22 Muddy-approved attractions in Cornwall
From the big-beast tourist destinations to our cool insider alternatives, read on for our pick of unmissable attractions in Cornwall.
Headliner: St Michael’s Mount
St Michael’s Mount is one of the most-visited tourist attractions in Cornwall, so it goes without saying that it takes the sightseeing top spot. The castle at St Michael’s Mount is perched on a tidal island, 500m off the coast of Marazion. Follow in the footsteps of giants across the causeway that emerges from the sea-bed as the tide drops, unravel the history of the St Aubyn family, who have lived here since the 17th century, wander the centuries old corridors and explore the sub-tropical gardens – but be quick, you’ll need to get back before the tide rises again, or it’s a long swim! National Trust members go free.
In-the-know intel: Geevor Tin Mine, Land’s End
Set in the wide open spaces of the Lands End peninsula on the dramatic Atlantic coast, the stunning Cornish coastline around Pendeen was once at the heart of the Cornish tin and copper mining industry. Geevor Tin Mine gives you the opportunity to visit a real mine and learn what life was like for a Cornish miner.
Headliner: The Eden Project, Nr St Austell
The iconic biomes of this Cornwall attraction are well known (Eden is consistently voted as one of the UK’s top tourist attractions) and a beauty to behold in themselves, framed as you walk down through the gardens. It is a huge tropical garden created inside and outside of the two main biomes (the whole place is nestled in an old quarry) but it is also so much more than that – it is plants, science, sociology, ecology and exploring our relationship with the natural world.
PLUS, there’s events galore (including music’s great and good who play in the summer sessions and a massive ice-rink all winter), there’s a mega zip-wire and excellent playgrounds, it’s home to the Pasty World Championships and during non-Covid times you can even do the parkrun here on a Saturday morning. A day of this calibre doesn’t come cheap mind you (a family ticket for 2 adults and 2 kids will set you back a cool £75) but it lasts for a year, and local passes are available too.
In-the-know intel: Wheal Martyn Clay Works, St Austell
2020 marks 200 years of clay mining at Wheal Martyn – visit the indoor and outdoor museums, explore the atmospheric grounds of the original Victorian clay works, bursting at the seams with tools, machinery, artefacts and stories. Discover Wheal Martyn’s past life at the heart of this global industry. Lots of fun for all the family, dog friendly, and includes woodland walks and a play area.
Headliner: Padstow Sealife Safaris
Almost every harbour around the Cornish coast has boat trips running – from fishing to exploring the hidden coves to riding alongside dolphins and seals and bird watching, so wherever you’re based you’ll be sure to be able to get afloat. Padstow Sealife Safaris (above) consistently top the tables.
In-the-know intel: Mevagissey Ferry
Catch the ferry from Mevagissey to Fowey (or the other way round) and back again and you’re in for a 40 minute ride each way across the sea where you may see dolphins or other wildlife. At £15 return, it’s a bit cheaper than one of the dedicated sea safaris, yet still a lovely way to get on the water. Pedestrian ferries also run on slightly shorter routes between Fowey & Polruan, Rock & Padstow and Falmouth to St Mawes, all of which make fab trips in themselves as well as handy way to move around the coast.
Headliner: Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen
One of the hottest names in Cornish cooking is Nathan Outlaw, or certainly as far as Michelin stars go, anyway. The Fish Kitchen (above) in Port Isaac holds one star, serving up small, original and delicious seafood plates, cooked to order and served when ready.
Restaurant Nathan Outlaw was the younger and flashier sibling just up the road with two stars, but in lock-down, Outlaw decided to step away from the super fine dining and re-brand/re-launch in a simpler style – Outlaw’s New Road now has a simpler ethos and no tasting menu, much like The Fish Kitchen. (If you don’t want to eat in, Outlaw’s Grub Club also offers pre-booked takeaway so you can eat at home or the beach).
Cornwall is spoilt for choice for eating, with a plethora of awesome restaurants across the county. The foodie choice is Coombeshead Farm at Lewannick, near Launceston, co-owned by chefs Tom Adams & April Bloomfield. Usually a restaurant with rooms but for 2020 the 66-acre working farm and gorgeous Georgian farmhouse is exclusive hire only. Open until the end of September in Fowey is Fitzroy, (which opened last year) serving up small plates with a focus on fish – it’s from the team behind Primeur, Westerns Laundry and Jolene. Prawn on the Lawn at Padstow is usually a top-pick for seafood, currently temporarily relocated and rebranded as Prawn on the Farm, and for lobster, you need The Lobster Shed. For year-round options Porthminster Kitchen in St Ives and The Pig at Harlyn Bay are winners. Roomy pants on, get scoffing.
Headliner: Jubilee Pool, Penzance
Britain’s largest salt-water Lido, Penzance’s art deco triangular pool is re-filled with water only during the highest of spring tides and offers impressive views out across Mounts Bay. New for 2020 is the long awaited geo-thermal warm pool, which opened on 1 September, where water temperatures hover at a positively balmy 30-35 degrees. If you don’t fancy a dip, or to re-fuel afterwards, find a local, seasonal menu served at The Café (operating as an outdoor seating venue only for the time being and only open when the pool is).
In-the-know intel: Tidal pools
If you fancy a salt-water dip without the buffeting of the waves (or the price of an entry ticket) Cornwall has a plethora of options round the coast line. Mainly found at the side of beaches where a concrete wall has been constructed to hold back some of the tide, these make fine places for a length or two at low tide. The pool at Trevone is the one the BBC production of Malory Towers chose, but there’s also pools to be found at Porthtowan, Portreath, and Priests Cove – as well as Treyarnon and Mousehole. Some are more glorified rock pools, whereas the mega 90m one at Bude (above) is the largest.
Headliner: National Maritime Museum, Falmouth
Celebrating the influence of the sea on history and culture and telling the story of Cornwall’s incredible maritime heritage, the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth’s Discovery Quay makes a great day out with the kids. With 15 galleries, interactive exhibitions (including the current Monsters of the Deep) as well as an impressive collection of interesting small boats, an underwater gallery where you can view underneath the tide, and also find out about the maritime history of Falmouth. The NMMC is an independent museum that first opened back in 2003.
In-the-know intel: Lost Gardens of Heligan
So much more than just a garden, The Lost Gardens of Heligan make a fantastic place to spend the day outside with the whole fam. There is over 200 acres to explore, including magical gardens and themed woodland walks as well as farmland complete with all sorts of interesting animals and a real bird hide from which to count birds and insects. There is also a huge wooden play area and down in The Jungle, perfect for any budding Indiana Jones or Dora the Explorer are raised boardwalks, giant exotic plants, pools, wildlife and one of the longest Burmese Rope Bridges in Britain. Don’t miss the iconic Mud Maid (above) as you walk back up through the woods to the cafe.
Headliner: Adrenalin Quarry, Near Liskeard
Let them get wet and go wild on colossal inflatables, hang loose on mega zip wires and giant swing, or get jumping off cliffs, this flooded former quarry is a fun day out for the whole family. Great for stroppy teens too – throwing axes at tree trunks is all part of the fun, as is go karting, swimming and loads more too.
In-the-know intel: Retallack Aqua Park, St Columb Major
Jump, splash, bounce, climb and slide at the huge ‘total wipeout’ style floating inflatable Aqua Park, including the FlowRider (above), at Retallack Resort – well, if it’s good enough for Romeo Beckham, who was snapped there last summer. This huge inflatable Aqua Park has a giant trampoline, catapult, water wheel, ‘stepping stones’ climbing wall, slides, blast bags, challenging balance beams as well as wake boarding.
Headliner: Trebah Gardens, Helford
Floral fiend? The sub-tropical gardens of Trebah take you through four miles of footpaths down to a private beach on the river Helford. A garden for all seasons, the expert exotic planting transports you to sunnier climes, and spring comes early with the magnificent camellias and magnolias. With countless secret corners to pause a while and dream, Trebah is much loved by visitors who return time after time. Little ones love the space to play, the maze and the outdoor theatre and dogs are welcome too.
In-the-know intel: Pencarrow, near Bodmin
From formal landscaping to ancient woodlands, there is plenty to explore in the gardens of historic house, Pencarrow. It’s particularly good for those who like circular walks and some have excellent wheelchair access, although it’s only open on specific weekends from October – March. The snowdrop and bluebell walks are among Cornwall’s best – keep an eye on dates for next years. Kids go free.
Headliner: Tate St Ives
The Tate St Ives re-opened in 2017 following an extension and refurb – expanding the old gallery that was created from a converted gas works in 1993. Almost a quarter of a million visitors head to the gallery literally on the beach in St Ives every year – seeking inspiration and to view modern and contemporary art work. The St Ives art scene is well documented, with leading figures Barbara Hepworth, Patrick Heron, Naum Garbo, Ben Nicholson and many more drawn to this corner of the Duchy by the amazing light and landscape – but you can also see works by others, such as Rothko and Mondrian. Don’t miss the view from the top floor cafe and restaurant, out across the iconic St Ives roof tops to the Atlantic.
In-the-know intel: Jackson Foundation Gallery
Take the road out of St Ives towards Zennor and Lands End and you’ll come to the small town of St Just-in-Penwith. A surprising location for an environmentally informed gallery space – until you realise this down-to-earth town is where leading British contemporary artist Kurt Jackson calls home. Jackson works in mixed media, drawing inspiration from the Cornish landscape around Penwith (and elsewhere in Britain) creating enormous canvases which contrast with the steel and concrete gallery – inviting inspection and reflection. Jackson is also artist in resident at Glastonbury – sadly his 50th anniversary exhibition was one of the casualties of lockdown.
Headliner: Minack Theatre, Porthcurno
Perched on the cliffs above the sea, literally carved out of the rocks, the Minack Theatre is one of the most extraordinary theatres in the UK, with all performances in the open air and views across Porthcurno and the surrounding coastline. You’d expect this place to be ancient, but actually, if you’d visited in 1931, standing where the stage is now, you’d have been clinging to a sloping cliff, knee deep in gorse, with a ninety-foot drop to the sea behind you. Back then the drama was made by nature alone. Now, watch some of the finest theatre the UK has to offer, all under the stars. Also worth a trip to learn about the history and see round when there are no performances.
In-the-know intel: Wildworks
Wildworks create theatrical, site-specific experiences – from beaches, clifftops and woodlands to car parks and disused quarries, from derelict department stores to medinas, from refugee camps to castles. There is no one specific location to find them at – Wild Works create their art around unique spaces across the globe from their base in Cornwall (their most recent show was performed at the cliffs at Botallack on Cornwall’s wild Tin Coast) inviting the audience to join them on emotional and physical journeys. It’s immersive but not necessarily participatory and performances are unforgettable, with tickets selling out quickly.
Headliner: Land’s End
Penn-an-Wlas (or Land’s End in Cornish) is the clear headliner for Cornish sight-seeing. The mythical headland and the most south-westerly point of the UK, has drawn tourists for hundreds of years and of course is the start or finish point for walkers, runners and cyclists completing covering the entire length of the British Isles from Land’s End to John o’Groats, a distance of 838 miles. The tourist complex at Land’s End is actually about 200m south of the headland itself, but does have the benefit of hosting the iconic signpost, and received worldwide fame in summer 2012 when the London Olympics Torch Relay began at Land’s End.
In-the-know intel: Nanjizel Beach & SW Coast Path
This secluded cove of Nanjizal with it’s famous ‘Song of the Sea’ arch also has a Caribbean-worthy turquoise pool in front – and is found just along the coast from Land’s End. We think the circular walk starting from Trevascan (just down the road from Sennen) gives you the best of all worlds; a gorgeous walk, one of Cornwall’s famed ‘secret beaches’ (with it’s own mermaid pool) and then the breathtaking massive granite cliffs as Land’s End comes into sight, with a perfect view of the huge arched rock, Armed Knight and the Longships rocks and lighthouse. More effort than just turning up at Land’s End visitor centre, granted, but we think it’s worth it.