10 free things to do in Cornwall this summer
Summer funds might be running low but there is still plenty to squeeze out of summer right here in Cornwall. Shall we take a look?
If the purse strings are tighter this year and you’re wondering how on earth you might elicit some joy from the next few weeks, you’re in the same boat as us. Precisely why we’ve been rummaging through the internet for free things to do. Light of pocket but still pumped for summer fun? Look no further.
Check out someone else’s dahlias
The National Dahlia Collection grows 1600 + varieties of dahlias, many of which it also sells, as well as a two acre display garden located close to the A30 just outside Penzance with views overlooking St Michael’s Mount. The garden is free to visit and perfect for scoping out ideas for your garden. Trenance Gardens in Newquay is also free to visit.
Alternatively, for the price of a £4 donation per adult (kids go free) you could visit one of The National Garden Scheme Open Gardens – in which over 3,500 private gardens in England and Wales open for charity. This is brilliant for two reasons: firstly, you can indulge in a bit of real-life garden porn (begone Right Move), and you can pick up clever border design ideas while sending a few quid (normally around £4) to highly worthy charities such as MacMillan. There’s not much open in Cornwall at present but the cottage garden at St Blazey (26 and 28 August) looks lovely – booking essential.
If you’re up for spending just a few more quid and making a day of it, Cornwall has a plethora of gardens to choose from – our favourites include Trebah, at Mawnan Smith, which also has a stunning beach at the bottom and Tremenheere Sculpture Garden near Penzance, as well as everyone’s potting shed of dreams at The Lost Gardens of Heligan (booking essential for all).
Get your art fix
We’ve missed our lovely local museums and galleries, haven’t you? Luckily, a few are planning to open just in time for the summer hols, including Newlyn Art Gallery (a reasonable £3.30 for entry) and Falmouth Art Gallery (free, but you’ll need to book) as well as a host of smaller art galleries in every coastal town. Locals can bag a pass to the Tate St Ives for £5 if you have a Cornwall postcode.
As for museums, a lot of Cornwall’s faves remain closed until the autumn. The ones that are open undeniably make a good day out, but it will cost you. Under 5s go free to the National Maritime Museum although the adult ticket will set you back £14.50, likewise the Wheal Martin Clayworks where a family pass is £28, the King Edward Mine Museum in Camborne, £20 for a family pass.
Play al fresco tennis
Game, set and match! There are plenty of tennis clubs and leisure centres in our ends where you can pay to book a court for an hour but we’ve scoped out some free options, all you need to bring are racquets and ball. Or balls, plural, if your serves are as wayward as ours. Recreation Grounds including Hayle operate on a first come, first served – head over for an early morning match to nab a court with no queues, otherwise check out Truro and Perranporth (£5 per hour) and St Mawes (£10 per hour).
Pack a picnic & head to the beach
Ah, summer beach picnics. Got your basket packed full of strawberries, champagne and salmon sandwiches, with a flask of tea in case it gets a bit chilly (or perhaps more likely, a bag-for-life with a box of sausage rolls, a can of coke and a couple of Kit Kats). And if you come prepared with your wind-break, waterproofs and rainproof rug, you’ll have a good time whatever the weather throws at you. See our kid-friendly beach guide for some location inspo and pick up some of this eco-friendly Cornish picnicware to take with.
Kids big and little find searching for critters in rockpools deeply fascinating, and all round Cornwall you’ll find wildlife groups and local National Trust rangers who put on free events and guided rockpooling sessions – usually at the lowest Spring Tides (when the tidal movement is the greatest so the largest expanse of beach is tantalising uncovered for a few precious hours).
Alternatively, grab yourself a tide table, white bucket and download a seashore guide and see what you can find yourself.
You’ll need a bike, obvs, so only totally free if you have one, but for an hour or two you can rent one reasonably cheaply. Cornwall has plenty of trails for cycling – including The Camel Trail, which is beautiful but not the only flat cycling trail suitable for a family ride. A Muddy favourite is the Coast to Coast Trail (11 miles) starting at Portreath on the north coast, to Devoran on the south. The route goes from the Atlantic to the channel, so you’re basically cycling across England in a couple of hours!
These boots are made for walking
Try the coast path – not the whole thing, as that would take you months, but visit the South West Coast Path website and you can take a look at the various parts – the path stretches for 300 miles around Cornwall (and back up into Devon both sides too) and is always good for a free stomp. Most of it is rather up and down though, so not the best if you’re reliant on wheels and you’re after a level walk.
For level walks, try Bude canal, the aforementioned Camel trail, Cardinham Woods, Tehidy Woods, or parts of the actual coast path in Penzance and Falmouth which go from beach to beach along the town.
Go for a swim
Sadly not at a leisure centre, as only 3 have re-opened in the entire of Cornwall, but either at the beach, or a tidal pool at low tide. If you’ve a few quid spare, the Jubilee Pool lido (above) in Penzance is also rather nice, and makes a good day out.
Pick your own fruit and veggies
Who doesn’t love a hand-picked punnet. It’s free to go and you only pay for what you pick which will, no doubt, be less than what you eat as you do the rounds. We like Trevathan Farm at St Endellion (for strawberries, also gooseberries, raspberries and come autumn, pumpkins), Trevaskis Farm at Connor Down near Hayle (soft fruit, peas and beans) and Mitchell Fruit Garden, right in the centre of Cornwall.
Visit St Michael’s Mount
The island itself is privately owned, so you’ll need to pay or be a National Trust member, but at low tide you can walk across the causeway from Marazion, “following in the footsteps of giants and pilgrims” and become your own part of the Cornish folklore with which the entire island is imbued. You’ll find the beach and harbour where you can explore free -but with no public boats running at the moment you’ll have to make sure you keep an eye on the tide and leave enough time to walk back.