Ambleside competes with Keswick as a centre for outdoors and walking shops, and contains a mix of massive stores and small independent shops. If you can't find a particular piece of walking gear in Ambleside or Keswick it probably doesn't exist! Ambleside also contains a good selection of other shops, including an excellent kitchen-ware shop, and a good bookshop. Hayes Garden Centre can be found just to the south of the town centre, on the road towards Windermere. Sadly the main roads provide the only routes between Ambleside and the lake shore, with the main A 591 probably offering slightly the better route.
If Windermere owes its prosperity to the railway, Ambleside's came with the ferry terminal at Waterhead, which opened in 1845. This was followed by the Gothic St. Mary's Church of 1854 (designed by George Gilbert Scott), the market hall of 1863, and by rows of nineteenth century guest houses (now familiar as they line the route of the traffic jam). St. Mary's Church contains a mural painted by Gordon Ransome in 1944 (a student at the Royal College of Art, evacuated to Ambleside during the Second World War) depicted the ancient Rush-bearing Ceremony, which takes place in the church on the first Saturday in July every year.
Ambleside is quite well situated as a walking base. Wansfell overlooks the town to the east, while two ridges lead north from the town, along the sides of Scandale, one leading to Red Screes, the other all the way to Fairfield. To the west the complex rocky summit of Loughrigg Fell makes up for its lack of height. A shorter walk from the north eastern corner of the town centre leads to the waterfall of Stockghyll Force.
Ambleside is notorious for its traffic jam, for it sits at the centre of the Lake District's road network, where the road west to Coniston and the Langdales joins the main route between the northern and southern lakes. As a result the centre of Ambleside is now surrounded by a one-way system, while any journey through the town at busy times can be very slow (for some reason the road north always seems to be the worst affected). The town no longer suffers from the lack of parking of earlier years.
One of the most famous buildings in Ambleside is Bridge House, which can be found straddling a brook (Stock Ghyll) just outside the main town-centre car park. This tiny two storey house was built as a summerhouse for the now-demolished Ambleside Hall, and is now a National Trust information centre.
Close to Waterhead are the remains of the Roman fort of Galava, which was once at the eastern end of the Roman road across the fells to Ravenglass (passing the fort at Hardknott on the way).
The Armitt Museum contains a good collection of material relating to Beatrux Potter.