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.

Our top picks

Rheged Centre

Rheged Centre, Rheged Centre, Redhills, Penrith, Cumbria, CA11 0DQ - Visit now

A visitor centre off the A66, containing gallery spaces, cinema screen, artisan shopping and local produce, as well as cafes and children’s play areas.


Brougham Castle

Brougham Castle, Moor Lane, Penrith, Cumbria, CA10 2AA - Visit now

Two miles from Penrith, Brougham Castle sits on the River Eamont in the Eden Valley, a proud reminder of strength in a turbulent bygone age.

Brougham Castle
Creative Tourist

Lacy’s Caves in Penrith

Lacy’s Caves in Penrith, Little Salkeld, Penrith, CA10 1NW - Visit now

Lacy’s Caves is a fascinating and beautiful place that just so happens to be made for wild swimmers. The river Eden meanders invitingly past these curious caves and the Victorian gypsum mines.

Visit Cumbria

Penrith Castle

Penrith Castle, Castle Terrace, Penrith, Cumbria, CA11 7EA - Visit now

Ruins of a 14th century castle, former home of Richard III. Situated in Penrith’s Castle Park, and managed by English Heritage.

Penrith Castle
Creative Tourist

J&J Graham

J&J Graham, 6-7 Market Square, Penrith, Cumbria, CA11 7BS - Visit now

Right in the heart of the town centre, J&J Graham is a Penrith icon. The current deli and bakery dates back to 1880, but the business itself has been going since 1793. It’s no wonder that it gets so much right.

J&J Graham of Penrith

Xavier’s Café & Wine Bar

Xavier’s Café & Wine Bar, 15 victoria Road, Penrith, Cumbria, CA11 8HN - Visit now

Xavier’s is Penrith’s answer to Paris’ wine-infused café culture. Set back from the street on the edge of the town centre, the outside tables are a nod towards those wide French pavements and those balmy Parisian summer evenings.

Xavier's Cafe and Wine

Where to go in Cumbria

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Sam Read Bookseller

Award-winning small bookshop in the Lake District. Est. by Sam Read in 1887. Run by Will Smith and Polly Atkin.

1863 Restaurant

For over 150 years, 1863 has been integral to the village of Ullswater. Now, reimagined for the 21st century as a glamorous Michelin location.

Red Barn Gallery

Red Barn Gallery is paramount in the Art World of the North West. Internationally renown works are put aside new artists, and the displays never ‘stand still’.

La Casita

La Casita serves the most authentic tapas in Penrith – the only thing not-so-Spanish about La Casita is their high quality fresh Cumbrian ingredients.

Grants of CastleGate

This modern bistro and bar, open for dinner Wednesday to Sunday, serves up classic British pub fare reimagined to its most indulgent.

Dent Village Heritage Centre & Museum

Dent Village Heritage Centre & Museum displays important, yet lesser known, histories. The centre itself has been built entirely through local labour, with the displays covering histories from vampires to slavery.

The Puzzling Place

Interactive optical illusion, for each visitor to immerse themselves in. This specialty museum in Keswick will baffle, surprise and amuse.

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Cumbria is far from short of good places to eat – here’s our guide to restaurants to put on your map of the area.

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When the sun goes down and you've had your fair share of Cumbria's great outdoors, head to the area's music venues to catch folk and jazz sessions, as well as regular performances by touring musicians.

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For striking performances in the truly beautiful setting of the Lake District - check out our pick of theatres in Cumbria.

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