Although there has been a settlement here since pre-Roman times, Ambleside is largely a Victorian town. A fort beside Borrans Park - named Galava - was built in Ambleside by the Romans and housed some 500 soldiers. It was built to defend the lower fells of South Lakeland from invasion by the Picts and to guard the road to the Roman Port at Ravenglass via Hardknott Pass.
The opening of the Lake Windermere ferry terminal at Waterhead Pier in 1845 created further expansion. Today ferries can be taken to Bowness, Brockhole and Lakeside. Ambleside has now become a major tourist resort with shops, hotels and restaurants, and is one of the best town bases for exploring the Lake District.
Many well known characters have been connected with Ambleside, including William Wordsworth, Hardwicke Rawnsley, John Ruskin and Beatrix Potter. More about these people can be found in the The Armitt Museum,
William Wordsworth had an office here, in Church Street, as a result of his role as Collector of Stamps for Westmorland. He was elected to the post soon after his family moved to their house at Rydal Mount.
St Mary's Church, completed in 1854, was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott in the Early English style. It is mainly of local 'blue' stone, with a sandstone spire, an unusual feature for a Lakeland church. There is a chapel devoted to the memory of William Wordsworth.
A short walk from the centre of the village leads to Stock Ghyll Force, a spectacular 21 metre/70 foot waterfall which may be viewed safely from a railed viewpoint. In spring, the area under the trees is a carpet of daffodils. Once there were 12 watermills driven by the power of Stock Ghyll and other local becks. The 17th Century Bridge House over Stock Ghyll is one of the most photographed scenes in Lakeland, and is now a shop and information centre for the National Trust.
Every year on the first Saturday in July, Ambleside celebrates its Rushbearing Festival. This custom dates back to the days when the earthen floor of the church was strewn with rushes for warmth and cleanliness.