My favourite town in the Lake District after so many stays there as a kid, and it’s a place I’ve never stopped visiting as I’ve got older. Over the years I’ve learned to love Ambleside more as the hotels have modernised and independent shops have changed, but the old fashioned Lakeland charm remains constant. During my most recent week stay in the Lake District last September, our day spent there was my favourite. Here’s my travel guide for a visit to Ambleside, Lake District.
Ambleside has got a lot more popular to visitors so can get really busy especially on weekends, and you can expect to sit in traffic as you enter as well as queuing for a car parking space. As far as the Lakes goes Ambleside is one of the bigger towns, but it’s still not huge so space is limited. A mid week visit will give you a much easier and slightly quieter experience if you’re just visiting for the day, or can take time off to go midweek.
If you’re looking to stay in Ambleside then it’s a great location for not just the town itself, but as a base for exploring the rest of the Lakes, especially if you’ve not previously been a Lake District regular. It’s got everything – a town full of shops, cafes, pubs, restaurants, B&Bs, and hotels, and a lake with cafes, boating, ducks to feed and incredible mountain views.
It works for every demographic – families, kids, couples etc. Ambleside is the perfect place to begin your love affair with the Lakes. There is much more on offer than everything I’m going to go on to mention, but these are some of my favourite or stand out places to visit within the town.
Where to Stay and Parking in Ambleside
The Salutation Hotel would be my first go to hotel, right at the top of the hill on Rydal Road into Ambleside. It’s a brilliant spot for being central and within very close walking distance of everything in the main town. It’s had a lot of work done to it and it has a pool and spa, a mix of room sizes and some even come with private hot tub.
For another central hotel check out the Ambleside Inn.
If you’re looking for a high end spa hotel then go for Low Wood Bay Hotel and spa on Ambleside Road at the other end by the Lake. Absolutely stunning views, luxury spa and a bit more serene as it’s not right in the town centre.
Rothay Manor is a country house in Ambleside known for its excellent restaurant and afternoon tea. It’s between the main town and the lake so best of both worlds, and has beautiful gardens too.
For accommodation right by the lake which obviously has a huge attraction, as it really is a beautiful spot then there are a few options I’d look at. Right on the front at Waterhead is The Waterhead Hotel, Regent Hotel by the lake, Wateredge Inn and the family run Ambleside Lake House.
Of course if you prefer something less frills as many walkers do, literally after a bed for the night there are plenty of traditional old school B&B’s, or the Rothay Garth guest house. There’s a lot of self catered air BnB or private cottages available to rent too.
The benefit of staying in any of these hotels is the free parking that comes with your hotel stay. Once parked up you could easily get about Ambleside and down to the Lake and back without needing your car. It’s a twenty minute easy walk from the town to Waterhead, or there’s a bus back up if you prefer – it’s not too steep at all.
If you aren’t staying there are a couple of public car parks:
In the town centre
Rydal Road car park, 171 spaces and you can pay cash or card. Postcode LA9 4DQ
Low Fold car park, 40ish spaces, cash or card but not Apple Pay. Postcode LA22 ODN
By the lake go for Lakeside car park postcode LA22 0ES.
Cafes, Pubs & Restaurants in Ambleside
Cafe culture is very good all over the Lakes, with tiny cosy tea rooms churning out home made everything. In Ambleside town there are lots to choose from but my go to would be Sheila’s Cottage, the Giggling Goose – who have outdoor seating by the little stream, and the Copper Pot – one of the best for sandwiches and cakes.
The Apple Pie cafe and bakery is tiny, but famous for its quality and tremendous apple pie of course. And Ghandi’s cafe is the go to for vegetarian or vegan food.
By the lake at Waterhead you can’t get better than Waterhead coffee shop. Their home made scones are huge, the sandwiches are delicious and they have a whole range of other hearty food and drinks menus.
Enjoy it either as takeaway, inside the cute little cafe itself or outside on the terrace with unbeatable views of the lake. Don’t leave without an ice cream dipped in chocolate too.
Comfort food and hearty bar meals are the most popular and traditional option for your evening meal, especially if you’ve been active, out walking or mountain climbing all day. Many of the hotels and restaurants offer great casual pub style meals.
In the town I always enjoy The Priest Hole which is also nice for lunchtimes, and it’s a very traditional old pub, or there’s the White Lion too. By the lake Wateredge Inn is a nice spot.
There’s a lot of proper restaurants offering a whole range of different cuisine too. Dodds Italian is really nice and they do good cocktails – get there early as it’s so popular and you can’t book so you have to queue outside.
Here’s some picks for other cuisine, that also do takeaway which you might fancy if you’re staying in a self catered place.
Chinese – The Lucky Dragon or China Cottage, I’ve ate from the latter once a long time ago and it’s probably the one I’d go back to.
Indian – Ishaas, my parents have been and enjoyed it.
Pizza – Zeffirelli’s, it’s quite unique inside and also a cinema.
Thai – Jintana or Doi Intanon
Sheila’s Cottage that I mentioned earlier and the Copper Pot also do British food in the evening as a restaurant too. For fine dining, head to Rothay Manor Hotel.
Shopping in Ambleside
One of my favourite things to do in Ambleside, and a reason to visit in itself is to potter around and browse the independent shops. There are some really good ones.
Ye Olde Friars – don’t miss this out of your visit. The old fashioned sweet shop that originated in Keswick opened in Ambleside a few years ago, and sells a huge range of chocolates and sweets. It’s great for occasions to particularly Easter and Christmas – they get very creative.
The Bath House – a gorgeous natural beauty and skincare shop founded locally in the Lake District. I’ve used their sanitiser and face masks all the way through lockdown.
Kindred Spirits – another local product, this time gin, but they do sell other spirits too. All authentically British.
Just down the street a few doors along from Kindred Spirits is Ambleside Wine store, another must visit. For delicatessens selling cheese to go with your wines go for either The Honeypot, or Rattle Ghyll Deli.
Of course being in the Lakes there is an abundance of outdoor shops too, including Gaynors, Rohan, Tresspass, and the Climbers Shop. Get yourself a pair of walking boots or a waterproof if you dont have them already, you’ll need both.
The last and perhaps most weird I’m going to mention is the Tropical Seashells shop by the Lake. It’s a gift shop and sells a whole range of weird, quirky stuff like jewellery, decorations – general tat actually but it’s worth sticking your head in. It’s a bit like Raspberry Bazaar in Tynemouth, you never know what you might find.
Other things to do
Aside from shopping and eating, both of which I very much enjoy in Ambleside there is a vast range of other activities, naturally many being outdoors being in the heart of the Lakes.
The lake itself offers plenty to keep you entertained, either with a picnic in the park right next to it, feeding the ducks with duck food from the cafe, enjoying an ice cream and a walk along the jetty’s or from the picnic benches while you take in the view.
You could hire a self drive motor boat from Windermere Lake Cruises or a rowing boat from the pier. Low Wood Bay hotel also offer water sports on the lake.
Visit the Beatrix Potter Gallery at Hawkshead, which showcases original watercolours and illustrations. Beatrix Potter should also visit her house at Hill Top in Ambleside, a popular spot for tourists, and the Armitt Museum in Ambleside which has an exhibition on her life and works.
Go to see the 17th Century Bridge House, the most iconic spot in Ambleside and one you’re bound to have seen photographs of if you haven’t seen it in person. It sit over the stream by Rydal Road car park.
And of course, being right in the middle of the beautiful valleys, mountains and Lakeland scenery there are an abundance of walks of all difficulties to do using Ambleside as a base. Take a look at this comprehensive list for inspiration.
Short drives away are the nearby town of Windermere, Grasmere and Langdale. A 5 minute drive will take you to Skelwith Bridge which has a lovely riverside walk and Chesters coffee shop. The food there is amazing either for a mid morning snack or lunch, and the gift shop is full of beautiful homeware, books and unique gifts.
Ambleside is my favourite town in the Lake District for so many reasons, and hopefully I’ve armed you with enough of them to tempt a visit. As I said at the start school holidays and summer gets really busy, but it’s a town for all seasons. I love visiting in winter for cosy pub meals, or Autumn for the incredible colours that frame the lake.
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