One of the best ways to take in the beauty of the lake is from the water; Windermere Lake Cruises offer a scenic circular cruise around the islands as well as a regular shuttle service from Lakeside, Bowness and Ambleside.
Image: North York Moors
This itinerary starts in the vibrant city of Manchester, then to the splendid Lake District which will take your breath away, with stops in Newcastle and York. A BritRail England Pass gives you the opportunity to explore all these destinations for one fixed great value price, also with unlimited journeys.
The North of England has been charming visitors with its rich heritage and captivating countryside for centuries. An enticing mix of Roman ruins, ancient castles, distinctive cities and more than one movie location, the best way to discover the area’s unique attractions is by train.
With a BritRail England pass, it couldn’t be easier: giving you unlimited train journeys at a fixed price, you’ll have the freedom to explore at your own pace. For shorter trips, you can book individual rail tickets in advance through the Trainline, ACP Rail, International Rail and Rail Europe. Read on for our guide to the region’s highlights, all accessible by train and public transport.
Start your journey
Only two hours from London and with rail links to all major cities, Manchester is a natural starting point for a tour of Northern England. Begin your adventure at either Manchester Airport or Manchester Piccadilly station, taking a train for Windermere via Oxenholme.
Day 1-3: The Lake District
After 2 hours rolling through the Cumbrian countryside, you’ll pull into the traditional grey stone station of Windermere. Set on the shores of England’s longest lake and sitting under the watchful gaze of Orrest Head, the small market town is the perfect base for exploring the Lake District.
A place of superlatives, the Lake District’s shimmering lakes and rugged hills have been attracting (and inspiring) artists, writers and nature lovers for hundreds of years.
Home to England's tallest mountain, Scafell Pike, it’s a favourite location for walkers and hikers while literary fans will enjoy the area’s connection with Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth. It’s easy to idle away a week leisurely touring the pretty villages and lakes but we recommend 2 -3 days to cover the highlights.
Check out Windermere Lake Cruises for more details on ferry times.
For more information on bus timetables, visit the Traveline website
In the pretty hamlet of Grasmere, Dove Cottage is the former home of William Wordsworth and the place where he penned many of his famous works. Almost exactly as it was when he lived here, the popular museum can be reached by the 599 or 555 bus from Windermere train station.
Hill Top is the country escape where Beatrix Potter was inspired to create many of her famous characters. Now a time capsule of her life, the 17th century farmhouse is a must for all fans of the Peter Rabbit series. To get there, take the Stagecoach 596 bus to Bowness, climb aboard a boat to Ferry House and then pick up a Mountain Goat bus. This route runs from March to October, for further information refer to the Windermere Lake Cruises website.
Day 4-5: Carlisle, Hadrian's Wall and Hogwarts
The historic city of Carlisle is the next stop on the journey. To reach the ‘border city’, take the train from Windermere changing at Oxenholme (60min). Perched on the border of England and Scotland, the city’s strategic position has ensured a stormy past and remnants of its rich history include Carlisle Castle and the nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hadrian’s Wall.
Find more information on Hadrian's Wall bus service here.
Built by the Romans in 122 AD, the walled fortification stretches an impressive 84 miles from east coast to west. We recommend spending a day exploring some of the many milecastles, barracks, forts, galleries and museums that line the route. To get there, take the train to Hexham (50mins), then pick up the Hadrian’s Wall bus, but note, this bus is seasonal. If you’re feeling adventurous why not try the Haltwhistle to Cawlfields walk?
Celebrated as one of the UK’s most scenic train journeys, the train from Carlisle to Settle is renowned for its captivating views. *This line is currently undergoing renovations so check the status before travelling.
Set in the city’s historic quarter, the red sandstone cathedral has dominated the city’s skyline since it was founded in 1122. Rebuilt several times since then, it’s worth a visit for the magnificent 14th century stained glass window alone. Entry to the cathedral is free.
Day 6-7: Newcastle and Durham
Time to leave Carlisle’s red sandstone buildings behind and take the train east to the bright lights of Newcastle. Once known only as an industrial centre, the city has bloomed into a modern metropolis, renowned for its vibrant nightlife and top-class galleries, restaurants and shopping.
Alongside the shiny new buildings, the area’s history and heritage shines through in the elegant Victorian facades of its central district and the cultural marvels of the surrounding countryside.
A regular direct train service runs from Carlisle to Newcastle and takes about an 1 hr 20min.
The Cathedral bus connects Durham train station with the Castle and Cathedral Square.
A magnificent medieval castle set in manicured gardens, Alnwick is one of the most impressive heritage estates in the country. History lovers will appreciate the castle’s dramatic history while those on the Harry Potter trail will relish the chance to get a selfie at the real-life incarnation of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. To visit, take a train from Newcastle to Alnmouth (45mins), then the X18 bus.
The handsome Norman city of Durham is a 12 minute train ride from Newcastle. As you approach the city, you’ll have a fantastic view of its most famous landmark, Durham Cathedral. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the majestic Norman building is just one of many cultural attractions Durham has to offer. Entry to the cathedral is free.
A living, working museum spread over 300 acres, at Beamish you’ll get a real sense of what life was like in Northern England during the 1820s, 1900s and 1940s. Complete with farm animals, authentic restaurants and costumed guides, this uniquely English attraction makes a great family day out. Take the Waggonway bus 28/28A there from Newcastle and you'll save 25% on your entrance fee.
Day 8-9: York
The last stop on the heritage trail is York, an hour south of Newcastle by train. A place of extraordinary cultural and historical wealth, this beautifully preserved medieval city is a must-visit for history buffs. Seemingly unchanged for centuries, this modest-sized city offers many delights; from the timber-framed houses of The Shambles to the imposing architecture of York Minster and Castle Howard.
A regular train service runs between Newcastle and York and takes around an hour.
Visit the Castle Howard website for more information on getting there by public transport.
A gem amongst English stately homes, Castle Howard is a majestic pile surrounded by lush gardens. Splendidly maintained, the house’s ornate rooms are filled with antiques and offer stunning vistas of the surrounding countryside. A bus runs direct from York city to Castle Howard.
Truly awe-inspiring, York Minster is one of the most beautiful Gothic cathedrals in the world and one of the largest examples of medieval architecture in Northern Europe. After you’ve marvelled at the stunning stained glass on display, climb the steps of the central tower to get a birdseye view of the city.
Like stepping back into the middle ages, The Shambles’ overhanging timber-framed houses and traditional shopfronts makes it one of the UK’s most historic (and picturesque) streets. Spend some time wandering along its cobbles, now dotted with lovely souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants.