Local Attractions in Cornwall

As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to Cornwall, Jackie King picks out a selection of family-friendly fun and festivals.


Cornwall is the stuff of childhood holidays and is totally geared to family-friendly experiences. There are seal sanctuaries and aquariums, steam railways and farms, wildlife parks and underground caves: if you're travelling with little ones, you won't be short of options for great days out.

But it's not all about fun for the youngsters. Cornwall's rich heritage means that the county's not short of a stately home or two. In fact, it's stuffed with historic buildings and intriguing gardens.


And, during the summer months, musicians take to the streets, boats to the water, and throngs of visitors fill harbours and ports to celebrate the very best of Cornwall at festivals, regattas and events throughout the region.

Carnglaze Caverns

Three huge underground caverns – of cathedral proportions – are the result of slate mining and are now open to the public to explore on guided and self-guided tours. In the lower chambers, you’ll find a crystal blue subterranean lake! Above ground, there are seven acres of ancient woodland and an enchanted dell, sprinkled with little faeries, dragons and woodland folk who show children the way. Come in spring for the carpets of bluebells. carnglaze.com

The Eden Project

The iconic flora-filled domes are perhaps Cornwall’s most famous visitor attraction, but you could spend a week here and still not see it all. Take a trip through the rooftops on the new aerial walkway, have a massage in the Mediterranean Biome, sign up to a horticulture course or simply wander the world’s largest rainforest in captivity and marvel at the world-class sculpture, art and design. There are music events and concerts throughout the year and restaurants and cafés for hungry souls selling Fair Trade produce. Admission may be on the pricey side but it’s well worth the investment. edenproject.com

The Minack Theatre

Jutting out into the Atlantic ocean on one Cornwall’s most southerly points is Britain’s most famous open air theatre, the brainchild of Rowena Cade, who devoted her life to creating and developing this site. The season runs from May to September, with often inexperienced companies taking to its stage. Ticket prices are kept low – £8 for most performances – with plenty of Shakespeare, opera and adaptions of modern classics drawing in the crowds. On a warm summer’s evening with a packed amphitheatre and the waves crashing on the rocks beyond, you really do get a sense of what entertainment must have been like in ancient Greece. Bring a picnic! minack.com

Callestick Farm

The Parker family have been making ice cream here on Callestick Farm for twenty years but have been farming the land for generations. Everything they do revolves around the happiness of their cows and their strong environmental policy. Their 26 flavours combine milk from their dairy, Cornish clotted cream and spring water from their spring on site. Visitors can pet the animals, and there’s a viewing gallery where you can watch action in progress. There’s a tearoom serving light bites and a shop to stock up on gifts. callestickfarm.co.uk

Paradise Park

Flamingos strut around the Victorian walled gardens, playful otters entertain diners from the café-side pool, and exotic birds, red pandas and penguins delight children of all ages. Mike Reynolds came to Cornwall in the 1970s to start a tropical bird garden; Paradise Park has become one of Cornwall’s leading bird and wildlife sanctuaries but it still remains a family business at heart. Children can feed the parrots, watch the otter feeding, and marvel at the eagles and hawks doing impressive aerobatics over the park. There’s even a brewery and pub on site – something for all the family! paradisepark.org.uk

Flambards Experience

Flambards started off life as an aviation museum in 1976; now it has become one of Cornwall’s best loved attractions, with award-winning and unique exhibitions, such as the Victorian Village and Britain in the Blitz, a theme park with a selection of rides to suit everyone, an indoor play area, a hands-on science area, an aviation centre and pretty landscaped gardens to wander. Flambards is also incredibly eco aware; they strive to reduce their impact as far as possible. flambards.co.uk

The Bodmin & Wenford Railway

This is Cornwall’s only railway still operated by steam locomotives, a six and a half-mile long route running from Bodmin to Boscarne Junction. The ‘Freedom of line’ pass allows you to jump off and on as you please, so you can visit Cornish villages, station cafés, and restored stations en route. The railway passes through glorious countryside and connects with paths and trails along the way, so you can hop off and stretch your legs before continuing on your journey. bodminrailway.co.uk

Seal Sanctuary

Sick, stray and injured seal pups found along Cornwall’s coast end up here, not to mention a big collection of sea lions, otters and penguins. There are feeds and demonstrations, amazing rock pool experiences, a children’s pirate ship, and plenty of ideas for rainy days – you can even adopt a seal or become a keeper for a day. And new to 2013: a behind the scenes tour of Cornwall’s only working seal hospital. sealsanctuary.sealifetrust.org

Springfields Pony Centre

There are all sorts of ponies to ride – from Shetland and Gypsy to Welsh and Dartmoor. Children will enjoy trotting round the paddocks, trekking through the woodland or grooming the ponies. There’s a boating lake, a pirate ship, go karts, a miniature train and farmyard animals to pet, as well as an 8-acre woodland to wander. The indoor play area has slides, an activity zone and a toddler play area for the tinier visitors. springfieldfunpark.co.uk

Dairyland Farm World

Get up close to the farm animals, trot off on a pony ride, help feed the calves and lambs, follow the nature trails around the park, visit the Cornish heritage museum; there are endless amounts of fun to be had by children at Dairyland. Children can also learn about how to keep the environment clean in the environment and alternative energy centre. Clarabelle’s Kitchen Café and Shop provides locally prepared picnics and plenty of Cornish gifts to take home with you. dairylandfarmworld.com

Paul Jackson Pottery - Artist's Studio

If you are travelling along the Camel Trail, you may well see a sign for a Pottery Studio around the Helland Bridge area. It is well worth stopping for a few minutes to nose around and meet the artist, Paul Jackson. His works are shown in the UK and the USA and found in many major galleries. His garden is exquisite and he encourages you to share his enthusiasm and have a lurk on his pond-side bench or stroll along his slice of the river. His wife, Rosie, paints delightful floral inspired pieces, but is frequently off doing good works. Call ahead to be sure of the gallery being open or just take a chance. You'll be glad you did. Tel: 01208 75240 paul-jackson.co.uk

Duchy of Cornwall Nursery

Supplying plants to Highgrove and other royal estates, the Duchy of Cornwall Nursery is a must for any green-fingered visitor. From roses and climbers to bamboos and fuschias, the array of plant life here is simply staggering. The recent timber and cob building now houses the shop and café – a beautiful space and worth the trip alone – serving local treats such as Cornish rarebit (with homemade chilli jam) and Cornish blue cheese and pear salad, all locally sourced. Make sure you save some time for the shop, a treasure trove of vintage knick-knacks and gifts made by local artisan designers. duchyofcornwallnursery.co.uk

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

The story behind the gardens of Heligan is the stuff of fairytales. Having been lost to the outside world for nearly a century, the walled gardens, ancient woodlands, wild habitats and exotic jungle have been restored back to their former glory. During the gardens’ ‘lost’ years, plant and tree species flourished; there are over 200 acres of gardens to explore, including 70 veteran species of camellias and 350 species of ancient rhododendrons. Throughout the year, the gardens host a programme of events, from open air theatre to guided walks and a ‘Tastes of Heligan’ evening, celebrating the finest Heligan produce. heligan.com

Trebah Garden

Miles of footpaths wend their way through Trebah’s 26-acre subtropical paradise – past 100-year old rhododendrons and magnolias, through water gardens and a valley of hydrangeas, and around dense bamboo forests down to its own beach on the Helford River. The award wining Planters Café serves honest, seasonal food, featuring freshly caught crab and fish and locally made ice cream. There’s a shop, plant centre, sculpture exhibitions. trebahgarden.co.uk

The Royal Cornwall Museum

Founded in 1818, the Royal Museum of Cornwall features collections on natural history, the fine and industrial arts, covering such areas as Cornish archaeology, geology, the decorative arts, coinage and social history. An exciting programme of talks and events is held throughout the year, and there are workshops and courses available, as well as summer activities for all the family to enjoy. The Courtney Library (by appointment only) holds a fascinating archive of manuscripts, periodicals, maps and engravings. Current exhibitions include the Evolution of Surfing (until March 2014) and A Century of St Ives Art (until November 2013). royalcornwallmuseum.org.uk

Porthcurno Telegraph Museum

A museum dedicated to the history of the telegraph, telling the story behind the communication that has changed the world. The Porthcurno valley was the epicentre of international cable communications for a century between 1870-1970. Cornish miners dug underground tunnels creating an entire cable network, of enormous strategic importance during the Second World War. Today, visitors can visit the underground tunnels and original telegraph station, and dress up as a Victorian for the day! telegraphmuseum.org

Prideaux Place

A 16th-century palace with 12th-century roots, Prideaux Place has changed little over the past four centuries: fourteen generations of the family have lived here since its completion in 1592. Near Padstow, this stunning Elizabethan house is set in gorgeous landscaped grounds with temple, grotto, woodlands and deer park. Guided tours are available of many of its 81 rooms. Panelled drawing rooms and elegant bedrooms, every room is stuffed with antiques and original furniture. One of Cornwall’s most important stately homes. prideauxplace.co.uk

Pencarrow

The magnificent Pencarrow House and Gardens is a great day out for families, gardens lovers and history fans. Pencarrow, meaning ‘Head of the Valley’ due to its location at the foot of a valley, has been in the same family since the 1500s – the Molesworth family still lives in one of the wings. The house boasts a fine collection of art and antiques; the gardens, with sunken Italian gardens and Victorian rock garden, are a botanical buff’s dream and are glorious to visit at any time of the year. Come for snowdrops in winter, bluebells in spring, carpets of wild garlic in summer and fuschias and azaleas in the autumn. pencarrow.co.uk

Caerhays Castle

Visit in spring when the 120-acre woodland gardens are alive with the sights and smells of camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas and magnolia trees. Caerhays, however, is worth a visit at any time of year, though do check on opening times as tours of the castle are restricted. The estate’s own beach is open to the public, and there are twelve self-catering places dotted around the estate, as well as a tearoom in the inner courtyard, a gift shop in the outer courtyard, and miles and miles of coastal paths and walkways. visit.caerhays.co.uk

Tate St Ives

A guide on galleries and museums in Cornwall wouldn’t be complete without an entry on the Tate. Built on the site of an old gas works overlooking beautiful St Ives, The Tate was opened in 1993. From sculpture and exhibitions to gallery tours and lectures, The Tate has become the home of post-war modernism. The gallery’s café offers fine coastal views and locally sourced food, such as a Cornish plate of local fish and open Cornish roast beef sandwich. tate.org.uk/visit/tate-st-ives

The National Maritime Museum

Enter the magnificent granite, slate and green oak building into the lofty main hall displaying an impressive flotilla of boats and vessels, a huge Thames steam launch at its centre. There is masses to explore here: steer a boat through a narrow channel in the nav station, visit the search and rescue exhibition which celebrates the work of the RNLI, and go underwater in the Tidal Zone and watch the fish swim about in the harbour. There’s a lookout tower for views over the harbour, and shops, libraries, cafés and galleries. nmmc.co.uk


For more ideas for green holidays in the area, see our Green Traveller's Guide to Cornwall


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