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A vibrant city with over 2,000 years of history, Carlisle once formed part of the northern frontier of the mighty Roman empire. A visit is not complete without exploring the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hadrian's Wall, a feat of human engineering and the best conserved and most notable Roman monument in Britain today. Carlisle's excellent position on the border of England and Scotland, nestled between two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) means there is much to explore. However, you needn't leave town to have a great adventure. At its heart, Carlisle offers a fascinating centre crammed full of attractions of culture, history and art and excellent establishments for shopping, dining and drinking. Day or night, there is plenty to keep you entertained!
Roam like a Roman
The city and wider region of north Cumbria have strong Roman influences, and the area's turbulent past as a fortress from the Scots has given it a fascinating story to share. The Roman Frontier Gallery at Tullie House Museum houses an exquisite collection of Roman exhibits owned by the city, as well as some on loan from the British Museum. A 30-minute drive from Carlisle to Birdoswald Roman Fort allows you to see the longest remaining stretch of Hadrian's Wall and the vast remains of the Roman fort in a self-guided tour. With a striking cliff-top position and views over the Solway Firth, Maryport's Senhouse Roman Museum showcases all manner of Roman artefacts excavated from the neighbouring fort. All three attractions offer insightful interpretation and engaging activities for children.
Explore the city centre
Though Cumbria's only city, Carlisle's centre has the feel of a large town, which is part of its charm. Its shopping area is centred around a large pedestrianised market square which houses two notable buildings. The Old Town Hall is a medieval Grade II-listed building that today is home to the Tourist Information Centre and Assembly Rooms. The Guildhall is a Grade I-listed Ancient Monument and is home to a small museum managed by Tullie House. In a relatively compact retail area, shoppers can enjoy a good assortment of national high street chains and independent stores, as well as the traditional market hall. Not far from the centre, Bitts Park and Hammond's Pond are two lovely areas of parkland with sports activities, playgrounds and picnic spots. In the summer, Hammond's Pond is worth a visit for the miniature railway and boating lake, and Bitts Park has a splash park for children to let off some steam.
Carlisle city centre has a lively evening scene with a good selection of modern cocktail bars and traditional pubs and an array of globally inspired restaurants. The Old Fire Station is Carlisle's newest venue offering a varied programme of music, comedy and theatre. The Sands Centre is a large capacity venue known throughout Cumbria for its line-up of international classical and modern entertainment. The city also has nightclubs, theatres and relaxed eating establishments, offering something for everyone.
Fabulous family days
Walby Farm Park lies 6 miles out of the city and is a 30-acre site offering animal encounters, indoor and outdoor play, picnic areas and a café. There is plenty for children of all ages, but even the grown-ups will think twice about tackling the 24-foot Demon Drop Slide! Older children and adults can enjoy an action-packed competitive adventure at the city's laser quest centre. Don a laser backpack and gun and take on your friends while navigating the labyrinth of dark passageways and secluded hiding places. Eden Rock climbing centre is well worth a visit and caters from children, beginners and experienced climbers with its multiple state-of-the-art bouldering rooms. The city centre also boasts a bowling alley, a swimming pool and a Vue cinema, so family entertainment is never in short supply.
Step back in time
Explore the fascinating medieval Carlisle Castle, managed by English Heritage and open to the public daily. Over its 9-century history, the castle has been a fortress, a prison and a home to the King's Own Royal Border Regiment. Visit the tower that once housed the captured Mary Queen of Scots, walk the walls, enjoy exploring its many rooms and discover more about its illustrious past in the informative exhibition. The castle hosts a calendar of events throughout the year and fun activities for children during the holidays. Housed within the castle grounds, Cumbria's Museum of Military Life relives 300 years of local military history with immersive displays, engaging exhibitions and interactive trails. Entry is independent of the castle, but joint tickets can be purchased. To the north of Carlisle stands the remains of the 17th-century Kirklinton Hall. While the building itself is currently undergoing a massive restoration project, the 14-acre grounds offer plenty to explore. Wander the partially walled garden, children's garden and woodland, or visit on a Thursday, when the estate hosts a weekly foods and crafts market.
Culture and heritage
Nestled in the heart of Carlisle's vibrant city centre, Carlisle Cathedral provides a sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle. The red sandstone building you see today was founded as Carlisle Priory in 1122 before becoming a cathedral 10 years later. The dramatic east window dominates the alter and the cheery starry ceiling offers a stark contrast to the intricate masonry carvings below it. A short walk from the Cathedral is Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, which houses extensive collections of art, history and nature, as well as a full calendar of temporary exhibitions. Old Tullie House displays the museum's fine and decorative arts collection in part of the original Jacobean building. The pleasant courtyard garden below is designed in Jacobean style and offers a lovely place to relax. Beyond the city, you'll find Cumbria's best-preserved monastery, Lanercost Priory. Its location so close to Hadrian's Wall meant the priory endured many attacks from the Scots. However, this now peaceful site still offers much to see and is a perfect addition to a trip to the nearby World Heritage site.
Take to the rails
Journey back in time with a trip on the iconic Settle to Carlisle Railway and discover why the Edwardians and Victorians felt it was the most scenic train journey in England. Opened in 1876, the 72 miles of track travels through the stunning countryside of the North Pennines, Eden Valley and Yorkshire Dales, stopping at the old stations along the route. Private steam charters and events throughout the year celebrate the heritage of the line.
A breath of fresh air
Carlisle’s fortunate location surrounded by stunning countryside means escaping the city centre in search of good clean, fresh air and tranquillity couldn't be easier. Talkin Tarn Country Park is a 20-minute drive away and is a lovely place for a family amble. With woodland walks, picturesque picnic spots, a cafe and children play area, it is easy to while away an afternoon under the backdrop of the scenic Pennines beyond. Less than an hour's drive into the Lake District National Park sees you at Cumbria's only official lake, Bassenthwaite. Here you can enjoy a wealth of walks and biking routes, as well as a visit to Whinlatter Forest Visitor Centre. Alternatively, if you're not feeling quite so energetic, enjoy a tour and tasting at Lakes Distillery or a stroll around the bustling Lakeland village of Keswick. Directly east of Carlisle is the North Pennines AONB, a wild and rugged region home to a fascinating lead and zinc mining heritage; nature reserves home to abundant wildlife; and pretty villages with welcoming communities. To the north of Carlisle, Kielder Water and Forest Park promises an immersive modern art trail, a Dark Skies Observatory and Kielder Castle Visitor Centre with mountain biking trails.
Explore the coast
Less than 15 miles from Carlisle is the picturesque Solway Firth AONB, a vast expanse of flat open coastal terrain overlooking the estuary and Scotland. With extensive salt march and bogs and little woodland cover, this wild region offers a stark contrast to the mountainous wooded landscape of the Lake District National Park. Enjoy walks on England's Coastal Path, explore the windswept sand dunes or discover the diverse array of fascinating wildlife at one of the area's many nature reserves. To get under the skin of the coastal communities, spend some time in the Victorian seaside town of Silloth, enjoy an ice cream on the beach at Allonby or visit the Maritime Museum and harbour in Maryport. Visit the coast on a clear sunny evening, and you'll likely be rewarded with the most impressive sunset.