If you’re looking to immerse yourself in the Cornish culture, you don’t have to look very far. From fascinating museums to beautiful Cornwall galleries, there’s something everyone in the family can enjoy.
Culture in Cornwall
In this stunning corner of the country, people grow up with an inherent adoration of the natural world around them. It inspires all kinds of artists, including contemporary painter Kurt Jackson. You can see his work at the Jackson Foundation Gallery, which he runs with his wife. The gallery itself is a vast, renovated industrial building that’s now a wonderful airy home for Jackson’s work, showcasing his holistic vision of nature and the environment.
The Poly is the moniker of The Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society, who have set up shop in their iconic, listed building on Falmouth’s high street. We’ve shoehorned them into our galleries section, but really The Poly is far more than that – they also have a 180-seat theatre, a fully licensed bar, and a shop selling mega-creative stuff from local artists, sculptors, designers and the like. It’s almost enough to distract you from the galleries themselves; the ground floor’s Spring Gallery changes every week, meanwhile, the Main Gallery also showcases Falmouth University’s end-of-year shows.
If you’re in Penzance, pay a visit to the Penlee House Gallery & Museum. The beautiful Victorian building runs an ever-changing programme of exhibitions celebrating Cornish artists. There’s also a permanent display of works by the renowned painters of the local Newlyn School. If that isn’t enough tempting culture for one day, feel free to check out the Penlee House museum and its collections covering 6,000 years of Cornish history.
The Tate St. Ives reopened in 2017 following its £3.9 million refurbishment. The unique project doubled the venue’s stunning new gallery space to nearly 600 square metres, which means it can now comfortably house permanent exhibits dedicated to local artists like Ben Nicholson and Peter Lanyon, while also rolling out a seasonal programme showcasing other contemporary artists from around the world. Even if art isn’t your thing, it’s tough not to appreciate the building’s architecture. Plus, to top it all off – literally – the café on the fourth floor provides some astonishing views across the Atlantic.
Our video guide to Cornwall culture
Down on Discovery Quay, along the Falmouth waterfront, you can pay a visit to the National Maritime Museum Cornwall. The building itself was custom-built on land which used to be chock-a-block with boat builders’ sheds. Inside, the museum celebrates Cornwall’s maritime heritage, and how the seas have shaped the history of the country. You don’t even need to be batty about boats to enjoy a visit here – watching shipwrights in the boat building workshop is interesting for everyone. Plus, with 15 galleries, there are some fascinating exhibits on show – including one that explores how tattoos swept the nation from the seas.
The Charlestown Shipwreck & Heritage Centre in St. Austell tells the story, and showcases the artefacts, of more than 150 local shipwrecks.
If you’d like to take a stroll through Cornwall’s history, head to Truro where the Royal Cornwall Museum celebrates the county’s past and present through over 1,000 historical objects. The exhibits on show are extraordinarily varied – you can dig into the history of tin mining in Cornwall, then cast your eye over a fully preserved Egyptian mummy and sarcophagus. Plus, the interactive displays are great for keeping the kids occupied.
Fancy a really interesting day out? Give the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum a go – honestly! Telegraphs heralded the modern age of worldwide communications, and it’s from here in Porthcurno where the first submarine telegraph cables were laid to connect the UK with the wider world. The tunnels have been converted into a museum, explaining how they’ve helped to shape the planet, and influenced both world wars. Plus there’s a fascinating fibre-optic exhibit that brings things right up to date.
Hidden away in the back streets of St. Ives, you can take a look around the museum, and former home, of one of the UK’s most celebrated sculptors. The Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden was opened in 1976, carrying out the wishes of her will, and has been managed by the Tate since 1980. Here, you can wander through impressive collections of her sculptures, and learn about the life of one of Britain’s most treasured artists, whose work – Single Form – can be seen outside the headquarters of the United Nations in New York City.
Ending on the weird and wonderful, The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, in the Bude-ful little village of Boscastle is one of a kind in Cornwall. With more than 3,000 artefacts and over 7,000 books relating to the dark arts, it’s certainly an interesting place to visit, and it’s absolutely packed with folklore.
There’s plenty of events in Cornwall, one of the biggest of which is Boardmasters. Taking place across an entire summer weekend, visitors come together to celebrate extreme sports, live music and good times in the sun (hopefully).
The Royal Cornwall Show is the annual county show held every June in Wadebridge. Spanning three days, over 100,000 people roll up to witness the fun and games of this major agriculture event. There’s live music, falconry, sheepdog trials, horse riding and beauty pageants for all kinds of domestic animals – varying from goats to rodents.
The Charlestown Regatta Week takes place in St. Austell Bay’s photogenic Charlestown. It runs for a whole week towards the end of July, bringing together the residents and tourists alike with live music, water sports and (brace yourself) pasty demonstrations! Considering it’s all run by volunteers, it’s always a lot of fun and helps to raise money for local community projects and charities.
The botanists amongst you will already know about the Cornwall Spring Flower Show, it’s one of the best loved and most respected flower shows in the UK. It takes place across two days in early April in the stunning grounds of Boconnoc House. Why not pay a visit and marvel at the magnolias, peruse the petunias, and fall in love with the lilies.
If it’s good food and drink you’re after, you need to head to Falmouth Oyster Festival which takes place across four days in October. They’ve been dredging for oysters from this famous seaside town for hundreds of years; incredibly, there are still boats in the fishery that date back as far as 1860. It’s a great experience, with cooking demonstrations, food stalls and much, much more.
When it comes to music festivals in Cornwall, there’s really something for everyone. The major one, of course, is Boardmasters in Newquay. But don’t let that distract you from Kneedeep Festival and its refreshing approach. It’s a festival that’s proud of its independence – so there’s no sponsorship or branding; tickets aren’t disgracefully expensive either, despite the fact they’re limited to just 1,000. The organisers have full say in the line-up, so it’s always filled with diverse bands and artists from around the world with all kinds of musical backgrounds. In the past, festival-goers have been treated to intimate performances from the likes of Whitney, Wolf Alice, Willy Mason, Kate Tempest, and Koreless.
Towards the end of June is when the Falmouth International Sea Shanty Festival takes place. You might imagine it to be all weird fishing types, bellowing incomprehensible sea shanties, while drinking the cloudiest cider imaginable. Well, you’re not entirely wrong, but the festival can be a lot of fun. When the sun’s out, the streets are full and the scrumpy’s flowing, there’s nothing better than a good old sea shanty. It takes place across 25 venues and spills out onto the cobbles too (where you can also pick up some tasty street food).