The first evidence of the development of Ambleside can be found in the remains of Fort Galava, a Roman fort and settlement in the meadows at the head of Lake Windermere. Extensive remains of Fort Galava, believed to be formed in about 90 AD, can still be found in the area now known as Waterhead. The fort was built as one of a series of fortified structures to protect the vital trade routes through Cumbria and was also a convenient point as there was road access from Ambleside up to the farthest outpost of the Roman Empire, Hadrian's Wall.
After the fall of the Roman Empire the territory that includes Ambleside came under the control of the Furness Abbey and gradually large scale industrial expansion took place due to the introduction of hardy sheep, an abundance of iron ore and a large supply of charcoal due to the dense woodland in the area. By 1000 AD the area had began to flourish, thriving due to the success of the farming industry. It was at this time that the farmland began to be controlled with the boundary dry stone walls which remain a prominent feature of the Lake District today.
It was during this period that the Vikings invaded the area, giving names to areas and natural features that are still used today. It is believed that the name "Ambleside" derives from a Viking named "Hamel" that owned the area then known as "Saetre", the Norse word for farm or pasture.
During the next 800 years, Ambleside and the surrounding areas grew as an industrial centre, however remained very distant and inaccessible to the majority of the country. After the Romans and Norseman had gone, Ambleside gradually extended into the area that is now known as the centre of Ambleside and due do the relative isolation of the town, Ambleside avoided the Scottish raiding of the border and the majority of other wars and disasters throughout this period.
During this period, copper, lead and slate were found in large amounts in the area and therefore became a major export industry for the area. The large farming presence in the area meant Ambleside and the surrounding areas of the Lake District were self-sufficient in food production allowing the area to flourish.
From around 1850, tourism in the area began to grow around Ambleside and the Lake Windermere area largely due to the writing of 19th century poet William Wordsworth whose writing promoted the natural beauty of the area to the wealthier middle-class areas of Northern England. Some of the 19th century's more notable people made their homes in the Ambleside area including Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas de Quincey and Beatrix Potter. The introduction of these figures to the area helped continue the tourism industry growth with the introduction of a number of museums in the area including the Armitt Library & Museum and The World of Beatrix Potter Attraction.