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The Lake District is one of the most iconic things to do if you’re visiting the UK and is the perfect day trip from Manchester if you’re itching to get in the car and explore. It’s also only 70 miles up the motorway, directly north, which means you can be there is less than an hour and a half.
As a visitor, it’s also really only accessible through car hire - so pack up your walking boots (and your waterproofs, always) and get ready for some good old British ambling.
The Lake District’s most famous and accessible stretch of water, Lake Windermere is likely to be the first spot you reach in your car rental. Just 52 minutes away from Kendal, Lake Windermere is famous for being the largest body of water in the area (it’s over ten miles long) and is surrounded by mountains. If you’re up for a hike, head to its north end to take in the sweeping views from Orrest Head. It’s not a challenging climb, but if you’re more inclined to relaxation you might choose to sit back on a boat trip instead and let someone else do the hard work.
From Lake Windermere, you can take a leisurely walk to the pretty village of Ambleside, which sits right at the northern point of the lake. From here you can visit Rydal Mount, the home of famed English poet William Wordsworth for almost 40 years, which is now a museum dedicated to his memory. Afterwards, wander around the village’s pastel-coloured houses, stop for a cup of tea and maybe a slice of cake, and drink in the quaintness that surrounds you. A more typical English village you’re unlikely to find, even in these parts.
After your visit to Ambleside, it’s back in the car rental for a quick but enjoyable 15-minute drive to the popular village of Grasmere. There’s another Wordsworth House here: Dove Cottage, where the poet lived with his sister Dorothy for eight years before moving the two miles down the road to Rydal Mount, which is a must-see on the Lake District tourist trail. Grasmere is another very walkable destination, so take your time meandering through the gift shops and deciding where to stop for a refuelling meal. The church is from the 13th Century, so make sure you stop by whilst you’re visiting for a slice of 700-year-old English history.
Ready to walk off the big pub lunch you had in Grasmere? Us too. Four and a half miles north is 950-high Helvellyn, one of the classic walks of the Lake District and a definite must-see for any self-respecting visitor to the area. Ascend the mountain from Striding Edge if you’re an experienced climber, but be aware if you’re not that it might be best to stay around the bottom of the mountain. Here, you can take in the scenery from the nearby lakes of Thirlmere and Ullswater instead. Helvellyn isn’t a walk for the faint-hearted.
Next, it’s time for another iconic lake. You’ll need to head north-east and then drive back on yourself, almost creating a loop; the road network in this area isn’t as extensive as you might be used to. Ullswater is Windermere’s little sister: the second largest lake in the Lake District, coming in at nine miles long. From here you can visit the Aira Force waterfall or take a boat ride on the Ullswater Steamer, an environmentally-friendly boat that offers trips lasting between 20 minutes and two hours. We recommend taking a longer trip. After all, you’re not in the Lake District every day.
Next on your itinerary is Keswick, a market town that lies half an hour east of Ullswater by car. Drop the car hire off in the centre; from here you can walk ten minutes to Derwentwater, which with its clear, ice-like surface and looks like it could have been supplanted from Canada or New Zealand. If you’re lucky, you might catch one of the theatre performances that’s often being staged by the lake. Afterwards, flex your walking boots again for a hike up to Castlerigg Stone Circle, dating from the Neolithic era. On a clear day, you can see all the way across to Helvellyn.