Things to do in Penrith
Rheged, Penrith by morebyless

Things to do in Penrith and the Surrounding Area

Katie Hale

Handsome, red-brick Penrith may appear to have more in common with the stout market towns of the Yorkshire Dales. With plenty of cosy pubs, charming tea shops and a farmers’ market on a Tuesday, Penrith owes much of its heritage to its location. Situated on a traditional north-south route, Penrith occupies an important point on England’s ‘Route 66’.

With the picturesque Lake District to the west and the sweeping ridge of the Pennines to the east, Penrith is the main gateway for exploring the lush countryside and traditional towns of the striking Eden Valley. Grounded and honest, Penrith and its beautiful surrounding river valley present a less touristy alternative to the honeypots of Coniston and Windermere.

Situated on the A66, Penrith has been an important stopping-off point since the Neolithic period. Since then, it has been called home by Roman troops, William Wordsworth, and even Richard III. Fans of Withnail and I may enjoy the pilgrimage to Sleddale Hall, a farmhouse on the north side of Wet Sleddale, which was featured as ‘Crow Crag’, Uncle Monty’s country cottage in the bibulous cult film.

But this area has a darker history, too. Penrith and its surroundings have historically belonged to both Scotland and England (the last battle on English soil was fought at Clifton Moor in 1745, just a few miles south of Penrith), and, like the beacon which broods on top of the hill overlooking the town, the castles and pele towers dotting the landscapes are stark reminders of the bloody history of the Anglo-Scottish border.

Now, this loaded, rugged and dramatic landscape holds tightly to its heritage and stories through its cultural spaces and iconic festivals. Just two miles west of Penrith, The Rheged Centre houses a cinema, gallery spaces and artisan shops full of local produce. The centre takes its name from the Celtic kingdom of Rheged, of which the Eden Valley was once the centre. And nearby is the sprawling country estate of Lowther, where the great, family-friendly festival Kendal Calling takes place in the summer. Additionally, Winter Droving, created by Eden Arts, is an incredible Cumbrian celebration; steeped in tradition, the event marks the centuries-old festival of Samhain – the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the “darker half” of the year. A fabulous outdoor arts extravaganza.

Discover our top picks

Exhibitions Until 24 September 2022, FREE

High on Hope at Cross Lane Projects

Visit Kendal’s Cross Lane Projects for High on Hope, a memorial exhibition for the revered contemporary artist Gerard Hemsworth (1945-2021).

One Man, Two Guvnors
Theatre Until 3 September 2022, from £15.00

One Man, Two Guvnors

The hilarious smash hit comedy One Man, Two Guvnors explodes into the North West this summer in a brand-new production.

Exhibitions Until 4 September 2022, from £4.50

Barbara Nicholls’ watercolours and ‘Dovetailing’ at Windermere Jetty Museum

Barbara Nicholls’ grand watercolours and the collaborative project ‘Dovetailing’ are on display in Cumbria this summer, right by the beautiful Windermere.

Winter Droving Penrith
Families 29 October 2022 12:00 pm, FREE

The Winter Droving in Penrith

An incredible wonderland of outdoor arts, masquerade and pint carrying competitions in Penrith.

Kendal Torchlight Carnival
Activity 23–24 September 2022, FREE

Kendal Torchlight Carnival

A great event for families with children. A parade of hand-made torches circulates the whole of Kendal, with local schools, businesses, and organisations competing to put on the best show.

One Man, Two Guvnors at Theatre by the Lake.
Comedy Until 3 September 2022, from £10.00

One Man, Two Guvnors at Theatre by the Lake

Offering a hilarious mix of slapstick, laugh-out-loud moments and a live skiffle band, this is a brand new production of the West End hit. Don’t miss out.

Exhibitions Until 9 October 2022, from £4.50

James Fox: Something in Common at Blackwell, the Arts & Crafts House

Gentle protest with the use of crafts and questioning public land access rights will be the focus on James Fox’s new exhibition ‘Something in Common’ at Blackwell, the Arts & Crafts House in Cumbria.

Cumbria District Guides

Allan Bank, Grasmere, image courtesy of Visit Cumbria

South Lakes, Cumbria

No trip to Cumbria is complete without a visit to the South Lakes, Coniston and Grizedale among them. Here’s our guide.

Kendal and Sedbergh, Cumbria

Packed with fantastic places to visit and a wide range of high-quality restaurants, bars and pubs, there’s loads to do in Kendal and Sedbergh.

Eden Valley, Cumbria

Our guide to the best things to do in the beautiful Eden Valley in Cumbria, which stretches from Sedbergh to Penrith.

Cockermouth and West Cumbria

Our guide to West Cumbria, with its independent, industrial streak, and Wordsworth’s birthplace, Cockermouth.

Carlisle and Keswick, Cumbria

Our guide to things to do in Carlisle, a city framed by its famous castle, and the ‘honeypot’ town of Keswick in Cumbria.