Top 20 Cultural Things to do in the Lake District

Check out our top 20 Lakes Culture must sees and be inspired by the diverse array of literature, arts, artists and makers, performances and festivals on offer in the beautiful Lake District.

Learn more about the inspiring Lake District cultural icon Beatrix Potter

1. BEATRIX POTTER GALLERY

Beatrix Potter Gallery, Hawkshead (photo National Trust)
Beatrix Potter Gallery, Hawkshead (photo National Trust)

Enjoy an exhibition of Beatrix Potter’s original drawings and watercolours. A rare opportunity to step inside one of Hawkshead’s delightful historic buildings, once the office of Potter’s husband William Heelis, and discover more about the legacy of this Lake District artist and cultural icon.

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2. ARMITT MUSEUM

Beatrix Potter - Image & Reality exhibition at Armitt Museum, Ambleside (photo credit The Beatrix Potter Society)
Beatrix Potter – Image & Reality exhibition at Armitt Museum, Ambleside (photo credit The Beatrix Potter Society)

The Image & Reality exhibition at the Armitt Museum, in Ambleside, boasts an exquisite collection of 460 botanical drawings and watercolours by Beatrix Potter. A series of meticulous illustrations providing a perfect opportunity to explore her fascination with archaeology and nature in one of the UK’s rarest small museums.

// Please note: Due to the flooding last year, the Armitt Museum expect to reopen in March.

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3. HILL TOP & NATURE WALK

Hill Top farmhouse near Hawkshead_home of Beatrix Potter
Hill Top farmhouse near Hawkshead, home of Beatrix Potter

Full of Beatrix Potter’s favourite things, including original illustrations, Hill Top today appears as if Beatrix had just stepped out for a walk, so you can enjoy a wander through the garden and house and be transported back in time and imagine what life in the Lakes would have been like for this illustrious literary figure.

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Walk in the footsteps of the renowned Lake District poet William Wordsworth

4. DOVE COTTAGE & WORDSWORTH MUSEUM

Dove Cottage in the snow, Grasmere (photo Wordsworth Trust)
Dove Cottage in the snow, Grasmere (photo Wordsworth Trust)

Situated in the village of Grasmere in the heart of the Lake District, is the idyllic Dove Cottage. Experience this delightful family home as it would have been for William Wordsworth and his family over 200 year ago. Next door is the Wordsworth Museum – a literary treasure trove – displaying the greatest international collection of Wordsworth’s letters, journals, manuscripts and poems.

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5. WORDSWORTH HOUSE & GARDEN

Wordsworth House, Cockermouth, National Trust
Wordsworth House, Cockermouth, National Trust

Discover the birthplace and childhood home of William Wordsworth, one of England’s best-loved romantic poets, at Wordsworth House and Garden in Cockermouth. Restored to its 18th Century self it is a charming replica of the Georgian townhouse where Wordsworth would have whiled away his time so many years ago.

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6. RYDAL MOUNT & DORA’S FIELD

Rydal Mount and Gardens
Rydal Mount and Gardens

Rydal Mount, between Grasmere and Ambleside, was home to William Wordsworth for 37 years and is a truly delightful spot, with its fell-side terraces overlooking Rydal Water. Next to the garden is the renowned Dora’s Field, which William and Mary planted with daffodils in memory of their only surviving daughter Dora, who died of TB aged 43.

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Explore the Lake District landscape and discover artworks in fascinating and scenic places

7. GRIZEDALE FOREST SCULPTURES

Ancient Forester 2 by David Kemp, 1995
Ancient Forester 2 by David Kemp, 1995

Grizedale Forest holds around 50 artworks created by leading international artists in response to this spectacular woodland landscape. Along with permanently sited sculptures, Grizedale also has a vibrant calendar of events taking place throughout the year. A highlight of Grizedale Forest’s cultural calendar in 2016 included the nationally acclaimed Environmental Photographer of the Year Exhibition.

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8. KURT SCHWITTERS

'Wood on Wood' 1946 by Kurt Schwitters
‘Wood on Wood’ 1946 by Kurt Schwitters, at the Armitt Museum

Pioneering German-born artist Kurt Schwitters spent his final years in the Lake District and was inspired by the dramatic Cumbrian landscape. His last great sculpture is the Merz Barn at Elterwater – it is in a fragile state and can only be viewed on special days. There’s also a chance to see Schwitters’ works year round at the Georgian Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal. The Armitt Museum in Ambleside, also has an impressive collection of 23 works by Kurt Schwitters.

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9. SHEEPFOLDS

Warcop Pinfold, one of Andy Goldsworthy's Sheepfolds
Warcop Pinfold, one of Andy Goldsworthy’s Sheepfolds

Embark on a journey of discovery for the brilliant British land artist Andy Goldsworthy’s Sheepfolds. Dotted intriguingly amongst the stunning Lakes’ scenery these environmental artworks are Goldsworthy’s responses to the Cumbrian landscape – a collection of cultural curiosities that provide a new perspective on this already inspiring Lake District landscape.

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10. RYDAL HALL SCULPTURE PATH

The Grot at Rydal Hall (photo by Dave Willis, Cumbria Tourism)
The Grot at Rydal Hall (photo by Dave Willis, Cumbria Tourism)

Situated in 34 acres of woodland, Rydal Hall provides a stunning location to enjoy some peace and tranquillity as you wander along the sculpture path that weaves its way through the grounds and discover the many outdoor artworks made from textile, wood, stone and metal.

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Check out the impressive line-up of annual festivals celebrating culture that you can only experience in the Lake District… art, music, performance, film and much more!

11. SPRING FESTIVALS IN THE LAKES

Lakes Ignite 2016, from 30 April – 22 May, reflected on the Lake District’s long and complex relationship with water in all its forms. Supported by United Utilities, the festival provided an eclectic celebration of artistic expression in its many forms, featuring a programme of outstanding contemporary art experiences inspired by the stunning Lake District landscape and a selection of music, art, comedy and literary highlights.

Words by the Water is one of the country’s most popular literary festivals where writers and readers get together to share the pleasure of books, words and ideas at Theatre by the Lake, right on the edge of Derwentwater, and Greta Hall – a fine Georgian house that was home to Coleridge and Southey.

Each year the Green Door Art Trail sees more than 50 artists, along with local galleries, opening their studios and homes to visitors. A perfect opportunity to meet painters, sculptors, printmakers, ceramic artists, textile artists, jewellers and glassmakers and their creative studio environments and buy a memento of your trip.

Each year some of the best comedy acts around take the stage at the Brewery Arts Centre for the Freerange Comedy Festival – laugh out loud fun guaranteed!

Boasting great fabulous international and UK talent, Keswick Jazz Festival at Theatre by the Lake, is arguably Britain’s most illustrious celebration of authentic, New Orleans, Swing and jazz.

12. SUMMER FESTIVALS IN THE LAKES

Benjamin Frith piano quartet
Benjamin Frith piano quartet, Lake District Summer Music 2015

Lake District Summer Music is an international festival featuring top artists with performances in multiple venues across the Lake District – enjoy world-premieres and new music in inspiring and intimate settings.

Established in 2005, Woolfest is the original British Wool Festival showcasing the best of wool as a natural fibre and wool artistry. So if fleece, yarn and felt are your thing, Woolfest is an ideal opportunity to discover more about British wool.

If you’re lucky enough to get a ticket you can join 17,000 others in a deer park beside a lake, with a backdrop of England’s best-loved landscape, for Kendal Calling – three days of partying and a top-notch line-up. For some quality, cultural chill-out time, the music festival now features a fascinating ‘Lost Eden’ contemporary woodland arts area.

13. AUTUMN FESTIVALS IN THE LAKES

Kendal Mountain Festival (photo Stuart Holmes Photography)
Kendal Mountain Festival (photo Stuart Holmes Photography)

Recognised as the largest mountain event in the world, and the number one social gathering for outdoors enthusiasts from across Europe, Kendal Mountain Festival is where it’s at if you’re into adventures for the body and the mind.

The Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal is the only one of its kind in the UK. A three day celebration of comic art – with renowned creators, writers and artists from across the world.

The Lake District is a place for small-yet-perfectly-formed artist-led festivals – at Potfest in the Park in Penrith, ceramicists come from across Europe to display and sell their work.

Prepare to be creatively inspired by galleries and makers at the C-Art in Extraordinary Places open studios, when artists take up residence in churches and cathedrals, stately homes, forests, castles and barns in beautiful Lake District locations.

Great venues for theatre, music and entertainment in spectacular Lake District locations

14. BREWERY ARTS CENTRE

Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal (photo by Yorick de Munnik)
Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal (photo by Yorick de Munnik)

With a famously eclectic and wide ranging programme of live music, film, dance, comedy and courses, the Brewery Arts Centre is well established far and wide as a favourite and buzzing arts centre to experience culture in a unique venue.

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15. THEATRE BY THE LAKE

Theatre by the Lake, Keswick
Theatre by the Lake, Keswick

Located on the shores of Derwentwater, Theatre by the Lake was described by the Telegraph as “the most gorgeously situated theatre in England”. There’s a wide-ranging programme from contemporary to classic and you can always start your evening before the performance with a sail across the lake – the main jetty is just 200 yards from your seat in the stalls!

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Discover fabulous Lakes houses, galleries and historic cultural gems that you just should not miss!

16. ABBOT HALL ART GALLERY

Outside Abbot Hall Art Gallery (photo by Florence Acland)
Outside Abbot Hall Art Gallery (photo by Florence Acland)

Tucked away in the scenic town of Kendal, Abbot Hall Art Gallery is a cultural gem that invites you to enjoy two floors of light-filled gallery spaces with ever-changing exquisite exhibitions. Located on the banks of the River Kent, Abbot Hall boasts an impressive collection of artworks by Schwitters, Cezanne, Constable, Goldsworthy, Hockney, Moore, Picasso, Ruskin, and Turner, among many others.

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17. ALLAN BANK

Allan Bank, Ambleside (photo by John Malley)
Allan Bank, Ambleside (photo by John Malley)

Make yourselves at home at Allan Bank in Grasmere – where Wordsworth lived for three years. Relax in front of a warm fire while the children play the piano in the hall, draw or paint in the art room, play board games and follow the woodland trail – in this, “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found” – William Wordsworth.

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18. BLACKWELL, THE ARTS & CRAFTS HOUSE

White Drawing Room at Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts House (photo by Nick Wood)
White Drawing Room at Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts House (photo by Nick Wood)

Enjoy the space, light and texture as you sit in the window seats of Blackwell’s serene white drawing room looking out across Windermere to the high fells beyond: the house, furnishings, décor and garden design are perfect Arts & Crafts, the location is just perfect too.

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19. BRANTWOOD

Brantwood - home of John Ruskin - Coniston (photo by Ben Barden)
Brantwood – home of John Ruskin – Coniston (photo by Ben Barden)

Take a 19th century Steam Gondola across Coniston Water to Brantwood, home of John Ruskin, the writer, artist and social reformer. This splendid Lake District house is a cultural delight – full of art, objects and stories, while outside you can discover the range of trails threading through the scenic 250-acre estate.

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20. CASTLERIGG STONE CIRCLE

Castlerigg Stone Circle near Keswick, photo by Richard Gale
Castlerigg Stone Circle near Keswick, photo by Richard Gale

Be intrigued by this Neolithic ring within a ring – a natural amphitheatre, with Skiddaw and Blencathra to the north and High Rigg and Helvellyn to the south. It is a short hike along the disused railway line out of Keswick to Castlerigg, the most atmospheric and dramatically sited of England’s Stone Circles.

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To enjoy these Lakes Culture events and much more, book your break in the Lake District here