My favorite trips are always the ones that take me by surprise. A weekend in the Lake District of North West England was one such trip.

The Lake District had never really been on my radar. I had heard about it, of course – everyone from Cornwall to Aberdeen knows about the Lake District. It is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the UK. It’s fairly central on the UK map, well established as an outdoor and wellness destination, family- and couples-friendly, and most importantly absolutely beautiful. And yet, or maybe because it’s so popular, I had never really considered going there.

For some reason I thought it would be a place for old people to go. The hills aren’t very high, so the hiking couldn’t be very challenging. The area is known for its sheep farms, so finding meat- and dairy-free food would be difficult. And it’s the countryside – how much could there really be to do?

Girl, was I wrong!

The Lake District was everything I could ever hope for in a quick weekend getaway. Here are 5 ways the Lake District took me by surprise.

Never considered going to the Lake District before? Think again! Here are five things to do in the Lake District in North West England.

1) Perfect road trips

Admittedly, in summer you probably have to pack a big suitcase of patience because the roads in the Lake District fill up quickly. They are narrow and windy, and there are not many opportunities to overtake slower drivers. But then again, why would you?

From the roads we drove on, one was more gorgeous than the other. We entered the Lake District from the North via Keswick and drove down to Windermere over the infamously steep Kirkstone Pass. Friends at home had warned us – ‘this is only for adventurers’, they said. Of course, we felt adventurous and so we even drove along this road twice to take in the views both in fog and sunshine.

But also just driving along the well-trodden roads between Windermere, Ambleside and Grasmere brought us to gorgeous views and picturesque villages. With more time I would have loved to explore even further West, more off the beaten path.

PS: If you don’t enjoy driving mountain roads yourself, check out this 3-day tour of the Lake District!

Never considered going to the Lake District before? Think again! Here are five things to do in the Lake District in North West England. Never considered going to the Lake District before? Think again! Here are five things to do in the Lake District in North West England. Never considered going to the Lake District before? Think again! Here are five things to do in the Lake District in North West England.

2) Endless hiking trails

As I mentioned above, I thought hiking in the Lake District wouldn’t be too exciting as the hills aren’t very high, but in fact this is a case of quantity. The sheer amount of hills and valleys that you can see from just a small peak like Loughrigg Fell is absolutely stunning.

We would have loved to hike the famous Catbells or Old Man of Coniston, but the weather was simply too inconsistent to risk the long-ish drive from our hotel by Bowness-on-Windermere. Instead we chose the hike up Loughrigg Fell between Ambleside and Grasmere. The route up Loughrigg Fell from the White Moss carpark is a 3-mile circle trail, past the incredible Rydal Cave and up the way to 335m elevation above sea. It’s not much, but the views are incredible!

Tip: Walk Lakes is a great resource if you’re looking for a great hike for yourself.

Never considered going to the Lake District before? Think again! Here are five things to do in the Lake District in North West England. Never considered going to the Lake District before? Think again! Here are five things to do in the Lake District in North West England.

3) Pure relaxation

As a travel writer I travel a lot, but hardly ever for relaxation. As this trip was a collaboration with Expedia and Visit Britain, I had not expected it to be very relaxing either. Usually I would spend a trip like this exploring as much as possible during the day, and then editing photos and responding to emails in the evening. However, having brought my partner along on the trip, we made the extra effort to make relaxation part of the exploring. We had booked two nights at a spa hotel near Bowness-on-Windermere (Beech Hill Hotel) with a private jacuzzi in our bathroom and access to the hotel’s spa facilities. By making the clever choice of visiting the spa during meal times instead of rush hours, we mostly had the place to ourselves.

Sauna, steam room, indoor swimming pool, outdoor jacuzzi overlooking the lake – you name it.

The Lake District is a great place to wind down, especially when the weather isn’t constant sunshine and you can just soak in a hot whirlpool while the refreshing rain falls on your face. I wouldn’t want to stay in the area any other way!

Never considered going to the Lake District before? Think again! Here are five things to do in the Lake District in North West England. Never considered going to the Lake District before? Think again! Here are five things to do in the Lake District in North West England.

4) Indulge in vegan cuisine

My biggest worry about the Lake District was that it would be impossible for us to stick to our vegan diet. But I was wrong, again. A quick Google research and checking my Happy Cow app actually revealed that there would be loads of options around.

In Keswick, we were recommended Kat’s Kitchen for coffee and cakes by the owner of Little Chamonix Cafe, who had run out of vegan cakes on that day but promised to bake one if customers call a day or so in advance!

In Grasmere we treated ourselves to a mind-boggling 8-course vegan taster menu at the Lancrigg Hotel & Kitchen – not the cheapest option, but definitely worth the money. The dishes were so creative and innovative; I had never had vegan food on such a high level before! For a more casual experience try Greens in town for a cooked lunch, or more coffee and cakes.

In Ambleside we were excited to find a cinema with a vegetarian restaurant attached to it (Zeffirellis) but ended up having an early dinner after our hike at Jintana Thai instead. We ordered the vegetarian set menu for two, which they were happy to prepare vegan for us.

We didn’t actually have any meals in Windermere or Bowness-in-Windermere, but there is another branch of Jintana in town as well as the upscale supermarket Booths, in case you fancy a picnic with locally sourced products.

The only slightly disappointing experience was the vegan breakfast at our hotel. Even though I had called in advance to let them know about our dietary needs, the vegan option was simply the veggie breakfast without the egg – no replacement or vegan add-on. If you are vegan, make sure you clarify vegan breakfast options with your accommodation before booking!

Never considered going to the Lake District before? Think again! Here are five things to do in the Lake District in North West England.

5) Explore the villages

In the lead up of our trip, I was worried because the weather forecast was anything but splendid. Rain to be expected all weekend. While living in Scotland has taught me some sort of tolerance for rain, I was still anxious about it here – what would we do if it really rained too much to hike? I was on assignment for Expedia and needed something to write about other than the magnificent spa.

This is where the villages of the Lake District came in as a handy surprise. In Keswick we stumbled upon the local farmers and crafts market, as well as a craft fair. In basically all the villages we found nice cafes and restaurants, as well as picturesque streets and houses to marvel at. Even in the rain, the villages were just too beautiful to put into words.

Make sure you bring a waterproof jacket and decent shoes, then strolling along the village streets in the rain won’t hurt!

Never considered going to the Lake District before? Think again! Here are five things to do in the Lake District in North West England. Never considered going to the Lake District before? Think again! Here are five things to do in the Lake District in North West England.

As you can tell, I’ve fallen hopelessly in love with the Lake District. One weekend was not enough to see it all, but it was certainly enough to make me want to come back.

Have you ever been to the Lake District, or did my story convince you to put it on your list?

All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.

Disclaimer: This trip was supported by Expedia and Visit Britain.