Cornwall is without doubt one of the best place for a family holiday in England. This corner of the UK is home to over 300 beaches, 200 countryside and coastal walking trails and myriad castles, outdoor theatres, magical gardens and more.
Although the summer months are when Cornwall is busiest, the region is well worth a visit at other times of the year too. The half-term holidays in October and May are perfect for exploring castles, discovering old tin mines and learning about smugglers and pirates. Plus, you can put on a wetsuit and get in the water.
There are so many things to do in Cornwall with kids that it’s hard to narrow it down to just one list. But, if you’re heading there soon on a family holiday then here’s our pick of the pops.
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Cornwall with kids: Active holidays
Surf lessons in Sennen Cove
You’ve got to try surfing when you’re on holiday in Cornwall. There are plenty of places to learn but one of the best places for families is Sennen Cove. Offering consistent surf – and a beautiful beach – you can take private or group lessons at the Sennen Surfing Centre.
You might also want to look at these surf schools:
- Harlyn Surf School Padstow
- Extreme Academy Watergate Bay
- Fistral Beach Surf School, Newquay
- Freewave Surf Academy, Widemouth Bay
Swim at the Penzance Jubilee Pool
Built on the site of a traditional bathing spot near the harbour of Penzance, the Art Deco Jubilee Pool lido welcomed its first swimmers in 1935. Today, it’s one of the most good-looking pools in the UK and a great place to go on your family holiday in Cornwall. Visits to the pool must be booked in advance: check their website for details.
Kite Surfing in Cornwall
Cornwall is a great place for kite surfing and you’ll spot plenty of sails zipping along the ocean at speed. If you fancy trying kite surfing then The Hoxton Special offer 1-day, 3-day and 5-day courses.
Bude Sea Pool
Bude Sea Pool is a part natural, part man-made seawater swimming pool sits beneath the rocks at Summerleaze Beach. It was built in the 1930s to give Bude residents a safe place to swim and has stayed there ever since. It measures 91m long and 45m wide is a great place to swim with kids.
Walks around Land’s End
There are plenty of picturesque spots for walking in Cornwall but few beat the scenery at Land’s End. This stunning corner of Cornwall is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north, south and west and with dramatic moorland and towering cliffs.
There are plenty of walks of varying lengths and difficult. Take a look at one of these family-friendly – walks.
Cycling in Cornwall
Cycling around Cornwall is another fun way to discover the area. The Camel Trail is an 18-mile mostly traffic-free paved trail that is good for kids. This path runs from Wadebridge to Padstow. You can hire bikes, children’s bikes and trailers in Padstow.
If you’ve got young kids then the Mevagissey Pentewan Trail is a four mile route along the coast. For something a little longer, try the 7-mile Mevagissey Pentewan Trail that runs through farmland and woodland passing near to the Lost Gardens of Heligan.
Kernow Adventure Park
A good option if you’re visiting Cornwall with teens (or tweens!) is the Kernow Adventure Park. Located in an old granite quarry, this is like a theme park on water. Learn to wakeboard, try a stand up paddle-board, ride the Ringo or bounce around the floating playground.
Cornwall with kids: Best family beaches
Cornwall has 300 beaches but which ones are best for families? Fortunately most of them will keep kids happy with sand, surf and plenty of ice cream! But to help narrow it down, here are some of the best beaches for families in Cornwall:
Perranporth Beach on the north coast of Cornwall is famous for its long, uninterrupted stretch of golden sand. Make sure you time your visit for when the tide is out if you want to walk the entire three-mile length of it.
The multi-award winning Porthcurno Beach in West Cornwall is popular with families for its white sandy shores and kid-friendly places to paddle. It sits beneath the Minack Theatre.
Gwithian, near Hayle, is another beach with lots of sand for building castles.
Overlooking tidal island of St. Michael’s Mount is Marazion beach. There are life guards, a fresh water inlet perfect for splashing toddlers and a children’s play area nearby.
Located near Kuggar on the Lizard Peninsula is Kannack Sands, another good family beach. Low tide reveals a huge sandy beach and rock pools rich with sea life. It’s more sheltered from the wind than some of the other beaches and definitely warmer than the west coast beaches.
Polkerris Beach near St Austell in South Cornwall is one of the region’s best family beaches. The small, perfectly formed cove is ideal for paddling and swimming as well as learning to standup paddleboard, sail and windsurf. This is also a great place for rock pooling.
Positioned at the far north-western end of the beach that starts at Hayle is Godrevy. It’s one of the most exposed beaches of the north coast but brilliant on a summer’s day for surfing, kite surfing and playing beach games. The rock pools are plentiful and teeming with life. The Godvrey Lighthouse was made famous by Virginia Woolfe in her novel To The Lighthouse.
One of the most spectacular beaches in Cornwall is also one where clothing is optional. Pednvounder sits among the cliffs of Treryn Dinas with turquoise water and sugar-coloured sand. It’s an unofficial naturist beach so take that into account when bringing the kids!
Cornwall with kids: Animal attractions
The National Lobster Hatchery
This brilliant award-winning marine conservation and education charity is a fun family day out in Cornwall. Located in Padstow, you can learn all about the European Lobster and the work the centres does to ensure its survival.
This species is the most valuable fish caught in the UK. You can adopt one yourself (although you can’t take it home!). For more details take a look at their website.
Blue Reef Aquarium, Newquay
Newquay’s aquarium is the place to go to see all manner of sea creatures. Meet Black Tip Reef sharks, have a close encounter with a Giant Pacific octopus, witness Loggerhead turtles and more. At the heart of the aquarium is the underwater tunnel where hundreds of Technicolor fish swim all around you. Buy tickets online and save 10%.
Newquay Zoo is always a hit with kids. Home to all kinds of animals from meerkats and toucans to snakes and lions, it’s a fun place to spend the day. The zoo also has a village farm and Toad Hall, an exhibit highlighting amphibians around the world. Newquay Zoo tickets can be bought online; pre-booking is essential.
Cornish Seal Sanctuary
One of the best family days out in Cornwall is to the Cornish Seal Sanctuary in Gweek village. This is a charity that rescues and rehabilitates grey seal pups from around the Cornish coastline. You can meet them all and learn their stories at the Seal Talks held at the main Convalescence Pool.
The centre is also home to a pair of very cute Asian Short Clawed Otters called Apricot and Harris as well as sea lions and penguins. Pre-book your tickets online.
Screech Owl Sanctuary
Another sanctuary looking after injured animals is the Screech Owl Sanctuary located near Indian Queens in mid Cornwall. The centre looks after wild owls either rehabilitating them so that they can be released back into the wild or providing them a comfortable place to stay.
DairyLand Farmworld is a particularly fun thing to do with toddlers in Cornwall. Home to slides, a nature trail, tractor rides and pony rides, there’s plenty to keep young kids busy. Take part in feeding the animals or milking the cows and head inside the massive play area if the weather turns.
Cornwall with kids: Museums & Heritage
Tate Museum & Barbara Hepworth Sculpture
The Tate Gallery in St Ives exhibits works by modern British artists with links to the area. It underwent an enormous 18-month renovation, opening again in 2017 with a huge gallery built into the cliff. You can also visit the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden here.
The Tate Gallery St Ives operates on a timed ticket system.
Telegraph Museum Porthcurno
Discover the only remaining complete working telegraph station left in the world at the Telegraph Museum Porthcurno. This hands-on museum explores this history of communication in the area. Amazingly, undersea cables here in Porthcurno have been transmitting messages around the world since 1870.
Once upon a time, Botallack produced 14,500 tonnes of tin and 20,000 tonnes of copper ore, pulling it out from deep within the sea bed. A visit today to the Crowns engine houses is a fascinating look at what was once the one of the centres of the mining industry. More recently, it was a filming location for Poldark! Today the famed Crowns engine houses are a National Trust property.
Museum of Witchcraft and Magic
One for older kids is the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic. Located in the charming village of Boscastle, the museum is home to over 3,000 objects and 7,000 books relating to witchcraft. The museum is operating a timed entry system.
Get ready to sail the high seas on a swashbuckling adventure through Cornwall’s pirating past. This immersive walk-through experience is a really fun way to explore the history of piracy in the region. New for 2020 is the story of the pirates of the new world celebrating the 400th anniversary year of the voyage of the Mayflower.
National Maritime Museum
It’s definitely worth a day trip to the National Maritime Museum when visiting Cornwall. There are 15 galleries, a boatbuilding workshop, interactive exhibits and more that explain the history of life at sea in Cornwall. There’s lots of explore; don’t miss the glass-fronted Tidal Zone that will have you gazing out at the sea itself.
The small town of Fowey in South Cornwall was the inspiration behind the story The Wind and the Willows. The town itself is a delight to explore. However, if you really want to understand where author Kenneth Graham got his inspiration from for Ratty, Mole and Mr Toad, you should take a river cruise.
There are 45-minute harbour cruises, which are a great introduction to the village and surrounds. If you time your visit correctly, you might be able to catch a cruise from Fowey up to the village of Lerryn. The return trip takes 2.5-hours and is governed by the tide so only runs a few times a month. Check the website for details.
Cornwall with kids: Outdoor theatres
Every Cornwall family holiday should include a visit to the Minack Theatre. This incredible open-air theatre sits carved into a granite cliff overlooking Porthcurno Bay. It looks like it’s been there for hundreds of years but the theatre was actually only constructed in 1931. There’s a wide range of performances on offer but you don’t have to see a show; you can also visit the gardens and auditorium.
Located in Penzance is Penlee Park, an open air theatre that sits 300 people. Their season traditionally runs from May to September with a number of family-friendly performances.
Cornwall with kids: Great Gardens
One of Cornwall’s most famous sights is the Eden Project. This amazing global garden is housed within two enormous biomes. The Rainforest Biome is the largest greenhouse in the world and is an incredible place for kids to learn where tea, rubber and sugar come from. It’s a brilliant day out and a fascinating insight into man’s relationship to plants and nature.
All visits to the Eden Project must be pre-booked online. You can also stay overnight in a shipping container at the Eden Project.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan
The Lost Gardens of Heligan are simply magical. The gardens had been lost for several decades – overrun and overgrown – and they were only rediscovered in 1990. Today it’s a whimsical world filled with exciting plants and romantic sculptures. It really is a wonderful place to discover and kids will love it.
Lappa Valley is located in 35 acres of Cornish woodland and countryside. There’s a boating lake with canoes and pedals boats as well as a woodland walk and a handful of adventure play areas. Crazy golf will appeal to older kids and younger children will love the steam train ride.
Pre-booking is required. Open until October 31.
Cornwall with kids: Legendary Castles
Tintagel Castle sits high on Cornwall’s rugged north coast. It was built by Reginald de Dunstanville, the Earl of Cornwall, in 1150. The castle is steeped in history and legend, in particular that of King Arthur. Kids will love exploring the ruins and seeing history brought to life through the myriad events that take place throughout the year (although 2020 is a little different!).
St Michael’s Mount
St Michael’s Mount is a tidal island in Cornwall’s Mount’s Bay. It’s linked to the nearby town of Marazion by a granite walkway that’s passable at low tide. At high tide a short ferry journey will transport you to the island. Sitting at the top of the granite crag is a medieval castle surrounded by beautiful gardens.
Pendennis Castle sits on a rocky headland above Falmouth. It was built as part of a national defence strategy under the rule of Henry VIII. It’s one of a small group of artillery forts that were designed to be circular in nature so that it could provide defence on all sides. Timed tickets must be booked in advance.
Cornwall with kids: Rainy day activities
Watch a movie at the Newlyn Filmhouse
Perfect for a rainy summer day is a trip to the Newlyn Filmhouse in Penzance. This hip cinema screens everything from documentaries and art-house movies to Hollywood blockbusters.
A good rainy day activity in Cornwall for older kids is Bodmin Jail. Built in 1779 for King George III, the jail has played an important part in Cornwall’s history. A brand new ‘Dark Walk’ is due to open this summer – even with ongoing Covid-19 complications – and sounds pretty amazing. This immersive visitor experience will use theatrical effects and tech to transport guests back through history to penal life in the 18th and 19th centuries.
You must pre-book your tickets to Bodmin Jail.
Not far from Bodmin Jail are the Carnglaze Caverns, another fun rainy day activity. Go on a self-guided tour of this former slate mine and learn how the mine worked and the part it played in Cornwall’s history. The tour goes 60m below ground and you end up at the Underground Lake, famous for its crystal clear blue/green water. Buy tickets for your tour here.
Bodmin and Wenford Railway
Ride the rails in style on the Bodmin & Wenford Railway. A round trip journey on this heritage railway track is 13 miles and takes around two hours by steam railway engine. It’s worth buying a ‘Freedom of the Line’ ticket, which allows you to pay once and travel all day – a winner with young kids! Plan your visit here.