The town of Windermere owes its existence and its position away from the lake shore entirely to the railway. When the idea of building a railway to the shores of Windermere was first proposed, the railway companies wanted to build their station much closer to the lake, but this idea was blocked by the wealthy owners of the villas that line Windermere, and so the railway ended at the hamlet of Birthwaite, three quarters of a mile east of the lake. The railway opened in 1847, and was soon followed by a number of large hotels, starting with Rigg's Windermere Hotel, and by a large number of stone villas and shops. Over the years the town expanded south west towards Bowness, and the two communities are now firmly linked, but they still retain two separate town centres, and somewhat different atmospheres. Windermere itself has a relatively small shopping centre, and its most notable shop is probably the Lakeland Plastics store close to the station.
Windermere's best feature is probably the short walk up to Orrest Head, which starts close to the station, climbs up 350 feet in half a mile, and rewards the walker with a breathtaking view across Windermere to the heart of the Cumbrian Fells.