England's largest national park, the Lake District, covers most of Cumbria. It's a region of superlatives, with the country's highest mountain and deepest lake and some of its most photographed views. On a map, the distance between London and the Lake District looks like a long way, but if you plan carefully and make the most of fast train connections, it will take a lot less time than you'd expect.
Wherever you're heading in the Lake District, you'll find outdoor life in abundance. What could be better than an afternoon rambling in the hills before returning to a pretty village pub for some great home-cooked food? Or if you prefer to take things easy, a cruise on Lake Windermere might be more your cup of tea. Leave your everyday worries and the city behind, soak up the landscapes, and relax.
London to Oxenholme and Kendal
One of the most common routes from London to the Lake District is taking the West Coast Main Line trains from London Euston to Oxenholme. Euston Station is the central hub for all trains heading out of London to the northwest and has around 18 trains per day heading directly to Oxenholme Lake District. Oxenholme is the perfect starting point for a visit to the region. The nearest town, Kendal, is just 5 minutes away from Oxenholme by train, or if you prefer to take the bus, there are hourly services from outside Oxenholme station between 8:15 and 17:15.
Kendal's perhaps most famous for its sugary, pepperminty mint cake, but that's not all the town is about. Kendal Museum is worth a visit to learn about life through the ages in this part of the Lake District, and if you're interested in art, the Abbot Hall Art Gallery is well known for its collection of 18th- and 20th-century British pieces. The gallery regularly hosts temporary exhibitions, too. Kendal's busy town centre is packed with shops, restaurants, and all the other amenities you'll need before continuing your Lake District adventure.
London to Windermere
Windermere is perhaps the most iconic Lake District destination. First, there's the largest lake in England, which gives the village its name and is overlooked by rolling hills. The village itself is pretty and full of visitor amenities, and it's just a short stroll down the hill to Bowness-on-Windermere's lake cruises and museums. Getting from London to Windermere is very straightforward, and again, the best route starts by catching a train at London Euston. This trip will involve a connection, usually through Lancaster, Preston, or Oxenholme. The quickest journey time, including connection, is just over three hours (3h 6m), the cheapest way to get from London to the Lake District is by reserving your seats as far in advance as possible.
Windermere Station is right in the centre of the town, so you'll emerge from the train to find everything easily at hand. Don't immediately rush off on the 15-minute walk down the hill to the lake at Bowness-on-Windermere, though, as there's plenty to see and do in Windermere itself. It's an excellent place for shopping or grabbing a spot of lunch before sightseeing. The part of Windermere at the side of the lake is officially known as Bowness-on-Windermere, but you likely won't be able to tell where the community ends and the next starts. Bowness is the starting point for a wide range of cruises, the perfect way to enjoy the scenery. Windermere has close connections with Beatrix Potter – if you're interested in finding out more about the popular children's writer, pay a visit to the World of Beatrix Potter exhibition centre.
London to Grasmere
The little Lake District village of Grasmere is smaller than both Windermere and Kendal but has that quaint little 'chocolate box' feel many visitors are looking for. It's slightly more work to get there from London, but by no means impossible. Most visitors to Grasmere drive, and it's a simple route from London along the M40, M6, and then through Kendal and Windermere. If you're relying on public transport, you'll find a range of options. The easiest is likely the route described above to Oxenholme, then on to Windermere. At the station, jump on the 555 bus, which leaves every 30 minutes and will have you in Grasmere in around 35 minutes.
Pack your walking shoes for a weekend in Grasmere, as you're going to want to get out and explore the surrounding countryside. Don't miss out on a trip to Dove Cottage, the first home of poet William Wordsworth. As with many places in the Lake District, Grasmere is best experienced from the water, so why not hire a rowing boat and explore under your own steam? That's sure to work up an appetite, so seek out the world-famous Grasmere Gingerbread Shop. Grasmere gingerbread, part sticky cake and part chewy biscuit, has been made using the same recipe for 150 years. The shop is also the perfect place to pick up souvenirs to take home or to sustain you on the journey back south.
Don't automatically reach for the car keys next time you're planning a Lake District getaway. Fast train connections from all over the UK make trains a great option, combined with local bus services. Let someone else do the driving as you spend time enjoying the countryside.