With something to appeal to all different tastes, the narrow streets of this traditional lakeland village are thronged with holidaymakers and day-trippers in the summer, and nonetheless the atmosphere is entirely relaxing and laid back. With a beautiful setting, a vibrant town centre and nightlife, the famous Windermere steamers, and the rest of the Lake District on your doorstep, Bowness-on-Windermere represents the Lake District at its best.
Along with enjoying the lake frontage, perusing the enticing local shops, wiling away time in the cafes and dining out in the many excellent restaurants, there are plenty of attractions and things to see and do in Bowness and the surrounding area.
Near the lake and the steamer pier on Glebe Road in Bowness bay is an extensive open parkland area, perfect for picnics, and nearby are public tennis courts, putting green, crazy golf, and an excellent 18-hole pitch-and-putt course, which takes a couple of hours to complete and makes for a fun-filled afternoon.
Windermere Lake Cruises
Steamers and passenger launches come and go from the piers in Bowness Bay, and you can choose to take part in the main cruise route that operates between Ambleside in the north and Lakeside in the south, stopping and re-alighting as you wish to explore, or you may wish to take the 45 minute Islands Cruise, which allows you to see up close the iconic islets and inlets of England’s longest lake. If you are torn between the many things to do in Bowness, this one is a must.
Bowness Bay Marina
What better way to enjoy the wonders of Lake Windermere than hiring your very own boat and cruising the beautiful waters on your own schedule? You can hire electrically-powered craft that are easy to handle from this marina on Glebe Road, and set out for an hour, half a day, or a full day.
Windermere Canoe and Kayak
You can choose from a large range of boats to hire or even purchase if you choose, and Windermere Canoe and Kayak also offer bike hire.
Windermere Outdoor Adventure Centre
Learn all you need to know about kayaking, windsurfing and sailing with the help of fully qualified instructors. You can also choose to stay ashore and try orienteering, Nordic walking, navigation and or rock climbing.
The Fun Factory
The Fun Factory provides a neat answer to the question of what to do in Bowness with your younger children on a rainy afternoon. Situated on Glebe Road, you can sit back and watch them having fun in the soft play centre, while also enjoying great views over the lake nearby yourself.
This is a very traditional cinema, and a visit here will give you a feeling of going back in time, and yet you can still enjoy the latest releases. Dating from the early 20th Century, the Royalty retains traditional features, curtains and lighting.
With the largest collection of freshwater fish in the UK on display, the Lakes Aquarium is an award-winning attraction situated at Lakeside, near Newby Bridge. You can drive the few miles from Bowness-on-Windermere, or you may prefer to combine a visit with a boat trip as the steamers stop here.
The Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway
The station for this short branch-line railway trip is at Lakeside, and is another activity you may wish to combine with a boat journey to Lakeside, along with a visit to the Lakes Aquarium. Historic steam and diesel engines take you on a charming ride through the picturesque Leven Valley.
Located at the mouth of the Troutbeck valley, a short distance from Windermere and Bowness, Holehird Gardens are managed by the Lakeland Horticultural Society, and provide a lovely setting for a peaceful stroll.
Blackwell Arts and Crafts
This is one of Britain’s finest houses, surviving from the turn of the last century with almost all of its original decorative features intact. Blackwell’s period rooms have been furnished with a blend of Arts and Crafts furniture and early country made pieces made by many of the Arts and Crafts designers and studios. There’s also a beautiful garden layed out by Thomas Mawson which visitors can discover or sit on the terrace and enjoy.
Blackwell, The Arts and Crafts House, Bowness-on-Windermere, LA23 3JT, 015394 46139
The Old Laundry Theatre
There’s always a lively season of music, theatre, comedy and film at The Old Laundry Theatre. Launched with the support of friend and playwright Alan Ayckbourn. Over the years they have attracted many stars, including some who have gone on to become patrons including Victoria Wood, Griff Rhys-Jones and Alan Rickman.
The Old Laundry Theatre, Crag Brow, Bowness-on-Windermere, LA23 3BX, 08445 040604
The World of Beatrix Potter
You can’t come to Bowness and not pay a visit to this museum. The area around Lake Windermere is full of Potter connections and here you can see her children’s tales come to life in a magical indoor recreation of the Lakeland countryside complete with sights, sounds and smells. You can even meet Peter Rabbit and have tea with him at organised events. The World of Beatrix Potter, Bowness-on-Windermere, LA23 3BX, 015394 88444
Afternoon Tea at one of the many hotels
There are lots of nice hotels, cafes and coffee shops offering delicious afternoon teas in the Lake District, but for a real treat book yourself in at Miller Howe. The quintessential afternoon tea includes freshly cut sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and a selection of mouthwatering pastries, which can be enjoyed while enjoying the stunning scenery over Lake Windermere.
Stop off at Brockhole, The Lake District Visitor Centre and you won’t be disappointed. Visitors can take in the scenic views and gardens which stretch down to the shores of the lake, browse round the shop or look around the free exhibitions. There’s a soft play area for the children and a new aerial woodland adventure, Treetop Trek and wildlife experience Predator Park, so plenty for everyone young or old to see and do.
Bowness is a great place to pick up souvenirs or presents with a mix of shops many of which offer local produce. There’s also plenty of places for walkers to stock up on everything they need as well as plenty of cafes, restaurants and coffee shops to rest your feet and shopping bags after a morning’s extravagance! Neighbouring Windermere has a totally different feel for shoppers, with good selection of independent boutiques offering everything from clothes to gifts.
Make the most of the view
Orrest Head, above Windermere is considered by many to be the best viewpoint over Lake Windermere as on a clear day the fell offers a 360 degree view taking in the Langdales and Troutbeck Valley. It was Alfred Wainwright’s first climb and the view today remains just how he would have seen it.
With views out onto Lake Windermere the spa at the Macdonald Old England in Bowness is a must-visit, if you want the ultimate in relaxation. The swimming pool has an open air patio where spa guests can sit and relax and take in the view before and after their treatments, which includes a signature Elemis Pine Herbal Body Wrap, exclusive to the spa here.
Macdonald Old England Hotel and Spa, Bowness, 0844 879 9144
Dine out in style
After a day out, there’s plenty of places to quench your thirst and satisfy your appetite in both Bowness and Windermere.
Low Wood Watersports and Activities Centre
The centre is located on the lake shore a couple of miles along the A591 south of Ambleside and things to do include water skiing, wakeboarding, canoeing, kayaking, sailing, and motor boat hire.
This mock-gothic castle is superbly situated on Windermere’s western flank, a few miles from Ambleside. It is empty of furnishings, but you can take a guided tour to explore the castle’s history, and there is a cafe too. It is also worth visiting for a stroll in the woodlands, a picnic in the fields by the lakeshore, or an exciting time for children on the adventure playground. We recommend taking a boat trip from Ambleside pier, as some of the steamers schedule a stop here.
Dove Cottage and The Wordsworth Museum
Dove Cottage was William Wordsworth’s first family home, which he shared with his sister Dorothy. The house has been wonderfully preserved, and along with the adjacent Wordsworth Museum, gives an unparalleled insight into the great poet’s life, and various talks, walks, and mini-festivals are organised here. Do be sure to visit the excellent Dove Cottage Tearooms, too. www.wordsworth.org.uk/home.html
St. Oswald’s Church and Wordsworth’s Grave
You should certainly pay a visit to the rustic, centuries old church sitting prettily by the river in Grasmere’s village centre. In the churchyard are William and Dorothy Wordsworth’s graves, a shrine for those with literary interests, and nearby is the Daffodil Garden, planted in honour of the poet.
Grasmere Garden Village
Browse for gifts, clothing, and garden essentials at this lovely garden centre in the middle of the village, and take some tea at the Potting Shed Cafe. www.grasmeregardens.com
Faeryland Tearoom and Boat Hire
A little way along the Red Bank Road towards Langdale nestles this picturesque little tearoom, whose gardens must be some of the most perfectly situated in the country for sunny days, right by the shores of tranquil Grasmere lake. The range of teas are equally pleasing, and often includes such intriguing beverages as Russian Caravan Tea or Organic Khartoum Hibiscus Tea. You can sit with a brew or an ice-cream and bask in the beautiful scenery, or go and explore it by taking a rowing boat out on the lake.
William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy moved to this house overlooking Grasmere lake in 1808. It is now owned by the National Trust, and was also once home to its founder, Canon Rawnsley. It is well worth adding to your itinerary when planning what to do in Grasmere, and there are many activities available here for children.