Just shy of the Scottish border, Carlisle is one of the most northerly cities in England to visit. With centuries of history, markets and even castles, it’s the kind of city that’s well worth a little gander whilst within the North of England.
Now, although you might not be visiting Carlisle on a dedicated trip, it’s the kind of city that’s really easy to tag-along to a wider trip of the region.
For instance, we’ve visited quite a few times after exploring the Lake District. Oh, and when we’re driving the M6 motorway up the “spine of Great Britain”, too.
So, to help you get the most out of your time in the city, I wanted to share a few gems that we love. This way, you can focus on that all-important exploring!
Take a look, below, at the best things to do in Carlisle. Have an amazing visit to the north of England.
1.) Carlisle Castle
For over 900 years, Carlisle Castle has dominated the city’s landscape and history. It is one of the most iconic spots to visit and the best things to do in Carlisle, especially if you want to learn more about the tumultuous history of the region.
Trust me, the distinct grey and red sandstone of Carlisle Castle is hard to miss – you’ll spot it a mile off!
Here, you can take a gander through the grounds via one of the tours that happen most days. Once inside, you’ll get to see the castle’s medieval rooms, the turret where Mary, Queen of Scots, was once held captive!
Even to this day, you can still spot carvings and markings that prisoners created when they were held there.
Afterwards, and within the grounds itself, head over to Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life. Showcasing an enormous collection of military uniforms, army weapons, medals, and paintings that span over 300 years.
It’s steeped in history and well worth a nosey around once you’re here.
Fancy staying at a castle? Then head just outside of Carlise and check into Dalston Hall Hotel that’s a former castle property that dates back to the 16th Century.
It’s totally lovely, though you will need a car (or take a taxi) to get into Carlise from here.
2.) Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery
Nestled in between the castle and the cathedral, the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery is a total favourite to visit when strolling the city.
Housing heaps of collections and artwork, it provides a rich background of the region and the influences that have shaped the wider area of the years. From prehistoric artefacts to modern art, the displays at Tullie House Museum covers most of the significant points of the history and culture of Carlisle.
Not only that, you’ll get to spot some epic Roman artefacts intertwined with the history of Carlisle Castle. Oh, and of course, a little bit of Hadrian’s Wall, too.
Afterwards, stop by the Lane Bar for a little tipple. It’s a pretty cool little spot.
3.) Carlisle Cathedral
Predominantly Gothic, the Carlisle Cathedral is regarded as the second smallest cathedral in England. Though, when it comes to Cathedrals, size isn’t always everything!
During the historic battles that plagued the area, its nave was cut and torn down and the materials were used to bolster Carlisle Castle. Though don’t worry, it’s totally beautiful to visit today!
After arriving, be sure to spot the Medieval stained glass still in its original form. For me, the East Window is the main point to look out for. It’s one of the largest stained glass windows in the country.
As you walk around the Carlisle Cathedral, you will get to see all the intricately carved misericords and the black oak choir stalls. You just know it took thousands of hours to master these!
4.) Hadrian’s Wall
Hadrian’s Wall is perhaps the most important piece of history of Carlisle and the entire Cumbria region.
Built back in the 2nd century during Emperor Hadrian’s rule, this 73-mile long military border served as the main life of defence across the neck of Northern England. In fact, it was the very northerly point of the Roman Empire and one that aimed to protect the Romans from the Scottish (north of the wall).
Now, you can choose to walk the full stretch of the wall trails (though, this will take about two days). Obviously, for this, you will need to leave the Carlisle but it’s well worth seeing at least parts of the wall.
For me, the well-preserved sites such as; Birdoswald Fort, is a must. It’s around a 30-minute drive from Carlisle and really easy to visit for a morning day trip by car.
Built on the side of the River Irthing Gorge, Birdoswald Roman Fort offered a strong strategic defence to the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago and you can still see lots of the ruins to this day.
The excavated ruins of the fort will give you a glimpse of how meticulous Roman engineering was. Plus, it’s the place where the longest continuous stretch of Hadrian’s Wall can be found!
5.) Guildhall Museum
Listed as a Grade I Ancient Monument, the Guildhall Museum is a historic building dating back to the 14th century. Located right within the city centre, it’s a museum that’s great to visit for a lowdown of the history and culture of Carlisle.
After arriving, you’ll get to wander around the rooms and exhibits, too. You’ll get to see everything from the Shoemaker’s Room (that looks like a ship’s cabin) to the Butcher’s Room (which has a surprising Victorian interior).
It’s one of the best things to do in Carlise that’s indoors. This is especially good if you get caught out in a little drizzle!
Afterwards, take a stroll through Bitts Park which is a great way to work up an appetite before dinner.
6.) Dive into the parks
Just nine miles out of Carlisle, the Watchtree Nature Reserve is totally gorgeous. In fact, it’s the largest man-made reserve in all of Europe, with lush meadows sprawled over 200 acres of land!
Though don’t let the fact that it’s man-made put you off, it’s stunning. It attracts a heap of animals and now serves as a haven to an assortment of species. Whilst here, you might spot You can spot brown hares, birds, moths, and dragonflies in the area, as well as about 23 endangered species, including the Great Crested Newt.
If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, stay within Carlise and head across to Rickerby Park.
Here, you’ll be able to for a stroll around the trails following the River Eden. You might even spot the 1800s folly that’s just beyond the Rickerby Retreat!
7.) Solway Aviation Museum
So, Aviation enthusiasts will be in for a treat at the Solway Aviation Museum! If that’s you, you’re gonna love this place. If not, you might wanna give it a miss.
Located at Carlisle Lake District Airport, this museum houses a fascinating collection of aircraft. You can see an Avro Vulcan B.2, a Sikorsky Whirlwind helicopter, a Hawker Hunter, and an English Electric Canberra up close.
There is also a host of military information available at the Solway Aviation Museum. As you tour around, you will learn about how Martin-Baker ejection seats work and how the Blue Streak medium-range ballistic missile was developed.
8.) Settle-Carlisle Railway
Fancy a totally unique experience, book yourself on the Settle-Carlisle Railway which swings through the Yorkshire Dales and some of the most glorious scenery in all of Northern England. This is the kind of train line you take for its journey.
For us, we’d recommend getting the Day Ranger train ticket at the train station. This allows you to hop on and off as many times as you’d like for the day – which is great for exploring.