Cornish Arts and Heritage
If you’re looking for a cultural break, then Cornwall is your ideal destination. There is an incredible collection of castles, museums, stately homes and gardens for you to choose from, all set amongst a backdrop of beautiful countryside and picturesque towns. Cornwall is a magical place, rich in heritage and steeped in history and we’ve rounded up our top picks of arts and heritage-based activities for you to enjoy next time you visit.
Stately Homes and Gardens
If it’s greenery you’re after, then you must visit the Lost Gardens of Heligan, hailed as some of the most popular gardens in Britain. Situated near Mevagissey in West Cornwall, the Gardens were created over a 150 year period and are typical of the 19th century Gardenesque style. Featuring areas of different character and design styles, the Heligan Gardens were neglected and ‘lost’ during the first world war and restored later in the century. Here you can see ancient woodlands, lush pastures, hay meadows and meet herds of Dexter cattle, poultry and pigs. Discover how traditional farming and woodland practices contribute to encourage wildlife abundance as well as provide produce to the Shop and Tearoom.
For more horticultural based adventures, try peaceful Trewithen for an enticing variety of plant species, rare blooms and magical glades or Glendurgan with its astonishing wildflowers, maze and rope swings. For twisty paths and unbeatable views there’s Trewidden – where you can finish your walk with cream tea, or Trengwainton, a tropical paradise in which giant tree ferns, champion magnolias and tasty produce thrive. There’s also Trebah, famous for its sub-tropical tranquility, coastal backdrop and children’s trails, which also plays host to the award-winning Planters Cafe for seasonal home-cooked food. Tresco Abbey Garden is home to thousands of exotic plants, and it’s worth visiting the sheltered but dramatic Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens, as well as Lamorran – a Mediterranean style flourishing garden with streams, bridges, water features and ornate temples.
Alternatively you can enjoy summerhouses and tree-climbing at the Trelissick Estate and Gardens, with excellent panoramic views over the River Fal, or the Tudor dovecot, meadows and orchards of Cotehele. If period throwbacks are what you’re craving, Lanhydrock provides a wonderful insight into Victorian life – with over 50 rooms frozen in time, with beautifully decorated ceilings, as well as swathes of estate complete with ancient trees, land and woodland in which to lose yourself. Rewind even further to the Elizabethan Trerice, an intimate manor house with ornate architecture along with various Tudor based activities and games, or the 18th century Bonython Manor – a traditional Cornish estate stretching from one side of the peninsular (Helford River) to the other (Poldhu cove), with both beaches just over a mile away. For those with furry friends there’s the dog-friendly Pencarrow, with 50 acres of vast land and a great day out for families and history enthusiasts.
Pendennis Castle is an excellent choice for the historians among us – it’s seen action in many conflicts and was one of the last royalist strongholds to fall during the English Civil War. Witness a Tudor gun deck in action, see how the Guardhouse was equipped during WWI and experience an interactive exhibition to relive sights and sounds of battle as well as an enemy attack on a WWII observation post. With a history stretching as far back as the Romans, Tintagel Castle is not one to miss – set high on the rugged North Cornwall coast, this iconic attraction is steeped in legend and mystery; rumoured to be the birthplace of King Arthur, you can still visit the nearby Merlin’s Cave. The castle offers dramatic views and fascinating ruins, and also features in the tale of Tristan and Isolde. For a more serene experience, Caerhays Castle Gardens is nicknamed ‘Cornwall’s castle by the sea’ for its inspiring seaside backdrop. Feast your eyes on its natural beauty with architectural surprises and activities in abundance at this breathtaking castle, which makes for an excellent day of discovery.
Museums and Galleries
One of Cornwall’s more unique museums is Porthcurno Telegraph Museum. For over 140 years Porthcurno has been at the centre of global communications, with the first undersea telegraph cable landing here in 1870 and linking Britain to India. There’s loads for children and adults to discover: secret WW2 tunnels; live talks and demos every day; hands-on exhibits; children’s play and picnic areas; a fantastic shop with gifts and a free interactive sculpture garden. For a more multicultural experience, the collection at the Royal Cornwall Museum covers Egyptology (the famous unwrapped mummy), fine art and world cultures, as well as classical Greek and Roman objects. Take a trip to yesteryear at Penlee House Gallery & Museum, built as a gracious Victorian home in 1865 and recently converted to create a first-class gallery and museum set within an attractive park. It showcases the area’s unique, rich cultural heritage and incorporates the historic collections of Penzance Town Council, Newlyn Art Gallery and the former Penwith District Council.
For maritime lovers, the Shipwreck & Heritage Centre is the place for you – located in a historic china clay building, visitors get an insight into the history of rescue and shipwrecks. Venture through underground tunnels where clay trucks were pushed out to ships in the port, encounter artefacts from over 150 shipwrecks and climb aboard a real lifeboat. Keeping with the nautical theme is the National Maritime Museum Cornwall. Here you can enter the world of the maritime rescue service, explore Cornwall’s past, climb the 100ft tower and get hands on with the interactive exhibits. Cornwall’s industrial past can be explored at Heartlands, a Cornish Mining World Heritage Site, with 19 acres to explore and enjoy – and totally free. With a mining museum and exhibition, botanical gardens and a giant adventure playscape for kids, it’s a perfect day trip whatever the weather. For more days out inspired by Cornwall’s rich mining heritage, head to our ‘Cornish Days Out‘ page.