More insider guides for planning a trip to Cornwall
Cornwall is defined by its magnificent coastline with over 300 miles of dunes and cliffs, medieval harbours, and oak-forested creeks – every mile accessible on foot and with plenty of things to do along the way. There is surfing on the north coast, sailing and paddle boarding on the south and all kinds of water craft for hire from picture-book harbours. Tucked away in sheltered valleys are the county’s justly celebrated sub-tropical gardens stocked with specimens from five continents collected by Victorian planthunters. Many have a country house attached, which is open to the public and has activities for children to keep everyone engaged.
The beautiful remote Land’s End and Lizard peninsulas are Cornwall in microcosm: heather-covered moorland rich in Iron Age standing stones, recovered villages and forts; sandy coves that can be reached only on foot; a wealth of Georgian manors and tin mines, and a strong community of artists and craft workers. Visit in the last week of May when artists open their studios.
Discover the artistic legacy of St Ives
The special quality of the light here has drawn artists to St Ives for over a century, particularly in the post-war years when its avant-garde abstract works were acclaimed worldwide. To celebrate this legacy, an extension to Tate St Ives opened in late 2017 enabling the gallery to show a permanent collection of works by Hepworth, Nicholson, Gabo and Frost as well as seasonal exhibitions.
Contact: 01736 796226; tate.org.uk
Opening times: Daily, 10am-5.20pm
Climb to the top of a tidal island
Reached on foot at low tide across a causeway, this former medieval monastery, now home to the St Aubyn family, has been sensitively restored and de-cluttered to show life on the St Michael’s Mount in the 17th century. The chapel has sublime stained glass and holds services on Sundays. Don’t miss the terraced gardens. Arrive in time for the 1pm gardener-led tour from April to June.
Insider tip: You can walk across the causeway for 90 minutes either side of low tide, otherwise take the ferry. Check tide times at metoffice.gov.uk/weather.
Contact: 01736 710265; stmichaelsmount.co.uk
Opening times: Sun-Fri, 10.30am-5pm (March to November)
Disappear down a tin mine
Geevor, one of Cornwall’s last working tin mines, closed in 1990 but the interior remains as if the miners have just finished their shift. Knowledgeable, enthusiastic guides – some are former workers – bring the buildings to life with anecdotes of the miners’ lives as they take visitors through the ore processing works and into one of the underground tunnels. The café serves an excellent pasty.
Insider tip: Walk along the cliffs to the National Trust’s Levant Mine on the cliff’s edge to see a working 1840s beam engine as featured in Poldark. Guided tours are scheduled for 11am from April to October.
Contact: 01736 788662; geevor.com
Opening times: April-September: Sun-Fri, 9am-5pm; October-March: Sun-Fri, 10am-4pm
Peep at parrots
Aptly named, Paradise Park in Hayle began as a conservation and breeding centre for parrots and macaws but has now spread its wings. As well as more than 100 species of parrot housed in large aviaries in a sub-tropical garden, there are endangered red pandas, penguins and otters. Children will love the petting farm and Jungle Barn indoor play area. The Otter Cafe serves good food.
Insider tip: Time your visit to catch the Eagles of Paradise show at noon (Easter-Sept) when Archie the Bald Eagle and Andros the Harris Hawk put on a flying display.
Contact: 01736 751020; paradisepark.org.uk
Opening times: Daily, 10am-6pm (reduced hours during winter)
Walk around Britain’s most southerly point
The National Trust, having failed to secure Land’s End, redeemed itself by buying Lizard Point. The only buildings on this flower-covered headland are two old-fashioned cafés. The walking here is some of the best on the Cornish coastal footpath: head west to explore the red serpentine marble caves at Kynance Cove or east to thatched Cadgwith and its crab-fishing fleet.
Insider tip: Pick up a pasty from Ann’s Pasties in Lizard village. They are sold from an egg-yellow house on Beacon Terrace, and are handmade using local beef, potato, turnip and onion in the traditional way.
Contact: 01326222170; nationaltrust.org.uk
Discover the most connected place on the planet
In the 19th century Cable & Wireless pioneered international telecommunications using undersea cables that connected Porthcurno, a sandy cove near Land’s End, with the rest of the world. The Telegraph Museum Porthcurno tells the extraordinary story – and why undersea cables remain important even in today’s wireless world. After a £2.5 million refit, which introduced many more family-focused activities, it’s a great choice for a rainy day.
Insider tip: Stroll down to Porthcurno Beach, one of the most photographed in Cornwall. On a very low tide you can walk all the way to Logan’s Rock, a natural climbing frame for older children.
Contact: 01736 810966; telegraphmuseum.org
Opening times: Daily, 10am-5pm (reduced hours during winter)
Seek out Shakespeare on the cliffs
Few open-air theatres can boast a more impressive backdrop than the Minack, a natural granite amphitheatre curling around an azure bay. The story of Rowena Cade’s extraordinary feat in transforming her cliffside garden into a Greek-style theatre is told in the small museum. You can tour the theatre by day but it is at its most magical on performance nights. The café has wrap-around sea views.
Insider tip: Seats for shows are rarely available on the day. Book online well in advance and bring warm windproof clothes and a rug even on a summer’s evening.
Contact: 01736 810181; minack.com
Opening times: Daily, 10am-5pm, March to October; closes at 4pm in winter; performance times vary
The South Coast
Go birdwatching on the river
There’s a real sense of remoteness along Helford River where ancient oaks dip their branches into tidal creeks. Koru Kayaking has pioneered guided tours along its tranquil waters full of bird life in two-person sea kayaks. The trips are suitable for families with children over five. In summer there’s an opportunity to swim in Frenchman’s Creek, the inspiration for Daphne du Maurier’s eponymous novel, before paddling back to shore.
Insider tip: The kayaks set off from Budock Vean Hotel’s private beach. Afterwards book a soothing hot stones massage at its highly-regarded spa.
Contact: 07794 321827; korukayaking.co.uk
Opening times: February-December: trips begin at 10am, 1pm and 4pm (can vary due to tide times and sea conditions)
Explore a garden for all seasons
Set in a deep valley winding down to the sea, Trebah has the appearance of a Himalayan cloud forest transported to Cornwall. Camellias, magnolias, azaleas and hydrangeas flood the 25-acre garden with colour. It’s particularly family friendly with an inventive adventure playground and special children’s plant-spotting trails. Dogs are welcome in the garden and on its private pebbly beach.
Insider tip: Locals flock to Trebah’s Kitchen restaurant for its Sunday roasts (advance reservations essential). A beautifully designed indoor-outdoor space it also serves fabulous homemade cakes and, naturally, Cornish cream teas.
Contact: 01326 252200; trebahgarden.co.uk
Opening times: Daily, 10am-4.30pm
Find Eden in a transformed clay pit
The world’s largest rainforest in captivity is inside the Eden Project; there’s even a waterfall inside one of the massive ‘Biomes’ which are architectural wonders in themselves. The crowds can be tiresome on a dull summer’s day so visit in sunshine. It’s not all about the plants, though. Eden has Britain’s longest zipwire, the SkyWire, which is the nearest you’ll get to flying.
Insider tip: To get the most out of a visit prebook a private guided tour of the rainforest or the Mediterranean Biome. Call 01726 811903 to arrange; it costs £65 for up to eight people. Tours last 90 minutes and are led by staff.
Contact: 01726 811911; edenproject.com
Opening times: Daily, 10am-6pm (check website for maintenance closures)
Rediscover a Victorian country house garden
The Lost Gardens of Heligan are magical. Rediscovered by Tim Smit, the man behind the Eden Project, this is an astonishing recovery of a full-blown Victorian country house garden. The site is extensive so it’s possible to find peace here even in high summer. Beyond the flamboyant Himalayan spring garden are productive Edwardian fruit, flower and vegetable gardens and, deeper in the valley, shady pools where damselflies dance.
Insider tip:Lobb’s Farm Shop, to the right of the garden entrance, is one of the county’s best farm shops with a superb selection of local meats and cheeses among its wide range of produce.
Contact: 01736 845100; heligan.com
Opening times: Daily, 10am-6pm
Tread through a Tudor time warp
Tucked away on the banks of the River Tamar, the National Trust’s Cotehele is a jewel of a Tudor manor held in a time warp. In the hands of the Edgcumbe family for 600 years, its truss-roofed Great Hall and collection of embroidered fabrics and tapestries are worth the journey alone. The gardens are famous for their drifts of daffodils in spring and rare varieties of apple in autumn.
Insider tip: Don’t miss working Cotehele Mill beside the river. On Thursdays and Sundays from March to October, millers grind organic wholemeal flour which you can buy to take home.
Contact: 01579 351346; nationaltrust.org.uk
Opening times: Garden open daily, dawn to dusk; house open 11am-4pm, March to October
Wrestle with a shark
Professional fisherman Patrick Davis takes up to six anglers in his specially adapted boat Invictus (£450 a day for boat and equipment rental) out of Looe. Someone reels in a shark on nearly every outing or, if you’re unlucky, a bucketful of mackerel, garfish and whiting to take home.
Insider tip: Davis has built Britain’s biggest glass-bottomed boat which he’s launching this summer. It will offer one-hour cruises around the bay rich in fish and sea life and has underwater lights for night cruises.
Contact: 07853 391090; fishing-cornwall.co.uk
Opening times: Trips available all year
The North Coast
Spend a day among the animals
One of Britain’s best, Newquay Zoo has 130 species including lions, meerkats, monkeys and zebras living in habitats that try to give them a feeling of home. The Tropical House is not for arachnophobes: it’s a den of hairy spiders, cute frogs and deadly snakes. Children will love it. Check the website for details of daily feeding times and keeper talks.
Insider tip: The Junior Zookeeper Experience lets children meet the keepers and feed and handle some of the animals. It costs £70 a child and is very popular, so book far in advance.
Contact: 01637 873342; newquayzoo.org.uk
Opening times: Daily, 10am-6pm (closes 4.30pm in winter)
Master the waves
Newquay is the home of UK surfing but the waves can be big and the sea crowded on summer days. Instead head for the gentler swell at Watergate Bay, a few miles to the east, where the sand shelves gently into the sea and there’s plenty of space to hone your skill. The Extreme Academy’s teachers are all qualified lifeguards and the wetsuits fit properly.
Insider tip: If you want to try something a little less strenuous, the Academy has a big choice of other tuitored courses including paddle boarding, wave-skiing or the latest craze of hand-planing.
Contact: 01637 860840; extremeacademy.co.uk
Opening times: Daily, 9am-5pm
Cook up a storm in Padstow
If you’ve ever wanted to know how to fillet a bass or rip apart a lobster, Rick Stein’s cookery school overlooking Padstow harbour is the place to head. The short courses, taught by Stein’s own chefs, are hugely enjoyable – even if you’re a beginner. It’s not all about fish either. There are day courses on Indian curries, Spanish tapas and Italian pasta.
Insider tip: This summer the cookery school is running one-dish evening workshops (6.30-8.30pm). Ideal if you want to learn the secret of a successful Malaysian laksa or perfect your tarte tatin.
Contact: 01841 532700; rickstein.com
Opening times: One- to four-day courses, year-round
Cycle the Camel Trail
The 18-mile, traffic-free Camel Trail along a disused railway line between Wenfordbridge on Bodmin Moor and Padstow is popular with walkers, cyclists, riders and wheelchair users. The loveliest stretch is from Wadebridge to Bodmin where, if you time it right, you can watch the Bodmin and Wenford Railway’s steam locomotive puff into Boscarne Junction (see bodminrailway.co.uk for timetable).
Insider tip: The award-winning Camel Valley Vineyard offers a Grand Tour and Tasting at 5pm on summer Wednesdays; advance reservation is essential. There's also shorter guided tours from Monday to Friday, April to October.
Contact: Bridge Bike Hire on 01208 813050; bridgebikehire.co.uk
Opening times: Daily, 9am-5pm for hiring; return can be late
Walk through a cornucopia of Victoriana
A grand house on a grand estate, Lanhydrock House vividly evokes High Victorian ideals: the careful segregation of public and private, male and female, master and servant. The Robartes family changed very little in the 20th century so it feels as if they have just stepped out for a while. There’s also a magnificent 17th-century plaster ceiling in the long gallery which has been beautifully restored.
Insider tip: Do explore the woodlands and the formal garden where guided tours are available daily (March to October), leaving from The Gatehouse at 11.15am and 2.15pm.
Contact: 01208 265950; nationaltrust.org.uk
Opening times: March to October: daily, 11am-5.30pm