The mecca of family holidays, Cornwall has plenty to offer visitors of all ages, and with prices to suit all pockets. Here’s a selection of attractions and activities.
Discover the Cornish Alps
With its extra-terrestrial biomes built in a former China Clay quarry, the Eden Project has established itself as one of Cornwall’s must-see destinations. See bananas growing in the Rainforest Biome and olives in its Mediterranean counterpart – and in the gardens, you can enjoy storytelling, dance, theatre, carnival, parkour and pop-up performances – look out for the historic Ordinalia trilogy, written in Cornish in the 14th century, on August 12 and 13. You can expect to pay just shy of £80 for a family of four, but there is a trail on the Outer Estate (in collaboration with theatre company Kneehigh) that you can do for free. Download the Walk With Me app and tour wildflower meadows and woodlands, discovering sculpture and views of the Cornish Alps – the landscaped spoil tips of the china clay industry. Every so often, a story will kick in, gathered by author Wyl Menmuir from local residents to give a flavour of life in the ‘Clay’ villages both past and present.
Find a Cornish Pisky
Everyone loves a Cornish pisky, and you can meet a whole gang of them on the Lizard peninsula, in the charming village of Coverack. Each is handmade by sisters Caroline and Angela, from their tiny button nose to their curly boots – even the bootlaces are hand-tied. Pick up a trail for £2.50 from Coverack Village Stores or the Old Mill Shop. Follow the route and write down the names of the tiny hiding piskies – the first letter of their names will spell out a mystery pisky phrase which can be entered into a prize draw to win a cheeky little chappy of your own. Don’t forget to finish with a scoop of Roskilly’s ice cream, made just up the road.
Play in the park
At the epicentre of Cornwall’s Central Mining District, once the richest square mile in the world, in 2012 Heartlands saw new life breathed into a site dotted with Grade II* listed mine buildings. As well as enjoying an extremely popular children’s play park and superior café facilities, you can also relax in the Diaspora Gardens, planted with specimens from countries that saw an influx of Cornish miners, known as “Cousin Jacks”; it’s estimated that as many as half a million mine workers left the county from 1815 onwards, in search of work in places like South America, Australia, India and South Africa. Cornwall’s mining heritage is seen as key to the hardy character, pioneering spirit and taste for adventure of its people, and there is nowhere better to celebrate it than Heartlands, where a resident exhibition has been refreshed thanks to a significant Culture Recovery Grant awarded by the National Lottery last year. Even better, entry is free.
Dip your toes in a sea pool
It’s great to swim in the sea at one of Cornwall’s many lifeguarded beaches, but for something a bit special, try one of our historic sea pools. Jubilee Pool, the UK’s largest Art Deco seawater lido, takes pride of place on Penzance’s promenade. It opened to great fanfare in May 1935, the year of King George V’s silver jubilee; more recently, a £1.8m investment project saw a geothermally heated section open in September, ensuring year-round bathing – “It’s too cold” will never be a good enough excuse not to dunk here.
At Cornwall’s most northerly tip, you’ll find Bude Sea Pool, which also dates back to the 1930s and has a passionate local following – indeed, the support of friends, donors and local business sponsors not only saved it from closure in 2010, but has funded it ever since, so you can swim there for free.
Alternatively, make your way to the other end of Summerleaze beach, by Barrel Rock, and follow the cobbled causeway to Tommy’s Pit. Named after Sir Thomas Acland, this secluded pool was opened in 1859 as a men-only bathing area – you’ll be pleased to hear that in the 21st century, girls are allowed.
Climb a hill
In a county known for its legendary kings – not least Arthur – why not climb a hill and be king of the world for the day? Summits of choice include rugged Roughtor, on Bodmin Moor (head for Camelford and turn right to find the National Trust car park); St Agnes Beacon, overlooking the stunning north coast engine houses of Wheal Coates; Carn Brea, topped by the majestic monument to mine owner Sir Francis Basset; and Trencrom Hill near St Ives, one of the few places in Cornwall where you can see both north and south coasts from a single point.
Explore ancient culture
English Heritage is well known for its big sites: jaw-dropping Tintagel castle and Tudor Pendennis, with its summer jousting demonstrations. But you can also find out how Cornish folk lived 1,800 years ago by visiting Chysauster, near Penzance. With stone houses laid out along a village street, this is one of the best-preserved ancient villages in Britain, its location chosen for its natural water source, open space for agriculture and far-reaching views to spot the approach of any potential attackers. It’s now managed by English Heritage, as is the Hurlers stone circle at Minions on Bodmin Moor. Legend has it that these were once men who were turned to stone for playing the ancient game of hurling on the Sabbath; two others suffered the same fate for playing music, and now stand close by, two isolated stones known as the Pipers.
Take a rollercoaster ride
At Flambards, near Helston, you can take a spin on the Hornet Rollercoaster, check out the amazing views from the top of SkyRaker, brave the Thunderbolt, feel the G-Force on the Sky-Force ride and prepare to get wet on the Colorado River log flume. Or head for Camel Creek near Wadebridge, for exhilarating rides including the park’s newest roller-coaster, The Airbender, and a state-of-the-art 5D cinematic simulator – ‘Mission SIMpossible’ showing the short film Da Vinci’s Touch, about the true story behind Mona Lisa’s smile. At both sites, there is plenty of gentler entertainment and cuddly mascots to please little ones.
Visit a wildlife haven
Just as we humans love Cornwall, so does the rich variety of wildlife which makes the most of its many habitats. Learn about nature with Cornwall Wildlife Trust, through wildlife-themed events such as Rockpool Rambles, Minibeast Safaris and making bird boxes. The trust looks after 59 reserves across Cornwall, all havens for rare wildlife and habitats, from buzzards to ancient woodland, dragonflies to the fantastic marine wildlife in our seas. Many of these are open for public exploration, for free. Look out, too, for the two RSPB sites – Marazion Marsh and Hayle Estuary – offering free access to bird watching hides.
Go on a time-trip
Did you know there are more than 70 museums in Cornwall? These range from the former military barracks that is now Bodmin Keep, to the 1970s’ time capsule of Elliott’s Grocery Store in Saltash. At a deeper level, museums play a critical role in linking us to our past and helping us to shape the future, exploring the most profound questions humans can ask about why we are here. But they are also just fun places for families to hang out. The Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro is home to many illustrious artworks and a serious studies library, but kids just love opening the drawers in the Rashleigh mineral collection, or the thrill of seeing an actual Egyptian mummy up close.
Find a list at www.museumsincornwall.org.uk
Indulge in a simple pleasure
So many of our happiest childhood memories involve the simplest of activities. Take crabbing, for example: it’s cheap, fun and a great way to learn about sea life. All you need is a bit of bacon, a fishing line, a bucket for your catch, a good spot at high tide – Custom House Quay in Falmouth, for example, or Summerleaze beach in Bude – and plenty of patience. Marvel at what you find, handle it gently then put it back. Find our kids’ guide to crabbing here:
Kids stuff: an essential guide to crabbing (visitcornwall.com)