Car-free Guide to the Lake District National Park
Our guide to travelling to and around the Lake District National Park without a car.
Getting to The Lake District without a car
By Train: The Avanti West Coast mainline (formerly operated by Virgin Trains) stops at Carlisle, Penrith and Oxenholme, which have good transport connections to different parts of the Lake District National Park. Trains along this line run from Glasgow and up through the Midlands from London. There are also services to Carlisle from Newcastle, whilst from Yorkshire and the North West there are trains both to Carlisle and Penrith, and on the Windermere branch line via Kendal right to Windermere in the heart of the Lakes. Additionally, you can also make connections at Lancaster (on the West Coast mainline) to the Furness Line and the Cumbrian Coast Line to access some of the quieter, outlying areas of the National Park such as Grange-over-Sands and Maryport. For more information on routes to the Lake District, check out Go Lakes’ Cumbria by rail.
By Coach or Bus: National Express coaches serve both the major settlements and tourist destinations within and around the Lake District National Park from various destinations across the UK. Whilst Megabus does not serve destinations within the National Park, it does run buses to the nearby transport hubs of Carlisle and Lancaster.
Getting around the Lake District without a car
By Train: Travelling within much of the Lake District by train is not an option as the trains skirt the outside of the region, however on the Lakes Line there are railway stations at Windermere (for the lake), Staveley (for some great walking country), Burneside and Kendal (a major tourist and cultural hub) on the branch line from Oxenholme, where connections can be made up to Penrith in the Northern Lakes. The Western side of the Lake District is also easily accessible from the Cumbrian Coast line (via a change at Lancaster).
By Bus: The Lake District is served by a great network of bus services, with many interconnecting to allow for seamless travel across the length and breadth of the National Park. There is a thorough guide to bus travel at Go Lakes. Key routes for visitors include: 77/77a Honister Rambler
73/73a Caldbeck Rambler
108 Penrith – Patterdale
508 (Stagecoach) Penrith – Windermere & Bowness
516 Langdale Rambler
505 Coniston Rambler
525 Cross-Lakes (Windermere, Hawkshead, Coniston)
555 Lancaster – Carlisle (traversing much of the Lake District)
597 Windermere town
599 Lakeland Experience open top bus
X30 Cross Lakes Experience
X12 (Apollo 8 Travel) Ulverston - Coniston
Go Lakes also has an interactive map of buses in the Lake District, and you can access full timetables of bus routes across Cumbria via the county council website: some services are seasonal, running only in summer.
By Boat: Whilst you probably won’t do much of your Lakeland travel on the water, you can make a few handy ferry crossings to cut journey times and take in the lovely scenery, mirrored in the water next to you. A range of different boat trips and cruises run on Windermere, Ullswater, Coniston and some of the smaller lakes, some of them linking different destinations. Buses and foot passengers also take the Windermere ferry, which has been running for over 500 years (though fortunately with updated vessels). It connects Bowness, next to the town of Windermere, with Far Sawrey (for Beatrix Potter’s house and Hawkshead), and avoids having to circumnavigate England’s largest lake.
Additionally, some of the Lakes' top attractions and main towns and villages are linked by boat cruise routes that often tie in neatly with terrestrial transport. Windermere Lake Cruises offer regular sailings between Ambleside, Brockhole, The Lake District Visitor Centre and the National Trusts Wray Castle at the northern end of Windermere; at the southern end you can cruise between Lakeside (for the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Steam Railway and local attractions), Bowness-on-Windermere; as well as services along the whole lake to Ambleside
Up in Ullswater, hikers and ramblers can reach their starting points (plus some great cafés) with Ullswater Steamers, which offers regular services between Glenridding, Howtown and Pooley Bridge. And for a real vintage experience, try travelling across Lake Coniston on the heritage vessel Steam Yacht Gondola.
The dramatic peaks and upland terrain of the Lake District is an obvious destination for mountain bikers and off-road cycle enthusiasts; however, along the lakes and valley floors, the National Park also offers great cycle options for cyclists of all ability levels – and the views are just as spectacular. This is a useful overview: taking bikes on public transport.
Mainline train services usually offer space to keep your bikes, however these spaces are limited and should always be reserved in advance to avoid disappointment, by calling up the train operator, or heading to your local railway station ticket office. Whilst not all local bus services allow you to take a bike on board, many buses in the Lake District are fitted out to carry bikes.
In the summer the 800 bike bus service has the capacity to carry twelve bikes on a route that links many of the main sites and centres of the Windermere area, including Ambleside and Fell Foot Park, covering the full length of the lake. The service runs on weekends and bank holidays from the 4th of May until the 14th of July. In the summer high season (July 20th - September 1st), there is a daily service. Other services particularly geared towards cyclists are: 599 (Bowness - Ambleside - Grasmere; carries two bikes) X33 (The Lakeland Explorer: Ambleside - Coniston - Bootle - Muncaster - Ravenglass; carries two bikes) X30 (Cross Lakes Experience: Hawkshead - Grizedale - Tarn Hows - Satterthwiate; carries two bikes, hop-on hop-off service)
Additionally, a bike boat shuttles cyclists across Lake Windermere, between the Lake District Visitor Centre at Brockhole and Wray Castle. Carrying up to twelve bikes and linking into bike trails on both sides of the lake, this is a great way to reach some of the best cycling in the area, including the more secluded trails on the 'secret' western shore.
Why not take some of the strain off your legs and allow yourself to cycle some of the Lake District’s steeper routes with an electric bike? This new scheme offers e-bike hire from various points across the Lake District, with hire costing from just £10. This list of bike hire shops includes those renting electric bikes.
For traditional cycle hire, plus handy local information, and often much more, there are numerous bike providers and hire centres across the Lake District National Park, Go Lakes provides an extensive list of cycle hire and providers in the Lake District.
Any number of routes traverse the Lake District, following flat (and fairly flat) roads, or across challenging mountain terrain: for a broad selection check out the Go Lakes cycle routes and guides. For more information on cycling around the Lake District and the rest of the country, check out the Sustrans website. For more information and useful links, head to one of the visitor centres listed below.
Maps and further information
You can find a fantastic range of different downloadable PDF maps and an interactive map of the Lake District on the National Park’s website. If you want a whole host more information, maps, and advice, all in a beautiful lakeside setting, head to the Lake District National Park visitor centre at Brockhole, on the shores of Lake Windermere. From Windermere train station, you can take the 555 and 599 bus services to the centre. There are also three further National Park information centres for visitors: Bowness on Windermere visitor information centre, Keswick visitor information centre, and Ullswater visitor information centre.