Here are some tips to help you find the best days out in Cornwall! These family-friendly activities include everything from open-air theatre and glorious gardens to ancient castles and brilliant watersports
Words: Madeleine Barber
1. FOR SHORELINE THEATRICS
The Minack Theatre, Porthcurno
Photo: Visit Cornwall
This waterside open-air theatre thrives during the summer, when a programme of drama, musicals, opera, comedy and storytelling takes place. The 1930s-built theatre is made from granite boulders, its construction orchestrated by Rowena Cade, who lived in Minack House on the clifftop at the time. The theatre’s first performance was The Tempest in August 1932, but today you can catch the likes of Port Isaac’s Fisherman’s Friends and The Three Belles. Entry fees are around £4.50 for adults and £2.20 for under 15s (minack.com). Stay in Helpful Holidays’ The Upper Deck, which sleeps six (helpfulholidays.co.uk).
2. FOR EXPANSIVE GARDENS
Lost Gardens of Heligan, Pentewan
Photo: Julian Stephens/Heligan Gardens Ltd
For a real-life ‘Secret Garden’ experience head to the Lost Gardens of Heligan. They were only discovered 25 years ago on a grand estate, which now amasses to 200 acres of cultivated and farmed land, planted plots for pleasure and Cornwall’s only outdoor jungle garden. It’s here that visitors can duck and dive under giant rhubarb, banana plantations and avenues of palms before passing ponds on a raised boardwalk. The sub-tropical environment also contains a 100-foot-high Burmese rope bridge, which is not for the acrophobic. Keep an eye out for the Giant’s Head, Mud Maid and Grey Lady on the Woodland Walk before stopping off at the Heligan Kitchen and Bakery. Garden admission costs around £12.50 for adults, £6 for children and is free for under 5s (heligan.com). Stay at Penpol in the village of Mevagissey. Sleeps six-12 (kateandtoms.com).
3. FOR SEASIDE CYCLING
The Camel Trail, the Camel Estuary
Photo: Matt Jessop/Visit Cornwall
This renowned cycle route runs between Wenfordbridge and Padstow, passing through Bodmin and Wadebridge. The 18-mile trail follows a disused railway and routes through a Special Area of Conservation, which makes for stunning surroundings. Most of the trail is free from traffic and steep inclines, so it’s a family-friendly cycle ride, and it offers spectacular views of the Camel Estuary, which are ideal for picnic backdrops. There is free access all year round to the Camel Trail and bikes are available for hire from Padstow and Wadebridge (visitcornwall.com). Stay at Retallack Resort (retallackresort.co.uk).
4. FOR LOBSTER CONSERVATION
National Lobster Hatchery, Padstow
Sustainable seas are something that we should all be striving for. The work of the National Lobster Hatchery – a marine conservation, research and education charity – is helping us preserve marine biodiversity by aiding baby lobsters through their early life and releasing them into the wild. On a visit to the lobster hatchery, you will learn all about marine conservation, see young lobsters (as well as the resident giant lobster), and take part in fun activities, which are available for all ages. Don’t forget to visit the Little Shop of Lobsters and, if you like, adopt a lobster yourself. Admission fees are around £3.75 for adults, £1.75 for children, and under 5s go free (nationallobsterhatchery.co.uk). Stay at Little Dukes in the heart of Padstow. Sleeps four (cornishhorizons.co.uk).
If you’re searching for a staycation hotspot for your Cornish break, try these top Cornwall hotels. And if you’re wanting fun for the whole family without having to leave behind your beloved pooch, try out these dog-friendly hotels in Cornwall.
5. FOR WATERSPORTS
Extreme Academy, Watergate Bay
Photo: Adam Gibbard/Visit Cornwall
Watergate Bay Beach, a two-mile stretch of golden sand with dynamic waves, is one of the best places in the country to go surfing. The neighbouring Extreme Academy is the go-to for surfing tuition here, as it offers professional instructors and all the latest equipment. Other sports available are bodyboarding, kitesurfing, traction-kiting, stand-up paddlesurfing, waveskiing and hand-planing. Can’t decide which one to try? Then book in for an ‘extreme day’, where you can pick and choose sports. A day surf and hire costs £47. Lessons from £95 and extreme days from £85 (extremeacademy.co.uk). Stay at Beach Retreats (beachretreats.co.uk), Hendra Holiday Park (hendra-holidays.com), Porth Beach Holiday Park (porthbeach.co.uk) or The Park (mawganporth.co.uk).
6. FOR RESCUED WILDLIFE
Cornish Seal Sanctuary, Gweek
Surrounded by 40 acres of undulating countryside, the Cornish Seal Sanctuary is a haven for stray, sick and injured seal pups that are discovered along the coast of Cornwall. The centre provides educational talks about how seals are rescued, rehabilitated and released. Look out for the sanctuary’s beloved cross-eyed Ray, who is suspected to be brain damaged, and Babyface, who is living with one eye at the grand old age of 32. If tums get hungry, the Seal Sanctuary Café provides tasty titbits and, in summer, a barbecue. When bought online, tickets last seven days and cost around £10.46 for adults and £8.75 for kids (visitsealife.com). Stay at Crab Pot Cottage, 20 minutes from the sanctuary. Sleeps six (porthlevenholidaycottages.co.uk).
7. FOR COASTAL CULTURE
Tate St Ives and the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden, St Ives
Photo: A Barbara Hepworth sculpture entitled Two Forms (Divided Circle) 1969, copyright Tate Bowness, photographer Tate, Marcus Leith
Long known for being an artists’ hub, it’s no surprise that St Ives has acquired so many illustrious art galleries. The most prominent is Tate St Ives, which is a stone’s throw from Porthmeor Beach and offers stimulating exhibitions from renowned artists. Around the corner is Barbara Hepworth’s Museum and Sculpture Garden, where visitors can explore her artworks in their natural habitat. Activity trails and sculpture quests are available for children. Check the website for prices and opening times (tate.co.uk). Stay at The White Lantern, which sleeps four (carbisbayholidays.co.uk).
Read next 10 Best Cornish Galleries
8. FOR ICONIC BIOMES
The Eden Project, Bodelva
This eco-friendly site is speckled with biomes, Mediterranean and rainforest ecosystems, and outdoor gardens brimming with plants and sculptures. Don’t miss the giant bee amidst the flowerbeds, the WEEE Man (a seven-metre-high sculpture showing how much electronic waste a British household discards in a lifetime) or the chance to tread the rainforest canopy walkway. For adrenaline-seekers, the Eden Project is home to England’s longest zip-wire and a giant swing.. Check the website for closings and training days. When booked in advance, tickets cost around £22.50 for adults and £12.60 for kids (edenproject.com). Stay in a property at The Bay Talland (thebaytalland.com).
9. FOR NAUTICAL HISTORY
National Maritime Museum, Falmouth
Photo: Toby Weller
Packed with historical artefacts, the National Maritime Museum Cornwall will not disappoint. Hosting a range of exciting exhibitions throughout the year, the museum aims is to enrich your understanding of how the sea has influenced history and culture across the world, and to educate visitors about Falmouth and Cornwall’s maritime heritage. The museum also provides activities, workshops and lectures. Admission is around £12 for adults, £8.50 for children and under 5s go free (nmmc.co.uk). Stay at La Mouette, which sits above Falmouth town. Sleeps six (holidaycornwall.co.uk).
10. FOR A UNIQUE CASTLE
Tintagel Castle, Tintagel
Photo: English Heritage
The thrill of visiting this Cornish castle comes from its natural topography. It’s split across an eroded headland, so part of the castle is perched on an island while the rest remains on the mainland. In the wards on the mainland, search for Dark Age pottery, before crossing the chasm to the island and climbing stone steps to the castle’s Great Hall and chapel dedicated to local saint St Juliot. Also on the island are rectangular huts and the Iron Gate, which guards the only landing-spot on the isle. It’s an ideal day out for avid explorers and history buffs. Entry fees are around £7.20 for adults and £4.30 for children (english-heritage.org.uk). Stay at Trevalley House, which sleeps seven (cornishhorizons.co.uk).