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6 Car-Free Breaks in the Lake District

There are so many reasons for giving a car-free break in the Lakes a spin. And it is not just the feel-good green credentials of reducing traffic and pollution. Step from behind the steering wheel, pull on your coat and hop on an open-top bus, electric bike, train or lake cruise and you’ll see a completely different side to this beautiful and tranquil part of the world. And with the region being a leading public transport hub, we know you’ll find it much easier than you may first think.

Not only can you enjoy the peace of the Lake District in her full splendour when you are car-free, but there are practical benefits too.

Switching from car to rail, for example, means you can also pack so much more into your visit, which is especially smart if you’re planning a short break, where you can soak up some of the very best that the Lake District has to offer quickly.

Going car-free gives you more time to drink in the spectacular views too, rather than being stuck behind the wheel. What could be better than taking in the scenery from an open-top bus or lake cruise? Plus, the whole party can enjoy the Lake District’s famed hospitality, without having to nominate a driver.

This September we’re pleased to bring you 7 alternative car-free holidays in the Lake District. From delving into the heart of the Lakes to take in some of the most iconic Lakeland scenery and attractions to discovering the region’s little-known coastal scenery. 

All on Your Doorstep

Choosing to stay in one of the region's principal towns, such as Ambleside or Keswick, is a great way to kick back and relax without a car. No worries about parking or traffic.

For an ‘everything on your doorstep’ car-free break, try staying in and around Windermere, Staveley, Oxenholme and Kendal, as these areas all have train stations. Penrith, Brampton and Carlisle have train stations giving you easy access to Keswick and the North Lakes. Depending on how much onward travel you are happy to undertake, you can choose to stay local to these station towns or take a taxi to a nearby village. 

Windermere is the most popular car-free gateway into the Lake District, bringing visitors into the Lakes from London in around 2-hours with Virgin Trains. Windermere also has a direct line to Manchester Airport and Manchester rail network. The famous 555/556 bus from Windermere train station takes a gorgeous route along the shore of Windermere to the lake head and Ambleside in the heart of the Lakes. The excellent Stagecoach hub at Windermere train station also connects passengers with popular areas like Coniston and Grasmere, for if you want to explore further afield, without a car.  

If you choose one of these principal Lake District hubs, you’ll find that you have everything that you need on your doorstep; from after-dinner drinks and a lakeshore walk to shopping, cafes, galleries and museums. Plus, the beauty of a Lake District holiday is that you can walk from your town centre cottage and be up on a fell top within an hour, drinking in the blissful peace and quiet. 

Lake District Coastline

Stretching a surprising 26-miles, the coastline that marks the Lake District’s western border is far from humble, yet it continues to be little-known. Plus, you can be on the beautiful shingle beach of Millom without having to get in the car. Northen's Cumbrian Coast Day Ranger is a beautiful 85-mile journey in itself, travelling from Carlisle to Barrow-in-Furness along spectacular sea and mountain scenery combined.

The beautiful sandy beaches and wildlife-rich estuaries and salt marshes of the Lake District coast is overshadowed by her star attractions - the 16 lakes and more than 150 peaks. Yet the Cumbrian coastline is peppered with quality attractions, like English Heritage Ravenglass Roman Bathhouse, one of the tallest Roman structures in northern Britain and Muncaster Castle. Both take advantage of prestigious locations on the River Esk that runs all the way up to England's highest point, Scarfell Pike. The Lake District's only coastal town, Ravenglass, is on the estuary of the River Esk. And it is here that you will also find the Ravenglass and Eskdale railway, the delightful narrow-gauge steam train known locally as La’al Ratty. This journey, aboard a delightful open carriage, takes passengers into the heart of one of the most unspoilt and traffic-free parts of the Lake District, the Eskdale Valley. Jump off in the village of Boot, and discover fairy waterfalls and challenging scrambles, that you can only access without a car. The 1-mile wander to Muncaster Castle is also worth a visit! 

A Day at the Races

Cartmel Races, just on the outskirts of the Lake District, is one of the premier fixtures on the region’s events calendar over the summer. And, what’s more, the races makes for a super car-free break. Cark train station is only a 6-minute drive away from the races. From here, there’s a coach service that is timetabled around the race fixtures. Not only will you save on the parking fee and hassle, but you can enjoy the champagne hospitality too. For an extended break, coaches also run from the racecourse to Cartmel Village, where you can enjoy the foodie capital of the Lake District. 

A Cycling Break

The Lake District village of Staveley, just outside Windermere, has a train station and is the cycling mecca of the Lakes. This sizable village is an excellent mix of outdoor sports and great bars and eateries so even for a long break, there’s little reason for leaving this village once you step off the train platform. Staveley is the gateway to the Kentmere Valley, where anything above the village is worthy of tackling on foot or wheels. The Garburn Pass that takes you over into the Troutbeck Valley is popular with cyclists and for those looking for a challenge, look up the High Street route. If you’re arriving car-free and so could not bring your bikes with you, pop into Wheelbase in Staveley village, the largest cycle superstore in the region. From hardtail mountain bikes to electric cycles, they won’t let you miss out on experiencing some of the best cycling rides in the country, whatever your experience. Wilfs Cafe, also in Staveley Mill Yard, is where you’ll likely find yourself if you’re planning your cycling route over a coffee and try The Beer Hall at Hawkshead Brewery for a well-earned pint and some tapas. 

The Extra-Mile

Car-free is a no-brainer for outdoor enthusiasts with a love of challenges and going that ‘extra mile’ because the Lake District is full of them! One of our favourites has to be the south-eastern shore of Ullswater, from Howtown to Glenridding - a beautiful part of Ullswater that can only be experienced car-free. Extend this 6.5-mile linear walk to take on the whole Ullswater Way challenge. This is a new 20-mile walking route around lake Ullswater, marked by the lake’s famous emblem, the native daffodil, made famous by the William Wordsworth poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” that was inspired by a daffodil sighting at Gelncoyne Bay on Ullswater. 

Most Scenic Bus Route

Operating from Easter to October, the Honister Rambler (77 and 77A) is a seasonal bus service that goes one of the steepest road routes in the Lake District, the Honister Pass. This nail-biting pass is best experienced when someone else is driving so you can take in the sublime scenery and take some snaps. The pass is circular, connecting Keswick, along the western shore of Derwentwater, with the remote via the picturesque Borrowdale Valley and on to the western lakes of Buttermere and Crummock Water before returning to Keswick. Hop on and off, taking in the quietest part of the Lakes without needing a car. Stop at Honister Slate Mine and head out to conquer the Wainwright fell Grey Knotts, the peak above the mine separating the valleys of Borrowdale and Buttermere. Following on from Grey Knotts, you can conquer the iconic Great Gable fell. Walk north from Honister Slate Mine to take on the bulk of Dale Head. From the head of Buttermere, the walk up Haystacks is known as one of Wainwright's favourite walks in the Lake District. For a low-level walk, enjoy the circular walk around Buttermere - one of the best round-the-lake walks in the Lake District. You can ask the driver to drop you wherever you like within reason, so this is a great way of enjoying the Lakes your way.

Coming in second in a UK poll of scenic bus routes, the open-top Lakesider 599 bus route from Bowness to Grasmere certainly deserves this accolade. It runs along the shores of Windermere, Grasmere and Rydal Water, passing both of William Wordsworth’s most famous former homes, Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount as well. Another open-bus route in the Lake District not to miss when opting for a car-free break is the 508, which connects the region’s two largest lakes, Windermere and Ullswater. It also takes in the Lake District’s highest mountain road, Kirkstone Pass, as well as stopping at popular walking locations such as Troutbeck, Glenridding and Aira Force. There’s WiFi, USB charging points, spaces for prams and bikes and audio commentary too on these open-top bus routes, so more than just a way of getting from A-B!