Originally a bustling harbour town serving the coal, iron and steel industries, Workington has diversified into other forms of industry since their decline. It was in the 18th century, with the exploitation of local iron ore and coal pits, that Workington expanded to become a major industrial town and port. It was also here that Henry Bessemer first introduced his revolutionary steel-making process.

The development of the town centre's shopping precinct in 2002 brought a wealth of new stores to the town. It also saw the arrival of The Hub, a new outdoor performance space at the heart of the town centre. On the outskirts of town lie four large supermarkets as well as retail and industrial estates. Dunmail shopping precinct is home to Dunmail Plaza multi-screen cinema. 

   

On Workington's eastern outskirts lie the 14th century stone ruins of Workington Hall in Curwen Park. The old Hall was seat to the Curwen family and home of the Lord of the Manor and District of Workington. On 16th May 1568 Sir Henry Curwen brought Mary Queen of Scots to share supper with he and Lady Curwen, his wife, and the dowager Lady Curwen, his mother. Mary Stuart first set foot on English soil at St. George's Pier in the town, having taken four hours to cross the Solway. Early the following morning, Mary wrote to Queen Elizabeth asking protection before later that day travelling to Cockermouth - that letter is now in the British Museum.

The Hall was accidentally destroyed by the military at the end of its secondment during the World War II. Frequent attempts to rebuild and restore this beautiful, historic building have come to nothing and its surviving artefacts are now held in the nearby Helena Thompson Museum.