Things to do in Ambleside – a gem-hunter’s guide

Market Cross, Ambleside
Market Cross in the centre of Ambleside

Ambleside is a small, bustling market town surrounded by beautiful low-lying fells on the A591 between Windermere and Grasmere. It’s a university town too, and there are lots of independent shops, cafés and restaurants to explore.

Things to do in Ambleside

Ambleside dates back to Roman times, and you can still see the remains of what is believed to be Galava Roman fort today, at the tip of Windermere lake, which is known as Waterhead. You can also enjoy a picnic at Borrans Park next door to the fort.

Ambleside Roman Fort
Ambleside Roman Fort at Waterhead

A short walk away, and you can catch a boat with Windermere Lake Cruises to various points around Windermere lake including:

  • nearby Wray Castle over on the western shore,
  • Bowness-on-Windermere,
  • the Brockhole visitor’s centre, and
  • Lakeside at the southern end of the lake.
Wray Castle
The National Trust’s Wray Castle on the western shore of Windermere lake

Just south of Waterhead, tucked away at the bottom of Skelghyll Woods, you’ll find the Stagshaw Gardens, a natural woodland garden planted in the 1960s by a former National Trust land agent. It’s a must-see in spring when its rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias are in full flower!

Stagshaw Gardens, Waterhead near Ambleside
The National Trust’s Stagshaw Gardens near Ambleside

If you enjoy everything gardens and gardening, you’ll definitely want to leave time to visit Hayes Garden World, which lies just north of Waterhead. You can’t miss the distinctive shape of its heated greenhouse, and as well as indoor and outdoor plants, there are departments dedicated to garden furniture, barbeques, gifts, homeware, clothing and shoes. The upstairs restaurant has a lovely large outdoor balcony to enjoy on warmer days.

Ambleside itself is a 15-minute walk from Waterhead, and many of the town’s buildings reflect the industrial history of Ambleside, which you can explore on the Ambleside Heritage Trail. This takes you to some of the older parts of the town, including the former bobbin mills on Stockghyll river, and some quaint little buildings. The Victorians also influenced architecture in Ambleside as tourism began to grow in the 19th century.

Bridge Street, Ambleside
Bridge Street in the centre of Ambleside

No visit to Ambleside is complete without seeing surely one of the tiniest and best-known houses in the world, Bridge House, in the centre of town. A number of miniature slate replica Bridge Houses have appeared, some around six feet tall, so don’t be confused – it’s not that small! It did however once house a family of eight!

Bridge House in Ambleside

If you’re fascinated by the life and work of Beatrix Potter, you may like to visit the Armitt Museum, which is situated just along the road from Bridge House. This small museum and library houses the originals of some of Beatrix’s exquisite botanical watercolour paintings. It’s got a lovely second hand book shop at the front as well, if you’re a bit of a book worm like me!

The Armitt Museum, Ambleside
The Armitt Museum

Continuing the historic theme, and the town is still home to the annual Ambleside Rushbearing parade, which takes place in July.

Ambleside Rushbearing
The Ambleside Rushbearing parade in July

Many walks can be taken from Ambleside itself, whether you prefer a short stroll (like I often do!) or something more strenuous. You can take a refreshing waterfall walk along the Stockghyll river and through woodland up to Stockghyll Force. There are lots of free walking route ideas available online – take some time to explore what will suit you in terms of taste and ability.

Overlooking Ambleside
Overlooking Ambleside

That’s it for Ambleside at the moment, but if you’ve a hidden gem that I haven’t yet mentioned, do let me know and share your recommendations with other readers in the comments below. I’ll do my best to include it when I next review this guide.