10 Family Days Out to Museums in Cornwall

10 Family Days Out to Museums in Cornwall

Added: 13 May 2021

Skip the beaten tourist track and beaches for a day and instead get out and about to explore the real Cornwall, home to more accredited museums than any other county. Far more than just wet weather refuges, they are also an excellent place to take a break from the Summer sun!

With over 70 museums across Cornwall one is never more than 8 miles away! What better way to spend a family day out than exploring our rich and unique cultural heritage at one of Cornwall’s plethora of art galleries, cultural venues and museums?

Wheal Martyn Clay Works


China clay mining has shaped the landscape, people and economy of mid-Cornwall for over 250 years. Wheal Martyn Clay Works tells the story of this fascinating industry and the people who worked and lived in the shadows of Cornwall’s iconic ‘white pyramids’.

Step inside the interactive visitor centre, relax in the café or enjoy a unique view of a modern china clay pit. Don’t miss their brand-new accessible gallery space, with its inaugural exhibition ‘Kurt Jackson: Clay Country’ launching when the museum reopens in May.

Set in 26 acres of woodland, Wheal Martyn is home to lots of beautiful flora and fauna; what’s more, dogs are welcome throughout the site! In the grounds make sure to see the amazing 35ft working waterwheel and stunning outdoor photography exhibition #CelebrateClayCountry.

Based in St Austell, day-trippers can also fit in a visit to the iconic biomes of the Eden Project, built in a reclaimed china clay pit and now home to a tropical paradise. Or take a trip through the mysterious 200 acres of the Lost Gardens of Heligan.

The Castle Bude Heritage Centre 


You won’t regret a visit to the Castle Bude, nestled in the sand dunes with spectacular views overlooking Summerleaze Beach and running alongside the Bude Canal. This nineteenth century ‘castle’ is steeped in history, housing a heritage centre, art galleries, café and shop.

Kids will be amazed by the brand-new immersive Coastal Timetripping experience launching in May - a VR game that gives visitors the chance to experience guiding a ketch down into Bude canal for themselves! This is an interactive (wheel-chair accessible) experience, where a real ship’s wheel acts as the controller for the VR headset.

After lunch, wander out to the cliffs to see the historic Compass Point, which the town have pulled together to save from collapse with a fantastic crowdfunding campaign this year.

Bude also offers unique natural attractions - the sea pool cut into the rock at Summerleaze Beach is perfect for a more relaxed dip or child friendly swim. Or lace up your hiking boots and make for the nearby South West Coast Path for a picnic or more challenging climb to find some of Bude's unique rock formations for yourself! 

Leach Pottery


Take in the incomparable scenic views along the St Erth railway line on your journey into St Ives and then make your way to the Leach Pottery; one of the most famous and influential studio potteries in the world, and a living tribute to Bernard Leach and his legacy.

Visitors can browse the pottery’s original workshops and kiln shed, or head to the museum with displays celebrating the life of Bernard Leach and the international legacy of the Leach Pottery. You could even book in advance and get your hands dirty with a throwing taster session! Afterwards, make sure to browse the fantastic gallery shop and take home some unique, hand crafted kitchenware as a memento of your time in Cornwall.

Make the most of your time in the dazzling St Ives; pick up a traditional Cornish pasty and wander through the maze of cobbled streets, peering into the myriad of art galleries and studios throughout the town. Grab a coffee at one of the many independents or head down to one of the four stunning beaches within walking distance of this historic harbour town.

If you have time to spare, the Tate St Ives and Barbara Hepworth Museum & Sculpture Garden mustn’t be missed either!

National Maritime Museum

National Maritime Museum Cornwall (nmmc.co.uk)

The thriving historic port of Falmouth is gateway to the luxurious Fal River, whose entrance is guarded by the twin Tudor fortresses of Pendennis and St Mawes castles. Rich in maritime heritage, the town was once home port of the Falmouth Packet which carried mail to and from the British Empire for over 160 years.

Set in a spectacular modern building on the dockside stands the National Maritime Museum, which offers twelve galleries set over three floors to explore. Interactive galleries and nautical exhibitions unravel fascinating tales of life on the ocean, with collections of rare objects from around the world telling local, national and international stories. Don’t miss the current Monsters of Deep show, where you can become a 19th century pioneer scientist aboard HMS Challenger, handle real objects, try out the microscopes and understand what it felt like to be an explorer aboard a floating laboratory!

Once you’re done, wander into town to browse the quaint cafés and independent shops, with quirky markets on the Moor running on Thursdays and Saturdays. Whilst you’re there, make sure to also check out the latest exhibitions in the Poly and Falmouth Art Gallery

Don’t skip the stunning walking route along the South West Coast Path around Pendennis point with beautiful views of the briny blue across from St Anthony Head lighthouse to Rosemullion Head. Then carry on down past the town’s three beaches: Castle beach, Gyllyngvase and Swanpool where you can always pick up a coffee or delicious ice cream, try kayaking or test your balance with stand-up paddle-boarding!

St Agnes Museum


This gem of a small, volunteer-run museum sits in the lovely village of St Agnes on the North coast of Cornwall not far from Newquay. The beautiful coastal village boasts a rich history of tin and copper mining as well as fishing; with St Agnes Museum offering a real ‘cabinet of curiosities’ with roughly 6500 items in their collection!

Within the historic façade awaits a new cutting-edge immersive adventure launched as part of the brand-new Coastal Timetripping project. Don a VR headset and see how the harbour once looked when it was a bustling centre of the mining industry, complete with people and arriving ships, re-created to look as it would have in 1900!

Younger visitors will love the museum’s iconic leatherback turtle, who even has his very own Twitter account! Also launching soon is an innovative ‘AI on the Edge’ project which will allow visitors to learn more about the history of the museum from a talking turtle chatbot.

Don’t leave before you’ve headed out for a scenic walk along the South West Coast Path up towards St Agnes Beacon where you can enjoy a fantastic 360 view across the coast and spot the historic Cornish mine engine houses dotted across the landscape in this UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you’ve got time to spare, carry on down towards Chapel Porth past the iconic Wheal Coates mine and spend some time at the beach!

Bodmin Jail


Bodmin Jail is an experience for only the most daring of families who want to discover a darker side of Cornish local history. Whilst the historic former prison closed in 1929, the building and its immense heritage remain to tell the fascinating story of a different time.

This year the Jail is launching a brand-new, state of the art immersive visitor experience: the ‘Dark Walk’, with theatrical effects that bring some of the grimmest stories vividly to life, adding a new level of interest interwoven throughout these impressive buildings.

Afterwards, hop aboard the historic Bodmin & Wenford steam railway for a scenic journey or wander amid the luscious formal gardens and 1,000 acre parklands of Lanhydrock, one of the finest country houses and estates in Cornwall.

Outdoor types must make for Bodmin Moor, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty where you can climb to Brown Willy, the highest peak in Cornwall, and say hello to the wild ponies that still graze the heather!

To soak up even more cultural heritage, don’t miss Bodmin Town Museum and Bodmin Keep, the historic home of the army in Cornwall. The latter is a fantastic attraction for families, hosting interactive war-themed activities over the school break! 

PK Porthcurno 


Famous for its iconic beach and unique open-air Minack Theatre, the tiny village of Porthcurno was once at the heart of worldwide telecommunications, boasting the largest and most important telegraph communications centre in the world. Today, fibre optic cables still come ashore at Porthcurno, carrying 99% of all communications data between Britain and the world. 

PK Porthcurno is now an award-winning museum, where you can discover Cornwall’s hidden story and amazing global connections, and even step back in time in their famous WW2 tunnels. Get hands-on with a wealth of amazing activities: crack codes, send Morse code messages and be inspired by interactive activities and super science experiments!

The museum will be reopening in May with a brand-new exhibition, ‘Lights out for Darker Skies’, celebrating the beauty of the night sky and exploring the harmful effects of artificial light pollution to humans, wildlife and the environment. The exhibition features stunning dark sky images, nocturnal wildlife footage, and local artist collaborations. 

Porthcurno is also home to another of the latest immersive Coastal Timetripping experiences, allowing visitors to download a mobile treasure trail app and explore the valley and beach to find out more about the local telecommunications heritage through audio, archival photographs and objects. Once you’ve collected all the points along the trail, you’ll receive discounted entry into the museum!

Also not far away is the legendary Lands End, the most westerly point of mainland Cornwall and England, and now a major attraction offering breath-taking cliff top views, lighthouse, restaurant and even a shopping village!

Charlestown Shipwreck Treasure Museum


Uncover Cornwall’s rich and mysterious seafaring heritage at the Shipwreck Treasure Museum overlooking the historic harbour of Charlestown.

Weave your way through 8,000 finds from over a hundred wrecks; see the only intact barrel of coins ever recovered from a wreck, feel the weight of a cannon ball and imagine the devastation it wrought in battle at sea. Go beneath the surface into the historic tunnels and learn where China clay comes from, moving from mine to harbour in an immersive underground experience.

After exploring everything the museum and tunnels have to offer, wander down to the beautiful historic harbour, frequently used for filming the hit period drama Poldark, posing as the 18th century Truro. This UNESCO World Heritage Site with its Grade II listed granite quay and resident tall ships will transport you back in time - gaze up at the masts, walk the walk of a sailor and image you’re heading out to sea!

Tintagel Castle


Built half on the mainland and half on a jagged headland projecting into the Cornish sea, Tintagel Castle is one of the most spectacular historic sites in Britain. Now, for the first time in more than 500 years, you can cross between the separated halves of Tintagel Castle thanks to the stunning Tintagel Castle Bridge!

After crossing, explore the remains of the 13th-century castle and imagine the feasting and merriment of Richard, Earl of Cornwall’s court. Immerse yourself in history, myths and stunning scenery high on Cornwall's rugged north coast. Don’t miss the island gardens and secluded beach below the castle, known as Tintagel Haven. Make the most of the high tide and enjoy a picnic on the sands, try your hand at rock pooling, take a quick paddle and admire the waterfall falling from the cliffs above. You can even bring your pooch along as the whole attraction is dog friendly!

To explore further afield, drive over to the nearby village of Padstow or Bude; but before you leave the quaint village of Tintagel pop by the Old Post Office, an atmospheric 14th-century yeoman's farmhouse, with a famously wavy roof.

Looe Old Guildhall Museum & Gaol


The Old Guildhall Museum and Gaol is a 15th Century listed building offering fascinating insight into Looe’s past. An exhibit in its own right, the building retains many medieval features including ancient holding cells and the original magistrates’ bench. 

With exhibits from the Bronze Age to the modern day, there’s no shortage of things to look at including model boats, 17th Century porcelain, the remains of a WWII US bomber. All visitors are more than welcome, including dogs as long as they are kept on a lead!

The museum will also be host to a state-of-the art immersive experience as part of the Coastal Timetripping project, offering a 3D wooden map of Looe Island over which visitors can hover tablets and be transported back to the year 1160. In this interactive game you will follow the journey of a monk and a pilgrim, choose characters to talk to and collect ingredients for a tincture to heal a fellow sea-sick pilgrim! 

If you still have time to spare, the picturesque fishing village of Polperro is just a few miles over, or head over to the stunning Looe Island owned by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust.

Find out how to pre-book your time slot, check admission prices and learn more about Covid visitor safety measures on each attraction’s website. Many attractions will require you to think ahead, plan your trip and book your ticket in advance.

These attractions are just a slice of the museums, galleries, cultural and heritage sites Cornwall has to offer. Find out more and search for more sites near you on our Museums in Cornwall map.

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