15 Best Things to Do in Carlisle (Cumbria, England)

By reading this article you will get to know about the Things to Do in Carlisle (Cumbria, England).

Carlisle, Cumbria’s only city, was founded in the second century as a Roman colony along Hadrian’s Wall, the Roman Empire’s northernmost border.

That massive fortification is the world’s largest Roman artefact, and forts and long stretches of the wall are within walking distance of Carlisle.
This city, which lay on the English-Scottish border, changed hands several times during Medieval times.
You can immerse yourself in this turbulent past at Carlisle Castle and the Tullie House Museum, learning about historical personalities like Mary Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie, a pretender to the British crown who conquered the city in 1745.

Let’s explore the Things to Do in Carlisle:

1. Carlisle Castle

 Carlisle Castle
Carlisle Castle Source: shutterstock

Carlisle Castle has perhaps seen more carnage than any other castle in England.
Carlisle Castle has perhaps seen more carnage than any other castle in England.
During the reign of William II round the end of the 11th century, the Normans built it on top of a Roman fort.

There was near-constant conflict for the next 650 years.
In Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite uprising against King George II in 1745, the last and possibly most memorable battle took place. His soldiers stormed the fortress, but were quickly defeated and executed or captured.

Bonnie Prince Charlie, William II, and Mary Queen of Scots, who was imprisoned here in 1567, are all featured in exhibitions at the castle. You may take a tour of the corridors, spiral stairways, and dungeons, and decipher the intricate carvings made by the inmates.

2. Carlisle Cathedral

Carlisle Cathedral, England’s second-smallest cathedral after Oxford, was founded as an Augustinian Priory in the 12th century.
One explanation for this is that during the English Civil War, a large section of the nave was taken down to bolster Carlisle Castle.
The architecture is Gothic, with the most of the buildings dating from the 13th and 14th centuries.
The East Window, the country’s largest in the Flowing Decorated Gothic style, with mesmerizing workmanship in its tracery and much of its original Medieval glass in place, is the first item you should see.
The 46 black oak choir stalls are likewise noteworthy.

Misericords (folding chairs) featuring weird hybrid creatures, the Twelve Apostles, an image of a lady beating a man, and scenes from the tales of St Anthony, St Augustine, and St Cuthbert were carved in the 15th century.

3. Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian’s Wall
Hadrian’s Wall

Carlisle is located on the northern edges of the Roman Empire, beyond which lay the Pictish and other northern Ancient British tribes’ territory.

During Emperor Hadrian’s reign in the second century AD, an enormous 73-mile-long border defense was built across the neck of Northern England.

Per five miles, there were forts, “milecastles,” (every mile), and two turrets in between.

The area is littered with remnants of the wall and its forts, and you can embark on a once-in-a-lifetime experience by walking the entire length.

The remains at Banks Turrets, Willowford Bridge, Pike Hill Signal Tower, Milecastle 48 at Gisland, and the Birdoswald Fort, which follows below, are well worth a day trip from Carlisle.

4. Birdoswald Roman Fort

Birdoswald, on a spot that beautifully depicts how this massive defense was configured, is perhaps the ideal point to jump into Hadrian’s Wall.

This is the only spot where you can see intact fort ruins, and also the longest continuous stretch of the wall, a milecastle, and a tower.

The site, on a spur over the River Irthing Gorge, is also quite unique.

The fort’s excavated ruins can be explored by visitors, while children can hunt for clues and learn about Roman engineering and border life 2,000 years ago.

5. Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery

Tullie House Museum And Art Gallery
Source: shutterstock
Tullie House Museum And Art Gallery

This excellent museum is housed in a Grade I-listed Jacobean mansion dating from the early 17th century.

The museum first opened its doors to the public in the 1890s, with modern additions added in the 1990s and early 2000s.

The Tullie House Museum in Carlisle houses fascinating antiquities from Carlisle’s Roman forts, including Petriana, the largest on Hadrian’s Wall.

Building pieces, reliefs, stelae, a Roman mask, jewelry, a preserved boot, oil lamps, and a trove of everyday goods may all be found in the Roman Frontier gallery.

Other displays highlight the centuries-long history of conflict on the Anglo-Scottish border and Carlisle’s socioeconomic history, while Old Tullie House houses a fine collection of Pre-Raphaelite houses.

The Tullie House Lookout rotunda, which opened in 2011, offers a stunning view of the castle and cathedral.

6. Settle-Carlisle Railway

Carlisle serves as the northern terminus of England’s most magnificent mainline railway route.

The Carlisle-Settle railway travels 70 miles across spectacular upland scenery to Settle, North Yorkshire.

Before approaching the Yorkshire Dales National Park, the route crosses the North Pennines, grazes the Lake District, and travels through the Eden Valley.

The railway opened in 1876, and it was a massive endeavor that took six years to complete and required an army of workers who had to live in shanty towns.

There are 14 tunnels on the line, as well as views from 21 viaducts that will leave you breathless (from 380 bridges). Look out the window for the former workers’ residences and the about 100 line-side cottages, which are in varied states of disrepair.

7. Lanercost Priory

Source: shutterstock

Lanercost Priory
Source: shutterstock
Lanercost Priory

While searching for Hadrian’s Wall, stop by English Heritage’s Lanercost Priory, which comes from the 12th century.

The priory’s location near the border made it a target for raids, including one led by Robert the Bruce.

At the beginning of the 14th century, an ailing Edward I lived at Lanercost for several months before dying.

The priory church was remodeled at the end of the 13th century, and its nave was converted into a parish church at the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The conventual buildings are partly made of spolia (recycled stone) from Hadrian’s Wall, and the stonework contains a few Roman inscriptions.

Lanercost is the best-preserved of Cumbria’s Medieval monasteries, with the chancel’s fragments surviving to their maximum height nearly 500 years after it was abandoned.

8. Solway Aviation Museum

Carlisle Lake District Airport, which served as an RAF training center during World War II, is home to this privately run aircraft museum.

The museum goes into great depth about the development of the Blue Streak medium-range ballistic missile and Martin Baker ejection seats, in addition to an excellent aircraft collection.

To give you a flavor of what’s here, outside you can go up close to aircraft like an Avro Vulcan B.2, which served in the Falklands War, an English Electric Canberra, a Hawker Hunter, and a Sikorsky Whirlwind helicopter.

9. Talkin Tarn Country Park

Talkin Tarn Country Park
Source: shutterstock
Talkin Tarn Country Park

Talking Tarn, a 65-acre glacial lake surrounded by mature woodland and farmland, is a nine-mile journey to the northern edge of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Water activities like as canoeing, sailing, and windsurfing are popular in the summer, and the rowing club was created in 1859. It is the northern England’s second-oldest rowing club, and it hosts a regatta every July.

The charming boathouse tearooms are a non-profit body that reinvests its profits in the care of the lake and park.

The 1.3-mile trail around the tarn can be walked, or you can rent a mountain bike from the shop and cycle out into the Cumbria countryside.

10. Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life

Carlisle Castle is the headquarters for the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, which has been located in Carlisle since 1702. It is descended from a line of four previous regiments. The regimental museum, which opened in 2014 in the castle’s bailey, tells the story of Cumbria’s army over 300 years, exploring the careers of soldiers past and present.

From 1702 until the present, you can look at a large collection of medals, weapons, uniforms, silver, paintings, and equipment.

There are also immersive audiovisual displays and an exhibition that give you a sense of what life was like in a trench during the First World War.

11. Guildhall Museum

Guildhall Museum
Source: Phil Williams / Wikimedia
Guildhall Museum

Carlisle’s Guildhall is housed in a 14th-century half-timbered edifice that is one of the city’s four oldest structures.

Some of the walls are built of Medieval wattle and daub, and much of the original woodwork has survived.

The lower floor, where the arcades have been filled in, houses a café that operates independently, while the top floors house Tullie House Museum’s museum.

Between May and August, you can visit on Thursdays to peruse the rooms of the butchers’ and shoemakers’ guilds and learn about Carlisle’s history.

There’s a silver collection, Victorian civic regalia on show, and a Carlisle Bells exhibition, which dates back to 1599 and is the oldest award in horseracing.

12. Walby Farm Park

The Walby Farm Park, located just outside of Carlisle, is an award-winning family attraction featuring both outdoor and indoor activities.

The nicest part for children will be meeting the animals, which will include pony grooming, lamb feeding, sheep racing, goat racing, ferret shows, and meeting bunnies and guinea pigs, among other activities.

Kids can also participate in a variety of activities on the side.

Electric mini-quads, pedal go-karts, tiny tractors, an agility trail, a nature path, and a “dig & play” area styled after JCB are all possible.

There’s also an indoor play barn with a ball pool, climbing nets, and slides if the weather turns bad.

Healthy meals and home-baked cakes are served at the Curly Tails Cafe.

13. Hammond’s Pond

Hammond’s Pond
Source: Neil Saunders / flickr , Hammond’s Pond

Hammond’s Pond in the southern Upper by area comes into its own in the summer if you’re in Carlisle with kids.

The pond and its accompanying park are situated on a hill and have ducks, swans, an aviary, and a dovecote.

In the summer, rowboats can be rented on the east end of the pond, and the park also contains a miniature railway that runs during the summer holidays, as well as two different play areas, one for toddlers and the other for youngsters.

On weekends and during school holidays, the café next to the pond is open.

14. St Cuthbert’s Church

During the Interregnum in the 17th century, when Oliver Cromwell closed the cathedral, St Cuthbert’s Church was the sole site of worship in Carlisle.

The current framework is the fourth of a series of churches dating back to the seventh century.

Although a stained glass window from the 1300s has been preserved, the current version is Georgian, dating from the 1770s.

The outsized pulpit, built high to allow the vicar to address the galleries and put on rails to allow it to be moved, is a feature you won’t find anyplace else.

The church’s graveyard has soldiers who were buried during Bonnie Prince Charlie’s rising.

15. Watchtree Nature Reserve

The largest man-made natural reserve in Europe is less than nine miles west of Carlisle.

The reserve, which spans 200 acres, came together in the early 2000s when a disused airfield was re-landscaped after being used as a burial ground for more than 500,000 animals following the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic that ravaged Britain’s farming industry (foot and mouth kills its victim, so there’s no danger).

80,000 trees were planted, lakes were dug out, and trails were laid up to lead you around reedbeds and past bird hides.

Within a few years, the reserve had become home to 23 endangered species, including swans, hares, roe deer, and a wide variety of birds.

Watchtree is perched on a ridge with vistas south to the Lake District and England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike.

Where to stay: Best Hotels in Carlisle, England
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15 Best Things to Do in Carlisle (Cumbria, England):

  • Carlisle Castle
  • Carlisle Cathedral
  • Hadrian’s Wall
  • Birdoswald Roman Fort
  • Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery
  • Settle-Carlisle Railway
  • Lanercost Priory
  • Solway Aviation Museum
  • Talkin Tarn Country Park
  • Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life
  • Guildhall Museum
  • Walby Farm Park
  • Hammond’s Pond
  • St Cuthbert’s Church
  • Watchtree Nature Reserve

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