
This road is definitely easiest to drive if you have an automatic car, but any confident drivers with a manual transmission will also be fine.
On overcast days you might even find yourself in the clouds when you reach the top which is 1,315ft above sea level!
The pass down the other side into the valley has several hair pins so you need to take it slowly but at least you can see the oncoming traffic once you’re heading downhill!
This might not sound like everyone’s idea of fun but if you enjoy challenging drives or scenic drives, this is definitely a unique experience and one of the most unusual things to do in the Lake District.
Add this to your itinerary if: you manage to tackle Hardknott Pass!
If you tackle Hardknott Pass then you absolutely MUST stop at Hardknott Fort!
The difficult to reach and very exposed location of this dramatic 2nd century Roman fort means you could well have the whole site to yourself to explore.
Constructed during Hadrian’s rule in the 2nd century, the foundations of this fort are still remarkably intact and show the headquarters, commander rooms, bath house, store rooms, living quarters and animal quarters of this settlement.
There’s plenty of information boards dotted about by English Heritage and you can roam freely among the ruins.
Make sure you head out of the top side of the fort and see the epic views of the valley and Hard Knott Mountain peak.
There’s a fairly large car park/layby on the side of the road which you won’t miss as you come down from the pass.
But the route across the field to the fort itself is pretty boggy if the weather has been wet so wear appropriate shoes.
Add this to your itinerary if: you’re staying at or visiting the Cumbria coast
Wast Water is the deepest lake in England at 74 metres and 3 miles long.
Because of its location in the southwest of the Lake District, it’s often neglected on people’s Lake District trip because it’s more difficult to reach via the mountain passes which connect it to popular tourist places to stay like Keswick, Ambleside, Kendal etc
The lake is actually pretty easy to reach if you’re staying on the Cumbria coast or if you drive from the south of the National Park via Broughton-on-Furness.
Thanks to its location, it’s one of the least visited of the larger lakes, making it one of the best hidden gems of the Lake District.
The winding road along the west side of the lake offers stunning views and plenty of stopping points for photos, picnics or even a swim if you can brave the water temperature!
The opposite side of the lake is a dramatic cliff face and at the far north end of the lake, Scafell Pike towers over you.
Add this to your itinerary if: you’re walking around Windermere
Obviously Windermere is no hidden gem, in fact it’s the largest of the 16 lakes in the Lake District and it’s also the longest lake in England at 10.5 miles long and 1 mile wide.
But thanks to its size, there is so much to see on the banks of Windermere that it’s easy to get off the beaten track here and visit some spots that aren’t as popular as the likes of Windermere village, Bowness or Ambleside.
Wray Castle is a National Trust property on the west shore of Windermere and easily accessible via the B5286 road from Ambleside.
Wray Castle itself is only open during the peak season, but the cafe, car park, grounds and access to the lakeside walk are open all year round but walkers and dog walkers.
Whether you decide to go into the castle or not, it’s beautiful and dramatic to see from the outside; a very quintessential castle with turrets and battlements. Although you may be surprised to know that this mock gothic castle was only built 180 years ago by a couple from Liverpool.
They wanted the drama and majesty of a traditional gothic castle but it was only ever intended to be a home for them and it’s never seen any kind of battle.
Add this to your itinerary if: you’re visiting Derwentwater or staying in Keswick
If walking the whole 10-mile Derwentwater walk doesn’t quite appeal to you, this easy section offers views, a beach and a boardwalk trail that’s great for kids and dogs too.
Park at Lakeside car park in Keswick at the edge of Derwentwater, this is a pay and display car park.
Follow the path along the edge of the water, from here you’ll see Derwent Isle and reach Friar’s Crag with views across the whole lake.
From here, head to your left and walk along the beach, on the other side of the beach you’ll walk across a grassy area and through a gate onto the boardwalk.
This is a lovely, calm, scenic route through the trees and bogland, it will bring you out on the other side to a field where you can continue your walk along the lake edge or turn back the way you came.
Add this to your itinerary if: you’re visiting Derwentwater or staying in Keswick
Another great hidden Lake District spot by Derwentwater is the Surprise View viewpoint.
While it’s marked on Google Maps, the road up to the viewpoint is narrow and often puts people off from attempting it.
But it’s worth the drive up (you could always walk it if you don’t mind the steep walk!), you’ll cross a picturesque stone bridge which looks like it doesn’t fit a car through but it does!
At the top is a car park and the view is right next to it, you can see both ends of Derwentwater and the dramatic hills surrounding it.
Fell Brewery Kendal
Add this to your itinerary if: you’re staying in Kendal
Something a little different for this guide but if you’re a fan of local breweries and craft beers, this is a real hidden gem in Kendal that’s something different from the standard Cumbria country pubs.
Fell Bar and BRewery is tucked away down Lowther Street in Kendal with an unassuming facade and it’s clearly a favourite with locals.
It’s a small bar with an upstairs space too, really friendly staff and great craft beers – the hoppy pale and the sour were particular favourites!
The Apple Pie Shop in Ambleside
Add this to your itinerary if: you’re staying in or visiting Ambleside
Another must-visit stop for foodies is the Apple Pie shop in Ambleside which is a bakery, cafe and even has rooms to stay in.
We went here three mornings in a row for breakfast pastries and sandwiches so that tells you how great they are!
Everything is so fresh, huge portion sizes for a great price and an awesome location right next to the famous Bridge House in Ambleside.
National Trust Sizergh
Add this to your itinerary if: you’re driving up to the Lakes from the south
Just before you reach Kendal on the A591, the Sizergh Castle is right off the main road and considered the gateway to the Lake District after the boundaries of the National Park were extended in 2016 to include it within the protected area.
Amazingly this mediaeval castle has been home to the same family for 800 years and the stunning gardens and 1,600 acre estate are well worth exploring.
The estate itself is free to wander and explore although parking is pay and display or free if you’re a National Trust member.
To visit the house and gardens it’s £13 per adult or £9 for just the gardens.
The gardens are beautifully maintained with topiary and water features as well as so many birds and wildlife to spot, a real Lake District hidden gem!
Find out more and book here.
Add this to your itinerary if: you’re a fan of top of the range kitchenware and gadgets
This might be a bit of a silly one but you would not believe the amount of people who are so enthusiastic about Lakeland products (okay, maybe you would!)
Did you know that the Lakeland flagship store is located in Windermere village, right next to the train and bus station and this 12,000sq ft store is home to the top of the range gadgets from the retailer.
There’s also a cafe, free wifi and a large, free car park so you can browse kitchen and homeware to your heart’s content!
Summary: Hidden gems: Lake District National Park, Cumbria
Hopefully this guide has given you plenty of inspiration to visit less touristy places in the Lake District and encourage you to discover all the hidden places Lake District National Park has to offer beyond the normal attractions.
There are so many more places to discover too, from less-trodden walks to hidden swimming spots, don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path in the Lake District – you might discover something amazing!
Pin this for later to plan your future trip!