England’s great border outpost, Carlisle has been soaking up culture since the Romans first parked their chariots in AD 73. Today it’s a city that’s just as comfortable enjoying cutting-edge entertainment as it is celebrating its ancient heritage.
Culture in Carlisle
Climb into a cold war bomber, experience life in the trenches of WW1 and meet a Roman garrison at the very edge of their empire.
Housed in a stunning Grade I listed Jacobean mansion opposite Carlisle Castle, Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery was opened by the Carlisle Corporation as a museum, library and art school in 1893. Today it’s a dynamic independent gallery and arts hub with an eclectic collection of zoological and botanical exhibits, alongside works by acclaimed artists like Edward Burne-Jones and Stanley Spencer. Given Carlisle’s fascinating past, it’s no surprise to learn that history also features heavily, with the Roman Frontier Gallery bringing four centuries of Roman occupation vividly to life. As a recent winner of the Telegraph’s Family Friendly Museum Award, there are plenty of hands-on events to get stuck into with the kids (the museum’s Discover & Create Sunday sessions are especially popular), while film buffs should stock up on popcorn and pop along for one of their Monday Alternative movie nights.
As one of a handful of medieval buildings remaining in Carlisle, the Guildhall Museum offers a fascinating glimpse of the city’s mercantile past. Look out for the Muniment Chest, an impressive strongbox dating from 1400 that held the city’s treasures. With four separate locks, it could only be opened by four individual key holders and it’s fire and axe proof too! The museum is open on Thursdays from late April to the end of August and like most central attractions is just a 25-minute stroll from our Carlisle Central hotel.
Ever wondered what it’s like to be a giant? A World in Miniature might be the closest you can get. Home to one of the world’s top three collections of miniatures, this fascinating museum is just 1.5 miles from our Carlisle M6 Jct44 hotel and is a showcase for some of the UK’s most skilled miniaturists. From furniture and paintings to pottery and musical instruments, each item is reproduced to the tiniest detail. Look closely and you may even spot the world’s tiniest teddy bear!
Carlisle’s military history takes off at Solway Aviation Museum, a fascinating collection of vintage aircraft housed at Carlisle Airport. Run by volunteers, the museum also recreates a WWII air raid shelter and tells the story of Britain’s ill-fated Blue Streak rocket programme. But it’s the planes that will really get aviation fans’ hearts racing – none more so than the iconic Vulcan. Book a slot in advance and you can climb the steps and take your seat in the cockpit of one of our best-loved aircraft.
The military theme continues at Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life, the city’s newest visitor attraction and part of historic Carlisle Castle. Interactive displays and immersive exhibits bring the 300-year history of the county’s fighting men and women vividly to life. Experience the realities of life as a Tommy in the trenches of WW1 France and discover the personal stories that shaped three centuries of Cumbrian military history.
Museum of Military Life
Old Fire Station
From the titans of the Pre-Raphaelite movement to local artists you can take home and put on your living room wall, Carlisle is home to a vibrant gallery scene.
As well as Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery, which houses the city’s public collection of works by world-renowned artists, such as Paul Nash, William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, there is a thriving independent scene in Carlisle. Head to Edwin Talbot & Coon Crosby Street where you can browse and buy work by local and national artists, including Tamsin Pearce and Alan Stones.
As a cultural beacon for Cumbria, Carlisle is a focal point for touring artists and entertainers. And nowhere represents the creative spirit better than a twice-converted fire station.
More than two years on from the floods that devastated Carlisle in 2015, there’s no better symbol of the city’s determination to bounce back stronger than The Old Fire Station. This multi-purpose arts centre was less than a year old when Hurricane Desmond struck and the flooding that followed inundated the entire ground floor. Nine months and half a million pounds later and Carlisle’s much-loved arts hub is back in action, hosting music, theatre, comedy, exhibitions and more. Check their packed calendar for upcoming acts or pop in for a bite to eat at favourite locals’ hang-out McGrew’s Bistro (geddit?!) then take a stroll around one of their ever-changing contemporary art shows.