I love exploring cities across the UK and find that they're usually a good option for a fairly inexpensive day out with kids. City centre parks, museums and attractions seem to always have various offers running and I love that no two cities are ever the same.
Despite being only 64 miles away, Carlisle is a place I have only visited once (and that was just the airfield where a Radio One gig was playing) so when Northern invited us to visit Carlisle and write about our adventure, I of course agreed and we formulated a plan to visit over half term.
I am rather lucky that I can walk to our local train station in Cramlington and the Cramlington-Newcastle route is one I am very familiar with. We hopped aboard our first Northern train at 9am and then waited 10 minutes before joining our next train direct to Carlisle from Newcastle. Trains from Newcastle to Carlisle run approximately every hour and take around 90 minutes. It's a lovely journey through the Northumberland countryside - very picturesque and really quite relaxing. There are no plugs on board (well at least there weren't on our trains) so I left my laptop at home and actually read a book. It was a smooth journey and we arrived in Carlisle in no time.
We weren't blessed with the weather on the day of our visit and it was grey and damp. Boooo! We didn't let this put us off though and our first stop was Tullie House which is a museum and gallery around a 5 minute walk from the train station.
Kids can enter Tullie House for free when accompanied by a paying adult (from £7.70) so it worked out at just over £15 for the 5 of us which considering we could spend the whole day here, offered very good value for money.
Tullie House has to be one of the best museums we have ever visited with the kids. There was SO much hands on fun. First up, was a trip to the Roman exhibition where the kids could dress up as a soldier and play in a Roman-style tent.
There were games to get their minds thinking and lots of electronic 'horrible history' type games which they loved. I wish we could have spent longer at the museum and really taken our time to explore every exhibition - you could definitely spend a full day here.
The interactive displays continued upstairs with a replica train carriage to play in, 'sword in the stone' puzzles, dark tunnels to walk through, Hadrian's wall to climb, real artefacts to handle, pictures to colour, experiments to conduct (we loved the microscope in the Viking section), lots of opportunities to dress up and so much more. Everywhere we turned there was something to do and it was far from a regular walk through museum where all there is to do is read displays.
Downstairs in Tullie House we met the loveliest member of staff who told us the story of the mouse that lives under the stairs. Sure enough, we could see a little door with it's very own doorbell. We were encouraged to knock on the door and peek inside. To the children's delight, there was indeed a mouse in there, asleep on a bed with a nice little wedge of cheese by it's side. I think the kind lady took a shine to our children as she presented them with their very own finger puppets to remember the tale of the mouse and their visit to Tullie house. It's experiences like this that our children thoroughly enjoy and I can't explain enough how child-friendly Tullie House is. If you visit Carlisle, you must pop in and meet the mouse under the stairs for yourself.
Pumpkin Carving was just about to begin at Tullie House as an additional activity for Half Term but we were starting to hear rumbling tummies so decided to venture out for lunch. A quick walk around the corner into Carlisle's main square and we found Franco's Ristorante. We did spot a couple of chain restaurants during our visit but one of the things I loved about Carlisle was that there were so many independent eateries to choose from as well.
We were given a traditional Italian welcome at Franco's and considering it was a Monday lunch time, were lucky to get a table as they were super busy. Unusually, being busy didn't impact on service at all and we were very well looked after with food being served quickly and with a big smile. The kids enjoyed the extra touches such as the cheesy jokes from the waiting staff, the super-sized black pepper grinder and being presented with lollipops as they left - Franco's kind of reminded me of one of those cheap and cheerful Italian restaurants you get in Spain and the kids loved it.
The food was up to scratch too with homemade garlic bread, calamari and giant homemade meatballs being the highlights of our meal. Lunch options are priced between £6-£8 and the kids menu is £3.95.
We were fit to burst after lunch - how huge are those portions! We were planning on taking a free family walking tour around the city however the rain had started pretty heavily (and my phone battery wasn't doing too well) plus after spotting how close Carlisle Castle was to the city centre (it's just across the road from Tullie House), I really wanted to put our English Heritage membership to good use and visit so we changed our plans and crossed over to visit the castle instead.
Carlisle Castle is the most besieged castle in Britain and a lot of it is indoors so it's perfect for a rainy day. Entry is £16.60 for a family of 5 or free for English Heritage members like us. The children were handed a special trail to explore when we entered and we couldn't wait to explore.
Carlisle Castle is mostly unfurnished but there is still a lot to see. We had lots of fun pretending to fire canons from the rooftop, venturing down to the cellars, learning about the legend of the 'axe hammer' and making up stories of battles based on the facts we learned around our tour. If you're fans of castles as we are - a trip to Carlisle Castle has to be on your 'to-do' list.
The sun finally decided to poke it's head from the clouds and we promised the kids a ride on the carousel and a trip to the huge toy shop in Carlisle's centre. We then had an hour to kill before our 4:30pm train home and stumbled upon an artisan coffee house up a side street. The comfy sofas looked far too inviting and we headed inside to order some treats.
Coffee Genius is my kind of coffee shop - local artisan coffee, a hot chocolate menu that I seriously need to work my way through and a counter filled with tempting homemade treats. We spent £15 on cakes and hot drinks and relaxed for an hour, chatting about our day and how we'd like to return.
Carlisle is a very compact city and our children didn't once moan about sore feet which they often do during days out. It kind of reminded me of a smaller and less quaint version of York with it's city walls, Cathedral, narrow streets and independent retailers. We climbed aboard our 4:30pm train home knowing that it's a city we will definitely return to and would highly recommend to other families.
Leaving the car at home meant that Steve and I could both properly relax and enjoy the journey too. A rare treat and of course, we had to buy some extra Cumbrian coffee to enjoy on the trip home.
If you're interested, I have created a short video from our day trip to Carlisle. Check it out below:
Need to know
- A train ticket from Cramlington/Newcastle to Carlisle costs from just £28.50 (in total) for 2 adults and 3 children when booked in advance, traveling off peak and using a friends and family railcard.
- There are lots of ticket savings to be made if you plan ahead including 1/3 off adult fares and 60% off kids with a friends and family railcard, kids can travel half price and up to two under 5's can travel for free with each paying adult plus you can save by travelling off peak and booking in advance.
- Check out more ticket types from Northern here
- Find out more and order a friends and family railcard here
- Check out the full range of Great Days Out with Northern and book tickets here
Disclosure: This is a collaborative post with Northern.
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