Evening picnic by Rydal Water - Visiting Ambleside
Where to stay, what to do and when to go. All you need to know…..
This small town is situated at the head of Lake Windermere and nestles below the fells of Loughrigg and Wansfell. It benefits from being easily accessible from the M6 motorway as well as Windermere train station which is only 4 miles away. So a most attractive place for tourists to stay.
The popularity of the town has grown over the years. With Victorians being the first to be regularly visiting Ambleside and ever since tourists have flocked to this vibrant place.
Most of the building are of traditional slate construction which is typical of the region, slate is after-all in such abundance in this part of the word. The stone buildings help to add a unique dimension, drawing out the full spectrum of colours in the rock during times of inclement weather, of which the Lake District has more than its far share. More on that later.
Having now lived and worked in Ambleside for 17 years and counting, I feel like I know it pretty well, although still learning. And I must make clear from the outset, whilst I will be naming various establishments in the post, this is in no way sponsored.
I will be naming both of the businesses we (me & Kate) operate. Mountain Journeys and 2 Cambridge Villas B&B, but plenty more besides. When visiting Ambleside please do get in touch if there's anything we can help with. Where an establishment is mentioned here, it is because we have enjoyed good service from them or had particularly good recommendations about them. In order to keep the article to a reasonable word count, not all establishments will be included.
A Herdwick welcome committee - Visiting Ambleside
Nearby tea garden - Visiting Ambleside
Where to stay when visiting Ambleside:
Hostels – if wanting to keep a tight reign on the budget but not keen to be under canvas, a hostel can be just right.
The YHA have a large, waterfront hostel at Waterhead. This is almost certainly the most well positioned accommodation option in the area, offering unrivalled views across the lake and to the Langdale Pikes. They have a café and restaurant which is also open to non-residents.
In the hamlet of Elterwater is a former YHA hostel, now operating independently and offering a peaceful retreat in a beautiful setting. If looking for walks straight from the doorstep and a 1st class pub almost next door, look no further.
B&B’s – surprisingly a B&B can often offer similar prices to a hostel, depending on the time of year, especially when factoring in an included breakfast. A B&B will typically be very welcoming and comfortable with owners who are available to help and answer questions or give advice to help you get the most out of your stay.
2 Cambridge Villas – yes I have to start with our place. It is lovely, homely and welcoming. Perfectly situated in the centre of the village so it’s a very easy stroll to all the amenities. As well as perfectly cooked breakfasts (light options are available too), Kate will often bake a cake ready for guests returning / arriving during the afternoon. What better after a good walk than tea and cake. When visiting Ambleside be sure to get in touch to book your stay.
Norwood House – just across the road from us so also perfectly positioned for all amenities. Keith was a member of the local mountain rescue team for many years, so a font of knowledge on all thinks walking and mountains.
Lacet House – also just across the road from us and overlooking the golf park. Louise runs a great B&B that is sure to enhance a stay in Ambleside.
Hotels – if wanting more on-sight amenities than a B&B can offer, the next step is to look for a hotel. These will often have a restaurant serving evening meals and a variety of other services. Prices can be a little higher, but look out for deals.
Rothay Manor – on the outskirts of Ambleside, this has just undergone a major refurbishment and is looking fantastic. If looking for a good quality hotel in Ambleside this is where I’d be wanting to book.
Old Dungeon Ghyll – in the nearby Langdale valley and at the start of many of the finest walking routes in the region. This is always a popular choice for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. It is peaceful yet offers lots on-sight. A lively bar serving pub grub as well as a more formal restaurant if that’s your thing. If wanting to be in a very rural setting and not be bothered by a mobile phone (there’s no signal), this is the place to go.
New Dungeon Ghyll – a mile back down the valley from the Old Dungeon Ghyll, this does feel like the newer addition. Formerly an outdoor education centre but now a splendid hotel with a good bar and restaurant. There’s also a pub next door. This is perfectly situated for anyone wanting to explore on foot.
Esthwaite Water pit stop - Visiting Ambleside
Rock Climbing on Black Crag - Things to do when Visiting Ambleside
Stock Ghyll Falls - Visiting Ambleside
Where to eat when visiting Ambleside – Ambleside is a small place with a huge number of eateries. But they are all needed and in summer all will be very busy. Take that as a word of warning and book a table at your preferred venue.
The Priest Hole – this is at the top of our street, Church Street and right in the centre of town. It has indoor and outdoor seating areas and offers a varied menu with regular specials nights. The building is quaint and the food is typically very good.
Ishaas – if you like Indian food, make time to visit Ishaas. It’s top class. Years ago this was a drab restaurant that was often empty, but still did serve good food. Then a band of brothers took it over, gave the place a make-over and transformed the menu. The results are dazzling. Service is always friendly and efficient and the food excellent. We visit here more than any other restaurant in Ambleside.
Dodds – innovative Italian food with style and flair (my words not theirs). Worth knowing that they do not take bookings, so this can be a good bet if you have forgotten to make a reservation anywhere. But wait a minute, it’s a good bet anyway. They are efficient and the atmosphere is warm and friendly. The menu is diverse and decent value, plus there’s a specials board. We often forget to head here as this the far side of town for us, but it’s a mistake we really should try to rectify.
The Traditional English Pub – there is no shortage of wonderful pubs in the Lake District and Ambleside is no exception to this. Most serve pub grub and all are welcoming places with plenty of real ale on offer and during the cooler months an open fire may well be roaring. It's worth putting this place high on the list of places to call in at when visiting Ambleside.
Golden Rule – head and shoulders above the rest as a proper pub to enjoy a beer is The Golden Rule. As the saying goes, ‘only a fool passes the Golden Rule’! No bar meals are served and this place is all the better for it. There may be Pork Pies and Scotch Eggs on offer and they will have come from the butchers next door. Cosy rooms, an open fire and great bar staff assured. A must when Visiting Ambleside
Britannia Inn – overlooking the bowling green in Elterwater, this gem of a pub has plenty to offer. Lots of indoor and outdoor seating, with all the indoor areas being cosy and the fire often lit. They are very good at promoting locally brewed ales, all of which are good. Bar meals are also served and there are even B&B rooms, but do book ahead.
The Wateredge Inn – on all the occasions we’ve visited this pub the food and drink has been okay but underwhelming. But, the location is as good as it gets. Visit on a fine summer evening and watch the sun going down whilst sipping a Pimms (or whatever is your tipple) at a lake side table, it’s fantastic. In recent years the beer on offer has definitely improved markedly.
Shopping when visiting Ambleside – for such a small place Ambleside offers plenty of opportunities for retail therapy. There are some quirky gift shops and top quality outdoor retailers. It is ‘the’ place to go to buy that new jacket or pair of hiking boots.
Gear – for loads of great gift ideas and home-wares Gear is the place to be aiming for. The owners have been in the trade for many years and have refined the retail experience to perfection.
Fred’s Bookshop – a proper independent bookseller that has now been trading for almost 70 years. It’s normal to find signed copies and first editions of local books. There is quite an emphasis on outdoor and mountain activities, but still room for fiction and more. A visit to Fred’s will leave a smile on your face, it’s like stepping back in time, in the very nicest of ways. The staff are knowledgeable and can usually be found behind the counter with an open book in hand.
The Climbers Shop – another longstanding trader in Ambleside with over 60 years of service. This is now part of the Joe Brown group of stores and this allows them to offer better prices and service than ever before. The staff are knowledgeable and keen to help, most can be found out in the mountains when not working. So they know their stuff.
Weather – any talk of the Lake District and the weather quickly becomes the go-to topic. Yes this is a very wet part of the UK, the wettest place in England in fact. But Ambleside has a mostly benign and temperate climate due to it being fairly low in altitude and close to the west coast. So expect rain and wind, but rarely will be very cold, although it will often feel very cold….go figure!
We are often asked when is the best time to visit to benefit from good weather. This is an impossible to answer question as the weather is so volatile. Winter days can be beautifully settled, clear and bright. Summer can be a washout. So it really is crystal ball forecasting. But what we have found over the many years of being here, is that spring and autumn will give the best atmospheric conditions when the light is best and the mountains will be the most glorious of colours. So be sure to pack the waterproofs and come visit Ambleside.
Fun outdoor activities to try when visiting Ambleside:
Hiking – from Ambleside routes such as Loughrigg Fell; Wansfell Pike; and the Fairfield Horseshoe all come to mind as fantastic options.
Rock Climbing – the Langdale valley is only a 15 minute drive, or hop on the bus direct to the Old Dungeon Ghyll. From there climb on Raven crag, White Ghyll, Scout crags, Gimmer crag, Pavey Ark and so much more.
Canyoning – still a relatively new activity in the UK, this involves descending a gorge / ravine by jumping, sliding and abseiling into deep pools of water. It is an absolute blast of fun. Church Beck in the neighbouring village of Coniston is the place to go for this.
Abseiling – great for an adrenaline hit. There are some beautiful locations close to Ambleside that are just perfect for an abseil. Cathedral quarry is the most well known, we can tell of a few others too.
Gorge scrambling – related to canyoning but this time we go upstream. There is usually less jumping but will be more scrambling and climbing up waterfalls. It’s a huge amount of fun and can be enjoyed in most weather conditions, a big bonus for the Lake District. Stickle Ghyll in the Langdale valley is a great one to try out.
Mountaineering – this generally involves a journey into the mountains and to the summits via scrambles and easy climbs. A local classic is to start at the Old Dungeon Ghyll and climb Middlefell Buttress then scramble up Thorn crag before heading over to Gimmer crag for more climbing up to the summit of Loft crag. A perfect day.
Cycling – whether it’s road, gravel, or MTB it’s all here with some of the finest routes in the country starting from Ambleside. So when thinking and planning of visiting Ambleside, leave room for the bike.
For a good spin on the roads aim for Grasmere then over Red Bank into Langdale before tackling the Blea tarn climb and if feeling energetic add on the Wrynose and Hardknot passes too.
A great gravel route starting from Ambleside is to circumnavigate Loughrigg Fell. Only short, but technical and loads of fun.
And for MTB the trails of Grizedale are within easy reach, or if wanting to ramp it up, take on the challenge of the famous Garbun pass into Kentmere.
Kayaking – there are plenty good rivers for kayakers, but it’s not something I can claim to know much about, so straight away let me point you Ian at Kinetic Paddlesports.
Canoeing – as with kayaking, this isn’t a strong point for us. But we do know Coniston and Ullswater are both really good places to explore by canoe. Windermere less so as it is more often choppy and has more vessels including the regular ferries that create a wake. Check out Iain at Lakes Outdoor Experience who can provide guided days on the water.
These are a few of the wonderful outdoor activities that are great to try out anytime you're visiting Ambleside. There is a wide choice of local activity providers for all these activities. We can arrange most of them and have been doing so for over 15 years now. Check out our Activities page here for more information, we’d really love to hear from you
Evening light on the Fairfield Horseshoe - Visiting Ambleside
A Rarely Quiet Compston Street - Visiting Ambleside
Daffodils in our garden at 2 Cambridge Villas - Visiting Ambleside
Rock Climbing at Kettle Crag, Langdale - Visiting Ambleside
Enjoying a dip in the local pools - Visiting Ambleside
A tasty treat to welcome you to our B&B when Visiting Ambleside