31 Free Things to do in the Lake District

When you’re planning activities with children, budget is often a big consideration. It’s helpful to have a few ideas of low cost activities to do. But are there really any free things to do in the Lake District?

A tiny disclaimer… all of the things to do in the list have a cost associated with them. But in most cases this is small, for things like parking.

And obviously there is always travel to and from any of the places on the list. If you’re lucky enough to be on holiday close to them or if you live close to them this cost will have less of an impact.

Also, certain types of memberships do have an annual or monthly cost, but then mean free entry or parking at lots of different places. I’ve included a couple of them on this list, as they often provide such good value for a day out.

Other than those unavoidable costs though, we have found 31 things to do with your family here in the Lake District that are free.

Free things to do in the Lake District? Here we go….

1. Go for a Walk

This is the obvious one, isn’t it?! Going for a walk in the Lake District is one of the most popular things to do. You are completely spoilt for choice, from short flat walks to long, challenging ones. Take a picnic (with a flask,obviously!) and it makes it as close to a free day out as you can get. Our Family Walks page has some ideas to get you started.

2.Visit some Caves

Caves are super fun for kids (and adults too!) and a great day out on their own, or linked with a walk.

We love Rydal Cave and Cathedral Cave.

3. Have a Picnic by a Lake

This is one of our favourite things to do when the weather is good enough. We’ve been doing it since the kids were tiny, coming down after school or early in the morning as well as on the weekends as a family. Just being near the water is lovely enough, but I’ve learnt through experience to always bring wet shoes, a change of clothes and a towel just in case!

4.Visit a Wood

Again, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to woods to explore in the Lake District. The kids always seem to play really well amongst the trees, and any bad moods (children AND adults!) generally seem to have lifted after spending some time in the woods.

It’s also a great choice when the weather isn’t great, as you get some shelter, but also when the weather is super hot as you get some shade.

We love Dodd Wood, Skelghyll Woods, and Eggerslack Woods.

5. Go Stand Up Paddle Boarding

Ok, this one requires an initial outlay where you buy the stand-up paddleboard, the lifejacket and the wetsuit (see our Lake District Kit List for our favourites) BUT once you have those things, this makes for a very cheap day out.

There are plenty of places to launch a stand up paddleboard from in the Lake District, but when you’re with kids you want somewhere with convenient access, without having to carry your kit for miles before you get there.

Our favourite places to set up a little camp for the morning are Fell Foot Park, Miller Ground Windermere,

This the paddle board we have, and we’ve had no problems in the 3 years we’ve owned it and used it. Highly recommended.

6. Try Geocaching

Have you ever tried geocaching before? It’s basically like a giant digital treasure hunt that you can do as much or as little of as you like, and it’s completely free. There are plenty of geocaches to find in the Lake District, and it can turn a normal walk into something much more exciting for children.

To get started, visit the Geocaching website, where you can read all about geocaching and how to download the app you’ll need. Happy treasure hunting!

7. Visit Brockhole

Brockhole is a great day out, and it does have a lot of paid activities that you can take part in (these are fab and I do recommend them for those times you’re not looking for a less spendy day out). However, it is completely possible to visit Brockhole, enjoy the beautiful grounds, go wild on the playpark, spend time by Lake Windermere and only pay for the car park.

The car park (which is a pay-on-exit type) is close to the play park, and we have spent lots of happy mornings burning off energy there, before having a snack on one of the many picnic benches and then walking through the grounds to throw pebbles on the lake. It’s perfect for little ones.

8. Go Kayaking

Similar to the Stand Up Paddleboarding section, this is only a free/low cost thing to do if you actually already have a kayak along with buoyancy aids and possibly wetsuits. But if you do, kayaking is great fun and is sometimes easier than using a SUP with kids as you can get in with them, making sure the steering doesn’t go too wild!

This is the kayak we use as a family, we absolutely love it and it’s lasted 4 years now with no problems (and lots of use!).

Places with easy access to a lake are Fell Foot Park on Lake Windermere, Miller Ground on Lake Windermere, Brown How car park on Coniston.

9. Visit Conishead Priory

Conishead Priory is a gothic revival house set in beautiful grounds, and is the home of the Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre. The grounds themselves are ideal for exploring (dogs are allowed) but you can also visit the temple from 11-5 every day. You are welcome to just relax, or even join in a 15 minute guided meditation, which run at 12:30pm and 2pm every day. This is a lovely (and probably slightly unusual) day out.

Note: Conishead Priory also has a cafe and a gift shop, although that doesn’t strictly fit with our free things to do!

10. Visit the beach at Bardsea

Bardsea Beach can be a little trip on it’s own, or combined with a visit to Conishead Priory which is right next door. Located just outside Ulverston, Bardsea Beach is one of our favourites for an easy morning out.

There is plenty of free parking all the way along the beach; we like to reverse up and have a car boot picnic facing the sea. The beach itself is a classic Morecambe Bay beach, with shingle and sand, and is perfect for sandcastles.

Across the road you’ll find the Chill & Grill cafe, open from March to October serving ice cream. coffee and cakes. And just up the road on the same side as the cafe are public toilets.

Please note: Morecambe Bay beaches are affected by fast incoming tides, and it is advised you stay close to the shore to avoid quicksands.

11. Have a Car Boot Picnic at a Viewing Point

Or a hot chocolate with marshmallows and squirty cream! This is a lovely thing to do on it’s own or after another activity. Young children love to climb in the boot for something to eat or drink, and adults enjoy the views. It’s just the teenagers that might not be quite so impressed with this suggestion!

We love the Windermere Lake Viewing Car Park on Rayrigg Road.

12. Film Making and Photography

This, while it is quite niche, can be a great way of persuading less than enthusiastic teens and tweens out for a walk. My eldest (aged 12) loves to take Lego minifigures wherever we go, and uses the different natural backdrops to create all sorts of scenes and up-level his phone photography skills.

It doesn’t have to be Lego, it could be landscape shots, animals, or whatever your child is interested in. It makes them look at the area around them differently AND gives you time for a sit down with a flask of tea!

13. Grange over Sands Promenade

The promenade at Grange over Sands is brilliant for children. There are a few options for parking – either just on the left after the mini roundabout on the road by the ornamental gardens, or there are a couple of (paid) car parks on your left as you drive through Grange itself.

You’ll have to cross the train track once you have parked, and there are plenty of places to do this, either over or underground.

The promenade itself is a flat long walkway, ideal for walking, biking, scooting and roller skating with views across Morecambe Bay. Along the prom you’ll find a play park, exercise equipment, a skate park, tennis courts and two cafes, along with toilets and some mini golf if you want to add a paid activity.

We wrote a full guide to Grange over Sands promenade here.

14. Do a Nature Hunt

A way to make a walk more interesting for children is to turn it into a nature walk. Little children love spotting and looking out for things, and if you have an older child with an interest in nature they’ll love it too.

You could create your own with just a pen and a piece of paper to make it personalised to your child, or you could download one of the many printables available on Etsy.

15. Visit a Festival

The Lake District punches above it’s weight when it comes to festivals, and we are spoilt for choice. The festivals tend to take over a town or an area for a weekend, with lots of things to see and do that are free. Some ideas are:

16. Borrans Park, Ambleside

Borrans Park is a lovely open green space in Ambleside, which is perfect for families. With a huge open field ideal for ball games or just haring arounds, picnic benches and direct access to Lake Windermere, it’s the perfect spot to pitch up for a few hours.

Parking is in Ambleside, or if you arrive by Windermere Lake Cruise, it’s a little walk around the shore from the boat stop at Waterhead.

17. Watch the sunrise or sunset by a lake

Which one you choose depends on the age and sleeping patterns of your children, along with the time of year. A few years ago our family would often reach the shore of a lake in time for a breakfast picnic as the sun came up, in the days of 5:30am starts.

Now, my children can stay up later and as long as it’s not midsummer, enjoy a picnic tea or a flask of hot chocolate and a play by the water as the sun goes down.

18. Visit a Waterfall

We love a waterfall! There is something about spending time near running water that just sorts everyone’s mood out. There are plenty of waterfalls to choose from in the Lake District, from huge spectacular ones to little hidden gems. You can visit a waterfall as part of a longer walk, or just visit the fall itself.

We love Aira Force near Ullswater and Stockghyll Force in Ambleside.

19. Playpark and Lake at Millerground

Millerground is such a great place to spend time whilst spending very little money. There is a pay and display car park, but also a very small amount of free parking in a layby just up Rayrigg Road (heading away from Bowness).

At Millerground you’ll find a decent sized playpark, a huge field to play on, and access to Lake Windermere with a little lakeside walk leading along the lake from the jetties. There are also toilets open in the April-Oct season next to the car park, although there is a small charge for these.

I’ve written more about Miller Ground here, as it’s somewhere we’ve spent a lot of time and I’d highly recommend it.

20. Low Sizergh Barn Trail

The 1.75 mile trail at Low Sizergh Barn is a great way to let off some steam. Parking at Sizergh Barn is free, and the trail starts just next to the car park, at the tractor (allow extra time for tractor loving little ones to play on the real life tractor). Then follow the trail path around the farm, passing through willow tunnels, a pond, through a wood with a stream running through it, and back past the Growing Well polytunnels. The trail is accessible for wheelchairs and pushchairs as far as the pond.

If you do decide you want refreshments, there is a cafe back at Sizergh Barn, along with toilets and a farm shop. In the cafe, a viewing gallery means you can watch the cows come in for milking at 3:30pm.

I’ve written more about the Low Sizergh Barn farm trail here.

21. Castlerigg Stone Circle

This neolithic stone circle dates back to 3000BC and is one of the earliest stone circles in Britain. It is free to visit, and is a 30 minute walk from Keswick town centre. If walking isn’t an option, there is some parking at the site.

The circle itself is impressive, mainly because of it’s location with Helvellyn in the background. It is definitely worth a look, and children who have an interest in history will enjoy the information boards explaining more about this prehistoric monument.

22. Free with NT membership

There are a few places in the Lake District that are ideal for children and families, that aren’t exactly free. However, with an annual National Trust family membership (£159 a year, or £13.25 a month), entry to and parking at all their places are completely free. So, if you already have a National Trust membership, the following places are definitely an excellent way to spend a day:

23. Take art materials on a walk

This is a lovely way to level up a walk, especially if you or your children particularly enjoy getting creative. Just add a sketchbook and a little tin of watercolour paints, or coloring pencils, or line drawing pens to your backpack. Then, when it’s time for a rest on your walk, get them out and use what you can see to create some art.

This is a lovely mindful activity, and it helps if you don’t put any pressure on for a ‘finished product’, the joy is in the process of stopping and taking in your surroundings. Ideal for everyone, this activity suits very young children, through teens and tweens, up to adults.

Some of our favourite art materials are:

24. Visit Ambleside Roman Fort

Galava Roman Fort is in Ambleside, in Borrans Field right next to Borrans Park (also on this list). Thought to be around 2000 years old, it is the remains of a Roman settlement, built to guard the old Roman Road from Ravenglass to Brougham. It looks like the settlement was also used a s a supply base, and would probably have house around 500 Roman soldiers at once.

Ambleside Roman Fort is free to enter and open every day, and a National Trust information leaflet can be picked up from the Armitt museum in Ambleside.

25. Grizedale Forest

Run by Forestry England, Grizedale Forest is a great day out. For little ones, there is a brand new Gruffalo Trail to celebrate 25 years of the Gruffalo. Having done the previous trails, we know it’s the perfect length for little legs! It starts at the visitor centre where you can pick up an activity pack for £4 (this is entirely optional).

For older children, or really tiny ones in a carrier, there are a range of walking trails to choose from, and the super helpful walking trail map is online here.

There are also a range of biking trails to choose from, where you can bring your own bike or hire mountain bikes and e-bikes from the visitor centre. Also at the visitor centre is a decent play park and picnic area, which is perfect for a pit stop.

26. Get in a lake for a paddle or swim

Whether it’s in wellies or wet shoes, kids (and adults) love a paddle! Pretty much anywhere you can get access to a lake is perfect for this. For ease, we love Miller Ground or Cockshott Point at Windermere, but always check for blue-green algae signs.

For swimming, we love Grasmere – you can park at Rydal Water car park and walk through the trees to the shore. Alternatively, you can park in Grasmere village and walk round to the beach. For most of the year everyone will need a wetsuit, our favourites are these ones for kids from Mountain Warehouse.

27. Cycle Threlkeld – Keswick

This flat 10K accessible route is one of the Miles without Stiles walking trails. Originally part of the old Keswick to Penrith railway line, this section has been reopened as a mixed-use route, and is popular with families because of how easy it is both to find and complete.

The trail is 5km each way, and you can start at either end. If starting in Keswick, parking is in the public car park opposite the old train station. The postcode for parking is CA12 4NP and What3Words reference is longingly.scouting.resides.

There is a cafe for halfway refreshments in Threlkeld, and also toilets in Threlkeld Village Hall.

28. Climb a Wainwright

Quite a few families I know have decided to make it a mission to start ticking off some of Wainright’s fells, and this is their weekend activity whenever the weather allows.

Alfred Wainwright was a local fellwalker, author and illustrator, and he produced 7 famous pictorial guides to the Lake District fells between 1955 and 1966. The 214 Lakeland fells in these books are now known as ‘Wainrights’ and peeople like to challenge themselves to climb all 214.

The Wainwrights range from small, achievable fells (perfect for families) to the higheast summits like Helvellyn and Scafell Pike. As a family ticking them all off might not be for you, but it’s fun to try some of the smaller ones, and local shops often sell badges with ‘I climbed xxxx’ on to reward yourself with afterwards!

29. Sand dunes at Roanhead

You might not consider beaches when you think of things to do in the Lake District, but the area definitely has it’s fair share of lovely coastline. Roanhead in particular is a great spot for a walk and a play.

Just off the A590 on the way to Barrow, Roanhead is signposted off to the right. At the bottom of this single track lane, you’ll find a small National Trust car park. There are toilets a few metres back up the road. Leading from the car park, a wooden boardwalk leads you through part of the Sandscale Haws nature reserve to the beach.

The beach itself has rock pools, and after a short walk down the beach, you come to some huge sand dunes, that are perfect for stopping and playing on.

30. Kendal Castle

Built in the 12th Century, Kendal Castle was originally made for the baronial families of Kendal. It was left to ruin in Tudor times, and has remained a ruin ever since. Several walls, a tower, and some cellar areas remain. It’s small, as castles go, but still worth a visit.

Parking is easiest at the top of Parr Street/Sunnyside in Kendal. Head up the hill towards the castle, and go through the gate. Follow the path as it winds round the (unfilled) castle moat, then follow the path as it crosses the moat. The signs here show what the castle used to look like, and what each section would have been used for. Then you can explore the castle grounds.

After, just outside the castle walls and the moat, there are a few picnic benches dotted around the paths, perfect for a sit down and a snack while you take in the view.

31. Hadriens Wall

Hadrien’s Wall is said to be the most important monument built by the Romans in Britain, while much of it is in Northumbria, some of it ran through Cumbria and a few sites remain ideal for visiting.

Originally all the way from Bowness-on-Solway in north-west Cumbria to Wallsend near Newcastle, it stretched for 73 miles. Now, the best places to visit it include Birdoswald Fort, Banks Turret, Pike Hill Signal Tower, Milecastle 48 and Willowford Bridge.

If this piques the interest of your little (or not so little) ones, there is much more info at Tullie House Museum in Carlisle, which is temporarily closed until Autumn 2024.

And that’s it! 31 free things to do in the Lake District.

You might also like to read 21 Best Family Campsites in the Lake District.

About the author

I'm Michelle, Lake District resident and founder of this site. You can mostly find me up a hill, on a lake, or enjoying a hot chocolate by the fire. Feel free to get in touch, I'd love to hear from you!

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