Geographically, Cornwall might be the toe of Britain but with centuries of history, it’s home to some incredible stone circles, castles and cathedrals as well as verdant parks and gardens. Dip your toe in, and you’ll find yourself sightseeing for days as there are so many wonderful places to visit in Cornwall.
Attractions in Cornwall
It’s hard to know where to start – with more castles, cathedrals and stone circles than you could shake a cannon ball at, Cornwall is littered with historic buildings. Perhaps the most evocative is St. Michael’s Mount. Follow the causeway at low tide and make your way out to the island steeped in history. With photo opportunities at every turn, the castle – complete with working portcullis – dates back to the 17th century and is in excellent condition after a recent renovation. The sub-tropical gardens are equally impressive, with the Gulf Stream creating a warm climate that lets agave and aloe plants grow across the island. Plan your visit in advance as the tides are crucial – you can make the short walk over from Marazion at low tide as long as the causeway is open, or alternatively catch a boat over at high tide for just a few quid.
Another ocean-going concern, the Lizard Lighthouse & Heritage Centre dates back to 1751 when it was commissioned to steer boats clear of the Cornish cliffs. Located on the tip of the most southern point of England, the lighthouse is now a dedicated visitor centre packed full of history and incredible views across the Atlantic ocean. There’s plenty for adults and children including morse code sessions, semaphore flags and – for fans of incredibly loud noises – you can even power up the foghorn. Closed on Fridays and Saturdays, and for much of the winter, entry is around a tenner for adults and a fiver for children.
One of only three cathedrals with three spires, Truro Cathedral was finished in 1910 and designed with a strong Gothic Revival feel. Thanks to ongoing renovation work, the cathedral is in excellent condition, while the Father Willis organ remains one of the finest examples of England’s churches. There is an onsite coffee shop and restaurant open from early morning until mid-afternoon and a well-stocked gift shop.
Home to one of the best ceremonial circles in the south-west, Hurlers Stone Circles is one of 150 such sites in the UK. Comprised of three stone circles dating back to the late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age period, the site was excavated in the 1930s and is said to represent men who were turned to stone for playing hurling on a Sunday, the traditional day of rest. Located on Bodmin Moor, there’s plenty of free parking with several cafés in the nearby village of Minions.
St. Mawes Castle, built between 1539 and 1545, was constructed to repulse the naval threat from Spain and France and is a well-maintained fortress brought to life by an audio tour. Eight miles from Truro, the castle is free for English Heritage members, or just over £5 for adults and under £3 for children aged five to 15. Just over the water is Pendennis Castle, another of Henry VIII’s coastal fortresses which also played a large part in the World War l. With castle tours taking in the World War I exhibition, working guns and cannons, the hands-on discovery centre and more, you can easily spend a morning or afternoon exploring the castle and its 360-degree views over to Falmouth.
Further inland, you’ll find Launceston Castle, one of the oldest in the region dating back to the 13th century. The informative exhibition traces the castle’s history over 1,000 years including its spell as a prison. And if the views from the top aren’t memorable enough, there’s a souvenir shop and picnic area.
If you buy into the myth, then Tintagel Castle is where King Arthur was born – but with its rugged coastal views and history dating back to the Romans, this is one of the must-see castles in Cornwall, even if you’re not a believer. Like a set piece from Game of Thrones, the castle is perched at the edge of the headland with the full force of the Atlantic waves crashing down upon it. Entry is under £10 for adults and around £5 for children, with our Bodmin hotel a 30-minute drive away.
St . Michael's Mount
While it might not feel it in midwinter, Cornwall’s climate is technically sub-tropical thanks to the warming Gulf Stream current, meaning it’s a perfect breeding ground for plants and flora. And nowhere is that better demonstrated than the Lost Gardens of Heligan. Rediscovered 25 years ago after being left to grow wild, the gardens have been restored to their previous glory after they were left to ruin in the advent of World War I. Spread over 200 acres, split into distinct areas including a jungle garden, its woodland and producing gardens, some of the plants have survived from as long ago as the 1850s. The park is open year round excluding Christmas Day. The café is a must-visit, with freshly baked bread, and fruit and veg grown in the gardens – breakfast is served 9–11am and lunch midday–2.30pm. Our St. Austell hotel is ideally placed to take it all in, just 20 minutes away by car.
Nestled in a plunging ravine, Trebah Garden is a beautiful 26-acre stretch of greenery ending in a secluded beach. Free to visit, the gardens are home to some exotic plants, trees and shrubs and some seriously good photo opportunities including the dazzling white bridge over the lake. The whole area is dog friendly, and the café does a fine line in coffees, cakes and light bites while an ice cream on the beach after a long walk is one of Cornwall’s unique pleasures.
Penlee Gallery and Museum in Penzance is worth a visit purely for the art and artefacts on display, but the extensive wooded park surrounding it is just as enjoyable. Including a large children’s play area, sensory garden, open-air theatre and Victorian pond, the centrepiece is the Memorial Garden which houses an impressive array of sub-tropical plants.