Close to the Scottish border, Carlisle is surrounded by wild beauty. Famed for its castle and nearby Hadrian’s Wall, only history has tamed this city.

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Situated in the northwestern reaches of England, Carlisle stands proud, flanked by the magnificent Lake District, the rugged Irish Sea and the vast moorland of the Scottish border. As first line of defence against England’s northern neighbours, the Cumbrian capital is steeped in history, alive with heritage and rich in picturesque surroundings.

Roman frontier

Carlisle has always overseen the ferocious wild frontier between England and Scotland. Hadrian’s Wall was the response of the Romans when their armies could move no further north. Today, you can walk the edge of their Empire and see the stones that once kept the Scots out, as well as take in the beauty of Lakeland.

At Birdoswald, just east of Carlisle, lies an important Roman border fort. Here you can see Hadrian’s Wall as it stood and explore the artefacts and the ruins of its gatehouses and drill houses. The fort’s remains are a reminder of the fate that could have befallen Carlisle Castle.

Royal prisoners

An imposing presence in the city centre, Carlisle Castle has been at the heart of the area for nine centuries. Re-live its humble timber beginnings when it was an important Roman fort, hear the tale of its most famous captive, Mary Queen of Scots, from the turret that held her, and wonder at the mysterious carvings cut into the castle’s keep walls.

Under siege

Carlisle’s centrepiece has also endured more sieges than any other castle in the whole of the British Isles. Its red sandstone walls have withstood an attack by Robert the Bruce and succumbed during a violent, bloody siege in the 15th century Wars of the Roses. It even steadfastly protected its inhabitants for a year during the English Civil War – before surrendering proved preferable to starvation.


Behind the walls it hasn’t all been bloodshed. Having been almost continuously occupied since the Roman era, Carlisle Castle has welcomed some of England’s most notorious sovereigns. Visit the Captain’s Tower bedrooms to see how medieval royalty slept. King John, the medieval monarch famed for signing the Magna Carta, is credited with improving the outer and inner walls with stone, while Henry VIII, the Tudor King, ordered extensive rebuilding for fear of attack from above the border.

Military museum

England’s military history is intertwined with the castle’s own. The barracks of Cumbria’s Border Regiment were housed inside the ramparts until the 1960s and if you walk through the gatehouse today you will find the Museum of Military Life, a space dedicated to the proud 300 year history of Cumbria’s County Infantry Regiment.

On display are past uniforms and campaign medals, plus military vehicles and a variety of weaponry, but it is the state-of-the-art, immersive First World War trench exhibition that really brings to life the experience of the soldier.

Carlisle Cathedral

Carlisle Cathedral, just across the road from the castle, has stood here for 900 years. Don’t miss the two very rare 12th century Scandinavian runic inscriptions and make sure you look up to see the brilliantly decorated timbered ceiling of the choir.

For more local tourist information:

CCarlisle Castle. © VisitEngland/CumbriaTourism
HHadrian's Wall national trail at Birdoswald. © VisitEngland/Visit Cumbria/Dave Willis

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