Until the copper mines, dating from Jacobean times, were revitalised about 1859, Coniston was a scattered rural commmunity. It was mainly settled around Coniston Hall, a 16th Century farmhouse with a display of mighty chimneys, built by the Fleming family, and now owned by the National Trust (though not open to the public). The name Coniston comes from Saxon and Norse times and means "the King's manor".
Its best feature is The Old Man of Coniston, rising dramatically behind the houses when seen from the village centre. Coniston is a good centre for walkers and climbers, and those wanting to investigate the Tilberthwaite Slate quarries.
St Andrew's Church was completed in 1891, during a period of great prosperity for the community, when many wealthy patrons, including John Ruskin settled in the area. He lived for the last 30 years of his life at Brantwood, just across the lake. When he died, he was buried in St Andrew's graveyard, and his grave was marked with a large carved cross made from green slate from the local quarry at Tilberthwaite. It was designed by W.G. Collingwood his friend and secretary, who was an expert on Anglo-Saxon crosses, with symbols depicting important aspects of Ruskin's work and life. A year later W.G. Collingwood worked to set up an exhibition, now called the Ruskin Museum at the back of the Coniston Mechanics Institute, as a place to preserve any Ruskin mementos that could be found.
There are two public launch services on Coniston Water, the Coniston Launch, and the National Trust's Steam Yacht Gondola. Both of these call at Brantwood.
The Monk Coniston estate, owned by Beatrix Potter, and given on her death to the National Trust, stretches from Coniston to Skelwith Bridge. It includes the famous beauty spot - Tarn Hows.
Donald Campbell broke the water speed record on Coniston Water in 1955, and was killed attempting to regain it again in 1967. There is a memorial to him on the village green, just opposite the car park, and information about him in the Ruskin Museum.
On 8 March 2001, Bluebird was raised from the bed of Coniston Water, and on 28 May the remains of what was later proved to be Campbell's body were brought from the lake. A memorial service was held in Coniston church on 12 September 2001, and his body buried in the churchyard.
The Black Bull Inn, a 400 year old coaching inn at the foot of Coniston Old Man, is home to the Coniston Brewing Company, makers of 'Bluebird Bitter', CAMRA Supreme Champion Beer of Britain 1998.