There is regular steamer service around Windermere, the largest of the lakes (about 17km/11 miles long). It's also possible to take a steamer on Coniston Water, a small lake that Wordsworth called "a broken spoke sticking in the rim." Coniston Water is a smaller and less heavily traveled lake than Windermere.
Launch and steamer cruises depart from Bowness daily throughout the year operated by Windermere Lake Cruises Ltd. (tel. 01539/443360; www.windermere-lakecruises.co.uk). Round-trip service is available among Bowness, Ambleside, and Lakeside at rates ranging from £12 to £14 for adults and £5.80 to £7 for children; it's £32 to £35 for a family ticket. There is a 45-minute "Island Cruise" for £6.60 for adults, £3.30 for children, and £18 for a family ticket.
At Lakeside, you can ride a steam train to Haverthwaite. A combination boat/train ticket is £12 to £19 for adults, £6.60 to £9.35 for children, and £35 to £52 for a family ticket.
An attraction at Lakeside, near Newby Bridge, is the Aquarium of the Lakes (tel. 01539/530153; www.lakesaquarium.co.uk), with an exhibit of fish and wildlife. The aquarium is open November to March daily from 9am to 4pm, and April to October daily from 9am to 5pm. Combination boat/admission tickets from Ambleside are £22 for adults, £12 for children, and £62 for a family ticket; from Bowness, tickets are £20 to £25 for adults, £11 for children, and £59 for a family ticket. Aquarium-only admission is £8.35 for adults, £5.40 for children 3 to 15, and £20 to £24 for a family ticket (two adults and two children).
Directly south of Windermere, Bowness is an attractive old lakeside town with lots of Victorian architecture, much of it dating from Queen Victoria's day. This has been an important center for boating and fishing for a long time, and you can rent boats of all descriptions to explore the lake.