As well as its temperate climate and majestic coast, Cornwall features a wide array of historical visitor attractions and outdoor activities. Read on for further information.
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History and Culture
The National Maritime Museum in Falmouth exhibits over 100 boats and craft from the last 150 years including artifacts from the famous ocean-liner, the Titanic. Tintagel Castle is also a major historical attraction and is steeped in Arthurian legend. It dates back to the 13th century and is precariously set on the majestic coastline.
Pendennis Castle is also worth seeing and is located at the mouth of the River Fal. Built by Henry VIII to defend against the French, the castle was also used during WWII – underground tunnels built during the conflict can still be seen.
Literary enthusiasts and Daphne Du Maurier fans should enjoy the coastal town of Fowey on the Cornish South coast. The famous author resided there for many years and was influenced by its beauty and character. There’s a literary centre which celebrates her life as well as an annual festival in her name.
Crealy Adventure Park is a popular visitor attraction, especially with children and features a range of roller-coster rides, a playtime farm and a Viking pirate ship. The park includes top-notch facilities and helpful staff devoted to helping visitors make the most out of their day out.
The Eden Project in Bodelva is also hugely popular and is one of the UK’s most important conservationist sites. It includes the world’s largest green house and a selection of biomes which houses exotic plants from around the world. Families are well catered for with a number of nature trails, workshops and play areas.
The World of Model Railways in Mevagissey also provides a good day out and features a wide collection of model trains that run through elaborately made landscapes. There’s also a shop with a wide collection of trains and accessories from leading brand such as Hornby. See our section on Mevagissey below for further information.
Towns and Villages
As well as the major Cornwall visitor attractions discussed above, the county also features a wonderful array of character villages, both on the coast and inland. Here are five of our favourites locations.
Falmouth is set on the Carrick Roads Estuary in South Cornwall, within a short distance of the lovely cathedral city of Truro. It rose to prominence in the 16th century thanks largely to Sir Walter Raleigh, who recommended its development as a working sea port. The town, which is also a major holiday resort, features one of the deepest natural harbours in the world and a selection of historical attractions.
Pendennis Castle is one of Falmouth’s most prominent landmarks. Built by Henry VIII, it is Cornwall’s largest fortress and was designed to protect local shipping alongside its counterpart, St Mawes, on the other side of the estuary. Its visitor center includes interactive exhibitions, scale models and local artifacts, which help bring the castle’s illustrious past to life.
The award-winning National Maritime Museum, situated close the the harbour, houses a collection of historical vessels. These include a fife yacht, a Thames Steam Launch and a collection of dinghys, many of which are suspended from the ceiling. There’s also a lookout tower which includes interactive displays about the buildings and landmarks that can be seen for miles around.
During the summer months boat trips are run, with excursions available to the Helford and Fal Rivers – some go as far as Truro. A number of boat companies can be found along the pier and harbour including Falmouth Boat Hire and Falmouth Pleasure Cruises.
Situated bout 13 miles from Mevagissey, Fowey is a picturesque seasi village. It was once used by warships, many of which became involved in famous confrontations such as the Calais Blockade. Fowey was also a major exporter of china clay, although fishing and tourism are its main industries nowadays. It’s nestled on a wooded hill on the River Fowey and features a warren of narrow streets.
St Catherine’s Castle is a major landmark and overlooks Readymoney Cove. Built by Henry VIII to protect against invasion, its gun placements and battlements remain largely intact. The Iron Age Hill fort, Castle Dore, is also nearby. It is steeped in Arthurian legend and said to be the home of King Mark and Tristan. Although little remains, the countryside views are spectacular.
The Daphne du Maurier Literary Centre celebrates one of Fowey’s most famous residents. She resided for many years at the nearby Polridmouth Cove and penned a number of novels based on her times in Cornwall, such as Jamaica Inn. The Centre features a number of exhibitions about her work and runs a literary festival, usually held in May to commemorate her life and works.
Visitors may also enjoy Fowey Museum. Housed in the old town hall, it features an eclectic collection of items including costumes, model boats and old postcards. Also of historical significance is St Fimbarrus’ Church. Built in the 14th century, it has one of the tallest towers in Cornwall and a pulpit carved from the wood of a Spanish Galleon. A war memorial is located in the churchyard.
Mevagissey is one of Cornwall’s most celebrated holiday destinations. Dating from the 14th century and situated about 13 miles from Fowey, this picturesque fishing village-come-holiday resort, is named after the Irish Saints, Meva and Issey. It features a warren of narrow streets and rows of residential properties, that are perched on the surrounding hills.
The World of Model Railways is an ever-popular attraction. It features more than a 1000 model trains which run on a 00 gauge track through a variety of landscapes. There’s also a children’s railway, a garden railway and a fairground scene which comes to life at night. Visitors wil also enjoy its large shop which stocks models and accessories for youngsters and enthusiasts alike.
The Mevagissey Feast Week Festival takes place during the last days of July each year. It dates back to the mid 18th century and includes a selection of exhibitions, colourful parades, live music and boat races which all culminate with a huge firework display.
Those looking to explore local waters should try the Mevagissey to Fowey Ferry, It travels between the two picturesque ports on a regular basis and also takes in the charming St Austell Bay. The crossing takes about 30 minutes. Fishing is also available from the wharf area of town as well as sea angling. Boat trips can also be arranged which allow visitors to fish for sharks.
Padstow is a picturesque resort on the Camel River estuary in North Cornwall, some 10 miles from Newquay. At one time a thriving fishing port, Padstow has become increasingly popular as both a holiday destination and as a centre for Cornish culinary excellence. The old part of town is a labyrinth of crooked streets which slope down to a small, picturesque harbour.
Crealy Adventure Park is located just outside Padstow and features a large variety of roller-coasters and high-adrenalin rides including a log flume and pirate ship ride. Its indoor section is better suited to the young and has a play house, mazes and a haunted castle.
Padstow Museum offers an insight into the town’s past with a collection of seafaring artifacts including a lifeboat, shipwright’s tools and the ‘Obby ‘Oss’ which celebrates the arrival of summer on every May Day. The Elizabethan house, Prideux Place is also of historical interest and is a striking mix of Elizabethan and Gothic architecture – its gardens are also thought to date back to the 5th century.
The family-run Old MacDonald’s Farm offers a good day out for families. Situated near Porthcothan Bay, this small working farm is home to lambs, chickens, pigs and ponies, all of which can be fed by visitors. There’s also crazy golf facilities and a miniature train. Pony rides can also be arranged.
St Ives is a seaside resort on Cornwall’s north coast. Situated about 8 miles from Penzance, it thrived as a fishing port until the mid 19th century. However, the introduction of the railways and in particular, the St Ives Branch Line, hastened its development as a holiday destination. Much of the town consists of colourful stone cottages which seem to tumble over each other in narrow twisting streets.
The Barbara Hepworth Museum and Art Gallery cements St Ive’s reputation as a cultural centre. It celebrates the artist’s career through a large collection of stone and wood sculptures as well as paintings. Audio walking tours of the museum and sculpture garden are offered free of charge. In addition, torched tours can be arranged through advanced bookings.
The St Ives Museum is also of historical interest and charts the town’s transition from fishing port to holiday resort. It’s split into three areas: mining, fishing and farming. All offer a variety of displays relating to geology, social history and the sea. Audio visual presentations are also run regularly.
Those looking to explore local waters should try St Ives Boats. They run trips around the nearby Seal Island which is home to a colony of Atlantic Grey Seals. Trips last around 1 hour including around 20 minutes of observation of the seals on the island. Fishing trips can also be arranged which utilise both modern and traditional fishing techniques with introductory lessons offered to beginners.
You can learn much more about the major Cornwall visitor attractions and places of historical interest at: https://www.visitcornwall.com
Also see our article on 25 of the best things to do in Cornwall.
Looking to stay in Cornwall? Then take a look at our collection of featured self catering properties in the region.