28 things to do during the summer holidays in Cornwall
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Plan your summer holidays timetable with our ultimate guide to days out and things to do in Cornwall
The Eden Project
The Eden Project has been rightly described as 'iconic' - the gravity-defying biomes rising out of an old clay pit at Bodelva near St Austell. The vision of Tim Smit to build somewhere to showcase the world's most important plants became a reality (after a lot of blood, sweat, tears and fundraising) in March 2001. In the first three months there were over a million visitors. In the intervening 18 years, Eden has grown and grown.
The biomes have become lush and beautiful playgrounds for visitors young and old to explore. An educational charity and a social enterprise, Eden offers a brilliant day out again and again with an annual pass to allow unlimited entry in a year.
Explore the different areas - the Rainforest and Mediterranean Biomes, Outdoor Gardens, Wildlife Cornwall, Western Australia Garden, Invisible Worlds exhibition and art installations like the Giant Bee. Adventureres can tackle the Skywire - England's longest zip wire - and little ones can enjoy the soft play area.
There are lots of refreshments available (this is the home of the World Pasty Championships after all) which reflect Eden's buy local and sustainability policies. To support their policy to cut down on waste, bring your own bottle and refill with free water or your own cup for a hot drink discount.
Check online for advance admission discounts. Visit: edenproject.com
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Land's End offers a wide range of possibilites for families. There's over 100 acres of unspoilt and dramatic coastline with cliffs up to 120 metres high overlooking the Atlantic - landfall at New York is 3,000 miles away. It has a national designation as a Very Important Plant Area and supports a wonderful variety of flora and fauna.
Alongside the natural beauty, there are four attractions and additional entertainment throughout August with family fun days and fireworks displays on Tuesdays and Thursdays (check website for details). Little ones will love Aardman Presents: A Grand Experience featuring iconic Aardman characters Wallace and Gromit, Morph and Shaun the Sheep. Take a look in Wallace and Gromit's living room, experiment in the inventing workshops or help Shaun entertain the flock.
There's a 4D sensory film experience (be prepared for squirting and seats moving!) with Return to the Lost World and the latest interactive technology and special effects to conjure a magically scary world in Arthur's Quest when you can enter the terrible lair of the Dragon. For something more down-to-earth visit Greeb Farm and step back in time into a 200 year-old Cornish farmstead, perfectly restored.
Land's End is famous, of course, for the End to Enders - the people making the journey from here to the furthest reach of Britain, John O'Groats over 800 miles away. You can discover their story in a fascinating exhibition. No visit would be complete without a picture by the famous signpost.
Visit landsend-landmark.co.uk to check out online admission discount.
National Maritime Museum Cornwall
For centuries, Falmouth's deep, natural harbour secured its place on global trade routes with cargoes arriving at their first port of call in England and was the home port of the famous Packet Ships which carried mail around the British Empire and beyond.
This seafaring past makes Falmouth the perfect location for the Cornish outpost of the National Maritime Museum. There's plenty of history and adventure to keep the grown-ups happy with more than 100 boats on permanent display alongside artefacts collected over 150 years by the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society. It is home to the National Small Boat Collection - all craft less than 30ft long.
Younger visitors can head for the Awesome Adventurers Play Zone to dress up and join HMS Adventure, explore a deserted island with an underground cave and waterfall. There are sessions throughout August for little ones to learn how to become pirates. And head up for the Look Out and down for a chance to see below the waves.
The Titanic Stories exhibition, which had been due to close in January this year has been extended to 2020. It includes rare objects and artefacts which have never been seen before alongside personal stories of victims and survivors, including those from Cornwall.
Tate St Ives
St Ives has provided a haven for artists for centuries, attracted by the special quality of the light produced by the combination of sea, sky and sun. Since Victorian times the town has been associated with generations of artists including Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Patrick Heron and Mark Rothko.
Tate began an association with St Ives in 1980 when it took on the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden and a permanent gallery soon followed on the site of a former gasworks overlooking Porthmeor Beach.
It opened in 1993 and welcomes around 240,000 visitors a year. In 2017 the gallery doubled the size of its exhibition space.
This summer Tate Create sessions will encourage young visitors to make colourful and crazy costumes. The concept is inspired by the exhibition of work by Lebanese artist Huguette Caland.
This summer's other exhibition is by Dutch artist Allard van Hoorn who undertook an artistic residency in St Ives. His short films document a decade of projects influenced by his travels
St Michael's Mount
Even the journey to St Michael's Mount, just off the coast at Marazion is magical. You can make the trip from shore to island in a boat or, if the tide is right, walk across the causeway.
The mount is one of Cornwall's most familiar landmarks with its own place in history and mythology. It was home to Bronze Age settlers and after the Norman conquest in 1066 monks from Normandy modelled the church and priory here on their own place of worship, Mont St Michel. It became a place of pilgrimage where four miracles are said to have happened in the mid-17th century. The island's steep terrain is topped by a castle and legend has it that Jack the Giant Killer defeated Cormoran who terrorised the locals.
St Michael's Mount is also a family home - the St Aubyns have lived here for more than two centuries - and you can admire the beautiful Victorian gardens and terraces stocked with plants which thrive in this microclimate. Discover the reality of life on the island which more than 30 people call home.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan
The story of the gardens at Heligan - home to the Tremayne family for more than 400 years - is both tragic and romantic. For centuries they supplied fruit, vegetables and flowers for the estate. When World War I wiped out almost all of the workforce, the gardens fell into decline - the final blow being the devastating hurricanes of 1990. Tim Smit (later to build the Eden Project) and John Willis, a Tremayne descendant, stumbled on a tiny room used by the gardeners with an inscription on the wall 'Don't come here to sleep or slumber' dated August 1914. Today there are more than 200 acres of restored land. Visitors can explore woodlands, meadows of wildflowers, walled gardens, grounds and the farm. This summer Heligan celebrates the bumblebee and the butterfly in a summer of wildflowers and outdoor adventure with crafts and games.
THE BEST DAYS OUT IN CORNWALL FOR ANIMAL LOVERS
Newquay Zoo celebrates its 50th birthday this year. Originally established as a petting zoo, it now houses 130 different species - from antelopes and apes to zebras in 13 acres of sub-tropical gardens. Visit different zones including the savannahs of Africa and the rainforests of South America. Smaller creatures have their own tropical house.
The sanctuary has been caring for primates for more than 50 years - rescuing them from an unsuitable life as pets and but cannot be released into the wild. There are more than 40 monkeys in the family including Capuchins, Barbary Macaques, Woolly Monkeys and Marmosets.
The south-facing gardens overlook Looe Bay and are packed with life including about 285 wildflower species and woodland. There's a Wild Play Area and a wildlife room exhibition which includes a bat cam.
Blue Reef Aquarium
A wonderful underwater world is never far away in Cornwall. Discover more at the Blue Reef Aquarium at Towan Beach in Newquay. There are 40 fishy habitats including sharks, turtles, giant Pacific octopus, lobsters, crabs and corals. There's an underwater tunnel which takes you to the heart of the action
Old Macdonald's Farm
Discover life is like down on the farm, and meet lambs, chickens, ducks, geese, pigs, ponies and calves - alongside the more unusual alpacas and owls. As well as animals, there are tractors, roller racers, trampolines, climbing frames, crazy golf and miniature train and pony rides.
THE BEST DAYS OUT FOR GARDEN LOVERS IN CORNWALL
The 15-acre garden at Trewidden may seem modest compared to some Cornish gardens, but it manages to pack plenty in with a collection of more than 300 camellias and magnolias and one of the largest tree fern dells in Europe, planted in a redundant open-cast tin mine. The magnolias include the Trewidden Belle which is unique to the garden. Camellias have been grown at Trewidden since 1850 with some early plantings still surviving.
Cornwall's mild climate, the family estates and the enthusiasm of Victorian plant hunters has turned the county into a plantsman's paradise. Discover the plant hunter's art at Trengwainton near Penzance where species never before seen in this country started popping up in beds and borders. See magnolias, rhododendrons and subtropical varieties. The thriving walled kitchen garden was built to the proportions of Noah's Ark and there are woodland walks offering sea views across Mount's Bay.
This country estate on the Rame Peninsula has plenty of parkland to explore around the house, which overlooks Plymouth Sound. The Earls Garden was created in the 18th century, close to the original Tudor House. There are more formal gardens below the house, most of them created in the 18-19th centuries
including those devoted to England, Italy, France, New Zealand and America. You'll also find the Fern Dell, the Jubilee Garden, the Rose Garden, the Relic Garden and the Bee Garden. There's also a Camellia Trail and a Tree Trail.
THE BEST DAYS OUT FOR FOODIES IN CORNWALL
Colwith Farm Distillery
Learn how to make your own gin at Cornwall's first plough to bottle distillery. The distillery opened a year ago to produce Stafford's Dry Gin from their award-winning Aval Dor Vodka, made with their own potatoes. The gin features seven Cornish botanicals and joins other spirits with a local flavour -including a limited edition Aval Dor Rose and Hibiscus Vodka.
Camel Valley Wine
Former RAF pilot Bob Lindo turned his passion for wine from a hobby into a thriving business when he created his vineyard at Nanstallon near Bodmin in 1989. Camel Valley are now recognised as makers of good English wine and champions of a Champagne method sparkling wine which beat the more established winemakers of France and Italy. The Camel Valley Sparkling Rosé has been named the best in the world three times. Throughout August there are Grand Tours and Tastings and the shop is open for wine sales and you can enjoy a glass on the terrace overlooking the vines.
Healeys Cyder Farm
Children will love the farm animals and tractor rides and grown-ups can learn all about the production of Cornish cyder. There are acres of beautiful orchards, the first distillery to be built in Cornwall in 300 years and new production facilities to explore. Entry to the farm is free, but it's worth paying for a guided tour of the orchards, the Cyder Museum, the jam and cyder-making facilities and enjoy sampling some of the produce.
The farm shop has lots of local food and drink and there's a restaurant serving up cream teas. You can also press your own apples, for a small donation to charity.
THE BEST QUIRKY DAYS OUT IN CORNWALL
Cornwall has its fair share of unusual places to visit. A good place to start is Bodmin Jail, originally built for King George III in 1779 by prisoners who hauled 20,000 tons of granite from the nearby Cuckoo Quarry.
The imposing building spans six levels and reveals the reality of life for prisoners. The Execution Shed features a fully restored Victorian hanging pit where the last man to be executed in Cornwall died.
Exhibitions detail the hard labour carried out at the jail and the gory history but also reveal fascinating snippets from the past. During World War I the jail held the Domesday Book. and once hid the Crown Jewels.
There are more than 3,000 wrecks around the Cornish coast and this collection of artefacts has taken nearly half a century to amass.
As well as items from local wrecks, there are also exhibits retrieved by vessels that date back to ancient Egypt and Roman times as well as more recent sinkings such as the Scilly Isles disaster of 1707, the Mary Rose and wartime casualties including Royal Oak which was sunk by a German U-Boat in 1939 at Scapa Flow with the loss of 833 lives - one of the worst tragedies in British Naval history.
This open-air auditorium sits on the cliffs at Porthcurno overlooking the sea. The incredible Rowena Cade owned a house at the top of the headland and, alongside her gardener, created an amphitheatre for performances from the rocky landscape by hand. The very first performance here was The Tempest in 1932 and today more than 110,000 a year will see shows here.
THE BEST PLACES TO TAKE YOUR GRANDPARENTS IN CORNWALL
Many grandparents find themselves tasked with entertaining children during the summer holidays. Glendurgan ticks all the boxes - for grown-ups there are the beautiful gardens packed with camellias, magnolias and rhododendrons and lots of local history and wildlife information. Children will love activities aimed at them, the valleys that run down to the Helford River and beach and the laurel maze with child-sized hedges.
Children have their own special trail to follow around Lanhydrock and can discover all about life upstairs and downstairs on this impressive country estate. Learn how the land and Victorian kitchens served the Agar-Robartes family and explore more than 50 rooms including a special suite of children's rooms. Outside there is lots of parkland and ancient riverside woodland to let off steam, cycle trails and a popular adventure playground.
There's a sadness in the effects of young Tommy Agar-Robartes, sent home from the front after he was killed by a sniper in France during World War I.
Pendennis Castle was built by Henry VIII overlooking the river and sea at Falmouth has played a role at key moments over the centuries from Tudor times to World War II.
In August there's six days of the Grand Medieval Joust when armour-clad knights compete to prove their superior power. Discover the secrets of their armour and weaponry and hear medieval executioner's most gruesome and gory stories.
Would-be young challengers can compete in their own battles. There's a feast of medieval entertainments and treats with Jester Peterkin and birds of prey.
Lappa Valley Railway
Who doesn't love a steam train? At Lappa Valley at St Newlyn East near Newquay, you will arrive and depart the leisure park by steam train. Once in the park, there are two more steam railway lines - this time miniature tracks.
A single admission includes train travel, canoeing lake, crazy golf, pedal cars and indoor play carriages. There's beautiful Nature trails and a brick and turf maze for toddlers inspired by Cornishman Richard Trevithick's railway locomotive of 1804 which was the first in the world to run on rails. Reach the middle to ring the bell.
BEST FOR HISTORY LOVERS
Trerice is a perfect time capsule - an Elizabethan manor house once the home of the Arundell family and surprisingly close to Newquay. Away from the busy streets and beaches of Newquay this is an oasis of calm.
Beautifully restored, one of the centre pieces is the Great Hall window with 576 glass tiles ranging in age from the 16th to 19th centuries. In the early days clear glass was a sign of wealth. The building houses an impressive collection of artefacts including a 300-year-old longcase clock. The gardens reflect the social standing of the house including a turf maze and the intricate Knot Garden in typical Elizabeth style. But don't be fooled - it was created in 2013.
St Mawes Castle
Facing Pendennis Castle on the opposite headland across the Carrick Roads is Henry VIII's St Mawes Castle, a beautifully preserved example of a Tudor coastal artillery fortress. The castles were built to deter a perceived threat by sea from Catholic France and Spain.
St Mawes Castle is built in a clover-leaf shape surrounded by octagonal outer defences. The interior is embellished by carved Latin inscriptions in praise of Henry VIII and his son Edward VI. There are magnificent views along the Fal Estuary and out to sea from the top of the castle.
Pencarrow has been home to the Molesworth-St Aubyn family for almost 500 years and they still occupy a wing of the Georgian home on the edge of Bodmin Moor near Wadebridge surrounded by the glorious Grade II listed gardens. Pencarrow in Cornish means 'head of the valley' or 'high fort' and as you approach the house you will pass an Iron Age hill fort. The house that now standards at the heart of the estate reflected the Georgian fascination for Greek and Roman antiquity inside and out.
Enjoy a guided tour of the house to hear all about its history and admire some of the beautiful art including family portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds, porcelain by Meissen and Sevres, historic furniture and a series of marble busts.
In the garden there are ancient woodlands, a sunken Italian Garden with fountain, an ice house and palm house. Enjoy spotting the towering Araucaria araucana, nicknamed 'the monkey puzzle' tree by an intrigued visitor here.
Cornwall is an area rich in natural resources. At Wheal Martyn the indoor and outdoor museum will help you discover the Victorian clay works, once at the heart of a thriving industry.
Their brand new exhibition featuring the community’s photographs of Clay Country. Borne out of the limitations of the recent lockdown, the #CelebrateClayCountry exhibition celebrates the unique and interesting industrial landscapes of mid-Cornwall. During a period when people were not able to enjoy the clay landscape in person, we asked our social media followers to share their images and thoughts on what the landscape meant to them. This exhibition features a wonderful selection of over 200 responses.
The National Trust has been at the forefront of protecting and preserving Cornwall's tin mining past with the iconic engine houses littering the landscape. It includes the cliffs at Botallack near St Just with Wheal Edward and Wheal Owles which is part of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site, familiar to Poldark fans as the location for the fictional Wheal Leisure.
Also part of the Heritage Site is nearby Levant Mine and Beam Engine which has a restored 1840s beam engine running on steam. It provides a useful insight into the world of tin mining. Other sites which help to tell the story include East Pool Mine with two giant beam engines at Pool near Redruth, the nearby home of Cornish engineer Richard Trevithick - Trevithick Cottage at Penponds - and Wheal Coates near St Agnes on dramatic cliffs carpeted with heather and gorse.