Free days out for kids in the Lake District

Days out, Family, Activity

Posted by Kate Atkin on 4th January 2022

Free things to do for families in the Lake District

Home to England’s largest national park, the Lake District boasts incredible scenery with 12 of the largest lakes in England and 3,105 kilometres of footpaths to explore. This outdoor paradise, packed with things to do and see, makes a great destination for UK family holidays and it’s always good to remember that it offers a wealth of free attractions and activities for kids of all ages to enjoy.

There are some fantastic places to picnic in the Lake District, adventure play areas to go wild in, nature sites to explore and plenty of natural wonders to admire. It is the perfect UK destination for any budget and guarantees a lifetime of happy family memories.

We have created a list of our favourite free days out in the Lake District to successfully keep the whole family entertained, so if you’re planning a holiday in the Lake District, you can relax knowing you have a full week planned that definitely won’t break the bank.

Lake District holiday cottages

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Family-friendly forests and parks in the Lake District

Free museums in the Lake District

Waterfalls in the Lake District

Family-friendly walks in the Lake District

Free events in the Lake District

Explore the forests of the Lake District

Have fun in the forest or park

The Lake District is home to the spectacular Grizedale and Whinlatter Forests, which are both perfect for kids of all ages to enjoy a plethora of outdoor activities. In the school holidays, they offer a wealth of free events where families can discover the secrets of the woodland, have a go at orienteering or delight in some wild adventures. There are also some beautiful parks and natural spaces to explore.

Grizedale Forest

Grizedale Forest

Nestled between the lakes of Coniston and Windermere, the 4,000 hectares of Grizedale Forest offer an adventurous day out in the Lake District for everyone, with a variety of things to do. Its selection of waymarked trails, with views of the lakes and mountains, caters for all abilities, and amongst its lush woodland scenery, the forest hides at least 40 amazing sculptures for kids to seek out.

For older children who fancy an exhilarating challenge, there is a network of graded mountain bike trails to take on, including the thrilling North Face Trail. There is a great playground if kids need to let off some extra steam and a cafe serving tasty snacks and meals, with take-away options if you fancy picnicking amongst the trees.

Whinlatter Forest

Whinlatter Forest

Whinlatter is England’s only true mountain forest, rising 1,000 metres above sea level, and is a brilliant visitor attraction for families, with a range of outdoor activities on offer. Little tots will love following clues and collecting evidence as they search for the Gruffalo along the Gruffalo Spotters Trail, or exploring the WildPlay Trail with its nine separate play areas where kids can swing, slide, splash and climb to their heart's content. There are excellent walking opportunities with miles of waymarked trails encompassing breathtaking views across the fells and forests, suitable for all ages and abilities.

The forest is also a playground for trail bikers with the blue-graded Quercus Trail, suitable for anyone who is reasonably confident on a bike to the red Altura Trail, which is far more advanced but offers the reward of awe-inspiring views across Blencathra, Skiddaw and the other northern fells.

Between April and the end of August each year, you might be lucky enough to witness nesting ospreys from the open-air viewpoints or via the nest camera on the giant screen in the Visitor Centre, as well as a host of interesting wildlife sheltering in the trees including red squirrels, roe deer, badgers and an otter family playing by the lake edge.

Children having fun in the woods

Adventures at Brockhole

Brockhole is the official Visitor Centre for the Lake District National Park, found on the picturesque shores of Lake Windermere. As well as being a great place to start any holiday in the Lake District, it boasts an abundance of activities to keep children of all ages entertained, whatever the weather, making it one of the best free things to do in Cumbria.

Packed with rope walks, swings, slides, scramble nets and zip wires, and an adventure playground with a separate area for under sevens, Brockhole is a brilliant free attraction in the Lake District. If the weather’s not on your family’s side and you're stuck for what to do, there is an indoor soft play for under-fives, a creativity space to let little imaginations run wild and heaps of interesting exhibitions – the perfect rainy day activity.

Explore the beautiful lakeshore grounds by following the fun trails that criss-cross 30 acres of meadows, woodland and shoreline, treat the kids to a paddle in the lake, or wander through the flourishing gardens. With regular family-friendly events throughout the year, it’s always worth checking the centre’s website before your visit.

Splashing in water and having picnics

Play by the lakeside at Fell Foot Park

If the sun is shining, indulge in a scenic picnic at this stunning family-friendly country park in the Lake District. Located on the southern tip of Lake Windermere, with views across the tranquil water to the magnificent mountains above, Fell Foot Park’s green sloping lawns provide an excellent spot for outdoor family games or enjoying a barbecue.

Kids can spend the day paddling in the lake, feeding friendly ducks and having fun in the playground. With easy lake access, it is one of the best places to soak up Lake Windermere in all its beauty, and there are plenty of boats for hire should you fancy taking to the water and exploring further. One of the most delightful free things to do in the Lake District!

Museums and historic places in the Lake District

Free museums in the Lake District

When the weather takes a turn for the worse, you’ll no doubt be looking for free things to do in the Lake District where you can shelter indoors. Museums are a perfect choice – plenty of things to do for the kids and educational too!

Barrow in Furness

The Dock Museum, Barrow-in-Furness

A host of themed galleries, quizzes and even an adventure playground (outdoors) make a visit with children to the Dock Museum a fun and interesting experience. You can easily while away at least a couple of hours here, learning about the local industries and people, and exploring the changing exhibitions, all contained within the unique museum, suspended over a 19th-century dry dock. There’s a cafe too if you’re feeling peckish!

Roman coins in a museum

Penrith and Eden Museum

Older children who have a passion for history will love discovering the historical artefacts in this little museum. There’s a fossil footprint of a creature dating back before the dinosaurs, Stone Age objects and Roman treasures. Items from more recent history are also exhibited, as well as a collection of paintings by local artists past and present.

Carlisle Cathedral

Carlisle Cathedral

While it’s not a museum, Carlisle Cathedral is packed with over 900 years of fascinating history, with breathtaking stained-glass windows and a stunning ceiling of gold stars set against a navy background. Lots of ornate carvings and little intricacies are sure to captivate the children too. The beautiful cathedral cafe is also a lovely spot for a bite to eat.

Hadrian’s Wall

This one’s not an indoor option, but it is free to explore many of the preserved parts of Hadrian’s wall. It’s one of the most iconic free places to visit in the Lake District, so if you’re with older children, pick a section and head off for a ramble, enjoying sights such as Sycamore Gap which is the subject of many a Lake District photo!

Aira Force waterfall

Visit a waterfall

No trip to the Lake District is complete without visiting the beautiful and powerful Aira Force. Ullswater twinkles in the distance as you stroll under the shelter of an ancient leaf canopy to the falls, with fells rising on either side. It’s arguably one of the most awe-inspiring things to do in the Lake District for free.

This impressive waterfall thunders over a drop of 65 feet, loudly crashing into a pool below; kids will never forget the breathtaking sight before them. Hours can easily disappear in building dams, paddling and picnicking amongst large smooth boulders, stepping stones and a series of natural pools. When you need to warm up, there is a National Trust coffee shop located in the car park with hot drinks and snacks.

Discover more dramatic cascades in our blog ‘8 beautiful waterfalls in the Lake District’.

Family walks

Take a hike!

Of course, it would be remiss to talk of free days out in the Lake District without mentioning the number of fantastic walks on offer in this spectacular part of the world - there are so many amazing places to go and so much wonderful scenery to see. Whilst some are more challenging than others, there are plenty of child and buggy-friendly walks in the Lake District. Here are some of our favourite places to go.

Lake Buttermere

Lake Buttermere

Enjoy a peaceful family stroll around Lake Buttermere, a 1.5-mile-long shimmering lake surrounded by steep-sided fells and farmland. With children, a walk around Buttermere takes approximately 2 to 3 hours, but is broken up with the discovery of mini beaches, some sheltered and mossy, others wide and pebbly and perfect for pebble-skimming and paddling. You can usually enjoy some welcome refreshments at a kiosk, about halfway around the lake, or at Syke Farm at the end of the walk which sells ice cream made with milk from its own Ayrshire herd.

Loughrigg Fell

Loughrigg Fell

At 335m, Loughrigg Fell is one of the smallest of the Wainwright Fells, but its isolated position offers incredible panoramic views across the central Lake District. With its easy-to-follow path and gentle contours, it is a good choice for walkers with children. From Rydal, a tranquil path follows the shoreline of Rydal Water, passing the dramatic Rydal Cave with its jutting, angular rocks and a mysterious pool full of small fish. Follow Loughrigg Terrace, an enchanting traverse overlooking Grasmere, before climbing to a rocky summit that is scattered with streams and tarns, the perfect place to stop for a family photo.

Sale Fell

Sale Fell

Take a gentle ascent to the top of Sale Fell and admire panoramic views of Bassenthwaite Lake and the surrounding valley. From here, you’re not far from Dubwath Silver Meadows, the Lake District’s first wetlands nature reserve, which is a haven for wildlife and easily accessible for families with pushchairs.

Tarn Hows

Tarn Hows

Delight children with a magical circular walk around Tarn Hows, one of the best free days out in the Lake District for making the most of the views with your family. This accessible route near Hawkshead, which is suitable for pushchairs and children, passes through beautiful countryside with majestic mountain views. There are plenty of benches dotted along the trail should you need a breather or simply a spot to admire your surroundings, with the hills of Coniston and Langdale Pikes as a magnificent backdrop.

There are 48 official walking routes across the Lake District National Park, which are suitable for families with children and pushchairs, and they are available to view in more depth on the Miles without Stiles website.

Events in the lake district

Free events in the Lake District

There are a whole host of events in the Lake District, from weekly markets to vibrant festivals. The chances are that there will be something on when you visit! Here are just a few of the best free events in the Lake District to look out for.

Outdoor market

Keswick Outdoor Market

Every Saturday, and on Thursdays too from February to December, Keswick comes alive with an array of market stalls selling everything from crafts and gifts to local food. You can stock up on fresh produce to cook back at your holiday home or save yourself some washing up by picking up something hot and tasty at one of the takeaway stalls.

Food festival

Taste Cumbria Food Festival

Taste Cumbria organises a host of events showcasing local food and drink throughout the year, with the flagship event being the festival in Cockermouth in September. There are food stalls (of course!), music, activities for children, fairground rides and even a beer festival!

Dog show

Keswick Mid-Summer Festival

Taking place at the end of June, a weekend of free events including open-air music, children’s entertainment, food, stalls and a dog show make this a festival not to miss when you are in the area.

Derwent Water Regatta

Derwentwater Regatta

Set on the banks of picturesque Derwentwater over a weekend in July, this festival promises plenty of fun for all ages. There are pre-bookable activities and taster sessions on the water, but there’s plenty of free entertainment on the shore too. There are family activities organised by the National Trust Rangers, competitive stone skimming and family games, crafts, and sports which can be enjoyed against a backdrop of live music, fuelled by the local food and drink on sale!

Dickensian characters

Ulverston Dickensian Festival

Old-fashioned fun gets you in the festive spirit at this delightful annual festival which takes place towards the end of the year. Keep an eye on their website for the dates, and if you’re lucky enough to be visiting when the festival is on, you’ll be able to experience a variety of free entertainment, see people in costume, have fun at the traditional fairground, browse the market stalls and enjoy the music and dancing.

Stay in the Lake District

If you’ve been inspired to spend your next getaway with the family in the beauty of the Lakes, take a look at our collection of holiday cottages in the Lake District to find your perfect place to stay.

Lake District holiday cottages

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.